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SLAVERY ORDAINED OF GOD
Rev. Fred. A. Ross, D.D.
“The powers that be are ordained of God.” Romans xiii. 1.
NORTH AND SOUTH,
WHO HONOR THE WORD OF GOD
LOVE THEIR COUNTRY.
The book I give to the public, is not made up of isolated articles. It is one harmonious demonstration–that slavery is part of the government ordained in certain conditions of fallen mankind. I present the subject in the form of speeches, actually delivered, and letters written just as published. I adopt this method to make a readable book.
I give it to the North and South–to maintain harmony among Christians, and to secure the integrity of the union of this great people.
This harmony and union can be preserved only by the view presented in this volume,–_i.e._ that _slavery is of God_, and to continue for the good of the slave, the good of the master, the good of the whole American family, until another and better destiny may be unfolded.
The _one great idea_, which I submit to North and South, is expressed in the speech, first in order, delivered in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, May 27, 1853. I therein say:–
“Let us then, North and South, bring our minds to comprehend _two ideas_, and submit to their irresistible power. Let the Northern philanthropist learn from the Bible that the relation of master and slave is not sin _per se_. Let him learn that God says nowhere it is sin. Let him learn that sin is the transgression of the law; and where there is no law there is no sin, and that _the Golden Rule_ may exist in the relations of slavery. Let him learn that slavery is simply an evil _in certain circumstances_. Let him learn that _equality_ is only the highest form of social life; that _subjection_ to authority, even _slavery_, may, in _given conditions_, be _for a time_ better than freedom to the slave of any complexion. Let him learn that _slavery_, like _all evils_, has its _corresponding_ and _greater good_; that the Southern slave, though degraded _compared with his master, is elevated and ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa_. Let the Northern man learn these things, and be wise to cultivate the spirit that will harmonize with his brethren of the South, who are lovers of liberty as truly as himself: And let the Southern Christian–nay, the Southern man of every grade–comprehend that _God never intended the relation of master and slave to be perpetual_. Let him give up the theory of Voltaire, that the negro is of a different species. Let him yield the semi-infidelity of Agassiz, that God created different races of the same species–in swarms, like bees–for Asia, Europe, America, Africa, and the islands of the sea. Let him believe that slavery, although not a sin, is a degraded condition,–the evil, the curse on the South,–yet having blessings in its time to the South and to the Union. Let him know that slavery is to pass away in the fulness of Providence. Let the South believe this, and prepare to obey the hand that moves their destiny.”
All which comes after, in the speech delivered in New York, 1856, and in the letters, is just the expansion of this one controlling thought, which must be understood, believed, and acted out North and South.
Written in Cleveland, Ohio, May 28, 1857.
Speech Before the General Assembly at Buffalo Speech Before the General Assembly at New York Letter to Rev. A. Blackburn
What Is the Foundation of Moral Obligation?
Letters to Rev. A. Barnes:–
I.–Results of the slavery agitation–Declaration of Independence– The way men are made infidels–Testimonies of General Assemblies II.–Government over man a divine institute III.–Man-stealing
IV.–The Golden Rule
Speech Delivered at Buffalo, Before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.
To understand the following speech, the reader will be pleased to learn–if he don’t know already–that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, before its division in 1838, and since,–both Old School and New School,–has been, for forty years and more, bearing testimony, after a fashion, against the system of slavery; that is to say, affirming, in one breath, that slave-holding is a “blot on our holy religion,” &c. &c.; and then, in the next utterance, making all sorts of apologies and justifications for the slave-holder. Thus: this august body has been in the habit of telling the Southern master (especially in the Detroit resolutions of 1850) that he is a _sinner_, hardly meet to be called a _Christian_; but, nevertheless, if he will only sin “from unavoidable necessity, imposed by the laws of the States,”–if he will only sin under the “obligations of guardianship,”–if he will only sin “from the demands of humanity,”–why, then, forsooth, he may be a slave-holder as long as _he has a mind to_. Yea, he may hold one slave, one hundred or one thousand slaves, and till the day of judgment.
Happening to be in attendance, as a member of the body, in Buffalo, May, 1853, when, as usual, the system of slavery was touched, in a series of questions sent down to the church courts below, I made the following remarks, in good-natured ridicule of such preposterous and stultifying testimony; and, as an argument, opening the views I have since reproduced in the second speech of this volume, delivered in the General Assembly which convened in New York, May, 1856, and also in the letters following:–
BUFFALO, FRIDAY, May 27, 1853.
The order of the day was reached at a quarter before eleven, and the report read again,–viz.:
“1. That this body shall reaffirm the doctrine of the second resolution adopted by the General Assembly, convened in Detroit, in 1850, and,
“2. That with an express disavowal of any intention to be impertinently inquisitorial, and for the sole purpose of arriving at the truth, so as to correct misapprehensions and allay all causeless irritation, a committee be appointed of one from each of the synods of Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia, who shall be requested to report to the next General Assembly on the following points:–1. The number of slave-holders in connection with the churches, and the number of slaves held by them. 2. The extent to which slaves are held from an unavoidable necessity imposed by the laws of the States, the obligations of guardianship, and the demands of humanity. 3. Whether the Southern churches regard the sacredness of the marriage relation as it exists among the slaves; whether baptism is duly administered to the children of the slaves professing Christianity, and in general, to what extent and in what manner provision is made for the religious well-being of the slave,” &c. &c.
Dr. Ross moved to amend the report by substituting the following,–with an express disavowal of being impertinently inquisitorial:–that a committee of _one_ from each of the Northern synods of —- be appointed, who shall be requested to report to the next General Assembly,–
1. The number of Northern church-members concerned, directly or indirectly, in building and fitting out ships for the African slave-trade, and the slave-trade between the States.
2. The number of Northern church-members who traffic with slave-holders, and are seeking to make money by selling them negro-clothing, handcuffs, and cowhides.
3. The number of Northern church-members who have sent orders to New Orleans, and other Southern cities, to have slaves sold, to pay debts owing them from the South. [See Uncle Tom’s Cabin.]
4. The number of Northern church-members who buy the cotton, sugar, rice, tobacco, oranges, pine-apples, figs, ginger, cocoa, melons, and a thousand other things, raised by slave-labor.
5. The number of Northern church-members who have intermarried with slave-holders, and have thus become slave-owners themselves, or enjoy the wealth made by the blood of the slave,–especially if there be any Northern ministers of the gospel in such a predicament.
6. The number of Northern church-members who are the descendants of the men who kidnapped negroes in Africa and brought them to Virginia and New England in former years.
7. The aggregate and individual wealth of members thus descended, and what action is best to compel them to disgorge this blood-stained gold, or to compel them to give dollar for dollar in equalizing the loss of the South by emancipation.
8. The number of Northern church-members, ministers especially, who have advocated _murder_ in resistance to the laws of the land.
9. The number of Northern church-members who own stock in under-ground railroads, running off fugitive slaves, and in Sabbath-breaking railroads and canals.
10. That a special commission be sent up Red River, to ascertain whether Legree, who whipped Uncle Tom to death, (and who was a Northern _gentleman_,) be not still in connection with some Northern church in good and regular standing.
11. The number of Northern church-members who attend meetings of Spiritual Rappers,–or Bloomers,–or Women’s-Rights Conventions.
12. The number of Northern church-members who are cruel husbands.
13. The number of Northern church-members who are hen-pecked husbands.
[As it is always difficult to know the temper of speaker and audience from a printed report, it is due alike to Dr. R., to the whole Assembly, and the galleries, to say, that he, in reading these resolutions, and throughout his speech, evinced great good-humour and kindness of feeling, which was equally manifested by the Assembly and spectators, repeatedly, while he was on the floor.]
Dr. Ross then proceeded:–Mr. Moderator, I move this amendment in the best spirit. I desire to imitate the committee in their refinement and delicacy of distinction. I disavow all intention to be _impertinently_ inquisitorial. I intend to be inquisitorial, as the committee say they are,–but not _impertinently_ so. No, sir; not at all; not at all. (Laughter.) Well, sir, we of the South, who desire the removal of the evil of slavery, and believe it will pass away in the developments of Providence, are grieved when we read your graphic, shuddering pictures of the “middle passage,”–the slave-ship, piling up her canvas, as the shot pours after her from English or American guns,–see her again and again hurrying hogshead after hogshead, filled with living slaves, into the deep, and, thus lightened, escape. Sir, what horror to believe that clipper-ship was built by the hands of Northern, noisy Abolition church-members! [“Yes, I know some in New York and Boston,” said one in the crowd.] Again, sir, when we walk along your _Broadways_, and see, as we do, the soft hands of your church-members sending off to the South, not only clothing for the slave, but manacles and whips, manufactured expressly for him,–what must we think of your consistency of character? [True, true.] And what must we think of your self-righteousness, when we know your church-members order the sale of slaves,–yes, slaves such as St. Clair’s,–and under circumstances involving all the separations and all the loathsome things you so mournfully deplore? Your Mrs. Stowe says so, and it is so, without her testimony. I have read that splendid, bad book. Splendid in its genius, over which I have wept, and laughed, and got mad, (here some one said, “All at the same time?”) yes–all at the same time. Bad in its theology, bad in its morality, bad in its temporary evil influence here in the North, in England, and on the continent of Europe; bad, because her isolated cruelties will be taken (whether so meant by her or not) as the general condition of Southern life,–while her Shelbys, and St. Clairs, and Evas, will be looked upon as angel-visitors, lingering for a moment in that earthly hell. The _impression made by the book is a falsehood_.
Sir, why do your Northern church-members and philanthropists buy Southern products at all? You know you are purchasing cotton, rice, sugar, sprinkled with blood, literally, you say, from the lash of the driver! Why do you buy? What’s the difference between my filching this blood-stained cotton from the outraged negro, and your standing by, taking it from me? What’s the difference? You, yourselves, say, in your abstractions, there is no difference; and yet you daily stain your hands in this horrid traffic. You hate the traitor, but you love the treason. Your ladies, too,–oh, how they shun the slave-owner _at a distance_, in _the abstract_! But alas, when they see him in the _concrete_,–when they see the slave-owner _himself_, standing before them,–not the brutal driver, but the splendid gentleman, with his unmistakable grace of carriage and ease of manners,–why, lo, behold the lady says, “Oh, fie on your slavery!–what a _wretch_ you are! But, indeed, sir, I love your sugar,–and truly, truly, sir, _wretch_ as you are, I love you too.” Your gentlemen talk just the same way when they behold our matchless women. And well for us all it is, that your good taste, and hearts, can thus appreciate our genius, and accomplishments, and fascinations, and loveliness, and sugar, and cotton. Why, sir, I heard this morning, from one pastor only, of two or three of his members thus intermarried in the South. May I thus give the mildest rebuke to your inconsistency of conduct? (Much good-natured excitement.)
Sir, may we know who are the descendants of the New England kidnappers? What is their wealth? Why, here you are, all around me. You, gentlemen, made the best of that bargain. And you have kept every dollar of your money from the charity of emancipating the slave. You have left us, unaided, to give millions. Will you now come to our help? Will you give dollar for dollar to equalize our loss? [Here many voices cried out, “Yes, yes, we will.”]
Yes, yes? Then pour out your millions. Good. I may thank you personally. My own emancipated slaves would to-day be worth greatly more than $20,000. Will you give me back $10,000? Good. I need it now.
I recommend to you, sirs, to find out your advocates of _murder_,–your owners of stock in under-ground railroads,–your Sabbath-breakers for money. I particularly urge you to find Legree, who whipped Uncle Tom to death. He is a Northern _gentleman_, although having a somewhat Southern name. Now, sir, you know the Assembly was embarrassed all yesterday by the inquiry how the Northern churches may find their absent members, and what to do with them. Here then, sir, is a chance for you. Send a committee up Red River. You may find Legree to be a Garrison, Phillips, Smith, or runaway husband from some Abby Kelly. [Here Rev. Mr. Smith protested against Legree being proved to be a Smith. Great laughter. [Footnote: This gentleman was soon after made a D.D., and I think in part for that witticism.]] I move that you bring him back to lecture on the _cuteness_ there is in leaving a Northern church, going South, changing his name, buying slaves, and calculating, without _guessing_, what the profit is of killing a negro with inhuman labor above the gain of treating him with kindness.
I have little to say of spirit-rappers, women’s-rights conventionists, Bloomers, cruel husbands, or hen-pecked. But, if we may believe your own serious as well as caricature writers, you have things up here of which we down South know very little indeed. Sir, we have no young Bloomers, with hat to one side, cigar in mouth, and cane tapping the boot, striding up to a mincing young gentleman with long curls, attenuated waist, and soft velvet face,–the boy-lady to say, “May I see you home, sir?” and the lady-boy to reply, “I thank ye–no; pa will send the carriage.” Sir, we of the South don’t understand your women’s-rights conventions. Women have their wrongs. “The Song of the Shirt,”–Charlotte Elizabeth,–many, many laws,–tell her wrongs. But your convention ladies despise the Bible. Yes, sir; and we of the South are afraid _of them_, and _for you_. When women despise the Bible, what next? _Paris,–then the City of the Great Salt Lake,–then Sodom, before_ and _after the Dead Sea_. Oh, sir, if slavery tends in any way to give the _honour of chivalry_ to Southern young gentlemen towards ladies, and the exquisite delicacy and heavenly integrity and love to Southern maid and matron, it has then a glorious blessing with its curse.
Sir, your inquisitorial committee, and the North so far as represented by them, (a small fraction, I know,) have, I take it, caught a Tartar this time. Boys say with us, and everywhere, I _reckon_, “You worry my dog, and I’ll worry your cat.” Sir, it is just simply a _fixed fact: the South will not submit to these questions_. No, not for an instant. We will not permit you to approach us at all. If we are morbidly sensitive, you have made us so. But you are directly and grossly violating the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church. The book forbids you to put such questions; the book forbids _you to begin discipline_; the book forbids your sending this committee to help common fame bear testimony against us; the book guards the honour of our humblest member, minister, church, presbytery, against all this impertinently-inquisitorial action. Have you a _prosecutor_, with his definite charge and witnesses? Have you _Common Fame_, with her specified charges and witnesses? Have you a request from the South that you send a committee to inquire into slanders? No. Then hands off. As gentlemen you may ask us these questions,–we will answer you. But, ecclesiastically, you cannot speak in this matter. You have no power to move as you propose.
I beg leave to say, just here, that Tennessee [Footnote: At that time I resided in Tennessee.] will be more calm under this movement than any other slave-region. Tennessee has been ever high above the storm, North and South,–especially we of the mountains. Tennessee!–“there she is,–look at her,”–binding this Union together like a great, long, broad, deep stone,–more splendid than all in the temple of Baalbec or Solomon. Tennessee!–there she is, in her calm valour. I will not lower her by calling her unconquerable, for she has never been assailed; but I call her ever-victorious. King’s Mountain,–her pioneer battles:–Talladega, Emucfau, Horse-shoe, New Orleans, San Jacinto, Monterey, the Valley of Mexico. Jackson represented her well in his chivalry from South Carolina,–his fiery courage from Virginia and Kentucky,–all tempered by Scotch-Irish Presbyterian prudence from Tennessee. We, in his spirit, have looked on this storm for years untroubled. Yes, Jackson’s old bones rattled in their grave when that infamous disunion convention met in Nashville, and its members turned pale and fled aghast. Yes, Tennessee, in her mighty million, feels secure; and, in her perfect preparation to discuss this question, politically, ecclesiastically, morally, metaphysically, or physically, with the extreme North or South, she is willing and able _to persuade others to be calm_. In this connection, I wish to say, for the South to the North, and to the world, that we have no fears from our slave-population. There might be a momentary insurrection and bloodshed; but destruction to the black man would be inevitable. The Greeks and Romans controlled immense masses of white slaves,–many of them as intelligent as their lords. Schoolmasters, fabulists, and poets were slaves. Athens, with her thirty thousand freemen, governed half a million of bondmen. Single Roman patricians owned thirty thousand. If, then, the phalanx and the legion mastered such slaves for ages, when battle was physical force of man to man, how certain it is that infantry, cavalry, and artillery could hold in bondage millions of Africans for a thousand years!
But, dear brethren, our Southern philanthropists do not seek to have this unending bondage; Oh, no, no. And I earnestly entreat you to “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” Assume a masterly inactivity, and you will behold all you desire and pray for,–you will see _America liberated from the curse of slavery_.
The great question of the world is, WHAT IS TO BE THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN SLAVE?–WHAT IS TO BE THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN MASTER? The following _extract from the “Charleston Mercury”_ gives my view of the subject with great and condensed particularity:–
“Married, Thursday, 26th inst., the Hon. Cushing Kewang, Secretary of State of the United States, to Laura, daughter of Paul Coligny, Vice-President of the United States, and one of our noblest Huguenot families. We learn that this distinguished gentleman, with his bride, will visit his father, the Emperor of China, at his summer palace, in Tartary, north of Pekin, and return to the Vice-President’s Tea Pavilion, on Cooper River, ere the meeting of Congress.” The editor of the “Mercury” goes on to say: “This marriage in high life is only one of many which have signalized that immense emigration from Christianized China during the last seventy-five years, whereby Charleston has a population of 1,250,000, and the State of South Carolina over 5,000,000,–an emigration which has wonderfully harmonized with the great exodus of the negro race to Africa.” [Some gentleman here requested to know of Dr. Ross the date of the “Charleston Mercury” recording this marriage. The doctor replied, “The date is 27th May, 1953, exactly one hundred years from this day.” Great laughter.]
Sir, this is a dream; but it is not all a dream. No, I verily believe you have there the Gordian knot of slavery untied; you have there the solution of the problem; you have there the curtain up, and the last scene in the last act of the great drama of Ham.
I am satisfied with the tendencies of things. I stand on the mountain-peak above the clouds. I see, far beyond the storm, the calm sea and blue sky; I see the Canaan of the African. I like to stand there on the Nebo of his exodus, and look across, not the Jordan, but the Atlantic. I see the African crossing as certainly as if I gazed upon the ocean divided by a great wind, and piled up in walls of green glittering glass on either hand, the dry ground, the marching host, and the pillar of cloud and of fire. I look over upon the Niger, black with death to the white man, instinct with life to the children of Ham. _There_ is the black man’s home. Oh, how strange that you of the North see not how you degrade him when you keep him here! You will not let him vote; you will not let him rise to honors or social equality; you will not let him hold a pew in your churches. Send him away, then; tell him, begone. Be urgent, like the Egyptians: send him out of this land. _There_, in his fatherland, he will exhibit his own type of Christianity. He is, of all races, the most gentle and kind. The _man_, the most submissive; the _woman_, the most affectionate. What other slaves would love their masters better than themselves?–rock them and fan them in their cradles? caress them–how tenderly!–boys and girls? honor them, grown up, as superior beings? and, in thousands of illustrious instances, be willing to give life, and, in fact, die, to serve or save them? Verily, verily, this emancipated race may reveal the most amiable form of spiritual life, and the _jewel_ may glitter on the Ethiop’s brow in meaning more sublime than all in the poet’s imagery. Brethren, let them go; and, when they are gone,–ay, before they go away,–rear a monument; let it grow in greatness, if not on your highest mountain, in your hearts,–in lasting memory of the South,–in memory of your wrong to the South,–in memory of the self-denial of the South, and her philanthropy in training the slave to be free, enlightened, and Christian.
Can all this be? Can this double emigration civilize Africa and more than re-people the South? Yes; and I regard the difficulties presented here, in Congress, or the country, as little worth. God intends both emigrations. And, without miracle, he will accomplish both. Difficulties! There are no difficulties. Half a million emigrate to our shores, from Ireland, and all Europe, every year. And you gravely talk of difficulties in the negro’s way to Africa! Verily, God will unfold their destiny as fast, and as fully, as he sees best for the highest good of the slave, the highest good of the master, and the glory of Christ in Africa.
And, sir, there are forty thousand Chinese in California. And in Cuba, this day, American gentlemen are cultivating sugar, with Chinese hired labor, more profitably than the Spaniards and their slaves. Oh! there is China–half the population of the globe–just fronting us across that peaceful sea,–her poor, living on rats and a pittance of red rice,–her rich, hoarding millions in senseless idolatry, or indulging in the luxuries of birds’-nests and roasted ice. Massed together, they must migrate. Where can they go? They must come to our shores. They must come, even did God forbid them. But he will hasten their coming. They can live in the extremest South. It is their latitude,–their side of the ocean. They can cultivate cotton, rice, sugar, tea, and the silkworm. Their skill, their manipulation, is unrivalled. Their commonest gong you can neither make nor explain. They are a law-abiding people, without castes, accustomed to rise by merit to highest distinctions, and capable of the noblest training, when their idolatry, which is waxing old as a garment, shall be folded up as a vesture and changed for _that_ whose years shall not fail. The English ambassador assures us that the Chinese negotiator of the late treaty was a splendid gentleman, and a diplomatist to move in any court of Europe. Shem, then, can mingle with Japheth in America.
The Chinese must come. God will bring them. He will fulfil Benton’s noble thought. The railroad must complete the voyage of Columbus. The statue of the Genoese, on some peak of the Rocky Mountains, high above the flying cars, must point to the West, saying, “There is the East! There is India and Cathay.”
Let us, then, North and South, bring our minds to comprehend _two ideas_, and submit to their irresistible power. Let the Northern philanthropist learn from the Bible that the relation of master and slave is not sin _per se_. Let him learn that God nowhere says it is sin. Let him learn that sin is the transgression of the law; and where there is no law, there is no sin; and that _the golden rule_ may exist in the relations of slavery. Let him learn that slavery is simply an evil _in certain circumstances_. Let him learn that _equality_ is only the highest form of social life; that _subjection_ to authority, even _slavery_, may, in _given conditions_, be _for a time_ better than freedom to the slave, of any complexion. Let him learn that _slavery_, like _all evils_, has its _corresponding_ and _greater good_; that the Southern slave, though degraded _compared with his master_, is _elevated_ and _ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa_. Let the Northern man learn these things, and be wise to cultivate the spirit that will harmonize with his brethren of the South, who are lovers of liberty as truly as himself. And let the Southern Christian–nay, the Southern man of every grade–comprehend that _God never intended the relation of master and slave to be perpetual_. Let him give up the theory of Voltaire, that the negro is of a different species. Let him yield the semi-infidelity of Agassiz, that God created different races of the same species–in swarms, like bees–for Asia, Europe, America, Africa, and the islands of the sea. Let him believe that slavery, although not a sin, is a degraded condition,–the evil, the curse on the South,–yet having blessings in its time to the South and to the Union. Let him know that slavery is to pass away, in the fulness of Providence. Let the South believe this, and prepare to obey the hand that moves their destiny.
Ham will be ever lower than Shem; Shem will be ever lower than Japheth. All will rise in the Christian grandeur to be revealed. Ham will be lower than Shem, because he was sent to Central Africa. Man south of the Equator–in Asia, Australia, Oceanica, America, especially Africa–is inferior to his Northern brother. The _blessing_ was upon Shem in his magnificent Asia. The _greater blessing_ was upon Japheth in his man-developing Europe. _Both blessings_ will be combined, in America, _north of the Zone_, in commingled light and life. I see it all in the first symbolical altar of Noah on that mound at the base of Ararat. The father of all living men bows before the incense of sacrifice, streaming up and mingling with the rays of the rising sun. His noble family, and all flesh saved, are grouped round about him. There is Ham, at the foot of the green hillock, standing, in his antediluvian, rakish recklessness, near the long-necked giraffe, type of his _Africa_,–his magnificent wife, seated on the grass, her little feet nestling in the tame lion’s mane, her long black hair flowing over crimson drapery and covered with gems from mines before the flood. Higher up is Shem, leaning his arm over that mouse-colored horse,–his _Arab_ steed. His wife, in pure white linen, feeds the elephant, and plays with his lithe proboscis,–the mother of Terah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, and Christ. And yet she looks up, and bows in mild humility, to _her_ of Japheth, seated amid plumed birds, in robes like the sky. Her noble lord, meanwhile, high above all, stands, with folded arms, following that eagle which wheels up towards Ararat, displaying his breast glittering with stars and stripes of scarlet and silver,–radiant heraldry, traced by the hand of God. Now he purifies his eye in the sun, and now he spreads his broad wings in symbolic flight to the _West_, until lost to the prophetic eye of Japheth, under the bow of splendors set that day in the cloud. God’s covenant with man,–oh, may the bow of covenant between us be here to-day, that the waters of _this flood_ shall never again threaten our beloved land!
Speech Delivered in the General Assembly New York, 1856.
The circumstances, under which this speech was delivered, are sufficiently shown in the statement below.
It was not a hasty production. After being spoken, it was prepared for the “Journal of Commerce,” with the greatest care I could give to it: most of it was written again and again. Unlike Pascal, who said, as to his longest and inferior sixteenth letter, that he had not had time to make it shorter, I had time; and I did condense in that one speech the matured reflections of my whole life. I am calmly satisfied I am right. I am sure God has said, and does say, “Well done.”
The speech brings to view a wide range of thought, all belonging to the subject of slavery, of immense importance. As introductory,–there is the question of the abolition agitation the last thirty years; then, what is right and wrong, and the foundation of moral obligation; then, the definition of sin; next, the origin of human government, and the relations, in which God has placed men under his rule of subjection; finally, the word of God is brought to sustain all the positions taken.
The challenge to argue the question of slavery from the Bible was thrown down on the floor of the Assembly, as stated. Presently I took up the gauntlet, and made this argument. The challenger never claimed his glove, then nor since; nor has anybody, so far as I know, attempted to refute this speech. Nothing has come to my ears (save as to two points, to be noticed hereafter) but reckless, bold denial of God’s truth, infidel affirmation without attempt at proof, and denunciations of myself.
_Dr. Wisner_ having said that he would argue the question on the Bible at a following time, Dr. Ross rose, when he took his seat, and, taking his position on the platform near the Moderator’s chair, said,–
“I accept the challenge given by Dr. Wisner, to argue the question of slavery from the Scriptures.”
_Dr. Wisner_.–Does the brother propose to go into it here?
_Dr. Ross_.–Yes, sir.
_Dr. Wisner_.–Well, I did not propose to go into it here.
_Dr. Ross_.–You gave the challenge, and I accept it.
_Dr. Wisner_.–I said I would argue it at a proper time; but it is no matter. Go ahead.
_Dr. Beman_ hoped the discussion would be ruled out. He did not think it a legitimate subject to go into,–Moses and the prophets, Christ and his apostles, and all intermediate authorities, on the subject of what the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America had done.
_Judge Jessup_ considered the question had been opened by this report of the majority: after which _Dr. Beman_ withdrew his objection, and _Dr. Ross_ proceeded.
I am not a slave-holder. Nay, I have shown some self-denial in that matter. I emancipated slaves whose money-value would now be $40,000. In the providence of God, my riches have entirely passed from me. I do not mean that, like the widow, I gave all the living I had. My estate was then greater than that slave-property. I merely wish to show I have no selfish motive in giving, as I shall, the true Southern defence of slavery. (Applause.) I speak from Huntsville, Alabama, my present home. That gem of the South, that beautiful city where the mountain softens into the vale,–where the water gushes, a great fountain, from the rock,–where around that living stream there are streets of roses, and houses of intelligence and gracefulness and gentlest hospitality,–and, withal, where so high honor is ever given to the ministers of God.
Speaking then from that region where “_Cotton is king_,” I affirm, contrary as my opinion is to that most common in the South, that the slavery agitation has accomplished and will do great good. I said so, to ministerial and political friends, twenty-five years ago. I have always favored the agitation,–just as I have always countenanced discussion upon all subjects. I felt that the slavery question needed examination. I believed it was not understood in its relations to the Bible and human liberty. Sir, the light is spreading North and South. ‘Tis said, I know, this agitation has increased the severity of slavery. True, but for a moment only, in the days of the years of the life of this noble problem. Farmers tell us that deep ploughing in poor ground will, for a year or two, give you a worse crop than before you went so deep; but that that deep ploughing will turn up the under-soil, and sun and air and rain will give you harvests increasingly rich. So, this moral soil, North and South, was unproductive. It needed deep ploughing. For a time the harvest was worse. Now it is becoming more and more abundant. The political controversy, however fierce and threatening, is only for power. But the moral agitation is for the harmony of the Northern and Southern mind, in the right interpretations of Scripture on this great subject, and, of course, for the ultimate union of the hearts of all sensible people, to fulfil God’s intention,–to bless the white man and the black man in America. I am sure of this. I take a wide view of the progress of the destiny of this vast empire. I see God in America. I see him in the North and in the South. I see him more honored in the South to-day than he was twenty-five years ago; and that that higher regard is due, mainly, to the agitation of the slavery question. Do you ask how? Why, sir, this is the how. Twenty-five years ago the religious mind of the South was leavened by wrong Northern training, on the great point of the right and wrong of slavery. Meanwhile, powerful intellects in the South, following the mere light of a healthy good sense, guided by the common grace of God, reached the very truth of this great matter,–namely, that the relation of the master and slave is not sin; and that, notwithstanding its admitted evils, it is a connection between the highest and the lowest races of man, revealing influences which may be, and will be, most benevolent for the ultimate good of the master and the slave,–conservative on the Union, by preserving the South from all forms of Northern fanaticism, and thereby being a great balance-wheel in the working of the tremendous machinery of our experiment of self-government. This seen result of slavery was found to be in absolute harmony with the word of God. These men, then, of highest grade of thought, who had turned in scorn from Northern notions, now see, in the Bible, that these notions are false and silly. They now read the Bible, never examined before, with growing respect. God is honored, and his glory will be more and more in their salvation. These are some of the moral consummations of this agitation in the South. The development has been twofold in the North. On the one hand, some anti-slavery men have left the light of the Bible, and wandered into the darkness until they have reached the blackness of the darkness of infidelity. Other some are following hard after, and are throwing the Bible into the furnace,–are melting it into iron, and forging it, and welding it, and twisting it, and grooving it into the shape and significance and goodness and gospel of Sharpe’s rifles. Sir, are you not afraid that some of your once best men will soon have no better Bible than that?
But, on the other hand, many of your brightest minds are looking intensely at the subject, in the same light in which it is studied by the highest Southern reason. Ay, sir, mother-England, old fogy as she is, begins to open her eyes. What, then, is our gain? Sir, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in many of its conceptions, could not have been written twenty-five years ago. That book of genius,–over which I and hundreds in the world have freely wept,–true in all its facts, false in all its impressions,–yea, as false in the prejudice it creates to Southern social life as if Webster, the murderer of Parkman, may be believed to be a personification of the _elite_ of honor in Cambridge, Boston, and New England. Nevertheless, Uncle Tom’s Cabin could not have been written twenty-five years ago. Dr. Nehemiah Adams’s “_South-Side View_” could not have been written twenty-five years ago. Nor Dr. Nathan Lord’s “_Letter of Inquiry_.” Nor Miss Murray’s book. Nor “_Cotton is King_”. Nor Bledsoe’s “_Liberty and Slavery”_. These books, written in the midst of this agitation, are all of high, some the highest, reach of talent and noblest piety; all give, with increasing confidence, the present Southern Bible reading on Slavery. May the agitation, then, go on! I know the New School Presbyterian church has sustained some temporary injury. But God is honored in his word. The reaction, when the first abolition-movement commenced, has been succeeded by the sober second thought of the South. The sun, stayed, is again travelling in the greatness of his strength, and will shine brighter and brighter to the perfect day.
My only fear, Mr. Moderator, is that, as you Northern people are so prone to go to extremes in your zeal and run every thing into the ground, you may, perhaps, become _too pro-slavery;_ and that we may have to take measures against your coveting, over much, our daughters, if not our wives, our men-servants, our maid-servants, our houses, and our lands. (Laughter.)
Sir, I come now to the Bible argument. I begin at the beginning of eternity! (Laughter.) WHAT is RIGHT AND WRONG? _That’s the question of questions_.
Two theories have obtained in the world. The one is, that right and wrong are eternal facts; that they exist _per se_ in the nature of things; that they are ultimate truths above God; that he must study, and does study, to know them, as really as man. And that he comprehends them more clearly than man, only because he is a better student than man. Now, sir, _this theory is atheism_. For if right and wrong are like mathematical truths–fixed facts–then I may find them out, as I find out mathematical truths, without instruction from God. I do not ask God to tell me that one and one make two. I do not ask him to reveal to me the demonstrations of Euclid. I thank him for the mind to perceive. But I perceive mathematical relations without his telling me, because they exist independent of his will. If, then, moral truths, if right and wrong, if rectitude and sin, are, in like manner, fixed, eternal facts,–if they are out from and above God, like mathematical entities,–then I may find them for myself. I may condescend, perhaps, to regard the Bible as a hornbook, in which God, an older student than I, tells _me_ how to _begin_ to learn what he had to study; or I may decline to be taught, through the Bible, how to learn right and wrong. I may think the Bible was good enough, may be, for the Israelite in Egypt and in Canaan; good enough for the Christian in Jerusalem and Antioch and Rome, but not good enough, even as a hornbook, for me,–the man of the nineteenth century,–the man of Boston, New York, and Brooklyn! Oh, no. I may think I need it not at all. What next? Why, sir, if I may think I need not God to teach me moral truth, I may think I need him not to teach me any thing. What next? The irresistible conclusion is, I may think I can live without God; that Jehovah is a myth,–a name; I may bid him stand aside, or die. Oh, sir, _I will be_ the fool to say there is no God. This is the result of the notion that right and wrong exist in the nature of things.
The other theory is, that right and wrong are results brought into being, mere contingencies, means to good, made to exist solely by the will of God, expressed through his word; or, when his will is not thus known, he shows it in the human reason by which he rules the natural heart. This is so; because God, in making all things, saw that in the relations he would constitute between himself and intelligent creatures, and among themselves, NATURAL GOOD AND EVIL would come to pass. In his benevolent wisdom, he then _willed_ LAW, to control this _natural good and evil_. And he thereby made _conformity_ to that law to be _right_, and _non-conformity_ to be _wrong_. Why? Simply because he saw it to be good, and made it to be right; not because _he saw it to be right_, but because he _made it to be right_.
Hence, the ten specific commandments of the one moral law of love are just ten rules which God made to regulate the natural good and evil which he knew would be in the ten relations, which he himself constituted between himself and man, and between man and his neighbor. The Bible settles the question:–_sin is the transgression of the law, and where there is no law there is no sin_.
I must-advance one step further. _What is sin_, as a mental state? Is it some quality–some concentrated essence–some elementary moral particle in the nature of things–something black, or red, like crimson, in the constitution of the soul, or the soul and body as amalgamated? No. Is it self-love? No. Is it selfishness? No. What is it? Just exactly, _self-will._ Just that. I, the creature, WILL _not submit_ to _thy_ WILL, God, the Creator. It is the I AM, _created_, who dares to defy and dishonor the I AM, not created,–the Lord God, the Almighty, Holy, Eternal.
_That_ IS SIN, _per se_. And that is all of it,–so help me God! Your child there–John–says to his father, “I WILL _not to submit_ to your will.” “Why not, John?” And he answers and says, “Because I WILL _not_.” There, sir, John has revealed _all of sin_, on earth or in hell. Satan has never said–can never say–more. “I, Satan, WILL NOT, because I WILL _not to submit_ to thee, God; MY WILL, not thine, shall be.”
This beautiful theory is the ray of light which leads us from night, and twilight, and fog, and mist, and mystification, on this subject, to clear day. I will illustrate it by the law which has controlled and now regulates the most delicate of all the relations of life,–viz.: that of the intercourse between the sexes. I take this, because it presents the strongest apparent objections to my argument.
Cain and Abel married their sisters. Was it wrong in the nature of things? [Here Dr. Wisner spoke out, and said, “Certainly.”] I deny it. What an absurdity, to suppose that God could not provide for the propagation of the human race from one pair, without _requiring them to sin!_ Adam’s sons and daughters must have married, had they remained in innocence. They must then have sinned in Eden, from the very necessity of the command upon the race:–“Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” (Gen. i. 28). What pure nonsense! There, sir!–_that_, my one question, Dr. Wisner’s reply, and my rejoinder, bring out, perfectly, the two theories of right and wrong. Sir, Abraham married his half-sister. And there is not a word forbidding such marriage, until God gave the law (Lev. xviii.) prohibiting marriage in certain degrees of consanguinity. That law made, then, such marriage _sin_. But God gave no such law in the family of Adam; because he made, himself, the marriage of brother and sister the way, and the only way, for the increase of the human race. _He commanded them thus to marry. They would have sinned had they not thus married_; for they would have transgressed his law. Such marriage was not even a natural evil, in the then family of man. But when, in the increase of numbers, it became a natural evil, physical and social, God placed man on a higher platform for the development of civilization, morals, and religion, and then made the law regulating marriages in the particulars of blood. But he still left polygamy untouched. [Here Dr. Wisner again asked if Dr. R. regarded the Bible as sustaining the polygamy of the Old Testament.] Dr. R.–Yes, sir; yes, sir; yes, sir. Let the reporters mark _that_ question, and my answer. (Laughter.) My principle vindicates God from unintelligible abstractions. I fearlessly tell what the Bible says. In its strength, I am not afraid of earth or hell. I fear only God. God made no law against polygamy, in the beginning. Therefore it was no sin for a man to have more wives than one. God sanctioned it, and made laws in regard to it. Abraham had more wives than one; Jacob had, David had, Solomon had. God told David, by the mouth of Nathan, when he upbraided him with his ingratitude for the blessings he had given him, and said, “And I gave thee thy master’s house, and _thy master’s wives_ into thy bosom.” (2 Sam. xvii. 8.)
God, in the gospel, places man on another platform, for the revelation of a nobler social and spiritual life. He now forbids polygamy. _Polygamy now is sin_–not because it is in itself sin. No; but because God forbids it,–to restrain the natural and social evil, and to bring out a higher humanity. And see, sir, how gently in the gospel the transition from the lower to the higher table-land of our progress upward is made. Christ and his apostles do not declare polygamy to be sin. The new law is so wisely given that nothing existing is rudely disturbed. The minister of God, unmarried, must have only one wife at the same time. This law, silently and gradually, by inevitable and fair inference of its meaning, and from the example of the apostles, passed over the Christian world. God, in the gospel, places us in this higher and holier ground and air of love. We sin, then, if we marry the sister, and other near of kin; and we sin if we marry, at the same time, more wives than one, not because there is sin in the thing itself, whatever of natural evil there might be, but because in so doing we transgress God’s law, given to secure and advance the good of man. I might comment in the same way on every one of the ten commandments, but I pass on.
The subject of slavery, in this view of _right and wrong_, is seen in the very light of heaven. And you, Mr. Moderator, know that, if the view I have presented be true, I have got you. (Great laughter.)
[The Moderator said, very pleasantly–Yes–_if_–but it is a _long if_.] (Continued laughter.)
Dr. R. touched the Moderator on the shoulder, and said, Yes, _if_–it is a _long if_; for it is this:–_if_ there is a God, he is not Jupiter, bowing to the Fates, but God, the sovereign over the universe he has created, in which he makes right, by making law to be known and obeyed by angels and men, in their varied conditions.
He gave Adam _that_ command,–sublime in its simplicity, and intended to vindicate the principle I am affirming,–that there is no right and wrong in the nature of things. There was no right or wrong, _per se_, in eating or willing to eat of that tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But God made the law,–_Thou shall not eat of that tree_. As if he had said,–I seek to _test_ the submission of your will, freely, to my will. And, that your test may be perfect, I will let your temptation be nothing more than your natural desire for that fruit. Adam sinned. What was the sin?
Adam said, in heart, MY WILL, _not thine_, SHALL BE. _That_ was the sin,–_the simple transgression of God’s law_, when there was neither sin nor evil in the _thing_ which God forbade to be done.
Man fell and was cursed. The law of the control of the superior over the inferior is now to begin, and is to go on in the depraved conditions of the fallen and cursed race. And, FIRST, God said to the woman, “_Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” There,_ in that law, is _the beginning of government ordained of God. There_ is the beginning of the rule of the superior over the inferior, bound to obey. _There_, in the family of Adam, is the germ of the rule in the tribe,–the state. Adam, in his right, from God, to rule over his wife and his children, had _all the authority_ afterwards expanded in the patriarch and the king. This simple, beautiful fact, there, on the first leaf of the Bible, solves the problem, whence and how has man right to rule over man. In that great fact God gives his denial to the idea that government over man is the result of a social compact, in which each individual man living in a state of natural liberty, yielded some of that liberty to secure the greater good of government. Such a thing never was; such a thing never could have been. _Government was ordained and established before the first child was born:_–“HE SHALL RULE OVER THEE.” Cain and Abel were born in a _state_ as perfect as the empire of Britain or the rule of these United States. All that Blackstone, and Paley, and Hobbs, or anybody else, says about the social compact, is flatly and fully denied and upset by the Bible, history, and common sense. Let any New York lawyer–or even a Philadelphia lawyer–deny this if he dares. _Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness_ never were the _inalienable_ right of the _individual_ man.
His self-control, in all these particulars, _from the beginning_, was subordinate to the good of the family,–the empire. The command to Noah was,–“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” (Gen. ix. 6.)
This command to shed blood was, and is, in perfect harmony with the law,–“Thou shalt not kill.” There is nothing right or wrong in _the taking of life_, per se, or in itself considered. It may or it may not be a natural good or evil. As a _general fact_, the taking of life is a natural evil. Hence, “Thou shalt not kill” is the general rule, to preserve the good there is in life. To take life under the forbidden conditions is sin, simply because God forbids it under those conditions. The sin is not in taking life, but in transgressing God’s law.
But _sometimes_ the taking of life will secure a greater good. God, then, commands that life be taken. Not to take life, under the commanded conditions, is sin,–solely because God then commands it.
This power over life, for the good of the one great family of man, God _delegated_ to Noah, and through him to the tribe, the clan, the kingdom, the empire, the democracy, the republic, as they may be governed by chief, king, emperor, parliament, or congress. Had Ham killed Shem, Noah would have commanded Japheth to slay him. So much for the origin of the power over life: now for the power over liberty.
The right to take life included the right over liberty. But God intended the rule of the superior over the inferior, in relations of service, should _exemplify human depravity, his curse and his overruling blessing_.
The rule and the subordination which is essential to the existence of the family, God made commensurate with mankind; for _mankind is only the congeries of families_. When Ham, in his antediluvian recklessness, laughed at his father, God took occasion to give to the world the rule of the superior over the inferior. _He cursed him. He cursed him because he left him unblessed_. The withholding of the father’s blessing, in the Bible, was curse. Hence Abraham prayed God, when Isaac was blessed, that Ishmael might not be passed by. Hence Esau prayed his father, when Jacob was blessed, that he might not be left untouched by his holy hands. Ham was cursed to render service, forever, to Shem and Japheth. The _special_ curse on Canaan made the general curse on Ham conspicuous, historic, and explanatory, simply because his descendants were to be brought under the control of God’s peculiar people. Shem was blessed to rule over Ham. Japheth was blessed to rule over both. God sent Ham to Africa, Shem to Asia, Japheth to Europe. Mr. Moderator, you have read Guyot’s “_Earth and Man_.” That admirable book is a commentary upon this part of Genesis. It is the philosophy of geography. And it is the philosophy of the rule of the higher races over the inferior, written on the very face of the earth. He tells you why the continents are shaped as they are shaped; why the mountains stand where they stand; why the rivers run where they run; why the currents of the sea and the air flow as they flow. And he tells you that the earth south of the Equator makes the inferior man. That the oceanic climate makes the inferior man in the Pacific Islands. That South America makes the inferior man. That the solid, unindented Southern Africa makes the inferior man. That the huge, heavy, massive, magnificent Asia makes the huge, heavy, massive, magnificent man. That Europe, indented by the sea on every side, with its varied scenery, and climate, and Northern influences, makes the varied intellect, the versatile power and life and action, of the master-man of the world. And it is so. Africa, with here and there an exception, has never produced men to compare with the men of Asia. For six thousand years, save the unintelligible stones of Egypt, she has had no history. Asia has had her great men and her name. But Europe has ever shown, and now, her nobler men and higher destiny. Japheth has now come to North America, to give us his past greatness and his transcendent glory. (Applause.) And, sir, I thank God our mountains stand where they stand; and that our rivers run where they run. Thank God they run not across longitudes, but across latitudes, from north to south. If they crossed longitudes, we might fear for the Union. But I hail the Union,–made by God, strong as the strength of our hills, and ever to live and expand,–like the flow and swell of the current of our streams. (Applause.)
These two theories of Right and Wrong,–these two ideas of human liberty,–the right, in the nature of things, or the right as made by God,–the liberty of the individual man, of Atheism, of Red Republicanism, of the devil,–or the liberty of man, in the family, in the State, the liberty from God,–these two theories now make the conflict of the world. This anti-slavery battle is only part of the great struggle: God will be victorious,–and we, in his might.
I now come to particular illustrations of the world-wide law that service shall be rendered by the inferior to the superior. The relations in which such service obtains are very many. Some of them are these:–husband and wife; parent and child; teacher and scholar; commander and soldier,–sailor; master and apprentice; master and hireling; master and slave. Now, sir, all these relations are ordained of God. They are all directly commanded, or they are the irresistible law of his providence, in conditions which must come up in the progress of depraved nature. The relations themselves are all good in certain conditions. And there may be no more of evil in the lowest than in the highest. And there may be in the lowest, as really as in the highest, the fulfilment of the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself, and of doing unto him whatsoever thou wouldst have him to do unto thee.
Why, sir, the wife everywhere, except where Christianity has given her elevation, is _the slave_. And, sir, I say, without fear of saying too strongly, that for every sigh, every groan, every tear, every agony of stripe or death, which has gone up to God from the relation of master and slave, there have been more sighs, more groans, more tears, and more agony in the rule of the husband over the wife. Sir, I have admitted, and do again admit, without qualification, that every fact in Uncle Tom’s Cabin has occurred in the South. But, in reply, I say deliberately, what one of your first men told me, that he who will make the horrid examination will discover in New York City, in any number of years past, more cruelty from husband to wife, parent to child, _than in all the South from master to slave_ in the same time. I dare the investigation. And you may extend it further, if you choose,–to all the results of honor and purity. I fear nothing on this subject. I stand on rock,–the Bible,–and therefore, just before I bring the Bible, to which all I have said is introductory, I will run a parallel between the relation of master and slave and that of husband and wife. I will say nothing of the grinding oppression of capital upon labor, in the power of the master over the hireling–the crushed peasant–the chain-harnessed coal-pit woman, a thousand feet under ground, working in darkness, her child toiling by her side, and another child not born; I will say nothing of the press-gang which fills the navy of Britain–the conscription which makes the army of France–the terrible floggings–the awful court-martial–the quick sentence–the lightning-shot–the chain, and ball, and every-day lash–the punishment of the soldier, sailor, slave, who had run away. I pass all this by: I will run the parallel between the slave and wife.
Do you say, The slave is held to _involuntary service?_ So is the wife. Her relation to her husband, in the immense majority of cases, is made for her, and not by her. And when she makes it for herself, how often, and how soon, does it become involuntary! How often, and how soon, would she throw off the yoke if she could! O ye wives, I know how superior you are to your husbands in many respects,–not only in personal attraction, (although in that particular, comparison is out of place,) in grace, in refined thought, in passive fortitude, in enduring love, and in a heart to be filled with the spirit of heaven. Oh, I know all this. Nay, I know you may surpass him in his own sphere of boasted prudence and worldly wisdom about dollars and cents. Nevertheless, he has authority, from God, to rule over you. You are under service to him. You are bound to obey him _in all things_. Your service is very, very, very often involuntary from the first, and, if voluntary at first, becomes hopeless necessity afterwards. I know God has laid upon the husband to love you as Christ loved the church, and in that sublime obligation has placed you in the light and under the shadow of a love infinitely higher, and purer, and holier than all talked about in the romances of chivalry. But the husband may not so love you. He may rule you with the rod of iron. What can you do? Be divorced? God forbids it, save for crime. Will you say that you are free,–that you will go where you please, do as you please? Why, ye dear wives, your husbands may forbid. And listen, you cannot leave New York, nor your palaces, any more than your shanties. No; you cannot leave your parlor, nor your bedchamber, nor your couch, if your husband commands you to stay there! What can you do? Will you run away, with your stick and your bundle? He can advertise you!! What can you do? You can, and I fear some of you do, wish him, from the bottom of your hearts, at the bottom of the Hudson. Or, in your self-will, you will do just as you please. (Great laughter.)
[A word on the subject of divorce. One of your standing denunciations on the South is the terrible laxity of the marriage vow among the slaves. Well, sir, what does your Boston Dr. Nehemiah Adams say? He says, after giving eighty, sixty, and the like number of applications for divorce, and nearly all granted at individual quarterly courts in New England,–he says he is not sure but that the marriage relation is as enduring among _the slaves in the South_ as it is among white people in New England. I only give what Dr. Adams says. I would fain vindicate the marriage relation from this rebuke. But one thing I will say: you seldom hear of a divorce in Virginia or South Carolina.]
But to proceed:–
Do you say the slave is _sold and bought?_ So is the wife the world over. Everywhere, always, and now as the general fact, however done away or modified by Christianity. The savage buys her. The barbarian buys her. The Turk buys her. The Jew buys her. The Christian buys her,–Greek, Armenian, Nestorian, Roman Catholic, Protestant. The Portuguese, the Spaniard, the Italian, the German, the Russian, the Frenchman, the Englishman, the New England man, the New Yorker,–especially the upper ten,–_buy the wife_–in many, very many cases. She is seldom bought in the South, and never among the slaves themselves; for they always marry for love. (Continued laughter.) Sir, I say the wife is bought in the highest circles, too often, as really as the slave is bought. Oh, she is not sold and purchased in the public market. But come, sir, with me, and let us take the privilege of spirits out of the body to glide into that gilded saloon, or into that richly comfortable family room, of cabinets, and pictures, and statuary: see the parties, there, to sell and buy that human body and soul, and make her a chattel! See how they sit, and bend towards each other, in earnest colloquy, on sofa of rosewood and satin,–_Turkey_ carpet (how befitting!) under feet, sunlight over head, softened through stained windows: or it is night, and the gas is turned nearly off, and the burners gleam like stars through the shadow from which the whisper is heard, in which that old ugly brute, with gray goatee–how fragrant!–bids one, two, five, ten hundred thousand dollars, and _she_ is knocked off to him,–that beautiful young girl asleep up there, amid flowers, and innocent that she is sold and bought. Sir, that young girl would as soon permit a baboon to embrace her, as that old, ignorant, gross, disgusting wretch to approach her. Ah, has she not been sold and bought for money? But–But what? But, you say, she freely, and without parental authority, accepted him. Then she sold herself for money, and was guilty of _that_ which is nothing better than legal prostitution. I know what I say; you know what I say. Up there in the gallery you know: you nod to one another. Ah! you know the parties. Yes, you say: All true, true, true. (Laughter.)
Now, Mr. Moderator, I will clinch all I have said by nails sure, and fastened from the word of God.
There is King James’s English Bible, with its magnificent dedication. I bring the English acknowledged translation. And just one word more to push gently aside–for I am a kind man to those poor, deluded anti-slavery people–their last argument. It is _that_ this English Bible, in those parts which treat of slavery, don’t give the ideas which are found in the original Hebrew and Greek. Alas for the common people!–alas for this good old translation! Are its days numbered? No, sir; no, sir. The Unitarian, the Universalist, the Arminian, the Baptist, when pressed by this translation, have tried to find shelter for their false isms by making or asking for a new rendering. And now the anti-slavery men are driving hard at the same thing. (Laughter.) Sir, shall we permit our people everywhere to have their confidence in this noble translation undermined and destroyed by the isms and whims of every or any man in our pulpits? I affirm, whatever be our perfect liberty of examination into God’s meaning in all the light of the original languages, that there is a respect due to this received version, and that great caution should be used, lest we teach the people to doubt its true rendering from the original word of God. I protest, sir, against having a Doctor-of-Divinity _priest_, Hebrew or Greek, to tell the people what God has spoken on the subject of slavery or any other subject. (Laughter.) I would as soon have a Latin priest,–I would as soon have Archbishop Hughes,–I would as soon go to Rome as to Jerusalem or Athens,–I would as soon have the Pope at once in his fallible infallibility,–as ten or twenty, little or big, anti-slavery Doctor-of-Divinity priests, each claiming to give his infallible rendering, however differing from his peer. (Laughter.) I never yet produced this Bible, in its plain unanswerable authority, for the relation of master and slave, but the anti-slavery man ran away into the fog of _his_ Hebrew or Greek, (laughter,) or he jabbered the nonsense that God permitted the _sin_ of slaveholding among the Jews, but that he don’t do it now! Sir, God sanctioned slavery then, and sanctions it now. He made it right, they know, then and now. Having thus taken the last puff of wind out of the sails of the anti-slavery phantom ship, turn to the twenty-first chapter of Exodus, vs. 2-5. God, in these verses, gave the Israelites his command how they should buy and hold the Hebrew servant,–how, under certain conditions, he went free,–how, under other circumstances, he might be held to service forever, with his wife and her children. There it is. Don’t run into the Hebrew. (Laughter.)
But what have we here?–vs. 7-11:–“And if a man sell his daughter to be a maid-servant, she shall not go out as the men-servants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he hath betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” Now, sir, the wit of man can’t dodge that passage, unless he runs away into the Hebrew. (Great laughter.) For what does God say? Why, this:–that an Israelite might sell his own daughter, not only into servitude, but into polygamy,–that the buyer might, if he pleased, give her to his son for a wife, or take her to himself. If he took her to himself, and she did not please him, he should not sell her unto a strange nation, but should allow her to be redeemed by her family. But, if he took him another wife before he allowed the first one to be redeemed, he should continue to give the first one _food_, her _raiment_, and her _duty of marriage_; that is to say, _her right to his bed_. If he did not do _these three things_, she should go out free; _i.e._ cease to be his slave, without his receiving any money for her. There, sir, God sanctioned the Israelite father in selling his daughter, and the Israelite man to buy her, into slavery and into polygamy. And it was then right, because God made it right. In verses 20 and 21, you have these words:–“And if a man smite his servant or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall be surely punished; notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” What does this passage mean? Surely this:–if the master gave his slave a hasty blow with a rod, and he died under his hand, he should be punished. But, if the slave lived a day or two, it would so extenuate the act of the master he should not be punished, inasmuch as he would be in that case sufficiently punished in losing his money in his slave. Now, sir, I affirm that God was more lenient to the degraded Hebrew master than Southern laws are to the higher Southern master in like cases. But there you have what was the divine will. Find fault with God, ye anti-slavery men, if you dare. In Leviticus, xxv. 44-46, “Both thy bondmen and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they beget in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen forever.”
Sir, I do not see how God could tell us more plainly that he did command his people to buy slaves from the heathen round about them, and from the stranger, and of their families sojourning among them. The passage has no other meaning. Did God merely permit sin?–did he merely tolerate a dreadful evil? God does not say so anywhere. He gives his people law to buy and hold slaves of the heathen forever, on certain conditions, and to buy and hold Hebrew slaves in variously-modified particulars. Well, how did the heathen, then, get slaves to sell? Did they capture them in war?–did they sell their own children? Wherever they got them, they sold them; and God’s law gave his people the right to buy them.
God in the New Testament made no law prohibiting the relation of master and slave. But he made law regulating the relation under Greek and Roman slavery, which was the most oppressive in the world.
God saw that these regulations would ultimately remove the evils in the Greek and Roman systems, and do it away entirely from the fitness of things, as there existing; for Greek and Roman slaves, for the most part, were the equals in all respects of their masters. AEsop was a slave; Terence was a slave. The precepts in Colossians iv. 18, 23, 1 Tim. vi. 1-6, and other places, show, unanswerably, that God as really sanctioned the relation of master and slave as those of husband and wife, and parent and child; and that all the obligations of the moral law, and Christ’s law of love, might and must be as truly fulfilled in the one relation as in the other. The fact that he has made the one set of relations permanent, and the other more or less dependent on conditions of mankind, or to pass away in the advancement of human progress, does not touch the question. He sanctioned it under the Old Testament and the New, and ordains it now while he sees it best to continue it, and he now, as heretofore, proclaims the duty of the master and the slave. Dr. Parker’s admirable explanation of Colossians, and other New Testament passages, saves me the necessity of saying any thing more on the Scripture argument.
One word on the Detroit resolutions, and I conclude. Those resolutions of the Assembly of 1850 decide that slavery is sin, unless the master holds his slave as a guardian, or under the claims of humanity.
Mr. Moderator, I think we had on this floor, yesterday, proof conclusive that those resolutions mean any thing or nothing; that they are a fine specimen of Northern skill in platform-making; that it put in a plank here, to please this man,–a plank there, to please that man,–a plank for the North, a broad board for the South. It is Jackson’s judicious tariff. It is a gum-elastic conscience, stretched now to a charity covering all the multitude of our Southern sins, contracted now, giving us hardly a fig-leaf of righteousness. It is a bowl of punch,–
A little sugar to make it sweet,
A little lemon to make it sour,
A little water to make it weak,
A little brandy to give it power. (Laughter.)
As a Northern argument against us, it is a mass of lead so heavy that it weighed down even the strong shoulders of Judge Jessup. For, sir, when he closed his speech, I asked him a single question I had made ready for him. It was this:–“Do you allow that Mr. Aiken, of South Carolina, may, under the claims of humanity, hold three thousand slaves, or must he emancipate them?” The Judge staggered, and stammered, and said, “No man could rightly hold so many.” I then asked, “How many may he hold, in humanity?” The Judge saw his fatal dilemma. He recovered himself handsomely, and fairly said, “Mr. Aiken might hold three thousand slaves, in harmony with the Detroit action.” I replied, “Then, sir, you have surrendered the whole question of Southern slavery.” And, sir, the Judge looked as if he felt he had surrendered it. And every man in this house, capable of understanding the force of that question, felt it had shivered the whole anti-slavery argument, on those resolutions, to atoms. Why, sir, if a man can hold three slaves, with a right heart and the approbation of God, he may hold thirty, three hundred, three thousand, or thirty thousand. It is a mere question of heart, and capacity to govern. The Emperor of Russia holds sixty millions of slaves: and is there a man in this house so much of a fool as to say that God regards the Emperor of Russia a sinner because he is the master of sixty millions of slaves? Sir, that Emperor has certainly a high and awful responsibility upon him. But, if he is good as he is great, he is a god of benevolence on earth. And so is every Southern master. His obligation is high, and great, and glorious. It is the same obligation, in kind, he is under to his wife and children, and in some respects immensely higher, by reason of the number and the tremendous interests involved for time and eternity in connection with this great country, Africa, and the world. Yes, sir, _I know_, whether Southern masters fully know it or not, that _they hold from God_, individually and collectively, _the highest and the noblest responsibility ever given by Him to individual private men on all the face of the earth._ For God has intrusted to them to train millions of the most degraded in form and intellect, but, at the same time, the most gentle, the most amiable, the most affectionate, the most imitative, the most susceptible of social and religious love, of all the races of mankind,–to train them, and to give them civilization, and the light and the life of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I thank God he has given this great work to that type of the noble family of Japheth best qualified to do it,–to the Cavalier stock,–the gentleman and the lady of England and France, born to command, and softened and refined under our Southern sky. May they know and feel and fulfil their destiny! Oh, may they “know that they also have a Master in heaven.”
Letter from Dr. Ross.
I need only say, in reference to this letter, that my friends having questioned my position as to the good of the agitation, I wrote the following letter to vindicate that point, as given, in the New York speech:–
HUNTSVILLE, ALA., July 14, 1856.
_Brother Blackburn_:–I affirmed, in my New York speech, that the Slavery agitation has done, and will accomplish, good.
Your very kind and courteous disagreement on that point I will make the occasion to say something more thereon, without wishing you, my dear friend, to regard what I write as inviting any discussion.
I said _that_ agitation has brought out, and would reveal still more fully, the Bible, in its relation to slavery and liberty,–also the infidelity which long has been, and is now, leavening with death the whole Northern mind. And that it would result in the triumph of the _true_ Southern interpretation of the Bible; to the honor of God, and to the good of the master, the slave, the stability of the Union, and be a blessing to the world. To accomplish this, the sin _per se_ doctrine will be utterly demolished. That doctrine is the difficulty in every _Northern mind,_ (where there is any difficulty about slavery,) whether they confess it or not. Yes, the difficulty with every Northern man is, that _the relation of_ master and slave is felt _to be_ sin. I know that to be the fact. I have talked with all grades of Northern men, and come in contact with all varieties of Northern mind on this subject. And I know that the man who says and tries to believe, and does, partially in sober judgment, believe, that slavery is not sin, yet, _in his feelings, in his educated prejudices_, he feels that slavery is sin.
Yes, _that_ is the difficulty, and _that_ is the whole of the difficulty, _between the North and the South_, so far as the question is one of the Bible and morals. Now, I again say, that that _sin per se_ doctrine will, in this agitation, be utterly demolished. And when that is done,–when the North will know and feel fully, perfectly, that the relation of master and slave is not sin, but sanctioned of God,–then, and not till then, the North and South can and will, without anger, consider the following questions:–Whether slavery, as it exists in the United States, all things considered, be or be not a great good, and the greatest good for a time, notwithstanding its admitted evils? Again, whether these evils can or cannot be modified and removed? Lastly, whether slavery itself can or cannot pass away from this land and the world? Now, sir, the moment the sin question is settled, then all is peace. For these other questions belong entirely to another category of morals. They belong entirely to the category of _what is_ wise _to realize_ good. This agitation will bring this great result. And therefore I affirm the agitation to be good.
There is another fact also, the result, in great measure, of this agitation, which in my view proves it to have been and to be of great good. I mean the astonishing rise and present stability of the slave-power of the United States. This fact, when examined, is undeniable. And it is equally undeniable that it has been caused, in great part, by the slavery question in all its bearings. It is a wonderful development made by God. And I must believe he intends thereby either to destroy or bless this great Union. But, as I believe he intends to bless, therefore I am fortified in affirming the good there has been and is in this agitation. Let me bring out to view this astonishing fact.
1. Twenty-five years ago, and previously, the whole slave-holding South and West had a strong tendency to emancipation, in some form. But the abolition movement then began, and arrested that Southern and Western leaning to emancipation. Many people have said, and do say, that that _arrest_ was and is a great evil. I say it was and is a great good. Why? Answer: It was and would now be premature. Had it been carried out, it would have been and would now be evil, immense, inconceivable,–to master, slave, America, Africa, and the world; because neither master, slave, America, Africa, the world, were, or are, ready for emancipation. God has a great deal to do before he is ready for emancipation. He tells us so by this _arrest_ put upon that tendency to emancipation years ago. For He put it into the hearts of abolitionists _to make the arrest_. And He stopped the Southern movement all the more perfectly by permitting Great Britain to emancipate Jamaica, and letting that experiment prove, as it has, a perfect failure and a terrible warning. JAMAICA IS DESTROYED. And now, whatever be done for its negroes must be done with the full admission that what has been attempted was in violation of the duty Britain owed to those negroes. But her failure in seeing and doing her duty, God has given to us to teach us knowledge; and, through us, to instruct the world in the demonstration of the problem of slavery.
2. God put it into the hearts of Northern men–especially abolitionists–to give Texas to the South. Texas, a territory so vast that a bird, as Webster said, can’t fly over it in a week. Many in the South did not want Texas. But many longer-headed ones did want it. And Northern men voted and gave to the South exactly what these longer-headed Southern statesmen wanted. This, I grant, was Northern anti-slavery fatuity, utterly unaccountable but that God made them do it.
3. God put it into the hearts of Northern men–especially abolitionists–to vote for Polk, Dallas, and Texas. This gave us the Mexican War; and that immense territory, its spoil,–a territory which, although it may not be favorable for slave-labor, has increased, and will, in many ways, extend the slave-power.
4. This leads me to say that God put it into the hearts of many Northern men–especially abolitionists–to believe what Great Britain said,–namely, that _free trade_ would result in slave-emancipation. _But lo! the slave-holder wanted free trade_. So Northern abolitionists helped to destroy the _tariff policy_, and thus to expand the demand for, and the culture of, cotton. Now, see, the gold of California has _perpetuated free trade_ by enabling our merchants to meet the enormous demand for specie created by free trade. So California helps the slave-power. But the abolitionists gave us Polk, the Mexican War, and California.
5. God put it into the hearts of the North, and especially abolitionists, to stimulate the settlement of new free States, and to be the ardent friends of an immense foreign emigration. The result has been to send down to the South, with railroad speed and certainty, corn, wheat, flour, meal, bacon, pork, beef, and every other imaginable form of food, in quantity amazing, and so cheap that the planter can spread wider and wider the culture of cotton.
6. God has, by this growth of the Northwest, made the demand for cotton enormous in the North and Northwest. Again, he has made English and French experiments to procure cotton somewhere else than from the United States _dead failures_,–in the East Indies, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil. God has thus given to the Southern planter an absolute monopoly. A monopoly so great that he, the Southern planter, sits now upon his throne of cotton and wields the commercial sceptre of the world. Yes, it is the Southern planter who says to-day to haughty England, Go to war, if you dare; dismiss Dallas, if you dare. Yes, he who sits on the throne of the cotton-bag has triumphed at last over him who sits on the throne of the wool-sack. England is prostrate at his feet, as well as the abolitionists.
7. God has put it into the hearts of abolitionists to prevent half a million of free negroes from going to Liberia; and thereby the abolitionists have made them consumers of slave-products to the extension of the slave-power. And, by thus keeping them in America, the abolitionists have so increased their degradation as to prove all the more the utter folly of emancipation in the United States.
8. God has permitted the anti-slavery men in the North, in England, in France, and everywhere, so to blind themselves in hypocrisy as to give the Southern slave-holder his last perfect triumph over them; for God tells the planter to say to the North, to England, to France, to all who buy cotton, “Ye men of Boston, New York, London, Paris,–ye hypocrites,–ye brand me as a pirate, a kidnapper, a murderer, a demon, fit only for hell, and yet ye buy my blood-stained cotton. O ye hypocrites!–ye Boston hypocrites! why don’t ye throw the cotton in the sea, as your fathers did the tea? Ye Boston hypocrites! ye say, _if we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the slave-trade!_ Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves that ye are the children of them who, in fact, kidnapped and bought in blood, and sold the slave in America! for now, ye hypocrites, ye buy the blood-stained cotton in quantity so immense, that _ye_ have run up the price of slaves to be more than a thousand dollars,–the average of old and young! O ye hypocrites! ye denounce slavery; then ye bid it live, and not die,–in that ye buy sugar, rice, tobacco, and, above all, cotton! Ye hypocrites! ye abuse the devil, and then fall down and worship him!–ye hypocrites,–ye New England hypocrites,–ye Old England hypocrites,–ye French hypocrites,–ye Uncle Tom’s Cabin hypocrites,–ye Beecher hypocrites,–ye Rhode Island Consociation hypocrites! Oh, your holy twaddle stinks in the nostrils of God, and he commands me to lash you with my scorn, and his scorn, so long as ye gabble about the sin of slavery, and then bow down to me, and buy and spin cotton, and thus work for me as truly as my slaves! O ye fools and blind, fill ye up the measure of your folly, and blindness, and shame! And this ye are doing. Ye have, like the French infidels, made _reason_ your goddess, and are exalting her above the Bible; and, in your unitarianism and neology and all modes of infidelity, ye are rejecting and crucifying the Son of God.”
Now, my brother, this controlling slave-power is a world-wide fact. Its statistics of bales count by millions; its tonnage counts by hundreds of thousands; its manufacture is reckoned by the workshops of America and Europe; its supporters are numbered by all who must thus be clothed in the world. This tremendous power has been developed in great measure by the abolition agitation, controlled by God. I believe, then, as I have already said, that God intends one of two things. He either intends to destroy the United States by this slave-power, or he intends to bless my country and the world by the unfoldings of his wisdom in this matter. I believe he will bless the world in the working out of this slavery. I rejoice, then, in the agitation which has so resulted, and will so terminate, to reveal the Bible, and bless mankind.
Your affectionate friend,
REV. A. BLACKBURN.
What Is the Foundation of Moral Obligation?
My position as to this all-important question, in my New York speech, was made subject of remark in the “Presbyterian Herald,” Louisville, Kentucky, to which I replied at length in the “Presbyterian Witness,” Knoxville, Tennessee. No rejoinder was ever made to that reply. But, recently, an extract from the younger Edwards was submitted to me. To that I gave the following letter. The subject is of the first and the last importance, and bears directly, as set forth in my New York speech, on infidelity, and, of course, the slavery question:–
Mr. Editor:–In your paper of Tuesday, 24th ult., there is an article, under this head, giving the argument of Edwards (the son) against my views as to _the foundation of moral obligation_.
I thank the writer for his argument, and his courteous manner of presenting it. In my third letter to Mr. Barnes, I express my preparation to meet “_all comers_” on this question; and I am pleased to see this “_comer_”. If my views cannot be refuted by Edwards, I may wait long for an “_uglier customer_.”
A word, introductory, to your correspondent. He says, “His [Dr. Ross’s] theory was advanced and argued against in a former age.” By this, I understand him to express his belief that my theory has been rejected heretofore. Well. It may, nevertheless, be the true theory. The Copernican astronomy was argued against in a former age and rejected; yet it has prevailed. Newton’s law of gravitation was argued against and rejected by a whole generation of philosophers on the continent of Europe; yet it has prevailed. And now all school-boys and girls would call anybody a fool who should deny it. Steam, in all its applications, was argued against and rejected; yet it has prevailed. So the electric telegraph; and, to go back a little, the theory of vaccination,–the circulation of the blood,–a thousand things; yea, Edwards’s (the father) theory of virtue, although received by many, has been argued against, and by many rejected; yet it will prevail. Yea, his idea of the unity of the race in Adam was and is argued against and rejected; yet it will prevail. I feel, therefore, no fear that my theory of moral obligation will not be acknowledged because it was argued against and rejected by many in a former age, and may be now. Nay; facts to prove it are accumulating,–facts which were not developed in Edwards’s day,–facts showing, irresistibly, that Edwards’s theory, which is _that_ most usually now held, is what I say it is,–_the rejection of revelation, infidelity, and atheism_. The evidence amounts to demonstration.
The question is in a nutshell; it is this:–_Shall man submit to the revealed will of God_, or _to his own will?_ That is the naked question when the fog of confused ideas and unmeaning words is lifted and dispersed.
My position, expressed in the speech delivered in the General Assembly, New York, May, 1856, is this:–“God, in making all things, saw that, in the relations he would constitute between himself and intelligent creatures, and among themselves, NATURAL GOOD AND EVIL would come to pass. In his benevolent wisdom, he then _willed_ LAW to control this _good_ and _evil_; and he thereby made _conformity_ to that law to be _right_, and _non-conformity_ to be _wrong_. Why? Simply because he saw it to be _good_, and _made it to be_ RIGHT; not because _he saw it to be right_, but because _he made it to be right_.”
Your correspondent replies to this theory in the following words of Edwards:–“Some hold that the foundation of moral obligation is primarily in the will of God. But the will of God is either benevolent or not. If it be benevolent, and on that account the foundation of moral obligation, it is not the source of obligation merely because it is the will of God, but because it is benevolent, and is of a tendency to promote happiness; and this places the foundation of obligation in a tendency to happiness, and not primarily in the will of God. But if the will of God, and that which is the expression of it, the divine law, be allowed to be not benevolent, and are foundation of obligation, we are obliged to conform to them, whatever they be, however malevolent and opposite to holiness and goodness the requirements be. But this, I presume, none will pretend.” Very fairly and strongly put; that’s to say, if I understand Edwards, he supposes, if God was the devil and man what he is, then man would not be under obligation to obey the devil’s will! That’s it! Well, I suppose so too; and I reckon most _Christians_ would agree to that statement, Nay, more: I presume nobody ever taught that the mere naked _will_, abstractly considered, if it could be, from the _character_ of God, was the ground of moral obligation? Nay, I think nobody ever imagined that the notion of an infinite Creator presupposes or includes the idea that he is a malevolent Being! I agree, then, with Edwards, that the ultimate ground of obligation _is_ in the _fact_ that God is benevolent, or is a good God. I said _that_ in my speech quoted above. I formally stated that “_God, in his benevolent wisdom, willed law to control the natural good and evil_,” &c. What, then, is the point of disagreement between my view and Edwards’s? It is in _the different ways by which we_ GET AT _the_ FACT _of divine benevolence_. I hold that the REVEALED WORD _tells us who God is and what he does_, and is, therefore, the ULTIMATE GROUND OF OBLIGATION. But Edwards holds that HUMAN REASON _must tell us who God is and what he does_, and IS, therefore, the PRIMARY GROUND OF OBEDIENCE. _That_ is my issue with Edwards and others; and it is as broad an issue as _faith in revelation_, or the REJECTION OF IT. I do not charge that Edwards did, or that all who hold with him do, deny the word of God; but I do affirm that their argument does. The matter is plain. For what is revelation? It is that God has appeared in person, and _told_ man in WORD that he is GOD; and _told_ him first in WORD (to be expanded in studying _creation_ and _providence_) that God is a Spirit, eternal, infinite in power, wisdom, goodness, holiness,–the Creator, Preserver, Benefactor. That WORD, moreover, he proved by highest evidence–namely, supernatural evidence–to be _absolute, perfect_ TRUTH as to all FACT affirmed _of him_ and _what_ he _does_. REVELATION, as claimed in the Bible, was and is THAT THING.
Man, then, having this revelation; is under obligation ever to believe every jot and tittle of that WORD. He at first, no doubt, knew little of the meaning of some _facts_ declared; nay, he may have comprehended nothing of the sense or scope of many _facts_ affirmed. Nay, he may now, after thousands of years, know most imperfectly the meaning of that WORD. But he was and he is, notwithstanding, to believe with absolute faith the WORD,–that God _is_ all he says he is, and _does_ all he says he does,–however that WORD may _go beyond_ his reason, or _surprise_ his feelings, or _alarm_ his conscience, or _command_ his will.
This statement of what revelation is, settles the whole question as presented by Edwards. For REVELATION, as explained, does FIX _forever the foundation of man’s moral obligation in the benevolence of God_, PRIMARILY, as it is _expressed_ in the word of God. REVELATION does then, in that sense, FIX _obligation in the_ MERE WILL OF GOD; for, the moment you attempt to establish the foundation _somewhere else_, you have abandoned the ground of revelation. You have left the WILL OF GOD _in his word_, and you have made your rule of right to be the WILL OF MAN _in the_ SELF _of the_ HEART. The proof of what I here say is so plain, even as the writing on the tables of Habakkuk’s vision, that he may run that readeth it. Read, then, even as on the _tables_.
God _says_ in his WORD, “I am all-powerful, all-wise, the Creator.” “You may be,” says Edwards, “but I want _primary foundation_ for my faith; and I can’t take your _word_ for it. I must look first into _nature_ to see if evidence of infinite power and wisdom is there,–to see if evidence of a Creator is there,–and if thou art he!”
Again, God _says_ in his word, “I am benevolent, and _my will_ in my law is expression of that benevolence.” “You may tell the truth,” Edwards replies, “but I want _primary ground_ for my belief, and I must hold your word suspended until I examine into my reason, my feelings, my conscience, my will,–to see if your WORD _harmonizes_ with my HEART,–to see if what you reveal tends to _happiness_ IN MY NOTION OF HAPPINESS; _or tends to right_ IN MY NOTION OF RIGHT!” That’s it. That’s the theory of Edwards, Barnes, and others.
And what is this but the attempt to know the divine attributes and character in _some other way_ than through the divine WORD? And what is this but the denial of the divine WORD, except so far as it agrees with the knowledge of the attributes and character of God, obtained in THAT _some other way?_ And what is this but to make the word of God _subordinate_ to the teaching of the HUMAN HEART? And what is this but to make the WILL _of God_ give place to the WILL _of man?_ And what is this but the REJECTION OF REVELATION? Yet this is the result (though not intended by him) of the whole scheme of obligation, maintained by Edwards and by all who agree with him.
Carry it out, and what is the progress and the end of it? This. Human reason–the human heart–will be supreme. Some, I grant, will hold to a revelation of some sort. A thing more and more transcendental,–a thing more and more of fog and moonshine,–fog floating in German cellars from fumes of lager-beer, and moonshine gleaming from the imaginations of the drinkers. Some, like Socrates and Plato, will have a God supreme, personal, glorious, somewhat like the true; and with him many inferior deities,–animating the stars, the earth, mountains, valleys, plains, the sea, rivers, fountains, the air, trees, flowers, and all living things. Some will deny a personal God, and conceive, instead, the intelligent mind of the universe, without love. Some will contend for mere law,–of gravitation and attraction; and some will suggest that all is the result of a fortuitous concourse of atoms! Here, having passed through the shadows and the darkness, we have reached the blackness of infidelity,–blank atheism. No God–yea, all the way the “_fools_” were saying in their hearts, no God. What now is man? Alas! some, the Notts and Gliddons, tell us, man was indeed _created_ millions of ages ago, the Lord only knows when, in swarms like bees to suit the zones of the earth,–while other some, the believers in the _vestiges of creation_, say man is the result of development,–from fire, dust, granite, grass, the creeping thing, bird, fish, four-footed beast, monkey. Yea, and some of these last philosophers are even now going to Africa to try to find men they have heard tell of, who still have tails and are jumping and climbing somewhere in the regions around the undiscovered sources of the Nile.
This is the progress and the result of the Edwards theory; because, deny or hesitate about revelation, and man cannot prove, _absolutely_, any of the things we are considering. Let us see if he can. Edwards writes, “On the supposition that the will or law of God is the primary foundation, reason, and standard of right and virtue, every attempt _to prove the moral perfection or attributes of God is absurd_.” Here, then, Edwards believes, that, to reach the primary foundation of right and virtue, he must not take God’s word as to his perfection or attributes, no matter how fully _God_ may have _proved_ his word: no; but he, Edwards, he, man, must first _prove_ them in _some other way_. And, of course, he believes he can reach such primary foundation by such other proof. Well, let us see how he goes about it. I give him, to try his hand, the easiest attribute,–“POWER.” I give him, then, all creation, and providence besides, as his _black-board_, on which to work his demonstration. I give him, then, the lifetime of Methuselah, in which to reach his conclusion of proof.–Well, I will now suppose we have all lived and waited that long time: what is his _proof_ OF INFINITE POWER? Has he found the EXHIBITION of _infinite power?_ No. He has found _proof_ of GREAT POWER; but he has not reached the DISPLAY of _infinite power_. What then is his _faith_ in infinite power after such _proof?_ Why, just this: he INFERS _only_, that THE POWER, _which did the things he sees, can go on, and on, and on, to give greater, and greater, and greater manifestations of itself!_ VERY GOOD: _if so be, we can have no better proof_. But _that_ PROOF is infinitely below ABSOLUTE PROOF _of infinite power_. And all manifestations of power to a _finite creature_, even to the archangel Michael, during countless millions of ages, never gives, because it never can give to him, ABSOLUTE PROOF _of infinite power_. But the word of GOD gives the PROOF ABSOLUTE, _and in a moment of time!_ “I AM THE ALMIGHTY!” The _perfect proof_ is in THAT WORD OF GOD.
I might set Edwards to work to prove the _infinite wisdom_, the _infinite benevolence_, the _infinite holiness_–yea, the EXISTENCE–of God. And he, finite man, in any examination of creation or providence, must fall infinitely below the PERFECT PROOF.
So then I tell Edwards, and all agreeing with him, that _it is absurd_ to attempt to _prove_ the moral perfection and attributes of God, if he thereby seeks to reach the HIGHEST EVIDENCE, _or if he thereby means to find the_ PRIMARY GROUND _of moral obligation_.
Do I then teach that man should not seek the _proof_ there is, of the perfection and attributes of God, in _nature and providence_? No. I hold that such proof unfolds the _meaning_ of the FACTS declared in the WORD of God, and is all-important, as such expansion of meaning. But I say, by authority of the Master, that _the highest proof, the absolute proof, the perfect proof_, of the FACTS as to _who God is, and what he does_, and the PRIMARY OBLIGATION _thereupon, is in the_ REVEALED WORD.
FRED. A. ROSS.
Huntsville, Ala., April 3, 1857.
N.B.–In notice of last Witness’s extract from Erskine, I remark that Thomas Erskine was, and may yet be, a lawyer of Edinburgh. He wrote _three works_:–_one_ on the _Internal Evidences_, the _next_ on _Faith_, the _last_ on the _Freeness of the Gospel_. They are all written with great ability, and contain much truth. But all have in them fundamental _untruths_. There is least in the Evidences; more in the essay on Faith; most in the tract on the Freeness of the Gospel,–which last has been utterly refuted, and has passed away. His _Faith_ is, also, not republished. The Evidences is good, like good men, notwithstanding the evil.
Letters to Rev. A. Barnes.
As part of the great slavery discussion, Rev. A. Barnes, of Philadelphia, published, in October, 1856, a pamphlet, entitled, “The CHURCH and SLAVERY.” In this tract he invites every man to utter his views on the subject. And, setting the example, he speaks his own with the greatest freedom and honesty.
In the same freedom of speech, I have considered his views unscriptural, false, fanatical, and infidel. Therefore, while I hold him in the highest respect, esteem, and affection, as a divine and Christian gentleman, and cherish his past relations to me, yet I have in these letters written to him, and of him, just as I would have done had he lived in France or Germany, a stranger to me, and given to the world the refined scoff of the one, or the muddy transcendentalism of the other.
My first letter is merely a glance at some things in his pamphlet, in which I show wherein I agree and disagree with him,–_i.e._ in our estimate of the results of the agitation; in our views of the Declaration of Independence; in our belief of the way men are made infidels; and in our appreciation of the testimonies of past General Assemblies.
The other letters I will notice in similar introductions.
These letters first appeared as original contributions to the Christian Observer, published and edited by Dr. A. Converse, Philadelphia.
I take this occasion to express my regard for him, and my sense of the ability with which he has long maintained the rights and interests of the Presbyterian body, to which we both belong; and the wise and masterly way in which he has vindicated, from the Bible, the truth on the slavery question. To him, too, the public is indebted for the first exhibition of Mr. Barnes’s errors in his recent tract which has called forth my reply.
Rev. A. Barnes:–
_Dear Sir_:–You have recently published a tract:–“The Church and Slavery.”
“The opinion of each individual,” you remark, “contributes to form public sentiment, as the labor of the animalcule in the ocean contributes to the coral reefs that rise above the waves.”
True, sir, and beautifully expressed. But while, in harmony with your intimation, I must regard you one of the animalcules, rearing the coral reef of public opinion, I cannot admit your disclaimer of “special influence” among them in their work. Doubtless, sir, you have “special influence,”–and deserve to have. I make no apology for addressing you. I am one of the animalcules.
I agree, and I disagree, with you. I harmonize in your words,–“The present is eminently a time when the views of every man on the subject of slavery should be uttered in unambiguous tones.” I agree with you in this affirmation; because the subject has yet to be fully understood; because, when understood, if THE BIBLE does _not_ sanction the system, the MASTER must cease to be the master. The SLAVE must cease to be the slave. He must be _free_, AND EQUAL IN POLITICAL AND SOCIAL LIFE. _That_ is your “_unambiguous tone_”. Let it be heard, if _that_ is the word of God.
But if THE BIBLE _does_ sanction the system, then _that_ “unambiguous tone” will silence abolitionists who admit the Scriptures; it will satisfy all good men, and give peace to the country. That is the “_tone_” I want men to hear. Listen to it in the past and present speech of providence. The time was when _you_ had the very _public sentiment_ you are now trying to form. From Maine to Louisiana, the American mind was softly yielding to the impress of emancipation, in some hope, however vague and imaginary. Southern as well as Northern men, in the church and out of it, not having sufficiently studied the word of God, and, under our own and French revolutionary excitement, looking only at the evils of slavery, wished it away from the land. It was a _mistaken_ public sentiment. Yet, such as it was, you had it, and it was doing your work. It was Quaker-like, mild and affectionate. It did not, however, work fast enough for you. You thought that the negro, with his superior attributes of body and mind and higher advantages of the nineteenth century, might reach, in a day, the liberty and equality which the Anglo-American had attained after the struggle of his ancestors during a thousand years! You got up the agitation. You got it up in the Church and State. You got it up over the length and breadth of this whole land. Let me show you some things you have secured, as the results of your work.
_First Result of Agitation_.
1. The most consistent abolitionists, affirming the sin of slavery, on the maxim of created equality and unalienable right, after torturing the Bible for a while, to make it give the same testimony, felt they could get nothing from the book. They felt that the God of the Bible disregarded the thumb-screw, the boot, and the wheel; that he would not speak for them, but against them. These consistent men have now turned away from the word, in despondency; and are seeking, somewhere, an abolition Bible, an abolition Constitution for the United States, and an abolition God.
This, sir, is the _first result_ of your agitation:–the very van of your attack repulsed, and driven into infidelity.
_A Second Result of Agitation_.
2. Many others, and you among them, are trying in exactly the same way just mentioned to make the Bible speak against slave-holding. You get nothing by torturing the English version. People understand English. Nay, you get little by applying the rack to the Hebrew and Greek; even before a tribunal of men like you, who proclaim beforehand that Moses, in Hebrew, and Paul, in Greek, _must_ condemn slavery because “_it is a violation of the first sentiments of the Declaration of Independence_.” You find it difficult to persuade men that Moses and Paul were moved by the Holy Ghost to sanction the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson! You find it hard to make men believe that Moses saw in the mount, and Paul had vision in heaven, that this future _apostle of Liberty_ was inspired by Jesus Christ.
You torture very severely. But the muscles and bones of those old men are tough and strong. They won’t yield under your terrible wrenchings. You get only groans and mutterings. You claim these voices, I know, as testimony against slavery. But you cannot torture in secret as in olden times. When putting the question, you have to let men be present,–who tell us that Moses and Paul won’t speak for you,–that they are silent, like Christ before Pilate’s scourging-men; or, in groans and mutterings,–the voices of their sorrow and the tones of their indignation,–they rebuke your pre-judgment of the Almighty when you say if the Bible sanctions slavery, “it neither ought to be nor could be received by mankind as a divine revelation.”
This, sir, is the _second result_ you have gained by your agitation. You have brought a thousand Northern ministers of the gospel, with yourself, to the verge of the same denial of the word of God which they have made, who are only a little ahead of you in the road you are travelling.
_A Third Result of Agitation._
3. Meanwhile, many of your most pious men, soundest scholars, and sagacious observers of providence, have been led to study the Bible more faithfully in the light of the times. And they are reading it more and more in harmony with the views which have been reached by the highest Southern minds, to wit:–That the relation of master and slave is sanctioned by the Bible;–that it is a relation belonging to the same category as those of husband and wife, parent and child, master and apprentice, master and hireling;–that the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, _were ordained in Eden for man, as man_, and _modified after the fall_, while the relation of slavery, as a system of labor, is _only one form of the government ordained of God over fallen and degraded man_;–that the _evils_ in the system are _the same evils_ of OPPRESSION we see in the relation of husband and wife, and all other forms of government;–that slavery, as a relation, suited to the more degraded or the more ignorant and helpless types of a sunken humanity, is, like all government, intended _as the proof of the curse of such degradation, and at the same time to elevate and bless_;–that the relation of husband and wife, being for man, as man, _will ever be over him_, while slavery will remain so long as God sees it best, as a controlling power over the ignorant, the more degraded and helpless;–and that, when he sees it for the good of the country, he will cause it to pass away, if the slave can be elevated to liberty and equality, political and social, with his master, _in_ that country; or _out of_ that country, if such elevation cannot be given therein, but may be realized in some other land: all which result must be left to the unfoldings of the divine will, _in harmony with the Bible_, and not to a newly-discovered dispensation. These facts are vindicated in the Bible and Providence. In the Old Testament, they stare you in the face:–in the family of Abraham,–in his slaves, bought with his money and born in his house,–in Hagar, running away under her mistress’s hard dealing with her, and yet sent back, as a fugitive slave, by the angel,–in the law which authorized the Hebrews to hold their brethren as slaves for a time,–in which parents might sell their children into bondage,–in which the heathen were given to the Hebrews as their slaves forever,–in which slaves were considered so much the money of their master, that the master who killed one by an unguarded blow was, under certain circumstances, sufficiently punished in his slave’s death, because he thereby lost his money,–in which the difference between _man-stealing_ and _slave-holding_ is, by law, set forth,–in which the runaway from heathen masters may not be restored, because God gave him the benefits of an adopted Hebrew. In the New Testament:–wherein the slavery of Greece and Rome was recognised,–in the obligations laid on master and slave,–in the close connection of this obligation with the duties of husband and wife, parent and child,–in the obligation to return the fugitive slave to his master,–and _in the condemnation of every abolition principle_, “AS DESTITUTE OF THE TRUTH.” (1 Tim. vi. 1-5.)
This view of slavery is becoming more and more, not only the settled decision of the Southern but of the best Northern mind, with a movement so strong that you have been startled by it to write the pamphlet now lying before me.
This is the _third result_ you have secured:–to make many of the best men in the North see the infidelity of your philosophy, falsely so called, on the subject of slavery, in the clearer and clearer light of the Scriptures.
_Another Result of Agitation_.
4. The Southern slave-holder is now satisfied, as never before, that the relation of master and slave is sanctioned by the Bible; and he feels, as never before, the obligations of the word of God. He no longer, in his ignorance of the Scriptures, and afraid of its teachings, will seek to defend his common-sense opinions of slavery by arguments drawn from “Types of Mankind,” and other infidel theories; but he will look, in the light of the Bible, on all the good and evil in the system. And when the North, as it will, shall regard him holding from God this high power for great good,–when the North shall no more curse, but bid him God-speed,–then he will bless himself and his slave, in nobler benevolence. With no false ideas of created equality and unalienable right, but with the Bible in his heart and hand, he will do justice and love mercy in higher and higher rule. Every evil will be removed, and the negro will be elevated to the highest attainments he can make, and be prepared for whatever destiny God intends. This, sir, is the _fourth result_ of your agitation:–to make the Southern master _know_, from the Bible, his right to be a master, and his duty to his slave.
These _four results_ are so fully before you, that I think you must see and feel them. You have brought out, besides, tremendous political consequences, giving astonishing growth and spread to the slave power: on these I cannot dwell. Sir, are you satisfied with these consequences of the agitation you have gotten up? I am. I thank God that the great deep of the American mind has been blown upon by the wind of abolitionism. I rejoice that the stagnant water of that American mind has been so greatly purified. I rejoice that the infidelity and the semi-infidelity so long latent have been set free. I rejoice that the sober sense North and South, so strangely asleep and silent, has risen up to hear the word of God and to speak it to the land. I rejoice that all the South now know that God gives the right to hold slaves, and, with that right, obligations they must fulfil. I rejoice that the day has dawned in which the North and South will think and feel and act together on the subject of slavery. I thank God for the agitation. May he forgive the folly and wickedness of many who have gotten it up! May he reveal more and more, that surely the wrath of man shall praise him, while the remainder of wrath he will restrain!
_Declaration of Independence_.
I agree with you, sir, that _the second paragraph_ of the Declaration of Independence contains _five affirmations_, declared to be self-evident truths, which, if truths, do sustain you and all abolitionists in every thing you say as to the right of the negro to liberty; and not only to liberty,–to equality, political and social. But I disagree with you as to their truth, and I say that not one of said affirmations is a self-evident truth, or a truth at all. On the contrary, that each one is contrary to the Bible; that each one, separately, is denied; and that all five, collectively, are denied and upset by the Bible, by the natural history of man, and by providence, in every age of the world. I say this now. In a subsequent communication, I will prove what I affirm. For the present I merely add, that the Declaration of Independence stands in no need of these false affirmations. It was, and is, a beautiful whole without them. It was, and is, without these imaginary maxims, the simple statement of the grievances the colonies had borne from the mother-country, and their right _as colonies_, when thus oppressed, to declare themselves independent. That is to say, the right given of God to oppressed children to seek protection in another family, or to set up for themselves somewhat before _twenty-one_ or natural maturity; right belonging to them _in the British family;_ right sanctioned of God; right blessed of God, in the resistance of the colonies _as colonies_–not as individual men–to the attempt of the mother-country to consummate her tyranny. But God gives no sanction to the affirmation that he has _created all men equal_; that this is _self-evident,_ and that he has given them _unalienable rights;_ that he has made government to _derive its power solely from their consent_, and that he has given them _the right to change that government in their mere pleasure_. All this–every word of it, every jot and tittle–is the liberty and equality claimed by infidelity. God has cursed it seven times in France since 1793; and he will curse it there seventy times seven, if Frenchmen prefer to be pestled so often in Solomon’s mortar. He has cursed it in Prussia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain. He will curse it as long as time, whether it is affirmed by Jefferson, Paine, Robespierre, Ledru Rollin, Kossuth, Greeley, Garrison, or Barnes.
Sir, that paragraph is an _excrescence_ on the tree of our liberty. I pray you take it away. Worship it if you will, and in a manner imitate the Druid. He gave reverence to the _mistletoe_, but first he removed the _parasite_ from the noble tree. Do you the same. Cut away _this mistletoe_ with golden knife, as did the Druid; enshrine its imaginary divinity in a grove or cave; then retire there, and leave our oak to stand in its glory in the light of heaven. Men have been afraid to say all this for years, just as they have been timid to assert that God has placed master and slave in the same relation as husband and wife. Public sentiment, which you once had and have lost, suppressed this utterance as the other. But now, men speak out; and I, for one, will tell you what the Bible reveals as to that part of the Declaration of Independence, as fearlessly as I tell you what it says of the system of slavery.
_How Men are made Infidels_.
I agree with you that some men have been, are, and will be, made infidels by hearing that God has ordained slavery as one form of his government over depraved mankind. But how does this fact prove that the Bible does not sanction slavery? Why, sir, you have been all your life teaching that some men are made infidels by hearing any truth of the Bible;–that some men are made infidels by hearing the Trinity, Depravity, Atonement, Divinity of Christ, Resurrection, Eternal Punishment. True: and these men