From http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/bourne/bourne.html
A Condensed Anti-Slavery Bible Argument; By a Citizen of Virginia.  Published in 1845 by George Bourne, 1780-1845
This is the Electronic Edition.
       © This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

A CONDENSED
ANTI-SLAVERY BIBLE ARGUMENT.

INTRODUCTION.

        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 as late."

        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
Page 33

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 are.

        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.

return to syllabus