Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2003 Issue

Slavery in the United States<br>Chapter 1



But it has been urged on the other hand, that although slavery may be thus sanctioned as a part of the civil constitution of the ancient nations of the world by particular ordinances of Scripture, yet is it directly at war with the spirit of Christianity. It is said that it conflicts with its mild, beneficent code of moral duties, and therefore must be contrary to its spirit and intention. In short, that it cannot be reconciled with the great precept in which the Saviour of mankind imbodied the sum total of all the duties which mankind owe to each other, and which he declared comprehended all the law and the prophets in relation to that subject: namely, that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.

If this be true, then the authority of the Apostle Paul is at variance with the precept of his Divine Master. The most eloquent, efficient, and indefatigable advocate of Christianity that ever adorned the world; he who did more than any human being that ever lived to spread the Gospel through distant lands; he who most happily associated the principles of religion with the precepts of morality; he who of all the apostles was thought worthy of being converted by a miracle, erects himself in opposition to the spirit of that faith which he is advocating with a zeal and ability never equalled by mortal man. He says in the sixth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians, where he imbodies a short compendium of the duties of husbands, wives, children, and servants :—
" Servants be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart as to Christ. Not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good-will doing service as to the Lord and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord whether he be bond or free. And ye masters do the same thing, forbearing threatening, knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him."

The learned commentator just quoted admits that " the servants at that time were slaves, the property of their masters," and attempts to account for the sanction thus given to the institution of slavery, by observing that " the apostles were ministers of religion, not politicians; they had not that influence among rulers and legislators which would have been requisite for the abolition of slavery."* (Dr. Thomas Scott) The explanation does not appear satisfactory. They came clothed with the inspiration and authority of God; they attacked and overthrew systems of religion founded on the belief of ages; they warred with all the powers of superstition and error, and with all the settled prejudices of mankind. Surely, then, they would scarcely refrain from denouncing what is now denominated " the greatest curse that ever fell on the heads of mankind," simply because "they had not that influence among rulers and legislators which would have been requisite for the abolition of slavery," and were " ministers of religion, not politicians."

Yet admitting this to be the true solution, it might be asked whether this cautious delicacy towards the civil institutions of nations at that time, on the part of the apostles, does not furnish an apt and important lesson to the present fiery advocates of immediate emancipation? Are they more eloquent than the chosen disciples selected by the Saviour of mankind as his instruments for propagating the truths of Christianity? Are Garrison, and Thomson, and their followers inspired? Can they perform miracles? Can they plead the direct authority of the Son of God for their mission? Or have they the gift of any other tongue than calumny and defamation? Yet are they not doing in this country precisely what the apostles refrained from, according to Dr. Scott, and indeed all the opponents of slavery, solely on account of their want of influence with rulers and legislators? Are they not becoming "politicians," meddling with our civil institutions, denouncing our laws, and trampling the constitution under foot? Are their morals more pure, is their religion more sublime, their mission more authentic, their eloquence more touching and beautiful, or their zeal more devout than that of the companions of the Son of the living God, that they should thus "rush in where angels dare not tread?"

But let us test this argument, and inquire into the true intent and meaning of the great command —to love our neighbour as ourselves. It could not be intended to include all mankind, else the word neighbour would not have been used on this occasion. That phrase in our own, and it is believed, all other languages, means, when applied individually, only such as from proximity of situation are so placed as to be within the reach of a frequent interchange of those acts of kindness, comfort, and assistance which distance entirely precludes. It may rationally perhaps be extended to all those living under the same system of government, and constituting one nation or body politic, and whose interests are therefore in some degree mutually dependent on each other. It does not mean universal philanthropy any further than a general good-will to all our fellow-creatures. It would be absurd to pretend to love as ourselves those we do not know, and with whom we interchange no benefits whatever. The word neighbour, as used on this occasion, comprehends most, if not all those relations which are comprised in the word friend.

In the present case, then, who is our neighbour, the white citizen of the United States, or the black slave? It will in the sequel be attempted to be demonstrated, that the success of the abolitionists must cause immediate and most serious evils to the former, and that its consequences to the latter will, according to all experience, be scarcely less pernicious. But admitting the slaves may be ultimately benefited, still it can be only at the cost of most aggravated evils to the white people of the South. In applying then the great precept of the Saviour to the blacks alone, and considering them as our neighbours to the entire exclusion of the whites, we place the latter in the relation of stranger and alien; we cast them out of the pale of human nature, and make them the victims of our one-sided philanthropy. In attempting to do good to one colour, we inflict incalculable evils on the other. It may be asked, whether there is any moral or religious obligation to sacrifice the interests and endanger the safety of our countrymen, neighbours, and friends, to the dangerous experiment of universal emancipation?

The mischiefs to be apprehended from such a measure are not alone the result of idle, interested or pretended fears. They are the direct consequences of rational experience, and philosophical deductions from the nature of man and the nature of things. Let us once more refer to the authority of Archdeacon Paley, a clergyman, a distinguished moral writer, and a steady, determined opponent of the institution of slavery. " The discharging of slaves from all obligation to obey their masters, which is the consequence of pronouncing slavery to be unlawful, would have had no other effect than to let loose one half mankind upon the other. * * * The most calamitous of all contests, a bellum servile, might probably have ensued, to the reproach, if not the extinction of the Christian name."

Thus then it appears on the authority of an opponent of slavery, that the declaration of the abolitionists, that slavery is contrary to the law of God, by absolving slaves from all obligation to obey their masters, would have no better effect than to let loose one half of mankind on the other, and produce the most calamitous of all contests, a servile war. What a practical commentary on the proceedings of the immediate abolitionists, and on the great injunction of the Saviour, to love our neighbour as ourselves; or that other great precept, to do unto others as we would they should do unto us! In regard to the obligation imposed upon mankind by both these Divine precepts, it can only be practically applied in a limited sense. It might, and does very often happen, that we wish our neighbour to do something utterly unreasonable, unlawful, or morally wrong; and in that case no one can for a moment believe he is under any obligation to comply. To love our neighbour as ourselves, and to do as we would be done by, means nothing more than a reciprocity of good offices consonant to reason; to the great duties of justice and benevolence, as well as the laws of the land.

It would seem then from these authorities and the arguments deduced from them, that the advocates of immediate abolition can derive no warrant either from the law or the prophets for pronouncing the institution of slavery contrary to the law of God; but that on the contrary, it is expressly recognized in the Old and in the New Testaments. Neither is it respectful to the Divine Author of all true religion, to presume that he would give his direct sanction to what was incompatible with the general spirit of his laws. When he expressly declares his will, that must be the law; nor can it be invalidated by any ingenious conclusions from general principles supposed to be deducible from the whole system. This is making man, not God, the umpire.

It is not meant to affirm, that this Scriptural sanction of slavery furnishes conclusive evidence, that what at the period of promulgating the oracles of God was in accordance with the slate of society, the acknowledged rights of man as then understood, and the public opinion, may not be modified or abolished, in consequence of the changes which time and the vicissitudes of human feeling and opinion have produced. All that is intended here, is to assert and prove that what is expressly sanctioned by the authority of the Supreme Being, cannot be a violation of his law. Nor does the position necessarily imply a continuance of the institution of slavery, which may still be abolished on grounds of humanity, expediency, or necessity, by or with the consent of those who are most deeply concerned. A denial that slavery is contrary to the law of God does not render it imperative upon us to perpetuate it, any more than a denial of the divine right of kings implies a direct obligation to overturn all monarchies. In either case, the parties holding slaves, and the subjects living under kings, have an undoubted right to judge for themselves. Their submission to the laws of man does not imply a violation of the law of God. They may therefore lawfully choose without transgressing either one or the other.

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