The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Jewett, 1854


  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 did.

  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 addresses them:—

  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.