A WRITER on Slavery has no difficulty in
tracing back its origin. There is also the advantage of finding it,
with its continued history, and the laws given by God to govern his
own institution, in the Holy Bible. Neither profane history,
tradition, nor philosophical research are required to prove its origin
or existence; though they, as all things must, come forward to
substantiate the truth of the Scriptures. God, who created the human
race, willed they should be holy like himself. Sin was committed, and
the curse of sin, death, was induced: other punishments were denounced
for the perpetration of particular crimes—the shedding of man's
blood for murder, and the curse of slavery. The mysterious reasons
that here influenced the mind of the Creator it is not ours to
declare. Yet may we learn enough from his revealed word on this and
every other subject to confirm his power, truth, and justice. There
is no Christian duty more insisted upon in Scripture than reverence
and obedience to parents. "Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy
days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." The
relation of child to parent resembles closely that of man to his
Creator. He who loves and honors his God will assuredly love and
honor his parents. Though it is evidently the duty of every parent so
to live as to secure the respect and affection of his child, yet there
is nothing in the Scriptures to
authorize a child treating with disrespect a parent, though he be unworthy in the greatest degree.
The human mind, naturally rebellious, requires every command and incentive to submission. The first of the ten commandments, insisting on the duty owing to the Creator, and the fifth, on that belonging to our parents, are the sources of all order and good arrangement in the minor relations of life; and on obedience to them depends the comfort of society.
Reverence to age, and especially where it is found in the person of those who by the will of God were the authors of their being, is insisted upon in the Jewish covenant—not indeed less required now; but as the Jews were called from among the heathen nations of the earth to be the peculiar people of God, they were to show such evidences of this law in their hearts, by their conduct, that other nations might look on and say, "Ye are the children of the Lord your God."
It was after an act of a child dishonoring an aged father, that the prophecy entailing slavery as a curse on a portion of the human race was uttered. Nor could it have been from any feeling of resentment or revenge that the curse was made known by the lips of a servant of God; for this servant of God was a parent, and with what sorrow would any parent, yea, the worst of parents, utter a malediction which insured such punishment and misery on a portion of his posterity! Even the blessing which was promised to his other children could not have consoled him for the sad necessity. He might not resist the Spirit of God: though with perfect submission he obeyed its dictates, yet with what regret! The heart of any Christian parent will answer this appeal!
We may well imagine some of the reasons for the will of God in
thus punishing Ham and his descendants. Prior to the un-
filial act which is recorded, it is not to be supposed he had been a righteous man. Had he been one after God's own heart, he would not have been guilty of such a sin. What must that child be, who would openly dishonor and expose an erring parent, borne down with the weight of years, and honored by God as Noah had been! The very act of disrespect to Noah, the chosen of God, implies wilful contempt of God himself. Ham was not a young man either: he had not the excuse of the impetuosity of youth, nor its thoughtlessness—he was himself an old man; and there is every reason to believe he had led a life at variance with God's laws. When he committed so gross and violent a sin, it may be, that the curse of God, which had lain tranquil long, was roused and uttered against him: a curse not conditional, not implied—now, as then, a mandate of the Eternal.
Among the curses threatened by the Levites upon Mount Ebal, was the one found in the 16th verse of the 27th chapter of Deuteronomy: "Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother." By the law of Moses, this sin was punished with death: "Of the son which will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother," "all the men of his city shall stone him with stones that he die." (Deut. xxi. 21.) God in his wisdom instituted this severe law in early times; and it must convince us that there were reasons in the Divine mind for insisting on the ordinance exacting the most perfect submission and reverence to an earthly parent.
"When, after the deluge," says Josephus, "the earth was settled in
its former condition, Noah set about its cultivation; and when he had
planted it with vines, and when the fruit was ripe, and he had
gathered the grapes in the season, and the wine was ready for use, he
offered a sacrifice and feasted, and, being
inebriated, fell asleep, and lay in an unseemly manner. When Ham saw this, he came laughing, and showed him to his brothers." Does not this exhibit the impression of the Jews as regards the character of Ham? Could a man capable of such an act deserve the blessing of a just and holy God?
"The fact of Noah's transgression is recorded by the inspired historian with that perfect impartiality which is peculiar to the Scriptures, as an instance and evidence of human frailty and imperfection. Ham appears to have been a bad man, and probably he rejoiced to find his father in so unbecoming a situation, that, by exposing him, he might retaliate for the reproofs which he had received from his parental authority. And perhaps Canaan first discovered his situation, and told it to Ham. The conduct of Ham in exposing his father to his brethren, and their behaviour in turning away from the sight of his disgrace, form a striking contrast."—Scott's Com.
We are told in Gen. ix. 22, "And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without;" and in the 24th, 25th, 26th, and 27th verses we read, "And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him; and he said, Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant." Is it not preposterous that any man, any Christian, should read these verses and say slavery was not instituted by God as a curse on Ham and Canaan and their posterity?
And who can read the history of the world and say this curse has not existed ever since it was uttered?
"The whole continent of Africa," says Bishop Newton, "was
peopled principally by the descendants of Ham; and for how many ages have the better parts of that country lain under the dominion of the Romans, then of the Saracens, and now of the Turks! In what wickedness, ignorance, barbarity, slavery, misery, live most of the inhabitants! And of the poor negroes, how many hundreds every year are sold and bought like beasts in the market, and conveyed from one quarter of the world to do the work of beasts in another!"
But does this curse authorize the slave-trade? God forbid. He commanded the Jews to enslave the heathen around them, saying, "they should be their bondmen forever;" but he has given no such command to other nations. The threatenings and reproofs uttered against Israel, throughout the old Testament, on the subject of slavery, refer to their oppressing and keeping in slavery their own countrymen. Never is there the slightest imputation of sin, as far as I can see, conveyed against them for holding in bondage the children of heathen nations.
Yet do the Scriptures evidently permit slavery, even to the present time. The curse on the serpent, ("And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle and above every beast of the field,") uttered more than sixteen hundred years before the curse of Noah upon Ham and his race, has lost nothing of its force and true meaning. "Cursed is the ground for thy sake: in sorrow shalt thou eat of it, all the days of thy life," said the Supreme Being. Has this curse failed or been removed?
Remember the threatened curses of God upon the whole Jewish tribe if they forsook his worship. Have not they been fulfilled?
However inexplicable may be the fact that God would appoint the
curse of continual servitude on a portion of his creatures,
will any one dare, with the Bible open in his hands, to say the fact does not exist? It is not ours to decide why the Supreme Being acts! We may observe his dealings with man, but we may not ask, until he reveals it, Why hast thou thus done?
"Cursed is every one who loves not the Lord Jesus Christ." Are not all these curses recorded, and will they not all be fulfilled? God has permitted slavery to exist in every age and in almost every nation of the earth. It was only commanded to the Jews, and it was with them restricted to the heathen, ("referring entirely to the race of Ham, who had been judicially condemned to a condition of servitude more than eighteen hundred years before the giving of the law, by the mouth of Noah, the medium of the Holy Ghost.") No others, at least, were to be enslaved "forever." Every book of the Old Testament records a history in which slaves and God's laws concerning them are spoken of, while, as far as profane history goes back, we cannot fail to see proofs of the existence of slavery. "No legislator of history," says Voltaire, "attempted to abrogate slavery. Society was so accustomed to this degradation of the species, that Epictetus, who was assuredly worth more than his master, never expresses any surprise at his being a slave." Egypt, Sparta, Athens, Carthage, and Rome had their thousands of slaves. In the Bible, the best and chosen servants of God owned slaves, while in profane history the purest and greatest men did the same. In the very nation over whose devoted head hung the curse of God, slavery, vindictive, lawless, and cruel slavery, has prevailed. It is said no nation of the earth has equalled the Jewish in the enslaving of negroes, except the negroes themselves; and examination will prove that the descendants of Ham and Canaan have, as God foresaw, justified by their conduct the doom which he pronounced against them.
But it has been contended that the people of God sinned in holding their fellow-creatures in bondage! Open your Bible, Christian, and read the commands of God as regards slavery—the laws that he made to govern the conduct of the master and the slave!
But again—we live under the glorious and new dispensation of Christ; and He came to establish God's will, and to confirm such laws as were to continue in existence, to destroy such rules as were not to govern our lives!
When there was but one family upon the earth, a portion of the family was devoted to be slaves to others. God made a covenant with Abraham: he included in it his slaves. "He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money," are the words of Scripture. A servant of Abraham says, "And the Lord has blessed my master greatly, and he is become great, and he hath given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and men-servants and maid-servants, and camels and asses."
The Lord has called himself the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. These holy men were slaveholders!
The existence of slavery then, and the sanction of God on his own institution, is palpable from the time of the pronouncing of the curse, until the glorious advent of the Son of God. When he came, slavery existed in every part of the world.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came from heaven and dwelt upon the earth: his mission to proclaim the will of God to a world sunk in the lowest depths of iniquity. Even the dear and chosen people of God had departed from him—had forsaken his worship, and turned aside from his commands.
He was born of a virgin. He was called Emmanuel. He was God with us.
Wise men traveled from afar to behold the Child-God—they
knelt before him—they opened their treasures—they presented to them gifts. Angels of God descended in dreams, to ensure the protection of his life against the king who sought it. He emerged from infancy, and grew in favour with God and man. He was tempted but not overcome—angels came again from heaven to minister to him. He fulfilled every jot and tittle of the law, and entered upon the duties for which he left the glories of heaven.
That mission was fulfilled. "The people which sat in darkness saw great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up."
Look at his miracles—the cleansing of the leper, the healing of the sick, the casting out unclean spirits, the raising of the dead, the rebuking of the winds and seas, the control of those possessed with devils—and say, was he not the Son of God—yea, was he not God?
Full of power and goodness he came into the world, and light and
glory followed every footstep. The sound of his voice, the glance of
his eye, the very touch of the garment in which his assumed mortality
was arrayed, was a medicine mighty to save. He came on an errand of
mercy to the world, and he was all powerful to accomplish the Divine
intent; but, did he emancipate the slave? The happiness of the human
race was the object of his coming; and is it possible that the large
portion of them then slaves could have escaped his all-seeing eye!
Did he condemn the institution which he had made? Did he establish
universal freedom? Oh! no; he came to redeem the world from the power
of sin; his was no earthly mission; he did not interfere with the
organization of society. He healed the sick servant of the centurion,
but he did not command his freedom; nor is there a word that fell from
his sacred lips that could be construed into
a condemnation of that institution which had existed from the early ages of the world, existed then, and is continued now. The application made by the Abolitionist of the golden rule is absurd: it might then apply to the child, who would have his father no longer control him; to the apprentice, who would no longer that the man to whom he is bound should have a right to direct him. Thus the foundations of society would be shaken, nay, destroyed. Christ would have us deal with others, not as they desire, but as the law of God demands: in the condition of life in which we have been placed, we must do what we conscientiously believe to be our duty to our fellow-men.
Christ alludes to slavery, but does not forbid it. "And the servant abideth not in the house forever, but the son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, you are free indeed."
In these two verses of the Gospel of St. John, there is a manifest allusion to the fact and condition of slaves. Of this fact the Saviour took occasion, to illustrate, by way of similitude, the condition of a wicked man, who is the slave of sin, and to show that as a son who was the heir in a house could set a bondman free, if that son were of the proper age, so he, the Son of God, could set the enslaved soul free from sin, when he would be free indeed. Show me in the history of the Old Testament, or in the life of Christ, authority to proclaim as a sin the holding of the race of Ham and Canaan in bondage.
In the times of the apostles, what do we see? Slaves are still in bondage, the children of Ham are menials as they were before. Christ had come, had died, had ascended to heaven, and slavery still existed. Had the apostles authority to do it away? Had Christ left it to them to carry out, in this instance, his revealed will?
"Art thou," said Paul, "called being a slave? care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he is called." "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrines be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren, but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit."
It is well known and often quoted that the holy apostle did all he
could to restore a slave to his master—one whom he had been the means
of making free in a spiritual sense. Yet he knew that God had made
Onesimus a slave, and, when he had fled from his master, Paul
persuaded him to return and to do his duty toward him. Open your
Bible, Christian, and carefully read the letter of Paul to Philemon,
and contrast its spirit with the incendiary publications of the
Abolitionists of the present day. St. Paul was not a fanatic, and
therefore could not be an Abolitionist. The
Christian age advanced and slavery continued, and we approach the time
when our fathers fled from persecution to the soil we now call our
own, when they fought for the liberty to which they felt they had a
right. Our fathers fought for it, and our mothers did more when they
urged forth their husbands and sons, not knowing whether the
life-blood that was glowing with religion and patriotism would not
soon be dyeing the land that had been their refuge, and where they
fondly hoped they should find a happy home. Oh, glorious parentage!
Children of America, trace no farther back—say not the crest of
nobility once adorned thy father's breast, the gemmed coronet thy
mother's brow—stop here! it is enough that they earned for thee a
home—a free, a happy home. And what did they say to the slavery that
existed then and had been entailed upon them by the English govern-
ment? Their opinions are preserved among us—they were dictated by their position and necessities—and they were wisely formed. In the North, slavery was useless; nay, more, it was a drawback to the prosperity of that section of the Union—it was dispensed with. In other sections, gradually, our people have seen their condition would be more prosperous without slaves—they have emancipated them. In the South, they are necessary: though an evil, it is one that cannot be dispensed with; and here they have been retained, and will be retained, unless God should manifest his will (which never yet has been done) to the contrary. Knowing that the people of the South still have the views of their revolutionary forefathers, we see plainly that many of the North have rejected the opinions of theirs. Slaves were at the North and South considered and recognized as property, (as they are in Scripture.) The whole nation sanctioned slavery by adopting the Constitution which provides for them, and for their restoration (when fugitive) to their owners. Our country was then like one family—their souls had been tried and made pure by a united struggle—they loved as brothers who had suffered together. Would it were so at the present day!
The subject of slavery was agitated among them; many difficulties
occurred, but they were all settled—and, they thought, effectually.
They agreed then, on the propriety of giving up runaway slaves,
unanimously. Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, "saw no more impropriety in
the public seizing and surrendering a slave or servant than a horse!"
(Madison's Papers.) This was then considered a compromise between the
North and South. Henry Clay and Daniel Webster—the mantle of their
illustrious fathers descended to them from their own glorious times.
The slave-trade was discontinued after a while. As long as England
sons and daughters of Africa to do her bidding, she trafficked in the flesh and blood of her fellow-creatures; but our immortal fathers put an end to the disgraceful trade. They saw its heinous sin, for they had no command to enslave the heathen; but they had no command to emancipate the slave; therefore they wisely forbore farther to interfere. They drew the nice line of distinction between an unavoidable evil and a sin.
Slavery was acknowledged, and slaves considered as property all over our country, at the North as well as the South—in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Now, has there been any law reversing this, except in the States that have become free? Out of the limits of these States, slaves are property, according to the Constitution. In the year 1798, Judge Jay, being called on for a list of his taxable property, made the following observation:— "I purchase slaves and manumit them at proper ages, when their faithful services shall have afforded a reasonable retribution." "As free servants became more common, he was gradually relieved from the necessity of purchasing slaves." (See Jay's Life, by his son.)
Here is the secret of Northern emancipation: they were relieved from the necessity of slavery. Rufus King, for many years one of the most distinguished statesmen of the country, writes thus to John B. Coles and others:—"I am perfectly anxious not to be misunderstood in this case, never having thought myself at liberty to encourage or assent to any measure that would affect the security of property in slaves, or tend to disturb the political adjustment which the Constitution has made respecting them."
John Taylor, of New York, said, "If the weight and influence of
the South be increased by the representation of that which they
consider a part of their property, we do not wish to diminish them.
The right by which this property is held is derived
from the Federal Constitution; we have neither inclination nor power to interfere with the laws of existing States in this particular; on the contrary, they have not only a right to reclaim their fugitives whenever found, but, in the event of domestic violence, (which God in his mercy forever avert!) the whole strength of the nation is bound to be exerted, if needful, in reducing it to subjection, while we recognize these obligations and will never fail to perform them."
How many more could be brought! opinions of great and good men of
the North, acknowledging and maintaining the rights of the people of
the South. Everett, Adams, Cambreleng, and a host of others, whose
names I need not give. "Time was," said Mr. Fletcher in Boston, (in
1835, at a great meeting in that city,) "when such sentiments and such
language would not have been breathed in this community. And here, on
this hallowed spot, of all places on earth, should they be met and
rebuked. Time was, when the British Parliament having declared 'that
they had a right to bind us in all cases whatsoever,' and were
attempting to bind our infant limbs in fetters, when a voice of
resistance and notes of defiance had gone forth from this hall, then,
when Massachusetts, standing for her liberty and life, was alone
breasting the whole power of Britain, the generous and gallant
Southerners came to our aid, and our fathers refused not to hold
communion with slaveholders. When the blood of our citizens, shed by
a British soldiery, had stained our streets and flowed upon the
heights that surround us, and sunk into the earth upon the plains of
Lexington and Concord, then when he, whose name can never be
pronounced by American lips without the strongest emotion of gratitude
and love to every American heart,—when he, that slaveholder,
(pointing to a full-length portrait of Washington,) who, from this
upon his children with paternal benignity, came with other slaveholders to drive the British myrmidons from this city, and in this hall our fathers did not refuse to hold communion with them.
"With slaveholders they formed the confederation, neither asking nor receiving any right to interfere in their domestic relations: with them, they made the Declaration of Independence."
To England, not to the United States, belongs whatever odium may be attached to the introduction of slavery into our country. Our fathers abolished the slave-trade, but permitted the continuation of domestic slavery.
Slavery, authorized by God, permitted by Jesus Christ, sanctioned by the apostles, maintained by good men of all ages, is still existing in a portion of our beloved country. How long it will continue, or whether it will ever cease, the Almighty Ruler of the universe can alone determine.
I do not intend to give a history of Abolition. Born in fanaticism, nurtured in violence and disorder, it exists too. Turning aside the institutions and commands of God, treading under foot the love of country, despising the laws of nature and the nation, it is dead to every feeling of patriotism and brotherly kindness; full of strife and pride, strewing the path of the slave with thorns and of the master with difficulties, accomplishing nothing good, forever creating disturbance.
The negroes are still slaves—"while the American slaveholders, collectively and individually, ask no favours of any man or race that treads the earth. In none of the attributes of men, mental or physical, do they acknowledge or fear superiority elsewhere. They stand in the broadest light of the knowledge, civilization, and improvement of the age, as much favored of Heaven as any other of the sons of Adam."