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26 June, 2013
The Conflict with Slavery
The Bible and Slavery.
by John Greenleaf Whittier
From a review of a pro-slavery pamphlet by "Evangelicus" in the
Boston Emancipator in 1843.
The second part of the essay is occupied in proving that the slavery in
the Roman world, at the time of our Saviour, was similar in all essential
features to American slavery at the present day; and the third and
concluding part is devoted to an examination of the apostolical
directions to slaves and masters, as applicable to the same classes in
the United States. He thinks the command to give to servants that which
is just and equal means simply that the masters should treat their slaves
with equity, and that while the servant is to be profitable to the
master, the latter is bound in "a fair and equitable manner to provide
for the slave's subsistence and happiness." Although he professes to
believe that a faithful adherence to Scriptural injunctions on this point
would eventually terminate in the emancipation of the slaves, he thinks
it not necessary to inquire whether the New Testament does or does not
"tolerate slavery as a permanent institution"!
From the foregoing synopsis it will be seen at once that whatever may
have been the motives of the writer, the effect of his publication, so
far as it is at all felt, will be to strengthen the oppressor in his
guilt, and hold him back from the performance of his immediate duty in
respect to his slaves, and to shield his conscience from the reproofs of
that class who, according to "Evangelicus," have "no personal
acquaintance with the actual domestic state or the social and political
connections of their Southern fellow-citizens." We look upon it only as
another vain attempt to strike a balance between Christian duty and
criminal policy, to reconcile Christ and Belial, the holy philanthropy of
Him who went about doing good with the most abhorrent manifestation of
human selfishness, lust, and hatred which ever provoked the divine
displeasure. There is a grave-stone coldness about it. The author
manifests as little feeling as if he were solving a question in algebra.
No sigh of sympathy breathes through its frozen pages for the dumb,
chained millions, no evidence of a feeling akin to that of Him who at the
grave of Lazarus
"Wept, and forgot His power to save;"
no outburst of that indignant reproof with which the Divine Master
rebuked the devourers of widows' houses and the oppressors of the poor is
called forth by the writer's stoical contemplation of the tyranny of his
"Christian brethren" at the South.
"It is not necessary," says Evangelicus, "to inquire whether the New
Testament does not tolerate slavery as a permanent institution." And
this is said when the entire slave-holding church has sheltered its
abominations under the pretended sanction of the gospel; when slavery,
including within itself a violation of every command uttered amidst the
thunders of Sinai, a system which has filled the whole South with the
oppression of Egypt and the pollutions of Sodom, is declared to be an
institution of the Most High. With all due deference to the author, we
tell him, and we tell the church, North and South, that this question
must be met. Once more we repeat the solemn inquiry which has been
already made in our columns, "Is the Bible to enslave the world?" Has it
been but a vain dream of ours that the mission of the Author of the
gospel was to undo the heavy burdens, to open the prison doors, and to
break the yoke of the captive? Let Andover and Princeton answer. If the
gospel does sanction the vilest wrong which man can inflict upon his
fellow-man, if it does rivet the chains which humanity, left to itself,
would otherwise cast off, then, in humanity's name, let it perish forever
from the face of the earth. Let the Bible societies dissolve; let not
another sheet issue from their presses. Scatter not its leaves abroad
over the dark places of the earth; they are not for the healing of the
nations. Leave rather to the Persian his Zendavesta, to the Mussulman
his Koran. We repeat it, this question must be met. Already we have
heard infidelity exulting over the astute discoveries of bespectacled
theological professors, that the great Head of the Christian Church
tolerated the horrible atrocities of Roman slavery, and that His most
favored apostle combined slave-catching with his missionary labors. And
why should it not exult? Fouler blasphemy than this was never uttered.
A more monstrous libel upon the Divine Author of Christianity was never
propagated by Paine or Voltaire, Kneeland or Owen; and we are constrained
to regard the professor of theology or the doctor of divinity who tasks
his sophistry and learning in an attempt to show that the Divine Mind
looks with complacency upon chattel slavery as the most dangerous enemy
with which Christianity has to contend. The friends of pure and
undefiled religion must awake to this danger. The Northern church must
shake itself clean from its present connection with blasphemers and
slave-holders, or perish with them.