Our country’s protection for debtors has come a long way over time. Some of the earliest settlers came to America, not on the Mayflower, but as indentured servants. Did you know that one of the early Revolutionary War heroes, Henry (“Light Horse Harry”) Lee, who went on to become governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia (and yes, also the father of General Robert E. Lee), spent his last days in debtor’s prison? The same dubious distinction of time spent in debtor’s prison also befell two signers of the Declaration of Independence.
While Congress began passing legislation regarding bankruptcy relief early in the 19th century, it took a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1833 to abolish debtor’s prison, and it was not until The Nelson Act of 1898 before the country had its first modern bankruptcy legislation. Our current Bankruptcy Code traces back to the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978.