America and Slavery
August 1, 2019
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
866-295-4143,
fbns@wayoflife.org

"All these evil things come from within, and defile the man"

Slavery has been practiced since the fall of man. It is not a a product of “racism”; it is not an issue of skin color; it is a product of man’s sinful heart because of which he practices far more hatred toward his fellow man than love of neighbor. Jesus described man’s condition with perfect accuracy:

And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).

Slavery has been practiced by the white man, the black man, the red man, and the yellow man, and every other kind of man.

That is a fact of history.

Slavery was practiced by the Babylonians, the Hittites, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Persians, the native Brits, the Dans, the Romans, the African kingdoms, the South American kingdoms, the Chinese, Indians, Nepalese, Burmese, Native Americans, the Muslim kingdoms.

That is a fact of man’s wretched history, and it is a reflection of man’s fallen condition.

It is also a fact of history as to who was at the forefront of the war against slavery. It wasn’t the Muslims. It wasn’t the Hindus or the Buddhists or the Anamists or the Atheists or the Humanists. It wasn’t Roman Catholics. It wasn’t the black African nations or the Asian nations or the South American nations or the Eskimos. It was (mostly) white Protestant and Baptist Christians in England and America.

This is a fact of history.

America’s role in the destruction of slavery in modern times is a fascinating study.

Timeline of the American Abolitionist Movement

There was widespread opposition to slavery from the time of the founding of the American colonies, and many of the Founding Fathers were opponents, but abolition became a groundswell movement during the Second Great Awakening, both in America and England. The culmination in America was the Civil War of 1860-65, after which slavery was officially abolished. Following are some of the important events:
1794 - The U.S. government passes a law prohibiting slavery in new American territories
------- The American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery is founded
1803 - The Pennsylvania Abolition Society is founded; Benjamin Rush, an American Founding Father, is elected the first president
1807 - The British government abolishes the slave trade, though the owning of slaves in British colonies is still legal
1808 - The British forms the
West Africa Squadron to capture slave ships. Between 1808-1860, the Squadron captures 1,600 slave ships and frees 150,000 slaves
------- The U.S. government outlaws American participation in the African slave trade
1821 - The first American anti-slavery newspaper is founded (
The Genius of Universal Emancipation)
1822 - Denmark Vessey unsuccessfully tries to lead a slave revolt in South Carolina
1830s - The Underground Railway is established to help runaway slaves escape to the northern states and Canada
1831 - Nate Turner leads a slave revolt in Virginia, resulting in stricter slave laws
1833 - Great Britain abolishes slavery
1833 - The American Antislavery Society is organized and within five years it has more than 1,350 chapters and 250,000 members
1852 - Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is influential in stirring abolitionist sentiment
1856 - The Republican Party is formed in America as a coalition of various political groups opposing slavery
1859 - John Brown unsuccessfully tries to capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, to launch a slave revolt
1860 - Abraham Lincoln is elected U.S. President, the first Republican party president
1861 - Eleven Southern states secede from the Union after the election of Abraham Lincoln
1862 - “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Julia Ward Howe is published
1863 - Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in the Confederate States
1865 - The Civil War ends and the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishes slavery in all states
AMERICA AND SLAVERY

From its founding, America has been a mixed multitude of people of varying principles, including religious principles.

Early America was strongly influenced by the Bible and most of its citizens were professing Christians of some sort, but there were all sorts of Christians, some born again and some “nominal,” trusting in baptism and good works rather than in a personal relationship with Christ, and there were also many non-Christians.

Even in the Plymouth Colony founded by the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower in 1620, there were nominal Christians and some non-Christians.

As on many issues, early America was divided on the issue of slavery.

On one side were those who believed in slavery and kept slaves.

On the other side, there were many in America who were opposed to slavery, even during the Colonial era. These understood that it was wrong and hypocritical to proclaim liberty for all men while keeping some men in bondage to slavery.

For example, Samuel Hopkins of Rhode Island sent a pamphlet to the Continental Congress “asking how they and Americans, so adverse to enslavement by British Parliament, could overlook the slavery of African-Americans ‘who have as good a claim to liberty as themselves’” (Angela Kamrath,
The Miracle of America).

In 1772, Baptist pastor John Allen of Boston preached that slavery violates the laws of God and the natural rights of men. He stated this in An Oration on the Beauties of Liberty, or The Essential Right of the Americans.

In 1791, Jonathan Edwards, famous Great Awakening preacher, published “The Injustice and Impolicy of the Slave Trade.” He cited Christ’s “Golden Rule” as evidence that slavery is not God’s will.

Hopkins, Allen, and Edwards represented the thinking of large numbers of Americans in that day.

American Quakers opposed slavery beginning in the 1670s. William Penn, a Quaker and the founder of Pennsylvania in 1682, owned slaves for a few years, but he treated them well and eventually freed them. In 1737, Quaker Benjamin Lay published a paper against “All Slave Keepers that Keep the Innocent in Bondage.” He called slavery “a notorious sin.” In 1774, the Quakers ended slavery among themselves, and those who persisted in owning slaves were expelled. Famous Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier was a strong voice against slavery. He edited the
Pennsylvania Freeman and promoted freedom for all men. Quakers had a prominent role in the Underground Railroad that helped southern slaves escape their masters. Quakers boycotted slave-produced goods in an attempt to put financial pressure on slaveholders. Philadelphia, the capital of Pennsylvania, was the home of the first black denomination in America, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Pennsylvania was the first American state to pass a slavery abolition act. This was in 1780, even before the end of the War of Independence. In Britain, Quakers were at the forefront of the movement that abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1838.

The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1833 under the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, and within seven years there were 2,000 auxiliary societies with a total membership of 150,000 to 200,000. This shows that anti-slavery sentiment was widespread in America.

Slavery in the 18th Century

It is important to understand the historical context. Slavery was widely accepted the world over at the time of America’s founding in the 18th century.

It is an institution nearly as old as man. Man’s “inhumanity” is the product of his sin nature. Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19). The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia practiced slavery, as did the Babylonian, the Persian, the Greek, and the Roman empires. Slavery was practiced in China and India and the Americas; it was practiced by the Mongols and Huns and Vikings and North American Indians.

From ancient times, Africans enslaved Africans. In many parts of Africa, a third of the population were enslaved by their fellow blacks beginning in AD 1300 and earlier, and in some parts of Africa the percentage was even higher. For the most part, it was black Africans who captured African slaves in the interior of the continent and brought them to the coasts for sale. Black tribal leaders, such as the kings of Dohomey, would raid and capture blacks from neighboring tribes and sell them. In the 1840s, King Gezo of Dahomey said, “The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth ... the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery” (Ibn Warraq,
Why the West Is Best: A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of Liberal Democracy, 2011, p. 114). What a wretched lullaby!

Islam practiced slavery from its inception in the seventh century AD and was at the heart of the slave trade on the Barbary Coast of Africa for hundreds of years. We have documented this in
The Bible and Islam, which is available as a free eBook from www.wayoflife.org.

England had a major role in the Atlantic slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. So did the Portuguese, Dutch, and French.

America’s Founding Fathers and Slavery

Like the early American population as a whole, the American Founders represented many beliefs.

Some were Bible-believing Christians who had personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Following are a few examples:

Samuel Adams (1722-1803), signer of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Massachusetts. In his last will and testament he wrote “I ... [rely] upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins” (Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, edited by William Wells, 1865, Vol. III, p. 379).

Charles Carroll (1737-1822), signer of the Declaration of Independence, framer of the Bill of Rights. “On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation and on His merits, not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts” (Letter from Carroll to Charles Wharton, Sep. 27, 1825).

Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814), signer of the Declaration of Independence, Attorney General of Massachusetts. “I am constrained to express my adoration of the Supreme Being, the Author of my existence, in full belief of His Providential goodness and His forgiving mercy revealed to the world through Jesus Christ, through whom I hope for never ending happiness in a future state” (Last Will and Testament, attested May 11, 1814).

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), signer of the Declaration of Independence and “Father of American Medicine.” “My only hope of salvation is in the infinite transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of His Son upon the Cross. Nothing but His blood will wash away my sins. I rely exclusively upon it” (The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush).

Roger Sherman (1721-1793), signer of the Declaration of Independence, framer of the Bill of Rights. “I believe that God ... did send His own Son to become man, die in the room and stead of sinners, and thus to lay a foundation for the offer of pardon and salvation to all mankind, so as all may be saved who are willing to accept the Gospel offer.” (The Life of Roger Sherman by Lewis Boutell, 1896, pp. 271-273).

John Witherspoon (1723-1794), signer of the Declaration of Independence. “... no man, whatever be his character or whatever be his hope, shall enter into rest unless he be reconciled to God though Jesus Christ” (The Works of John Witherspoon, 1815, Vol. V, pp. 245, 267).

On the other hand, some of America’s founders were skeptics who did not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and did not believe the Bible to be God’s infallible Word. The most prominent examples are Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Jefferson was the principal author of the
Declaration of Independence, the first Secretary of State under George Washington, and the third President of the United States. Jefferson made his own “Bible” by cutting out of the Gospels everything pertaining to the divine and miraculous in Jesus’ life. Jefferson’s “Bible” left out references to angels, prophecy, Christ’s deity, the virgin birth, the miracles, and the resurrection.

Franklin, who has been called “the first American,” was a signer of the
Declaration of Independence and a member of the Constitutional Convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution. Like Jefferson, he wanted to maintain the moral code of Christianity as a rule for society, but he did not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Franklin was a great fan of the blasphemous French skeptic Voltaire. Instead of bringing his grandson Benny Bache to the feet of Jesus, Franklin sought Voltaire’s blessing on the boy (H.W. Brands, The First American, p. 563). Franklin participated enthusiastically in a eulogy following Voltaire’s death. It was held in a hall dressed in black and lit by candles. Franklin took his Masonic crown and laid it at the foot of a large painting of Voltaire (The First American, p. 565). At the end of his life, Franklin said “I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to [Christ’s] divinity.”

This being said, most of America’s Founding Fathers were opposed to slavery.

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States and son of John Adams, second President of the U.S., was called the “Hell Hound of Abolition” for his persistent efforts to end slavery. In 1837, he said that the nation’s founders were opposed to slavery. “The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the
Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country [Great Britain] and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery--in common with every other mode of oppression--was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth” (An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport, at Their request, on the Sixty-first Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837).

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, author of the
Declaration of Independence and America’s third president, inherited slaves from his father beginning at age 14 and owned slaves all his life, but he introduced legislation throughout his career to abolish slavery.

“How could the man who wrote that ‘All men are created equal’ own slaves? This, in essence, is the question most persistently asked of those who write about Thomas Jefferson, and by all indications it is the thing that contemporary Americans find most vexing about him. ... The question carries a silent assumption that because he practiced slave holding, Jefferson must have somehow believed in it, and must therefore have been a hypocrite. My belief is that this way of asking the question ... is essentially backward, and reflects the pervasive presentism of our time. Consider, for example, how different the question appears when inverted and framed in more historical terms: How did a man who was born into a slave holding society, whose family and admired friends owned slaves, who inherited a fortune that was dependent on slaves and slave labor, decide at an early age that slavery was morally wrong and forcefully declare that it ought to be abolished? Though stating the same case, these are obviously different questions, focusing on different things, but one is framed in a historical context and the other ignores historical circumstances. The rephrased question reveals that what is truly remarkable is that Jefferson went against his society and his own self-interest to denounce slavery and urge its abolition” (Douglas Wilson, “Thomas Jefferson and the Character Issue,”
The Atlantic Monthly, November 1992).

In 1778, he was instrumental in having the importation of slaves to Virginia banned. He introduced legislation in the Continental Congress to ban slavery, and it failed to pass by only one vote. He called slavery a “moral depravity” and a “hideous blot” (“Thomas Jefferson and Slavery,” Monticello.org). He feared that America would be destroyed by slavery and that it would lead to a civil war, which it did in 1861. As U.S. President, he continued to fight against slavery, but many American slave owners opposed him. He could not free his slaves upon his death, because he owed a large amount of money and his estate, including his slaves, had to be sold to pay the debt. In his
Memoir, written at age 77, Jefferson said, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate, than that these people are to be free.” Black American leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., praised Jefferson for his efforts to abolish slavery.

Recent scholarship claims that Jefferson fathered at least one child by one of his slaves named Sally Hemings, and this is possible, though it has not been absolutely proven.

We would note that Jefferson, as previously mentioned, was not a professing Christian or a believer in the Bible. Jefferson believed that Jesus was a good man and a great moral teacher, but he did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. As we have seen, Jefferson made his own “Bible” by cutting out everything from the Gospels pertaining to Christ’s virgin birth, miracles, atoning death, and resurrection.

George Washington

George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and America’s first President, inherited slaves and owned slaves until his death but his thinking about slavery gradually evolved toward an abolitionist position.

At great personal cost to his estate, he vowed that he would not sell his slaves even though he could have benefited financially from doing so. After the Revolutionary War, when he was deeply in debt, the sale of just one slave would have brought him enough income to pay his estate taxes for two years. He also refused to hire out his slaves, because he did not want to break up their families. He said, “To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species. To hire them out is almost as bad because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to disperse [break up] the families I have an aversion” (Washington letter to Robert Lewis, Aug. 18, 1799,
Washington’s Writings, 1980, Vol. 37, p. 338).

Washington was instrumental in having a federal law passed in the first year of his presidency (1789) prohibiting slavery in the new American territories. As a result, the new states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all prohibited slavery (“George Washington and the Washington Monument,” www.abschools.k12.wi.us, June 23, 2016).

In 1845, Daniel Webster described Washington’s efforts to abolish slavery in America:

“Soon after the adoption of the Constitution, it was declared by George Washington to be ‘among his first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery might be abolished by law;’ and in various forms in public and private communications, he avowed his anxious desire that ‘a spirit of humanity,’ prompting to ‘the emancipation of the slaves,’ ‘might diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people;’ and he gave the assurance, that ‘so far as his own suffrage would go,’ his influence should not be wanting to accomplish this result” (Webster, “Address to the People of the United States, ... to Lift Our Public Sentiment to a New Platform of Anti-slavery,” Jan. 29, 1845).

In 1793, Washington wrote to his secretary Tobias Lear and “expressed his repugnance at owning slaves and declared the principle reason for selling the land [his western lands] was to raise the finances that would allow him to liberate them” (“George Washington and Slavery,”
Wikipedia, citing Dorothy Twohig, “That Species of Property: Washington’s Role in the Controversy over Slavery,” in George Washington Reconsidered by Don Higginbotham; and Henry Wiencek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America). “In November the same year [1793], Washington demonstrated in a letter to his friend and neighbor Alexander Spotswood that the reluctance to sell slaves at a public venue, first seen in his letter to Lund Washington in 1778, had become an emphatic principle against ‘selling Negroes, as you would Cattle in the market...’” (Ibid., citing Twohig). “In 1795 and 1796, Washington devised a complicated plan that involved renting out his western lands to tenant farmers to whom he would lease his own slaves, and a similar scheme to lease the dower slaves he controlled to Dr. David Stuart for work on Stuart's Eastern Shore plantation. This plan would have involved breaking up slave families, but it was designed with an end goal of raising enough finances to fund their eventual emancipation (a detail Washington kept secret) and prevent the Custis heirs from permanently splitting up families by sale. None of these schemes could be realized because of his failure to sell or rent land at the right prices, the refusal of the Custis heirs to agree to them and his own reluctance to separate families” (“George Washington and Slavery,” Wikipedia).

Washington’s will called for the liberation of his slaves upon his wife’s death, and he required that young ones be educated to read and write and taught a useful occupation.

Many accounts were told by black men and women about Washington’s humility and lack of racial prejudice. My favorite was told by Primus Hall, the servant of Col. Timothy Pickering, one of General Washington’s favorite officers during the War of Independence. One evening Washington and Pickering talked late into the evening, and Washington asked Hall if there were straw and blankets enough for him to sleep there that night. Hall replied in the affirmative, and when it was time for him to retire, Washington was shown an extra bed in Pickering’s tent made of straw and blankets and laid down to sleep, not knowing that Hall had given him his own humble bed. When Washington woke up in the night and saw Hall sleeping at the Colonel’s desk, he realized what had happened and demanded that Hall share his bed. When Hall expressed surprise and told him not to trouble himself, Washington ordered him in an authoritative voice, “Primus, I say, come and lie down here! There is room for both, and I insist upon it.” Washington moved to one side of the straw bed, and the shocked black man did as he was told. “Primus professes to have been exceedingly shocked at the idea of lying under the same covering with the commander-in-chief, but his tone was so resolute and determined that he could not hesitate. He prepared himself, therefore, and laid himself down by Washington; and on the same straw, and under the same blanket, the General and the Negro servant slept until morning” (Henry Harrington, “Anecdotes of Washington,”
Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, June 1849).

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin owned slaves, but he became an abolitionist later in life and liberated his slaves. He was the president of the Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. He promoted the idea of educating former slaves and to help them find employment so they could fend for themselves.

John Dickinson

John Dickinson was a member of the First and Second Continental Congress and worked with Thomas Jefferson in writing the
Declaration of Independence. He was an officer during the War of Independence. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and was elected President of Delaware and President of Pennsylvania. Dickinson is the author of “The Liberty Song” (1768). The original chorus said, “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all, By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall; In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed, For heaven approves of each generous deed.”

Dickinson became an abolitionist and freed his slaves in 1776. He devoted his final years to the cause of abolition and donated a considerable amount of his wealth “to the relief of the unhappy.”

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush, signer of the
Declaration of Independence, denounced slavery in his tract On Slave Keeping (1773). He called it a “vice which degrades human nature.” He called on Americans to oppose it. “Remember the eyes of all Europe are fixed upon you, to preserve an asylum for freedom in this country after the last pillars of it are fallen in every other quarter of the globe.”

John Jay

John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1789-95), author of five of the
Federalist Papers, and Governor of New York, was a leading opponent of slavery. “His first two attempts to end slavery in New York in 1777 and 1785 failed, but a third in 1799 succeeded.” All slaves in New York were emancipated before his death in 1829.

Noah Webster

Noah Webster, who had a major influence on the U.S. Constitution through his 1787 essay
An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, called for slavery to be abolished in the United States. He founded an antislavery group called the Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Freedom. His influential Blue-Back Speller included an essay by Thomas Day calling for the abolition of slavery. Day argued that this was in accordance with the nation’s Declaration of Independence. He warned Americans that consistency required that they either acknowledge the rights of the Negroes or surrender their own rights.

The Constitutional Convention

During the Constitutional Convention (1787), when the U.S. Constitution was written and the American nation was formed at the federal level, there was a strong effort to abolish slavery. The opponents of slavery found, though, that it was impossible to form the nation on that basis, since the southern colonies refused to agree with that principle.

America’s Civil War

Those who criticize America on the slavery issue must acknowledge that the nation fought its most terrible and bloody war on that issue. The Civil War was fought between 1861-1865 after southern states seceded from the Union. A majority of Americans were so strongly opposed to slavery that they were willing to go to war against their fellow Americans to settle the matter. The southern states were called the Confederacy, and the northern states, the Union. About 750,000 died in the war.

There were other great issues involved in the American Civil War, particularly the issue of states rights. But slavery was definitely a fundamental issue in the conflict. This was stated plainly by the Confederate leaders.

Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, made the following statement on March 21, 1861, in Savannah, Georgia:

“The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions--African slavery as it exists among us--the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. ... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas [opposite from ‘all men are created equal’]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth” (Stephens,
Cornerstone Speech).

In May 1845, Baptists in southern states separated from their Baptist brethren in the northern states and formed the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The founding meeting was held at First Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia, and delegates voiced their approval of the institution of slavery. (In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention formally apologized for its former stance on slavery, and in 2012 the SBC elected a black pastor as president.)

On January 27, 1861, Ebenezer Warren, pastor of First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia, a prominent congregation in the SBC, preached a sermon entitled “Scriptural Vindication of Slavery.” This expressed the thinking of a large number of Southern whites in that day. He said:

“Slavery forms a vital element of the Divine Revelation to man. Its institution, regulation, and perpetuity, constitute a part of many of the books of the Bible. ... The public mind needs enlightening from the sacred teachings of inspiration on this subject. ... Both Christianity and Slavery are from heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time. ... Because Slavery is right; and because the condition of the slaves affords them all those privileges which would prove substantial blessings to them; and, too, because their Maker has decreed their bondage, and has given them, as a race, capacities and aspirations suited alone to this condition of life.”

The January 1864 issue of the
Religious Herald, the official paper of the Virginia Baptists, went so far as to call abolition “the final Antichrist.”

Southern Baptists justified slavery on the basis of the law of Moses. Following are some of the Mosaic principles on slavery:

- A Jewish slave was to be given his liberty after six years (Exodus 21:2), and the liberated servant was to be furnished liberally with goods (De. 15:12-15).
- If a master injured a slave so that he died, the master was to be punished (Ex. 21:20).
- If a slave was injured by his master, he was to be given his liberty (Ex. 21:26).
- Slaves were not to be “ruled with rigour” (Le. 25:53).
- If a slave escaped from his master, he was to be protected (De. 23:15-16).

But a reading of the Bible as a whole actually supports the abolition of slavery, because both the law of Moses and the Lord Jesus Christ taught that the heart and soul of God’s law is to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Lev. 19:18; Mat. 22:39). It is impossible to obey this divine command while enslaving another individual.

And any concept of racial superiority has zero biblical support. All men are children of Adam. All nations are “made of one blood” (Acts 17:26).

Why, then, did the law of Moses allow for slavery? Jesus explained this in Matthew 19. Like divorce, slavery was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart and his weak fallen condition (Mat. 19:7-8).

The Baptists in the north recognized that slavery was the chief cause of the war. The Illinois Baptists issued the following statement in June 1863: “We recognize human slavery now, as we have heretofore done, to be the cause of the war and its kindred evils, and we reiterate our convictions that there can be no peace and prosperity in the nation until it is destroyed” B.F. Morris,
Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, 1864, p. 754).

The outcome of the American Civil War was the complete abolishment of slavery. In December 1865, the 13th amendment of the Constitution was ratified, which abolished slavery in the United States. It came at great cost in American money and blood.

The Abolition Movement and Theological Liberalism

Many aspects of the Christian abolitionist movement were deeply influenced by theological liberalism and its social gospel.

For example, there was support for slaves rebelling against their masters. David Walker of Boston issued a fiery call for rebellion in his
Appeal in Four Articles in 1829. This radical side of the abolitionist movement ignored Bible commands such as 1 Corinthians 7:21-22; Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Peter 2:18-21.

The liberal social gospel allegorized Scripture to justify rebellion and even murder. For example, Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” interpreted the Union armies of the North as the coming of Christ. The “watch-fires” of the Union army camps are the altar of God, and “the burnish’d rows of steel” bayonets are the gospel. Howe was a Unitarian universalist who rejected Jesus Christ as the Son of God and denied the divine inspiration of Scripture. She delivered a pantheistic, universalistic message at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 entitled “What Is Religion?” (womenshistory.about.com/library/etext/bl_1893_pwr_howe.htm). Howe’s husband, Samuel, funded John Brown’s murderous insurrection attempt.

Harriet Beecher Stowe is known as “the little woman who started the big war,” as her book
Uncle Tom’s Cabin provoked hotheads on both sides of the issue. Her brother Henry Ward Beecher was the liberal pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. During Beecher’s career there, he opened his pulpit to Unitarians such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Horace Greeley and even to agnostics such as Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Beecher “once argued that a Sharps rifle held a better argument than a Bible for persuading slaveholders--hence these rifles were nicknamed ‘Beecher’s Bibles’ when used to combat the spread of slavery in the Kansas Territory before the American Civil War” (www.embassy.org.nz/encycl/u1encyc.htm). The Beechers were related to Julia Ward Howe.

Slavery has been practiced since the fall of man. It is not a a product of “racism”; it is not an issue of skin color; it is a product of man’s sinful heart because of which he practices far more hatred toward his fellow man than love of neighbor. Jesus described man’s condition with perfect accuracy:

And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).

Slavery has been practiced by the white man, the black man, the red man, and the yellow man, and every other kind of man.

That is a fact of history.

Slavery was practiced by the Babylonians, the Hittites, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Persians, the native Brits, the Dans, the Romans, the African kingdoms, the South American kingdoms, the Chinese, Indians, Nepalese, Burmese, Native Americans, the Muslim kingdoms.

That is a fact of man’s wretched history, and it is a reflection of man’s fallen condition.

It is also a fact of history as to who was at the forefront of the war against slavery. It wasn’t the Muslims. It wasn’t the Hindus or the Buddhists or the Anamists or the Atheists or the Humanists. It wasn’t Roman Catholics. It wasn’t the black African nations or the Asian nations or the South American nations or the Eskimos. It was (mostly) white Protestant and Baptist Christians in England and America.

This is a fact of history.

America’s role in the destruction of slavery in modern times is a fascinating study.

Timeline of the American Abolitionist Movement

There was widespread opposition to slavery from the time of the founding of the American colonies, and many of the Founding Fathers were opponents, but abolition became a groundswell movement during the Second Great Awakening, both in America and England. The culmination in America was the Civil War of 1860-65, after which slavery was officially abolished. Following are some of the important events:
1794 - The U.S. government passes a law prohibiting slavery in new American territories
------- The American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery is founded
1803 - The Pennsylvania Abolition Society is founded; Benjamin Rush, an American Founding Father, is elected the first president
1807 - The British government abolishes the slave trade, though the owning of slaves in British colonies is still legal
1808 - The British forms the
West Africa Squadron to capture slave ships. Between 1808-1860, the Squadron captures 1,600 slave ships and frees 150,000 slaves
------- The U.S. government outlaws American participation in the African slave trade
1821 - The first American anti-slavery newspaper is founded (
The Genius of Universal Emancipation)
1822 - Denmark Vessey unsuccessfully tries to lead a slave revolt in South Carolina
1830s - The Underground Railway is established to help runaway slaves escape to the northern states and Canada
1831 - Nate Turner leads a slave revolt in Virginia, resulting in stricter slave laws
1833 - Great Britain abolishes slavery
1833 - The American Antislavery Society is organized and within five years it has more than 1,350 chapters and 250,000 members
1852 - Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is influential in stirring abolitionist sentiment
1856 - The Republican Party is formed in America as a coalition of various political groups opposing slavery
1859 - John Brown unsuccessfully tries to capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, to launch a slave revolt
1860 - Abraham Lincoln is elected U.S. President, the first Republican party president
1861 - Eleven Southern states secede from the Union after the election of Abraham Lincoln
1862 - “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Julia Ward Howe is published
1863 - Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in the Confederate States
1865 - The Civil War ends and the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishes slavery in all states

AMERICA AND SLAVERY

From its founding, America has been a mixed multitude of people of varying principles, including religious principles.

Early America was strongly influenced by the Bible and most of its citizens were professing Christians of some sort, but there were all sorts of Christians, some born again and some “nominal,” trusting in baptism and good works rather than in a personal relationship with Christ, and there were also many non-Christians.

Even in the Plymouth Colony founded by the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower in 1620, there were nominal Christians and some non-Christians.

As on many issues, early America was divided on the issue of slavery.

On one side were those who believed in slavery and kept slaves.

On the other side, there were many in America who were opposed to slavery, even during the Colonial era. These understood that it was wrong and hypocritical to proclaim liberty for all men while keeping some men in bondage to slavery.

For example, Samuel Hopkins of Rhode Island sent a pamphlet to the Continental Congress “asking how they and Americans, so adverse to enslavement by British Parliament, could overlook the slavery of African-Americans ‘who have as good a claim to liberty as themselves’” (Angela Kamrath,
The Miracle of America).

In 1772, Baptist pastor John Allen of Boston preached that slavery violates the laws of God and the natural rights of men. He stated this in An Oration on the Beauties of Liberty, or The Essential Right of the Americans.

In 1791, Jonathan Edwards, famous Great Awakening preacher, published “The Injustice and Impolicy of the Slave Trade.” He cited Christ’s “Golden Rule” as evidence that slavery is not God’s will.

Hopkins, Allen, and Edwards represented the thinking of large numbers of Americans in that day.

American Quakers opposed slavery beginning in the 1670s. William Penn, a Quaker and the founder of Pennsylvania in 1682, owned slaves for a few years, but he treated them well and eventually freed them. In 1737, Quaker Benjamin Lay published a paper against “All Slave Keepers that Keep the Innocent in Bondage.” He called slavery “a notorious sin.” In 1774, the Quakers ended slavery among themselves, and those who persisted in owning slaves were expelled. Famous Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier was a strong voice against slavery. He edited the
Pennsylvania Freeman and promoted freedom for all men. Quakers had a prominent role in the Underground Railroad that helped southern slaves escape their masters. Quakers boycotted slave-produced goods in an attempt to put financial pressure on slaveholders. Philadelphia, the capital of Pennsylvania, was the home of the first black denomination in America, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Pennsylvania was the first American state to pass a slavery abolition act. This was in 1780, even before the end of the War of Independence. In Britain, Quakers were at the forefront of the movement that abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1838.

The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1833 under the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, and within seven years there were 2,000 auxiliary societies with a total membership of 150,000 to 200,000. This shows that anti-slavery sentiment was widespread in America.

Slavery in the 18th Century

It is important to understand the historical context. Slavery was widely accepted the world over at the time of America’s founding in the 18th century.

It is an institution nearly as old as man. Man’s “inhumanity” is the product of his sin nature. Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19). The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia practiced slavery, as did the Babylonian, the Persian, the Greek, and the Roman empires. Slavery was practiced in China and India and the Americas; it was practiced by the Mongols and Huns and Vikings and North American Indians.

From ancient times, Africans enslaved Africans. In many parts of Africa, a third of the population were enslaved by their fellow blacks beginning in AD 1300 and earlier, and in some parts of Africa the percentage was even higher. For the most part, it was black Africans who captured African slaves in the interior of the continent and brought them to the coasts for sale. Black tribal leaders, such as the kings of Dohomey, would raid and capture blacks from neighboring tribes and sell them. In the 1840s, King Gezo of Dahomey said, “The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth ... the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery” (Ibn Warraq,
Why the West Is Best: A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of Liberal Democracy, 2011, p. 114). What a wretched lullaby!

Islam practiced slavery from its inception in the seventh century AD and was at the heart of the slave trade on the Barbary Coast of Africa for hundreds of years. We have documented this in
The Bible and Islam, which is available as a free eBook from www.wayoflife.org.

England had a major role in the Atlantic slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. So did the Portuguese, Dutch, and French.

America’s Founding Fathers and Slavery

Like the early American population as a whole, the American Founders represented many beliefs.

Some were Bible-believing Christians who had personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Following are a few examples:

Samuel Adams (1722-1803), signer of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Massachusetts. In his last will and testament he wrote “I ... [rely] upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins” (Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, edited by William Wells, 1865, Vol. III, p. 379).

Charles Carroll (1737-1822), signer of the Declaration of Independence, framer of the Bill of Rights. “On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation and on His merits, not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts” (Letter from Carroll to Charles Wharton, Sep. 27, 1825).

Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814), signer of the Declaration of Independence, Attorney General of Massachusetts. “I am constrained to express my adoration of the Supreme Being, the Author of my existence, in full belief of His Providential goodness and His forgiving mercy revealed to the world through Jesus Christ, through whom I hope for never ending happiness in a future state” (Last Will and Testament, attested May 11, 1814).

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), signer of the Declaration of Independence and “Father of American Medicine.” “My only hope of salvation is in the infinite transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of His Son upon the Cross. Nothing but His blood will wash away my sins. I rely exclusively upon it” (The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush).

Roger Sherman (1721-1793), signer of the Declaration of Independence, framer of the Bill of Rights. “I believe that God ... did send His own Son to become man, die in the room and stead of sinners, and thus to lay a foundation for the offer of pardon and salvation to all mankind, so as all may be saved who are willing to accept the Gospel offer.” (The Life of Roger Sherman by Lewis Boutell, 1896, pp. 271-273).

John Witherspoon (1723-1794), signer of the Declaration of Independence. “... no man, whatever be his character or whatever be his hope, shall enter into rest unless he be reconciled to God though Jesus Christ” (The Works of John Witherspoon, 1815, Vol. V, pp. 245, 267).

On the other hand, some of America’s founders were skeptics who did not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and did not believe the Bible to be God’s infallible Word. The most prominent examples are Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Jefferson was the principal author of the
Declaration of Independence, the first Secretary of State under George Washington, and the third President of the United States. Jefferson made his own “Bible” by cutting out of the Gospels everything pertaining to the divine and miraculous in Jesus’ life. Jefferson’s “Bible” left out references to angels, prophecy, Christ’s deity, the virgin birth, the miracles, and the resurrection.

Franklin, who has been called “the first American,” was a signer of the
Declaration of Independence and a member of the Constitutional Convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution. Like Jefferson, he wanted to maintain the moral code of Christianity as a rule for society, but he did not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Franklin was a great fan of the blasphemous French skeptic Voltaire. Instead of bringing his grandson Benny Bache to the feet of Jesus, Franklin sought Voltaire’s blessing on the boy (H.W. Brands, The First American, p. 563). Franklin participated enthusiastically in a eulogy following Voltaire’s death. It was held in a hall dressed in black and lit by candles. Franklin took his Masonic crown and laid it at the foot of a large painting of Voltaire (The First American, p. 565). At the end of his life, Franklin said “I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to [Christ’s] divinity.”

This being said, most of America’s Founding Fathers were opposed to slavery.

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States and son of John Adams, second President of the U.S., was called the “Hell Hound of Abolition” for his persistent efforts to end slavery. In 1837, he said that the nation’s founders were opposed to slavery. “The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the
Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country [Great Britain] and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery--in common with every other mode of oppression--was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth” (An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport, at Their request, on the Sixty-first Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837).

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, author of the
Declaration of Independence and America’s third president, inherited slaves from his father beginning at age 14 and owned slaves all his life, but he introduced legislation throughout his career to abolish slavery.

“How could the man who wrote that ‘All men are created equal’ own slaves? This, in essence, is the question most persistently asked of those who write about Thomas Jefferson, and by all indications it is the thing that contemporary Americans find most vexing about him. ... The question carries a silent assumption that because he practiced slave holding, Jefferson must have somehow believed in it, and must therefore have been a hypocrite. My belief is that this way of asking the question ... is essentially backward, and reflects the pervasive presentism of our time. Consider, for example, how different the question appears when inverted and framed in more historical terms: How did a man who was born into a slave holding society, whose family and admired friends owned slaves, who inherited a fortune that was dependent on slaves and slave labor, decide at an early age that slavery was morally wrong and forcefully declare that it ought to be abolished? Though stating the same case, these are obviously different questions, focusing on different things, but one is framed in a historical context and the other ignores historical circumstances. The rephrased question reveals that what is truly remarkable is that Jefferson went against his society and his own self-interest to denounce slavery and urge its abolition” (Douglas Wilson, “Thomas Jefferson and the Character Issue,”
The Atlantic Monthly, November 1992).

In 1778, he was instrumental in having the importation of slaves to Virginia banned. He introduced legislation in the Continental Congress to ban slavery, and it failed to pass by only one vote. He called slavery a “moral depravity” and a “hideous blot” (“Thomas Jefferson and Slavery,” Monticello.org). He feared that America would be destroyed by slavery and that it would lead to a civil war, which it did in 1861. As U.S. President, he continued to fight against slavery, but many American slave owners opposed him. He could not free his slaves upon his death, because he owed a large amount of money and his estate, including his slaves, had to be sold to pay the debt. In his
Memoir, written at age 77, Jefferson said, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate, than that these people are to be free.” Black American leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., praised Jefferson for his efforts to abolish slavery.

Recent scholarship claims that Jefferson fathered at least one child by one of his slaves named Sally Hemings, and this is possible, though it has not been absolutely proven.

We would note that Jefferson, as previously mentioned, was not a professing Christian or a believer in the Bible. Jefferson believed that Jesus was a good man and a great moral teacher, but he did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. As we have seen, Jefferson made his own “Bible” by cutting out everything from the Gospels pertaining to Christ’s virgin birth, miracles, atoning death, and resurrection.

George Washington

George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and America’s first President, inherited slaves and owned slaves until his death but his thinking about slavery gradually evolved toward an abolitionist position.

At great personal cost to his estate, he vowed that he would not sell his slaves even though he could have benefited financially from doing so. After the Revolutionary War, when he was deeply in debt, the sale of just one slave would have brought him enough income to pay his estate taxes for two years. He also refused to hire out his slaves, because he did not want to break up their families. He said, “To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species. To hire them out is almost as bad because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to disperse [break up] the families I have an aversion” (Washington letter to Robert Lewis, Aug. 18, 1799,
Washington’s Writings, 1980, Vol. 37, p. 338).

Washington was instrumental in having a federal law passed in the first year of his presidency (1789) prohibiting slavery in the new American territories. As a result, the new states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all prohibited slavery (“George Washington and the Washington Monument,” www.abschools.k12.wi.us, June 23, 2016).

In 1845, Daniel Webster described Washington’s efforts to abolish slavery in America:

“Soon after the adoption of the Constitution, it was declared by George Washington to be ‘among his first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery might be abolished by law;’ and in various forms in public and private communications, he avowed his anxious desire that ‘a spirit of humanity,’ prompting to ‘the emancipation of the slaves,’ ‘might diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people;’ and he gave the assurance, that ‘so far as his own suffrage would go,’ his influence should not be wanting to accomplish this result” (Webster, “Address to the People of the United States, ... to Lift Our Public Sentiment to a New Platform of Anti-slavery,” Jan. 29, 1845).

In 1793, Washington wrote to his secretary Tobias Lear and “expressed his repugnance at owning slaves and declared the principle reason for selling the land [his western lands] was to raise the finances that would allow him to liberate them” (“George Washington and Slavery,”
Wikipedia, citing Dorothy Twohig, “That Species of Property: Washington’s Role in the Controversy over Slavery,” in George Washington Reconsidered by Don Higginbotham; and Henry Wiencek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America). “In November the same year [1793], Washington demonstrated in a letter to his friend and neighbor Alexander Spotswood that the reluctance to sell slaves at a public venue, first seen in his letter to Lund Washington in 1778, had become an emphatic principle against ‘selling Negroes, as you would Cattle in the market...’” (Ibid., citing Twohig). “In 1795 and 1796, Washington devised a complicated plan that involved renting out his western lands to tenant farmers to whom he would lease his own slaves, and a similar scheme to lease the dower slaves he controlled to Dr. David Stuart for work on Stuart's Eastern Shore plantation. This plan would have involved breaking up slave families, but it was designed with an end goal of raising enough finances to fund their eventual emancipation (a detail Washington kept secret) and prevent the Custis heirs from permanently splitting up families by sale. None of these schemes could be realized because of his failure to sell or rent land at the right prices, the refusal of the Custis heirs to agree to them and his own reluctance to separate families” (“George Washington and Slavery,” Wikipedia).

Washington’s will called for the liberation of his slaves upon his wife’s death, and he required that young ones be educated to read and write and taught a useful occupation.

Many accounts were told by black men and women about Washington’s humility and lack of racial prejudice. My favorite was told by Primus Hall, the servant of Col. Timothy Pickering, one of General Washington’s favorite officers during the War of Independence. One evening Washington and Pickering talked late into the evening, and Washington asked Hall if there were straw and blankets enough for him to sleep there that night. Hall replied in the affirmative, and when it was time for him to retire, Washington was shown an extra bed in Pickering’s tent made of straw and blankets and laid down to sleep, not knowing that Hall had given him his own humble bed. When Washington woke up in the night and saw Hall sleeping at the Colonel’s desk, he realized what had happened and demanded that Hall share his bed. When Hall expressed surprise and told him not to trouble himself, Washington ordered him in an authoritative voice, “Primus, I say, come and lie down here! There is room for both, and I insist upon it.” Washington moved to one side of the straw bed, and the shocked black man did as he was told. “Primus professes to have been exceedingly shocked at the idea of lying under the same covering with the commander-in-chief, but his tone was so resolute and determined that he could not hesitate. He prepared himself, therefore, and laid himself down by Washington; and on the same straw, and under the same blanket, the General and the Negro servant slept until morning” (Henry Harrington, “Anecdotes of Washington,”
Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, June 1849).

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin owned slaves, but he became an abolitionist later in life and liberated his slaves. He was the president of the Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. He promoted the idea of educating former slaves and to help them find employment so they could fend for themselves.

John Dickinson

John Dickinson was a member of the First and Second Continental Congress and worked with Thomas Jefferson in writing the
Declaration of Independence. He was an officer during the War of Independence. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and was elected President of Delaware and President of Pennsylvania. Dickinson is the author of “The Liberty Song” (1768). The original chorus said, “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all, By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall; In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed, For heaven approves of each generous deed.”

Dickinson became an abolitionist and freed his slaves in 1776. He devoted his final years to the cause of abolition and donated a considerable amount of his wealth “to the relief of the unhappy.”

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush, signer of the
Declaration of Independence, denounced slavery in his tract On Slave Keeping (1773). He called it a “vice which degrades human nature.” He called on Americans to oppose it. “Remember the eyes of all Europe are fixed upon you, to preserve an asylum for freedom in this country after the last pillars of it are fallen in every other quarter of the globe.”

John Jay

John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1789-95), author of five of the
Federalist Papers, and Governor of New York, was a leading opponent of slavery. “His first two attempts to end slavery in New York in 1777 and 1785 failed, but a third in 1799 succeeded.” All slaves in New York were emancipated before his death in 1829.

Noah Webster

Noah Webster, who had a major influence on the U.S. Constitution through his 1787 essay
An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, called for slavery to be abolished in the United States. He founded an antislavery group called the Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Freedom. His influential Blue-Back Speller included an essay by Thomas Day calling for the abolition of slavery. Day argued that this was in accordance with the nation’s Declaration of Independence. He warned Americans that consistency required that they either acknowledge the rights of the Negroes or surrender their own rights.

The Constitutional Convention

During the Constitutional Convention (1787), when the U.S. Constitution was written and the American nation was formed at the federal level, there was a strong effort to abolish slavery. The opponents of slavery found, though, that it was impossible to form the nation on that basis, since the southern colonies refused to agree with that principle.

America’s Civil War

Those who criticize America on the slavery issue must acknowledge that the nation fought its most terrible and bloody war on that issue. The Civil War was fought between 1861-1865 after southern states seceded from the Union. A majority of Americans were so strongly opposed to slavery that they were willing to go to war against their fellow Americans to settle the matter. The southern states were called the Confederacy, and the northern states, the Union. About 750,000 died in the war.

There were other great issues involved in the American Civil War, particularly the issue of states rights. But slavery was definitely a fundamental issue in the conflict. This was stated plainly by the Confederate leaders.

Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, made the following statement on March 21, 1861, in Savannah, Georgia:

“The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions--African slavery as it exists among us--the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. ... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas [opposite from ‘all men are created equal’]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth” (Stephens,
Cornerstone Speech).

In May 1845, Baptists in southern states separated from their Baptist brethren in the northern states and formed the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The founding meeting was held at First Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia, and delegates voiced their approval of the institution of slavery. (In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention formally apologized for its former stance on slavery, and in 2012 the SBC elected a black pastor as president.)

On January 27, 1861, Ebenezer Warren, pastor of First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia, a prominent congregation in the SBC, preached a sermon entitled “Scriptural Vindication of Slavery.” This expressed the thinking of a large number of Southern whites in that day. He said:

“Slavery forms a vital element of the Divine Revelation to man. Its institution, regulation, and perpetuity, constitute a part of many of the books of the Bible. ... The public mind needs enlightening from the sacred teachings of inspiration on this subject. ... Both Christianity and Slavery are from heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time. ... Because Slavery is right; and because the condition of the slaves affords them all those privileges which would prove substantial blessings to them; and, too, because their Maker has decreed their bondage, and has given them, as a race, capacities and aspirations suited alone to this condition of life.”

The January 1864 issue of the
Religious Herald, the official paper of the Virginia Baptists, went so far as to call abolition “the final Antichrist.”

Southern Baptists justified slavery on the basis of the law of Moses. Following are some of the Mosaic principles on slavery:

- A Jewish slave was to be given his liberty after six years (Exodus 21:2), and the liberated servant was to be furnished liberally with goods (De. 15:12-15).
- If a master injured a slave so that he died, the master was to be punished (Ex. 21:20).
- If a slave was injured by his master, he was to be given his liberty (Ex. 21:26).
- Slaves were not to be “ruled with rigour” (Le. 25:53).
- If a slave escaped from his master, he was to be protected (De. 23:15-16).

But a reading of the Bible as a whole actually supports the abolition of slavery, because both the law of Moses and the Lord Jesus Christ taught that the heart and soul of God’s law is to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Lev. 19:18; Mat. 22:39). It is impossible to obey this divine command while enslaving another individual.

And any concept of racial superiority has zero biblical support. All men are children of Adam. All nations are “made of one blood” (Acts 17:26).

Why, then, did the law of Moses allow for slavery? Jesus explained this in Matthew 19. Like divorce, slavery was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart and his weak fallen condition (Mat. 19:7-8).

The Baptists in the north recognized that slavery was the chief cause of the war. The Illinois Baptists issued the following statement in June 1863: “We recognize human slavery now, as we have heretofore done, to be the cause of the war and its kindred evils, and we reiterate our convictions that there can be no peace and prosperity in the nation until it is destroyed” B.F. Morris,
Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, 1864, p. 754).

The outcome of the American Civil War was the complete abolishment of slavery. In December 1865, the 13th amendment of the Constitution was ratified, which abolished slavery in the United States. It came at great cost in American money and blood.

The Abolition Movement and Theological Liberalism

Many aspects of the Christian abolitionist movement were deeply influenced by theological liberalism and its social gospel.

For example, there was support for slaves rebelling against their masters. David Walker of Boston issued a fiery call for rebellion in his
Appeal in Four Articles in 1829. This radical side of the abolitionist movement ignored Bible commands such as 1 Corinthians 7:21-22; Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Peter 2:18-21.

The liberal social gospel allegorized Scripture to justify rebellion and even murder. For example, Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” interpreted the Union armies of the North as the coming of Christ. The “watch-fires” of the Union army camps are the altar of God, and “the burnish’d rows of steel” bayonets are the gospel. Howe was a Unitarian universalist who rejected Jesus Christ as the Son of God and denied the divine inspiration of Scripture. She delivered a pantheistic, universalistic message at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 entitled “What Is Religion?” (womenshistory.about.com/library/etext/bl_1893_pwr_howe.htm). Howe’s husband, Samuel, funded John Brown’s murderous insurrection attempt.

Harriet Beecher Stowe is known as “the little woman who started the big war,” as her book
Uncle Tom’s Cabin provoked hotheads on both sides of the issue. Her brother Henry Ward Beecher was the liberal pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. During Beecher’s career there, he opened his pulpit to Unitarians such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Horace Greeley and even to agnostics such as Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Beecher “once argued that a Sharps rifle held a better argument than a Bible for persuading slaveholders--hence these rifles were nicknamed ‘Beecher’s Bibles’ when used to combat the spread of slavery in the Kansas Territory before the American Civil War” (www.embassy.org.nz/encycl/u1encyc.htm). The Beechers were related to Julia Ward Howe.



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