Is Slavery Sin?
Ithaca American Citizen, January 23, 1861
Within the last forty years a great discovery has been made in theology. It has been discovered that slavery, as existing in this country, is a sin per se—a sin in the same sense, that murder, larceny and piracy are sins. It has been discovered, that it is one of those obvious and glaring sins, which admit of no doubt of their character, and that it is only necessary to open the Bible to find it condemned in almost every page.
The discovery was first made by a club of Boston infidels; but a portion of the pulpit followed in the wake of these wise sceptics, and became agitators on the subject. There was indeed, no negro slavery in their congregations, though there was plenty of other kinds of slavery—slavery to avarice, lying, cheating, and so on to the end of the interesting catalogue. There was negro slavery however at the South, which weighed with a more grevious burden, upon the tender consciences of these men, than the breaches of Divine law in their midst. They became agitators. It became their mission to engender the elements of sectional strife. They could wear cotton shirts, and sleep between cotton sheets, and eat rice pudding, and cane sugar, but they could not stand it, to live in a Union, in which some of the States were tolerated as slaveholding. Their consciences were too tender.
Men of over heated zeal, and who are righteous over much, are generally vain men. These clerical agitators, who have been so ready to be co-workers with infidels, fancy themselves leaders in the great work of rescuing the age from conservatism. They accordingly deal in high sounding phrases such as "the progress of the age," "modern civilization," "humanitarian interests," and others affording the surest evidences of arrant charlatanism.
The greater the stock of vanity, the more overbearing the intolerance. This in some localities has manifested itself to such degree, that a member of the church is in danger of expulsion, if he happen to express the belief, that the South should be let alone in the management of their own institutions. He is regarded as a "pro-slavery" man, and needs looking to. He is as unlucky, as the man who some years ago ventured to swallow a spoonful of brandy—he was a decided enemy of temperance. Indeed, so far has this intolerant idea obtained a foot hold, that men begin to talk of anti-slavery christians, leaving it to be charitably inferred, that all who differ from them on this question are not christians. We think the term infidel christians would be quite as appropriate.
Of course the memory of our fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Madison, &c., is brought into disrepute, either directly, or by inference, and the constitution which they framed for us, is little better, than "a league with hell and covenant with death." The oath to support the constitution, is not binding upon a tender anti-slavery conscience.
The sin of covenant breaking is merged and lost, in the higher sin, of living on the same continent with slavery. Our fathers were pirates and man stealers, and John Brown will go down to posterity as a hero and martyr, while Washington will be forgotten.
This is no exaggeration, and if necessary we can quote from high authority, in the anti-slavery church, to bear us out.
These same men, in their over weening vanity boast of large heartedness. Their benevolence ranges over a great field. Common sins are too vulgar to be noticed. The drudgery of attending to them must be left to smaller minds. They have looked into the frame work of society and find it out of joint—hence they are generally found in attendance at, or correspondence with "womans rights," and other kindred conventions, the object of which is to turn things upside down, under the plea of progress.
The bitter fruits of all this agitation, are now being realized, in the terrible crisis, through which our country is passing. The times are too dangerous to be mealy mouthed on this subject. The foundations of our government, are now rocking in the earthquake throes of revolution. That portion of the clergy, of whom we have been speaking, have contributed largely to this lamentable result, and it is time for men to speak out plain. It is high time, a political preacher should be regarded as a nuisance. It is time this question of negro slavery should be regarded, not as a religious question, but purely one of political economy. It is time the people should understand that anti-slavery preaching is not drawn from the inspiration of the Bible, but is, in some, the offspring of fanaticism and vanity, and in others the effect of blindly following the lead of other minds.
Our duty is plain, and we intend to perform it, however limited may be our sphere of use, let the consequences individually be what they may. We are thoroughly opposed to slavery, as a question of political economy here and elsewhere. Here, we have abolished it, in the exercise of our own sovereignty. The Southern States have the right to disregard our abstract opinions upon the subject, and abolish or retain it, as they shall decide for themselves, and we clearly have no right, nor can we without sin, enter upon a systematic agitation against them, because they see fit to remain slaveholding. We believe Washington was a Christian man. We believe there are Christian men in the Southern States, who are slaveholders, yea, more Christian, than those by whom they are so loudly assailed.
One of the great leaders in the anti-slavery crusade, was Theodore Parker, who has lately passed from the stage. The present active leader, is Henry Ward Beecher, whose uncommon gifts, as a popular speaker, have imposed his notions, upon minds less gifted. But it is dangerous for men to yield their independence to the showy and glittering generalities of the orator; and this has been fully demonstrated by the sermon of Mr. Van Dyke, published by us some weeks ago. He proves by Bible references, that slavery was recognized and regulated by Divine law. He also proves that the Saviour did not interfere, by precept or example with slavery, although it existed throughout the Roman empire.
How does Beecher answer this? In his fast-day sermon he says:
"American slavery is not Hebrew slavery; it is Roman slavery. We borrowed every single one of the elemental principles of our system of labor from the Roman law, and not from the Hebrews. The fundamental feature of the Hebrew system was that the slave was a man and not a chattel, while the fundamental feature of the Roman system was that he was a chattel and not a man.["]
Now we humbly beg to know, how we are to understand all this? Does Mr. Beecher mean to admit that Hebrew slavery was right? Does he mean to admit that negro slavery, would be right, provided his master admitted him to be a man and abstained from selling him as a chattel? Can Mr. Beecher purchase a heathen African and hold him as a slave, and clear his skirts from sin, by proclaiming every Sabbath that his slave is a man? This distinction without a difference, shows how much easier it is to be superficial, than candid or profound. In another of his sermons his vanity sticks out in comparing a controversy with men of the class of Mr. Van Dyke, as equal to the cruelty of firing grape shot into a flock of pigeons. In other words the great man could do great execution, if he only put forth his great powers, but he abstains in mercy. This dodge will do very well, for the gaping congregation in Plymouth Church, but will hardly go down outside that admiring conclave.