A BRIEF EXAMINATION OF SCRIPTURE TESTIMONY
THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY,
In an essay first published in the Religious Herald, and republished by request: with Remarks on a Letter of Elder GALUSHA, of New York, to Dr. R. FULLER, of South Carolina: By THORNTON STRINGFELLOW.
LOCUST GROVE, Culpeper Co., Va., 1841.
Circumstances exist among the inhabitants of these United States, which make it proper that the Scriptures should be carefully examined by Christians in reference to the institution of Slavery, which exists in several of the States, with the approbation of those who profess unlimited subjection to God's revealed will.
It is branded by one portion of people, who take their rules of moral rectitude from the Scriptures, as a great sin; nay, the greatest of sins that exist in the nation. And they hold the obligation to exterminate it, to be paramount to all others.
If slavery be thus sinful, it behooves all Christians who are involved in the sin, to repent in dust and ashes, and wash their hands of it, without consulting with flesh and blood. Sin in the sight of God is something which God in his Word makes known to be wrong, either by perceptive prohibition, by principles of moral fitness, or examples of inspired men, contained in the sacred volume. When these furnish no law to condemn human conduct, there is no transgression. Christians should produce a "thus saith the Lord," both for what they condemn as sinful, and for what they approve as lawful, in the sight of Heaven.
It is to be hoped, that on a question of such vital importance as this to the peace and safety of our common country, as well as to the welfare of the church, we shall be seen cleaving to the Bible, and taking all our decisions about this matter, from its inspired pages. With men from the North, I have observed for many years a palpable ignorance of the divine will, in reference to the institution of slavery. I have seen but a few, who made the Bible their study, that had obtained a knowledge of what it did reveal on this subject. Of late, their denunciation of slavery as a sin, is loud and long.
I propose, therefore, to examine the sacred volume briefly, and if I am not greatly mistaken, I shall be able to make it appear that the institution of slavery has received, in the first place,
1st. The sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age.
2d. That it was incorporated into the only National Constitution which ever emanated from God.
3d. That its legality was recognized, and its relative duties regulated, by Jesus Christ in his kingdom; and
4th. That it is full of mercy.
Before I proceed further, it is necessary that the terms used to designate the thing, be defined. It is not a name, but a thing, that is denounced as sinful; because it is supposed to be contrary to, and prohibited by, the Scriptures.
Our translators have used the term servant, to designate a state in which persons were serving, leaving us to gather the relation, between the party served and the party rendering the service, from other terms. The term slave, signifies with us, a definite
state, condition, or relation, which state, condition, or relation, is precisely that one which is denounced as sinful. This
state, condition, or relation, is that in which one human being is held without his consent by another, as property; to be
bought, sold, and transferred, together with the increase, as property, forever. Now, this precise thing, is denounced by
a portion of the people of these United States as the greatest
individual and national sin that is among us, and is thought to be so hateful in the sight of God, as to subject the nation to ruinous judgments, if it be not removed. Now, I propose to show, from the Scriptures, that this state, condition, or relation, did exist in the patriarchal age, and that the persons most extremely involved in the sin, if it be a sin, are the very persons who have been singled out by the Almighty as the objects of his special regard—whose character and conduct he has caused to be held up as models for future generations. Before we conclude slavery to be a thing hateful to God, and a great sin in his sight, it is proper that we should search the records he has given us with care, to see in what light he has looked upon it, and find the warrant, for concluding that we shall honor him by efforts to abolish it; which efforts, in their consequences, may involve the indiscriminate slaughter of the innocent and the guilty, the master and the servant. We all believe him to be a Being who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
The first recorded language which was ever uttered in relation to slavery, is the inspired language of Noah. In God's stead he says "Cursed be Canaan;" "a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren." "Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant." "God shall enlarge Japeth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant." Gen. ix. 25, 26, 27. Here language is used, showing the favor which God would exercise to the posterity of Shem and Japeth, while they were holding the posterity of Ham in a state of abject bondage. May it not be said in truth, that God decreed this institution before it existed; and has he not connected its existence, with prophetic tokens of special favor, to those who should be slave owners or masters? He is the same God now, that he was when he gave these views of his moral character to the world; and unless the posterity of Shem and Japeth, from whom have sprung the Jews, and all the nations of Europe and America, and a great part of Asia, (the African race that is in them excepted,)—I say, unless they are all dead, as well as the Canaanites or Africans, who descended from Ham, then it is quite possible that his favor may now be found with one class of men, who are holding another class in bondage. Be this as it may, God decreed slavery—and shows in that decree, tokens of good-will to the master. The sacred records occupy but a short space from this inspired ray on this subject, until they bring to our notice a man, that is held up as a model, in all that adorns human nature, and as one that God delighted to honor. This man is Abraham, honored in the sacred records with the appellation, "Father" of the "faithful." Abraham was a native of Ur of the Chaldees. From thence the Lord called him to go to a country which he would show him; and he obeyed not knowing whither he went. He stopped for a time at Haran, where his father died. From thence he "took Sarah his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance, that they had gotten in Haran, and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan." Gen. xii. 5.
All the ancient Jewish writers of note, and Christian commentators agree, that by the "souls they had gotten in Haran," as our translators render it, are meant their slaves, or those persons they had bought with their money in Haran. In a few years after their arrival in Canaan, Lot with all he had was taken captive. So soon as Abraham heard it, he armed three hundred and eighteen slaves that were born in his house, and retook him. How great must have been the entire slave family, to produce at this period of Abraham's life, such a number of young slaves able to bear arms. Gen. xiv. 14.
Abraham is constantly held up in the sacred story as the subject of great distinction among the princes and sovereigns of
the countries in which he sojourned. This distinction was on account of his great wealth. When he proposed to buy a burying-ground
at Sarah's death of the children of Heth, he stood up and spoke with great humility of himself as "a stranger and sojourner
among them," (Gen. xxiii. 4,) desirous to obtain a burying-ground. But in what light do they look upon him? "Hear us, my Lord,
thou art a mighty prince among us." Gen. xxiii. 6. Such is the light in which they viewed him. What gave a man such distinction,
among such a people? Not moral qualities, but great wealth, and its inseparable concomitant, power. When the famine drove
Abraham to Egypt, he received the highest honors of the reigning sovereign. This honor at Pharaoh's court was called forth
by the visible tokens
of immense wealth. In Genesis xii. 15, 16, we have the honor that was shown to him, mentioned, with a list of his property, which is given in these words, in the 16th verse: "He had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and she-asses, and camels." The amount of his flocks may be inferred from the number of slaves in tending them. They were those he brought from Ur of the Chaldees, of whom the three hundred and eighteen were born; those gotten in Haran, where he dwelt for a short time; and those which he inherited from his father, who died in Haran. When Abraham went up from Egypt, it is stated in Genesis xiii. 2, that he was "very rich," not only in flocks and slaves, but in "silver and gold" also.
After the destruction of Sodom, we see him sojourning in the kingdom of Gerar. Here he received from the sovereign of the country, the honors of equality; and Abimelech, the king, (as Pharoah had done before him,) seeks Sarah for a wife, under the idea that she was Abraham's sister. When his mistake was discovered, he made Abraham a large present. Reason will tell us, that in selecting the items of this present, Abimelech was governed by the visible indications of Abraham's preference in articles of wealth—and that nothing which Abraham's sense of moral obligation would not allow him to own. Abimelech's present is thus described in Gen. xx. 14, 16.: "And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and men-servents, and women-servants, and a thousand pieces of silver, and gave them unto Abraham." This present discloses to us what constituted the most highly-prized items of wealth, among these eastern sovereigns in Abraham's day.
God had promised Abraham's seed the land of Canaan, and that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. He reached the age of 85, and his wife the age of 75, while as yet, they had no child. At this period, Sarah's anxiety for the promised seed, in connection with her age, induced her to propose a female slave of the Egyptian stock, as a secondary wife, from which to obtain the promised seed. This alliance soon puffed the slave with pride, and she became insolent to her mistress—the mistress complained to Abraham, the master. Abraham ordered Sarah to exercise her authority. Sarah did so, and pushed it to severity, and the slave absconded. The divine oracles inform us, that the angel of God found this runaway bond-woman in the wilderness; and if God had commissioned this angel to improve this opportunity of teaching the world how much he abhorred slavery, he took a bad plan to accomplish it. For, instead of repeating a homily upon doing to others as we "would they should do unto us," and heaping reproach upon Sarah, as a hypocrite, and Abraham as a tyrant, and giving Hagar direction how she might get into Egypt, from whence (according to Abolitionism) she had been unrighteously sold into bondage, the angel addressed her as "Hagar, Sarah's maid," Gen. xvi. 1—9; (thereby recognizing the relation of master and slave,) and asks her, "whither wilt thou go?" and she said "I flee from the face of my mistress." Quite a wonder she honored Sarah so much as to call her mistress; but she knew nothing of abolition, and God by his angel did not become her teacher.
We have now arrived at what may be called an abuse of the institution, in which one person is the property of another, and under their control, and subject to their authority
without their consent; and if the Bible be the book, which proposes to furnish the case which leaves it without doubt that
God abhors the institution, here we are to look for it. What, therefore, is the doctrine in relation to slavery, in a case
in which a rigid exercise of its arbitrary authority is called forth upon a helpless female; who might use a strong plea for
protection, upon the ground of being the master's wife. In the face of this case, which is hedged around with aggravations
as if God designed by it to awaken all the sympathy and all the abhorrence of that portion of mankind, who claim to have more
mercy than God himself—but I say, in view of this strong case, what is the doctrine taught? Is it that God abhors the institution
of slavery; that it is a reproach to good men; that the evils of the institution can no longer be winked at among saints;
that Abraham's character must not be transmitted to posterity, with this stain upon it; that Sarah must no longer be allowed
to live a stranger to the abhorrence God has or such conduct as she has been guilty of to this poor helpless female? I say,
what is the doctrine taught? Is it so plain that it can be easily understood? and does God teach that she
is a bond-woman or slave, and that she is to recognize Sarah as her mistress, and not her equal—that she must return and submit herself unreservedly to Sarah's authority? Judge for yourself, reader, by the angel's answer: "And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return unto they mistress, and submit thyself under her hands." Gen. xvi. 9.
But, says the spirit of abolition, with which the Bible has to contend, you are building your house upon the sand, for these were nothing but hired servants; and their servitude designates no such state, condition or relation, as that, in which one person is made the property of another, to be bought, sold, or transferred forever. To this, we have two answers in reference to the subject, before giving the law. In the first place, the term, servant, in the schedules of property among the patriarchs, does designate the state, condition, or relation in which one person is the legal property of another, as in Gen. xxiv. 35, 36. Here Abraham's servant, who had been sent by his master to get a wife for his son Isaac, in order to prevail with the woman and her family, states, that the man for whom he sought a bride, was the son of a man whom God had greatly blesed with riches; which he goes on to enumerate thus, in the 35th verse: "He hath given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and camels, and asses;" then in verse 36th, he states the disposition his master had made of his estate: "My master's wife bare a son to my master when she was old, and unto him he hath given all that he hath." Here, servants are enumerated with silver and gold as part of the patrimony. And, reader, bear it in mind; as if to rebuke the doctrine of abolition, servants are not only inventoried as property, but as property which God had given to Abraham. After the death of Abraham, we have a view of Isaac at Gerar, when he had come into the possession of this estate; and this is the description given of him: "And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great; for he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants." Gen. xxvi. 13, 14. This state, in which servants are made chattels, he received as an inheritance from his father, and passed to his son Jacob.
Again, in Gen. xvii., we are informed of a covenant God entered into with Abraham; in which he stipulates, to be a God to him and his seed (not his servants,) and to give to his seed the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. He expressly stipulates, that Abraham shall put the token of this covenant upon every servant born in his house, and upon every servant born in his house, and upon every servant bought with his money of any stranger. Gen. xvii. 12, 13. Here again servants are property. Again, more than 400 years afterwards, we find the seed of Abraham, on leaving Egypt, directed to celebrate the rite, that was ordained as a memorial of their deliverance, viz.: the Passover, at which time the same institution which makes property of men and women, is recognized, and the servant bought with money, is given the privilege of partaking, upon the ground of his being circumcised by his master, while the hired servant, over whom the master had no such control, is excluded until he voluntarily submits to circumcision; showing clearly that the institution of involuntary slavery then carried with it a right, on the part of a master to choose a religion for the servant who was his money, as Abraham did, by God's direction, when he imposed circumcision on those he had bought with his money,—when he was circumcised himself, with Ishmael his son, who was the only individual, beside himself, on whom he had a right to impose it, except the bond-servants bought of the stranger with his money, and their children born in his house. The next notice we have of servants as property, is from God himself, when clothed with all the visible tokens of his presence and glory on the top of Sinai, when he proclaimed his law to the millions that surrounded its base: "Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." Ex. xx. 17. Here, is a patriarchal catalogue of property, having God for its author, the wife among the rest, who was then purchased, as Jacob purchased his two, by 14 years' service. Here, the term servant, as used by the Almighty, under the circumstances of the case could not be understood by these millions, as meaning anything but property, because the night they left Egypt, a few weeks before, Moses, by divine authority, recognized their servants as property, which they had bought with their money.
2d. In addition to the evidence from the context of these, and various other places,
to prove the term servant to be identical in the import of its essential particulars with the term slave among us, there is unquestionable evidence, that, in the patriarchal age, there are two distinct states of servitude alluded to, and which are indicated by two distinct terms, or by the same term, and an adjective to explain.
These two terms, are first, servant or bond-servant; second, hireling or hired servant: the first, indicating involuntary servitude; the second, voluntary servitude for stipulated wages and a specified time. Although this admits of the clearest proof under the law, yet it admits of proof before the law was given, Moses, in designating the qualifications necessary for the passover, uses this language, Exod. xii. 44, 45: "Every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A foreigner and a hired servant shall not eat thereof." This language carries to the human mind, with irresistable force, the idea of two distinct states—one a state of freedom, the other a state of bondage: in one of which, a person is serving with his consent for wages; in the other of which, a person is serving without his consent, according to his master's pleasure.
Again, in Job iii., Job expresses the strong desire he had been made by his afflictions to feel, that he had died in his infancy. "For now," says he, "should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest. There (meaning the grave) the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and the great are there; and the servant is free from his master." Job iii. 11, 13, 17, 18, 19. Now, I ask any common-sense man to account for the expression in this connection, "there the servant is free from his master." Afflictions are referred to, arising out of states or conditions, from which ordinarily nothing but death brings relief. Death puts an end to afflictions of body that are incurable as he took his own to be, and therefore he desired it.
The troubles brought on good men by a wicked, persecuting world, last for life; but in death the wicked cease from troubling,—death ends that relation or state out of which such troubles grow. The prisoners of the oppressors, in that age, stood in a relation to their oppressor until death. But death broke the relation, and was desired, because in the grave they would hear his voice no more.
All the distresses growing out of inequalities in human condition; as wealth and power on one side, and poverty and weakness on the other, were terminated by death; the grave brought both to a level: the small and the great are there, and there, (that is, in the grave,) he adds, the servant is free from his master; made so, evidently, by death. The relation, or state, out of which his oppression had arisen, being destroyed by death, he would be freed from them, because he would, by death, be freed from his master who inflicted them. This view of the case, and this only, will account for the use of such language. But upon a supposition that a state or relation among men is referred to, this is voluntary, such as that between a hired servant and his employer, that can be dissolved at the pleasure of the servant, the language is without meaning, and perfectly unwarranted; while such a relation as that of involuntary and hereditary servitude, where the master had unlimited power over his servant, and in an age when cruelty was common, there is the greatest propriety in making the servant, or slave, a companion with himself, in affliction, as well as the oppressed and afflicted, in every class, where death alone dissolved the state, or condition, out of which their afflictions grew. Beyond all doubt, this language refers to a state of hereditary bondage, from the afflictions of which, ordinarily, nothing in that day brought relief but death.
Again, in chapter 7th, he goes on to defend himself in his eager desire for death, in an adress to God. He says, it is natural
for a servant to desire the shadow and a hireling his wages: "As the servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as the hireling
looketh for the reward of his work," so it is with me, should be supplied. Job vii. 2. Now, with the previous light shed upon
the use and meaning of these terms in the patriarchal Scriptures, can any man of candor bring himself to believe that two states or conditions are not here referred to, in one of which,
the highest reward after toil is mere rest; in the other of which, the reward
was wages? And how appropriate is the language in reference to these two states.
The slave is represented as earnestly desiring the shadow, because his condition allowed him no prospect of anything more desirable; but the hireling as looking for the record of his work, because that will be an equivalent for his fatigue.
So Job looked at death, as being to his body as the servant's shade, therefore he desired it; and like the hireling's wages, because beyond the grave, he hoped to reap the fruit of his doings. Again, Job (xxxi.) finding himself the subject of suspicion (see from verse 1 to 30) as to the rectitude of his past life, clears himself of various sins, in the most solemn manner, as unchastity, injustice in his dealings, adultery, contempt of his servants, unkindness to the poor, covetousness, the pride of wealth, &c. And in the 13th, 14th, and 15th verses, he thus expresses himself: "If I did despise the cause of my man-servant, when they contended with me, what then shall I do when God rises up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb, make him? And did not one fashion in us in the womb?" Taking this language in connection with the language employed by Moses, in reference to the institution of involuntary servitude in that age, and especially in connection with the language which Moses employs after the law was given, and what else can be understood than a reference to a class of duties that slave owners felt themselves above stopping to notice or perform, but which, nevertheless, it was the duty of the righteous man to discharge; for, whatever proud and wicked men stood in his estate, on an equality with brutes, yet, says Job, he that made me made them, and if I despise their reasonable causes of complaint, for injuries which they are made to suffer, and for the redress of which I can only be appealed to, then what shall I do, and how shall I fare, when I carry my causes of complaint to him who is my master, and to whom only I can go for relief? When he visiteth me for despising their cause, what shall I answer him for despising mine? He means that he would feel self-condemned, and would be forced to admit the justice of the retaliation. But on the supposition that allusion is had to hired servants, who were voluntarily working for wages agreed upon, and who were the subjects of rights, for the protection of which their appeal would be to "the judges in the gate," as much as any other class of men, then there is no point in the statement. For doing that which can be demanded as a legal right, gives us no claim to the character of merciful benefactors. Job himself was a great slaveholder, and, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, won no small portion of his claims to character with God and men from the manner in which he discharged his duty to his slaves. Once more: the conduct of Joseph in Egypt, as Pharoah's counsellor, under all the circumstances, proves him a friend to absolute slavery, as a form of government better adapted to the state of the world at that time, than the one which existd in Egypt; for certain it is, that he peaceably effected a change in the fundamental law, by which a state, condition, or relation, between Pharoah and the Egyptians was established, which answers to the one now denounced as sinful in the sight of God. Being warned of God, he gathered up all the surplus grain in the years of plenty, and sold it out in the years of famine, until he gathered up all the money; and when money failed, the Egyptian came and said, "Give us bread;" and Joseph said, "Give your cattle, and I will give for your cattle, if money fail." When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and said, "There is aught left in sight of my Lord, but our bodies and our lands. Buy us and our lands for bread." And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for the Pharoah.
So the land became Pharoah's, and as for the people, he removed them to cities, from one end of the borders of Egypt, even
to the other end thereof. Then Joseph said unto the people, "Behold! I have bought you this day, and your land for Pharoah;"
and they said, "we will be Pharoah's servants." See Gen. xlvii. 14, 16, 19, 20, 21, 23, 25. Having thus changed the fundamental
law, and created a state of entire dependence, and hereditary bondage, he enacted in his sovereign pleasure, that they should give Pharoah one part, and take the other four parts of the productions
of the earth to themselves. How far the hand of God was in this overthrow of liberty, I will not decide; but from the fact
that he has singled out the greatest slaveholders of that age, as the objects of his special favor, it would seem
that the institution was one furnishing great opportunities to exercise grace and glorify God, as it still does, where its duties are faithfully discharged.
I have been tedious on this first proposition, but I hope the importance of the subject to Christians as well as to statesmen will be my apology. I have written it, not for victory over an adversary, or to support error or faslehood, but to gather up God's will in reference to holding men and women in bondage, in the patriarchal age. And it is clear, in the first place, that God decreed this state before it existed. Second. It is clear that the highest manifestations of good-will which he ever gave to mortal man, was given to Abraham, in that covenant in which he required him to circumcise all his male servants, which he had bought with his money, and that were born of them in his house. Third. It is certain that he gave these servants as property to Isaac. Fourth. It is certain, that as the owner of these slaves, Isaac received similar tokens of God's favor. Fifth. It is certain that Jacob, who inherited from Isaac his father, received like tokens of divine favor. Sixth. It is certain, from a fair construction of language, that Job, who is held up by God himself as a model of human perfection, was a great slaveholder. Seventh. It is certain, when God showed honor, and came down to bless Jacob's posterity, in taking them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, they were the owners of slaves that were bought with money, and treated as property; which slaves were allowed of God to unite in celebrating the divine goodness to their masters, while hired servants were excluded. Eighth. It is certain that God interposed to give Joseph the power in Egypt, which he used, to create a state, or condition, among the Egyptians, which substantially agrees with patriarchal and modern slavery. Ninth. It is certain, that in reference to this institution in Abraham's family, and the surrounding nations, for five hundred years, it is never censured in any communication made from God to men. Tenth. It is certain, when God put a period to that dispensation, he recognized slaves as property on Mount Sinai. If, therefore, it has become sinful since, it cannot be from the nature of the thing, but from the sovereign pleasure of God in its prohibition. We will therefore proceed to our second proposition, which is—
Second. That it was incorporated in the only national consitution emanating from the Almighty. By common consent, that portion of time stretching fom Noah, until the law was given to Abraham's posterity, at Mount Sinai, is called the partiarchal age: this is the period we have reviewed, in relation to this subject. From the giving of the law until the coming of Christ, is called the Mosaic or legal dispensation. From the coming of Christ to the end of time, is called the Gospel dispenation. The legal dispensation is the period of time we propose now to examine, in reference to the instituion of involuntary and hereditary slavery; in order to ascertain, whether, during this period, it existed at all, and if it did exist, whether with the divine sanction, or in violation of the divine will. This dispensation is called the legal dispensation, because it was the pleasure of God to take Abraham's posterity by miraculous power, then numbering near three millions of souls, and give them a written constitution of government, a country to dwell in, and a covenant of special protection and favor, for their obedience to his law until the coming of Christ. The laws which he gave them emanated from his sovereign pleasure, and were designed, in the first place, to make himself known in his essential perfections; second, in his mortal character; third, in his relation to man; and fourth, to make known these principles of action by the exercise of which man attains his highest moral elevation, viz: supreme love to God, and love to others as to ourselves.
All the law is nothing but a perceptive exemplification of these two principles; consequently, the existence of a precept in the law, utterly irreconcilable with these principles, would destroy all claims upon us for an acknowledgment of its divine original. Jesus Christ himself has put his finger upon these two principles of human conduct, (Deut. vi. 5—Levit. xix. 18,) revealed in the law of Moses, and decided, that on them hang all the law and the prophets.
The Apostle Paul decides in reference to the relative duties of men, that whether written out in preceptive form in the law
or not, they are all comprehended in this saying, viz: "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." With these views to guide
us, as to the acknowledged design of the law, viz: that of revealing the eternal principles of moral rectitude, by which human
conduct is to be measured, so that sin may abound, or be made apparent, and righteousness be ascertained or known, we may safely conclude, that the institution of slavery, which legalized the holding one person in bondage as property forever by another, if it be morally wrong, or at war with the principle which requires us to love God supremely, and our neighbor as ourself, will, if noticed at all in the law, be noticed for the purpose of being condemned as sinful. And if the modern views of abolitionists be correct, we may expect to find the institution marked with such tokens of divine displeasure, as will throw all other sins into the shade, as comparatively small, when laid by the side of this monster. What, then, is true? has God ingrafted hereditary slavery upon the constitution of government he condescended to give his chosen people—that people, among whom he promised to dwell, and that he required to be holy? I answer, he has. It is clear and explicit. He enacts, first, that his chosen people may take their money go into the slave markets of the surrounding nations, (the seven devoted nations excepted,) and purchase men-servants and women-servants, and give them, and their increase, to their children and their children's children, forever; and worse still for the refined humanity of our age—he guaranties to the foreign slaveholder perfect protection, while he comes in among the Isrealites, for the purpose of dwelling, and raising and selling slaves, who should be acclimated and accustomed to the habits and institutions of the country. And worse still for the sublimated humanity of the present age, God passes with the right to buy and possess, a right to govern, by a severity which knows no bounds but the master's discretion. And if worse can be, for the morbid humanity we censure, he enacts that his own people may sell themselves and their families for limited periods, with the privilege of extending the time at the end of the 6th year to the 50th year or jubilee, if they prefer bondage to freedom. Such is the precise character of two institutions, found in the constitution of the Jewish commonwealth, emanating directly from Almighty God. For the 1,500 years, during which these laws were in force, God raised up a succession of prophets to reprove that people for the various sins into which they fell; yet there is not a reproof uttered against the instituion of involuntary slavery, for any species of abuse that ever grew out of it. A severe judgment is pronounced by Jeremiah, (chapter xxxiv. see from the 8th to the 22d verse,) for an abuse or violation of the law, concerning the voluntary servitude of Hebrews; but the prophet pens it with caution, as if to show that it had no reference to any abuse that had taken place under the system of involuntary slavery, which existed by law among that people; the sin consisted in making hereditary bond-men and bond-women of Hebrews, which was positively forbidden by the law, and not for buying and holding one of another nation in hereditary bondage, which was as positively allowed by the law. And really, in view of what is passing in our country, and elsewhere, among men who profess to reverence the Bible, it would seem that these must be dreams of a distempered brain, and not the solemn truths of that sacred book. . . .
In my original essay, I said nothing of Paul's letter to Philemon, concerning Onesimus, a runaway slave, converted under Paul's preaching at Rome; and who was returned by the Apostle, with a most affectionate letter to his master, entreating the master to receive him again, and to forgive him. O, how immeasurably diferent Paul's conduct to this slave and his master, from the conduct of our abolition brethren! Which are we to think is guided by the Spirit of God? It is impossible that both can be guided by that spirit, unless sweet water and bitter can come from the same fountain. This letter, of itself, is sufficient to teach any man, capable of being taught in the ordinary way, that slavery is not, in the sight of God, what it is in the sight of the abolitionists.
I had prepared the argument furnished by this letter for my orignial essay; I afterwards struck it out, because at that time, so little had the Bible been examined at the North in reference to slavery, that the abolitionists very generally thought this was the only Scripture which southern slaveholders could find, giving any countenance to their views of slavery. To test the correctness of this opinion, therefore, I determined to make no allusion to it at that time.
Now, my dear sir, if, from the evidence contained in the Bible to prove slavery a lawful relation among God's people under every dispensation, the assertion is still made, in the very face of this evidence, that slavery has ever been the greatest sin—everywhere, and under all circumstances—can you, or can any sane man bring himself to believe, that the mind capable of such a decision, is not capable of trampling the Word of God under foot upon any subject?
If it were not known to be the fact, we could not admit that a Bible-reading man could bring himself to believe, with Dr. Wayland, that a thing made lawful by the God of Heaven, was, notwithstanding, the greatest sin—and that Moses under the law, and Jesus Christ under the Gospel, had sanctioned and regulated in practice, the greatest sin known to earth—and that Jesus had left his church to find out as best they might, that the law of God which established slavery under the Old Testament, and the precepts of the Holy Ghost which regulate the mutual duty of master and slave under the New Testament, were laws and precepts, to sanction and regulate among the people of God the greatest sin which was ever perpetrated.
It is by no means strange that it should have taken seventeen centuries to make such discoveries as the above, and it is worthy of note, that these discoveries were made at last by men who did not appear to know, at the time they made them, what was in the Bible on the subject of slavery, and who now appear unwilling that the teachings of the Bible should be spread before the people—this last I take to be the case, because I have been unable to get the northern press to give it publicity.
Many anti-slavery men into whose hands my essays chanced to fall, have frankly confessed to me, that in their Bible reading, they had overlooked the plain teaching of the Holy Ghost, by taking what they read in the Bible about masters and servants, to have reference to hired servants and their employers.
You ask me for my opinion about the emancipation movement in the State of Kentucky. I hold that the emancipation of hereditary slaves by a State is not commanded, or in any way required by the Bible. The Old Testament and the New, sanction slavery, but under no circumstances enjoin its abolition, even among saints. Now, if religion, or the duty we owe our Creator, was inconsistent with slavery, then this could not be so. If pure religion, therefore, did not require its abolition under the law of Moses, nor in the church of Christ— we may safely infer, that our political, moral, and social relations do not require it in a State; unless a State requires higher moral, social and religious qualities in its subjects, than a Gospel church.
Masters have been left by the Almighty, both under the patriarchal, legal, and Gospel dispensations, to their individual discretion on the subject of emancipation.
The principle of justice inculcated by the Bible, refuses to sanction, it seems to me, such an outrage upon the rights of men, as would be perpetrated by any sovereign State, which, to-day, makes a thing to be property, and to-morrow, takes it from the lawful owners, without political necessity or pecuniary compensation. Now, if it be morally right for a majority of the people (and that majority possibly a meagre one, who may not own a slave) to take, without necessity or compensation, the property in slaves held by a minority, (and that minority a large one,) then it would be morally right for a majority, without property, to take anything else that may be lawfully owned by the prudent and care-taking portion of the citizens.
As for intelligent philanthropy, it shudders at the infliction of certain ruin upon a whole race of helpless beings. If emancipation by law is philanthropic in Kentucky, it is, for the same reasons, philanthropic in every State in the Union. But nothing in the future is more certain, than such emancipation would begin to work the degradation and final ruin of the slave race, from the day of its consummation.
Break the master's sympathy, which is inseparably connected with his property right in his slave, and that moment the slave race is placed upon a common level with all other competitors for the rewards of merit; but as the slaves are inferior in the qualities which give success among competitors in our country, extreme poverty would be their lot; and for the want of means to rear families, they would multiply slowly, and die out by inches, degraded by vice and crime, unpitied by honest and virtuous men, and heartbroken by sufferings without a parallel.
So long as States let masters alone on this subject, good men among them, both
in the church and out of it, will struggle on, as experience may dictate and justify, for the benefit of the slave race. And should the time ever come, when emancipation in its consequences, will comport with the moral, social, and political obligations of Christianity, then Christian masters will invest their slaves with freedom, and then will the good-will of those follow the descendants of Ham, who, without any agency of their own, have been made in this land of liberty, their providential guardians.
Yours, with affection,