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13 January, 2012
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
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.