A Condensed Anti-Slavery Bible Argument; By a Citizen of Virginia.
Published in 1845 by George Bourne, 1780-1845
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ANTI-SLAVERY BIBLE ARGUMENT.
THE belief was long nearly universal,
and is yet very general throughout the Christian world, that the Scriptures
do, to some extent, justify human slavery, as practised in this country.
The object of the following chapters is to controvert this belief, and to
prove that it is false and heretical, as well as dangerous and destructive
to human happiness; that this belief is founded entirely on perversions of
the true meaning of certain passages in the Scriptures, and is entirely contrary
to the spirit of the divine volume, the letter of which condemns the practice
with as much severity as it did that of any other crime. The following argument
is presented for the calm and prayerful consideration of all Christians,
both in the North and in the South. The time has come when (as a learned
writer justly remarks see: Millennial Harbinger, vol. ii., ¶3, p. 50.),
"neither the evidences of the Gospel, nor the solemnities of religion; neither
the constitution of the church, nor the rights of its members; neither the
divine right of bishops, nor the value of holy orders; neither the spirituality
of the soul, nor the materiality of the body, can escape the ordeal of free
and full discussion. Shall we, then, think it strange that American slavery,
with all its influences on the moral and political destinies of this great
and mighty nation, shall, by the spontaneous concession of the whole civilized
world, be allowed to escape inquiry, or be exempt from appearing in the presence
of this august and powerful tribunal of FREE DISCUSSION? It cannot be imagined.
Come it must, and come it will; and we may as well be prepared for it soon
Do not, kind reader, throw this
aside, as the production of an Abolitionist, but read it as the candid convictions
of "A CITIZEN OF VIRGINIA," who has thought much on the subject, and examined
critically the Bible with reference to his duty and obligations to those
unfortunate beings who are held in bondage. My treating of the difficult,
and to many, offensive subject of slavery, does not arise from any want of
attachment to the South, or any disregard to its interests, much less does
it arise from a disposition to trifle with the wishes or fears of those who
may have fears on this matter. If I believed that discussion would have the
effect that some apprehend from it, it would be with me a weighty consideration
against ever publishing one line on the subject. But after looking at the
matter on all sides, and giving it a good deal of consideration, I am strongly
inclined to the opinion that the danger attending slavery in the South depends
very little, if at all, on a temperate discussion of the subject.
A multitude of things must ever
bind my affections to the South. I was born on the banks of Virginia's beautiful
river Potomac, where my parents spent a considerable portion of their existence,
almost in sight of the place where the mortal remains of Washington are deposited.
Almost all my relations are there, or in slaveholding states. All my early
associations, all those untold bonds that bind us to the scenes of infancy
and youth, most of those moral ties which unite us to those we love, for
whom we have often prayed, and with whom we have taken "sweet counsel together,
and walked unto the house of God in company"--are Virginians.
"With all thy faults I love thee still, my country--and still must love thee."
Fellow-citizens, examine with
me this important subject--and follow the guidance of the "lamp of life"
in the path of duty, which is the sure road to Heaven. And let us remember
"the example of Virginia's noblest son, the Father of his country, who at
the last hour, when the soul, in the light of an approaching eternity, sees
with peculiar clearness the boundaries which separate the wrong from the
right, restored his slaves to their natural rights." And let us imitate one
of Kentucky's bright stars, C. M. Clay, who in the face of all opposition
emancipated THIRTEEN slaves, while yet in health of mind and body.
CHAPTER I. DEFINITIONS.
IN order the better to understand
the subject it is necessary here to introduce a few plain definitions. Slavery
has two definitions--the direct and the indirect. The first of these is that
it is the total deprivation of human rights; the other that it is the reducing
of human beings to the condition of property, the same as other goods, wares,
merchandise and chattels. Either of these definitions will answer for the
purpose of argument, though the latter is to be preferred, because it is
the most familiar. There are a variety of other ways in which mankind hold
control over each other, and sometimes unjustly and oppressively; but if
the persons controlled be not held as property, they are not slaves. A Right
is defined to be, the privilege or liberty of being, doing, having or suffering
something at our own pleasure and discretion without the interference, interruption
or hindrance of others--and to this discretion neither the law of God, nor
the common law, nor any other just law, sets any other bounds than that we
so exercise our own rights as not to infringe the same rights in other human
beings. A Wrong is defined to be, any voluntary act which disturbs, interrupts,
hinders, or destroys the free exercise of the rights of others--every such
act being strictly forbidden by the law of God, and every other just law.
Right and Wrong are, therefore, the everlasting moral and political opposites
and antagonists of each other. Mr. Weld, in his valuable "Bible Argument,"
says, "ENSLAVING MEN IS REDUCING THEM TO ARTICLES OF PROPERTY -- making free
agents, chattels--converting persons into things--sinking immortality into
merchandize. A slave is one held in this condition. In law, he owns nothing
and can acquire nothing." His right to himself is abrogated. If he says my
hands, my body, my mind, MYself, they are figures of speech. To use himself
for his own good is a crime. To keep what he earns is stealing. To take his
body into his own keeping is insurrection. In a word, the profit of his master
is made the END of his being, and he a mere means to that end--a mere means
to an end into which his interests do not enter-- of which they constitute
no portion. MAN sunk to a thing! The intrinsic element, the principle of
slavery. MEN, bartered, leased, mortgaged, bequeathed, invoiced, shipped
in cargoes, stored as goods, taken on executions, and knocked off at public
outcry! Their rights, another's conveniences; their interests, wares on sale;
their happiness, a household utensil; their personal inalienable ownership,
a serviceable article or a plaything, as best suits the humor of the hour;
their deathless nature, conscience, social affections, sympathies, hopes--marketable
commodities! We repeat it, "THE REDUCTION OF PERSONS TO THINGS!" Not robbing
a man of privileges, but of himself; not loading him with burdens, but making
him a beast of burden; not restraining liberty, but subverting it; not curtailing
rights, but abolishing them; not inflicting personal cruelty, but annihilating
personality; not exacting involuntary labor, but sinking man into an implement
of labor; not abridging human comforts, but abrogating human nature; not
depriving an animal of immunities, but despoiling a rational being of attributes,
uncreating A MAN to make room for a thing! That this is American slavery
is shown by the laws of the slave states. Judge Stroud, in his "Sketch of
the Laws relating to Slavery," says, "The cardinal principle of slavery,
that the slave is not to be ranked among sentient beings but among things,
obtains as undoubted law in all of these (the slave) states." The law of
South Carolina [Brev. Dig., 229] says, "Slaves shall be deemed, held,
taken, reputed and adjudged in law to be chattels personal in the hands of
their owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns,
TO ALL INTENTS, CONSTRUCTIONS, AND PURPOSES WHATSOEVER."
In Louisiana, "A slave is one
who is in the power of a master, to whom he belongs; the master may sell
him, dispose of his person, his industry and his labor; he can do nothing,
possess nothing, nor acquire anything but what belongs to his master. Civ.
Code, Art. 35." Tried by these definitions, human slavery is one of the greatest
wrongs existing in the world....
CHAPTER VIII. THE TRUE ISSUE.
FROM the premises already stated
it clearly appears that TWO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT MODES OR WAYS of buying and
selling people, the one free and voluntary, and the other slavish, are plainly
described in the Scriptures as having been in customary use among the ancients,
just as they now are among the moderns. The real controversy between the
Bible advocates of slavery and their opponents then is as follows, namely:
Were the ancient Patriarchal and Hebrew servitudes in controversy, slavish
or otherwise? Were Abraham's servants, said to have been "bought with his
money," free servants or slaves? Were the Levitical servants who were said
to "sell themselves," and to be bought by their masters, and to be "their
money," free and voluntary servants, or were they slaves and property? These
important inquiries form the only material issue now in controversy, and
since it has been shown that the mere scriptural employment and use of the
foregoing words and phrases proves nothing definite and certain in relation
to it, and does nothing towards settling the merits of the controversy, the
same must be decided and determined as in other similar cases, by the subject
matter of the narrative, by the context, and by the whole general description
of the actual condition of those servants, all taken in connection with those
words and phrases. Several other subordinate controverted matters will arise
for consideration in our progress, such as, Whether the Levitical law justified
any form or degree of human oppression? Whether the Holy Prophets did the
same? Whether Christ and his Apostles connived at and sanctioned heathen
Greek and Roman slavery? &c. But the principal true material issue attending
the whole controversy is that above stated.
CHAPTER IX. KEY TO THE INQUIRY.
PREPARATORY to the further investigation
of this important subject, it is proper for the reader to understand and
become skilled in the use of what I call the Key to the Inquiry, which said
"Key" consists in the critical examination and comparison of several passages
in the Scriptures, in which the foregoing words and phrases are used to describe
two different kinds of human service, a few specimens of which are as follows.
The first specimen is the comparison of Gen. xvii. 12, 13, 23, 27, with Acts
xx. 28; 1 Cor. vi. 20, vii. 23. In each of these cases the servants are said
to have been "bought," or "purchased" (and of course were "sold")--in the
first case "with money," and in the other "with blood," and "with a price."
By any rule of critical reasoning or construction whatever, if the mere use
of those words and phrases alone is to decide that Abraham and the other
Patriarchs were slaveholders, then the same use decides that Christ and his
Apostles were slaveholders also, owning and treating their own converts as
property or slaves, and possessing the equal character and qualities of slaveholders
both ancient and modern, as much as Abraham and the other Patriarchs can
be supposed to have done. Thus if it be argued that property is commonly
"bought" with property, and that "money" is property, so also is "blood"
and "a price," property in common estimation, as much so as money is. But
the supposition or notion of our Saviour and his Apostles being slaveholders,
and their converts being their slaves, is too absurd and wicked for intelligent
belief. This specimen is therefore a comparison of free service with free
service, which is so much plainer as the one kind was the type of the other.
The second specimen is the critical
comparison of the case recorded in Gen. xxxvii. 28, 36, with that recorded
in Gen. xlvii. 19, 26, as follows:
From the human sale recorded in
Gen. xxxvii., we learn the following particulars.
1st. That the person sold (Joseph)
was thus treated without his consent and against his will.
2d. That he was no party to the
bargain or contract by which he was sold, any more than a beast or other
article of property is.
3d. That he received no part of
the price, consideration or compensation (twenty pieces of silver), for which
he was sold, any more than a beast or other article of property does.
4th. That the effect of the sale
was to convert him into an article of property, as suitable for subsequent
traffic and merchandise in, as beasts and other kinds of property are.
5th. That according to Gen. xlii.
21, 22, this transaction is represented to have been so great a crime or
sin, as to be deserving of death by the laws of nature.
From the human sale recorded in
Gen. xlvii., we learn,
1st. That the persons sold (the
Egyptians) were thus treated at their own earnest request.
2d. That they "sold themselves,"
and alone made the whole contract with the purchaser.
3d. That they themselves received
the whole of the price, consideration or compensation (support during the
years of famine) given on the contract for their sale.
4th. That the effect of the whole
transaction was to render
them tenants at a very reasonable rent, but otherwise to leave them just
as free in all other respects as they were before.
5th. That according to the Scripture
account of it, the whole transaction was perfectly moral and virtuous in
its own nature, and just as free and equal as common leasing and hiring now
Here then are two scriptural accounts
in the same book, of two different purchases and sales of human beings, both
entirely opposite to each other in their moral and political nature, effects
and consequences. In the first case, the word "sold" is used, and "bought"
understood, because there cannot be a sale without a purchase. While in the
second, the word "bought" is used, and "sold" understood, because there cannot
be a purchase without a "sale." This specimen then is a comparison of a slave
sale, with a voluntary sale of free service. The critical reader will also
remark that in the latter case quoted from Gen. xlvii., the Egyptians who
"sold themselves" received their pay before their services were to commence
or be rendered, just as poor foreigners said to be "sold to pay their passage"
receive it now; whereas the "hired servants" mentioned in the Levitical law
did not receive their pay until after their work was performed, as most hirelings
now do, which is the only material distinction made in the Scriptures between
bought and hired servants, both kinds being in all other respects equally
free, voluntary and privileged. We make the same necessary inference respecting
the payment of the ancient "bought" Hebrew servants, from the descriptions
contained in such passages as Lev. xxvi. 49; Neh. v. 5, &c. We also infer
that these bought servants might freely hold property of their own, a right
wholly incompatible with the condition of slavery. From Lev. xxv. 47; Neh.
v. 8, &c., we also learn that this free custom of purchasing servants
of themselves in payment of previous debts contracted by them, was general
throughout the ancient oriental countries.