Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
Supporters of slavery even turned to the Christian Bible for arguments. From the sacred texts, it was argued how slavery was not only acceptable but almost needed to keep society moving forward. They wrote pamphlets, small books, and sermons that were distributed throughout the United States and as far away as Europe. Their hope was to silence those who called for the end of slavery in the New World and equality with races that were deemed less than equal. As the Christian religion was the major belief system in America, using it as a foundation gave them power.
Many supporters of slavery were Christian and used their Bible as the support for their opinions. The average person believed that religion argued against the institution, but in fact many religious individuals and groups supported slavery and argued for it. Though not specifically found in the Bible, it was Christian tradition that the descendants of Noah’s son, Ham, were dark Africans. The words Noah spoke against Ham stating that his people would be slaves to his brothers was believed to announce the source of Africans and their preordained status in worldly society. To many, Africans were meant to be the ones to serve the rest of the world.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Bible was used to support the actions of the slaveholder to take the African from his destitute state in his native land and give him a chance for a better life. It was through slavery that the poor African would find a better life. Preachers stood up in their pulpits and supported slavery. They also wrote letters to other ministers and politicians that were published for the public at large in which they laid out their position on the topic. Given the high respect for pastoral opinion in the Antebellum South, this support gave important moral acceptance to slavery as an institution.
The “Position of the Southern Church in Relation to Slavery” was Dr. F. A. Ross’s response to a message delivered by Rev. Albert Barnes on the subject of slavery and the Biblical stance of it. He noted how the desire for freedom which was against the law of submission given by God was sinful. It went against God’s own directive on being submissive to one’s master. This view, especially with the Biblical source material, gave a strong support to southerners trying to cling to a vital economic resource. To desire freedom when none existed was not under God’s directive:
Now, we ask, if that institution is a great moral evil, a malum in se, a high-handed sin against God, to be classed with polygamy, adultery, theft, perjury, and the like, why was it thus sanctioned by the law of Moses? Is there any instance, in the Mosaic statutes, where permission is given to steal, to commit adultery, perjury, and the like, for any purpose, or under any circumstances? Can it be supposed that this illustrious example would have been set, and this high precedent been established before the world by Him who cannot err, had it been in itself a sin against God? These are questions which we suggest to anti-slavery theologians to read and ponder.
The Bible was used in many pro-slavery writings to show how slavery was ordained and sanctioned by God. Yet it was also a need of society to have slaves to keep the civilization moving forward.
A Texan. The Yankee Slave-Dealer. Nashville, Archive.org, 1860, http://archive.org/details/yankeeslavedeal00abolrich.
“Arguments and Justifications.” The Abolition Project. http://abolition.e2bn.org/slavery_112.html
Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: the first two centuries of slavery in North America. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1998.
Brown, William Wells. Clotelle, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/241/241-h/241-h.htm.
Buckingham, Goodsell. “The Bible Vindicated from the Charge of Sustaining Slavery.” Columbus: The Temperance Advocate Office, 1837. http://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/biblevindicatedrevisedfinal/.
Cobb, Thomas Read Rootes. “An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America.” Archive.org.
Davis, Jefferson. “Speech of Mr. Davis, of Mississippi, on the Subject of Slavery in the Territories,” Archive.org, 1850.
Douglass, Frederick. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, (Boston: Anti-Slave Office, 1848), 2-3.
Elliott, E.N., ed. “Cotton is King.” Archive.org. http://archive.org/details/cottoniskingandp28148gut.
Exodus 22: 21-24. King James Bible. BibleGateway.org,
Fitzhugh, George. Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters. 1857. http://archive.org/details/cannibalsallorsl35481gut.
Genesis 9. King James Bible. BibleGateway.com, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%209&version=KJV.
Helper, Hinton Rowan. “Why the North Has Surpassed the South.”
The Impending Crises of the South. http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/helper/helper.html.
“History of Slavery.” History World. http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/plaintexthistories.asp?historyid=ac41.
Hunt, James. On the Negro’s Place in Nature. London: Trubner, 1863.
Ingersoll, Charles Jared. “African Slavery in America.” Antislavery Literature. http://antislavery.eserver.org/proslavery/african-slavery-in-america/, 1856.
Leviticus 25. The King James. Bible Gateway.com. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=leviticus%2025&version=KJV.
Lewis, Evan. “Address to Christians of All Denominations on the Inconsistency of Admitting Slave-Holders to Communion and Church Membership”. Antislavery Literature, 1831, http://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/addresstochristians/addresstochristians.html.
Liberty Party Platform. 1844.
Ross, Dr. F. A. “Position of the Southern Church in Relation to Slavery.” Archive.org. 1857.
Sawyer, George S. Southern Institutes. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1859.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gutenberg, 1852, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/203/203-h/203-h.htm
Webster, Daniel. Speech Before the Senate of the United States, 1848. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi/bin/query/r?ammem/rbaapc:@field(DOCID+@lit(rbaapc3310 0div3))
Wilson, William. “The Great American Question”. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/rbaapc:@gield(DOCID+@lit(rbappc34000div0)), 1848.