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13 January, 2012
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
"Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal."
From what has been said in the last chapter,
it is presumed that it will appear that the Christian Church of America by
no means occupies that position, with regard to slavery, that the apostles
did, or that the Church of the earlier ages did.
However they may choose to interpret the language of the apostles, the
fact still remains undeniable that the Church organisation which grew up immediately
after these instructions did intend and did effect the abolition of slavery.
But we wish to give still further consideration to one idea which is often
put forward by those who defend American slavery. It is this: that the institution
is not of itself a sinful one, and that the only sin consists in the neglect
of its relative duties. All that is necessary, they say, is to regulate
the institution by the precepts of the Gospel. They admit that
no slavery is defensible which is not so regulated.
If, therefore, it shall appear that American slave-law cannot
be regulated by the precepts of the Gospel without such alterations
as will entirely do away the whole system, then it will appear that it is
an unchristian institution, against which every Christian is bound to remonstrate,
and from which he should entirely withdraw.
The Roman slave code was a code made by heathen--by a race, too, proverbially
stern and unfeeling. It was made in the darkest ages of the world, before
the light of the Gospel had dawned. Christianity gradually but certainly abolished
it. Some centuries later, a company of men, from Christian nations, go to
the continent of Africa; there they kindle wars, sow strifes, set tribes against
tribes with demoniac violence, burn villages, and in the midst of these diabolical
scenes kidnap and carry off, from time to time, hundreds and thousands of
miserable captives. Such of those as do not die of terror, grief, suffocation,
ship-fever, and other horrors, are from time to time landed on the shores
of America. Here they are. And now a set of Christian legislators meet together
to construct a system and laws of servitude, with regard to
these unfortunates, which is hereafter to be considered as a Christian institution.
Of course, in order to have any valid title to such a name, the institution
must be regulated by the principles which Christ and his apostles have laid
down for the government of those who assume the relation of masters. The New
Testament sums up these principles in a single sentence: "Masters, give
unto your servants that which is just and equal."
But, forasmuch as there is always some confusion of mind in regard to what
is just and equal in our neighbours' affairs, our Lord has given this direction
by which we may arrive at infallible certainty. "All things whatsoever
ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
It is therefore evident that if Christian legislators are about to form
a Christian system of servitude, they must base it on these two laws, one
of which is a particular specification under the other.
Let us now examine some of the particulars of the code which they have
formed, and see if it bear this character.
First, they commence by declaring that their brother shall no longer be
considered as a person, but deemed, sold, taken, and reputed, as a chattel
personal.--This is "just and equal!"
This being the fundamental principle of the system, the following are specified
as its consequences:--
1. That he shall have no right to hold property of
any kind, under any circumstances.--Just and equal!
2. That he shall have no power to contract a legal marriage, or claim
any woman in particular for his wife.--Just and equal!
3. That he shall have no right to his children, either to protect,
restrain, guide, or educate.--Just and equal!
4. That the power of his master over him shall be ABSOLUTE, without
any possibility of appeal or redress in consequence of any injury whatever.
To secure this they enact that he shall not be able to enter suit in
any court for any cause.--Just and equal!
That he shall not be
allowed to bear testimony in any court where any white person is concerned.--Just
That the owner of a servant, for "malicious, cruel,
and excessive beating of his slave, cannot be indicted."--Just
It is further decided that by no indirect mode of suit, through
a guardian, shall a slave obtain redress for ill-treatment. (Dorothea
v. Coquillon et al, 9 Martin La.
Rep., 350.)--Just and equal!
5. It is decided that the slave shall not only have no legal
redress for injuries inflicted by his master, but shall have no
redress for those inflicted by any other person, unless the injury impair
his property value.--Just and equal!
Under this head it is distinctly asserted as follows:
"There can be no offence against the peace of the State by the mere
beating of a slave, unaccompanied by any circumstances of cruelty, or an intent
to kill and murder. The peace of the State is not thereby broken." (State
v. Maner, 2 Hill's Rep. S. C.)--Just and equal!
If a slave strike a white, he is to be condemned to death; but if a master
kill his slave by torture, no white witnesses being present, he may clear
himself by his own oath. (Louisiana.) --Just and equal!
The law decrees fine and imprisonment to the person who shall release the
servant of another from the torture of the iron collar. (Louisiana.)--Just
It decrees a much smaller fine, without imprisonment, to the man who shall
torture him with red-hot irons, cut out his tongue, put out his eyes, and
scald or maim him. (Ibid.)-- Just and equal!
It decrees the same punishment to him who teaches him to write as to him
who puts out his eyes.--Just and equal!
As it might be expected that only very ignorant and brutal people could
be kept in a condition like this, especially in a country where every book
and every newspaper are full of dissertations on the rights of man, they therefore
enact laws that neither he nor his children, to all generations, shall learn
to read and write.--Just and equal!
And as, if allowed to meet for religious worship, they might concert some
plan of escape or redress, they enact that "no congregation of negroes,
under pretence of divine worship, shall assemble themselves; and that every
slave found at such meetings shall be immediately corrected, without
trial, by receiving on the bare back twenty-five stripes with
a whip, switch, or cow-skin." (Law of Georgia, Prince's Digest, p. 447.)--Just
Though the servant is thus kept in ignorance, nevertheless, in his ignorance,
he is punished more severely for the same crimes than freemen.--Just
By way of protecting him from over-work, they enact that he shall not labour
more than five hours longer than convicts at hard labour in a penitentiary!
They also enact that the master or overseer, not the slave, shall decide
when he is too sick to work.--Just and equal!
If any master, compassionating this condition of the slave, desires to
better it, the law takes it out of his power, by the following decisions:--
1. That all his earnings shall belong to his master,
notwithstanding his master's promise to the contrary; thus making them liable
for his master's debts.--Just and equal!
2. That if his master allow him to keep cattle for his own use, it
shall be lawful for any man to take them away, and enjoy half the profits
of the seizure.--Just and equal!
3. If his master sets him free, he shall be taken up and sold again.--Just
If any man or woman runs away from this state of things, and, after proclamation
made, does not return, any two justices of the peace may declare them outlawed,
and give permission to any person in the community to kill them by any ways
or means they think fit.--Just and equal!
Such are the laws of that system of slavery which has been made up by Christian
masters late in the Christian era, and is now defended by Christian ministers
as an eminently benign institution.
In this manner Christian legislators have expressed their understanding
of the text, "Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and
equal," and of the text, "All things whatsoever ye would that
men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
It certainly presents the most extraordinary views of justice and equity,
and is the most remarkable exposition of the principle of doing to others
as we would others should do to us that it has ever been the good fortune
of the civilised world to observe. This being the institution,
let anyone conjecture what its abuses must be; for we are gravely told,
by learned clergymen, that they do not feel called upon to interfere with
the system, but only with its abuses. We should like to
know what abuse could be specified that is
not provided for and expressly protected by slave-law.
And yet, Christian republicans, who, with full power to repeal this law,
are daily sustaining it, talk about there being no harm in slavery, if they
regulate it according to the apostle's directions, and give unto their servants
that which is just and equal. Do they think that, if the Christianised masters
of Rome and Corinth had made such a set of rules as this for the government
of their slaves, Paul would have accepted it as a proper exposition of what
he meant by just and equal?
But the Presbyteries of South Carolina say, and all the other
religious bodies at the South say, that the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ
has no right to interfere with civil institutions. What is this Church of
our Lord Jesus Christ that they speak of? Is it not a collection of republican
men, who have constitutional power to alter these laws, and whose duty it
is to alter them, and who are disobeying the apostle's directions every day
till they do alter them? Every minister at the South is a voter as much as
he is a minister; every Church member is a voter as much as he is a Church
member; and ministers and Church members are among the masters who are keeping
up this system of atrocity, when they have full republican power to alter
it; and yet they talk about giving their servants that which is just and equal!
If they are going to give their servants that which is just and equal, let
them give them back their manhood; they are law-makers and can do it. Let
them give to the slave the right to hold property, the right to form legal
marriage, the right to read the word of God, and to have such education as
will fully develop his intellectual and moral nature; the right of free religious
opinion and worship; let them give him the right to bring suit and to bear
testimony; give him the right to have some vote in the government in which
his interests are controlled. This will be something more like giving that
which is "just and equal."
Mr. Smylie, of Mississippi, says that the planters of Louisiana and Mississippi,
when they are giving from twenty to twenty-five dollars a barrel for pork,
give their slaves three or four pounds a-week; and intimates that, if that
will not convince people that they are doing what is just and equal, he does
not know what will.
Mr. C. C. Jones, after stating in various places that he has no intention
ever to interfere with the civil condition of the slave, teaches the negroes,
in his catechism, that the master gives to his servant that which is just
and equal, when he provides for them good houses, good clothing, food, nursing,
and religious instruction.
This is just like a man who has stolen an estate which belongs to a family
of orphans. Out of its munificent revenues, he gives the orphans comfortable
food, clothing, &c., while he retains the rest for his own use, declaring
that he is thus rendering to them that which is just and equal.
If the laws which regulate slavery were made by a despotic sovereign, over
whose movements the masters could have no control, this mode of proceeding
might be called just and equal; but, as they are made and kept in operation
by these Christian masters, these ministers and Church members, in
common with those who are not so, they are every one of them refusing to
the slave that which is just and equal, so long as they do not seek the repeal
of these laws; and if they cannot get them repealed, it is their duty to take
the slave out from under them, since they are constructed with such fatal
ingenuity as utterly to nullify all that the master tries to do for their
elevation and permanent benefit.
No man would wish to leave his own family of children as slaves under the
kindest master that ever breathed; and what he would not wish to have done
to his own children, he ought not to do to other people's children.
But it will be said that it is not becoming for the Christian Church to
enter into political matters. Again, we ask, what is the Christian Church?
Is it not an association of republican citizens, each one of whom has his
rights and duties as a legal voter?
Now, suppose a law were passed which depreciated the value of cotton or
sugar three cents in the pound; would these men consider the fact that they
are Church members as any reason why they should not agitate for the repeal
of such law? Certainly not. Such a law would be brittle as the spider's web;
it would be swept away before it was well made. Every law to which the majority
of the community does not assent is, in this country, immediately torn down.
Why, then, does this monstrous system stand from age to age? Because the
community CONSENT TO IT. They re-enact these unjust
laws every day, by their silent permission of them.
The kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is not of this world, say the South
Carolina Presbyteries; therefore the Church has no right to interfere with
any civil institution; but yet all the clergy of Charleston could attend in
a body to give sanction to the proceedings of the great Vigilance Committee.
They could not properly exert the least influence against slavery,
because it is a civil institution; but they could give the
whole weight of their influence in favour of it.
Is it not making the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ quite as much of
this world, to patronise the oppressor as to patronise the slave?