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of happiness."

These "significant words are inscribed upon the
scroll of our nation's history, and there they
will remain till time shall be no longer. They
need no glossary or explanation. He who runs
may read them, and he who reads can understand
them. The sentiment they embody it is impos-
sible to mistake ; it stands out in bold relief, like
the sun in the heavens. It is, that every man
has received, from a higher than earthly power, a
charter, which secures to him the unalienable
right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of hap-
piness. It is impossible for the most ultra advo-
cate of " human rights " to paraphrase these
words, or give them a rendering so as to make
them support his dogmas more strongly than
they now do. On the contrary, he would only
weaken their force by the attempt.

Now, my dear brother, I would candidly, se-
riously ask you — I would ask all your southern
friends — I would ask everybody, Can the sen-
timent of that Declaration be consistent with
American slavery? Are not slaves men? Do
color and degradation change a creature of God
from a human being to a soulless brute ? No ;
our southern brethren would as indignantly re-
pudiate this infidel view as we at the North.


Now if a slave is a man, he has received from
his Creator an unalienable right to liberty if
he chooses to avail himself of it, or else the first
principle laid down in our revered Declaration
of Independence, so far from being "self evident,"
is in fact untrue, and ought at once to be taken
from its honored position in the archives of these
United States, and consigned to the heaps of
rubbish of the dark ages.

But does the slave enjoy this liberty? or is
it within his reach? It will not be pretended.
The very name by which his class is designated
forbids it. The term free slave is a solecism.
His liberty consists in the freedom to do as he
is told to do, or suffer punishment for his dis-
obedience, and he can pursue happiness only in
accordance with the will of his master.

There is the same incongruity between slavery
and that clause in our constitution which stip-
ulates that " no person shall be deprived of life,
liberty, or property, without due process of law."
Now, my brother, does it not require considerable
ingenuity and special pleading to avoid con-
clusions to which unbiased common sense
would arrive in an instant, in the application of
these declared rights to persons held as slaves ?
I am not going to inflict upon you a disserta-
tion, or a series of syllogisms on this hackneyed


subject, but I beg that you and your Mends will
calmly look again at what, I doubt not, you have
seen before, — the palpable incongruity between
the system of holding persons perpetually in
slavery without their consent, and those de-
clared, self-evident, heaven bestowed, unalienable
rights professedly secured to all men in these
United States by our glorious constitution.
Said that great statesman and patriot, Henry
Clay: "We present to the world the sorry spec-
tacle of a nation that worships Slavery as a
household goddess, after having constituted Lib-
erty the presiding divinity over church and

Surely something must be out of joint here.
I have looked again and again at this matter, I
think with perfect candor, and I have tried to the
utmost of my ability to reconcile these apparent
inconsistencies, but I cannot do it. Can you ?

Believe me, as ever, your sincere friend and

Christian Brother.


Slavery transforms men to chattels. — southern laws. —
slave-auctions. — men placed on a' level "with brutes. —
no redress for wrongs. — ignorance perpetuated by


My dear Christian Friend, — A second
characteristic of American slavery is, It regards
human beings, declared to be in the " image of
God," as " chattels," — things or articles of mer-
chandise. " Slaves," say the laws of South
Carolina and Georgia, " 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." * "A slave," says
the code of Louisiana, "is one who is in the
power of his master, to whom he belongs. The
master may sell him, dispose of his person, his

* See 2 Brevard's Digest, 229 ; Prince's Digest, 446.



industry, and his labor; he can do nothing,
possess nothing, nor acquire any thing, but what
must belong to his master." *

Thus, rational, immortal beings, children of
our common Father in heaven, are taken from
the exalted scale in which God placed them, and
degraded to that of the brute creation. They
are, as you know, advertised, mortgaged, at-
tached, inherited, leased, bought, and sold like
horses and cattle. Like them they are brought
to the auction block, and like them subjected to
a rigid examination as to their age, and sound-
ness of wind, chest, and limb. Said a gentle-
man to me : " When I was at , I visited the

slave mart ; and as I saw one and another and
another of my fellow-beings brought forward to
the block, and rudely exposed and minutely
examined, in order to ascertain their marketable
value in dollars and cents, and then struck off to
the highest bidder, amid the gibes and jeers of
the vulgar, my heart was nigh unto bursting,
and I was obliged to turn away my eyes and
weep, exclaiming, O God ! can it be ! thy chil-
dren ! my brothers and sisters of humanity, —
perhaps my fellow-heirs of heaven, — precious
souls for whom the Saviour died, whose names

* Civil Code, Art. 35.


may be written in the Book of Life, and over
whose repentance angels may have rejoiced!
Can it be ? "

For myself, I never witnessed any such scenes,
and heaven grant I never may. It is enough,
and too much for me to know, that they exist.
I allude to them in this connection, not to
awaken and pain your sensibilities, but simply
to illustrate the fact, that American slavery
sanctions them, and by its operation brings down
the noblest work of God to a level of the beasts
that perish. As far as it can do so, it dehuman-
izes man, and treats him as a thing without a
soul. It may be remarked, however, in parsing,
" A man's a man, for a' that."

I might speak in this connection of the obsta-
cles which are thrown in the way of the slave's
obtaining redress for his wrongs should he un-
fortunately get into the hands of a cruel and
unreasonable master, being forbidden to defend
himself, and not allowed the testimony of his
brethren to be given in his behalf; but there are
other features of this system which more ur-
gently demand our attention.

Neither will I dwell upon the ignorance and
mental degradation which are an essential part
of the system. You need not be informed, that,
in ten States, knowledge is kept from the slave


by legal enactments, — that teaching him to read
is regarded a crime, to be severely " punished by
the judges." I was happy to find that you and
a great many others totally disregard that law,
and, in spite of legislators and penal statutes,
you teach your slaves to read, and in some
cases to write. For this crime, I doubt not but
heaven, at least, will forgive you. I shall allude
to this latter topic again in a future letter.

Most truly and affectionately, yours, etc


Domestic life. — the marriage relation. — domestic hap-

My dear Brother, — I come now, in the third
place, to speak of slavery as it is related to the
endearments and duties of domestic life. On
this subject my heart is full. I am almost
afraid to speak, lest I say what I ought not;
and yet I cannot keep silence. I can, in a good
measure, sympathize with Elihu when he said, —

" For I am full of words,
The spirit within me doth constrain me,
Behold I am as wine which hath no vent,
I am ready to burst like new bottles,
I will speak that I may breathe more freely,
I will open my lips and reply." *

We now approach a topic more intimately

* Job ch. 32, v. 17-20, Barnes's translation.

5 (65)


connected with the present and future happiness
of the human race than almost any other. Man
was not completely blest, even in Eden, until
God instituted the marriage relation. His Cre-
ator gave him a companion to participate in his
joys, binding them together by ties which no
human power might sunder. Paradise was lost
by sin, but as our first parents were exiled thence,
God in infinite kindness permitted them to take
one of its purest, sweetest sources of joy with
.them to this world of sorrows.

■" Domestic happiness ! thou only bliss
Of Paradise that has survived the fall ! "

You. my dear brother, are a husband and a
father, and can appreciate my meaning, when I
speak of the richness, the tenderness, the depth,
of connubial and paternal love ; how it lights up
this dark world with smiles, — how it stimulates
us to manly exertion, — how it lightens the bur-
dens of human life, and enables us cheerfully to
sustain its ills, while it almost restores to us
Eden itself. To understand what is meant by
the term domestic happiness, it is necessary for
you and me only to look at the circles around
our own firesides, and listen to the musical ac-
cents of the loved ones who dwell there, as they
pronounce the words husband, father, mother,


brother, sister, and exchange with them land
looks and the affectionate embrace. What
earthly joys can be compared with those of
home ? What would tempt us to part with
them ? All the gold in California and Australia
would be spurned in contempt, if offered in ex-
change. What should we say, and what should
we do, were any power on earth to interfere with
our fireside delights, and attempt to wrest them
from us ?

Suppose Providence had cast our lot under a
despotic government, which we will suppose to
be for the most part kind and paternal, but hav-
ing this peculiarity, — every now and then, find-
ing its finances embarrassed, it should be in the
habit of selling some of its subjects to a foreign
power to strengthen its exchequer, and should
arbitrarily select its victims from this family and
that ; — how should you feel were the doomed
family your own ? What would have been your
emotions this morning, had some one come to
your room and told you that that bright-eyed
boy, " Willie," who last night sat upon your
knee and amused you with his innocent prattle,
showed you his toys, examined your pockets,
played with your hair and features, and finally
clasped his little arms around your neck and im-
pressed the " good-night " kiss upon your lips,


had been seized by an officer, and sold from your
sight forever to you know not whom, and to be
carried you know not whither ? Nay, more ; —
suppose that while he was yet speaking, there
came also another with the tidings that the same
fate had befallen your first-born, — your daughter,
just budding into womanhood, — the affection-
ate, joyous, light-hearted " Kate," whose voice to
your ear is sweeter than the music of flowing
waters, whose feet are swifter than those of the
light gazelle, as with open arms she bounds to
meet you on your return from a temporary ab-
sence, to welcome you home with a tear of joy in
her eye and a kiss upon her lips, — that she too
had been by the officials of the government clan-
destinely abducted from your dwelling, and sold,
literally sold, for a valuation put upon her person
in dollars and cents, to a hopeless captivity, to
spend her days in unrequited toil, or, not unlikely^
in ministering to the caprices and brutal passions
of a stranger ?

And while he was yet speaking, and as your
wife, half frantic with grief and terror, was en-
twining her arms around you, and you were
striving to ease your bursting heart, to crown
the whole, suppose another official and his posse
had entered your apartment, and by force of
arms had torn her from your embrace, and with


thongs upon her hands, and a bandage over her
mouth, hurried her away to greet your sight no
more ? What a scene ! There go in one direc-
tion the children of your body, " bone of your
bone, and flesh of your flesh," to an unknown
but fearful destiny! In another is ruthlessly
borne the object dearer to you than all the world
beside, — one whom you had solemnly sworn to
love, cherish, and protect until death, — the light
of your dwelling, — the mother of your children,
— the mutual sharer of all your joys and sor-
rows, — the richest and most precious treasure
heaven ever gave you ! — there she goes in an
agony of wo, to toil under a burning sun, com-
pelled to call another man her husband, or, it
may be, to grace her master's seraglio ! Merciful
God ! what meaneth this ? What horde of bar-
barians from the dark corners of the earth have
found their way hither to la)^ waste all that is
beautiful and lovely ! What fiend from the pit
has been let loose to enter this little Paradise to
destroy and bear away all the good that was left
of the primitive Eden !

No ruthless band of barbarians from benighted
lands have found their way to this Christian do-
mestic sanctuary, — no malignant spirit from be-
low has been here to snatch the only type of
Heaven that escaped his grasp six thousand


years ago. " Think it not strange," brother, " con-
cerning this fiery trial as though some strange
thing had happened to you." This is only the
legitimate working of the patriarchal system of
government under which we live. Be calm, —
this is all done according to law, and with as
much kindness as the circumstances will permit.
No stripes are inflicted, and no more force is ex-
erted than is absolutely necessary to secure the
object, and prevent a useless outcry ; no ill-will
is entertained toward the victims of these out-
rages, — it is only because the finances of the gov-
ernment are low, and must be replenished, and
this is the most convenient, and perhaps at pres-
ent the only practical, way of raising the money !
Now, my brother, what should you and I think
of living under a government where such things
were permitted by the laws ? It would not rec-
oncile us to the administration to be told, that
such proceedings as I have supposed are of rare
occurrence, and that the general character of the
government is kind, that it dislikes exceedingly to
sell its subjects, and especially that it has a great
repugnance to separating husbands and wives,
and breaking up of families, and does it only when
severely pressed by pecuniary necessity. To
your and my mind this would be altogether un-
satisfactory ; it would not change our opinion of


the system. No matter if the heart-rending scene
I have supposed were witnessed only once a year,
or once in ten years, — I think we should loudly
protest against a system which allowed the oc-
currence of it at all.

You will please, my dear sir, apply the fore-
going illustration to the liabilities and actual
workings of the slave system at the South, just
so far as it is applicable, and no further. If there
are any points in which the analogy fails, I will
thank you to point them out to me in your next.
With much love and esteem,

I remain yours, most truly.



My dear Christian Brother, — My objec-
tions to any system of government that inter-
feres at will with the family relation, and forcibly
separates husbands and wives, parents and chil-
dren, do not arise chiefly from the personal
wrongs and bitter woes inflicted upon its vic-
tims. A contemplation of these is calculated to
affect our sensibilities, and excite the tender sym-
pathies of our nature ; but there is a more en-
larged Christian view which forces itself upon
us. If we could by some magic process allay
the anguish of the stricken heart, and heal its
wounds when the strongest ties of nature are
rent asunder, — could we even obliterate the sus-
ceptibilities of the soul, destroy natural affection,
and render man more callous than the brutes, so



that he could be torn from his home and kindred
with less pain than they, — in a moral point of
view the case would be altered but little. As I
have remarked in a previous letter, the marriage
relation was instituted by God, and he made it
indissoluble. " What God hath joined together
let not man put asunder," is the language of
" holy writ ; " and whoever, for any cause which
God himself has not specified, breaks up this re-
lation, encroaches upon God's prerogative, and
goes directly in face of his positive commands.
Much has been said of late, seriously, sarcasti-
cally, and contemptuously, about a " higher
law ; " but notwithstanding the improper use
often made of that term, there is an important
sense in which you, and I, and every Christian
recognize what that term implies. If, on any sub-
ject whatever, human enactments do obviously
conflict with the enactments of God, then God's
law is the " higher" and must be obeyed. To
deny this is worse than infidelity.

Now, brother, does not the system of slavery
in the United States tolerate, and even author-
ize, the forcible rending asunder of the marriage
tie? Are not husbands, not seldom, but often,
sold from their wives, and wives from their
husbands, and new matrimonial alliances formed
by them, with consent and encouragement of


their masters? Thus is flagrant adultery sanc-
tioned in nearly one half of the States of this
Christian Republic, and in some cases the crime
is almost, if not quite, forced upon the wretched
perpetrators of it. When God's law is disre-
garded, and an ordinance on which depends all
we hold dear in social and Christian life is
trampled in the dust by an institution existing in
the midst of us, what shall we say ? If slavery
were a question merely of expediency, political
economy, or even personal wrong and suffering,
it would be easier to keep silence; but when
God is dishonored, and gross sin sanctioned by
law, is it not the duty of his children, North and
South, to enter their solemn, earnest, decided
protestations ? You will agree with me, that
no Christian can or ought to acquiesce in what,
either directly or indirectly, violates a positive
divine precept; and against what shall he re-
monstrate, if not against a system that encour-
ages polygamy and legalizes adultery ? *

* It is sometimes said that the crime of adultery is neither
perpetrated nor encouraged by the breaking up of slave-
families, because, generally, the connections formed are not
truly marriage, not being solemnized according to forms of
law, and hence the marriage obligation cannot be violated.

It may be replied, if this be so, it presents slavery in a
worse light still, for it encourages and perpetuates a state of
universal concubinage. But it is not so. When a slave


There is another view in which the operation
of the system of slavery, in breaking up families,
has affected my mind powerfully and painfully.
Parents sustain most important relations to then-
children, as well as to each other. Who can be
so much interested in the temporal and eternal
well-being of the child as those by whose instru-
mentality he had his existence ? Who has so
much influence over him, or who could direct his
feet in the way he should go, so well ? God has
imposed upon all parents most important duties,
which they may not neglect. These duties are
as truly incumbent on the slave-parent as on the
master who sustains the same relation. It may
be, indeed, extensively true that he does not
understand them, and is in a great measure in-
competent to discharge them ; and that often the
child suffers nothing morally or intellectually by
being removed from his influence. But tins
results in a great measure from the hopeless
ignorance in which the parent is involved.
There are, however, as you can bear witness,

take? a companion, and they consent and engage to live
together as husband and wife until deadi, and they thus
declare their intentions before others, whether any legal
form is gone through or not, they are as truly " no more
twain but one flesh" as were Adam and Eve. It has been
thus decided by our courts in regard to white persons.


multitudes of exceptions. In how many cases
are slave-parents truly pious and intelligent, and
feel as much solicitude for the eternal interests
of their children, as you do for yours, and pray
with them as frequently and as fervently. With
how much pleasure did you and I listen to your
" Jamie," one time when we were taking an
evening stroll past his cabin, and overheard his
family prayer. With what simplicity and ear-
nestness did he pour out his soul to God for the
salvation of his " dear children." And do you
not remember, too, how with equal importunity
he prayed God to " bless dear kind Massa and
Missus, and dere precious children, and also
Massa's friend, and dat all may meet to praise
Jesus togedder in heaven," and how we found it
difficult to speak for a minute or two, and how
the big tear-drops stood in our eyes, and we
could n't help it ?

You told me there were a great many
" Jamies " at the South, and I have no doubt of
it ; they love their little ones as well, and who so
competent to train them up for Christ ? Who
will presume to step in between these parents
and their children and say, this family altar shall
be broken down, and those who have bowed
around it shall be separated, to meet no more till
they meet at the judgment ? Who will peril his


own soul by taking those children away from
such an influence, and for a pecuniary considera-
tion cast them upon the wide world with none to
instruct them, and none to care or pray for them,
except their heart-broken parents whom they
have left behind ? I would not do it, neither
would you, for the wealth of the world ; and yet,
is it not often done ? In speaking of this sub-
ject, one of the most eminent southern divines *
uses the following language : " Slavery, as it
exists among us, sets up between parents and
their children an authority higher than the im-
pulse of nature and the laws of God ; breaks up
the authority of the father over his own offspring,
and at pleasure separates the mother at a return-
less distance from her child, thus outraging all
decency and justice." I shall refer to the sen-
timents of this brother again.
I remain as ever,

Affectionately yours, etc.

* Rev. R. I. Breckenridge, D. D.


The crowning evil of slavery. — preciousness of the
bible. — our chart and compass on life's voyage in-
dispensable. — oral instructions insufficient. — dangers.
— shipwreck almost inevitable. — withheld from the
slave. — shuts multitudes out of heaven. — american
bible society. — testimony of general assembly. — of
synod of kentucky. — of dr. breckenridge.

My dear Brother, — There is one feature of
slavery, fourthly, which gives me more pain
by far than any other, and I may say more than
all others put together, and that is, it imperils the
immortal souls of millions of our fellow-beings
by keeping from them the Word of God.

Next to the Saviour, and the Holy Spirit, the
most precious gift God has bestowed on man is
the Bible. This volume contains our only per-
fect rule of life, and is our only guide to heaven.
It teaches us our character and our destiny ; it
alone raises the curtain between time and eter-
nity, and dissipates the darkness that otherwise
would forever enshroud the grave ; it reveals to



us another state of being, in which we shall be
happy or miserable, ages without end. On this
Book alone do we depend for our knowledge of
the way of salvation by Christ. It is here we
read the story of the manger and the cross, and
the wonderful plan of redemption through aton-

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Online LibraryCongregational Board of PublicationLiberty or slavery; the great national question. Three prize essays on American slavery .. → online text (page 4 of 8)