IS AMERICAN SLAVERY AN INSTITUTION WHICH CHRISTIANITY
SANCTIONS, AND WILL PERPETUATE? AND, IN VIEW
OF THIS SUBJECT, WHAT OUGHT AMERICAN
CHRISTIANS TO DO, AND REFRAIN
Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.–TERENCE.
Bear ye one another’s burdens.–PAUL.
A great moral question is, in this nineteenth century, being tried before the church of Christ, and at the bar of public sentiment. It is, Whether the system of servitude known as American slavery be a system whose perpetuity is compatible with pure Christianity? Whether, with the Bible in her hand, the church may lawfully indorse, participate in, and help perpetuate, this system? Or whether, on the other hand, the system be, in its origin, nature, and workings, intrinsically evil; a thing which, if, like concubinage and polygamy, God has indeed tolerated in his church, he never approved of; and which, in the progress of a pure Christianity, must inevitably become extinct? I feel assured that the latter of these propositions will, without argument, command the assent of the mass of living Christians. But there are those in the church who array themselves on the other side. While they would not justify the least inhumanity in the treatment of slaves, they profess to believe that slavery itself has the approbation of Jehovah, and may with propriety be perpetuated in the church and the world. At their hands I would respectfully solicit a patient hearing, while I proceed to assign several reasons for differing with them in opinion.
First. Slavery is a condition of society not founded in nature. When God, in his Word, demands that children shall be in subordination to their parents, and citizens to the constituted civil authorities, we need no why and wherefore to enable us to see the reasonableness of these requirements. We feel that they are no arbitrary enactments, but indispensable to the best interests of families and of society, and therefore founded in nature. We are prepared, too, from their obvious necessity and utility, to rank them among the permanent statutes of the Divine Legislator. But can as much be said of slavery? Is there such an obvious fitness and utility in one man’s being, against his will, owned and controlled by another, as to prepare us to say that such an ownership is founded in the very constitution of things? None will pretend that there is. Not only is slavery not founded in nature, but,
Second. It is condemned by the very instincts of our moral constitution. These instincts seem to whisper that “all men are born free and equal;” equal, not in intellect, or in the petty distinctions of parentage, property, or power; but having, as the creatures of one God, an equal right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Job’s moral instincts taught him, that the fact of all men’s having one and the same Creator gave his servants a right to contend with him, when wronged; and that, if he “despised their cause,” he must answer it to his God and theirs. That men of all races and grades are essentially equal before God; that every man has a right to himself, to the fruits of his toil, and to the unmolested pursuit of happiness, in all lawful ways; and hence, that slavery, as existing in these States, is a gigantic system of evil and wrong,–are truths which the moral sense of men is everywhere proclaiming with much emphasis and distinctness. If it be not so, what means this note of remonstrance, long and loud, that comes to our ears over the Atlantic wave? Why else did a Mohammedan prince,[I] (to say nothing of what nearly all Christian governments have done,) put an end to slavery in his dominions before he died? And how else shall we account for that moral earthquake which has for years been rocking this great republic to its very centre? One cannot thoughtfully observe the signs of the times,–no, nor the workings of his own heart, methinks,–without perceiving that slavery is at war with the moral sense of mankind. If there be any conscience that approves, it must be a conscience perverted by wrong instruction, or by a vicious practice. And can that be a good institution, and worthy of perpetuity, which an unperverted conscience instinctively condemns?