The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter IX: Is the System of Religion Which is Taught the Slave the Gospel
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The ladies of England, in their letter to the
ladies of America, spoke in particular of the denial of the gospel to the
slave. This has been indignantly resented in this country, and it has been
claimed that the slaves do have the gospel communicated to them very extensively.
Whoever reads Mr. Charles C. Jones's book on the religious instruction
of the negroes will have no doubt of the following facts:--
1. That from year to year, since the introduction
of the negroes into this country, various pious and benevolent individuals
have made efforts for their spiritual welfare.
2. That these efforts have increased, from year to year.
3. That the most extensive and important one came into being about
the time that Mr. Jones's book was written, in the year 1842, and extended
to some degree through the United States. The fairest development of it was
probably in the State of Georgia, the sphere of Mr. Jones's immediate labour,
where the most gratifying results were witnessed, and much very amiable and
commendable Christian feeling elicited on the part of masters.
4. From time to time, there have been prepared, for the use of the
slave, catechisms, hymns, short sermons, &c. &c., designed to be read
to them by their masters, or taught them orally.
5. It will appear to anyone who reads Mr. Jones's book that, though
written by a man who believed the system of slavery sanctioned by God, it
manifests a spirit of sincere and earnest benevolence, and of devotedness
to the cause he has undertaken, which cannot be too highly appreciated.
It is a very painful and unpleasant task to express any qualification or
dissent with regard to efforts which have been undertaken in a good spirit,
and which have produced, in many respects, good results; but, in the reading
of Mr. Jones's book, in the study of his catechism, and of various other catechisms
and sermons which give an idea of the religious instruction of the
slaves, the writer has often been painfully impressed with the idea that
however imbued and mingled with good, it is not the true
and pure Gospel system which is given to the slave. As far as the writer
has been able to trace out what is communicated to him, it amounts in substance
to this; that his master's authority over him, and property in him, to the
full extent of the enactment of slave-law, is recognised and sustained by
the tremendous authority of God himself. He is told that his master is God's
overseer; that he owes him a blind, unconditional, unlimited submission; that
he must not allow himself to grumble, or fret, or murmur, at anything in his
conduct; and, in case he does so, that his murmuring is not against his master,
but against God. He is taught that it is God's will that he should have nothing
but labour and poverty in this world; and that, if he frets and grumbles at
this, he will get nothing by it in this life, and be sent to hell for ever
in the next. Most vivid descriptions of hell, with its torments, its worms
ever feeding and never dying, are held up before him; and he is told that
this eternity of torture will be the result of insubordination here. It is
no wonder that a slaveholder once said to Dr. Brisbane, of Cincinnati, that
religion had been worth more to him, on his plantation, than a waggon-load
Furthermore, the slave is taught that to endeavour to evade his master
by running away, or to shelter or harbour a slave who has run away, are sins
which will expose him to the wrath of that omniscient Being whose eyes are
in every place.
As the slave is a moveable and merchantable being, liable, as Mr. Jones
calmly remarks, to "all the vicissitudes of property," this system
of instruction, one would think, would be in something of a dilemma, when
it comes to inculcate the Christian duties of the family state.
When Mr. Jones takes a survey of the field, previous to commencing his
system of operations, he tells us, what we suppose every rational person must
have foreseen, that he finds among the negroes an utter demoralisation upon
this subject; that polygamy is commonly practised, and that the marriage-covenant
has become a mere temporary union of interest, profit, or pleasure, formed
without reflection, and dissolved without the slightest idea of guilt.
That this state of things is the necessary and legitimate result of the
system of laws which these Christian men have made and are still keeping up
over their slaves, any sensible person will perceive; and anyone would think
it an indispensable step to any system of religious instruction here, that
the negro should be placed in a situation where he can form a legal
marriage, and can adhere to it after it is formed.
But Mr. Jones and his coadjutors commenced by declaring that it was not
their intention to interfere, in the slightest degree, with the legal position
of the slave.
We should have thought, then, that it would not have been possible, if
these masters intended to keep their slaves in the condition of chattels personal,
liable to a constant disruption of family ties--that they could have
the heart to teach them the strict morality of the gospel, with regard to
the marriage relation.
But so it is, however. If we examine Mr. Jones's catechism, we shall find
that the slave is made to repeat orally that one man can be the husband of
but one woman; and if during her lifetime he marries another, God will punish
him for ever in hell.
Suppose a conscientious woman, instructed in Mr. Jones's catechism, by
the death of her master is thrown into the market for the division of the
estate, like many cases we may read of in the Georgia papers every week. She
is torn from her husband and children, and sold at the other end of the Union,
never to meet them again, and the new master commands her to take another
husband; what, now, is this woman to do? If she takes the husband, according
to her catechism she commits adultery, and exposes herself to everlasting
fire; if she does not take him, she disobeys her master, who, she has been
taught, is God's overseer; and she is exposed to everlasting fire on that
account, and certainly she is exposed to horrible tortures here.
Now, we ask if the teaching that has involved this poor soul in such a
labyrinth of horrors can be called the gospel.
Is it the gospel--is it glad tidings in any sense of the words?
In the same manner, this catechism goes on to instruct parents to bring
up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, that they should
guide, counsel, restrain and govern them.
Again these teachers tell them that they should search the Scriptures most
earnestly, diligently, and continually, at the same time declaring that it
is not their intention to interfere with the laws which forbid their being
taught to read. Searching the Scriptures, slaves are told, means coming to
people who are willing to read to them. Yes; but if there be no one willing
to do this, what then? Anyone whom this catechism has thus instructed is sold
off to a plantation on Red River, like that where Northrop lived;
no Bible goes with him; his Christian instructors, in their care not to interfere
with his civil condition, have deprived him of the power of reading; and in
this land of darkness his oral instruction is but as a faded dream. Let any
of us ask for what sum we would be deprived of all power of ever reading the
Bible for ourselves, and made entirely dependent on the reading of others--especially
if we were liable to fall into such hands as slaves are--and then let
us determine whether a system of religious instruction, which begins by declaring
that it has no intention to interfere with this cruel legal deprivation, is
The poor slave, darkened, blinded, perplexed on every hand by the influences
which the legal system has spread under his feet, is furthermore strictly
instructed in a perfect system of morality. He must not even covet anything
that is his master's; he must not murmur or be discontented; he must consider
his master's interests as his own, and be ready to sacrifice himself to them;
and this he must do, as he is told, not only to the good and gentle, but also
to the forward. He must forgive all injuries, and do exactly right under all
perplexities; thus is the obligation on his part expounded to him, while his
master's reciprocal obligations mean only to give him good houses, clothes,
food, &c. &c., leaving every master to determine for himself what
is good in relation to these matters.
No wonder, when such a system of utter injustice is justified to the negro
by all the awful sanctions of religion, that now and then a strong soul rises
up against it. We have known under a black skin shrewd minds, unconquerable
spirits, whose indignant sense of justice no such representations could blind.
That Mr. Jones has met such is evident; for speaking of the trials of a
missionary among them, he says (p. 127):
He discovers Deism, Scepticism, Universalism. As already stated, the various
perversions of the gospel, and all the strong objections against the truth
of God --objections which he may perhaps have considered peculiar only
to the cultivated minds, the ripe scholarship, and profound intelligence of
critics and philosophers! --extremes here meet on the natural and common
ground of a darkened understanding and a hardened heart.
Again, in the Tenth Annual Report of the "Association for the Religious
Instruction of the Negroes in Liberty County, Georgia," he says:
Allow me to relate a fact which occurred in the spring of this year, illustrative
of the character and knowledge of the negroes at this time. I was preaching
to a large congregation on the Epistle to Philemon; and when I insisted upon
fidelity and obedience as Christian virtues in servants, and
upon the authority of Paul condemned the practice of running away, one half
of my audience deliberately walked off with themselves, and those that remained
looked anything but satisfied either with the preacher or his doctrine. After
dismission, there was no small stir among them; some solemnly declared that
there was no such epistle in the Bible; others, "that it was not the
Gospel;" others, "that I preached to please masters;" others,
"that they did not care if they never heard me preach again."
--Pp. 24, 25.
Lundy Lane, an intelligent fugitive, who has published his Memoirs, says
that on one occasion they (the slaves) were greatly delighted with a certain
preacher, until he told them that God had ordained and created them expressly
to make slaves of. He says that after that they all left him, and went away,
because they thought with the Jews, "This is a hard saying; who can
In these remarks on the perversion of the gospel as presented to the slave,
we do not mean to imply that much that is excellent and valuable is not taught
him. We mean simply to assert that, in so far as the system taught justifies
the slave-system, so far necessarily it vitiates the fundamental ideas of
justice and morality; and so far as the obligations of the gospel are inculcated
on the slave in their purity, they bring him necessarily in conflict with
the authority of the system. As we have said before, it is an attempt to harmonise
light with darkness, and Christ with Belial. Nor is such an attempt to be
justified and tolerated because undertaken in the most amiable spirit by amiable
men. Our admiration of some of the labourers who have conducted the system
is very great; so also is our admiration of many of the Jesuit missionaries
who have spread the Roman Catholic religion among our aboriginal tribes. Devotion
and disinterestedness could be carried no further than some of both these
classes of men have carried them.
But while our respect for these good men must not seduce us as Protestants
into an admiration of the system which they taught, so our esteem for our
Southern brethren must not lead us to admit that a system which fully justifies
the worst kind of spiritual and temporal despotism can properly represent
the gospel of him who came to preach deliverance to the captives.
To prove that we have not misrepresented the style of instruction, we will
give some extracts from various sermons and discourses.
In the first place, to show how explicitly religious teachers disclaim
any intention of interfering in the legal relation (see Mr. Jones's work,
By law or custom they are excluded from the advantages of education, and
by consequence from the reading of the word of God; and this
immense mass of immortal beings is thrown for religious instruction upon oral
communications entirely. And upon whom? Upon their owners. And their owners,
especially of late years, claim to be the exclusive guardians of their religious
instruction, and the almoners of divine mercy towards them, thus assuming
the entire responsibility of their entire Christianisation!
All approaches to them from abroad are rigidly guarded against, and no
ministers are allowed to break to them the bread of life, except such as have
commended themselves to the affection and confidence of their owners. I do
not condemn this course of self-preservation on the part of our citizens,
I merely mention it to show their entire dependence upon ourselves.
In answering objections of masters to allowing the religious instruction
of the negroes, he supposes the following objection, and gives the following
If we suffer our negroes to be instructed, the tendency will be to change
the civil relations of society as now constituted.
To which let it be replied, that we separate entirely their religious and
their civil condition, and contend that the one may be attended to without
interfering with the other. Our principle is that laid down by the holy and
just One: "Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's,
and unto God the things which are God's." And Christ and his apostles
are our example. Did they deem it proper and consistent with the good order
of society to preach the gospel to the servants? They did. In discharge of
this duty did they interfere with their civil condition? They did not.
With regard to the description of heaven, and the torments of hell, the
following is from Mr. Jones's catechism, pp. 83, 91, 92:--
Q. Are there two places only spoken of in the Bible to which the souls
of men go after death?--A. Only two.
Q. What are they?--A. Heaven and hell.
* * * * * * *
Q. After the Judgment is over, into what place do the righteous go?--A.
Q. What kind of a place is heaven?--A. A most glorious and happy place.
* * * * * * *
Q. Shall the righteous in heaven have any more hunger, or thirst, or nakedness,
or heat, or cold? Shall they have any more sin, or sorrow, or crying, or pain,
or death?--A. No.
Q. Repeat "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."--A.
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall
be no more death neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more
pain; for the former things are passed away."
Q. Will heaven be their everlasting home?--A. Yes.
Q. And shall the righteous grow in knowledge, and holiness, and happiness
for ever and ever?--A. Yes.
Q. To what place should we wish and strive to go, more than to all other
* * * * * *
Q. Into what place are the wicked to be cast?--A. Into hell.
Q. Repeat "The wicked shall be turned."--A. "The
wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God."
Q. What kind of a place is hell?--A. A place of dreadful torments.
Q. What does it burn with?--A. Everlasting fire.
Q. Who are cast into hell besides wicked men?--A. The devil and his
Q. What will the torments of hell make the wicked do?--A. Weep, and
wail, and gnash their teeth.
Q. What did the rich man beg for when he was tormented in the flame?--A.
A drop of cold water to cool his tongue.
Q. Will the wicked have any good thing in hell? the least comfort? the
least relief from torment?--A. No.
Q. Will they ever come out of hell?--A. No, never.
Q. Can any go from heaven to hell, or from hell to heaven?--A. No.
Q. What is fixed between heaven and hell?--A. A great gulf.
Q. What is the punishment of the wicked in hell called?--A. Everlasting
Q. Will this punishment make them better?--A. No.
Q. Repeat "It is a fearful thing."--A. "It is a
fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Q. What is God said to be to the wicked?--A. A consuming fire.
Q. What place should we strive to escape from above all others?--A.
The Rev. Alex. Glennie, rector of All-saints parish, Waccamaw, South Carolina,
has for several years been in the habit of preaching with express reference
to slaves. In 1844 he published in Charleston a selection of these sermons,
under the title of "Sermons preached on Plantations to Congregations
of Negroes." This book contains twenty-six sermons; and in twenty-two
of them there is either a more or less extended account, or a reference to
eternal misery in hell as a motive to duty. He thus describes the day of judgment
(Sermon 15, p. 90):--
When all people shall be gathered before him, "He shall separate
them, one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and
he shall set the sheep on the right hand, but the goats on the left."
That, my brethren, will be an awful time, when this separation shall be going
on; when the holy angels, at the command of the Great Judge, shall be gathering
together all the obedient followers of Christ, and be setting them on the
right hand of the judgment-seat, and shall place all the remainder on the
left. Remember that each of you must be present; remember that the Great Judge
can make no mistake; and that you shall be placed on one side or on the other,
according as in this world you have believed in and obeyed him or not. How
full of joy and thanksgiving will you be, if you shall find yourself placed
on the right hand! but how full of misery and despair, if the left shall be
appointed as your portion!
* * * * * * *
But what shall he say to the wicked on the left hand? To them he shall
say, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for
the devil and his angels." He will tell them to depart; they did not,
while here, seek him by repentance and faith; they did not obey him, and now
he will drive them from him. He will call them cursed.
(Sermon 1, p. 42.) The death which is the wages of sin is this everlasting
fire prepared for the devil and his angels. It is a fire which shall last
for ever; and the devil and his angels, and all people who will not love and
serve God, shall there be punished for ever. The Bible says, "The smoke
of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever." The fire is not quenched,
it never goes out, "their worm dieth not;" their punishment is
spoken of as a worm always feeding upon but never consuming them; it never
Concerning the absolute authority of the master, take the following extract
from Bishop Meade's sermon. (Brooke's Slavery, pp. 30, 31, 32.)
Having thus shown you the chief duties you owe to your great Master in
heaven, I now come to lay before you the duties you owe to your masters and
mistresses here upon earth; and for this you have one general rule that you
ought always to carry in your minds, and that is, to do all service for them
as if you did it for God himself. Poor creatures! you little consider, when
you are idle and neglectful of your masters' business, when you steal and
waste and hurt any of their substance, when you are saucy and impudent, when
you are telling them lies and deceiving them, or when you prove stubborn and
sullen and will not do the work you are set about without stripes and vexation--you
do not consider, I say, that what faults you are guilty of towards your masters
and mistresses are faults done against God himself, who hath set your masters
and mistresses over you in his own stead, and expects that you will do for
them just as you would do for him. And pray do not think that I want to deceive
you when I tell you that your masters and mistresses are God's overseers,
and that, if you are faulty towards them, God himself will punish you severely
for it in the next world, unless you repent of it, and strive to make amends
by your faithfulness and diligence for the time to come; for God himself hath
declared the same.
Now, from this general rule--namely, that you are to do all service
for your masters and mistresses as if you did it for God himself--there
arise several other rules of duty towards your masters and mistresses, which
I shall endeavour to lay out in order before you.
And, in the first place, you are to be obedient and subject to your masters
in all things. . . . And Christian ministers are commanded to "exhort
servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in
all things, not answering them again, or gainsaying." You see how strictly
God requires this of you, that whatever your masters and mistresses order
you to do, you must set about it immediately, and faithfully perform it, without
any disputing or grumbling, and take care to please them well in all things.
And for your encouragement he tells you that he will reward you for it in
heaven; because, while you are honestly and faithfully doing your master's
business here, you are serving your Lord and Master in heaven. You see also
that you are not to take any exceptions to the behaviour of your masters and
mistresses; and that you are to be subject and obedient, not
only to such as are good, and gentle, and mild towards you, but also to such
as may be forward, peevish, and hard. For you are not at liberty to choose
your own masters; but into whatever hands God hath been pleased to put you,
you must do your duty, and God will reward you for it.
* * * * *
You are to be faithful and honest to your masters and mistresses, not purloining
or wasting their goods or substance, but showing all good fidelity in all
things. . . . Do not your masters, under God, provide for you? And how shall
they be able to do this, to feed and to clothe you, unless you take honest
care of everything that belongs to them? Remember that God requires this of
you; and, if you are not afraid of suffering for it here, you cannot escape
the vengeance of Almighty God, who will judge between you and your masters,
and make you pay severely in the next world for all the injustice you do them
here. And though you could manage so cunningly as to escape the eyes and hands
of man, yet think what a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the
living God, who is able to cast both soul and body into hell!
You are to serve your masters with cheerfulness, reverence, and humility.
You are to do your masters' service with good will, doing it as the will of
God from the heart, without any sauciness or answering again. How many of
you do things quite otherwise, and, instead of going about your work with
a good will and a good heart, dispute and grumble, give saucy answers, and
behave in a surly manner! There is something so becoming and engaging in a
modest, cheerful, good-natured behaviour, that a little work done in that
manner seems better done, and gives far more satisfaction, than a great deal
more, that must be done with fretting, vexation, and the lash always held
over you. It also gains the good will and love of those you belong to, and
makes your own life pass with more case and pleasure. Besides, you are to
consider that this grumbling and ill-will does not affect your masters and
mistresses only. They have ways and means in their hands of forcing you to
do your work, whether you are willing or not. But your murmuring and grumbling
is against God, who hath placed you in that service, who will punish you severely
in the next world for despising his commands.
A very awful query here occurs to the mind. If the poor, ignorant slave,
who wastes his master's temporal goods to answer some of his own present purposes,
be exposed to this heavy retribution, what will become of those educated men
who, for their temporal convenience, make and hold in force laws which rob
generation after generation of men, not only of their daily earnings, but
of all their rights and privileges as immortal beings?
The Rev. Mr. Glennie, in one of his sermons, as quoted by Mr. Bowditch,
page 137, assures his hearers that none of them will be able to say, in the
day of judgment, "I had no way of hearing about my God and Saviour."
Bishop Meade, as quoted by Brooke, pp. 34, 35, thus expatiates to slaves
on the advantages of their condition. One would really think, from reading
this account, that everyone ought to make haste and get himself
sold into slavery, as the nearest road to heaven.
Take care that you do not fret or murmur, grumble or repine, at your condition;
for this will not only make your life uneasy, but will greatly offend Almighty
God. Consider that it is not yourselves, it is not the people that you belong
to, it is not the men that have brought you to it, but it is the will of God,
who hath, by his providence, made you servants, because, no doubt, he knew
that condition would be best for you in this world, and help you the better
towards heaven, if you would but do your duty in it. So that any discontent
at your not being free, or rich, or great, as you see some others, is quarrelling
with your heavenly Master, and finding fault with God himself, who hath made
you what you are, and hath promised you as large a share in the kingdom of
heaven as the greatest man alive, if you will but behave yourself aright,
and do the business he hath set you about in this world honestly and cheerfully.
Riches and power have proved the ruin of many an unhappy soul, by drawing
away the heart and affections from God, and fixing them on mean and sinful
enjoyments; so that when God, who knows our hearts better than we know them
ourselves, sees that they would be hurtful to us, and therefore keeps them
from us, it is the greatest mercy and kindness he could show us.
You may, perhaps, fancy that, if you had riches and freedom, you could
do your duty to God and man with greater pleasure than you can now. But pray
consider that, if you can but save your souls through the mercy of God, you
will have spent your time to the best of purposes in this world; and he that
at last can get to heaven has performed a noble journey, let the road be ever
so rugged and difficult. Besides, you really have a great advantage over most
white people, who have not only the care of their daily labour upon their
hands, but the care of looking forward and providing necessaries for to-morrow
and next day, and of clothing and bringing up their children, and of getting
food and raiment for as many of you as belong to their families, which often
puts them to great difficulties, and distracts their minds so as to break
their rest, and take off their thoughts from the affairs of another world.
Whereas, you are quite eased from all these cares, and have nothing but your
daily labour to look after, and, when that is done, take your needful rest.
Neither is it necessary for you to think of laying up anything against old
age, as white people are obliged to do; for the laws of the country have provided
that you shall not be turned off when you are past labour, but shall be maintained,
while you live, by those you belong to, whether you are able to work or not.
Bishop Meade further consoles slaves thus for certain incidents of their
lot, for which they may think they have more reason to find fault than for
most others. The reader must admit that he takes a very philosophical view
of the subject.
There is only one circumstance which may appear grievous, that I shall
now take notice of, and that is correction.
Now, when correction is given you, you either deserve it or you do not
deserve it; but whether you really deserve it or not, it is your duty, and
Almighty God requires, that you bear it patiently. You may, perhaps, think
that this is hard doctrine; but if you consider it right,
you must needs think otherwise of it. Suppose, then, that you deserve correction,
you cannot but say that it is just and right you should meet with it. Suppose
you do not, or at least you do not deserve so much, or so severe a correction,
for the fault you have committed, you perhaps have escaped a great many more,
and at last paid for all. Or, suppose you are quite innocent of what is laid
to your charge, and suffer wrongfully in that particular thing; is it not
possible you may have done some other bad thing which was never discovered,
and that Almighty God, who saw you doing it, would not let you escape without
punishment one time or another? And ought you not in such a case to give glory
to Him, and be thankful that He would rather punish you in this life for your
wickedness than destroy your souls for it in the next life? But suppose even
this was not the case (a case hardly to be imagined), and that you have by
no means, known or unknown, deserved the correction you suffered; there is
this great comfort in it, that if you bear it patiently, and leave your cause
in the hands of God, he will reward you for it in heaven, and the punishment
you suffer unjustly here shall turn to your exceeding great glory hereafter.
That Bishop Meade has no high opinion of the present comforts of a life
of slavery, may be fairly inferred from the following remarks which he makes
Your own poor circumstances in this life ought to put you particularly
upon this, and taking care of your souls, for you cannot have the pleasures
and enjoyments of this life like rich free people, who have estates and money
to lay out as they think fit. If others will run the hazard of their souls,
they have a chance of getting wealth and power, of heaping up riches, and
enjoying all the ease, luxury, and pleasure their hearts should long after;
but you can have none of these things, so that, if you sell your souls for
the sake of what poor matters you can get in this world, you have made a very
foolish bargain indeed.
This information is certainly very explicit and to the point. He continues:--
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.
Mr. Jones, in that part of the work where he is obviating the objections
of masters to the Christian instruction of their slaves, supposes the master
to object thus:--
You teach them that "God is no respecter of persons;" that
"He hath made of one blood all nations of men," "Thou shalt
love thy neighbour as thyself;" "All things whatsoever ye would
that men should do to you, do ye even so to them;" what use, let me
ask, would they make of these sentences from the gospel?
Mr. Jones says:--
Let it be replied that the effect urged in the objection might result from
imperfect and injudicious religious instruction; indeed, religious instruction
may be communicated with the express design, on the part of the instructor,
to produce the effect referred to, instances of which have occurred.
But you will say that neglect of duty and insubordination are legitimate
effects of the gospel, purely and sincerely imparted to servants? Has it not
in all ages been viewed as the greatest civiliser of the human race?
How Mr. Jones would interpret the golden rule to the slave, so as to justify
the slave-system, we cannot possibly tell. We can, however, give a specimen
of the manner in which it has been interpreted in Bishop Meade's Sermons,
p. 116. (Brooke's Slavery, &c., pp. 32, 33.)
"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye
even so unto them;" that is, do by all mankind just as you would desire
they should do by you, if you were in their place and they in yours.
Now, to suit this rule to your particular circumstances, suppose you were
masters and mistresses, and had servants under you; would you not desire that
your servants should do their business faithfully and honestly, as well when
your back was turned as while you were looking over them? Would you not expect
that they should take notice of what you said to them? that they should behave
themselves with respect towards you and yours, and be as careful of everything
belonging to you as you would be yourselves? You are servants; do, therefore,
as you would wish to be done by, and you will be both good servants to your
masters and good servants to God, who requires this of you, and will reward
you well for it, if you do it for the sake of conscience, in obedience to
The reverend teachers of such expositions of Scripture do great injustice
to the natural sense of their sable catechumens, if they suppose them incapable
of detecting such very shallow sophistry, and of proving conclusively that
"it is a poor rule that won't work both ways." Some shrewd old
patriarch, of the stamp of those who rose up and went out at the exposition
of the Epistle to Philemon, and who show such great acuteness in bringing
up objections against the truth of God, such as would be thought peculiar
to cultivated minds, might perhaps, if he dared, reply to
such an exposition of Scripture in this way: "Suppose you were a slave--could
not have a cent of your own earnings during your whole life, could have no
legal right to your wife and children, could never send your children to school,
and had, as you have told us, nothing but labour and poverty in this life--how
would you like it? Would you not wish your Christian master to set you free
from this condition?" We submit it to everyone who is no respecter of
persons, whether this interpretation of Sambo's is not as good as the bishop's.
And if not, why not?
To us, with our feelings and associations, such discourses as these of
Bishop Meade appear hard-hearted and unfeeling to the last degree. We should,
however, do great injustice to the character of the man, if we supposed that
they prove him to have been such. They merely go to show how perfectly use
may familiarise amiable and estimable men with a system of oppression, till
they shall have lost all consciousness of the wrong which it involves.
That Bishop Meade's reasonings did not thoroughly convince himself is evident
from the fact that, after all his representations of the superior advantages
of slavery as a means of religious improvement, he did, at last, emancipate
his own slaves.
But, in addition to what has been said, this whole system of religious
instruction is darkened by one hideous shadow--the
Slave-trade. What does the Southern Church do with her catechumens and
communicants? Read the advertisements of Southern newspapers, and see. In
every city in the slave-raising States behold the depôts, kept constantly
full of assorted negroes from the ages of ten to thirty! In every slave-consuming
State see the receiving-houses, whither these poor wrecks and remnants of
families are constantly borne! Who preaches the gospel to the slave-coffles?
Who preaches the gospel in the slave-prisons? If we consider the tremendous
extent of this internal trade--if we read papers with columns of auction
advertisements of human beings, changing hands as freely as if they were dollar-bills
instead of human creatures--we shall then realise how utterly all those
influences of religious instruction must be nullified by leaving the subjects
of them exposed "to all the vicissitudes of property."