Debt peonage flourished both in northern Mexico and the U.S. Southwest in the 1850s and 1860s. Free labor politicians who came to power in Mexico during the Restored Republic and in the United States after the Civil War attempted to curb this system of coerced labor. However, these efforts met with only mixed results. In Mexico debt peonage remained a vibrant institution in the years leading up to the Mexican Revolution. In the United States peonage actually spread from the Southwest to the reconstructed South. This essay examines how these two North American nations dealt with this form of bondage in the 1860s as a way to highlight the shared labor institutions and the flow of ideas across the international border.