N. L. (Nathan Lewis) Rice.

Lectures on slavery, delivered in the First Presbyterian church, Cincinnati online

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18 45.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1845,


In the Clerk's office for the District Court of Ohio.


It was my purpose, when the following discourses were
delivered, to publish them. The importance of doing so, is
the more evident from the very gross misrepresentations of
them by the editors of the Abolitionist papers of this city.
From those gentlemen, I regret to be obliged to say, I ex-
pect nothing like fairness or candor in their representations
of my views of slavery. I deem it proper, therefore, to
give them to the public, that candid men may judge for
themselves both of the positions taken, and of the argu-
ments by which they are sustained.

I have added some documents and facts which time did
not permit me to introduce whilst delivering the discour-
ses, and have condensed the whole in as small space as pos-
sible. I have the satisfaction to know, that several previ-
ously inclined to Abolitionism were fully satisfied of the
correctness of the views presented. If they should be the
means of correcting misrepresentations of an injurious
character, and of satisfying inquiring minds, I shall not
have labored in vain. N. L. Rice.


I AM perfectly aware, my friends, that many well-mean-
ing persons are decidedly opposed to the discussion of al-
most any subject connected with religion, in regard to which
professing christians hold different views. If we were to
yield to the opinion of such persons, the extensive field of
religious investigation must be contracted to extremely nar-
row limits ; for there are few truths in divine revelation
which have not been called in question by some who still
claim the christian name. It may, however, be proper
that I should state the reasons which have induced me, at
the present time, to discuss the subject of slavery. They
are the following :

1. This subject is now exciting very general interest
amongst all classes of people in our country, is occasioning
divisions in the church of Christ, and even threatening the
destruction of our civil Union. Already it has divided the
Methodist and Baptist churches ; and it is now agitating to
the very centre the New School Presbyterian church;
whilst fanatical Abolitionists are denouncing our civil union
as most iniquitous and not to be tolerated. At such a time
it behooves every man to inform himself fully on the whole
subject, that his influence may be thrown where it should
be. At such a time it becomes the duty of those who de-
precate such divisions and agitations, to contribute as they
can, to the dissemination of correct principles.

2. Those who refuse to adopt the views of Abolition-
ists, have been constantly taunted with fearing discussion,
from a consciousness that their principles cannot bear the
light. Such charges, accompanied with the boasting of Ab-
olitionists, that they are prepared to submit their doctrines
to the closest scrutiny, are calculated to make an impres-
sion on the minds of many. We owe it to ourselves, there-
fore, and to the truth, to show the public, that we are pre-
pared to meet them, and to demonstrate the correctness of
our principles.

J* 5,


3. The action of the late General Assembly of the Pres-
byterian Church on the subject of slavery, has been most
grossly misrepresented ; and continued efforts have been
made to heap odium upon that body. The report which,
with the most delightful unanimity they adopted, has been
represented as a decidedly pro-slavery document, and our
church reproached as ^Hhe slave church of Jlmerica.'^
However imbecile these efforts to injure our church will prove
to be, many may be misled by the false representations so
industriously circulated, if they should not be exposed.

To show the audience the character and spirit of the
publications to which I have referred, I will read a few ex-
tracts from letters written by Professor Stowe, of Lane
Seminary, to the Boston Recorder and New York Evan-
gelist, and from the IVatQhman of the Valley, the New
School Aboiitioaist paper of this city. Professor Stowe,
anticipating great agitation in our Assembly on the subject
of slavery, wrote as follows : " The Old School Assembly,
which meets here in May, will have musket-fire and gun-
powder on the subject of slavery; for the elements are al-
ready boiling like a witch's cauldron. After the excite-
ment of 1838, Rev. Dr. Baxter went home to Virginia, and
told the students of Prince Edward Seminary, what a grand
thing had been done, for they had got rid of the New
School and the Abolitionists at the same time. "Ah ! luck-
less speech and bootless boast," as Cowper says. The Old
School will yet be shaken to its very centre by this same
question of slavery, (and perhaps the New also)" &;c.

Such were the predictions of the Professor ; but the re-
sult sadly disappointed him. There was no " musket-fire
and gun-powder on the subject of slavery." Whereupon,
he again wrote in the following strain : " The action on
slavery astonished every one, ancl it was carried through
with very little opposition, only 12 out of 170 members vo-
ting against it. It confirms what I told you in my last let-
ter, respecting the imconscientiousness of such bodies.
Even unscrupulous politicians expressed their astonishment
at the result." The word "unconscientiousness," I presume,
is intended as a mild expression for hypocrisy. Concerning
the letter from the Free Church of Scotland, he thus writes :


" A letter and memorial from this church, on the subject
of slavery, was presented to the Assembly and read. The


Scotch Church of course exliort their American brethren to
take some action on the subject of slavery, to evince their
disapprobation of the system, in their desire to get rid of it.
The Assembly reply, by referring their Scotch brethren to
their present action on the subject, which declines to give
any disapproval of the system, or make any efforts to re-
move it. I was not present when the subject was up, but
was informed by another, that during the reading of the pa-
pers from Scotland, most of the Southern men left the
house. On such terms as these, will the Free Church of
Scodand long hold communion with the slave-church of
America? for such,,/;«r eminence, is now the Old School
branch of the Presbyterian church in the United States.

The following extracts from tlie Watchman of the Valley
will show the character of the assaults the editor has thought
proper to make upon the General Assembly :

" To dispose of such a subject, in such a summary way,
as if unworthy to occupy the deliberations of the house ;
and then solennily to propose to return thanks to Almighty
God, that they had been able, in so short a time, and with
such wonderlul unanimity, TO SHUT OUT THE CRY
OF THE POOR from the Assembly, argues an infatuation
on that subject which reflecting men may well look upon
with amazement ! "O my soul! come not thou into their
secret ! Unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou uni-
ted !" For " instruments, cruelty are in their hands." They
can settle the fate of groaning millions with as much sang
froid and despatch, as a Turk would sever the head of a
'• christian dog" from his body, and then publicly return
thanks to God that they had done it ! — thanks to God, that
they had been able so eflMeclually to stop their ears and
harden their hearts against the groans and importunities of
the oppressed, as to fear no farther annoyance from that
source !

" Such a decision outrages conscience, humanity and com-
mon sense, and must ultimately expose its authors to the
scorn and contempt of mankind — a scorn and contempt
proportioned in severity to the exalted religious authority
from which it emanates. For the world, we would not
stand in that pillory, in which the late Assembly, by its pro-
slavery document, has placed itself. That act has given to
this Assembly an unenviable distinction, among all the gen-
eral ecclesiastical bodies in the United Slates. The Old

8 lectures on slavery.

School General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church
IN the United States, for the year 1845, STANDS
SINGLE AND ALONE, in pronouncing American sla-
very, a justifiable, a righteous, an apostolically authorized
" relation !" No other Assembly and no other church has
ever dared to father such a monstrous absurdity.''^

By these gentlemen, you perceive, as well as by others
equally our friends, the Report adopted by the Assembly
is pronounced a pro-slavery document, a defence of Ameri-
can slavery, with all the cruelty which wicked men may
choose to inflict on their slaves ; and our church is stigma-
tized, as "y;a?' eminence — the slave-church of Jitnerica.^''
And yet, in that document, which the reader has probably
seen, I defy any man to put his linger on one expression which
advocates slavery as a desirable institution, or looks toward
the toleration of the slightest cruelty in tlie treatment of
slaves. There were before the Assembly two important
questions, viz :

1. Is the mere fact of holding slaves, without regard to
circumstances, to be made a bar to christian fellowship ? In
other words, ought we to exclude from the church all slave-
holders, regardless of the circumstances in which they are
placed, and of their kind treatment of their slaves ?

2. In what way can the church most efiectually amelio-
rate the condition of the slaves in our country ?

The first question the Assembly decided in the negative,
that the mere fact of holding slaACs is not, according to
the Bible, a sin to be visited with the discipline of the church.
In regard to the second, they decided, that the condition of
the slaves cannot be improved by ecclesiastical legislation,
by making slave-holding a bar to christian-fellowship, nor
by the bitter denunciations hurled by Abolitionists against
all slaveholders indiscriminately ; but by preaching to both
master and slave the glorious Gospel, as did the aposdes of
Christ ! For these decisions, that body is held up to odium
as the advocate of slavery — nay, as the apologist for all the
cruelty which the slave-law allows the master to inflict on
his slaves, although they distinctly condemned all unkind
treatment of them ! I will not assert, that these gross mis-
representations were intentionally made ; and yet I find it
extremely difficult to see how those who made them, could
have believed they were stating w^hat is strictly true. How-
ever this may be, it is clearly our duty to repel and expose


such charges. And before I close this discussion, I -will
prove that they come with a pecuUarly ill grace from those
who have made them.

4. My position in relation to this subject makes it pecu-
liarly proper that I should undertake this duty. Unexpec-
tedly appointed a commissioner to the General Assembly,
and still more unexpectedly made chairman of the commit-
tee on slavery, and consequently assailed as the principal
author of the Report, it is particularly my duty to expose
the misrepresentations and repel the assaults of Abolition-
ists. And as it is well known, that I am in favor of the
full and fair discussion of all subjects of importance, which
agitate the public mind, my silence would undoubtedly be
misconstrued. For these reasons I now enter upon the dis-
cussion of this agitating subject — premising, that I now
speak sinply as an individual, and am alone responsible
for the sentiments I shall express.

It is particularly important, in this discussion, that the
precise points at issue should be distinctly understood. For
in the discussion of no subject which I have had occasion
to investigate, has error gained a greater advantage by ma-
king false issues, than of the one now under consideration.
I will therefore distinctly state the questions at issue, and in
so doing, shall dispose of at least two-thirds of the argu-
ments of the Abolitionists.

1. The question is notj whether it is right to reduce free
men to a state of slavery. No class of christians, so far
as I know, in any part of our country, pretend that it is.
All Presbyterians, all christians, all philanthropists, de-
nounce the African slave trade as an enormity not to be tol-
erated. All, consequently, agree that slavery ought never
to have been introduced into our country. Whetlier it is
right to force a free man, charged with no crime, into a
state of slavery, is one question — a question easily answer-
ed. But what is our duty toward those who have been
made slaves by others — how far we can immediately re-
store to them their liberty, must depend upon many cir-
cumstances. For illustration, it would be very wicked in
me to reduce a rich man to poverty and want, either by-
fraud or violence ; but how far I may be able to aid a man
thus reduced by others, is a very different question — a
question to be determined by circumstances. The slave-
holding states have inherited the evil of slavery ; and for


this sad inheritance they are indebted in no slight degree, to
England and to the older free states. And let it not be for-
gotten, that Presbyterians compose but a very small propor-
tion of the population of those states. They (the present
generation) found the Africans in slavery. Many of them,
almost all, I presume, deplore the existence of slavery
amongst them. But the question is — what is their duty,
situated as they are, Avith reference to it? Doubtless the
spirit of the Gospel requires us to do what we can for the
present and future happiness of our fellow-men ; but what
is our duty, under the existing circumstances 1 This is the
question ; and it may not be so easily answered.

2. The question between us and the Abolitionists, is not,
whether there are evils connected with slavery, or whether
slavery is itself a great evil. This is admhted, I believe,
by most, if not all, Presbyterians, and by multitudes in the
slave-holding states, who make no profession of religion.
I have not a word to say in favor of slavery as a desirable
institution. I have ever deplored its introduction into our
country, and would do as much to remove it as any Aboli-
tionist, so far as it can be removed by the operation of cor-
rect principles. Multitudes of the most enlightened and in-
fluential men in our country, as well as in England and
Scotland, who never will, because they never can, believe
the doctrine of the Abolitionists, r>or unite with them in
their agitating measures, are as staunch friends of the slave,
and as desirous of the removal of the evil of slavery, as
the most zealous Abolitionist, if not more so.

War is a dreadful evil ; but it does not follow, that there
are no christian soldiers, nor that every church member
who, under any circumstances, becomes a soldier, should
be exconimunicated. All sober-minded men admit, that
there is such a thing ?i^ justifiable war. So there may be
such a thing as justifiable slavery. Yet we have, in our
country, the non-resistance party^ who would excommuni-
cate a man for resisting a highway robber, or for defending
himself against the assaults of a murderer ! They have
made much greater advances in removing evils, than the Ab-
olitionists ; for Joshua Leavit, of the Emancipator^ informs
us, that humane men are thinking seriously of reasoning
with slave-holders, not with arguments, but with " cold
steel !"

Liberty is truly a great blessing ; and yet in the organ-


ization of human society, it must be more or less restrained
according to circumstances. Children must be under pa-
rental goverment, until mature age ; and yet they often feel
that their liberty is gready restrained. Some of our mod-
ern reformers, however, have gone so far as to renounce
all family government, and leave children to be governed by
their own inclinations ! Females, in our country, are not
eligible to civil offices ; nor are they even permitted to vote
in the election of civil officers ; and yet they are quite as
deeply interested in the affairs of government, as men are.
Moreover, Paul and Peter were so tyrannical (so some now
consider \i) as to forbid women to become public speakers,
and require them to obey their husbands. But we have
reformers who have far greater light on this subject, than
the Apostles had ; and they have formed " the women's
rights party.'" And now it is by no means uncommon to
see females, regardless of their proper sphere, and destitute
of that modesty which is one of the chief ornaments of the
sex, figuring as orators on the stage, amid the confusion of
Abolitionist meetings ! Garrison and his party have more
fully carried out their principles, than their brethren in this
latitude ; but I see no reason to doubt, that in due time, they
will follow suit.

Some nations, it is admitted, are not qualified to sustain
and enjoy a government so free as ours. Such, for exam-
ple, is the condition of Mexico and South America. And
all must admit, that where intelligence and virtue are, to a
great extent, wanting in any country, a more despotic gov-
ernment becomes necessary. May it not, then, be fairly
questioned, whether there is in the slave population of the
South and West so much virtue and intelligence, as to pre-
pare them at once to enjoy full liberty, even were it within
their reach ? May it not be absolutely necessary, for the
good of both masters and slaves, and of the country gener-
ally, that emancipation should be, as it has been wherever
slavery has been abolished in this country, gradual, not im-
mediate ? It is not difficult to foresee the evils which must
result from the immediate emancipation of three millions of
slaves, without intelligence, degraded to a great extent in
moral character, without property, and without habits of in-
dustry and economy.

But admitting, as I most cheerfully do admit, that slavery
ought everywhere to be abolished just as fast as it can be


on scriptural principles, without violence, with safety to all
parties, the question arises — by what means can the condi-
tion of the slaves be most effectually ameliorated for the
present, and the ultimate removal of slavery be most safely
and expeditiously accomplished ? I oppose modern Aboli-
tionism, not because it tends to abolish slavery, but because
its doctrines are false, and, as carried out in practice, tend to
perpetuate slavery and to aggravate all its evils ! This I
expect to prove in due time.

But the Abolitionists, with as little wisdom as truth, de-
nounce, as pro-slavery men, all who refuse to adopt their
extravagant views, and to fall in with their agitating meas-
ures. We are not yet reduced to the alternative of advoca-
ting slavery as a blessing, or of uniting with them. 'I'wo
physicians, for example, are called to consult on the case of
a patient laboring under a disease which has assumed the
chronic form. One of them insists, contrary to all estab-
lished principles of medical practice, that he can cure the
patient by one tremendous dose of strong medicine. The
other protests, that such a dose will be his death, and refu-
ses to allow it to be administered. The first Doctor then
denounces the other as a most cruel man, utterly unwilling
that the patient shall be cured — anxious indeed that he
should die — an advocate of disease and death ! Precisely so
do the Abolitionists. They seem incapable of understand-
ing the obvious truth, that evils which have long existed,
and become interwoven with the very texture of society,
cannot be removed by one spasmodic movement ; and they
seem wholly to forget, that if slavery is ever to be abolished
in the slave-holding states, it must be abolished, as it has
been in the older free states, with the consent of the peo-
ple, and by the people of those states.

3. The question between us and the Abohtionists, is not
whether the laws by which, in the several states, slavery is
regulated, are just and righteous. Many of them are sadly
defective, and some are oppressive and unjust in a high de-
gree. The laws of Rome gave the master complete power
over the life of his slave. These laws were most unright-
eous. In some of the Southern states the laws prohibit
slaves being taught to read. Such laws are most unjust.
They are an invasion of the rights of conscience. No le-
gislature has the right to forbid me to teach my family to
read the word of God. I confess, I would not readily sub-


mit to such laws ; and I rejoice to learn, that in the South,
they are to a great extent a dead letter, and are practically

But are individual christians to be responsible for all the
defective or oppressive laws of the civil government under
which they live ? Or are they to be charged with all the
cruelty which the civil laws allow to be inflicted upon the
slaves, whether they in fact inflict it on them or not? The
law requiring the mail to be carried on the sabbath, we re-
garded as unjust; and we sought its repeal. But that law
did not require me to be a post-master or a mail-contractor.
Consequently, notwithstanding its injustice, I could live in
all good conscience toward God.

The laws regulating the conjugal and parental relations,
are, in many countries, and even in our own, defective or
oppressive. In Kentucky, for example, divorces have of-
ten been obtained upon the most flimsy pretexts ; and thus
men who, according to God's law, were husbands, were
permitted to marry again. But those laws, however they
may permit men to treat their wives cruelly, do not compel
any man to seek a divorce. In Ohio, I venture to assert,
that men may, without exposing themselves to the penalty
of the civil law, inflict great injustice and suffering upon
their wives and children. Indeed no civil enactment can
entirely protect those who are in the power of wicked men.
But is every man obliged to do as much wrong as the civil
law permits him to do in the relations of life ? And is any
christian to be called before ecclesiastical courts upon the
presumption, that such is his practice?

Abolitionists, with singular absurdity, go to the law-books
for a definition of slavery ; and having ascertained the pow-
er the civil law gives the master over the slave, they charge
the slave-holder with all the oppression and cruelty the law
permits, and denounce every man who refuses to pronounce
slave-holding in itself a heinous and scandalous sin, as de-
fending all that cruelty and oppression. For they tell us,
that all the evils which the civil law permits o be inflicted
on the slave, are eiisential features of the relation,

A specimen of this most unbound logic is found in the
Watchman of the rV/Z/f?/, of June 12th. The editor quotes
the statutes of South Carolina and Louisiana, defining the
powers of the slave-holder, and then remarks : — " Such is
ihe essential nature of American slavery, as defined by the


law which institutes and authorizes it. This " relation,"
which our august Assembly of divines and elders, the teach-
ers and judges of religion and morals, plainly tell us, by
implication is not in itself wrong, is simply a law — constitu-
ted relation." The law of South Carohna, we are told,
says — "Slaves shall be deemed, sold, taken, reputed and
adjudged in law to be chattels personal, in the hands of
their owners and possessors, and their executors, administra-
tors, and assigns, to all intents, constructions and purposes
whatsoever." Well, did the General Assembly say, the
laws of South Carolina are either wise or just? It did not.
Might not those laws be greatly modified without destroy-
ing the relation of master and slave ? Every man of com-
mon sense knows, they might. Then they do not consti-
tute the essential nature of slavery, as the editor asserts.
Again — are christians obliged to regard and treat their slaves

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Online LibraryN. L. (Nathan Lewis) RiceLectures on slavery, delivered in the First Presbyterian church, Cincinnati → online text (page 1 of 7)