[PART IV] CHAPTER I.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE AMERICAN CHURCH ON SLAVERY.
THERE is no country in the world where the religious
influence has a greater ascendancy than in America. There is no country where
the clergy are more powerful. This is the more remarkable, because in America
religion is entirely divorced from the State, and the clergy have none of
those artificial means for supporting their influence which result from rank
and wealth. Taken as a body of men, the American clergy are generally poor.
The salaries given to them afford only a bare support, and yield them no means
of acquiring property. Their style of living can be barely decent and respectable,
and no more. The fact that, under these circumstances, the American clergy
are probably the most powerful body of men in the country, is of itself a
strong presumptive argument in their favour. It certainly argues in them,
as a class, both intellectual and moral superiority.
It is a well-known fact that the influence of the clergy is looked upon
by our statesmen as a most serious element in making up their political combinations;
and that that influence is so great, that no statesman would ever undertake
to carry a measure against which all the clergy of the country should unite.
Such a degree of power, though it be only a power of opinion, argument, and
example, is not without its dangers to the purity of any body of men. To be
courted by political partisans is always a dangerous thing for the integrity
and spirituality of men who profess to be governed by principles which are
not of this world. The possession, too, of so great a power as we
have described, involves a most weighty responsibility; since, if the clergy
do possess the power to rectify any great national immorality, the fact of
its not being done seems in some sort to bring the sin of the omission to
We have spoken, thus far, of the clergy alone; but in America, where the
clergyman is, in most denominations, elected by the church, and supported
by its voluntary contributions, the influence of the church and that of the
clergy are, to a very great extent, identical. The clergyman is the very ideal
and expression of the church. They choose him, and retain him, because he
expresses more perfectly than any other man they can obtain their ideas of
truth and right. The clergyman is supported, in all cases, by his church,
or else he cannot retain his position in it. The fact of his remaining there
is generally proof of identity of opinion, since, if he differed very materially
from them, they have the power to withdraw from him, and choose another.
The influence of a clergyman, thus retained by the free consent of the
understanding and heart of his church, is in some respects greater even than
that of a papal priest. The priest can control only by a blind spiritual authority,
to which, very often, the reason demurs, while it yields an outward assent;
but the successful free minister takes captive the affections of the heart
by his affections, overrules the reasoning powers by superior strength of
reason, and thus, availing himself of affection, reason, conscience, and the
entire man, possesses a power, from the very freedom of the organisation,
greater than can ever result from blind spiritual despotism. If a minister
cannot succeed in doing this to some good extent in a church, he is called
unsuccessful; and he who realises this description most perfectly has the
highest and most perfect kind of power, and expresses the idea of a successful
In speaking, therefore, of this subject, we shall speak of the church and
the clergy as identical, using the word church in the American sense of the
word, for that class of men, of all denominations, who are
organised in bodies distinct from nominal Christians, as professing to
be actually controlled by the precepts of Christ.
What, then, is the influence of the church on this great question of slavery?
Certain things are evident on the very face of the matter.
1. It has not put an end to it.
2. It has not prevented the increase of it.
3. It has not occasioned the repeal of the laws which forbid education
to the slave.
4. It has not attempted to have laws passed forbidding
the separation of families and legalising the marriage of slaves.
5. Is has not stopped the internal slave-trade.
6. It has not prevented the extension of this system, with all its
wrongs, over new territories.
With regard to these assertions it is presumed there can be no difference
What, then, have they done?
In reply to this, it can be stated—
1. That almost every one of the leading denominations
have, at some time, in their collective capacity, expressed a decided disapprobation
of the system, and recommended that something should be done with a view to
2. One denomination of Christians has pursued such a course as entirely,
and in fact, to free every one of its members from any participation in slave-holding.
We refer to the Quakers. The course by which this result has been effected
will be shown by a pamphlet soon to be issued by the poet J. G. Whittier,
one of their own body.
3. Individual members, in all denominations, animated by the spirit
of Christianity, have in various ways entered their protest against it.
It will be well now to consider more definitely and minutely the sentiments
which some leading ecclesiastical bodies in the church have expressed on this
It is fair that the writer should state the sources from which the quotations
are drawn. Those relating to the action of Southern judicatories are principally
from a pamphlet compiled by the Hon. James G. Birney, and entitled “The
Church the Bulwark of Slavery.” The writer addressed a letter to Mr.
Birney, in which she inquired the sources from which he compiled. His reply
was, in substance, as follows:—That the pamphlet was compiled from original
documents, or files of newspapers, which had recorded these transactions at
the time of their occurrence. It was compiled and published in England, in
1842, with a view of leading the people there to understand the position of
the American church and clergy. Mr. Birney says that, although the statements
have long been before the world, he has never known one of them to be disputed;
that, knowing the extraordinary nature of the sentiments, he took the utmost
pains to authenticate them.
We will first present those of the Southern States.
1. The Presbyterian Church.
HARMONY PRESBYTERY OF SOUTH CAROLINA.
Whereas, sundry persons in Scotland and England, and others in the north,
east, and west of our country, have denounced slavery as obnoxious to the
laws of God, some of whom have presented before the General Assembly of our
church, and the Congress of the nation, memorials and petitions, with the
avowed object of bringing into disgrace slaveholders, and abolishing the relation
of master and slave: And whereas, from the said proceedings, and the statements,
reasonings, and circumstances connected therewith, it is most manifest that
those persons “know not what they say, nor whereof they affirm;”
and with this ignorance discover a spirit of self-righteousness and exclusive
sanctity, &c., therefore—
1. Resolved, That as the kingdom of our Lord is not
of this world, His church, as such, has no right to abolish, alter, or affect
any institution or ordinance of men, political or civil, &c.
2. Resolved, That slavery has existed from the days of those good
old slave-holders and patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (who are now in
the kingdom of heaven), to the time when the apostle Paul sent a runaway home
to his master Philemon, and wrote a Christian and fraternal letter to this
slaveholder, which we find still stands in the canon of the Scriptures: and
that slavery has existed ever since the days of the apostle, and does now
3. Resolved, That as the relative duties of master and slave are
taught in the Scriptures, in the same manner as those of parent and child,
and husband and wife, the existence of slavery itself is not opposed to the
will of God; and whosoever has a conscience too tender to recognise this relation
as lawful is “righteous over much,” is “wise above what
is written,” and has submitted his neck to the yoke of men, sacrificed
his Christian liberty of conscience, and leaves the infallible word of God
for the fancies and doctrines of men.
THE CHARLESTON UNION PRESBYTERY.
It is a principle which meets the views of this body, that slavery, as
it exists among us, is a political institution, with which ecclesiastical
judicatories have not the smallest right to interfere; and in relation to
which, any such interference, especially at the present momentous crisis,
would be morally wrong and fraught with the most dangerous and pernicious
consequences. The sentiments which we maintain, in common with Christians
at the South of every denomination, are sentiments which so fully approve
themselves to our consciences, are so identified with our solemn convictions
of duty, that we should maintain them under any circumstances.
Resolved, that in the opinion of this Presbytery, the holding of slaves,
so far from being a SIN in the sight of God, is nowhere
condemned in his holy word; that it is in accordance with the example, or
consistent with the precepts of patriarchs, apostles, and prophets, and that
it is compatible with the most fraternal regard to the best good of those
servants whom God may have committed to our charge.
The New School Presbyterian Church in Petersburgh, Virginia, November,
16, 1838, passed the following:
Whereas, the General Assembly did, in the year 1818, pass a law which contains
provisions for slaves irreconcilable with our civil institutions, and solemnly
declaring slavery to be sin against God—a law at once offensive
and insulting to the whole Southern community.
1. Resolved, that, as slaveholders, we cannot consent
longer to remain in connexion with any church where there exists a statute
conferring the right upon slaves to arraign their masters before the judicatory
of the church, and that, too, for the act of selling them without their consent
first had and obtained.
2. Resolved, that as the Great Head of the Church has recognised
the relation of master and slave, we conscientiously believe that slavery
is not a sin against God, as declared by the General Assembly.
This sufficiently indicates the opinion of the Southern Presbyterian Church.
The next extracts will refer to the opinions of Baptist Churches. In 1835,
the Charleston Baptist Association addressed a memorial to the Legislature
of South Carolina, which contains the following:
The undersigned would further represent that the said Association does
not consider that the Holy Scriptures have made the fact of slavery a question
of morals at all. The Divine Author of our holy religion, in particular, found
slavery a part of the existing institutions of society, with which, if not
sinful, it was not his design to intermeddle, but to leave them entirely to
the control of men. Adopting this, therefore, as one of the allowed arrangements
of society, he made it the province of his religion only to prescribe the
reciprocal duties of the relation. The question, it is believed, is purely
one of political economy. It amounts in effect to this, “Whether the
operatives of a country shall be bought and sold, and themselves become property,
as in this State; or whether they shall be hirelings, and their labour only
become property, as in some other States. In other words, whether an employer
may buy the whole time of labourers at once, of those who have a right to
dispose of it, with a permanent relation of protection and care over them,
or whether he shall be restricted to buy it in certain portions only, subject
to their control, and with no such permanent relation of care and protection.
The right of masters to dispose of the time of their slaves has been distinctly
recognised by the Creator of all things, who is surely at liberty to vest
the right of property over any object in whomsoever he pleases. That the lawful
possessor should retain this right at will, is no more against the laws of
society and good morals, than that he should retain the personal endowments
with which his Creator has blessed him, or the money and lands inherited from
his ancestors, or acquired by his industry; and neither society nor individuals
have any more authority to demand a relinquishment, without an equivalent,
in the one case, than in the other.
As it is a question purely of political economy, and one which in this
country is reserved to the cognisance of the State governments severally,
it is further believed that the State of South Carolina alone has the right
to regulate the existence and condition of slavery within her territorial
limits; and we should resist to the utmost every invasion of this right, come
from what quarter and under whatever pretence it may.
The Methodist Church is, in some respects, peculiarly situated upon this
subject, because its constitution and book of discipline
the most vehement denunciations against slavery of which language is capable,
and the most stringent requisitions that all members shall be disciplined
for the holding of slaves; and these denunciations and requisitions have been
re-affirmed by its General Conference.
It seemed to be necessary, therefore, for the Southern Conference to take
some notice of this fact, which they did, with great coolness and distinctness,
THE GEORGIA ANNUAL CONFERENCE.
Resolved unanimously, that whereas there is a clause in the discipline
of our church which states that we are as much as ever convinced of the great
evil of slavery; and whereas, the said clause has been perverted by some,
and used in such a manner as to produce the impression that the Methodist
Episcopal Church believed slavery to be a moral evil—
Therefore Resolved, that it is the sense of the Georgia Annual Conference
that slavery, as it exists in the United States, is not a moral evil.
Resolved, that we view slavery as a civil and domestic institution, and
one with which, as ministers of Christ, we have nothing to do, further than
to ameliorate the condition of the slave, by endeavouring to impart to him
and his master the benign influences of the religion of Christ, and aiding
both on their way to heaven.
On motion it was resolved unanimously, that the Georgia Annual Conference
regard with feelings of profound respect and approbation the dignified course
pursued by our several superintendents, or bishops, in suppressing the attempts
that have been made by various individuals to get up and protract an excitement
in the churches and country on the subject of abolitionism.
Resolved, further, that they shall have our cordial and zealous support
in sustaining them in the ground they have taken.
SOUTH CAROLINA CONFERENCE.
The Rev. W. Martin introduced resolutions similar to those of the Georgia
The Rev. W. Capers, D.D., after expressing his conviction that “the
sentiment of the resolutions was universally held, not only by the ministers
of that conference, but of the whole South;” and after stating that
the only true doctrine was, “it belongs to Cæsar, and not to the
church,” offered the following as a substitute:
Whereas, we hold that the subject of slavery in these United States is
not one proper for the action of the church, but is exclusively appropriate
to the civil authorities.
Therefore Resolved, That this conference will not intermeddle with it,
further than to express our regret that it has ever been introduced, in any
form, into any one of the judicatures of the church.
Brother Martin accepted the substitute.
Brother Betts asked whether the substitute was intended as implying that
slavery, as it exists among us, was not a moral evil. He understood it as
equivalent to such a declaration.
Brother Capers explained that his intention was to convey that sentiment
fully and unequivocally; and that he had chosen the form of the substitute
for the purpose not only of reproving some wrong-doings at the North, but
with reference also to the General Conference. If slavery were a moral evil
(that is, sinful), the church would be bound to take cognisance of it; but
our affirmation is, that it is not a matter for her jurisdiction, but is exclusively
appropriate to the civil government, and of course not sinful.
The substitute was then unanimously adopted.
In 1836, an Episcopal clergyman in North Carolina, of the name of Freeman,
preached in the presence of his bishop (Rev. Levi S. Ives, D.D., a native
of a free State), two sermons on the rights and duties of slaveholders. In
these he essayed to justify from the Bible the slavery both of white men and
negroes, and insisted that “without a new revelation
from heaven, no man was authorised to pronounce slavery
WRONG.” The sermons were printed in a pamphlet, prefaced with a
letter to Mr. Freeman from the Bishop of North Carolina, declaring that he
had “listened with most unfeigned pleasure” to his discourses,
and advised their publication as being “urgently called for at the present
“The Protestant Episcopal Society for the advancement of Christianity
(!) in South Carolina” thought it expedient to republish Mr. Freeman's
pamphlet as a religious tract!*
Afterwards, when the addition of the new State of Texas made it important
to organise the Episcopal Church there, this Mr. Freeman was made Bishop of
The question may now arise—it must arise to every intelligent thinker
in Christendom—Can it be possible that American slavery,
as defined by its laws and the decisions of its Courts, including all
the horrible abuses that the laws recognise and sanction, is considered to
be a right and proper institution? Do these Christians merely recognise the
relation of slavery in the abstract, as one that, under proper legislation,
might be made a good one, or do they justify it as it actually
exists in America?
It is a fact that there is a large party at the South who justify not only
slavery in the abstract, but slavery just as it exists in America, in whole
and in part, and even its worst abuses.
There are four legalised parts or results of the system, which are of especial
1. The prohibition of the testimony
of coloured people in cases of trial.
2. The forbidding of education.
3. The internal slave-trade.
4. The consequent separation of families.
We shall bring evidence to show that every one of these practices has been
either defended on principle, or recognised without condemnation, by decisions
of judicatories of churches, or by writings of influential clergymen, without
any expression of dissent being made to their opinions by the bodies to which
In the first place, the exclusion of coloured testimony in the church.
In 1840, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church passed the
IT IS INEXPEDIENT AND UNJUSTIFIABLE FOR ANY PREACHER TO PERMIT COLOURED PERSONS
TO GIVE TESTIMONY AGAINST WHITE PERSONS IN ANY STATE WHERE THEY ARE DENIED
THAT PRIVILEGE BY LAW.”
This was before the Methodist Church had separated on the question of slavery,
as they subsequently did, into Northern and Southern Conferences. Both Northern
and Southern members voted for this resolution.
After this was passed, the conscience of many Northern ministers was aroused,
and they called for a reconsideration. The Southern members imperiously demanded
that it should remain as a compromise and test of union. The spirit of the
discussion may be inferred from one extract.
Mr. Peck, of New York, who moved the reconsideration of the resolution,
thus expressed himself:—
That resolution (said he) was introduced under peculiar circumstances,
during considerable excitement, and he went for it as a peace-offering to
the South, without sufficiently reflecting upon the precise import of its
phraseology; but, after a little deliberation, he was sorry; and he had been
sorry but once, and that was all the time; he was convinced that, if that
resolution remain upon the journal, it would be disastrous to the whole Northern
Rev. Dr. A. J. Few, of Georgia, the mover of the original resolution, then
rose. The following are extracts from his speech. The italics are my own:—
Look at it! What do you declare to us, in taking this course? Why, simply,
as much as to say, “We cannot sustain you in the condition which you
cannot avoid!” We cannot sustain you in the necessary
conditions of slaveholding; one of its necessary conditions
being the rejection of negro testimony! If it is not sinful to hold
slaves, under all circumstances, it is not sinful to hold
them in the only condition, and under the only circumstances, which they can
be held. The rejection of negro testimony is one of the necessary circumstances
under which slaveholding can exist—indeed, it is utterly impossible
for it to exist without it;
therefore it is not sinful to hold
slaves in the condition and under the circumstances which
they are held at the South, inasmuch as they can be held under no other circumstances
.* * * If you believe that slaveholding is necessarily sinful, come out
with the abolitionists, and honestly say so. If you believe that slave-holding
is necessarily sinful, you believe we are necessarily sinners; and, if so,
come out and honestly declare it, and let us leave you
. * * * We want to know distinctly, precisely and honestly, the position
which you take. We cannot be tampered with by you any longer. We have had
enough of it. We are tired of your sickly sympathies. * * * If you are not
opposed to the principles which it involves, unite with us,
like honest men, and go home, and boldly meet the consequences. We say
again, you are responsible for this state of things; for it is
you who have driven us to the alarming point where we find ourselves.
* * * You have made that resolution absolutely necessary
to the quiet of the South! But you now revoke that
resolution! And you pass the Rubicon! Let me not be misunderstood. I say, you pass the Rubicon! If you revoke, you revoke the principle
which that resolution involves, and you array the whole South against you, and we must separate! * * * If you accord to the principles
which it involves, arising from the necessity of the case, stick by it, “though
the heavens perish!” But if you persist on reconsideration, I ask in
what light will your course be regarded in the South? What will be the conclusion,
there, in reference to it? Why, that you cannot sustain us as long as we hold
slaves! It will declare, in the face of the sun, “We cannot sustain
you, gentlemen, while you retain your slaves!” Your opposition to the
resolution is based upon your opposition to slavery; you cannot, therefore,
maintain your>consistency unless you come out with the abolitionists, and
condemn us at once and for ever, or else refuse to reconsider.
The resolution was, therefore, left in force, with another resolution appended
to it, expressing the undiminished regard of the General
Conference for the coloured population.
It is quite evident that it was undiminished, for
the best of reasons. That the coloured population were not properly impressed
with this last act of condescension, appears from the fact that “the
official members of the Sharp-street and Ashby Coloured Methodist Church in
Baltimore” protested and petitioned against the motion. The following
is a passage from their address:—
The adoption of such a resolution, by our highest ecclesiastical judicatory—a
judicatory composed of the most experienced and wisest brethren in the church,
the choice selection of twenty-eight Annual Conferences—has inflicted,
we fear, an irreparable injury upon 80,000 souls for whom Christ died—souls,
who, by this act of your body, have been stripped of the dignity of Christians,
degraded in the scale of humanity, and treated as criminals, for no other
reason than the colour of their skin! Your resolution has, in our humble opinion,
virtually declared that a mere physical peculiarity, the handiwork of our
all-wise and benevolent Creator, is primá facie
evidence of incompetency to tell the truth, or is an unerring indication
of unworthiness to bear testimony against a fellow-being whose skin is denominated
white: * * * Brethren, out of the abundance of the heart we have spoken. Our
grievance is before you! If you have any regard for the salvation
of the 80,000 immortal souls committed to your care; if you would not thrust
beyond the pale of the church twenty-five hundred souls in this city, who
have felt determined never to leave the church that has nourished and brought
them up; if you regard us as children of one common Father, and can, upon
reflection, sympathise with us as members of the body of Christ—if you
would not incur the fearful, the tremendous responsibility of offending not
only one, but many thousands of his “little ones,” we conjure
you to wipe from your journal the odious resolution which is ruining our people.
“A Coloured Baltimorean,” writing to the editor of
Zion's Watchman, says:—
The address was presented to one of the secretaries, a delegate of the
Baltimore Conference, and subsequently given by him to the bishops. How many
of the members of the Conference saw it, I know not. One thing is certain,
it was not read to the Conference.
With regard to the second head—of defending the laws which prevent
the slave from being taught to read and write—we have the following
In the year 1835, the Chillicothe Presbytery, Ohio, addressed a Christian
remonstrance to the presbytery of Mississippi on the subject of slavery, in
which they specifically enumerated the respects in which they considered it
to be unchristian. The eighth resolution was as follows:—
That any member of our church, who shall advocate or speak in favour of
such laws as have been or may yet be enacted, for the purpose of keeping the
slaves in ignorance, and preventing them from learning to read the Word of
God, is guilty of a great sin, and ought to be dealt with as for other scandalous
This remonstrance was answered by Rev. James Smylie, stated clerk of the
Mississippi Presbytery, and afterwards of the Amity Presbytery of Louisiana,
in a pamphlet of eighty-seven pages, in which he defended slavery generally
and particularly, in the same manner in which all other abuses have always
been defended—by the word of God. The tenth section of this pamphlet
is devoted to the defence of this law. He devotes seven pages of fine print
to this object. He says (p. 63):—
There are laws existing in both States, Mississippi and Louisiana, accompanied
with heavy penal sanctions, prohibiting the teaching of the slaves to read,
and meeting the approbation of the religious part of the reflecting community.
* * * * *
He adds, still further:
The laws preventing the slaves from learning to read are a fruitful source
of much ignorance and immorality among the slaves. The printing, publishing,
and circulating of abolition and emancipatory principles in those States,
was the cause
He then goes on to say that the ignorance and vice which are the consequence
of those laws do not properly belong to those who made the laws, but to those
whose emancipating doctrines rendered them necessary. Speaking of these consequences
of ignorance and vice, he says:—
Upon whom must they be saddled? If you will allow me to answer the question,
I will answer by saying, Upon such great and good men as John Wesley, Jonathan
Edwards, Bishop Porteus, Paley, Horsley, Scott, Clark, Wilberforce, Sharpe,
Clarkson, Fox, Johnson, Burke, and other great and good men, who, without
examining the Word of God, have concluded that it is a true maxim that slavery
is in itself sinful.
He then illustrates the necessity of these laws by the following simile.
He supposes that the doctrine had been promulgated that the authority of parents
was an unjust usurpation, and that it was getting a general hold of society;
that societies were being formed for the emancipation of children from the
control of their parents; that all books were beginning to be pervaded by
this sentiment; and that, under all these influences, children were becoming
restless and fractious. He supposes that, under these circumstances, parents
meet and refer the subject to legislators. He thus describes the dilemma of
These meet, and they take the subject seriously and solemnly into consideration.
On the one hand, they perceive that, if their children had access to these
doctrines, they were ruined for ever. To let them have access to them was
unavoidable, if they taught them to read. To prevent their being taught to
read was cruel, and would prevent them from obtaining as much knowledge of
the laws of Heaven as otherwise they might enjoy. In this sad dilemma, sitting
and consulting in a legislative capacity, they must, of two evils, choose
the least. With indignant feelings towards those who, under the influence
of “seducing spirits,” had sent, and were sending among them,
“doctrines of devils,” but with aching hearts towards their children,
they resolved that their children should not be taught to read, until the
storm should be overblown; hoping that Satan's being let loose will be but
for a little season. And during this season they will have to teach them orally,
and thereby guard against their being contaminated by these wicked doctrines.
So much for that law.
Now, as for the internal slave-trade. The very essence of that trade is
the buying and selling of human beings for the mere purposes
A master who has slaves transmitted to him, or a master who buys slaves
with the purpose of retaining them on his plantation or in his family, can
be supposed to have some object in it besides the mere
purpose of gain. He may be supposed, in certain cases, to have some regard
to the happiness or well-being
of the slave. The trader buys
and sells for the mere purpose of gain.
Concerning this abuse the Chillicothe Presbytery, in the document to which
we have alluded, passed the following resolution:—
Resolved, That the buying, selling, or holding of a slave, for the sake
of gain, is a heinous sin and scandal, requiring the cognisance of the judicatories
of the church.
In the reply from which we have already quoted, Mr. Smylie says (p. 13):—
If the buying, selling, and holding of a slave for the sake of gain, is,
as you say, a heinous sin and scandal, then verily three-fourths of all Episcopalians,
Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, in the eleven States of the Union,
are of the devil.
* * * * * * * *
To question whether slaveholders or slave-buyers are of the devil, seems
to me like calling in question whether God is or is not a true witness; that
is, provided it is God's testimony, and not merely the testimony of the Chillicothe
Presbytery, that it is a “heinous sin and scandal” to buy, sell,
and hold slaves.
Again (p. 21):—
If language can convey a clear and definite meaning at all, I know not
how it can more plainly or unequivocally present to the mind any thought or
idea, than the twenty-fifth chapter of Leviticus clearly and unequivocally
establishes the fact that slavery was sanctioned by God himself, and that
buying, selling, holding, and bequeathing slaves, as property, are regulations
which are established by himself.
* * * * * *
What language can more explicitly show, not that God winked at slavery
merely, but that, to say the least, he gave a written permit to the Hebrews,
then the best people in the world, to buy, hold, and bequeath, men and women,
to perpetual servitude? What, now, becomes of the position of the Chillicothe
Presbytery? * * * Is it, indeed, a fact that God once gave a written permission
to his own dear people [“ye shall buy”] to do that which is in
itself sinful? Nay, to do that which the Chillicothe Presbytery says “is
a heinous sin and scandal?”
* * * * * *
God resolves that his own children may, or rather “shall,”
“buy, possess, and hold,” bond-men and bond-women, in bondage,
for ever. But the Chillicothe Presbytery resolves that “buying, selling,
or holding slaves, for the sake of gain, is a heinous sin and scandal.”
We do not mean to say that Mr. Smylie had the internal slave-trade directly
in his mind in writing these sentences; but we do say that no slave-trader
would ask for a more explicit justification of his trade than this.
Lastly, in regard to that dissolution of the marriage relation, which is
the necessary consequence of this kind of trade, the
decisions have been made by judicatories of the church.
The Savannah River (Baptist) Association, in 1835, in reply to the question—
Whether, in a case of involuntary separation of such a character as to
preclude all prospect of future intercourse, the parties ought to be allowed
to marry again?
That such a separation, among persons situated as our slaves are, is civilly
a separation by death, and they believe that, in the sight of God, it would
be so viewed. To forbid second marriages, in such cases, would be to expose
the parties, not only to stronger hardships and strong temptation, but to
church censure, for acting in obedience to their masters, who cannot be expected
to acquiesce in a regulation at variance with justice to the slaves, and to
the spirit of that command which regulates marriage among Christians. The
slaves are not free agents, and a dissolution by death is not more entirely
without their consent, and beyond their control, than by such separation.
At the Shiloh Baptist Association, which met at Gourdvine, a few years
since, the following query, says the “Religious Herald,” was presented
from Hedgman church, viz.:
Is a servant, whose husband or wife has been sold by his or her master,
into a distant country, to be permitted to marry again?
The query was referred to a committee, who made the following report; which,
after discussion, was adopted:
That, in view of the circumstances in which servants in this country are
placed, the committee are unanimous in the opinion that it is better to permit
servants thus circumstanced to take another husband or wife.
The Reverend Charles C. Jones, who was an earnest and indefatigable labourer
for the good of the slave, and one who, it would be supposed, would be likely
to feel strongly on this subject, if any one would, simply remarks, in estimating
the moral condition of the negroes, that, as husband and wife are subject
to all the vicissitudes of property, and may be separated by division of estate,
debts, sales, or removals, &c., &c., the marriage relation naturally
loses much of its sacredness; and says:
It is a contract of convenience, profit or pleasure, that may be entered
into and dissolved at the will of the parties, and that without heinous sin,
or injury to the property interests of any one.
In this sentence he is expressing, as we suppose, the
idea of slaves and masters of the nature of this
institution, and not his own. We infer this from the fact that he endeavours
in his catechism to impress on the slave the sacredness and perpetuity of
the relation. But, when the most pious and devoted men that the South has,
and those professing to spend their lives for the service of the slave, thus
calmly, and without any reprobation, contemplate this state of things as a
state with which Christianity does not call on them to interfere, what can
be expected of the world in general?
It is to be remarked, with regard to the sentiments of Mr. Smylie's pamphlet,
that they are endorsed in the Appendix by a document in the name of two Presbyteries,
which document, though with less minuteness of investigation, takes the same
ground with Mr. Smylie. This Rev. James Smylie was one who, in company with
the Rev. John L. Montgomery, was appointed by the synod of Mississippi, in
1839, to write or compile a catechism for the instruction of the negroes.
Mr. Jones says, in his “History of the Religious Instruction of the
Negroes” (page 83): “The Rev. James Smylie and the Rev. C. Blair
are engaged in this good work (of enlightening the negroes) systematically
and constantly in Mississippi.” The former clergyman is characterised
as “an aged and indefatigable father.” “His success in enlightening
the negroes has been very great. A large proportion of the negroes in his
old church can recite both Williston's and the Westminster Catechism very
accurately.” The writer really wishes that it were in her power to make
copious extracts from Mr. Smylie's pamphlet. A great deal could be learned
from it as to what style of mind, and habits of thought, and modes of viewing
religious subjects, are likely to grow up under such an institution. The man
is undoubtedly and heartily sincere in his opinions, and appears to maintain
them with a most abounding and triumphant joyfulness, as the very latest improvement
in theological knowledge. We are tempted to present a part of his
Introduction, simply for the light it gives us on the style of thinking
which is to be found in our south-western writers:
In presenting the following review to the public, the author was not entirely
or mainly influenced by a desire or hope to correct the views of the Chillicothe
Presbytery. He hoped the publication would be of essential service to others
as well as to the presbytery.
From his intercourse with religious societies of all denominations, in
Mississippi and Louisiana, he was aware that the abolition maxim, namely,
that slavery is in itself sinful, had gained on and entwined itself among
the religious and conscientious scruples of many in the community, so far
as not only to render them
unhappy, but to draw off the attention
from the great and important duty of a householder to his household. The eye
of the mind, resting on slavery itself as a corrupt fountain, from which,
of necessity, nothing but corrupt streams could flow, was incessantly employed
in search of some plan by which, with safety, the fountain could, in some
future time, be entirely dried up; never reflecting, or dreaming, that slavery,
in itself considered, was an innoxious relation, and that the whole error
rested in the neglect of the relative duties of the relation.
If there be a consciousness of guilt resting on the mind, it is all the
same, as to the effect, whether the conscience is or is not right. Although
the word of God alone ought to be the guide of conscience, yet it is not always
the case. Hence, conscientious scruples sometimes exist for neglecting to
do that which the word of God condemns.
The Bornean who neglects to kill his father, and to eat him with his dates,
when he has become old, is sorely tortured by the wringings of a guilty conscience,
when his filial tenderness and sympathy have gained the ascendancy over his
apprehended duty of killing his parent. In like manner, many a slaveholder,
whose conscience is guided, not by the word of God, but by the doctrines of
men, is often suffering the lashes of a guilty conscience, even when he renders
to his slave “that which is just and equal,” according to the
Scriptures, simply because he does not emancipate his slave, irrespective
of the benefit or injury done by such an act.
“How beautiful upon the mountains,” in the apprehension of
the reviewer, “would be the feet of him that would bring” to the
Bornean “the glad tidings” that his conduct, in sparing the life
of his tender and affectionate parent, was no sin! * * * Equally beautiful
and delightful, does the reviewer trust, will it be, to an honest, scrupulous,
and conscientious slaveholder, to learn, from the word of God, the glad tidings,
that slavery itself is not sinful. Released now from an incubus that paralysed
his energies in discharge of duty towards his slaves, he goes forth cheerfully
to energetic action. It is not now as formerly, when he viewed slavery as
in itself sinful. He can now pray, with the hope of being heard, that God
will bless his exertions to train up his slaves “in the nurture and
admonition of the Lord;” whereas, before, he was retarded by this consideration—“If
I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Instead of
hanging down his head, moping and brooding over his condition as formerly,
without action, he raises his head, and moves on cheerfully in the plain path
He is no more tempted to look askance at the word of God, and saying, “Hast
thou found me, O mine enemy,” come to “filch from me” my
slaves, which, “while not enriching” them, “leaves me poor
indeed?” Instead of viewing the word of God, as formerly, come with
whips and scorpions to chastise him into paradise, he feels that its “ways
are ways of pleasantness, and its paths peace.” Distinguishing now between
the real word of God and what are only the doctrines and commandments of men,
the mystery is solved, which was before insolvable, namely, “The statutes
of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”
If you should undertake to answer such a man by saying that his argument
proves too much, that neither Christ nor his apostles bore any explicit testimony
against the gladiatorial shows and the sports of the arena, and therefore
it would be
right to get them up in America, the probability
seems to be that he would heartily assent to it, and think, on the whole,
that it might be a good speculation. As a further specimen of the free and
easy facetiousness which seems to be a trait in this production, see, on page
58, where the Latin motto “Facilis descensus Averni, sed revocare,”
&c., receives the following quite free and truly Western translation,
which, he good-naturedly says is given for the benefit of those who do not
understand Latin: “It is easy to go to the devil, but the devil to get
Some uncharitable people might, perhaps, say that the preachers of such
doctrines are as likely as anybody to have an experimental knowledge on this
point. The idea of this jovial old father instructing a class of black “Sams”
and young “Topsys” in the mysteries of the Assembly's Catechism
is truly picturesque!
That Mr. Smylie's opinions on the subject of slavery have been amply supported
and carried out by leading clergymen in every denomination, we might give
volumes of quotations to show.
A second head, however, is yet to be considered, with regard to the influence
of the Southern church and clergy.
It is well known that the Southern political community have taken their
stand upon the position that the institution of slavery shall not be open
to discussion. In many of the slave States stringent laws exist, subjecting
to fine and imprisonment, and even death, any who speak or publish anything
upon the subject, except in its favour. They have not only done this with
regard to citizens of slave States, but they have shown the strongest disposition
to do it with regard to citizens of free States; and when these discussions
could not be repelled by regular law, they have encouraged the use of illegal
measures. In the published letters and speeches of Horace Mann, the following
examples are given (p. 467). In 1831 the Legislature of Georgia offered five
thousand dollars to any one who would arrest and bring to trial and conviction,
in Georgia, a citizen of Massachusetts, named William Lloyd Garrison. This
law was approved by W. Lumpkin, Governor, Dec. 26, 1831. At a meeting of slave-holders
held at Sterling, in the same State, September 4, 1835, it was formally recommended
to the governor to offer, by proclamation, five thousand dollars reward for
the apprehension of any one of ten persons, citizens, with one exception,
of New York and Massachusetts, whose names were given. The
Milledgeville (Ga.) Federal Union of
February 1st, 1836, contained an offer of ten thousand dollars for the arrest
and kidnapping of the Rev. A. A. Phelps, of New York. The Committee of Vigilance
of the parish of East Feliciana offered, in the Louisville
Journal of Oct. 15, 1835, fifty thousand dollars to any person who would
deliver into their hands Arthur Tappan of New York. At a public meeting at
Mount Meigs, Alabama, Aug. 13, 1836, the Hon. Bedford Ginress in the chair,
a reward of fifty thousand dollars was offered for the apprehension of the
same Arthur Tappan, or of Le Roy Sunderland, a Methodist clergyman of New
York. Of course, as none of these persons could be seized except in violation
of the laws of the State where they were citizens, this was offering a public
reward for an act of felony. Throughout all the Southern States associations
were formed, called Committees of Vigilance, for the taking of measures for
suppressing abolition opinions, and for the punishment by Lynch law of suspected
persons. At Charleston, South Carolina, a mob of this description forced open
the post-office, and made a general inspection, at their pleasure, of its
contents; and whatever publication they found there which they considered
to be of a dangerous and anti-slavery tendency, they made a public bonfire
of, in the street. A large public meeting was held, a few days afterwards,
to complete the preparation for excluding anti-slavery principles from publication,
and for ferreting out persons suspected of abolitionism, that they might be
subjected to Lynch law. Similar popular meetings were held through the Southern
and Western States. At one of these, held in Clinton, Mississippi, in the
year 1835, the following resolutions were passed:—
Resolved, That slavery through the South and West is not felt as an evil
moral or political, but it is recognised in reference to the actual, and not
to any Utopian condition of our slaves, as a blessing both to master and slave.
Resolved, That it is our decided opinion that any individual who dares
to circulate, with a view to effectuate the designs of the abolitionists,
any of the incendiary tracts or newspapers now in a course of transmission
to this country, is justly worthy, in the sight of God and man, of immediate
death; and we doubt not that such would be the punishment of any such offender
in any part of the State of Mississippi where he may be found.
Resolved, That the clergy of the State of Mississippi be hereby recommended
at once to take a stand upon this subject; and that their further silence
in relation thereto, at this crisis, will, in our opinion, be subject to serious
The treatment to which persons were exposed, when taken up by any of these
Vigilance Committees, as suspected of anti-slavery sentiments, may be gathered
from the following account.
The writer has a distinct recollection
of the circumstances at the present time, as the victim of this injustice
was a member of the seminary then under the care of her father.
Amos Dresser, now a missionary in Jamaica, was a theological student at
Lane Seminary, near Cincinnati. In the vacation (August 1835) he undertook
to sell Bibles in the State of Tennessee, with a view to raise means further
to continue his studies. Whilst there, he fell under suspicion of being an
abolitionist, was arrested by the Vigilance Committee whilst attending a religious
meeting in the neighbourhood of Nashville, the capital of the State, and,
after an afternoon and evening's inquisition, condemned to receive twenty
lashes on his naked body. The sentence was executed on him between eleven
and twelve o'clock on Saturday night, in the presence of most of the committee,
and of an infuriated and blaspheming mob. The Vigilance Committee (an unlawful
association) consisted of sixty persons. Of these, twenty-seven were members
of churches; one, a religious teacher; another, the elder who, but a few days
before, in the Presbyterian church, handed Mr. Dresser the bread and wine
at the communion of the Lord's Supper.
It will readily be seen that the principle involved in such proceedings
as these involves more than the question of slavery. The question was, in
fact, this—Whether it is so important to hold African slaves that it
is proper to deprive free Americans of the liberty of conscience, and liberty
of speech, and liberty of the press, in order to do it? It is easy to see
that very serious changes would be made in the government of a country by
the admission of this principle; because it is quite plain that, if all these
principles of our free government may be given up for one thing, they may
for another; and that its ultimate tendency is to destroy entirely that freedom
of opinion and thought which is considered to be the distinguishing excellence
of American institutions.
The question now is, Did the church join with the world in thinking the
institution of slavery so important and desirable as to lead them to look
with approbation upon Lynch law and the sacrifice of the rights of free inquiry?
We answer the reader by submitting the following facts and quotations.
At the large meeting which we have described above, in Charleston, South
Carolina, the Charleston Courier informs us “that
the clergy of all denominations attended in a body, lending their sanction
to the proceedings, and adding by their presence to the impressive character
of the scene.” There can be no doubt that the presence of the clergy
of all denominations, in a body, at a meeting held for such a purpose, was
an impressive scene, truly!
At this meeting it was resolved—
That the thanks of this meeting are due to the reverend gentlemen of the
clergy in this city, who have so promptly and so effectually responded to
public sentiment, by suspending their schools in which the free coloured population
were taught; and that this meeting deem it a patriotic action, worthy of all
praise, and proper to be imitated by other teachers of similar schools throughout
The question here arises, whether their Lord, at the day of judgment, will
comment on their actions in a similar strain.
The alarm of the Virginia slave-holders was not less; nor were the clergy
in the city of Richmond, the capital, less prompt than the clergy in Charleston
to respond to “public sentiment.” Accordingly on the 29th of July,
they assembled together and resolved, unanimously—
That we earnestly deprecate the unwarrantable and highly improper interference
of the people of any other State with the domestic relations of master and
That the example of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, in not interfering
with the question of slavery, but uniformly recognising the relations of master
and servant, and giving full and affectionate instruction to both, is worthy
of the imitation of all ministers of the gospel.
That we will not patronise nor receive any pamphlet or newspaper of the
anti-slavery societies, and that we will discountenance the circulation of
all such papers in the community.
The Rev. J. C. Postell, a Methodist minister of South Carolina, concludes
a very violent letter to the Editor of “Zion's Watchman,” a Methodist
anti-slavery paper published in New York, in the following manner. The reader
will see that this taunt is an allusion to the offer of fifty thousand dollars
for his body at the South, which we have given before:
But, if you desire to educate the slaves, I will tell you how to raise
the money without editing “Zion's Watchman.” You and old Arthur
Tappan come out to the South this winter, and they will raise one hundred
thousand dollars for you. New Orleans, itself, will be pledged for it. Desiring
no further acquaintance with you, and never expecting to see you but once
in time or eternity, that is at the judgment, I subscribe myself the friend
of the Bible, and the opposer of abolitionists.
Orangeburgh, July 21, 1836.
J. C. POSTELL.
The Rev. Thomas S. Witherspoon, a member of the Presbyterian Church, writing
to the editor of the Emancipator, says:
I draw my warrant from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, to
hold the slave in bondage. The principle of holding the heathen in bondage
is recognised by God. * * * When the tardy process of the law is too long
in redressing our grievances, we of the South have adopted the summary remedy
Judge Lynch; and really I think it one of the most wholesome
and salutary remedies for the malady of Northern fanaticism that can be applied,
and no doubt my worthy friend, the Editor of the Emancipator
and Human Rights, would feel the better of its enforcement, provided
he had a Southern administrator. I go to the Bible for my warrant in all moral
matters. * * * Let your emissaries dare venture to cross the Potomac, and
I cannot promise you that their fate will be less than Haman's. Then beware
how you goad an insulted but magnanimous people to deeds of desperation.
The Rev. Robert N. Anderson, also a member of the Presbyterian Church,
says, in a letter to the Sessions of the Presbyterian Congregations within
the bounds of the West Hanover Presbytery:
At the approaching stated meeting of our Presbytery, I design to offer
a preamble and string of resolutions on the subject of the use of wine in
the Lord's Supper; and also a preamble and string of resolutions on the subject
of the treasonable and abominably-wicked interference of the Northern and
Eastern fanatics with our political and civil rights, our property and our
domestic concerns. You are aware that our clergy, whether with or without
reason, are more suspected by the public than the clergy of other denominations.
Now, dear Christian brethren, I humbly express it as my earnest wish, that
you quit yourselves like men. If there be any stray goat of a minister among
you, tainted with the blood-hound principles of abolitionism, let him be ferreted
out, silenced, excommunicated, and left to the public to dispose of him in
Your affectionate brother in the Lord,
ROBERT N. ANDERSON.
The Rev. William S. Plummer, D.D., of Richmond, a member of the Old School
Presbyterian Church, is another instance of the same sort. He was absent from
Richmond at the time the clergy in that city purged themselves, in a body,
from the charge of being favourably disposed to abolition. On his return,
he lost no time in communicating to the “Chairman of the Committee of
Correspondence” his agreement with his clerical brethren. The passages
quoted occur in his letter to the chairman:
I have carefully watched this matter from its earliest existence, and everything
I have seen or heard of its character, both from its patrons and its enemies,
has confirmed me, beyond repentance, in the belief that, let the character
of abolitionists be what it may in the sight of the Judge of all the earth,
this is the most meddlesome, impudent, reckless, fierce, and wicked excitement
I ever saw.
If abolitionists will set the country in a blaze, it is but fair that they
should receive the first warning at the fire.
* * * * * *
Lastly. Abolitionists are like infidels, wholly unaddicted to martyrdom
for opinion's sake. Let them understand that they will be caught [Lynched]
come among us, and they will take good heed to keep
out of our way. There is not one man among them who has any more idea of shedding
his blood in this cause than he has of making war on the Grand Turk.
The Rev. Dr. Hill, of Virginia, said, in the New School Assembly:
The abolitionists have made the servitude of the slave harder. If I could
tell you some of the dirty tricks which these abolitionists have played, you
would not wonder. Some of them have been Lynched, and it served them right.
These things sufficiently show the estimate which the Southern clergy and
church have formed and expressed as to the relative value of slavery and the
right of free inquiry. It shows, also, that they consider slavery as so important
that they can tolerate and encourage acts of lawless violence, and risk all
the dangers of encouraging mob-law, for its sake. These passages and considerations
sufficiently show the stand which the Southern church takes upon this subject.
For many of these opinions, shocking as they may appear, some apology may
be found in that blinding power of custom, and all those deadly educational
influences which always attend the system of slavery, and which must necessarily
produce a certain obtuseness of the moral sense in the mind of any man who
is educated from childhood under them.
There is also, in the habits of mind formed under a system which is supported
by continual resort to force and violence, a necessary deadening of sensibility
to the evils of force and violence, as applied to other subjects. The whole
style of civilization which is formed under such an institution has been not
unaptly denominated by a popular writer “the bowie-knife style;”
and we must not be surprised at its producing a peculiarly martial cast of
religious character and ideas very much at variance with the spirit of the
gospel. A religious man, born and educated at the South, has all these difficulties
to contend with in elevating himself to the true spirit of the gospel.
It was said by one that, after the Reformation, the best of men being educated
under a system of despotism and force, and accustomed from childhood to have
force, and not argument, made the test of opinion, came to look upon all controversies
very much in a Smithfield light, the question being not as to the propriety
of burning heretics, but as to which party ought to be burned.
The system of slavery is a simple retrogression of society to the worst
abuses of the middle ages. We must not, therefore,
to find the opinions and practices of the middle ages, as to civil and religious
However much we may reprobate and deplore those unworthy views of God and
religion which are implied in such declarations as are here recorded—however
blasphemous and absurd they may appear—still, it is apparent that their
authors uttered them with sincerity; and this is the most melancholy feature
of the case. They are as sincere as Paul when he breathed out threatenings
and slaughter, and when he thought within himself that he
ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus. They are as sincere
as the Brahmin or Hindoo, conscientiously supporting a religion of cruelty
and blood. They are as sincere as many enlightened, scholarlike, and Christian
men in modern Europe, who, born and bred under systems of civil and religious
despotism, and having them entwined with all their dearest associations of
home and country, and having all their habits of thought and feeling biassed
by them, do most conscientiously defend them.
There is something in conscientious conviction, even in case of the worst
kind of opinions, which is not without a certain degree of respectability.
That the religion expressed by the declarations which we have quoted is as
truly Antichrist as the religion of the Church of Rome, it is presumed no
sensible person out of the sphere of American influences will deny. That there
may be very sincere Christians under this system of religion, with all its
false principles and all its disadvantageous influences, liberality must concede.
The Church of Rome has had its Fenelon, its Thomas à Kempis; and the
Southern Church, which has adopted these principles, has had men who have
risen above the level of their system. At the time of the Reformation, and
now the Church of Rome had in its bosom thousands of praying, devoted, humble,
Christians, which, like flowers in the clefts of rocks, could be counted by
no eye save God's alone. And so, amid the rifts and glaciers of this horrible
spiritual and temporal despotism, we hope are blooming flowers of Paradise,
patient, prayerful, and self-denying Christians; and it is the deepest grief,
in attacking the dreadful system under which they have been born and brought
up, that violence must be done to their cherished feelings and associations.
In another and better world, perhaps they may appreciate the motives of those
who do this.
But now another consideration comes to the mind. These Southern Christians
have been united in ecclesiastical relations with Christians of the Northern
and free States, meeting with
them, by their representatives,
yearly, in their various ecclesiastical assemblies. One might hope, in case
of such a union, that those debasing views of Christianity, and that deadness
of public sentiment, which were the inevitable result of an education under
the slave system, might have been qualified by intercourse with Christians
in free States, who, having grown up under free institutions, would naturally
be supposed to feel the utmost abhorrence of such sentiments. One would have
supposed that the church and clergy of the free States would naturally have
used the most strenuous endeavours, by all the means in their power, to convince
their brethren of errors so dishonourable to Christianity, and tending to
such dreadful practical results. One would have supposed also, that, failing
to convince their brethren, they would have felt it due to Christianity to
clear themselves from all complicity with these sentiments, by the most solemn,
earnest, and reiterated protests.
Let us now inquire what has, in fact, been the course of the Northern Church
on this subject.
Previous to making this inquiry, let us review the declarations that have
been made in the Southern Church, and see what principles have been established
1. That slavery is an innocent and lawful relation,
as much as that of parent and child, husband and wife, or any other lawful
relation of society. (Harmony Pres., S. C.)
2. That it is consistent with the most fraternal regard for the good
of the slave. (Charleston Union Pres., S. C.)
3. That masters ought not to be disciplined for selling slaves without
their consent. (New School Pres. Church, Petersburg, Va.)
4. That the right to buy, sell, and hold men for purposes of gain,
was given by express permission of God. (James Smylie and his Presbyteries.)
5. That the laws which forbid the education of the slave are right,
and meet the approbation of the reflecting part of the Christian community.
6. That the fact of slavery is not a question of morals at all, but
is purely one of political economy. (Charleston Baptist Association.)
7. The right of masters to dispose of the time of their slaves has
been distinctly recognised by the Creator of all things. (Ibid.)
8. That slavery, as it exists in these United States, is not a moral
evil. (Georgia Conference, Methodist.)
9. That, without a new revelation from heaven, no man is entitled
to pronounce slavery wrong.
10. That the separation of slaves by sale should be regarded
as separation by death, and the parties allowed to marry again. (Shiloh Baptist
Ass., and Savannah River Ass.)
11. That the testimony of coloured members of the churches shall
not be taken against a white person. (Methodist Church.)
In addition, it has been plainly avowed, by the expressed principles and
practice of Christians of various denominations, that they regard it right
and proper to put down all inquiry upon this subject by Lynch law.
One would have imagined that these principles were sufficiently extraordinary,
as coming from the professors of the religion of Christ, to have excited a
good deal of attention in their Northern brethren. It also must be seen that,
as principles, they are principles of very extensive application, underlying
the whole foundations of religion and morality. If not true, they were certainly
heresies of no ordinary magnitude, involving no ordinary results. Let us now
return to our inquiry as to the course of the Northern Church in relation
[PART IV] CHAPTER II.
IN the first place, have any of these opinions
ever been treated in the church as heresies, and the teachers of them been
subjected to the censures with which it is thought proper to visit heresy?
After a somewhat extended examination upon the subject, the writer has
been able to discover but one instance of this sort. It may be possible that
such cases have existed in other denominations, which have escaped inquiry.
A clergyman in the Cincinnati N. S. Presbytery maintained the doctrine
that slave-holding was justified by the Bible, and for persistence in teaching
this sentiment was suspended by that presbytery. He appealed to Synod, and
the decision was confirmed by the Cincinnati Synod. The New School General
Assembly, however, reversed this decision of the presbytery, and restored
the standing of the clergyman. The presbytery, on its part, refused to receive
him back, and he was received into the Old School Church.
The Presbyterian Church has probably exceeded all other churches of the
United States in its zeal for doctrinal opinions. This church has been shaken
and agitated to its very foundation with questions of heresy; but, except
in this individual case, it is not known that any of these principles which
have been asserted by Southern Presbyterian bodies and individuals have ever
been discussed in its General Assembly as matters of heresy.
About the time that Smylie's pamphlet came out, the Presbyterian Church
was convulsed with the trial of the Rev. Albert Barnes for certain alleged
heresies. These heresies related to the federal headship of Adam, the propriety
of imputing his sin to all his posterity, and the question whether men have
any ability of any kind to obey the commandments of God.
For advancing certain sentiments on these topics, Mr. Barnes was silenced
by the vote of the Synod to which he belonged, and his trial in the General
Assembly on these points was the all-engrossing topic in the Presbyterian
Church for some time. The Rev. Dr. L. Beecher went through a trial with reference
similar opinions. During all this time no notice was taken
of the heresy, if such it be, that the right to buy, sell, and hold men for
purposes of gain, was expressly given by God, although that heresy was publicly
promulgated in the same Presbyterian Church by Mr. Smylie, and the Presbyterians
with which he was connected.
If it be accounted for by saying that the question of slavery is a question
of practical morals, and not of dogmatic theology,
we are then reminded that questions of morals of far less magnitude have been
discussed with absorbing interest.
The Old School Presbyterian Church, in whose communion the greater part
of the slaveholding Presbyterians of the South are found, has never felt called
upon to discipline its members for upholding a system which denies legal marriage
to all slaves. Yet this church was agitated to its very foundation by the
discussion of a question of morals which an impartial observer would probably
consider of far less magnitude, namely, whether a man might lawfully marry
his deceased wife's sister. For the time, all the strength and attention of
the church seemed concentrated upon this important subject. The trial went
from Presbytery to Synod, and from Synod to General Assembly; and ended with
deposing a very respectable minister for this crime.
Rev. Robert J. Breckenridge, D.D., a member of the Old School Assembly,
has thus described the state of the slave population as to their marriage
relations: “The system of slavery denies to a whole class of human beings
the sacredness of marriage and of home, compelling them to live in a state
of concubinage; for, in the eye of the law, no coloured slave-man is the husband
of any wife in particular, nor any slave-woman the wife of any husband in
particular; no slave-man is the father of any children in particular, and
no slave-child is the child of any parent in particular.”
Now, had this church considered the fact that three millions of men and
women were, by the laws of the land, obliged to live in this manner, as of
equally serious consequence, it is evident, from the ingenuity, argument,
vehemence, Biblical research, and untiring zeal which they bestowed on Mr.
McQueen's trial, that they could have made a very strong case with regard
to this also.
The history of the united action of denominations which included churches
both in the slave and free States is a melancholy exemplification, to a reflecting
mind, of that gradual deterioration of the moral sense which results from
admitting any compromise, however slight, with an acknowledged sin. The best
the world cannot bear such a familiarity without injury
to the moral sense. The facts of the slave system and of the slave laws, when
presented to disinterested judges in Europe, have excited a universal outburst
of horror; yet, in assemblies composed of the wisest and best clergymen of
America, these things have been discussed from year to year, and yet brought
no results that have, in the slightest degree, lessened the evil. The reason
is this. A portion of the members of these bodies had pledged themselves to
sustain the system, and peremptorily to refuse and put down all discussion
of it; and the other part of the body did not consider this stand so taken
as being of sufficiently vital consequence to authorise separation.
Nobody will doubt that, had the Southern members taken such a stand against
the divinity of our Lord, the division would have been immediate and unanimous;
but yet the Southern members do maintain the right to buy and sell, lease,
hire, and mortgage, multitudes of men and women, whom, with the same breath,
they declared to be members of their churches and true Christians. The Bible
declares of all such that they are the temples of the Holy Ghost; that they
are the members of Christ's body, of his flesh and bones. Is not the doctrine
that men may lawfully sell the members of Christ, his body, his flesh and
bones, for purposes of gain, as really a heresy as the denial of the divinity
of Christ; and is it not a dishonour to Him who is over all, God blessed for
ever, to tolerate this dreadful opinion, with its more dreadful consequences,
while the smallest heresies concerning the imputation of Adam's sin are pursued
with eager vehemence? If the history of the action of all the bodies thus
united can be traced downwards, we shall find that, by reason of this tolerance
of an admitted sin, the anti-slavery testimony has every year grown weaker
and weaker. If we look over the history of all denominations, we shall see
that at first they used very stringent language with relation to slavery.
This is particularly the case with the Methodist and Presbyterian bodies,
and for that reason we select these two as examples. The Methodist Society
especially, as organised by John Wesley, was an anti-slavery society, and
the Book of Discipline contained the most positive statutes against slaveholding.
The history of the successive resolutions of the conference of this church
is very striking. In 1780, before the church was regularly organised in the
United States, they resolved as follows:—
The conference acknowledges that slavery is contrary to the laws of God,
man, and nature, and hurtful to society; contrary to the dictates of conscience
In 1784, when the church was fully organised, rules were adopted prescribing
the times at which members who were already slaveholders should emancipate
their slaves. These rules were succeeded by the following:—
Every person concerned, who will not comply with these rules, shall have
liberty quietly to withdraw from our Society within the twelve months following
the notice being given him, as aforesaid; otherwise the assistants shall exclude
him from the society.
No person holding slaves shall in future be admitted into the Society,
or to the Lord's Supper, till he previously comply with these rules concerning
Those who buy, sell, or give slaves away, unless on purpose to free them,
shall be expelled immediately.
We declare that we are more than ever convinced of the great evil of African
slavery, which still exists in these United States.
Every member of the Society who sells a slave shall immediately, after
full proof, be excluded from the Society, &c.
The Annual Conferences are directed to draw up addresses for the gradual
emancipation of the slaves, to the Legislature. Proper committees shall be
appointed by the Annual Conference, out of the most respectable of our friends,
for the conducting of the business; and the presiding elders, deacons, and
travelling preachers, shall procure as many proper signatures as possible
to the addresses, and give all the assistance in their power, in every respect,
to aid the committees, and to further the blessed undertaking. Let this be
continued from year to year, till the desired end be accomplished.
In 1836, let us notice the change. The General Conference held its annual
session in Cincinnati, and resolved as follows:—
Resolved, by the delegates of the Annual Conferences in General Conference
assembled, that they are decidedly opposed to modern abolitionism, and wholly
disclaim any right, wish, or intention to interfere in the civil and political
relation between master and slave, as it exists in the slaveholding States
of this Union.
These resolutions were passed by a very large majority. An address was
received from the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in England, affectionately
remonstrating on the subject of slavery. The Conference refused to publish
it. In the pastoral address to the churches are these passages:—
It cannot be unknown to you that the question of slavery in the United
States, by the constitutional compact which binds us together as a nation,
is left to be regulated by the several State Legislatures themselves; and
thereby is put beyond the control of the general government, as well as that
of all ecclesiastical bodies, it being manifest that in the slaveholding States
themselves the entire responsibility of its existence, or non-existence, rests
with those State Legislatures.
* * * * These facts, which are
only mentioned here as a reason for the friendly admonition which we wish
to give you, constrain us, as your pastors, who are called to watch over your
souls, as they must give account, to exhort you to abstain from all abolition
movements and associations, and to refrain from patronising any of their publications,
&c. * * * *
The subordinate conferences showed the same spirit.
In 1836, the New York Annual Conference resolved that no one should be
elected a deacon or elder in the church unless he would give a pledge to the
church that he would refrain from discussing this subject.*
In 1838 the Conference resolved—
As the sense of this Conference, that any of its members, or probationers,
who shall patronise Zion's Watchman, either by writing
in commendation of its character, by circulating it, recommending it to our
people, or procuring subscribers, or by collecting or remitting moneys, shall
be deemed guilty of indiscretion, and dealt with accordingly.
It will be recollected that Zion's Watchman was
edited by Le Roy Sunderland, for whose abduction the State of Alabama had
offered fifty thousand dollars.
In 1840, the General Conference at Baltimore passed the resolution that
we have already quoted, forbidding preachers to allow coloured persons to
give testimony in their churches. It has been computed that about eighty thousand
people were deprived of the right of testimony by this Act. This Methodist
Church subsequently broke into a Northern and Southern Conference. The Southern
Conference is avowedly all pro-slavery, and the Northern Conference has still
in its communion slave-holding conferences and members.
Of the Northern Conferences, one of the largest, the Baltimore, passed
Resolved, That this Conference disclaims having any fellowship with abolitionism.
On the contrary, while it is determined to maintain its well-known and long-established
position, by keeping the travelling preachers composing its own body free
from slavery, it is also determined not to hold connexion with any ecclesiastical
body that shall make non-slaveholding a condition of membership in the church,
but to stand by and maintain the discipline as it is.
The following extract is made from an address of the Philadelphia Annual
Conference to the societies under its care, dated Wilmington, Del., April
If the plan of separation gives us the pastoral care of you, it remains
to inquire whether we have done anything, as a conference, or as men, to forfeit
and affection. We are not advised that even
in the great excitement which has distressed you for some months past, any
one has impeached our moral conduct, or charged us with unsoundness in doctrine,
or corruption or tyranny in the administration of discipline. But we learn
that the simple cause of the unhappy excitement among you is, that some suspect
us, or affect to suspect us, of being abolitionists. Yet no particular act
of the Conference, or any particular member thereof, is adduced as the ground
of the erroneous and injurious suspicion. We would ask you, brethren, whether
the conduct of our ministry among you for sixty years past ought not to be
sufficient to protect us from this charge? Whether the question we have been
accustomed, for a few years past, to put to candidates for admission among
us, namely, Are you an abolitionist? and, without each one answered in the
negative, he was not received, ought not to protect us from the charge. Whether
the action of the last Conference on this particular matter ought not to satisfy
any fair and candid mind that we are not, and do not desire to be, abolitionists?
* * * * We cannot see how we can be regarded as abolitionists, without the
ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church South being considered in the
same light. * * * * * *
Wishing you all heavenly benedictions, we are, dear brethren, yours, in
J. P. DURBIN, J. KENNADAY
, IGNATIUS T. COOPER,
WILLIAM H. GILDER, JOSEPH CASTLE,
These facts sufficiently define the position of the Methodist Church. The
history is melancholy but instructive. The history of the Presbyterian Church
is also of interest.
In 1793, the following note to the eighth commandment was inserted in the
Book of Discipline, as expressing the doctrine of the church upon slaveholding:
1 Tim. i. 10. The law is made for MAN-STEALERS.
This crime among the Jews exposed the perpetrators of it to capital punishment,
Exodus xxi. 15; and the apostle here classes them with sinners of the first
rank. The word he uses, in its original import, comprehends all who are concerned
in bringing any of the human race into slavery, or in retaining them in it. Hominum fures, qui servos vel liberos, abducunt, retinent,
vendunt, vel cmunt. Stealers of men are all those who bring off slaves
or freemen, and KEEP, SELL, or BUY
THEM. To steal a free man, says Grotius, is the highest kind of theft.
In other instances, we only steal human property; but when we steal or retain
men in slavery, we seize those who, in common with ourselves, are constituted
by the original grant lords of the earth.
No rules of church discipline were enforced, and members whom this passage
declared guilty of this crime remained undisturbed in its communion, as ministers
and elders. This inconsistency was obviated in 1816 by expunging the passage
from the Book of Discipline. In 1818 it adopted an expression of its views
on slavery. This document is a long one con-
ceived and written
in a very Christian spirit. The Assembly's Digest says, page 341, that it
was unanimously adopted. The following is its testimony
as to the nature of slavery:
We consider the voluntary enslaving of one part of the human race by another
as a gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of human nature;
as utterly inconsistent with the law of God, which requires us to love our
neighbour as ourselves; and as totally irreconcilable with the spirit and
principles of the gospel of Christ, which enjoin that “all things whatsoever
ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Slavery
creates a paradox in the moral system—it exhibits rational, accountable,
and immortal beings in such circumstances as scarcely to leave them the power
of moral action. It exhibits them as dependent on the will of others, whether
they shall receive religious instruction; whether they shall know and worship
the true God; whether they shall enjoy the ordinances of the gospel; whether
they shall perform the duties and cherish the endearments of husbands and
wives, parents and children, neighbours and friends; whether they shall preserve
their chastity and purity, or regard the dictates of justice and humanity.
Such are some of the consequences of slavery—consequences not imaginary,
but which connect themselves with its very existence. The evils to which the
slave is always exposed often take place in fact, and in their very worst
degree and form; and where all of them do not take place—as we rejoice
to say that in many instances, through the influence of the principles of
humanity and religion on the minds of masters, they do not—still the
slave is deprived of his natural right, degraded as a human being, and exposed
to the danger of passing into the hands of a master who may inflict upon him
all the hardships and injuries which inhumanity and avarice may suggest.
This language was surely decided, and it was unanimously
adopted by slaveholders and non-slaveholders. Certainly one might think
the time of redemption was drawing nigh. The declaration goes on to say:
It is manifestly the duty of all Christians who enjoy the light of the
present day, when the inconsistency of slavery both with the dictates of humanity
and religion has been demonstrated, and is generally seen and acknowledged,
to use honest, earnest, unwearied endeavours to correct the errors of former
times, and as speedily as possible to efface this blot on our holy religion,
and to OBTAIN THE COMPLETE ABOLITION of slavery throughout
Christendom and throughout the world.
Here we have the Presbyterian Church, slaveholding and non-slaveholding,
virtually formed into one great abolition society,
as we have seen the Methodist was.
The Assembly then goes on to state that the slaves are not
at present prepared to be free—that they tenderly sympathise with
the portion of the church and country that has had this evil entailed upon
them, where, as they say, “a great and the most virtuous part of the
community ABHOR SLAVERY and wish
its extermination.” But they exhort them to commence imme-
diately the work of instructing slaves, with a view to preparing
them for freedom; and to let no greater delay take place than “a regard
to public welfare indispensably demands.” “To
be governed by no other considerations than an honest and
impartial regard to the happiness of the injured party, uninfluenced by the
expense and inconvenience which such regard may involve.” It warns
against “unduly extending this plea of necessity,
” against making it a cover for the love and
practice of slavery. It ends by recommending that any one who shall sell
a fellow-Christian without his consent be immediately disciplined and suspended.
If we consider that this was unanimously adopted
by slave-holders and all, and grant, as we certainly do, that it was adopted
in all honesty and good faith, we shall surely expect something from it. We
should expect forthwith the organising of a set of common schools for the
slave-children; for an efficient religious ministration; for an entire discontinuance
of trading in Christian slaves; for laws which make the family relations sacred.
Was any such thing done or attempted? Alas! Two years after this came the ADMISSION OF MISSOURI, and the
increase of demand in the Southern slave-market and the internal slave-trade.
Instead of school-teachers, they had slave-traders; instead of gathering schools, they gathered slave-coffles;
instead of building school-houses, they built slave-pens and slave-prisons,
jails, barracoons, factories, or whatever the trade pleases to term them;
and so went the plan of gradual emancipation.
In 1834, sixteen years after, a committee of the Synod of Kentucky, in
which State slavery is generally said to exist in its mildest form, appointed
to make a report on the condition of the slaves, gave the following picture
of their condition. First, as to their spiritual condition, they say:—
After making all reasonable allowances, our coloured population can be
considered, at the most, but semi-heathen.
Brutal stripes, and all the various kinds of personal indignities, are
not the only species of cruelty which slavery licenses. The law does not recognise
the family relations of the slave, and extends to him no protection in the
enjoyment of domestic endearments. The members of a slave-family may be forcibly
separated, so that they shall never more meet until the final judgment. And
cupidity often induces the masters to practise what the law allows. Brothers
and sisters, parents and children, husbands and wives, are torn asunder, and
permitted to see each other no more. These acts are daily occurring in the
midst of us. The shrieks and the agony often witnessed on such occasions proclaim
with a trumpet-tongue the iniquity and cruelty of our system. The cries of
these sufferers go up to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. There is not a neighbourhood
where these heart-
rending scenes are not displayed. There is
not a village or road that does not behold the sad procession of manacled
outcasts, whose chains and mournful countenances tell that they are exiled
by force from all that their hearts hold dear. Our church, years ago, raised
its voice of solemn warning against this flagrant violation of every principle
of mercy, justice, and humanity. Yet we blush to announce to you and to the
world that this warning has been often disregarded, even by those who hold
to our communion. Cases have occurred, in our own denomination, where professors
of the religion of mercy have torn the mother from her children, and sent
her into a merciless and returnless exile. Yet acts of discipline have rarely
followed such conduct.
Hon. James G. Birney, for years a resident of Kentucky, in his pamphlet,
amends the word rarely by substituting
never. What could show more plainly the utter inefficiency of the past
act of the Assembly, and the necessity of adopting some measures more efficient?
In 1835, therefore, the subject was urged upon the General Assembly, intreating
them to carry out the principles and designs they had avowed in 1818.
Mr. Stuart, of Illinois, in a speech he made upon the subject, said:—
I hope this assembly are prepared to come out fully and declare their sentiments,
that slaveholding is a most flagrant and heinous SIN.
Let us not pass it by in this indirect way, while so many thousands and tens
of thousands of our fellow-creatures are writhing under the lash, often inflicted,
too, by ministers and elders of the Presbyterian Church.
* * * * * * * * *
In this church a man may take a free-born child, force it away from its
parents, to whom God gave it in charge, saying, “Bring it up for me,”
and sell it as a beast or hold it in perpetual bondage, and not only escape
corporeal punishment, but really be esteemed an excellent Christian. Nay,
even ministers of the gospel and doctors of divinity may engage in this unholy
traffic, and yet sustain their high and holy calling.
* * * * * * * * *
Elders, ministers, and doctors of divinity, are, with both hands, engaged
in the practice.
One would have thought facts like these, stated in a body of Christians,
were enough to wake the dead; but, alas! we can become accustomed to very
awful things. No action was taken upon these remonstrances, except to refer
them to a committee, to be reported on at the next session, in 1836.
The moderator of the Assembly in 1836 was a slaveholder, Dr. T. S. Witherspoon,
the same who said to the editor of the Emancipator,
“I draw my warrant from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament
to hold my slaves in bondage. The principle of holding the heathen in bondage
is recognised by
God. When the tardy process of the law is too
long in redressing our grievances, we at the South have adopted the summary
process of Judge Lynch.”
The majority of the committee appointed made a report as follows:—
Whereas the subject of slavery is inseparably connected with the laws of
many of the States in this Union, with which it is by no means proper for
an ecclesiastical judicature to interfere, and involves many considerations
in regard to which great diversity of opinion and intensity of feeling are
known to exist in the churches represented in this Assembly; and whereas there
is great reason to believe that any action on the part of this Assembly, in
reference to this subject, would tend to distract and divide our churches,
and would probably in no wise promote the benefit of those whose welfare is
immediately contemplated in the memorials in question.
1. That it is not expedient for the Assembly to take
any further order in relation to this subject.
2. That as the notes which have been expunged from our public formularies,
and which some of the memorials referred to the committee request to have
restored, were introduced irregularly, never had the sanction of the church,
and therefore never possessed any authority, the General Assembly has no power,
nor would they think it expedient, to assign them a place in the authorised
standards of the church.
The minority of the committee, the Rev. Messrs. Dickey and Beman, reported
1. That the buying, selling, or holding a human being
as property, is in the sight of God a heinous sin, and ought to subject the
doer of it to the censures of the church.
2. That it is the duty of every one, and especially of every Christian,
who may be involved in this sin, to free himself from its entanglement without
3. That it is the duty of every one, especially of every Christian,
in the meekness and firmness of the Gospel, to plead the cause of the poor
and needy, by testifying against the principle and practice of slaveholding,
and to use his best endeavours to deliver the church of God from the evil,
and to bring about the emancipation of the slaves in these United States,
and throughout the world.
The slaveholding delegates, to the number of forty-eight, met
apart, and Resolved—
That if the General Assembly shall undertake to exercise authority on the
subject of slavery, so as to make it an immorality, or shall in any way declare
that Christians are criminal in holding slaves, that a declaration shall be
presented by the Southern delegation declining their jurisdiction in the case,
and our determination not to submit to such decision.
In view of these conflicting reports, the Assembly resolved as follows:—
Inasmuch as the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, in its preliminary
and fundamental principles, declares that no church judicatories ought to
pretend to make laws to bind the conscience in virtue of their own authority;
and as the urgency of the business of the Assembly, and the shortness of the
time during which they can continue in session, render it impossible to deliberate
and decide judiciously on the subject of slavery in its relation to the church,
therefore Resolved, that this whole subject be indefinitely postponed.
The amount of the slave-trade at the time when the General Assembly refused
to act upon the subject of slavery at all may be inferred from the following
items. The Virginia Times, in an article published
in this very year of 1836, estimated the number of slaves exported for sale
from that State alone, during the twelve months preceding, at forty thousand.
The Natchez (Miss.) Courier
says that in the same year the States of Alabama, Missouri, and Arkansas imported
two hundred and fifty thousand slaves from the more Northern States. If we
deduct from these all who may be supposed to have emigrated with their masters,
still what an immense trade is here indicated!
The Rev. James H. Dickey, who moved the resolutions above presented, had
seen some sights which would naturally incline him to wish the Assembly to
take some action on the subject, as appears from the following account of
a slave-coffle, from his pen.
In the summer of 1822, as I returned with my family from a visit to the
Barrens of Kentucky, I witnessed a scene such as I never witnessed before,
and such as I hope never to witness again. Having passed through Paris, in
Bourbon County, Kentucky, the sound of music (beyond a little rising ground)
attracted my attention. I looked forward, and saw the flag of my country waving.
Supposing that I was about to meet a military parade, I drove hastily to the
side of the road; and, having gained the ascent, I discovered (I supposed)
about forty black men all chained together after the following manner: each
of them was handcuffed, and they were arranged in rank and file. A chain,
perhaps forty feet long, the size of a fifth-horse chain, was stretched between
the two ranks, to which short chains were joined, which connected with the
handcuffs. Behind them were, I supposed, about thirty women, in double rank,
the couples tied hand to hand. A solemn sadness sat on every countenance,
and the dismal silence of this march of despair was interrupted only by the
sound of two violins; yes, as if to add insult to injury, the foremost couple
were furnished with a violin a-piece; the second couple were ornamented with
cockades, while near the centre waved the republican flag carried by a hand
literally in chains. I could not forbear exclaiming to the lordly driver who
rode at his ease alongside, “Heaven will curse that man who engages
in such traffic, and the government that protects him in it.” I pursued
my journey till evening, and put up for the night, when I mentioned
the scene I had witnessed. “Ah!” cried my landlady, “that
is my brother!” From her I learned that his name is Stone, of Bourbon
County, Kentucky, in partnership with one Kinningham, of Paris; and that a
few days before he had purchased a negro-woman from a man in Nicholas County.
She refused to go with him; he attempted to compel her, but she defended herself.
Without further ceremony he stepped back, and, by a blow on the side of her
head, with the butt of his whip, brought her to the ground; he tied her, and
drove her off. I learned, further, that besides the drove I had seen, there
were about thirty shut up in the Paris prison for safe-keeping, to be added
to the company, and that they were designed for the Orleans market. And to
this they are doomed for no other crime than that of a black skin and curled
locks. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord. Shall not my soul
be avenged on such a nation as this?
It cannot be possible that these Christian men realised these things, or,
at most, they realised them just as we realise the most tremendous truths
of religion, dimly and feebly.
Two years after, the General Assembly, by a sudden and very unexpected
movement, passed a vote exscinding, without trial, from the communion of the
church, four synods, comprising the most active and decided anti-slavery portions
of the church. The reasons alleged were, doctrinal differences and ecclesiastical
practices inconsistent with Presbyterianism. By this act about five hundred
ministers and sixty thousand members were cut off from the Presbyterian Church.
That portion of the Presbyterian Church called New School, considering
this act unjust, refused to assent to it, joined the exscinded synods, and
formed themselves into the New School General Assembly. In this communion
only three slave-holding presbyteries remained; in the old there were between
thirty and forty.
The course of the Old School Assembly, after the separation, in relation
to the subject of slavery, may be best expressed by quoting one of their resolutions,
passed in 1845. Having some decided anti-slavery members in its body, and
being, moreover, addressed on the subject of slavery by associated bodies,
they presented, in this year, the following deliberate statement of their
policy. (Minutes for 1845, p. 18.)
Resolved, 1st. That the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in
the United States was originally organised, and has since continued the bond
of union in the church, upon the conceded principle that the existence of
domestic slavery, under the circumstances in which it is found in the Southern
portion of the country, is no bar to Christian communion.
2. That the petitions that ask the Assembly to make the holding of slaves
in itself a matter of discipline do virtually require this judicatory to dissolve
itself, and abandon the organisation under which, by the Divine blessing,
it has so long
prospered. The tendency is evidently to separate
the Northern from the Southern portion of the Church—a result which
every good Christian must deplore, as tending to the dissolution of the Union
of our beloved country, and which every enlightened Christian will oppose,
as bringing about a ruinous and unnecessary schism between brethren who maintain
a common faith.
Yeas, Ministers and Elders, 168
Nays Ministers and Elders, 13
It is scarcely necessary to add a comment to this very explicit declaration.
It is the plainest possible disclaimer of any protest against slavery; the
plainest possible statement that the existence of the ecclesiastical organisation
is of more importance than all the moral and social considerations which are
involved in a full defence and practice of American slavery.
The next year a large number of petitions and remonstrances were presented,
requesting the Assembly to utter additional testimony against slavery.
In reply to the petitions, the General Assembly re-affirmed all their former
testimonies on the subject of slavery for sixty years back, and also affirmed
that the previous year's declaration must not be understood as a retraction
of that testimony; in other words, they expressed it as their opinion, in
the words of 1818, that slavery is “wholly opposed
to the law of God,” and “totally irreconcileable
with the precepts of the gospel of Christ;” and yet that they “had
formed their Church organisation upon the conceded principle that the existence
of it, under the circumstances in which it is found in the Southern States
of the Union, is no bar to Christian communion.”
Some members protested against this action. (Minutes, 1846. Overture No.
Great hopes were at first entertained of the New School body. As a body,
it was composed mostly of anti-slavery men. It had in it those synods whose
anti-slavery opinions and actions had been, to say the least, one very efficient
cause for their excision from the Church. It had only three slaveholding Presbyteries.
The power was all in its own hands. Now, if ever, was their time to cut this
loathsome encumbrance wholly adrift, and stand up, in this age of concession
and conformity to the world, a purely protesting Church, free from all complicity
with this most dreadful national immorality.
On the first session of the General Assembly this course was most vehemently
urged, by many petitions and memorials. These memorials were referred to a
committee of decided anti-slavery men. The argument on one side was, that
the time was now come to take decided measures to cut free wholly from all
pro-slavery complicity, and avow their principles with decision,
even though it should repel all such Churches from their communion as were
not prepared for immediate emancipation.
On the other hand, the majority of the committee were urged by opposing
considerations. The brethren from slave States made to them representations
somewhat alike to these: “Brethren, our hearts are with you. We are
with you in faith, in charity, in prayer. We sympathised in the injury that
had been done you by excision. We stood by you then, and are ready to stand
by you still. We have no sympathy with the party that have expelled you, and
we do not wish to go back to them. As to this matter of slavery, we do not
differ from you. We consider it an evil. We mourn and lament over it. We are
trying, by gradual and peaceable means, to exclude it from our Churches. We
are going as far in advance of the sentiment of our Churches as we consistently
can. We cannot come up to more decided action without losing our hold over
them, and, as we think, throwing back the cause of emancipation. If you begin
in this decided manner, we cannot hold our Churches in the union; they will
divide, and go to the Old School.”
Here was a very strong plea, made by good and sincere men. It was an appeal,
too, to the most generous feelings of the heart. It was, in effect, saying,
“Brothers, we stood by you, and fought your battles, when everything
was going against you; and, now that you have the power in your hands, are
you going to use it so as to cast us out?”
These men, strong anti-slavery men as they were, were affected. One member
of the committee foresaw and feared the result. He felt and suggested that
the course proposed conceded the whole question. The majority thought, on
the whole, that it was best to postpone the subject. The committee reported
that the applicants, for reasons satisfactory to themselves, had withdrawn
The next year, in 1839, the subject was resumed; and it was again urged
that the Assembly should take high, and decided, and unmistakeable ground;
and certainly, if we consider that all this time not a single Church had emancipated
its slaves, and that the power of the institution was everywhere stretching
and growing and increasing, it would certainly seem that something more efficient
was necessary than a general understanding that the Church agreed with the
testimony delivered in 1818. It was strongly represented that it was time
something was done. This year the Assembly decided to refer the subject to
Presbyteries, to do what they deemed advisable. The words employed were
these: “Solemnly referring the whole subject to the lower
judicatories, to take such action as in their judgment is most judicious,
and adapted to remove the evil.” The Rev. George Beecher moved to insert
the word moral before evil; they declined.*
This brought, in 1840, a much larger number of memorials and petitions;
and very strong attempts were made by the abolitionists to obtain some decided
The committee this year referred to what had been done last year, and declared
it inexpedient to do anything further. The subject was indefinitely postponed.
At this time it was resolved that the Assembly should meet only once in three
years. Accordingly, it did not meet till 1843. In 1843, several memorials
were again presented, and some resolutions offered to the Assembly, of which
this was one (Minutes of the General Assembly for 1843, p. 15).
Resolved, That we affectionately and earnestly urge upon the Ministers,
Sessions, Presbyteries, and Synods connected with this Assembly, that they
treat this as all other sins of great magnitude; and by a diligent, kind,
and faithful application of the means which God has given them, by instruction,
remonstrance, reproof, and effective discipline, seek to purify the Church
of this great iniquity.
This resolution they declined. They passed the following:—
Whereas there is in this Assembly great diversity of opinion as to the
proper and best mode of action on the subject of slavery; and whereas, in
such circumstances, any expression of sentiment would carry with it but little
weight, as it would be passed by a small majority, and must operate to produce
alienation and division; and whereas the Assembly of 1839, with great unanimity,
referred this whole subject to the lower judicatories, to take such order
as in their judgement might be adapted to remove the evil;—Resolved,
That the Assembly do not think it for the edification of the Church for this
body to take any action on the subject.
They, however, passed the following:—
Resolved, That the fashionable amusement of promiscuous dancing is so entirely
unscriptural, and eminently and exclusively that of “the world which
lieth in wickedness,” and so wholly inconsistent with the spirit of
Christ, and with that propriety of Christian deportment and that purity of
heart which his followers are bound to maintain, as to render it not only
improper and injurious for professing Christians either to partake in it,
or to qualify their children for it, by teaching them the “art,”
but also to call for the faithful and judicious exercise of discipline on
the part of Church Sessions, when any of the members of their Churches have
Three years after, in 1846, the General Assembly published the following
declaration of sentiment:—
1. The system of slavery as it exists in these United
States, viewed either in the laws of the several States which sanction it,
or in its actual operation and results in society, is intrinsically unrighteous
and oppressive; and is opposed to the prescriptions of the law of God, to
the spirit and precepts of the Gospel, and to the best interests of humanity.
2. The testimony of the General Assembly from
A.D. 1787 to A.D. 1818, inclusive, has condemned
it; and it remains still the recorded testimony of the Presbyterian Church
of these United States against it, from which we do not recede.
3. We cannot, therefore, withhold the expression of our deep regret
that slavery should be continued and countenanced by any of the members of
our Churches; and we do earnestly exhort both them and the Churches among
whom it exists to use all means in their power to put it away from them. Its
perpetuation among them cannot fail to be regarded by multitudes, influenced
by their example, as sanctioning the system portrayed in it, and maintained
by the statutes of the several slaveholding States wherein they dwell. Nor
can any mere mitigation of its severity, prompted by the humanity and Christian
feeling of any who continue to hold their fellow-men in bondage, be regarded
either as a testimony against the system, or as in the least degree changing
its essential character.
4. But while we believe that many evils incident to the system render
it important and obligatory to bear testimony against it, yet would we not
undertake to determine the degree of moral turpitude on the part of individuals
involved by it. This will doubtless be found to vary, in the sight of God,
according to the degree of light and other circumstances pertaining to each.
In view of all the embarrassments and obstacles in the way of emancipation
interposed by the statutes of the slaveholding States, and by the social influence
affecting the views and conduct of those involved in it, we cannot pronounce
a judgment of general and promiscuous condemnation, implying
that destitution of Christian principle and feeling which should exclude
from the table of the Lord all who should stand in the legal relation of masters
to slaves, or justify us in withholding our ecclesiastical and Christian fellowship
from them. We rather sympathise with, and would seek to succour them in their
embarrassments, believing that separation and secession among the Churches
and their members are not the methods God approves and sanctions for the reformation
of his Church.
5. While, therefore, we feel bound to bear our testimony against
slavery, and to exhort our beloved brethren to remove it from them as speedily
as possible by all appropriate and available means, we do at the same time
condemn all divisive and schismatical measures, tending to destroy the unity
and disturb the peace of our Church, and deprecate the spirit of denunciation
and inflicting severities, which would cast from the fold those whom we are
rather bound, by the spirit of the Gospel, and the obligations of our covenant,
to instruct, to counsel, to exhort, and thus to lead in the ways of God; and
towards whom, even though they may err, we ought to exercise forbearance and
6. As a court of our Lord Jesus Christ, we possess no legislative
authority; and as the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, we possess
no judiciary authority. We have no right to institute and prescribe a test
of Christian character and Church membership not recognised and sanctioned
in the sacred Scriptures, and in our standards, by which we have agreed to
walk. We must leave, therefore, this matter with the sessions, presbyteries,
and synods—the judicatories to whom pertains the right of judgment to
act in the administration of
discipline as they may judge it
to be their duty, constitutionally subject to the General Assembly only in
the way of general review and control.
When a boat is imperceptibly going down stream on a gentle but strong current,
we can see its passage only by comparing objects with each other on the shore.
If this declaration of the New-School General Assembly be compared with
that of 1818, it will be found to be far less out-spoken and decided in its
tone, while in the meantime slavery had become four-fold more powerful. In
1818, the Assembly states that the most virtuous portion of the community
in slave States abhor slavery, and wish its extermination. In 1846, the Assembly
states with regret that slavery is still continued and countenanced by any
of the members of our Churches. The testimony of 1818 has the frank out-spoken
air of a unanimous document, where there was but one opinion. That of 1846
has the guarded air of a compromise ground out between the upper and nether
millstone of two contending parties—it is winnowed, guarded, cautious,
Considering the document, however, in itself, it is certainly a very good
one; and it would be a very proper expression of Christian feeling, had it
related to an evil of any common magnitude, and had it been uttered in any
common crisis; but let us consider what was the evil attacked, and what was
the crisis. Consider the picture which the Kentucky Synod had drawn of the
actual state of things among them:—“The members of slave-families
separated, never to meet again until the final judgment; brothers and sisters,
parents and children, husbands and wives, daily torn asunder, and permitted
to see each other no more; the shrieks and agonies, proclaiming as with trumpet-tongue
the iniquity and cruelty of the system; the cries of the sufferers going up
to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth; not a neighbourhood where those heart-rending
scenes are not displayed; not a village or road without the sad procession
of manacled outcasts, whose chains and mournful countenances tell they are
exiled by force from all that heart holds dear; Christian professors rending
the mother from her child to sell her into returnless exile.”
This was the language of the Kentucky Synod fourteen years before; and
those scenes had been going on ever since, and are going on now, as the advertisements
of every Southern paper show; and yet the Church of Christ since 1818 had
done nothing but express regret and hold grave metaphysical discussions as
to whether slavery was an “evil per se,”
and censure the rash action of men who, in utter despair of stopping the evil
other way, tried to stop it by excluding slaveholders from
the Church. As if it were not better that one slaveholder in a hundred should
stay out of the Church, if he be peculiarly circumstanced, than that all this
horrible agony and iniquity should continually receive the sanction of the
Church's example! Should not a generous Christian man say, “If Church
excision will stop this terrible evil, let it come, though it does bear hardly
upon me! Better that I suffer a little injustice than that this horrible injustice
be still credited to the account of Christ's Church. Shall I embarrass the
whole Church with my embarrassments? What if I am careful and humane in my
treatment of my slaves—what if, in my heart, I have repudiated the wicked
doctrine that they are my property, and am treating them as my brethren—what
am I then doing? All the credit of my example goes to give force to the system.
The Church ought to reprove this fearful injustice, and reprovers ought to
have clean hands; and if I cannot really get clear of this, I had better keep
out of the Church till I can.”
Let us consider, also, the awful entrenchments and strength of the evil
against which this very moderate resolution was discharged. “A money
power of two thousand millions of dollars held by a small body of able and
desperate men; that body raised into a political aristocracy by special constitutional
provisions; cotton, the product of slave-labour, forming the basis of our
whole foreign commerce, and the commercial class thus subsidised; the press
bought up; the Southern pulpit reduced to vassalage; the heart of the common
people chilled by a bitter prejudice against the black race; and our leading
men bribed by ambition either to silence or open hostility.”* And now, in this condition of things, the whole
weight of these Churches goes in support of slavery, from the fact of their
containing slave-holders. No matter if they did not participate in the abuses
of the system; nobody wants them to do that. The slave power does not wish
professors of religion to separate families, or over-work their slaves, or
do any disreputable thing—that is not their part
. The slave power wants pious, tender-hearted, generous and humane masters,
and must have them, to hold up the system against the rising moral sense of
the world; and the more pious and generous the better. Slavery could not stand
an hour without these men. What then? These men uphold the system, and that
great anti-slavery body of ministers uphold these men. That is the final upshot
of the matter.
Paul says that we must remember those that are in bonds, as bound with
them. Suppose that this General Assembly had been made up of men who had been
fugitives. Suppose one of them had had his daughters sent to the New Orleans
slave-market, like Emily and Mary Edmondson; that another's daughter had died
on the overland passage in a slave-coffle, with no nurse but a slave-driver,
like poor Emily Russell: another's wife died broken-hearted when her children
were sold out of her bosom; and another had a half-crazed mother, whose hair
had been turned prematurely white with agony. Suppose these scenes of agonizing
partings, with shrieks and groans, which the Kentucky Synod says have been
witnessed so long among the slaves, had been seen in these ministers' families,
and that they had come up to this discussion with their hearts as scarred
and seared as the heart of poor old Paul Edmondson, when he came to New York
to beg for his daughters. Suppose that they saw that the horrid system by
which all this had been done was extending every hour; that professed Christians
in every denomination at the South declared it to be an appointed institution
of God; that all the wealth, and all the rank, and all the fashion in the
country were committed in its favour; and that they, like Aaron, were sent
to stand between the living and the dead, that the plague might be stayed.
Most humbly, most earnestly, let it be submitted to the Christians of this
nation, and to Christians of all nations, for such an hour and no doubt the other, and such a crisis
was this action sufficient? Did it do anything? Has it had the least effect
in stopping the evil? And, in such a horrible time, ought not something to
be done which will have that effect?
Let us continue the history. It will be observed that the resolution concludes
by referring the subject to subordinate judicatories. The New-School Presbytery
of Cincinnati, in which were the professors of Lane Seminary, suspended Mr.
Graham from the ministry for teaching that the Bible justified slavery; thereby
establishing the principle that this was a heresy inconsistent with Christian
fellowship. The Cincinnati Synod confirmed this decision. The General Assembly
reversed this decision, and restored Mr. Graham. The delegate from that presbytery
told them that they would never retrace their steps, and so it proved. The
Cincinnati Presbytery refused to receive him back. All honour be to them for
it! Here, at least, was a principle established, as far as the New-School
Cincinnati Presbytery is concerned, and a principle as far as the General
Assembly is concerned. By this act the General
the fact that the New-School Presbyterian Church had not decided the Biblical
defence of slavery to be a heresy.
For a man to teach that there are not three Persons in the Trinity is heresy.
For a man to teach that all these three Persons authorise a system which
even Mahometan princes have abolished from mere natural shame and conscience,
is no heresy!
The General Assembly proceeded further to show that it considered this
doctrine no heresy, in the year 1846, by inviting the Old-School General Assembly
to the celebration of the Lord's Supper with them. Connected with this Assembly
were not only Dr. Smylie, but all those bodies who, among them, had justified
not only slavery in the abstract, but some of its worst abuses, by the word
of God; yet the New-School body thought these opinions no heresy which should
be a bar to Christian communion!
In 1849 the General Assembly declared* that there had been no information before the Assembly to prove
that the members in slave States were not doing all that they could, in the
providence of God, to bring about the possession and enjoyment of liberty
by the enslaved. This is a remarkable declaration, if we consider that in
Kentucky there are no stringent laws against emancipation, and that, either
in Kentucky or Virginia, the slave can be set free by simply giving him a
pass to go across the line into the next State.
In 1850 a proposition was presented in the Assembly by the Rev. H. Curtiss,
of Indiana, to the following effect: “That the enslaving of men, or
holding them as property, is an offence, as defined in our Book of Discipline,
ch. i., sec. 3; and as such it calls for inquiry, correction, and removal,
in the manner prescribed by our rules, and should be treated with a due regard
to all the aggravating or mitigating circumstances in each case.” Another
proposition was from an elder in Pennsylvania, affirming “that slaveholding
was, prima facie, an offence within the meaning of
our Book of Discipline, and throwing upon the slaveholder the burden of showing
such circumstances as will take away from him the guilt of the offence.”*
Both these propositions were rejected. The following was adopted: “That
slavery is fraught with many and great evils; that they deplore the workings
of the whole system of slavery;
that the holding of our fellow-men
in the condition of slavery, except in those cases where it is unavoidable from the laws of the State, the obligations of guardianship,
or the demands of humanity, is an offence, in the proper import of that
term, as used in the Book of Discipline, and should be regarded and treated
in the same manner as other offences; also referring this subject to sessions
and presbyteries.” The vote stood eighty-four to sixteen, under a written
protest of the minority, who were for no action in the present state of the
country. Let the reader again compare this action with that of 1818, and he
will see that the boat is still drifting—especially as even this moderate
testimony was not unanimous. Again, in this year of 1850, they avow themselves
ready to meet, in a spirit of fraternal kindness and Christian love, any overtures
for re-union which may be made to them by the Old-School body.
In 1850 was passed the cruel Fugitive Slave Law. What deeds were done then!
Then to our free States were transported those scenes of fear and agony before
acted only on slave soil. Churches were broken up. Trembling Christians fled.
Husbands and wives were separated. Then to the poor African was fulfilled
the dread doom denounced on the wandering Jew: “Thou shalt find no ease,
neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest; but thy life shall hang in doubt
before thee, and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have no assurance
of thy life.” Then all the world went one way—all the wealth,
all the power, all the fashion. Now, if ever, was a time for Christ's Church
to stand up and speak for the poor.
The General Assembly met. She was earnestly memorialised to speak out.
Never was a more glorious opportunity to show that the kingdom of Christ is
not of this world. A protest then, from a body so numerous and respectable,
might have saved the American Church from the disgrace it now wears in the
eyes of all nations. Oh that she had once spoken! What said the Presbyterian
Church? She said nothing, and the thanks of political
leaders were accorded to her. She had done all they
Meanwhile, under this course of things, the number of presbyteries in slaveholding
States had increased from three to
twenty! and this Church has now under its care from fifteen to twenty
thousand members in slave States.
So much for the course of a decided anti-slavery body in union with a few
slaveholding Churches. So much for a most discreet, judicious, charitable,
and brotherly attempt to test by experience the question, What communion hath
light with dark-
ness, and what concord hath Christ with Belial?
The slave system is darkness—the slave-system is Belial! and every attempt
to harmonise it with the profession of Christianity will be just like these.
Let it be here recorded, however, that a small body of the most determined
opponents of slavery in the Presbyterian Church seceded and formed the Free
Presbyterian Church, whose terms of communion are, an entire withdrawal from
slaveholding. Whether this principle be a correct one or not, it is worthy
of remark that it was adopted and carried out by the Quakers—the only
body of Christians involved in this evil who have ever succeeded in freeing
themselves from it.
Whether Church discipline and censure is an appropriate medium for correcting
such immoralities and heresies in individuals or not, it is enough for the
case that this has been the established opinion and practice of the Presbyterian
If the argument of Charles Sumner be contemplated, it will be seen that
the history of this Presbyterian Church and the history of our United States
have strong points of similarity. In both, at the outset, the strong influence
was anti-slavery, even among slaveholders. In both there was no difference
of opinion as to the desirableness of abolishing slavery ultimately; both
made a concession, the smallest which could possibly be imagined; both made
the concession in all good faith, contemplating the speedy removal and extinction
of the evil; and the history of both is alike. The little point of concession
spread, and absorbed, and acquired, from year to year, till the United States
and the Presbyterian Church stand just where they do.
Worse has been the history of the Methodist Church. The history of the Baptist
Church shows the same principle; and as to the Episcopal Church, it has never
done anything but comply, either North or South. It
differs from all the rest in that it has never had any resisting element,
except now and then a Protestant, like William Jay, a worthy son of him who
signed the Declaration of Independence.
The slave power has been a united, consistent, steady, uncompromising principle.
The resisting element has been, for many years, wavering, self-contradictory,
compromising. There has been, it is true, a deep and ever-increasing hostility
to slavery in a decided majority of ministers and Church-members in free States, taken as individuals. Nevertheless, the sincere opponents
of slavery have been unhappily divided among themselves as to principles and
measures, the extreme principles and measures of some causing a hurtful reaction
in others. Besides this, other great plans of benevolence have occupied their
time and attention;
and the result has been that they have formed
altogether inadequate conceptions of the extent to which the cause of God
on earth is imperilled by American slavery, and of the duty of Christians
in such a crisis. They have never had such a conviction as has aroused, and
called out, and united their energies, on this, as on other great causes.
Meantime, great organic influences in Church and State are, much against their
wishes, neutralising their influence against slavery—sometimes even
arraying it in its favour. The perfect inflexibility of the slave-system,
and its absolute refusal to allow any discussion of the subject, has reduced
all those who wish to have religious action in common with slaveholding Churches
to the alternative of either giving up the support of the South for that object,
or giving up their protest against slavery.
This has held out a strong temptation to men who have had benevolent and
laudable objects to carry, and who did not realise the full peril of the slave-system,
nor appreciate the moral power of Christian protest against it. When, therefore,
cases have arisen where the choice lay between sacrificing what they considered
the interests of a good object, or giving up their right of protest, they
have generally preferred the latter. The decision has always gone in this
way: The slave power will not concede—
we must. The South says, “We will take no religious book that has
anti-slavery principles in it.” The Sunday-school Union drops Mr. Gallaudet's
History of Joseph. Why? Because they approve of slavery? Not at all. They
look upon slavery with horror. What then? “The South will not read our
books, if we do not do it. They will not give up, and we must.
We can do more good by introducing gospel truth with this omission than
we can by using our Protestant power.” This, probably, was thought and
said honestly. The argument is plausible, but the concession is none the less
real. The slave power has got the victory, and got it by the very best of
men from the very best of motives; and, so that it has the victory, it cares
not how it gets it. And although it may be said that the amount in each case
of these concessions is in itself but small, yet, when we come to add together
all that have been made from time to time by every different denomination,
and by every different benevolent organisation, the aggregate is truly appalling;
and, in consequence of all these united, what are we now reduced to?
Here we are, in this crisis—here in this nineteenth century, when
all the world is dissolving and reconstructing on principles of universal
liberty—we Americans, who are sending our Bibles and missionaries to
christianise Mahometan lands, are uphold-
ing with all our might
and all our influence, a system of worn-out heathenism which even the Bey
of Tunis has repudiated!
The Southern Church has baptised it in the name of the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Ghost. This worn-out, old, effete system of Roman slavery, which
Christianity once gradually but certainly abolished, has been dug up out of
its dishonoured grave, a few laws of extra cruelty, such as Rome never knew,
have been added to it, and now, baptised and sanctioned by the whole Southern
Church, it is going abroad conquering and to conquer! The only power left
to the Northern Church is the protesting power: and will they use it? Ask
the Tract Society if they will publish a tract on the sinfulness of slavery,
though such tract should be made up solely from the
writings of Jonathan Edwards or Dr. Hopkins! Ask the Sunday-school Union if
it will publish the facts about this heathenism, as it has facts about Burmah
and Hindostan! Will they? Oh that they would answer Yes!
Now, it is freely conceded that all these sad results have come in consequence
of the motions and deliberations of good men, who meant well; but it has been
well said that, in critical times, when one wrong step entails the most disastrous
consequences, to mean well is not enough.
In the crisis of a disease, to mean well and lose the patient— in
the height of a tempest, to mean well and wreck the ship—in a great
moral conflict, to mean well and lose the battle—these are things to
be lamented. We are wrecking the ship—we are losing the battle. There is no mistake about it. A
little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands
to sleep, and we shall awake in the whirls of that maëlstrom which has
but one passage, and that downward.
There is yet one body of Christians whose influence we have not considered,
and that a most important one—the Congregationalists of New England
and of the West. From the very nature of Congregationalism, she cannot give
so united a testimony as Presbyterianism; yet Congregationalism has spoken
out on slavery. Individual bodies have spoken very strongly, and individual
clergymen still stronger. They have remonstrated with the General Assembly,
and they have very decided anti-slavery papers. But, considering the whole
state of public sentiment, considering the critical nature of the exigency,
the mighty sweep and force of all the causes which are going in favour of
slavery, has the vehemence and force of the testimony of Congregationalism, as a body, been equal to the dreadful emergency? It has
testimonies on record, very full and explicit, on the evils of slavery; but
testimonies are not all that is wanted. There is
testimonies on record in the Presbyterian Church, for that matter, quite as
good and quite as strong as any that have been given by Congregationalism.
There have been quite as many anti-slavery men in the New-School Presbyterian
Church as in the Congregational—quite as strong anti-slavery newspapers;
and the Presbyterian Church has had trial of this matter that the Congregational
Church has never been exposed to. It has had slaveholders in its own communion;
and from this trial Congregationalism has, as yet, been mostly exempt. Being
thus free, ought not the testimony of Congregationalism to have been more
than equal? ought it not to have done more than testify? ought it not to have
fought for the question? Like the brave three hundred in Thermopylæ
left to defend the liberties of Greece, when all others had fled, should they
not have thrown in heart and soul, body and spirit? Have they done it?
Compare the earnestness which Congregationalism has spent upon some other
subjects with the earnestness which has been spent upon this. Dr. Taylor taught
that all sins consist in sinning, and therefore that there could be no sin
till a person had sinned; and Dr. Bushnell teaches some modifications of the
doctrine of the Trinity, nobody seeming to know precisely what. The South
Carolina presbyteries teach that slavery is approved by God, and sanctioned
by the example of patriarchs and prophets. Supposing these, now, to be all
heresies, which of them is the worst?—which will bring the worst practical
results? And, if Congregationalism had fought this slavery heresy as some
of her leaders fought Dr. Bushnell and Dr. Taylor, would not the style of
battle have been more earnest? Have not both these men been denounced as dangerous
heresiarchs, and as preaching doctrines that tend to infidelity? And pray
where does this other doctrine tend? As sure as there is a God in heaven is
the certainty that, if the Bible really did defend slavery, fifty years hence
would see every honourable and high-minded man an infidel.
Has, then, the past influence of Congregationalism been according to the
nature of the exigency and the weight of the subject? But the late convention
of Congregationalists at Albany, including ministers both from New England
and the Western States, did take a stronger and more decided ground. Here
is their resolution:—
Resolved, That, in the opinion of this convention, it is the tendency of
the Gospel, wherever it is preached in its purity, to correct all social evils,
and to destroy sin in all its forms; and that it is the duty of Missionary
Societies to grant aid to Churches in slaveholding States in the support of
such ministers only as
shall so preach the Gospel, and inculcate
the principles and application of Gospel discipline, that, with the blessing
of God, it shall have its full effect in awakening and enlightening the moral
sense in regard to slavery, and in bringing to pass the speedy abolition of
that stupendous wrong; and that wherever a minister is not permitted so to
preach, he should, in accordance with the directions of Christ, “depart
out of that city.”
This resolution is a matter of hope and gratulation in many respects. It
was passed in a very large convention—the largest ever assembled in
this country, fully representing the Congregationalism of the United States—and
the occasion of its meeting was considered, in some sort, as marking a new
era in the progress of this denomination.
The resolution was passed unanimously. It is decided in its expression,
and looks to practical action, which is what is wanted. It says it will support
no ministers in slave States whose preaching does not tend to destroy slavery;
and that, if they are not allowed to preach freely on the subject, they must
That the ground thus taken will be efficiently sustained may be inferred
from the fact that the Home Missionary Society, which is the organ of this
body, as well as of the New-School Presbyterian Church, has uniformly taken
decided ground upon this subject in their instructions to missionaries sent
into slave States. These instructions are ably set forth in their report of
March, 1853. When application was made to them, in 1850, from a slave State,
for missionaries who would let slavery alone, they replied to them, in the
most decided language, that it could not be done; that, on the contrary, they
must understand that one grand object in sending missionaries to slave States
is, as far as possible, to redeem society from all forms of sin; and that,
“if utter silence respecting slavery is to be maintained, one of the
greatest inducements to send or retain missionaries in the slave States is
The Society furthermore instructed their missionaries, if they could not
be heard on this subject in one city or village, to go to another; and they
express their conviction that their missionaries have made progress in awakening
the consciences of the people. They say that they do not suffer the subject
to sleep; that they do not let it alone because it is a delicate subject,
but they discharge their consciences, whether their message be well received,
or whether, as in some instances, it subjects them to opposition, opprobrium,
and personal danger; and that where their endeavours to do this have not been
tolerated, they have, in repeated cases, at great sacrifice, resigned their
departed to other fields. In their report of this
year they also quote letters from ministers in slaveholding States, by which
it appears that they have actually secured, in the face of much opposition,
the right publicly to preach and propagate their sentiments upon this subject.
One of these missionaries says, speaking of slavery, “We are determined
to remove this great difficulty in our way, or die in the attempt. As Christians
and as freemen, we will suffer this libel on our religion and institutions
to exist no longer.”
This is noble ground.
And while we are recording the protesting power, let us not forget the
Scotch seceders and covenanters, who, with a pertinacity and decision worthy
of the children of the old covenant, have kept themselves clear from the sin
of slavery, and have uniformly protested against it. Let us remember, also,
that the Quakers did pursue a course which actually freed all their body from
the sin of slaveholding; thus showing to all other denominations that what
has been done once can be done again. Also, in all denominations, individual
ministers and Christians, in hours that have tried men's souls, have stood
up to bear their testimony. Albert Barnes, in Philadelphia, standing in the
midst of a great, rich Church, on the borders of a slave State, and with all
those temptations to complicity which have silenced so many, has stood up,
in calm fidelity, and declared the whole counsel of God upon this subject.
Nay, more; he recorded his solemn protest that “
no influences out of the Church could sustain slavery an hour, if it were
not sustained in it;” and in the last session of the General Assembly,
which met at Washington, disregarding all suggestions of policy, he boldly
held the Presbyterian Church up to the strength of her past declarations,
and declared it her duty to attempt the entire abolition of slavery throughout
the world. So, in darkest hour, Dr. Channing bore a noble testimony in Boston,
for which his name shall ever live. So, in Illinois, E. P. Lovejoy and Edward
Beecher, with their associates, formed the Illinois Anti-Slavery Society,
amid mobs and at the hazard of their lives; and, a few hours after, Lovejoy
was shot down in attempting to defend the twice-destroyed anti-slavery press.
In the Old-School Presbyterian Church, William and Robert Breckenridge, President
Young, and others, have preached in favour of emancipation in Kentucky. Le
Roy Sunderland, in the Methodist Church, kept up his newspaper under ban of
his superiors, and with a bribe on his life of fifty thousand dollars. Torrey,
meekly patient, died in a prison, saying, “If I am a guilty man I am
a very guilty one: for I have helped four
hundred slaves to
freedom, who but for me would have died slaves.” Dr. Nelson was expelled
by mobs from Missouri for the courageous declaration of the truth on slave
soil. All these were in the ministry. Nor are these all. Jesus Christ has
not wholly deserted us yet. There have been those who have learned how joyful
it is to suffer shame and brave death in a good cause.
Also there have been private Christians who have counted nothing too dear
for this sacred cause. Witness Richard Dillingham, and John Garret, and a
host of others, who took joyfully the spoiling of their goods.
But yet, notwithstanding this, the awful truth remains, that the whole
of what has been done by the Church has not, as yet, perceptibly abated the
evil. The great system is stronger than ever. It is confessedly the dominant
power of the nation. The whole power of the government, and the whole power
of the wealth, and the whole power of the fashion, and the practical organic
workings of the large bodies of the Church, are all gone one way. The Church
is familiarly quoted as being on the side of slavery. Statesmen on both sides
of the question have laid that down as a settled fact. Infidels point to it
with triumph; and America, too, is beholding another class of infidels—a
class that could have grown up only under such an influence. Men whose whole
life is one study and practice of benevolence are now ranked as infidels,
because the position of Church organisations misrepresents Christianity, and
they separate themselves from the Church. We would offer no excuse for any
infidels who take for their religion mere anti-slavery zeal, and, under this
guise, gratify a malignant hatred of real Christianity. But such defences
of slavery from the Bible as some of the American clergy have made, are exactly
fitted to make infidels of all honourable and high-minded men. The infidels
of olden times were not much to be dreaded, but such infidels as these are
not to be despised. Woe to the Church when the moral standard of the infidel
is higher than the standard of the professed Christian! for the only armour
that ever proved invincible to infidelity is the armour of righteousness.
Let us see how the Church organisations work now, practically. What do
Bruin and Hill, Pulliam and Davis, Bolton, Dickins, and Co., and Matthews,
Branton, and Co., depend upon to keep their slave-factories and slave-barracoons
full, and their business brisk? Is it to be supposed that they are not men
like ourselves? Do they not sometimes tremble at the awful workings of fear
and despair and agony which they witness when
they are tearing
asunder living hearts in the depths of those fearful slave-prisons? What,
then, keeps down the consciences of these traders? It is the public sentiment
of the community where they live; and that public sentiment is made by ministers
and Church members. The trader sees plainly enough a logical sequence between
the declarations of the Church and the practice of his trade. He sees plainly
enough that, if slavery is sanctioned by God, and it is right to set it up
in a new territory, it is right to take the means to do this; and, as slaves
do not grow on bushes in Texas, it is necessary that there should be traders
to gather up coffles, and carry them out there; and, as they cannot always
take whole families, it is necessary that they should part them; and, as slaves
will not go by moral suasion, it is necessary that they should be forced;
and, as gentle force will not do, they must whip and torture. Hence come gags,
thumb-screws, cowhides, blood—all necessary
measures of carrying out what Christians say God sanctions.
So goes the argument one way. Let us now trace it back the other. The South
Carolina and Mississippi Presbyteries maintain opinions which, in their legitimate
results, endorse the slave-trader. The Old-School General Assembly maintains
fellowship with these Presbyteries without discipline or protest. The New-School
Assembly signifies its willingness to re-unite with the Old, while, at the
same time, it declares the system of slavery an abomination, a gross violation
of its most sacred rights, and so on. Well, now the chain is as complete as
need be. All parts are in; everyone standing in his place, and saying just
what is required, and no more. The trader does the repulsive work, the Southern
Church defends him, the Northern Church defends the South. Everyone does as
much for slavery as would be at all expedient, considering the latitude they
live in. This is the practical result of the thing.
The melancholy part of the matter is, that while a large body of New-School
men, and many Old-School, are decided anti-slavery men, this denominational
position carries their influence on the other side. As goes the General Assembly,
so goes their influence. The following affecting letter on this subject was
written by that eminently pious man, Dr. Nelson, whose work on Infidelity
is one of the most efficient popular appeals that has ever appeared:—
I have resided in North Carolina more than forty years, and been intimately
acquainted with the system, and I can scarcely even think of its operations
without shedding tears. It causes me excessive grief to think of my own poor
slaves, for whom I have for years been trying to find a free home. It strikes
equal astonishment and horror to hear Northern people
make light of slavery. Had they seen and known as much of it as I, they could
not thus treat it, unless callous to the deepest woes and degradations of
humanity, and dead both to the religion and philanthropy of the Gospel. But
many of them are doing just what the hardest-hearted tyrants of the South
most desire. Those tyrants would not, on any account, have them advocate or
even apologise for slavery in an unqualified manner. This would be bad policy
with the North. I wonder that Gerritt Smith should understand slavery so much
better than most of the Northern people. How true was his remark on a certain
occasion, namely, that the South are laughing in their sleeves to think what
dupes they make of most of the people at the North in regard to the real character
of slavery! Well did Mr. Smith remark that the system, carried out on its
fundamental principle, would as soon enslave any labouring white man as the
African. But, if it were not for the support of the North, the fabric of blood
would fall at once; and of all the efforts of public bodies at the North to
sustain slavery, the Connecticut General Association has made the best one.
I have never seen anything so well constructed in that line as their resolutions
of June, 1836. The South certainly could not have asked anything more effectual;
but, of all Northern periodicals, the New York Observer
must have the preference as an efficient support of slavery. I am not
sure but it does more than all things combined to keep the dreadful system
alive; it is just the succour demanded by the South. Its abuse of the abolitionists
is music in Southern ears, which operates as a charm; but nothing is equal
to its harping upon the “religious privileges and instruction”
of the slaves of the South, and nothing could be so false and injurious (to
the cause of freedom and religion) as the impression it gives on that subject.
I say what I know when I speak in relation to this matter. I have been intimately
acquainted with the religious opportunities of slaves—in the constant
habit of hearing the sermons which are preached to them, and I solemnly affirm
that, during the forty years of my residence and observation in this line,
I never heard a single one of these sermons but what was taken up with the
obligations and duties of slaves to their masters; indeed, I never heard a
sermon to slaves but what made obedience to masters by the slaves the fundamental
and supreme law of religion. Any candid and intelligent man can decide whether
such preaching is not, as to religious purposes, worse than none at all.
Again: it is wonderful how the credulity of the North is subjected to imposition
in regard to the kind treatment of slaves. For myself, I can clear up the
apparent contradictions found in writers who have resided at or visited the
South. The “majority of slaveholders,” say some, “treat
their slaves with kindness.” Now, this may be true in certain States
and districts, setting aside all questions of treatment except such as refer
to the body. And yet, while the “majority of slave-holders” in
a certain section may be kind, the majority of slaves in that section will
be treated with cruelty. This is the truth in many such cases; that while
there may be thirty men who may have but one slave a-piece, and that a house-servant—a
single man in their neighbourhood may have a hundred slaves, all field-hands,
half-fed, worked excessively, and whipped most cruelly. this is what I have
often seen. To give a case, to show the awful influence of slavery upon the
master, I will mention a Presbyterian elder, who was esteemed one of the best
men in the region—a very kind master. I was called to his death-bed
to write his will. He had what was considered a favourite house-servant, a
female. After all
other things were disposed of, the elder paused,
as if in doubt what to do with “Sue.” I entertained pleasing expectations
of hearing the word “liberty” fall from his lips; but who can
tell my surprise when I heard the master exclaim, “What shall be done
with Sue? I am afraid she will never be under a master severe enough for her.”
Shall I say that both the dying elder and his “Sue” were members
of the same Church—the latter statedly receiving the emblems of a Saviour's
dying love from the former?
All this temporising and concession has been excused on the plea of brotherly
love. What a plea for us Northern freemen! Do we think the slave-system such
a happy, desirable thing for our brothers and sisters at the South? Can we
look at our common schools, our neat, thriving towns and villages, our dignified,
intelligent, self-respecting farmers and mechanics, all concomitants of free
labour, and think slavery any blessing to our Southern brethren? That system
which beggars all the lower class of whites, which curses the very soil, which
eats up everything before it, like the palmer-worm, canker, and locust—which
makes common schools an impossibility, and the preaching of the gospel almost
as much so—this system a blessing! Does brotherly love require us to
help the South preserve it?
Consider the educational influences under which such children as Eva and
Henrique must grow up there! We are speaking of what many a Southern mother
feels, of what makes many a Southern father's heart sore. Slavery has been
spoken of in its influence on the family of the slave. There are those who
never speak, who could tell, if they would, its influence on the family of
the master. It makes one's heart ache to see generation after generation of
lovely, noble children exposed to such influences. What a country the South
might be, could she develop herself without this curse! If the Southern character,
even under all these disadvantages, retains so much that is noble, and is
fascinating even in its faults, what might it do with free institutions?
Who is the real, who is the true and noble lover of the South?—they
who love her with all these faults and encumbrances, or they who fix their
eyes on the bright ideal of what she might be, and say that these faults are
no proper part of her? Is it true love to a friend to accept the ravings of
insanity as a true specimen of his mind? Is it true love to accept the disfigurement
of sickness as a specimen of his best condition? Is it not truer love to say,
“This curse is no part of our brother; it dishonours him; it does him
injustice; it misrepresents him in the eyes of all nations. We love his better
self, and we will have no fellowship with his betrayer.” This is the
part of true, generous Christian love.
But will it be said, “The abolition enterprise was begun in a wrong
spirit, by reckless, meddling, impudent fanatics?” Well, supposing that
this were true, how came it to be so? If the Church of Christ had begun it right, these so-called fanatics would not have begun it wrong. In a deadly pestilence, if the right physicians
do not prescribe, everybody will prescribe— men, women, and children
will prescribe; because something must be done. If the Presbyterian Church,
in 1818, had pursued the course the Quakers did, there never would have been
any fanaticism. The Quakers did all by brotherly love. They melted the chains
of Mammon only in the fires of a divine charity. When Christ came into Jerusalem,
after all the mighty works that he had done, while all the so-called better
classes were non-committal or opposed, the multitude cut down branches of
palm-trees, and cried Hosanna! There was a most indecorous tumult. The very
children caught the enthusiasm, and were crying Hosannas in the temple. This
was contradictory to all ecclesiastical rules. It was a highly improper state
of things. The chief priests and scribes said unto Jesus, “Master, speak
unto these that they hold their peace.” That gentle eye flashed as he
answered, “I tell you, if these should hold their
peace, the very stones would cry out.”
Suppose a fire bursts out in the streets of Boston while the regular conservators
of the city, who have the keys of the fire-engines and the regulation of fire-companies,
are sitting together in some distant part of the city, consulting for the
public good. The cry of fire reaches them, but they think it a false alarm.
The fire is no less real for all that. It burns, and rages, and roars, till
everybody in the neighbourhood sees that something must be done. A few stout
leaders break open the doors of the engine-houses, drag out the engines, and
begin, regularly or irregularly, playing on the fire. But the destroyer still
advances. Messengers come in hot haste to the hall of these deliberators,
and, in the unselect language of fear and terror, revile them for not coming
“Bless me!” says a decorous leader of the body, “what
horrible language these men use!”
“They show a very bad spirit,” remarks another; “we can't
possibly join them in such a state of things.”
Here the more energetic members of the body rush out, to see if the thing
be really so; and in a few minutes come back, if possible more earnest than
“Oh! there is a fire!—a horrible, dreadful fire! The city is
burning—men, women, and children, all burning, perishing!
Come out, come out! As the Lord liveth, there is but a step between us and
“I am not going out; everybody that goes gets crazy,” says
“I've noticed,” says another, “that as soon as anybody
goes out to look, he gets just so excited; I won't look.”
But by this time the angry fire has burned into their very neighbourhood.
The red demon glares into their windows. And now, fairly aroused, they get
up and begin to look out.
“Well, there is a fire, and no mistake!”
“Something ought to be done,” says another.
“Yes,” says a third; “if it wasn't for being mixed up
with such a crowd and rabble of folks, I'd go out.”
“Upon my word,” says another, “there are
women in the ranks, carrying pails of water! There, one woman is going
up a ladder to get those children out. What an indecorum! If they'd manage
this matter properly, we would join them.”
And now comes lumbering over from Charlestown the engines and fire-companies.
“What impudence of Charlestown,” say these men, “to be
sending over here—just as if we could not put our own fires out! They
have fires over there, as much as we do.”
And now the flames roar and burn, and shake hands across the streets. They
leap over the steeples, and glare demoniacally out of the church-windows.
“For Heaven's sake, do something!” is the cry. “Pull
down the houses! Blow up those blocks of stores with gun-powder!
Anything to stop it.”
“See, now, what ultra radical measures they are going at!”
says one of these spectators.
Brave men, who have rushed into the thickest of the fire, come out, and
fall dead in the street.
“They are impracticable enthusiasts. They have thrown their lives
away in foolhardiness,” says another.
So, Church of Christ, burns that awful fire! Evermore burning, burning,
burning, over church and altar; burning over senate-house and forum; burning
up liberty, burning up religion! No earthly hands
kindled that fire. From its sheeted flame and wreaths of sulphureous smoke
glares out upon thee the eye of that enemy who was
a murderer from the beginning. It is a fire that burns to the lowest hell!
Church of Christ, there was an hour when this fire
might have been extinguished by thee. Now, thou standest like a mighty man
astonished—like a mighty man that cannot save.
Hope of Israel is not dead. The Saviour thereof in time of trouble is yet
If every church in our land were hung with mourning—if every Christian
should put on sack-cloth—if “the priest should weep between the
porch and the altar,” and say, “Spare thy people, O Lord, and
give not thy heritage to reproach!”—that were not too great a
mourning for such a time as this.
O Church of Jesus! consider what hath been said in the midst of thee. What
a heresy hast thou tolerated in thy bosom! Thy God
the defender of slavery!—thy God the patron
of slave-law! Thou hast suffered the character of thy God to be slandered.
Thou hast suffered false witness against thy Redeemer and thy Sanctifier.
The Holy Trinity of heaven has been foully traduced in the midst of thee;
and that God, whose throne is awful in justice, has been made the patron and
leader of oppression.
This is a sin against every Christian on the globe.
Why do we love and adore, beyond all things, our God? Why do we say to
him from our inmost souls, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there
is none on earth I desire beside thee?” Is this a bought-up worship?—is
it a cringing and hollow subserviency, because he is great, and rich, and
powerful, and we dare not do otherwise? His eyes are
a flame of fire; he reads the inmost soul, and will accept no such service.
From our souls we adore and love him, because he is holy, and just, and good,
and will not at all acquit the wicked. We love him because he is the father
of the fatherless, the judge of the widow; because he lifteth all who fall,
and raiseth them that are bowed down. We love Jesus Christ, because he is the Lamb without spot, the one altogether lovely. We love
the Holy Comforter, because he comes to convince the world of sin, and of
righteousness, and of judgment. O holy Church, universal throughout all countries
and nations! O ye great cloud of witnesses, of all people, and languages,
and tongues! differing in many doctrines, but united in crying Worthy is the
Lamb that was slain, for he hath redeemed us from all iniquity!
awake! arise up! be not silent! Testify against this heresy of the latter
day, which, if it were possible, is deceiving the very elect. Your God, your
glory is slandered. Answer with the voice of many waters and mighty thunderings!
Answer with the innumerable multitude in heaven, who cry, day and night, Holy,
holy, holy, just and true
are thy ways, O King of saints!
[PART IV] CHAPTER III.
AT the time when the Methodist and Presbyterian
Churches passed the anti-slavery resolutions which we have recorded, the system
of slavery could probably have been extirpated by the Church with comparatively
little trouble. Such was the experience of the Quakers, who tried the experiment
at that time, and succeeded. The course they pursued was the simplest possible.
They districted their Church, and appointed regular committees, whose business
it was to go from house to house, and urge the rules of the Church individually
on each slave-holder, one by one. This was done in a spirit of such simplicity
and brotherly love, that very few resisted the appeal. They quietly yielded
up, in obedience to their own consciences, and the influence of their brethren.
This mode of operation, though gentle, was as efficient as the calm sun of
summer, which, by a few hours of patient shining, dissolves the ice-blocks
against which all the storms of winter have beat in vain. Oh, that so happy
a course had been thought of and pursued by all the other denominations! but
the day is past when this monstrous evil would so quietly yield to gentle
and persuasive measures.
At the time that the Quakers made their attempt, this leviathan in the
reeds and rushes of America was young and callow, and had not learned his
strength. Then he might have been “drawn out with a hook;” then
they might have “made a covenant with him, and taken him for a servant
for ever;” but now Leviathan is full-grown. “Behold, the hope
of him is vain. Shall not men be cast down even at the sight of him? None
is so fierce that dare stir him up. His scales are his pride, shut up together
as with a close seal; one is so near to another that no air can come between
them. The flakes of his flesh are joined together. They are firm in themselves,
they cannot be moved. His heart is as firm as a stone, yea, as hard as a nether
millstone. The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold. He esteemeth iron
as straw, and brass as rotten wood. Arrows cannot make him flee; sling-stones
are turned with him into stubble. He laugheth at the shaking of a spear. Upon
earth there is not his like: he is king over all the children
There are those who yet retain the delusion that, somehow or other, without
any very particular effort or opposition, by a soft, genteel, rather apologetic
style of operation, Leviathan is to be converted, baptised, and Christianised.
They can try it. Such a style answers admirably as long as it is understood
to mean nothing. But just the moment that Leviathan finds they are in earnest,
then they will see the consequences. The debates of all the synods in the
United States, as to whether he is an evil per se,
will not wake him. In fact, they are rather a pleasant humdrum. Nor will any
resolutions that they “behold him with regret” give him especial
concern; neither will he be much annoyed by the expressed expectation that
he is to die somewhere about the millennium. Notwithstanding all the recommendations
of synods and conferences, Leviathan himself has but an indifferent opinion
of his own Christianity, and an impression that he would not be considered
quite in keeping with the universal reign of Christ on earth; but he doesn't
much concern himself about the prospect of giving up the ghost at so very
remote a period.
But let anyone, either North or South, take the sword of the Spirit and
make one pass under his scales that he shall feel, and then he will know what
sort of a conflict Christian had with Apollyon. Let no one, either North or
South, undertake this warfare, to whom fame, or ease, or wealth, or anything
that this world has to give, are too dear to be sacrificed. Let no one undertake
it who is not prepared to hate his own good name, and, if need be, his life
also. For this reason, we will give here the example of one martyr who died
for this cause; for it has been well said that “the blood of the martyr
is the seed of the Church.”
The Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy was the son of a Maine woman, a native of that
State which, barren in all things else, is fruitful in noble sentiments and
heroic deeds. Of his early days we say nothing. Probably they were like those
of other Maine boys. We take up his history where we find him a clergyman
in St. Louis, Mo., editing a religious newspaper. Though professing not to
be a technical abolitionist, he took an open and decided stand against slavery.
This aroused great indignation, and called forth threats of violence. Soon
after, a mob, composed of the most respectable individuals of the place, burned
alive a negro man in the streets of St. Louis, for stabbing the officers who
came to arrest him. This scene of protracted
till the deed was completed, and the shrieks of the victim for a more merciful
death were disregarded. In his charge to the grand jury, Judge Lawless decided
that no legal redress could be had for this outrage, because, being the act
of an infuriated multitude, it was above the law. Elijah Lovejoy expressed,
in determined language, his horror of the transaction and of the decision.
For these causes, his office was torn down and destroyed by the mob. Happening
to be in St. Charles, a mob of such men as only slavery could raise attacked
the house to take his life. His distracted wife kept guard at his door, struggling
with men armed with bludgeons and bowie-knives, who swore that they would
have his heart's blood. A woman's last despair, and the aid of friends, repelled
the first assault; but when the mob again returned, he made his escape. Lovejoy
came to Alton, Illinois, and there set up his paper. The mob followed him.
His press was twice destroyed, and he was daily threatened with assassination.
Before his press was destroyed the third time, a call was issued in his
paper for a convention of the enemies of slavery and friends of free inquiry
in Illinois, for the purpose of considering and recommending measures adapted
to meet the existing crisis. This call was signed by about two hundred and
fifty persons from different parts of the State, among whom was the Rev. E.
Beecher, then President of Illinois College. This gathering brought together
a large number. When they met for discussion, the mobocrats came also among
them, and there was a great ferment. The mob finally out-voted and dissolved
the convention. It was then resolved to form an anti-slavery society, and
to issue a declaration of sentiments, and an address to the people of the
State. Threats were expressed that, if Mr. Lovejoy continued to print his
paper, the mob would destroy his expected press. In this state of excitement,
Mr. Beecher, at the request of the society, preached two sermons, setting
forth the views and course of conduct which were contemplated in the proposed
movement. They were subsequently set forth in a published document, an extract
from which will give the reader an idea of what they were:
1. We shall endeavour to induce all our fellow-citizens
to elevate their minds above all selfish, pecuniary, political, and local
interests; and, from a deep sense of the presence of God, to regard solely
the eternal and immutable principles of truth, which no human legislature
or popular sentiment can alter or remove.
2. We shall endeavour to present the question as one between this
community and God, a subject on which He deeply feels, and on which we owe
great and important duties to him and to our fellow-citizens.
3. We shall endeavour, as far as possible, to allay the
violence of party strife, to remove all unholy excitement, and to produce
mutual confidence and kindness, and a deep interest in the welfare of all
parts of our nation; and a strong desire to preserve its union and promote
its highest welfare.
Our entire reliance is upon truth and love, and
the influences of the Holy Spirit. We desire to compel no one to act against
his judgment or conscience by an oppressive power of public sentiment; but
to arouse all men to candid thought and impartial inquiry in the fear of God,
we do desire.
And, to accomplish this end, we shall use the same means
that are used to enlighten and elevate the public mind on all other great
moral subjects—personal influence, public address, the pulpit, and the
4. We shall endeavour to produce a new and radical investigation
of the principles of human rights, and of the relations of all just legislation
to them, deriving our principles from the nature of the human mind, the relations
of man to God, and the revealed will of the Creator.
5. We shall then endeavour to examine the slave-laws of our land
in the light of these principles, and to prove that they are essentially sinful,
and that they are at war alike with the will of God and all the interests
of the master, the slave, and the community at large.
6. We shall then endeavour to show in what manner communities where
such laws exist may relieve themselves at once, in perfect safety and peace,
both of the guilt and danger of the system.
7. And, until communities can be aroused to do their duties, we shall
endeavour to illustrate and enforce the duties of individual slaveholders
in such communities.
To views presented in this spirit and manner one would think there could
have been no rational objection. The only difficulty with them was, that,
though calm and kind, they were felt to be in earnest; and at once Leviathan
was wide awake.
The next practical question was, Shall the third printing-press be defended,
or shall it also be destroyed.
There was a tremendous excitement, and a great popular tumult. The timid,
prudent, peace-loving majority, who are to be found in every city, who care
not what principles prevail, so they promote their own interest, were wavering
and pusillanimous, and thus encouraged the mob. Every motive was urged to
induce Mr. Beecher and Mr. Lovejoy to forego the attempt to re-establish the
press. The former was told that a price had been set on his head in Missouri—a
fashionable mode of meeting argument in the pro-slavery parts of this country.
Mr. Lovejoy had been so long threatened with assassination, day and night,
that the argument with him was something musty. Mr. Beecher was also told
that the interests of the college of which he was president would be sacrificed;
and that if he chose to risk his own safety, he had no right to risk those
interests. But Mr. Beecher and Mr. Lovejoy both felt that the very foundation
principle of free institutions had at this time been seriously com-
promised all over the country, by yielding up the right of free discussion
at the clamours of the mob; that it was a precedent of very wide and very
In a public meeting, Mr. Beecher addressed the citizens on the right of
maintaining free inquiry, and of supporting every man in the right of publishing
and speaking his conscientious opinions. He read to them some of those eloquent
passages in which Dr. Channing had maintained the same rights in very similar
circumstances in Boston. He read to them extracts from foreign papers, which
showed how the American character suffered in foreign lands from the prevalence
in America of Lynch law and mob violence. He defended the right of Mr. Lovejoy
to print and publish his conscientious opinions; and, finally, he read from
some Southern journals extracts in which they had strongly condemned the course
of the mob, and vindicated Mr. Lovejoy's right to express his opinions. He
then proposed to them that they should pass resolutions to the following effect:
That the free communication of opinion is one of the invaluable rights
of man; and that every citizen may freely speak, write, or print, on any subject;
being responsible for the abuse of the liberty.
That maintenance of these principles should be independent of all regard
to persons and sentiments.
That they should be especially maintained with regard to unpopular sentiments,
since no others need the protection of law.
That on these grounds alone, and without regard to political and moral
differences, we agree to protect the press and property of the editor of the Alton Observer, and support him in his right to publish
whatever he pleases, holding him responsible only to the laws of the land.
These resolutions, so proposed, were to be taken into consideration at
a final meeting of the citizens, which was to be held the next day.
That meeting was held. Their first step was to deprive Mr. Beecher, and
all who were not citizens of that county, of the right of debating on the
report to be presented. The committee then reported that they deeply regretted
the excited state of feeling; that they cherished strong confidence that the
citizens would refrain from undue excitement; that the exigencies of the time
required a course of moderation and compromise; and that, while there was
no disposition to prevent free discussion in general, they deemed it indispensable
to the public tranquillity that Mr. Lovejoy should not publish a paper in
that city; not wishing to reflect in the slightest degree upon Mr. Lovejoy's
character and motives. All that the meeting waited for now
to hear whether Mr. Lovejoy would comply with their recommendation.
One of the committee arose, and expressed his sympathy for Mr. Lovejoy,
characterising him as an unfortunate individual, hoping that they would all
consider that he had a wife and family to support, and trusting that they
would disgrace him as little as possible; but that he and all his party would
see the necessity of making a compromise, and departing from Alton. What followed
is related in the words of Mr. Beecher, who was present at the meeting:
As Brother Lovejoy rose to reply to the speech above mentioned, I watched
his countenance with deep interest, not to say anxiety. I saw no tokens of
disturbance. With a tranquil, self-possessed air, he went up to the bar within
which the chairman sat, and in a tone of deep, tender, and subdued feeling,
spoke as follows:
“I feel, Mr. Chairman, that this is the most solemn moment of my
life. I feel, I trust, in some measure the responsibilities which at this
hour I sustain to these, my fellow-citizens, to the Church of which I am a
minister, to my country, and to God. And let me beg of you, before I proceed
further, to construe nothing I shall say as being disrespectful to this assembly.
I have no such feeling; far from it. And if I do not act or speak according
to their wishes at all times, it is because I cannot conscientiously do it.
“It is proper I should state the whole matter, as I understand it,
before this audience. I do not stand here to argue the question, as presented
by the report of the committee. My only wonder is that the honourable gentleman,
the chairman of that committee, for whose character I entertain great respect,
though I have not the pleasure of his personal acquaintance—my only
wonder is how that gentleman could have brought himself to submit such a report.
“Mr. Chairman, I do not admit that it is the business of this assembly
to decide whether I shall or shall not publish a newspaper in this city. The
gentlemen have, as the lawyers say, made a wrong issue. I have the right to
do it. I know that I have the right freely to speak and publish my sentiments,
subject only to the laws of the land for the abuse of that right. This right
was given me by my Maker; and is solemnly guaranteed to me by the constitution
of these United States, and of this State. What I wish to know of you is,
whether you will protect me in the exercise of this right; or whether, as
heretofore, I am to be subjected to personal indignity and outrage. These
resolutions, and the measures proposed by them, are spoken of as a compromise—a
compromise between two parties. Mr. Chairman, this is not so. There is but
one party here. It is simply a question whether the law shall be enforced,
or whether the mob shall be allowed, as they now do, to continue to trample
it under their feet, by violating with impunity the rights of an innocent
“Mr. Chairman, what have I to compromise? If freely to forgive those
who have so greatly injured me, if to pray for their temporal and eternal
happiness, if still to wish for the prosperity of your city and State, notwithstanding
all the indignities I have suffered in it—if this be the compromise
intended, then do I willingly make it. My rights have been shamefully, wickedly
outraged; this I know, and
feel, and can never forget. But I
can and do freely forgive those who have done it. But if by a compromise is
meant that I should cease from doing that which duty requires of me, I cannot
make it. And the reason is, that I fear God more than I fear man. Think not
that I would lightly go contrary to public sentiment around me. The good opinion
of my fellow-men is dear to me, and I would sacrifice anything but principle
to obtain their good wishes; but when they ask me to surrender this, they
ask for more than I can, than I dare give. Reference is made to the fact that
I offered a few days since to give up the editorship of the
Observer into other hands. This is true; I did so because it was thought
or said by some that perhaps the paper would be better patronised in other
hands. They declined accepting my offer, however, and since then we have heard
from the friends and supporters of the paper in all parts of the State. There
was but one sentiment among them, and this was, that the paper could be sustained
in no other hands than mine. It is also a very different question, whether
I shall voluntarily, or at the request of friends, yield up my post, or whether
I shall forsake it at the demand of a mob. The former I am at all times ready
to do, when circumstances occur to require it, as I will never put my personal
wishes or interests in competition with the cause of that Master whose minister
I am. But the latter, be assured, I NEVER will do.
God, in his providence, so say all my brethren, and so I think, has devolved
upon me the responsibility of maintaining my ground here; and, Mr. Chairman,
I am determined to do it. A voice comes to me from Maine, from Massachusetts,
from Connecticut, from New York, from Pennsylvania—yea, from Kentucky,
from Mississippi, from Missouri—calling upon me, in the name of all
that is dear in heaven or earth, to stand fast; and by the help of God, I WILL STAND. I know I am but one, and you are many. My strength
would avail but little against you all. You can crush me, if you will; but
I shall die at my post, for I cannot and will not forsake it.
“Why should I flee from Alton? Is not this a free State? When assailed
by a mob at St. Louis, I came hither, as to the home of freedom and of the
laws. The mob has pursued me here, and why should I retreat again? Where can
I be safe, if not here? Have not I a right to claim the protection of the
laws? What more can I have in any other place? Sir, the very act of retreating
will embolden the mob to follow me wherever I go. No, sir, there is no way
to escape the mob but to abandon the path of duty, and that, God helping me,
I will never do.
“It has been said here that my hand is against every man, and every
man's hand against me. The last part of the declaration is too painfully true.
I do indeed find almost every hand lifted against me; but against whom, in
this place, has my hand been raised? I appeal to every individual present;
whom of you have I injured? Whose character have I traduced? Whose family
have I molested? Whose business have I meddled with? If any, let him rise
here and testify against me. No one answers.
“And do not your resolutions say that you find nothing against my
private or personal character? And does any one believe that, if there was
anything to be found, it would not be found and brought forth? If in anything
I have offended against the law, I am not so popular in this community as
that it would be difficult to convict me. You have courts, and judges, and
juries; they find nothing against me. And now you come together for the purpose
of driving out a confessedly innocent man, for no cause but that he dares
to think and speak as his conscience and his God dictate. Will conduct like
this stand the scrutiny of your country,
of posterity, above
all, of the judgment-day? For remember, the Judge of that day is no respecter
of persons. Pause, I beseech you, and reflect! the present excitement will
soon be over; the voice of conscience will at last be heard. And in some season
of honest thought, even in this world, as you review the scenes of this hour,
you will be compelled to say, `He was right; he was right!'
“But you have been exhorted to be lenient and compassionate, and
in driving me away to affix no unnecessary disgrace upon me. Sir, I reject
all such compassion. You cannot disgrace me. Scandal, and falsehood, and calumny
have already done their worst. My shoulders have borne the burden till it
sits easy upon them. You may hang me up as the mob hung up the individuals
of Vicksburg! You may burn me at the stake, as they did McIntosh at St. Louis,
or you may tar and feather me, or throw me into the Mississippi, as you have
often threatened to do; but you cannot disgrace me. I, and I alone, can disgrace
myself; and the deepest of all disgrace would be, at a time like this, to
deny my Master by forsaking his cause. He died for me, and I were most unworthy
to bear his name should I refuse, if need be, to die for him!
“Again, you have been told that I have a family, who are dependent
on me, and this has been given as a reason why I should be driven off as gently
as possible. It is true, Mr. Chairman, I am a husband and a father; and this
it is that adds the bitterest ingredient to the cup of sorrow I am called
to drink. I am made to feel the wisdom of the Apostle's advice, `It is better
not to marry.' I know sir, that in this contest I stake not my life only,
but that of others also. I do not expect my wife will ever recover the shock
received at the awful scenes through which she was called to pass at St. Charles.
And how was it the other night on my return to my house? I found her driven
to the garret, through fear of the mob, who were prowling round my house;
and scarcely had I entered the house ere my windows were broken in by the
brickbats of the mob, and she so alarmed that it was impossible for her to
sleep or rest that night. I am hunted as a partridge upon the mountains; I
am pursued as a felon through your streets; and to the guardian power of the
law I look in vain for that protection against violence which even the vilest
criminal may claim.
“Yet think not that I am unhappy. Think not that I regret the choice
that I have made. While all around me is violence and tumult, all is peace
within. An approving conscience and the rewarding smile of God is a full recompense
for all that I forego and all that I endure. Yes, sir, I enjoy a peace which
nothing can destroy. I sleep sweetly and undisturbed, except when awaked by
the brickbats of the mob.
“No, sir, I am not unhappy. I have counted the cost and stand prepared
freely to offer up my all in the service of God. Yes, sir, I am fully aware
of all the sacrifices I make in here pledging myself to continue this contest
to the last. (Forgive these tears—I had not intended to shed them, and
they flow not for myself, but others.) But I am commanded to forsake father,
and mother, and wife, and children for Jesus' sake; and as his professed disciple
I stand prepared to do it. The time for fulfilling this pledge in my case,
it seems to me, has come. Sir, I dare not flee away from Alton. Should I attempt
it, I should feel that the angel of the Lord, with his flaming sword, was
pursuing me wherever I went. It is because I fear God that I am not afraid
of all who oppose me in this city. No, sir, the contest has commenced here,
and here it must be finished. Before God and you all, I here pledge myself
to continue it, if need be, till death. If I fall, my grave shall be made
In person Lovejoy was well formed, in voice and manners refined; and the
pathos of this last appeal, uttered in entire simplicity, melted everyone
present, and produced a deep silence. It was one of those moments when the
feelings of an audience tremble in the balance, and a grain may incline them
to either side. A proposition to support him might have carried, had it been
made at that moment. The charm was broken by another minister of the gospel,
who rose and delivered a homily on the necessity of compromise, recommending
to Mr. Lovejoy especial attention to the example of Paul, who was let down
in a basket from a window in Damascus; as if Alton had been a heathen city
under a despotic government! The charm once broken, the meeting became tumultuous
and excited, and all manner of denunciations were rained down upon abolitionists.
The meeting passed the resolutions reported by the committee, and refused
to resolve to aid in sustaining the law against illegal violence; and the
mob perfectly understood that, do what they might, they should have no disturbance.
It being now understood that Mr. Lovejoy would not retreat, it was supposed
that the crisis of the matter would develope itself when his printing-press
came on shore.
During the following three days there seemed to be something of a reaction.
One of the most influential of the mob-leaders was heard to say that it was
of no use to go on destroying presses, as there was money enough on East to
bring new ones, and that they might as well let the fanatics alone.
This somewhat encouraged the irresolute city authorities; and the friends
of the press thought if they could get it once landed, and safe into the store
of Messrs. Godfrey and Gilman, that the crisis would be safely passed. They
therefore sent an express to the captain to delay the landing of the boat
till three o'clock in the morning, and the leaders of the mob, after watching
till they were tired, went home; the press was safely landed and deposited,
and all supposed that the trouble was safely passed. Under this impression
Mr. Beecher left Alton, and returned home.
We will give a few extracts from Mr. Beecher's narrative, which describe
his last interview with Mr. Lovejoy on that night, after they had landed and
secured the press:—
Shortly after the hour fixed on for the landing of the boat, Mr. Lovejoy
arose, and called me to go with him to see what was the result. The moon had
set and it was still dark, but day was near; and here and there a light was
glimmering from the window of some sick-room, or of some early riser. The
streets were empty and silent, and the sound of our feet echoed from the walls
as we passed along. Little did he dream, at that hour of the contest which
the next night
would witness, that these same streets would
echo with the shouts of an infuriate mob, and be stained with his own heart's
We found the boat there, and the press in the warehouse; aided in raising
it to the third storey. We were all rejoiced that no conflict had ensued,
and that the press was safe; and all felt that the crisis was over. We were
sure that the store could not be carried by storm by so few men as had ever
yet acted in a mob; and though the majority of the citizens would not aid
to defend the press, we had no fear that they would aid in an attack. So deep
was this feeling that it was thought that a small number was sufficient to
guard the press afterward; and it was agreed that the company should be divided
into sections of six, and take turns on successive nights. As they had been
up all night, Mr. Lovejoy and myself offered to take charge of the press till
morning; and they retired.
The morning soon began to dawn; and that morning I shall never forget.
Who that has stood on the banks of the mighty stream that then rolled before
me can forget the emotions of sublimity that filled his heart, as in imagination
he has traced those channels of intercourse opened by it and its branches
through the illimitable regions of this western world? I thought of future
ages, and of the countless millions that should dwell on this mighty stream;
and that nothing but the truth would make them free. Never did I feel as then
the value of the right for which we were contending thoroughly to investigate
and fearlessly to proclaim that truth. Oh the sublimity of moral power! By
it God sways the universe. By it he will make the nations free.
I passed through the scuttle to the roof, and ascended to the highest point
of the wall. The sky and the river were beginning to glow with approaching
day, and the busy hum of business to be heard. I looked with exultation on
the scenes below. I felt that a bloodless battle had been gained for God and
for the truth; and that Alton was redeemed from eternal shame. And as all
around grew brighter with approaching day, I thought of that still brighter
sun, even now dawning on the world, and soon to bathe it with floods of glorious
Brother Lovejoy, too, was happy. He did not exult; he was tranquil and
composed, but his countenance indicated the state of his mind. It was a calm
and tranquil joy; for he trusted in God that the point was gained, that the
banner of an unfettered press would soon wave over that mighty stream.
Vain hopes! How soon to be buried in a martyr's grave! Vain, did I say?
No: they are not vain. Though dead, he still speaketh; and a united world
can never silence his voice.
The conclusion of the tragedy is briefly told. A volunteer company, of
whom Lovejoy was one, was formed to act under the mayor in defence of the
law. The next night the mob assailed the building at ten o'clock. The store
consisted of two stone buildings in one block, with doors and windows at each
end, but no windows at the sides. The roof was of wood. Mr. Gilman, opening
the end door of the third story, asked what they wanted. They demanded the
press. He refused to give it up, and earnestly intreated them to go away without
violence, assuring them that, as the property had been committed to their
charge, they should defend it at the risk of their lives. After some inef-
fectual attempts, the mob shouted to set fire to the roof. Mr. Lovejoy,
with some others, went out to defend it from this attack, and was shot down
by the deliberate aim of one of the mob. After this wound he had barely strength
to return to the store, went up one flight of stairs, fell, and expired.
Those within then attempted to capitulate, but were refused with curses
by the mob, who threatened to burn the store, and shoot them as they came
out. At length the building was actually on fire, and they fled out, fired
on as they went by the mob. So terminated the Alton Tragedy.
When the noble mother of Lovejoy heard of his death, she said, “It
is well. I had rather he would die so than forsake his principles!”
All is not over with America while such mothers are yet left. Was she not
blessed who could give up such a son in such a spirit? Who was that woman
whom God pronounced blessed above all women? Was it not she who saw her dearest
crucified? So differently does God see from what man sees!
[PART IV] CHAPTER IV.
SERVITUDE IN THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH COMPARED
WITH AMERICAN SLAVERY.
“Look now upon this picture!—and on this.”
IT is the standing claim of those professors
of religion at the South who support slavery that they are pursuing the same
course in relation to it that Christ and his apostles did. Let us consider
the course of Christ and his apostles, and the nature of the kingdom which
they founded, and see if this be the fact.
Napoleon said, “Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne, and myself,
have founded empires; but upon what did we rest the creation of our genius?
Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon
The desire to be above others in power, rank, and station is one of the
deepest in human nature. If there is anything which distinguishes man from
other creatures, it is that he is par excellence an oppressive animal. On this principle, as Napoleon observed,
all empires have been founded; and the idea of founding a kingdom in any other
way had not even been thought of when Jesus of Nazareth appeared.
When the serene Galilean came up from the waters of Jordan, crowned and
glorified by the descending Spirit, and began to preach, saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” what expectations did
he excite? Men's heads were full of armies to be marshalled, of provinces
to be conquered, of cabinets to be formed, and offices to be distributed.
There was no doubt at all that he could get all these things for them, for
had he not miraculous power?
Therefore it was that Jesus of Nazareth was very popular, and drew crowds
Of these, he chose, from the very lowest walk of life, twelve men of the
best and most honest heart which he could find, that he might make them his
inseparable companions, and mould them, by his sympathy and friendship, into
some capacity to receive and transmit his ideas to mankind.
But they, too, simple-hearted and honest though they were, were bewildered
and bewitched by the common vice of mankind; and, though they loved him full
well, still had an eye on the offices and ranks which he was to confer, when,
as they expected, this miraculous kingdom should blaze forth.
While his heart was struggling and labouring, and nerving itself by nights
of prayer to meet desertion, betrayal, denial, rejection, by his beloved people,
and ignominious death, they were for ever wrangling
about the offices in the new kingdom. Once and again, in the plainest way,
he told them that no such thing was to be looked for; that there was to be
no distinction in his kingdom, except the distinction of pain, and suffering,
and self-renunciation, voluntarily assumed for the good of mankind.
His words seemed to them as idle tales. In fact, they considered him as
a kind of a myth—a mystery—a strange, supernatural, inexplicable
being, for ever talking in parables, and saying things which they could not
One thing only they held fast to: he was a king—he would have a kingdom;
and he had told them that they should sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve
tribes of Israel.
And so, when he was going up to Jerusalem to die—when that anguish,
long wrestled with in the distance, had come almost face to face, and he was
walking in front of them, silent, abstracted, speaking occasionally in broken
sentences, of which they feared to ask the meaning—they, behind, beguiled
the time with the usual dispute of “who should be greatest.”
The mother of James and John came to him, and, breaking the mournful train
of reverie, desired a certain thing of him— that her two sons might
sit at his right hand and his left, as prime ministers, in the new kingdom.
With his sad, far-seeing eye still fixed upon Gethsemane and Calvary, he said,
“Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup which I shall
drink of, and to be baptised with the baptism wherewith I shall be baptised?”
James and John were both quite certain that they were able. They were willing
to fight through anything for the kingdom's sake. The ten were very indignant.
Were they not as willing as James and John? And so there was a contention
“But Jesus called them to him and said, Ye know that the princes
of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and their great ones exercise
authority upon them; but it shall not be so among you.
“Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and
whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant—yea, the
servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but
to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Let us now pass on to another week in this history. The disciples have
seen their Lord enter triumphantly into Jerusalem, amid the shouts of the
multitude. An indescribable something in his air and manner convinces them
that a great crisis is at hand. He walks among men as a descended God. Never
were his words so thrilling and energetic. Never were words spoken on earth
which so breathe and burn as these of the last week of the life of Christ.
All the fervour and imagery and fire of the old prophets seemed to be raised
from the dead, etherealised and transfigured in the person of this Jesus.
They dare not ask him, but they are certain that the
kingdom must be coming. They feel, in the thrill of that mighty soul, that
a great cycle of time is finishing, and a new era in the world's history beginning.
Perhaps at this very Feast of the Passover is the time when the miraculous
banner is to be unfurled, and the new, immortal kingdom, proclaimed. Again
the ambitious longings arise. This new kingdom shall have ranks and dignities.
And who is to sustain them? While, therefore, their Lord sits lost in thought,
revolving in his mind that simple ordinance of love which he is about to constitute
the sealing ordinance of his kingdom, it is said again, “There was a
strife among them which should be accounted the greatest.”
This time Jesus does not remonstrate. He expresses no impatience, no weariness,
no disgust. What does he, then? Hear what St. John says:
“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands,
and that he was come from God and went to God, he riseth from supper, and
laid aside his garments, and took a towel and girded himself. After that,
he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and
to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” “After he
had washed their feet and had taken his garments and was sat down again, he
said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord:
and ye say well, for so I am. If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed
your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet; for I have given you
an example that ye should do as I have done to you.
“Verily, verily I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his
lord, neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
Here, then, we have the king, and the constitution of the kingdom. The
king on his knees, at the feet of his servants, performing the lowest menial
service, with the announcement, “I have given you an example, that ye
should do as I have done to you.”
And when, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, all these immortal words
of Christ, which had lain buried like dead seed in the heart, were quickened
and sprang up in celestial verdure, then these twelve became, each one in
his place, another Jesus, filled with the spirit of him who had gone heavenward.
The primitive Church, as organised by them, was a brotherhood of strict equality.
There was no more contention who should be greatest; the only contention was,
who should suffer and serve the most. The Christian Church was an
imperium in imperio; submitting outwardly to the laws of the land, but
professing inwardly to be regulated by a higher faith and a higher law. They
were dead to the world, and the world to them. Its customs were not their
customs; its relations not their relations. All the ordinary relations of
life, when they passed into the Christian Church, underwent a quick, immortal
change; so that the transformed relation resembled the old and heathen one
no more than the glorious body which is raised in incorruption resembles the
mortal one which was sown in corruption. The relation of marriage was changed,
from a tyrannous dominion of the stronger sex over the weaker, to an intimate
union, symbolising the relation of Christ and the Church. The relation of
parent and child, purified from the harsh features of heathen law, became
a just image of the love of the heavenly Father; and the relation of master
and servant, in like manner, was refined into a voluntary relation between
two equal brethren, in which the servant faithfully performed his duties as to the Lord, and the master gave him a full compensation
for his services.
No one ever doubted that such a relation as this is an innocent one. It
exists in all free States. It is the relation which exists between employer
and employed generally, in the various departments of life. It is true, the
master was never called upon to perform the legal act of enfranchisement—and
why? Because the very nature of the kingdom into which the master and slave
had entered enfranchised him. It is not necessary for a master to write a
deed of enfranchisement when he takes his slaves into Canada, or even into
New York or Pennsylvania. The moment the master and slave stand together on
this soil, their whole relations to each other are changed. The master may
remain master, and the servant a servant; but, according to the constitution
of the State they have entered the service must be a
one on the part of the slave, and the master must render a just equivalent.
When the water of baptism passed over the master and the slave, both alike
came under the great constitutional law of Christ's empire, which is this:
“Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and
whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, yea, the servant
of all.” Under such a law, servitude was dignified and made honourable,
but slavery was made an impossibility.
That the Church was essentially, and in its own nature, such an institution
of equality, brotherhood, love, and liberty, as made the existence of a slave,
in the character of a slave, in it, a contradiction and an impossibility,
is evident from the general scope and tendency of all the apostolic writings,
particularly those of Paul.
And this view is obtained, not from a dry analysis of Greek words and dismal
discussions about the meaning of doulos, but from
a full tide of celestial, irresistible spirit, full of life and love, that
breathes in every description of the Christian Church.
To all, whether bond on free, the apostle addresses these inspiring words:
“There is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope
of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,
who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” “For through
him we all have access, by one Spirit, unto the Father.” “Now,
therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with
the saints, and of the household of God, and are built upon the foundation
of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.”
“Ye are all the children of God, by faith in Jesus Christ; there is
neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male
nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
“For, as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members
of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ; for by one
Spirit are we all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles,
whether we be bond or free; and whether one member suffer, all members suffer
with it, or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
It was the theory of this blessed and divine unity that whatever gift,
or superiority, or advantage, was possessed by one member, was possessed by
every member. Thus Paul says to them, “All things are yours: whether
Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or life, or death, all are yours, and ye are
Christ's, and Christ's is God's.”
Having thus represented the Church as one living body, inseparably united,
the apostle uses a still more awful and impressive simile. The Church, he
says, is one body, and that body is the fulness of him who filleth all in
all; that is, He who filleth all in all seeks this Church to be the associate
and complement of himself, even as a wife is of the husband. This body of
believers is spoken of as a bright and mystical bride, in the world, but not
of it; spotless, divine, immortal, raised from the death of sin to newness
of life, redeemed by the blood of her Lord, and to be presented at last unto
him, a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.
A delicate and mysterious sympathy is supposed to pervade this Church,
like that delicate and mysterious tracery of nerves that overspreads the human
body; the meanest member cannot suffer without the whole body quivering in
pain. Thus says Paul, who was himself a perfect realisation of this beautiful
theory: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn
not?” “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also.”
But still further, individual Christians were reminded, in language of
awful solemnity, “What! know ye not that your body is the temple of
the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and that ye are not
your own?” And again, “Ye are the temple of the living God; as
God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them.” Nor was this
sublime language in these days passed over as a mere idle piece of rhetoric,
but was the ever-present consciousness of the soul.
Every Christian was made an object of sacred veneration to his brethren,
as the temple of the living God. The soul of every Christian was hushed into
awful stillness, and inspired to carefulness, watchfulness, and sanctity,
by the consciousness of an in-dwelling God. Thus Ignatius, who for his pre-eminent
piety was called, par excellence, by his Church, “Theophorus, the God-bearer,” when summoned before the Emperor
Trajan, used the following remarkable language: “No one can call Theophorus
an evil spirit ,* * * * for, bearing in my heart Christ the King of Heaven,
I bring to nothing the arts and devices of the evil spirits.”
“Who, then, is `the God-bearer'?” asked Trajan.
“He who carries Christ in his heart,” was the reply.* * * *
Dost thou mean him whom Pontius Pilate crucified?”
“He is the one I mean,” replied Ignatius.* * * *
“Dost thou, then, bear the crucified one in thy heart?” asked
“Even so,” said Ignatius; “for it is written, `I will
dwell in them and rest in them.' ”
So perfect was the identification of Christ with the individual Christian
in the primitive Church, that it was a familiar form of expression to speak
of an injury done to the meanest Christian as an injury done to Christ. So
St. Paul says, “When ye sin so against the weak brethren, and wound
their weak consciences, ye sin against Christ.” He says of himself,
“I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
See; also, the following extracts from a letter by Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage,
to some poor Numidian Churches, who had applied to him to redeem some of their
members from slavery among bordering savage tribes. (Neander, Denkw
We could view the captivity of our brethren no otherwise than as our own,
since we belong to one body, and not only love, but religion, excites us to
redeem in our brethren the members of our own body. We must, even if affection
were not sufficient to induce us to keep our brethren, we must reflect that
the temples of God are in captivity, and these temples of God ought not, by
our neglect, long to remain in bondage.* * * *
Since the Apostle says, “as many of you as are baptised have put
on Christ,” so in our captive brethren we must see before us
CHRIST, who hath ransomed us from the danger of captivity, who hath redeemed
us from the danger of death; Him who hath freed us from the abyss of Satan,
and who now remains and dwells in us to free Him from the hands of barbarians!
With a small sum of money to ransom Him who hath ransomed us by his cross
and blood, and who hath permitted this to take place that our faith may be
Now, because the Greek word doulos may mean a slave,
and because it is evident that there were men in the Christian Church who
were called douloi, will anybody say, in the whole
face and genius of this beautiful institution, that these men were held actually
as slaves in the sense of Roman and American law? Of all dry, dull, hopeless
stupidities, this is the most stupid. Suppose Christian masters did have servants
who were called douloi, as is plain enough they did,
is it not evident that the word douloi had become
significant of something very different in the Christian Church from what
it meant in Roman law? It was not the business of the apostles to make new
dictionaries; they did not change words—they changed things. The baptised,
regenerated, new-created doulos, of one body and one
spirit with his master, made one with his master, even as Christ is one with
the Father, a member with him of that Church which is the fulness of Him who
filleth all in all—was his relation to his Christian master like that
of an American slave to his master? Would he who regarded his weakest brother
as being one with
Christ hold his brother as a chattel personal?
Could he hold Christ as a chattel personal? Could he sell Christ for money?
Could he hold the temple of the Holy Ghost as his property, and gravely defend
his right to sell, lease, mortgage, or hire the same, at his convenience,
as that right has been argued in the slaveholding pulpits of America?
What would have been said at such a doctrine announced in the Christian
Church? Every member would have stopped his ears, and cried out, “Judas!”
If he was pronounced accursed who thought that the gift of the Holy Ghost
might be purchased with money, what would have been said of him who held that
the very temple of the Holy Ghost might be bought and sold, and Christ the
Lord become an article of merchandise? Such an idea never was thought of.
It could not have been refuted, for it never existed. It was an unheard-of
and unsupposable work of the devil, which Paul never contemplated as even
possible, that one Christian could claim a right to hold another Christian
as merchandise, and to trade in the “member of the body, flesh and bones”
of Christ. Such a horrible doctrine never polluted the innocence of the Christian
Church even in thought.
The directions which Paul gives to Christian masters and servants sufficiently
show what a redeeming change had passed over the institution. In 1st Timothy,
St. Paul gives the following directions, first, to those who have heathen
masters, second, to those who have Christian masters. That concerning heathen
masters is thus expressed: “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that
the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” In the next verse
the direction is given to the servants of Christian masters: “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.” Notice, now, the contrast between these directions.
The servant of the heathen master is said to be under the yoke, and it is
evidently implied that the servant of the Christian master was not under the
yoke. The servant of the heathen master was under the severe Roman law; the
servant of the Christian master is an equal, and a brother. In these circumstances,
the servant of the heathen master is commanded to obey for the sake of recommending
the Christian religion. The servant of the Christian master, on the other
hand, is commanded not to despise his master because he is his brother; but
he is to do him service because his master is faithful and beloved, a partaker
of the same glorious hopes with himself. Let us suppose, now, a clergyman,
employed as a chaplain on a cotton plantation, where most of the
members on the plantation, as we are informed is sometimes the case, are members
of the same Christian Church as their master, should assemble the hands around
him and say, “Now, boys, I would not have you despise your master because
he is your brother. It is true you are all one in Christ Jesus; there is no
distinction here; there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither negro nor white
man, neither bond nor free, but ye are all brethren—all alike members
of Christ, and heirs of the same kingdom; but you must not despise your master
on this account. You must love him as a brother, and be willing to do all
you can to serve him, because, you see, he is a partaker of the same benefit
with you, and the Lord loves him as much as he does you.” Would not
such an address create a certain degree of astonishment both with master and
servants? and does not the fact that it seems absurd show that the relation
of the slave to his master in American law is a very different one from what
it was in the Christian Church? But again, let us quote another passage, which
slave-owners are much more fond of. In Colossians iv. 22, and v. 1—“Servants,
obey, in all things, your masters, according to the flesh; not with eye-service
as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart as fearing God; and whatsoever
ye do, do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of
the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the
Lord Christ.” “Masters, give unto servants that which is just
and equal, knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.”
Now, there is nothing in these directions to servants which would show
that they were chattel servants in the sense of slave-law; for they will apply
equally well to every servant in Old England and New England; but there is
something in the direction to masters which shows that they were not considered
chattel servants by the Church, because the master is commanded to give unto
them that which is just and equal, as a consideration for their service. Of
the words “just and equal,” “just” means that which
is legally theirs, and “equal” means that which is in itself equitable,
irrespective of law.
Now, we have the undoubted testimony of all legal authorities on American
slave-law, that American slavery does not pretend
to be founded on what is just or equal either. Thus Judge Ruffin says: “Merely
in the abstract, it may well be asked which power of the master accords with
right. The answer will probably sweep away all of them;” and this principle,
so unequivocally asserted by Judge Ruffin, is all along implied and taken
for granted, as we have just seen in all the reasonings
slavery and the slave-law. It would take very little legal acumen to see that
the enacting of these words of Paul into a statute by any State would be a
practical abolition of slavery in that State.
But it is said that St. Paul sent Onesimus back to his master. Indeed!
but how? When, to our eternal shame and disgrace,
the horrors of the Fugitive Slave Law were being enacted in Boston, and the
very Cradle of Liberty resounded with the groans of the slave, and men harder-hearted
than Saul of Tarsus made havoc of the Church, entering into every house, haling
men and women, committing them to prison; when whole Churches of humble Christians
were broken up and scattered like flocks of trembling sheep; when husbands
and fathers were torn from their families, and mothers, with poor, helpless
children, fled at midnight, with bleeding feet, through snow and ice, towards
Canada; in the midst of these scenes, which have made America a by-word, and
a hissing, and an astonishment among all nations, there were found men, Christian
men, ministers of the gospel of Jesus, even—alas that this should ever
be written!—who, standing in the pulpit, in the name, and by the authority
of Christ, justified and sanctioned these enormities, and used this most loving
and simple-hearted letter of the martyr Paul to justify these unheard-of atrocities!
He who said, “Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is offended and
I burn not?”—he who called the converted slave his own body, the
son begotten in his bonds, and who sent him to the brother of his soul with
the direction, “Receive him as myself, not now as a slave, but above
a slave, a brother beloved” —this beautiful letter, this outgush
of tenderness and love passing the love of a woman, was held up to be pawed
over by the polluted hobgoblin fingers of slave-dealers and slave-whippers
as their lettre de cachet, signed and sealed in the
name of Christ and his apostles, giving full authority to carry back slaves
to be tortured and whipped, and sold in perpetual bondage, as were Henry Long
and Thomas Sims! Just as well might a mother's letter, when, with prayers
and tears, she commits her first and only child to the cherishing love and
sympathy of some trusted friend, be used as an inquisitor's warrant for inflicting
imprisonment and torture upon that child. Had not every fragment of the apostle's
body long since mouldered to dust, his very bones would have moved in their
grave, in protest against such slander on the Christian name and faith. And
is it to come to this, O Jesus Christ! have such things been done in thy name,
and art thou silent yet? Verily, thou art a God that bidest thyself O God
of Israel the Saviour!
[PART IV] CHAPTER V.
BUT why did not the apostles preach against
the legal relation of slavery, and seek its overthrow in the State? This question
is often argued as if the apostles were in the same condition with the clergy
of Southern churches, members of republican institutions, law-makers, and
possessed of all republican powers to agitate for the repeal of unjust laws.
Contrary to all this, a little reading of the New Testament will show us
that the apostles were almost in the condition of outlaws, under a severe
and despotic government, whose spirit and laws they reprobated as unchristian,
and to which they submitted, just as they exhorted the slave to submit, as
to a necessary evil.
Hear the apostle Paul thus enumerating the political privileges incident
to the ministry of Christ. Some false teachers had risen in the Church at
Corinth, and controverted his teachings, asserting that they had greater pretensions
to authority in the Christian ministry than he. St. Paul, defending his apostolic
position, thus speaks: “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a
fool,) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons
more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes
save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered
shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often,
in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen,
in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness,
in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness,
in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”
What enumeration of the hardships of an American slave can more than equal
the hardships of the great apostle to the Gentiles? He had nothing to do with
laws except to suffer their penalties. They were made and kept in operation
without asking him, and the slave did not suffer any more from them than he
It would appear that the clergymen of the South, when they
imitate the example of Paul, in letting entirely alone the civil relation
of the slave, have left wholly out of their account how different is the position
of an American clergyman, in a republican government, where he himself helps
to make and sustain the laws, from the condition of the apostles, under a
heathen despotism, with whose laws he could have nothing to do.
It is very proper for an outlawed slave to address to other outlawed slaves
exhortations to submit to a government which neither he nor they have any
power to alter.
We read, in sermons which clergymen at the South have addressed to slaves,
exhortations to submission, and patience, and humility, in their enslaved
condition, which would be exceedingly proper in the mouth of an apostle, where
he and the slaves were alike fellow-sufferers under a despotism whose laws
they could not alter, but which assume quite another character when addressed
to the slave by the very men who make the laws that enslave them.
If a man has been waylaid and robbed of all his property, it would be very
becoming and proper for his clergyman to endeavour to reconcile him to his
condition, as, in some sense, a dispensation of Providence; but if the man
who robs him should come to him, and address to him the same exhortations,
he certainly will think that that is quite another phase of the matter.
A clergyman of high rank in the Church, in a sermon to the negroes, thus
Almighty God hath been pleased to make you slaves here, and to give you
nothing but labour and poverty in this world, which you are obliged to submit
to, as it is his will that it should be so. And think within yourselves what
a terrible thing it would be, after all your labours and sufferings in this
life, to be turned into hell in the next life; and after wearing out your
bodies in service here, to go into a far worse slavery when this is over,
and your poor souls be delivered over into the possession of the devil, to
become his slaves for ever in hell, without any hope of ever getting free
from it. If, therefore, you would be God's freemen in heaven, you must strive
to be good and serve him here on earth. Your bodies, you know, are not your
own; they are at the disposal of those you belong to; but your precious souls
are still your own, which nothing can take from you if it be not your own
fault. Consider well, then, that if you lose your souls by leading idle wicked
lives here, you have got nothing by it in this world, and you have lost your
all in the next; for your idleness and wickedness is generally found out,
and your bodies suffer for it here; and, what is far worse, if you do not
repent and amend, your unhappy souls will suffer for it hereafter.
Now, this clergyman was a man of undoubted sincerity. He had read the New
Testament, and observed that St. Paul addressed exhortations something like
this to slaves in his day.
But he entirely forgot to consider that Paul had not the rights of a republican
clergyman; that he was not a maker and sustainer of those laws by which the
slaves were reduced to their condition, but only a fellow-sufferer under them.
A case may be supposed which would illustrate this principle to the clergyman.
Suppose that he were travelling along the highway, with all his worldly property
about him, in the shape of bank-bills. An association of highwaymen seize
him, bind him to a tree, and take away the whole of his worldly estate. This
they would have precisely the same right to do that the clergyman and his
brother republicans have to take all the earnings and possessions of their
slaves. The property would belong to these highwaymen by exactly the same
kind of title—not because they have earned it, but simply because they
have got it and are able to keep it.
The head of this confederation, observing some dissatisfaction upon the
face of the clergyman, proceeds to address him a religious exhortation to
patience and submission, in much the same terms as he had before addressed
to the slaves. “Almighty God has been pleased to take away your entire
property, and to give you nothing but labour and poverty in this world, which
you are obliged to submit to, as it is his will that it should be so. Now,
think within yourself what a terrible thing it would be, if, having lost all
your worldly property, you should, by discontent and want of resignation,
lose also your soul; and, having been robbed of all your property here, to
have your poor soul delivered over to the possession of the devil, to become
his property for ever in hell, without any hope of ever getting free from
it. Your property now is no longer your own; we have taken possession of it;
but your precious soul is still your own, and nothing can take it from you
but your own fault. Consider well, then, that if you lose your soul by rebellion
and murmuring against this dispensation of Providence, you will get nothing
by it in this world, and will lose your all in the next.”
Now, should this clergyman say, as he might very properly, to these robbers,
“There is no necessity for my being poor in this world, if you will
only give me back my property which you have taken from me,” he is only
saying precisely what the slaves, to whom he has been preaching, might say
to him and his fellow-republicans.
[PART IV] CHAPTER VI.
BUT it may still be said that the apostles might
have commanded Christian masters to perform the act of legal emancipation
in all cases. Certainly they might, and it is quite evident that they did
The professing primitive Christian regarded and treated his slave as a
brother; but in the eye of the law he was still his chattel personal—a
thing, and not a man. Why did not the apostles, then, strike at the legal
relation? Why did they not command every Christian convert to sunder that
chain at once? In answer, we say that every attempt at reform which comes
from God has proceeded uniformly in this manner—to destroy the
spirit of an abuse first, and leave the form
of it to drop away of itself afterwards—to girdle the poisonous tree,
and leave it to take its own time for dying.
This mode of dealing with abuses has this advantage, that it is compendious
and universal, and can apply to that particular abuse in all ages, and under
all shades and modifications. If the apostle, in that outward and physical
age, had merely attacked the legal relation, and had rested the whole burden
of obligation on dissolving that, the corrupt and selfish principle might
have run into other forms of oppression equally bad, and sheltered itself
under the technicality of avoiding legal slavery. God, therefore, dealt a
surer blow at the monster, by singling out the precise spot where his heart
beat, and saying to his apostles, “Strike there!”
Instead of saying to the slaveholder, “Manumit your slave,”
it said to him, “Treat him as your brother,” and left to the slaveholder's
conscience to say how much was implied in this command.
In the directions which Paul gave about slavery, it is evident that he
considered the legal relation with the same indifference with which a gardener
treats a piece of unsightly bark, which he perceives the growing vigour of
a young tree is about to throw off by its own vital force. He looked upon
it as a part of an old effete system of heathenism, belonging to a set of
laws and usages which were waxing old and ready to vanish away.
There is an argument which has been much employed on this subject, and
which is specious. It is this. That the apostles treated slavery as one of
the lawful relations of life, like that of parent and child, husband and wife.
The argument is thus stated: The apostles found all the relations of life
much corrupted by various abuses.
They did not attack the relations, but reformed
the abuses, and thus restored the relations to a healthy
The mistake here lies in assuming that slavery is the lawful relation.
Slavery is the corruption of a lawful relation. The lawful relation is servitude, and slavery is the corruption
When the apostles came, all the relations of life in the Roman Empire were
thoroughly permeated with the principle of slavery. The relation of child
to parent was slavery. The relation of wife to husband was slavery. The relation
of servant to master was slavery.
The power of the father over his son, by Roman law, was very much the same
with the power of the master over his slave.* He could, at his pleasure, scourge, imprison, or put him to death.
The son could possess nothing but what was the property of his father; and
this unlimited control extended through the whole lifetime of the father,
unless the son were formally liberated by an act of manumission three times
repeated, while the slave could be manumitted by performing the act only once.
Neither was there any law obliging the father to manumit; he could retain
this power, if he chose, during his whole life.
Very similar was the situation of the Roman wife. In case she were accused
of crime, her husband assembled a meeting of her relations, and in their presence
sat in judgment upon her, awarding such punishment as he thought proper.
For unfaithfulness to her marriage-vow, or for drinking wine, Romulus allowed
her husband to put her to death.*
From this slavery, unlike the son, the wife could never be manumitted; no
legal forms were provided. It was lasting as her life.
The same spirit of force and slavery pervaded the relation of master and
servant, giving rise to that severe code of slave-law, which, with a few features
of added cruelty, Christian America, in the nineteenth century, has re-enacted.
With regard, now, to all these abuses of proper relations, the gospel pursued
one uniform course. It did not command the Christian father to perform the
legal act of emancipation to his
son; but it infused such a
divine spirit into the paternal relation, by assimilating it to the relation
of the heavenly Father, that the Christianised Roman would regard any use
of his barbarous and oppressive legal powers as entirely inconsistent with
his Christian profession. So it ennobled the marriage relation by comparing
it to the relation between Christ and his Church; commanding the husband to
love his wife, even as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it. It
is said of him, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth
and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church;” “so ought everyone
to love his wife, even as himself.” Not an allusion is made to the barbarous,
unjust power which the law gave the husband. It was perfectly understood that
a Christian husband could not make use of it in conformity with these directions.
In the same manner Christian masters were exhorted to give to their servants
that which is just and equitable; and, so far from coercing their services
by force, to forbear even threatenings. The Christian master was directed
to receive his Christianised slave, “NOT now
as a slave, but above a slave, a brother beloved;” and, as in all these
other cases, nothing was said to him about the barbarous powers which the
Roman law gave him, since it was perfectly understood that he could not at
the same time treat him as a brother beloved and as a slave in the sense of
When, therefore, the question is asked, why did not the apostles seek the
abolition of slavery? we answer, they did seek it. They sought it by the safest,
shortest, and most direct course which could possibly have been adopted.
[PART IV] CHAPTER VII.
BUT did Christianity abolish slavery as a matter
of fact? We answer, it did.
Let us look at these acknowledged facts. At the time of the coming of Christ,
slavery extended over the whole civilised world. Captives in war were uniformly
made slaves, and, as wars were of constant occurrence, the ranks of slavery
were continually being reinforced; and, as slavery was hereditary and perpetual,
there was every reason to suppose that the number would have gone on increasing
indefinitely had not some influence operated to stop it. This is one fact.
Let us now look at another. At the time of the Reformation, chattel-slavery
had entirely ceased throughout all the civilised countries of the world; by
no particular edict—by no special law of emancipation—but by the
steady influence of some gradual, unseen power, this whole vast system had
dissolved away, like the snow-banks of winter.
These two facts being conceded, the inquiry arises, What caused this change?
If, now, we find that the most powerful organisation in the civilised world
at that time did pursue a system of measures which had a direct tendency to
bring about such a result, we shall very naturally ascribe it to that organisation.
The Spanish writer, Balmes, in his work entitled “Protestantism compared
with Catholicity,” has one chapter devoted to the anti-slavery course
of the Church, in which he sets forth the whole system of measures which the
Church pursued in reference to this subject, and quotes, in their order, all
the decrees of councils. The decrees themselves are given in an Appendix at
length, in the original Latin. We cannot but sympathise deeply in the noble
and generous spirit in which these chapters are written, and the enlarged
and vigorous ideas which they give of the magnanimous and honourable nature
of Christianity. They are evidently conceived by a large and noble soul, capable
of understanding such views—a soul, grave, earnest, deeply religious,
though evidently penetrated and imbued with the most profound conviction of
the truth of his own peculiar faith.
We shall give a short abstract from M. Balmes of the early course of the
Church. In contemplating the course which the Church took in this period,
certain things are to be borne in mind respecting
the character of the times.
The process was carried on during that stormy and convulsed period of society
which succeeded the breaking up of the Roman empire. At this time all the
customs of society were rude and barbarous. Though Christianity, as a system,
had been nominally very extensively embraced, yet it had not, as in the case
of its first converts, penetrated to the heart, and regenerated the whole
nature. Force and violence was the order of the day, and the Christianity
of the savage Northern tribes, who at this time became masters of Europe,
was mingled with the barbarities of their ancient heathenism. To root the
institution of slavery out of such a state of society required, of course,
a very different process from what would be necessary under the enlightened
organisation of modern times.
No power but one of the peculiar kind which the Christian Church then possessed
could have effected anything in this way. The Christian Church at this time,
far from being in the outcast and outlawed state in which it existed in the
time of the apostles, was now an organisation of great power, and of a kind
of power peculiarly adapted to that rude and uncultured age. It laid hold
of all those elements of fear, and mystery, and superstition, which are strongest
in barbarous ages, as with barbarous individuals, and it visited the violations
of its commands with penalties the more dreaded that they related to some
awful future, dimly perceived and imperfectly comprehended.
In dealing with slavery, the Church did not commence with a proclamation
of universal emancipation, because, such was the barbarous and unsettled nature
of the times, so fierce the grasp of violence, and so many the causes of discord,
that she avoided adding to the confusion by infusing into it this element;
nay, a certain council of the Church forbade, on pain of ecclesiastical censure,
those who preached that slaves ought immediately to leave their masters.
The course was commenced first by restricting the power of the master,
and granting protection to the slave. The Council of Orleans, in 549, gave
to a slave threatened with a broad leathern strap; he was punishment the privilege of taking sanctuary in
a church, and forbade his master to withdraw him thence without taking a solemn
oath that he would do him no harm; and if he violated the spirit of this oath,
he was to be suspended from the Church and the sacraments—a doom which in
those days was viewed with such
a degree of superstitious awe
that the most barbarous would scarcely dare to incur it. The custom was afterwards
introduced of requiring an oath on such occasions, not only that the slave
should be free from corporeal infliction, but that he should not be punished
by an extra imposition of labour, or by any badge of disgrace. When this was
complained of, as being altogether too great a concession on the side of the
slave, the utmost that could be extorted from the Church, by way of retraction,
was this—that in cases of very heinous offence
the master should not be required to make the two latter promises.
There was a certain punishment among the Goths which was more dreaded than
death. It was the shaving of the hair. This was considered as inflicting a
lasting disgrace. If a Goth once had his hair shaved, it was all over with
him. The fifteenth canon of the Council of Merida, in 666, forbade ecclesiastics
to inflict this punishment upon their slaves, as also all other kind of violence;
and ordained that, if a slave committed an offence, he should not be subject
to private vengeance, but be delivered up to the secular tribunal, and that
the bishops should use their power only to procure a moderation of the sentence.
This was substituting public justice for personal vengeance—a most important
step. The Church further enacted, by two councils, that the master who, of
his own authority, should take the life of his slave, should be cut off for
two years from the communion of the Church—a condition, in the view
of those times, implying the most awful spiritual risk, separating the man
in the eye of society from all that was sacred, and teaching him to regard
himself, and others to regard him, as a being loaded with the weight of a
most tremendous sin.
Besides the protection given to life and limb, the Church threw her shield
over the family condition of the slave. By old Roman law, the slave could
not contract a legal, inviolable marriage. The Church of that age availed
itself of the Catholic idea of the sacramental nature of marriage to conflict
with this heathenish doctrine. Pope Adrian I. said, “According to the
words of the Apostle, as in Jesus Christ we ought not to deprive either slaves
or freemen of the sacraments of the Church, so it is not allowed in any way
to prevent the marriage of slaves; and if their marriages
have been contracted in spite of the opposition and repugnance
of their masters, nevertheless they ought not to be
dissolved.” St. Thomas was of the same opinion, for he openly maintains
that, with respect to contracting marriage, “slaves
are not obliged to obey their masters.”
It can easily be seen what an effect was produced when the
personal safety and family ties of the slaves were thus proclaimed sacred
by an authority which no man living dared dispute. It elevated the slave in
the eyes of his master, and awoke hope and self-respect in his own bosom,
and powerfully tended to fit him for the reception of that liberty to which
the Church by many avenues was constantly seeking to conduct him.
Another means which the Church used to procure emancipation was a jealous
care of the freedom of those already free.
Everyone knows how in our Southern States the boundaries of slavery are
continually increasing, for want of some power there to perform the same kind
office. The liberated slave, travelling without his papers, is continually
in danger of being taken up, thrown into jail, and sold to pay his jail-fees.
He has no bishop to help him out of his troubles. In no church can he take
sanctuary. Hundreds and thousands of helpless men and women are every year
engulfed in slavery in this manner.
The Church, at this time, took all enfranchised slaves under her particular
protection. The act of enfranchisement was made a religious service, and was
solemnly performed in the Church; and then the Church received the newly-made
freeman to her protecting arms, and guarded his newly-acquired rights by her
spiritual power. The first Council of Orange, held in 441, ordained in its
seventh canon that the Church should check by ecclesiastical censures whoever
desired to reduce to any kind of servitude slaves who had been emancipated
within the inclosure of the Church. A century later, the same prohibition
was repeated in the seventh canon of the fifth Council of Orleans, held in
549. The protection given by the Church to freed slaves was so manifest and
known to all that the custom was introduced of especially recommending them
to her, either in lifetime or by will. The Council of Agde, in Languedoc,
passed a resolution commanding the Church, in all cases of necessity, to undertake
the defence of those to whom their masters had, in a lawful way, given liberty.
Another anti-slavery measure which the Church pursued with distinguished
zeal had the same end in view, that is, the prevention
of the increase of slavery. It was the ransoming of captives. As at that
time it was customary for captives in war to be made slaves of, unless ransomed,
and as, owing to the unsettled state of society, wars were frequent, slavery
might have been indefinitely prolonged, had not the Church made the greatest
efforts in this way. The ransoming of slaves in those days held the same place
in the affections of pious and devoted
members of the Church
that the enterprise of converting the heathen now does. Many of the most eminent
Christians, in their excess of zeal, even sold themselves into captivity that
they might redeem distressed families. Chateaubriand describes a Christian
priest in France who voluntarily devoted himself to slavery for the ransom
of a Christian soldier, and thus restored a husband to his desolate wife,
and a father to three unfortunate children. Such were the deeds which secured
to men in those days the honour of saintship. Such was the history of St.
Zachary, whose story drew tears from many eyes, and excited many hearts to
imitate so sublime a charity. In this they did but imitate the spirit of the
early Christians; for the apostolic Clement says, “We know how many
among ourselves have given up themselves unto bonds, that thereby they might
free others from them.” (1st Letter to the Corinthians, sect. 55; or
chap. xxi., verse 20.) One of the most distinguished of the Frankish bishops
was St. Eloy. He was originally a goldsmith of remarkable skill in his art,
and by his integrity and trustworthiness won the particular esteem and confidence
of King Clotaire I., and stood high in his court. Of him Neander speaks as
follows:—“The cause of the gospel was to him the dearest interest,
to which everything else was made subservient. While working at his art, he
always had a Bible open before him. The abundant income of his labours he
devoted to religious objects and deeds of charity. Whenever he heard of captives,
who in these days were often dragged off in troops as slaves
that were to be sold at auction, he hastened to the spot and paid down
their price.” Alas for our slave-coffles! there are no such bishops
now! “Sometimes, by his means, a hundred at once, men and women, thus
obtained their liberty. He then left it to their choice, either to return
home, or to remain with him as free Christian brethren, or to become monks.
In the first case, he gave them money for their journey; in the last, which
pleased him most, he took pains to procure them a handsome reception into
So great was the zeal of the Church for the ransom of unhappy captives
that even the ornaments and sacred vessels of the Church were sold for their
ransom. By the fifth canon of the Council of Macon, held in 585, it appears
that the priests devoted Church property to this purpose. The Council of Rheims,
held in 625, orders the punishment of suspension on the bishop who shall destroy
the sacred vessels FOR ANY OTHER MOTIVE THAN THE RANSOM OF CAPTIVES; and in
the twelfth canon of the Council of Verneuil, held in 844, we find that the
property of the Church was still used for this benevolent purpose.
When the Church had thus redeemed the captive, she still continued him
under her special protection, giving him letters of recommendation which should
render his liberty safe in the eyes of all men. The Council of Lyons, held
in 583, enacts that bishops shall state, in the letters of recommendation
which they give to redeemed slaves, the date and price of their ransom. The
zeal for this work was so ardent that some of the clergy even went so far
as to induce captives to run away. A council called that of St. Patrick, held
in Ireland, condemns this practice, and says that the clergyman who desires
to ransom captives must do so with his own money; for to induce them to run
away was to expose the clergy to be considered as robbers, which was a dishonour
to the Church. The disinterestedness of the Church in this work appears from
the fact that, when she had employed her funds for the ransom of captives,
she never exacted from them any recompense, even when they had it in their
power to discharge the debt. In the letters of St. Gregory, he re-assures
some persons who had been freed by the Church, and who feared that they should
be called upon to refund the money which had been expended on them. The Pope
orders that no one, at any time, shall venture to disturb them or their heirs,
because the sacred canons allow the employment of the goods of the Church
for the ransom of captives. (L. 7, Ep. 14.) Still further to guard against
the increase of the number of slaves, the Council of Lyons, in 566, excommunicated
those who unjustly retained free persons in slavery.
If there were any such laws in the Southern States, and all were excommunicated
who are doing this, there would be quite a sensation, as some recent discoveries
In 625, the Council of Rheims decreed excommunication to all those who
pursue free persons in order to reduce them to slavery. The twenty-seventh
canon of the Council of London, held 1102, forbade the barbarous custom of
trading in men, like animals; and the seventh canon of the Council of Coblentz,
held 922, declares that he who takes away a Christian to sell him is guilty
of homicide. A French council, held in Verneuil in 616, established the law
that all persons who had been sold into slavery on account of poverty or debt
should receive back their liberty by the restoration of the price which had
been paid. It will readily be seen that this opened a wide field for restoration
to liberty in an age where so great a Christian zeal had been awakened for
the redeeming of slaves, since it afforded opportunity for
to interest themselves in raising the necessary ransom. At this time the Jews
occupied a very peculiar place among the nations. The spirit of trade and
commerce was almost entirely confined to them, and the great proportion of
the wealth was in their hands, and, of course, many slaves. The regulations
which the Church passed relative to the slaves of Jews tended still further
to strengthen the principles of liberty. They forbade Jews to compel Christian
slaves to do things contrary to the religion of Christ. They allowed Christian
slaves, who took refuge in the church, to be ransomed, by paying their masters
the proper price.
This produced abundant results in favour of liberty, inasmuch as they gave
Christian slaves the opportunity of flying to churches, and there imploring
the charity of their brethren. They also enacted that a Jew who should pervert
a Christian slave should be condemned to lose all his slaves. This was a new
sanction to the slave's conscience, and a new opening for liberty. After that,
they proceeded to forbid Jews to have Christian slaves, and it was allowed
to ransom those in their possession for twelve sous. As the Jews were among
the greatest traders of the time, the forbidding them to keep slaves was a
very decided step towards general emancipation.
Another means of lessening the ranks of slavery was a decree passed in
a council at Rome, in 595, presided over by Pope Gregory the Great. This decree
offered liberty to all who desired to embrace the monastic life. This decree,
it is said, led to great scandal, as slaves fled from the houses of their
masters in great numbers, and took refuge in monasteries.
The Church also ordained that any slave who felt a calling to enter the
ministry, and appeared qualified therefore, should be allowed to pursue his
vocation; and enjoined it upon his master to liberate him, since the Church
could not permit her minister to wear the yoke of slavery. It is to be presumed
that the phenomenon, on page 347, of a preacher with both toes cut off and
branded on the breast, advertised as a runaway in the public papers, was not
one which could have occurred consistently with the Christianity of that period.
Under the influence of all these regulations, it is not surprising that
there are documents cited by M. Balmes which go to show the following things.
First, that the number of slaves thus liberated was very great, as there was
universal complaint upon this head. Second, that the bishops were complained
of as being always in favour of the slaves, as carrying
their protection to very great lengths, labouring in all ways to realise the
doctrine of man's equality; and it is affirmed in the documents
that complaint is made that there is hardly a bishop who cannot be charged
with reprehensible compliances in favour of slaves, and that slaves were aware
of this spirit of protection, and were ready to throw off their chains, and
cast themselves into the Church.
It is not necessary longer to extend this history. It is as perfectly plain
whither such a course tends, as it is whither the course pursued by the American
clergy at the South tends. We are not surprised that under such a course,
on the one hand, the number of slaves decreased, till there were none in modern
Europe. We are not surprised by such a course, on the other hand, that they
have increased until there are three millions in America.
Alas for the poor slave! What Church befriends him? In what house of prayer
can he take sanctuary? What holy men stand forward to rebuke the wicked law
that denies him legal marriage? What pious bishops visit slave-coffles to
redeem men, women, and children, to liberty? What holy exhortations in churches
to buy the freedom of wretched captives? When have church velvets been sold,
and communion-cups melted down, to liberate the slave? Where are the pastors,
inflamed with the love of Jesus, who have sold themselves into slavery to
restore separated families? Where are those honourable complaints of the world
that the Church is always on the side of the oppressed?—that the slaves
feel the beatings of her generous heart, and long to throw themselves into
her arms? Love of brethren, holy charities, love of Jesus—where are
ye? Are ye fled for ever?
[PART IV] CHAPTER VIII.
“Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal.”
FROM what has been said in the last chapter,
it is presumed that it will appear that the Christian Church of America by
no means occupies that position, with regard to slavery, that the apostles
did, or that the Church of the earlier ages did.
However they may choose to interpret the language of the apostles, the
fact still remains undeniable that the Church organisation which grew up immediately
after these instructions did intend and did effect the abolition of slavery.
But we wish to give still further consideration to one idea which is often
put forward by those who defend American slavery. It is this: that the institution
is not of itself a sinful one, and that the only sin consists in the neglect
of its relative duties. All that is necessary, they say, is to
regulate the institution by the precepts of the Gospel. They admit that
no slavery is defensible which is not so regulated.
If, therefore, it shall appear that American slave-law
cannot be regulated by the precepts of the Gospel without such alterations
as will entirely do away the whole system, then it will appear that it is
an unchristian institution, against which every Christian is bound to remonstrate,
and from which he should entirely withdraw.
The Roman slave code was a code made by heathen—by a race, too, proverbially
stern and unfeeling. It was made in the darkest ages of the world, before
the light of the Gospel had dawned. Christianity gradually but certainly abolished
it. Some centuries later, a company of men, from Christian nations, go to
the continent of Africa; there they kindle wars, sow strifes, set tribes against
tribes with demoniac violence, burn villages, and in the midst of these diabolical
scenes kidnap and carry off, from time to time, hundreds and thousands of
miserable captives. Such of those as do not die of terror, grief, suffocation,
ship-fever, and other horrors, are from time to time landed on the shores
of America. Here they are. And now a set of Christian legislators meet together
to construct a system and
laws of servitude, with regard to
these unfortunates, which is hereafter to be considered as a Christian institution.
Of course, in order to have any valid title to such a name, the institution
must be regulated by the principles which Christ and his apostles have laid
down for the government of those who assume the relation of masters. The New
Testament sums up these principles in a single sentence: “Masters, give
unto your servants that which is just and equal.”
But, forasmuch as there is always some confusion of mind in regard to what
is just and equal in our neighbours' affairs, our Lord has given this direction
by which we may arrive at infallible certainty. “All things whatsoever
ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”
It is therefore evident that if Christian legislators are about to form
a Christian system of servitude, they must base it on these two laws, one
of which is a particular specification under the other.
Let us now examine some of the particulars of the code which they have
formed, and see if it bear this character.
First, they commence by declaring that their brother shall no longer be
considered as a person, but deemed, sold, taken, and reputed, as a chattel
personal.—This is “just and equal!”
This being the fundamental principle of the system, the following are specified
as its consequences:—
1. That he shall have no right to hold property of
any kind, under any circumstances.—Just and equal!
2. That he shall have no power to contract a legal marriage, or claim
any woman in particular for his wife.—Just and equal!
3. That he shall have no right to his children, either to protect,
restrain, guide, or educate.—Just and equal!
4. That the power of his master over him shall be ABSOLUTE, without
any possibility of appeal or redress in consequence of any injury whatever.
To secure this they enact that he shall not be able to enter suit in
any court for any cause.—Just and equal!
That he shall not be
allowed to bear testimony in any court where any white person is concerned.—Just
That the owner of a servant, for “malicious, cruel,
and excessive beating of his slave, cannot be indicted.”—Just
It is further decided that by no indirect mode of suit, through
a guardian, shall a slave obtain redress for ill-treatment. (Dorothea v. Coquillon et al, 9 Martin La.
Rep., 350.)—Just and equal!
5. It is decided that the slave shall not only have no legal
redress for injuries inflicted by his master, but shall have no
redress for those inflicted by any other person, unless the injury impair
his property value.—Just and equal!
Under this head it is distinctly asserted as follows:
“There can be no offence against the peace of the State by the mere
beating of a slave, unaccompanied by any circumstances of cruelty, or an intent
to kill and murder. The peace of the State is not thereby broken.” (State v. Maner, 2 Hill's Rep. S. C.)—Just and equal!
If a slave strike a white, he is to be condemned to death; but if a master
kill his slave by torture, no white witnesses being present, he may clear
himself by his own oath. (Louisiana.) —Just and equal!
The law decrees fine and imprisonment to the person who shall release the
servant of another from the torture of the iron collar. (Louisiana.)—Just
It decrees a much smaller fine, without imprisonment, to the man who shall
torture him with red-hot irons, cut out his tongue, put out his eyes, and
scald or maim him. (Ibid.)— Just and equal!
It decrees the same punishment to him who teaches him to write as to him
who puts out his eyes.—Just and equal!
As it might be expected that only very ignorant and brutal people could
be kept in a condition like this, especially in a country where every book
and every newspaper are full of dissertations on the rights of man, they therefore
enact laws that neither he nor his children, to all generations, shall learn
to read and write.—Just and equal!
And as, if allowed to meet for religious worship, they might concert some
plan of escape or redress, they enact that “no congregation of negroes,
under pretence of divine worship, shall assemble themselves; and that every
slave found at such meetings shall be immediately corrected,
without trial, by receiving on the bare back twenty-five stripes with
a whip, switch, or cow-skin.” (Law of Georgia, Prince's Digest, p. 447.)—Just
Though the servant is thus kept in ignorance, nevertheless, in his ignorance,
he is punished more severely for the same crimes than freemen.—Just
By way of protecting him from over-work, they enact that he shall not labour
more than five hours longer than convicts at hard labour in a penitentiary!
They also enact that the master or overseer, not the slave, shall decide
when he is too sick to work.—Just and equal!
If any master, compassionating this condition of the slave, desires to
better it, the law takes it out of his power, by the following decisions:—
1. That all his earnings shall belong to his master,
notwithstanding his master's promise to the contrary; thus making them liable
for his master's debts.—Just and equal!
2. That if his master allow him to keep cattle for his own use, it
shall be lawful for any man to take them away, and enjoy half the profits
of the seizure.—Just and equal!
3. If his master sets him free, he shall be taken up and sold again.—Just
If any man or woman runs away from this state of things, and, after proclamation
made, does not return, any two justices of the peace may declare them outlawed,
and give permission to any person in the community to kill them by any ways
or means they think fit.—Just and equal!
Such are the laws of that system of slavery which has been made up by Christian
masters late in the Christian era, and is now defended by Christian ministers
as an eminently benign institution.
In this manner Christian legislators have expressed their understanding
of the text, “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and
equal,” and of the text, “All things whatsoever ye would that
men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”
It certainly presents the most extraordinary views of justice and equity,
and is the most remarkable exposition of the principle of doing to others
as we would others should do to us that it has ever been the good fortune
of the civilised world to observe. This being the institution,
let anyone conjecture what its abuses must be; for we are gravely told,
by learned clergymen, that they do not feel called upon to interfere with
the system, but only with its
abuses. We should like to know what abuse could be specified that is
not provided for and expressly protected by slave-law.
And yet, Christian republicans, who, with full power to repeal this law,
are daily sustaining it, talk about there being no harm in slavery, if they
regulate it according to the apostle's directions, and give unto their servants
that which is just and equal. Do they think that, if the Christianised masters
of Rome and Corinth had made such a set of rules as this for the government
of their slaves, Paul would have accepted it as a proper exposition of what
he meant by just and equal?
But the Presbyteries of South Carolina say, and all the other
religious bodies at the South say, that the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ
has no right to interfere with civil institutions. What is this Church of
our Lord Jesus Christ that they speak of? Is it not a collection of republican
men, who have constitutional power to alter these laws, and whose duty it
is to alter them, and who are disobeying the apostle's directions every day
till they do alter them? Every minister at the South is a voter as much as
he is a minister; every Church member is a voter as much as he is a Church
member; and ministers and Church members are among the masters who are keeping
up this system of atrocity, when they have full republican power to alter
it; and yet they talk about giving their servants that which is just and equal!
If they are going to give their servants that which is just and equal, let
them give them back their manhood; they are law-makers and can do it. Let
them give to the slave the right to hold property, the right to form legal
marriage, the right to read the word of God, and to have such education as
will fully develope his intellectual and moral nature; the right of free religious
opinion and worship; let them give him the right to bring suit and to bear
testimony; give him the right to have some vote in the government in which
his interests are controlled. This will be something more like giving that
which is “just and equal.”
Mr. Smylie, of Mississippi, says that the planters of Louisiana and Mississippi,
when they are giving from twenty to twenty-five dollars a barrel for pork,
give their slaves three or four pounds a-week; and intimates that, if that
will not convince people that they are doing what is just and equal, he does
not know what will.
Mr. C. C. Jones, after stating in various places that he has no intention
ever to interfere with the civil condition of the slave, teaches the negroes,
in his catechism, that the master gives to his servant that which is just
and equal, when he provides for them good houses, good clothing, food, nursing,
and religious instruction.
This is just like a man who has stolen an estate which belongs to a family
of orphans. Out of its munificent revenues, he gives the orphans comfortable
food, clothing, &c., while he retains the rest for his own use, declaring
that he is thus rendering to them that which is just and equal.
If the laws which regulate slavery were made by a despotic sovereign, over
whose movements the masters could have no control, this mode of proceeding
might be called just and equal; but, as they are made and kept in operation
by these Christian masters, these ministers and Church members, in
common with those who are not so, they are every one of them refusing to
the slave that which is just and equal, so long as they do not seek the repeal
of these laws; and if they cannot get them repealed, it is their duty to take
the slave out from under them, since they are constructed with such fatal
ingenuity as utterly to nullify all that the master tries to do for their
elevation and permanent benefit.
No man would wish to leave his own family of children as slaves under the
kindest master that ever breathed; and what he would not wish to have done
to his own children, he ought not to do to other people's children.
But it will be said that it is not becoming for the Christian Church to
enter into political matters. Again, we ask, what is the Christian Church?
Is it not an association of republican citizens, each one of whom has his
rights and duties as a legal voter?
Now, suppose a law were passed which depreciated the value of cotton or
sugar three cents in the pound; would these men consider the fact that they
are Church members as any reason why they should not agitate for the repeal
of such law? Certainly not. Such a law would be brittle as the spider's web;
it would be swept away before it was well made. Every law to which the majority
of the community does not assent is, in this country, immediately torn down.
Why, then, does this monstrous system stand from age to age? Because the
community CONSENT TO IT. They re-enact these unjust
laws every day, by their silent permission of them.
The kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is not of this world, say the South
Carolina Presbyteries; therefore the Church has no right to interfere with
any civil institution; but yet all the clergy of Charleston could attend in
a body to give sanction to the proceedings of the great Vigilance Committee.
They could not properly exert the least influence against
slavery, because it is a civil institution; but they could give the
whole weight of their influence in favour of it.
Is it not making the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ quite as much of
this world, to patronise the oppressor as to patronise the slave?
[PART IV] CHAPTER IX.
IS THE SYSTEM OF RELIGION WHICH IS TAUGHT
THE SLAVE THE GOSPEL?
THE ladies of England, in their letter to the
ladies of America, spoke in particular of the denial of the gospel to the
slave. This has been indignantly resented in this country, and it has been
claimed that the slaves do have the gospel communicated to them very extensively.
Whoever reads Mr. Charles C. Jones's book on the religious instruction
of the negroes will have no doubt of the following facts:—
1. That from year to year, since the introduction
of the negroes into this country, various pious and benevolent individuals
have made efforts for their spiritual welfare.
2. That these efforts have increased, from year to year.
3. That the most extensive and important one came into being about
the time that Mr. Jones's book was written, in the year 1842, and extended
to some degree through the United States. The fairest development of it was
probably in the State of Georgia, the sphere of Mr. Jones's immediate labour,
where the most gratifying results were witnessed, and much very amiable and
commendable Christian feeling elicited on the part of masters.
4. From time to time, there have been prepared, for the use of the
slave, catechisms, hymns, short sermons, &c. &c., designed to be read
to them by their masters, or taught them orally.
5. It will appear to anyone who reads Mr. Jones's book that, though
written by a man who believed the system of slavery sanctioned by God, it
manifests a spirit of sincere and earnest benevolence, and of devotedness
to the cause he has undertaken, which cannot be too highly appreciated.
It is a very painful and unpleasant task to express any qualification or
dissent with regard to efforts which have been undertaken in a good spirit,
and which have produced, in many respects, good results; but, in the reading
of Mr. Jones's book, in the study of his catechism, and of various other catechisms
and sermons which give an idea of the religious instruction of the
slaves, the writer has often been painfully impressed with the idea that
however imbued and mingled with good, it is not the true
and pure Gospel system which is given to the slave. As far as the writer
has been able to trace out what is communicated to him, it amounts in substance
to this; that his master's authority over him, and property in him, to the
full extent of the enactment of slave-law, is recognised and sustained by
the tremendous authority of God himself. He is told that his master is God's
overseer; that he owes him a blind, unconditional, unlimited submission; that
he must not allow himself to grumble, or fret, or murmur, at anything in his
conduct; and, in case he does so, that his murmuring is not against his master,
but against God. He is taught that it is God's will that he should have nothing
but labour and poverty in this world; and that, if he frets and grumbles at
this, he will get nothing by it in this life, and be sent to hell for ever
in the next. Most vivid descriptions of hell, with its torments, its worms
ever feeding and never dying, are held up before him; and he is told that
this eternity of torture will be the result of insubordination here. It is
no wonder that a slaveholder once said to Dr. Brisbane, of Cincinnati, that
religion had been worth more to him, on his plantation, than a waggon-load
Furthermore, the slave is taught that to endeavour to evade his master
by running away, or to shelter or harbour a slave who has run away, are sins
which will expose him to the wrath of that omniscient Being whose eyes are
in every place.
As the slave is a moveable and merchantable being, liable, as Mr. Jones
calmly remarks, to “all the vicissitudes of property,” this system
of instruction, one would think, would be in something of a dilemma, when
it comes to inculcate the Christian duties of the family state.
When Mr. Jones takes a survey of the field, previous to commencing his
system of operations, he tells us, what we suppose every rational person must
have foreseen, that he finds among the negroes an utter demoralisation upon
this subject; that polygamy is commonly practised, and that the marriage-covenant
has become a mere temporary union of interest, profit, or pleasure, formed
without reflection, and dissolved without the slightest idea of guilt.
That this state of things is the necessary and legitimate result of the
system of laws which these Christian men have made and are still keeping up
over their slaves, any sensible person will perceive; and anyone would think
it an indispensable step to any system of religious instruction here, that
the negro should be
placed in a situation where he
can form a legal marriage, and can adhere to
it after it is formed.
But Mr. Jones and his coadjutors commenced by declaring that it was not
their intention to interfere, in the slightest degree, with the legal position
of the slave.
We should have thought, then, that it would not have been possible, if
these masters intended to keep their slaves in the condition of chattels personal,
liable to a constant disruption of family ties—that they could have
the heart to teach them the strict morality of the gospel, with regard to
the marriage relation.
But so it is, however. If we examine Mr. Jones's catechism, we shall find
that the slave is made to repeat orally that one man can be the husband of
but one woman; and if during her lifetime he marries another, God will punish
him for ever in hell.
Suppose a conscientious woman, instructed in Mr. Jones's catechism, by
the death of her master is thrown into the market for the division of the
estate, like many cases we may read of in the Georgia papers every week. She
is torn from her husband and children, and sold at the other end of the Union,
never to meet them again, and the new master commands her to take another
husband; what, now, is this woman to do? If she takes the husband, according
to her catechism she commits adultery, and exposes herself to everlasting
fire; if she does not take him, she disobeys her master, who, she has been
taught, is God's overseer; and she is exposed to everlasting fire on that
account, and certainly she is exposed to horrible tortures here.
Now, we ask if the teaching that has involved this poor soul in such a
labyrinth of horrors can be called the gospel.
Is it the gospel—is it glad tidings in any sense of the words?
In the same manner, this catechism goes on to instruct parents to bring
up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, that they should
guide, counsel, restrain and govern them.
Again these teachers tell them that they should search the Scriptures most
earnestly, diligently, and continually, at the same time declaring that it
is not their intention to interfere with the laws which forbid their being
taught to read. Searching the Scriptures, slaves are told, means coming to
people who are willing to read to them. Yes; but if there be no one willing
to do this, what then? Anyone whom this catechism has thus instructed is sold
off to a plantation on Red River, like
that where Northrop lived;
no Bible goes with him; his Christian instructors, in their care not to interfere
with his civil condition, have deprived him of the power of reading; and in
this land of darkness his oral instruction is but as a faded dream. Let any
of us ask for what sum we would be deprived of all power of ever reading the
Bible for ourselves, and made entirely dependent on the reading of others—especially
if we were liable to fall into such hands as slaves are—and then let
us determine whether a system of religious instruction, which begins by declaring
that it has no intention to interfere with this cruel legal deprivation, is
The poor slave, darkened, blinded, perplexed on every hand by the influences
which the legal system has spread under his feet, is furthermore strictly
instructed in a perfect system of morality. He must not even covet anything
that is his master's; he must not murmur or be discontented; he must consider
his master's interests as his own, and be ready to sacrifice himself to them;
and this he must do, as he is told, not only to the good and gentle, but also
to the froward. He must forgive all injuries, and do exactly right under all
perplexities; thus is the obligation on his part expounded to him, while his
master's reciprocal obligations mean only to give him good houses, clothes,
food, &c. &c., leaving every master to determine for himself what
is good in relation to these matters.
No wonder, when such a system of utter injustice is justified to the negro
by all the awful sanctions of religion, that now and then a strong soul rises
up against it. We have known under a black skin shrewd minds, unconquerable
spirits, whose indignant sense of justice no such representations could blind.
That Mr. Jones has met such is evident; for speaking of the trials of a
missionary among them, he says (p. 127):
He discovers Deism, Scepticism, Universalism. As already stated, the various
perversions of the gospel, and all the strong objections against the truth
of God —objections which he may perhaps have considered peculiar only
to the cultivated minds, the ripe scholarship, and profound intelligence of
critics and philosophers! —extremes here meet on the natural and common
ground of a darkened understanding and a hardened heart.
Again, in the Tenth Annual Report of the “Association for the Religious
Instruction of the Negroes in Liberty County, Georgia,” he says:
Allow me to relate a fact which occurred in the spring of this year, illustrative
of the character and knowledge of the negroes at this time. I was preaching
to a large congregation on the Epistle to Philemon; and when I insisted upon
and obedience as Christian virtues in servants, and
upon the authority of Paul condemned the practice of running away, one half
of my audience deliberately walked off with themselves, and those that remained
looked anything but satisfied either with the preacher or his doctrine. After
dismission, there was no small stir among them; some solemnly declared that
there was no such epistle in the Bible; others, “that it was not the
Gospel;” others, “that I preached to please masters;” others,
“that they did not care if they never heard me preach again.”
—Pp. 24, 25.
Lundy Lane, an intelligent fugitive, who has published his Memoirs, says
that on one occasion they (the slaves) were greatly delighted with a certain
preacher, until he told them that God had ordained and created them expressly
to make slaves of. He says that after that they all left him, and went away,
because they thought with the Jews, “This is a hard saying; who can
In these remarks on the perversion of the gospel as presented to the slave,
we do not mean to imply that much that is excellent and valuable is not taught
him. We mean simply to assert that, in so far as the system taught justifies
the slave-system, so far necessarily it vitiates the fundamental ideas of
justice and morality; and so far as the obligations of the gospel are inculcated
on the slave in their purity, they bring him necessarily in conflict with
the authority of the system. As we have said before, it is an attempt to harmonise
light with darkness, and Christ with Belial. Nor is such an attempt to be
justified and tolerated because undertaken in the most amiable spirit by amiable
men. Our admiration of some of the labourers who have conducted the system
is very great; so also is our admiration of many of the Jesuit missionaries
who have spread the Roman Catholic religion among our aboriginal tribes. Devotion
and disinterestedness could be carried no further than some of both these
classes of men have carried them.
But while our respect for these good men must not seduce us as Protestants
into an admiration of the system which they taught, so our esteem for our
Southern brethren must not lead us to admit that a system which fully justifies
the worst kind of spiritual and temporal despotism can properly represent
the gospel of him who came to preach deliverance to the captives.
To prove that we have not misrepresented the style of instruction, we will
give some extracts from various sermons and discourses.
In the first place, to show how explicitly religious teachers disclaim
any intention of interfering in the legal relation (see Mr. Jones's work,
By law or custom they are excluded from the advantages of education, and
consequence from the reading of the word of God; and this
immense mass of immortal beings is thrown for religious instruction upon oral
communications entirely. And upon whom? Upon their owners. And their owners,
especially of late years, claim to be the exclusive guardians of their religious
instruction, and the almoners of divine mercy towards them, thus assuming
the entire responsibility of their entire Christianisation!
All approaches to them from abroad are rigidly guarded against, and no
ministers are allowed to break to them the bread of life, except such as have
commended themselves to the affection and confidence of their owners. I do
not condemn this course of self-preservation on the part of our citizens,
I merely mention it to show their entire dependence upon ourselves.
In answering objections of masters to allowing the religious instruction
of the negroes, he supposes the following objection, and gives the following
If we suffer our negroes to be instructed, the tendency will be to change
the civil relations of society as now constituted.
To which let it be replied, that we separate entirely their religious and
their civil condition, and contend that the one may be attended to without
interfering with the other. Our principle is that laid down by the holy and
just One: “Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's,
and unto God the things which are God's.” And Christ and his apostles
are our example. Did they deem it proper and consistent with the good order
of society to preach the gospel to the servants? They did. In discharge of
this duty did they interfere with their civil condition? They did not.
With regard to the description of heaven, and the torments of hell, the
following is from Mr. Jones's catechism, pp. 83, 91, 92:—
Q. Are there two places only spoken of in the Bible to which the souls
of men go after death?—A. Only two.
Q. What are they?—A. Heaven and hell.
* * * * * * *
Q. After the Judgment is over, into what place do the righteous go?—A.
Q. What kind of a place is heaven?—A. A most glorious and happy place.
* * * * * * *
Q. Shall the righteous in heaven have any more hunger, or thirst, or nakedness,
or heat, or cold? Shall they have any more sin, or sorrow, or crying, or pain,
or death?—A. No.
Q. Repeat “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”—A.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall
be no more death neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more
pain; for the former things are passed away.”
Q. Will heaven be their everlasting home?—A. Yes.
Q. And shall the righteous grow in knowledge, and holiness, and happiness
for ever and ever?—A. Yes.
Q. To what place should we wish and strive to go, more than to all other
* * * * * *
Q. Into what place are the wicked to be cast?—A. Into hell.
Q. Repeat “The wicked shall be turned.”—A. “The
wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”
Q. What kind of a place is hell?—A. A place of dreadful torments.
Q. What does it burn with?—A. Everlasting fire.
Q. Who are cast into hell besides wicked men?—A. The devil and his
Q. What will the torments of hell make the wicked do?—A. Weep, and
wail, and gnash their teeth.
Q. What did the rich man beg for when he was tormented in the flame?—A.
A drop of cold water to cool his tongue.
Q. Will the wicked have any good thing in hell? the least comfort? the
least relief from torment?—A. No.
Q. Will they ever come out of hell?—A. No, never.
Q. Can any go from heaven to hell, or from hell to heaven?—A. No.
Q. What is fixed between heaven and hell?—A. A great gulf.
Q. What is the punishment of the wicked in hell called?—A. Everlasting
Q. Will this punishment make them better?—A. No.
Q. Repeat “It is a fearful thing.”—A. “It is a
fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Q. What is God said to be to the wicked?—A. A consuming fire.
Q. What place should we strive to escape from above all others?—A.
The Rev. Alex. Glennie, rector of All-saints parish, Waccamaw, South Carolina,
has for several years been in the habit of preaching with express reference
to slaves. In 1844 he published in Charleston a selection of these sermons,
under the title of “Sermons preached on Plantations to Congregations
of Negroes.” This book contains twenty-six sermons; and in twenty-two
of them there is either a more or less extended account, or a reference to
eternal misery in hell as a motive to duty. He thus describes the day of judgment
(Sermon 15, p. 90):—
When all people shall be gathered before him, “He shall separate
them, one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and
he shall set the sheep on the right hand, but the goats on the left.”
That, my brethren, will be an awful time, when this separation shall be going
on; when the holy angels, at the command of the Great Judge, shall be gathering
together all the obedient followers of Christ, and be setting them on the
right hand of the judgment-seat, and shall place all the remainder on the
left. Remember that each of you must be present; remember that the Great Judge
can make no mistake; and that you shall be placed on one side or on the other,
according as in this world you have believed in and obeyed him or not. How
full of joy and thanksgiving will you be, if you shall find yourself placed
on the right hand! but how full of misery and despair, if the left shall be
appointed as your portion!
* * * * * * *
But what shall he say to the wicked on the left hand? To them he shall
say, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for
the devil and his angels.” He will tell them to depart; they did not,
while here, seek him by repentance and faith; they did not obey him, and now
he will drive them from him. He will call them cursed.
(Sermon 1, p. 42.) The death which is the wages of sin is this everlasting
fire prepared for the devil and his angels. It is a fire which shall last
for ever; and the devil and his angels, and all people who will not love and
serve God, shall there be punished for ever. The Bible says, “The smoke
of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.” The fire is not quenched,
it never goes out, “their worm dieth not;” their punishment is
spoken of as a worm always feeding upon but never consuming them; it never
Concerning the absolute authority of the master, take the following extract
from Bishop Meade's sermon. (Brooke's Slavery, pp. 30, 31, 32.)
Having thus shown you the chief duties you owe to your great Master in
heaven, I now come to lay before you the duties you owe to your masters and
mistresses here upon earth; and for this you have one general rule that you
ought always to carry in your minds, and that is, to do all service for them
as if you did it for God himself. Poor creatures! you little consider, when
you are idle and neglectful of your masters' business, when you steal and
waste and hurt any of their substance, when you are saucy and impudent, when
you are telling them lies and deceiving them, or when you prove stubborn and
sullen and will not do the work you are set about without stripes and vexation—you
do not consider, I say, that what faults you are guilty of towards your masters
and mistresses are faults done against God himself, who hath set your masters
and mistresses over you in his own stead, and expects that you will do for
them just as you would do for him. And pray do not think that I want to deceive
you when I tell you that your masters and mistresses are God's overseers,
and that, if you are faulty towards them, God himself will punish you severely
for it in the next world, unless you repent of it, and strive to make amends
by your faithfulness and diligence for the time to come; for God himself hath
declared the same.
Now, from this general rule—namely, that you are to do all service
for your masters and mistresses as if you did it for God himself—there
arise several other rules of duty towards your masters and mistresses, which
I shall endeavour to lay out in order before you.
And, in the first place, you are to be obedient and subject to your masters
in all things. . . . And Christian ministers are commanded to “exhort
servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in
all things, not answering them again, or gainsaying.” You see how strictly
God requires this of you, that whatever your masters and mistresses order
you to do, you must set about it immediately, and faithfully perform it, without
any disputing or grumbling, and take care to please them well in all things.
And for your encouragement he tells you that he will reward you for it in
heaven; because, while you are honestly and faithfully doing your master's
business here, you are serving your Lord and Master in heaven. You see also
that you are not to take any exceptions to the behaviour of your masters and
mistresses; and that you are to be
subject and obedient, not
only to such as are good, and gentle, and mild towards you, but also to such
as may be froward, peevish, and hard. For you are not at liberty to choose
your own masters; but into whatever hands God hath been pleased to put you,
you must do your duty, and God will reward you for it.
* * * * *
You are to be faithful and honest to your masters and mistresses, not purloining
or wasting their goods or substance, but showing all good fidelity in all
things. . . . Do not your masters, under God, provide for you? And how shall
they be able to do this, to feed and to clothe you, unless you take honest
care of everything that belongs to them? Remember that God requires this of
you; and, if you are not afraid of suffering for it here, you cannot escape
the vengeance of Almighty God, who will judge between you and your masters,
and make you pay severely in the next world for all the injustice you do them
here. And though you could manage so cunningly as to escape the eyes and hands
of man, yet think what a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the
living God, who is able to cast both soul and body into hell!
You are to serve your masters with cheerfulness, reverence, and humility.
You are to do your masters' service with good will, doing it as the will of
God from the heart, without any sauciness or answering again. How many of
you do things quite otherwise, and, instead of going about your work with
a good will and a good heart, dispute and grumble, give saucy answers, and
behave in a surly manner! There is something so becoming and engaging in a
modest, cheerful, good-natured behaviour, that a little work done in that
manner seems better done, and gives far more satisfaction, than a great deal
more, that must be done with fretting, vexation, and the lash always held
over you. It also gains the good will and love of those you belong to, and
makes your own life pass with more case and pleasure. Besides, you are to
consider that this grumbling and ill-will does not affect your masters and
mistresses only. They have ways and means in their hands of forcing you to
do your work, whether you are willing or not. But your murmuring and grumbling
is against God, who hath placed you in that service, who will punish you severely
in the next world for despising his commands.
A very awful query here occurs to the mind. If the poor, ignorant slave,
who wastes his master's temporal goods to answer some of his own present purposes,
be exposed to this heavy retribution, what will become of those educated men
who, for their temporal convenience, make and hold in force laws which rob
generation after generation of men, not only of their daily earnings, but
of all their rights and privileges as immortal beings?
The Rev. Mr. Glennie, in one of his sermons, as quoted by Mr. Bowditch,
page 137, assures his hearers that none of them will be able to say, in the
day of judgment, “I had no way of hearing about my God and Saviour.”
Bishop Meade, as quoted by Brooke, pp. 34, 35, thus expatiates to slaves
on the advantages of their condition. One would really think, from reading
this account, that everyone ought to
make haste and get himself
sold into slavery, as the nearest road to heaven.
Take care that you do not fret or murmur, grumble or repine, at your condition;
for this will not only make your life uneasy, but will greatly offend Almighty
God. Consider that it is not yourselves, it is not the people that you belong
to, it is not the men that have brought you to it, but it is the will of God,
who hath, by his providence, made you servants, because, no doubt, he knew
that condition would be best for you in this world, and help you the better
towards heaven, if you would but do your duty in it. So that any discontent
at your not being free, or rich, or great, as you see some others, is quarrelling
with your heavenly Muster, and finding fault with God himself, who hath made
you what you are, and hath promised you as large a share in the kingdom of
heaven as the greatest man alive, if you will but behave yourself aright,
and do the business he hath set you about in this world honestly and cheerfully.
Riches and power have proved the ruin of many an unhappy soul, by drawing
away the heart and affections from God, and fixing them on mean and sinful
enjoyments; so that when God, who knows our hearts better than we know them
ourselves, sees that they would be hurtful to us, and therefore keeps them
from us, it is the greatest mercy and kindness he could show us.
You may, perhaps, fancy that, if you had riches and freedom, you could
do your duty to God and man with greater pleasure than you can now. But pray
consider that, if you can but save your souls through the mercy of God, you
will have spent your time to the best of purposes in this world; and he that
at last can get to heaven has performed a noble journey, let the road be ever
so rugged and difficult. Besides, you really have a great advantage over most
white people, who have not only the care of their daily labour upon their
hands, but the care of looking forward and providing necessaries for to-morrow
and next day, and of clothing and bringing up their children, and of getting
food and raiment for as many of you as belong to their families, which often
puts them to great difficulties, and distracts their minds so as to break
their rest, and take off their thoughts from the affairs of another world.
Whereas, you are quite eased from all these cares, and have nothing but your
daily labour to look after, and, when that is done, take your needful rest.
Neither is it necessary for you to think of laying up anything against old
age, as white people are obliged to do; for the laws of the country have provided
that you shall not be turned off when you are past labour, but shall be maintained,
while you live, by those you belong to, whether you are able to work or not.
Bishop Meade further consoles slaves thus for certain incidents of their
lot, for which they may think they have more reason to find fault than for
most others. The reader must admit that he takes a very philosophical view
of the subject.
There is only one circumstance which may appear grievous, that I shall
now take notice of, and that is correction.
Now, when correction is given you, you either deserve it or you do not
deserve it; but whether you really deserve it or not, it is your duty, and
Almighty God requires, that you bear it patiently. You may, perhaps, think
that this is hard doc-
trine; but if you consider it right,
you must needs think otherwise of it. Suppose, then, that you deserve correction,
you cannot but say that it is just and right you should meet with it. Suppose
you do not, or at least you do not deserve so much, or so severe a correction,
for the fault you have committed, you perhaps have escaped a great many more,
and at last paid for all. Or, suppose you are quite innocent of what is laid
to your charge, and suffer wrongfully in that particular thing; is it not
possible you may have done some other bad thing which was never discovered,
and that Almighty God, who saw you doing it, would not let you escape without
punishment one time or another? And ought you not in such a case to give glory
to Him, and be thankful that He would rather punish you in this life for your
wickedness than destroy your souls for it in the next life? But suppose even
this was not the case (a case hardly to be imagined), and that you have by
no means, known or unknown, deserved the correction you suffered; there is
this great comfort in it, that if you bear it patiently, and leave your cause
in the hands of God, he will reward you for it in heaven, and the punishment
you suffer unjustly here shall turn to your exceeding great glory hereafter.
That Bishop Meade has no high opinion of the present comforts of a life
of slavery, may be fairly inferred from the following remarks which he makes
Your own poor circumstances in this life ought to put you particularly
upon this, and taking care of your souls, for you cannot have the pleasures
and enjoyments of this life like rich free people, who have estates and money
to lay out as they think fit. If others will run the hazard of their souls,
they have a chance of getting wealth and power, of heaping up riches, and
enjoying all the ease, luxury, and pleasure their hearts should long after;
but you can have none of these things, so that, if you sell your souls for
the sake of what poor matters you can get in this world, you have made a very
foolish bargain indeed.
This information is certainly very explicit and to the point. He continues:—
Almighty God hath been pleased to make you slaves here, and to give you
nothing but labour and poverty in this world, which you are obliged to submit
to, as it is his will that it should be so. And think within yourselves what
a terrible thing it would be, after all your labours and sufferings in this
life, to be turned into hell in the next life, and, after wearing out your
bodies in service here, to go into a far worse slavery when this is over,
and your poor souls be delivered over into the possession of the devil, to
become his slaves for ever in hell, without any hope of ever getting free
from it. If, therefore, you would be God's freemen in heaven, you must strive
to be good and serve him here on earth. Your bodies, you know, are not your
own—they are at the disposal of those you belong to; but your precious
souls are still your own, which nothing can take from you if it be not your
own fault. Consider well, then, that if you lose your souls by leading idle
wicked lives here, you have got nothing by it in this world, and you have
lost your all in the next. For your idleness and wickedness is generally found
out, and your bodies suffer for it here; and, what is far worse, if you do
not repent and amend, your unhappy souls will suffer for it hereafter.
Mr. Jones, in that part of the work where he is obviating the objections
of masters to the Christian instruction of their slaves, supposes the master
to object thus:—
You teach them that “God is no respecter of persons;” that
“He hath made of one blood all nations of men,” “Thou shalt
love thy neighbour as thyself;” “All things whatsoever ye would
that men should do to you, do ye even so to them;” what use, let me
ask, would they make of these sentences from the gospel?
Mr. Jones says:—
Let it be replied that the effect urged in the objection might result from
imperfect and injudicious religious instruction; indeed, religious instruction
may be communicated with the express design, on the part of the instructor,
to produce the effect referred to, instances of which have occurred.
But you will say that neglect of duty and insubordination are legitimate
effects of the gospel, purely and sincerely imparted to servants? Has it not
in all ages been viewed as the greatest civiliser of the human race?
How Mr. Jones would interpret the golden rule to the slave, so as to justify
the slave-system, we cannot possibly tell. We can, however, give a specimen
of the manner in which it has been interpreted in Bishop Meade's Sermons,
p. 116. (Brooke's Slavery, &c., pp. 32, 33.)
“All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye
even so unto them;” that is, do by all mankind just as you would desire
they should do by you, if you were in their place and they in yours.
Now, to suit this rule to your particular circumstances, suppose you were
masters and mistresses, and had servants under you; would you not desire that
your servants should do their business faithfully and honestly, as well when
your back was turned as while you were looking over them? Would you not expect
that they should take notice of what you said to them? that they should behave
themselves with respect towards you and yours, and be as careful of everything
belonging to you as you would be yourselves? You are servants; do, therefore,
as you would wish to be done by, and you will be both good servants to your
masters and good servants to God, who requires this of you, and will reward
you well for it, if you do it for the sake of conscience, in obedience to
The reverend teachers of such expositions of Scripture do great injustice
to the natural sense of their sable catechumens, if they suppose them incapable
of detecting such very shallow sophistry, and of proving conclusively that
“it is a poor rule that won't work both ways.” Some shrewd old
patriarch, of the stamp of those who rose up and went out at the exposition
of the Epistle to Philemon, and who show such great acuteness in bringing
up objections against the truth of God, such as would be thought peculiar
to cultivated minds, might perhaps, if he dared, reply to
such an exposition of Scripture in this way: “Suppose you were a slave—could
not have a cent of your own earnings during your whole life, could have no
legal right to your wife and children, could never send your children to school,
and had, as you have told us, nothing but labour and poverty in this life—how
would you like it? Would you not wish your Christian master to set you free
from this condition?” We submit it to everyone who is no respecter of
persons, whether this interpretation of Sambo's is not as good as the bishop's.
And if not, why not?
To us, with our feelings and associations, such discourses as these of
Bishop Meade appear hard-hearted and unfeeling to the last degree. We should,
however, do great injustice to the character of the man, if we supposed that
they prove him to have been such. They merely go to show how perfectly use
may familiarise amiable and estimable men with a system of oppression, till
they shall have lost all consciousness of the wrong which it involves.
That Bishop Meade's reasonings did not thoroughly convince himself is evident
from the fact that, after all his representations of the superior advantages
of slavery as a means of religious improvement, he did, at last, emancipate
his own slaves.
But, in addition to what has been said, this whole system of religious
instruction is darkened by one hideous shadow—the
Slave-trade. What does the Southern Church do with her catechumens and
communicants? Read the advertisements of Southern newspapers, and see. In
every city in the slave-raising States behold the depôts, kept constantly
full of assorted negroes from the ages of ten to thirty! In every slave-consuming
State see the receiving-houses, whither these poor wrecks and remnants of
families are constantly borne! Who preaches the gospel to the slave-coffles?
Who preaches the gospel in the slave-prisons? If we consider the tremendous
extent of this internal trade—if we read papers with columns of auction
advertisements of human beings, changing hands as freely as if they were dollar-bills
instead of human creatures—we shall then realise how utterly all those
influences of religious instruction must be nullified by leaving the subjects
of them exposed “to all the vicissitudes of property.”
[PART IV] CHAPTER X.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
THE thing to be done, of which I shall chiefly
speak, is, that the whole American Church, of all denominations, should unitedly
come up, not in form, but in fact,
to the noble purpose avowed by the Presbyterian Assembly of 1818, to
seek the entire abolition of slavery throughout America
and throughout Christendom.
To this noble course the united voice of Christians in all other countries
is urgently calling the American Church. Expressions of this feeling have
come from Christians of all denominations in England, in Scotland, in Ireland,
in France, in Switzerland, in Germany, in Persia, in the Sandwich Islands,
and in China. All seem to be animated by one spirit. They have loved and honoured
this American Church. They have rejoiced in the brightness of her rising.
Her prosperity and success have been to them as their own, and they have had
hopes that God meant to confer inestimable blessings through her upon all
nations. The American Church has been to them like the rising of a glorious
sun, shedding healing from his wings, dispersing mists and fogs, and bringing
songs of birds and voices of cheerful industry, and sounds of gladness, contentment,
and peace. But lo! in this beautiful orb is seen a disastrous spot of dim
eclipse, whose gradually widening shadow threatens a total darkness. Can we
wonder that the voice of remonstrance comes to us from those who have so much
at stake in our prosperity and success? We have sent out our missionaries
to all quarters of the globe; but how shall they tell their heathen converts
the things that are done in Christianised America? How shall our missionaries
in Mahometan countries hold up their heads, and proclaim the superiority of
our religion, when we tolerate barbarities which they have repudiated?
A missionary among the Karens, in Asia, writes back that his course is
much embarrassed by a suspicion that is afloat among the Karens that the Americans
intend to steal and sell them. He says:—
I dread the time when these Karens will be able to read our books, and
get a full knowledge of all that is going on in our country. Many of them
are very inquisitive now, and often ask me questions that I find it very difficult
No, there is no resource. The Church of the United States is shut up, in
the providence of God, to one work. She can never fulfil her mission till
this is done. So long as she neglects this, it will lie in the way of everything
else which she attempts to do.
She must undertake it for another reason—because she alone can perform
the work peaceably. If this fearful problem is left to take its course as
a mere political question, to be ground out between the upper and nether millstones
of political parties, then what will avert agitation, angry collisions, and
the desperate rending of the Union? No, there is no safety but in making it
a religious enterprise, and pursuing it in a Christian spirit, and by religious
If it now be asked what means shall the Church employ, we answer, this
evil must be abolished by the same means which the apostles first used for
the spread of Christianity, and the extermination of all the social evils
which then filled a world lying in wickedness. Hear the apostle enumerate
them: “By pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering,
by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the armour of righteousness on the
right hand and on the left.”
We will briefly consider each of these means.
First, “by Pureness.” Christians in the Northern free States
must endeavour to purify themselves and the country from various malignant
results of the system of slavery; and, in particular, they must endeavour
to abolish that which is the most sinful— the unchristian prejudice
In Hindostan there is a class called the Pariahs, with which no other class
will associate, eat, or drink. Our missionaries tell the converted Hindoo
that this prejudice is unchristian; for God hath made of one blood all who
dwell on the face of the earth, and all mankind are brethren in Christ. With
what face shall they tell this to the Hindoo, if he is able to reply, “In
your own Christian country there is a class of Pariahs who are treated no
better than we treat ours. You do not yourselves believe the things you teach
Let us look at the treatment of the free negro at the North. In the States
of Indiana and Illinois, the most oppressive and unrighteous laws have been
passed with regard to him. No law of any slave State could be more cruel in
its spirit than that recently passed in Illinois by which every free negro
the State is taken up and sold for a certain time,
and then, if he do not leave the State, is sold again.
With what face can we exhort our Southern brethren to emancipate their
slaves, if we do not set the whole moral power of the Church at the North
against such abuses as this? Is this course justified by saying that the negro
is vicious and idle? This is adding insult to injury.
What is it these Christian States do? To a great extent they exclude the
coloured population from their schools; they discourage them from attending
their churches by invidious distinctions; as a general fact, they exclude
them from their shops, where they might learn useful arts and trades; they
crowd them out of the better callings where they might earn an honourable
livelihood; and having thus discouraged every elevated aspiration, and reduced
them to almost inevitable ignorance, idleness, and vice, they fill up the
measure of iniquity by making cruel laws to expel them from their States,
thus heaping up wrath against the day of wrath.
If we say that every Christian at the South who does not use his utmost
influence against the iniquitous slave-laws is guilty, as a republican citizen,
of sustaining those laws, it is no less true that every Christian at the North
who does not do what in him lies to procure the repeal of such laws in the
free States, is, so far, guilty for their existence. Of late years we have
had abundant quotations from the Old Testament to justify all manner of oppression.
A Hindoo, who knew nothing of this generous and beautiful book, except from
such pamphlets as Mr. Smylie's, might possibly think it was a treatise on
piracy, and a general justification of robbery. But let us quote from it the
directions which God gives for the treatment of the stranger: “If a
stranger sojourn with you in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger
that dwelleth among you shall be as one born among you; thou shalt love him
as thyself.” How much more does this apply when the stranger has been
brought into our land by the injustice and cruelty of our fathers!
We are happy to say, however, that the number of States in which such oppressive
legislation exists is small. It is also matter of encouragement and hope that
the unphilosophical and unchristian prejudice of caste is materially giving
way, in many parts of our country, before a kinder and more Christian spirit.
Many of our schools and colleges are willing to receive the coloured applicant
on equal terms with the white. Some of the Northern free States accord to
the coloured freeman full political equality and privileges. Some of the coloured
people, under this
encouragement, have, in many parts of our
country, become rich and intelligent. A very fair proportion of educated men
is rising among them. There are among them respectable editors, eloquent orators,
and laborious and well-instructed clergymen. It gives us pleasure to say that,
among intelligent and Christian people, these men are treated with the consideration
they deserve; and, if they meet with insult and ill-treatment, it is commonly
from the less-educated class, who, being less enlightened, are always longer
under the influence of prejudice. At a recent ordination at one of the largest
and most respectable churches in New York, the moderator of the Presbytery
was a black man, who began life as a slave; and it was undoubtedly a source
of gratification to all his Christian brethren to see him presiding in this
capacity. He put the questions to the candidates in the German language, the
church being in part composed of Germans. Our Christian friends in Europe
may, at least, infer from this that, if we have had our faults in times past,
we have, some of us, seen and are endeavouring to correct them.
To bring this head at once to a practical conclusion, the writer will say
to every individual Christian, who wishes to do something for the abolition
of slavery, Begin by doing what lies in your power for the coloured people
in your vicinity. Are there children excluded from schools by unchristian
prejudice? Seek to combat that prejudice by fair arguments, presented in a
right spirit. If you cannot succeed, then endeavour to provide for the education
of these children in some other manner. As far as in you lies, endeavour to
secure for them, in every walk of life, the ordinary privileges of American
citizens. If they are excluded from the omnibus and railroad-car in the place
where you reside, endeavour to persuade those who have the control of these
matters to pursue a more just and reasonable course. Those Christians who
are heads of mechanical establishments can do much for the cause by receiving
coloured apprentices. Many masters excuse themselves for excluding the coloured
apprentice by saying that, if they receive him, all their other hands will
desert them. To this it is replied, that if they do the thing in a Christian
temper and for a Christian purpose, the probability is that, if their hands
desert at first, they will return to them at last—all of them, at least,
whom they would care to retain.
A respectable dressmaker in one of our towns has, as a matter of principle,
taken coloured girls for apprentices; thus furnishing them with a respectable
means of livelihood. Christian mechanics, in all the walks of life, are earnestly
requested to con-
sider this subject, and see if, by offering
their hand to raise this poor people to respectability, and knowledge, and
competence, they may not be performing a service which the Lord will accept
as done unto himself.
Another thing which is earnestly commended to Christians is the raising
and comforting of those poor Churches of coloured people, who have been discouraged,
dismembered, and disheartened by the operation of the Fugitive Slave Law.
In the city of Boston is a Church which, even now, is struggling with debt
and embarrassment, caused by being obliged to buy its own deacons, to shield
them from the terrors of that law.
Lastly, Christians at the North, we need not say, should abstain from all trading in slaves, whether direct or indirect, whether
by partnership with Southern houses or by receiving immortal beings as security
for debt. It is not necessary to expand this point. It speaks for itself.
By all these means the Christian Church at the North must secure for itself
purity from all complicity with the sin of slavery, and from the unchristian
customs and prejudices which have resulted from it.
The second means to be used for the abolition of slavery is “Knowledge.”
Every Christian ought thoroughly, carefully, and prayerfully to examine
this system of slavery. He should regard it as one upon which he is bound
to have right views and right opinions, and to exert a right influence in
forming and concentrating a powerful public sentiment, of all others the most
efficacious remedy. Many people are deterred from examining the statistics
on this subject, because they do not like the men who have collected them.
They say they do not like abolitionists, and therefore they will not attend
to those facts and figures which they have accumulated. This, certainly, is
not wise or reasonable. In all other subjects which deeply affect our interests,
we think it best to take information where we can get it, whether we like
the persons who give it to us or not.
Every Christian ought seriously to examine the extent to which our national
government is pledged and used for the support of slavery. He should thoroughly
look into the statistics of slavery in the District of Columbia, and, above
all, into the statistics of that awful system of legalised piracy and oppression
by which hundreds and thousands are yearly born from home and friends, and
all that heart holds dear, and carried to be sold
in the markets of the South. The smoke from this bottomless abyss of injustice
puts out the light of our Sabbath suns in the eyes of all nations. Its awful
groans and wailings drown the voice of our psalms and religious melodies.
All nations know these things of us, and shall we not know them of ourselves?
Shall we not have courage, shall we not have patience, to investigate thoroughly
our own bad case, and gain a perfect knowledge of the length and breadth of
the evil we seek to remedy?
The third means for the abolition of slavery is by “Long-suffering.”
Of this quality there has been some lack in the attempts that have hitherto
been made. The friends of the cause have not had patience with each other,
and have not been able to treat each other's opinions with forbearance. There
have been many painful things in the past history of this subject; but is
it not time when all the friends of the slave should adopt the motto, “forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth
unto those which are before?” Let not the believers of immediate abolition
call those who believe in gradual emancipation time-servers and traitors;
and let not the upholders of gradual emancipation call the advocates of immediate
abolition fanatics and incendiaries. Surely some more brotherly way of convincing
good men can be found, than by standing afar off on some Ebal and Gerizim,
and cursing each other. The truth spoken in love will always go further than
the truth spoken in wrath; and, after all, the great object is to persuade
our Southern brethren to admit the idea of any emancipation
at all. When we have succeeded in persuading them that
anything is necessary to be done, then will be the time for bringing
up the question whether the object shall be accomplished by an immediate or
a gradual process. Meanwhile, let our motto be, “Whereto we have already
attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same things; and if
any man be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto him.” “Let
us receive even him that is weak in the faith, but not to doubtful disputations.”
Let us not reject the good there is in any, because of some remaining defects.
We come now to the consideration of a power without which all others must
fail—“the Holy Ghost.”
The solemn creed of every Christian Church, whether Roman, Greek. Episcopal,
or Protestant, says, “I believe in the Holy Ghost
.” But how often do Christians, in all these denominations, live
and act, and even conduct their religious affairs
as if they
had “never so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”
If we trust to our own reasonings, our own misguided passions, and our own
blind self-will, to effect the reform of abuses, we shall utterly fail. There
is a power, silent, convincing, irresistible, which moves over the dark and
troubled heart of man, as of old it moved over the dark and troubled waters
of Chaos, bringing light out of darkness, and order out of confusion.
Is it not evident to everyone who takes enlarged views of human society
that a gentle but irresistible influence is pervading the human race, prompting
groanings, and longings, and dim aspirations for some coming era of good?
Worldly men read the signs of the times, and call this power the
Spirit of the Age—but should not the Church acknowledge it as the
Spirit of God?
Let it not be forgotten, however, that the gift of his most powerful regenerating
influence, at the opening of the Christian dispensation, was conditioned on
prayer. The mighty movement that began on the day of Pentecost was preceded
by united, fervent, persevering prayer. A similar spirit of prayer must precede
the coming of the divine Spirit, to effect a revolution so great as that at
which we aim. The most powerful instrumentality which God has delegated to
man, and around which cluster all his glorious promises, is prayer. All past
prejudices and animosities on this subject must be laid aside, and the whole
Church unite as one man in earnest, fervent prayer. Have we forgotten the
promise of the Holy Ghost? Have we forgotten that He was to abide with us
for ever? Have we forgotten that it is He who is to convince the world of
sin, of righteousness, and of judgment? O divine and Holy Comforter! thou
promise of the Father! thou only powerful to enlighten, convince, and renew!
return, we beseech thee, and visit this vine and this vineyard of thy planting!
With thee nothing is impossible; and what we, in our weakness, can scarcely
conceive, thou canst accomplish!
Another means for the abolition of slavery is “Love unfeigned.”
In all moral conflicts, that party who can preserve, through every degree
of opposition and persecution, a divine, unprovokable spirit of love, must
finally conquer. Such are the immutable laws of the moral world. Anger, wrath,
selfishness, and jealousy have all a certain degree of vitality. They often
produce more show, more noise, and temporary result than love. Still, all
these passions have in themselves the seeds of weakness. Love, and love only,
is immortal; and when all the grosser passions of
have spent themselves by their own force, love looks forth like the unchanging
star, with a light that never dies.
In undertaking this work, we must love both the slaveholder and the slave.
We must never forget that both are our brethren. We must expect to be misrepresented,
to be slandered, and to be hated. How can we attack so powerful an interest
without it? We must be satisfied simply with the pleasure of being true friends,
while we are treated as bitter enemies.
This holy controversy must be one of principle, and not of sectional bitterness.
We must not suffer it to degenerate, in our hands, into a violent prejudice
against the South; and, to this end, we must keep continually before our minds
the more amiable features and attractive qualities of those with whose principles
we are obliged to conflict. If they say all manner of evil against us, we
must reflect that we expose them to great temptation to do so when we assail
institutions to which they are bound by a thousand ties of interest and early
association, and to whose evils habit has made them in a great degree insensible.
The apostle gives us this direction in cases where we are called upon to deal
with offending brethren, “Consider thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”
We may apply this to our own case, and consider that if we had been exposed
to the temptations which surround our friends at the South, and received the
same education, we might have felt, and thought, and acted as they do. But,
while we cherish all these considerations, we must also remember that it is
no love to the South to countenance and defend a pernicious system; a system
which is as injurious to the master as to the slave; a system which turns
fruitful fields to deserts; a system ruinous to education, to morals, and
to religion and social progress; a system of which many of the most intelligent
and valuable men at the South are weary, and from which they desire to escape,
and by emigration are yearly escaping. Neither must we concede the rights
of the slave; for he is also our brother, and there is a reason why we should
speak for him which does not exist in the case of his master. He is poor,
uneducated, and ignorant, and cannot speak for himself. We must, therefore,
with greater jealousy, guard his rights. Whatever else we compromise, we must
not compromise the rights of the helpless, nor the eternal principles of rectitude
We must never concede that it is an honourable thing to deprive working-men
of their wages, though, like many other abuses, it is customary, reputable,
and popular, and though amiable men, under the influence of old prejudices,
still continue to do it. Never, not even for a moment, should we admit the
thought that an heir of God and a joint heir of Jesus Christ
may lawfully be sold upon the auction-block, though it be a common custom.
We must repudiate, with determined severity, the blasphemous doctrine of property
in human beings.
Some have supposed it an absurd refinement to talk about separating principles
and persons, or to admit that he who upholds a bad system can be a good man.
All experience proves the contrary. Systems most unjust and despotic have
been defended by men personally just and humane. It is a melancholy consideration,
but no less true, that there is almost no absurdity and no injustice that
has not, at some period of the world's history, had the advantage of some
good man's virtues in its support.
It is a part of our trial in this imperfect life—were evil systems
only supported by the evil, our moral discipline would be much less severe
than it is, and our course in attacking error far plainer.
On the whole, we cannot but think that there was much Christian wisdom
in the remark, which we have before quoted, of a poor old slave-woman, whose
whole life had been darkened by this system, that we must “
hate the sin, but love the sinner.”
The last means for the abolition of slavery is the armour of righteousness
on the right hand and on the left.
By this we mean an earnest application of all straightforward, honourable,
and just measures, for the removal of the system of slavery. Every man, in
his place, should remonstrate against it. All its sophistical arguments should
be answered, its biblical defences unmasked, by correct reasoning and interpretation.
Every mother should teach the evil of it to her children. Every clergyman
should fully and continually warm his Church against any complicity with such
a sin. It is said that this would be introducing politics into the pulpit.
It is answered that, since people will have to give an account of their political
actions in the day of judgment, it seems proper that the minister should instruct
them somewhat as to their political responsibilities. In that day Christ will
ask no man whether he was of this or that party; but he certainly will ask
him whether he gave his vote in the fear of God, and for the advancement of
the kingdom of righteousness.
It is often objected that slavery is a distant sin, with which we have
nothing to do. If any clergyman wishes to test this fact, let him once plainly
and faithfully preach upon it. He will probably, then, find that the roots
of the poison-tree have run under the very hearthstone of New England families,
that in his very congregation are those in complicity with
It is no child's play to attack an institution which has absorbed into
itself so much of the political power and wealth of this nation; and they
who try it will soon find that they wrestle “not with flesh and blood.”
No armour will do for this warfare but the “armour of righteousness.”
To our brethren in the South, God has pointed out a more arduous conflict.
The very heart shrinks to think what the faithful Christian must endure who
assails this institution on its own ground; but it must
be done. How was it at the North? There was a universal effort to put
down the discussion of it here by mob law. Printing-presses were broken, houses
torn down, property destroyed. Brave men, however, stood firm; martyr blood
was shed for the right of free opinion in speech; and so the right of discussion
was established. Nobody tries that sort of argument now—its day is past.
In Kentucky, also, they tried to stop the discussion by similar means. Mob
violence destroyed a printing-press, and threatened the lives of individuals.
But there were brave men there, who feared not violence or threats of death;
and emancipation is now open for discussion in Kentucky. The fact is, the
South must discuss the matter of slavery. She cannot shut it out, unless she lays an embargo on the
literature of the whole civilised world. If it be, indeed, divine and God-appointed,
why does she so tremble to have it touched? If it be of God, all the free
inquiry in the world cannot overthrow it. Discussion must and will come. It
only requires courageous men to lead the way.
Brethren in the South, there are many of you who are truly convinced that
slavery is a sin, a tremendous wrong; but if you confess your sentiments,
and endeavour to propagate your opinions, you think that persecution, affliction,
and even death await you. How can we ask you, then, to come forward?
We do not ask it. Ourselves weak, irresolute, and worldly, shall we ask
you to do what perhaps we ourselves should not dare? But we will beseech Him to speak to you, who dared and endured more than this
for your sake, and who can strengthen you to dare and endure for His. He can
raise you above all temporary and worldly considerations. He can inspire you
with that love to himself which will make you willing to leave father and
mother, and wife and child, yea, to give up life itself, for his sake. And
if ever he brings you to that place where you and this world take a final
farewell of each other, where you make up your mind solemnly to give all up
for his cause, where neither
life nor death, nor things present,
nor things to come, can move you from this purpose—then will you know
a joy which is above all other joy, a peace constant and unchanging as the
eternal God from whom it springs.
Dear brethren, is this system to go on for ever in your land? Can you think
these slave-laws anything but an abomination to a just God? Can you think
this internal slave-trade to be anything but an abomination in his sight?
Look, we beseech you, into those awful slave-prisons which are in your
cities. Do the groans and prayers which go up from those dreary mansions promise
well for the prosperity of our country?
Look, we beseech you, at the mournful march of the slave-coffles; follow
the bloody course of the slave-ships on your coast. What, suppose you, does
the Lamb of God think of all these things? He whose heart was so tender that
he wept, at the grave of Lazarus, over a sorrow that he was so soon to turn
into joy—what does he think of this constant, heart-breaking, yearly-repeated
anguish? What does he think of Christian wives forced from their husbands,
and husbands from their wives? What does he think of Christian daughters,
whom his Church first educates, indoctrinates, and baptises, and then leaves
to be sold as merchandise?
Think you such prayers as poor Paul Edmondson's, such death-bed scenes
as Emily Russell's, are witnessed without emotion by that generous Saviour,
who regards what is done to his meanest servant as done to himself?
Did it never seem to you, O Christian! when you have read the sufferings
of Jesus, that you would gladly have suffered with him? Does it never seem
almost ungenerous to accept eternal life as the price of such anguish on his
part, while you bear no cross for him? Have you ever wished you could have
watched with him in that bitter conflict at Gethsemane, when even his chosen
slept? Have you ever wished that you could have stood by him when all forsook
him and fled—that you could have owned when Peter denied—that
you could have honoured him when buffeted and spit upon? Would you think it
too much honour? Could you, like Mary, have followed him to the cross, and
stood a patient sharer of that despised, unpitied agony?
That you cannot do. That hour is over. Christ now is exalted, crowned,
glorified; all men speak well of him, rich Churches rise to him, and costly
sacrifice goes up to him. What chance have you, among the multitude, to prove
your love—to show that you would stand by him discrowned, dishonoured,
tempted, betrayed, and suffering? Can you show it in any way but
by espousing the cause of his suffering poor? Is there a people among you
despised and rejected of men, heavy with oppression, acquainted with grief,
with all the power of wealth and fashion, of political and worldly influence,
arrayed against their cause? Christian, you can acknowledge Christ in them!
If you turn away indifferent from this cause—“if thou forbear
to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that be ready to be slain;
if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not, doth not he that pondereth the heart
consider it? and he that keepeth the soul, doth he not know it? Shall he not
render to every man according to his works?”
In the last judgment will he not say to you, “I have been in the
slave-prison—in the slave-coffle; I have been sold in your markets;
I have toiled for naught in your fields; I have been smitten on the mouth
in your courts of justice; I have been denied a hearing in my own Church,
and ye cared not for it. Ye went, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise.”
And if ye shall answer, “When, Lord?”
He shall say unto you, “Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of
these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”