Convention of Congregational Ministers of Massachu.

Report of the Committee on Slavery, to the Convention of Congregational Ministers of Massachusetts. Presented May 30, 1849 (Volume 1) online

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REPORT



COMMITTEE ON SLAVERY,



Contention of Congregational iitinisters



MASSACHUSETTS.
PRESENTED MAY 30, 1849.



BOSTON:

PRESS OF T. R. MARVIN, 24 CONGRESS STREET.

184 9.



Iz




CONTENTS.



Page.
Historical Sketches of Slavery, particularly in the United States, . .5

The teaching of the Scrijjtiires on the subject, . . . ... • 13

The malediction of Noah considered, 16

Slavery in the times of the Patriarchs 22

Slaveiy under the law of Moses, . . . ' 25

How treated by Christ and the Apostles, 37

Efforts in opposition to Slavery, 57

Modes of uifluence at the present time 60

Results of Colonization, particularly as proving the capacity of the Africans

for self-government, 62

The moral sentiment of the Christian world, on the subject of Slavery, . 65

The connection between Slavery and the Constitution of the United States, 68

The right of property as affected by Emancipation, 79

Motives which should induce all American citizens to seek the extinction

of Slavery throughout our land, 83

Appendix — Extract from the •' Madison Papers," 90



Extracts from Minutes of the Convention of Congregational Minis-
ters of Massachusetts.

Thursday, June 1, 1848.

Resolved, That a Committee of nine b« appointed to prepare a
Report, — to be presented at the next Annual Meeting of this Conven-
tion, — containing a brief history of the rise and progress of Slavery in
our country, a view of the responsibility of the free States in regard
to it, and a calm and temperate, but solemn and earnest appeal to the
community on this momentous subject.*

The following members were appointed : — Dr. Lowell, of Boston ;
Dr. Hitchcock, of Randolph ; Dr. Storrs, of Braintree ; Mr. Thomp-
son, of Salem ; Dr. Worcester, of Salem ; Mr. Briggs, of Plymouth ;
Mr. Hill, of Worcester ; Dr. Child, of Lowell ; Mr. Lothrop, of
Boston.

Thursday, May 31, 1849.

Voted, That the Committee on Slavery be authorized to publish
the following resolution in connection with their Report :

Resolved, That the Convention, having listened to a full Abstract of
the Document prepared by the Committee appointed last year to con-
sider and report upon the subject of Slavery, approve of the general
principles and results of the same; and without holding themselves
responsible for its particular arguments and illustrations, hereby
authorize its publication, in such way as said Committee may deem
best, and can effect, without drawing upon the funds of the Conven-
tion, which are sacredly appropriated to the relief of the widows and
orphans of our deceased brethren.
A true copy. — Attest,

A. C. Thompson,

Scribe of Conventiori.

The " Abstract " to which the last vote of the Convention refers,
and which was read, the afternoon previous, contained, as is intimated,
a very full synopsis of the Report. It embodied all the important
principles and doctrines, premises and conclusions, which are present-
ed in the following pages ; and, perhaps, if it had been submitted as

* On motion of Dr. Lowell.



the Report itself, would alone have been sufficient to assure the Con-
vention, that the Committee had not lightly regarded the service, to
which they had been called.

After considerable discussion in regard to the question of hearing
the "Abstract" or the whole "Report," it was decided that the
former should be read. It was received with a very marked expres-
sion of approval, and was immediately adopted ; — a single hand only
being raised in the negative, and this not being observed by the
Chairman, the vote was declared to be unanimous. The whole
Report was then re-committed, with authority to publish it, provided
the means of defraying the expense could be secured by the Com-
mittee. •

From the animated and earnest response, on all sides, to the senti-
ments and statements of the " Abstract," the Committee are confident
that if the time could have been found for a hearing of the full Report —
and if the whole of our numerous body, exceeding five hundred mem-
bers, could have been present — the Report itself, in all its length and
breadth, would have received the sanction and seal of a prompt and
cordial adoption, by an overwhelming, if not unanimous vote. They
are sure, that no exception would have been taken, by any considera-
ble number, to any part of the Report which the Committee them-
selves would be solicitous to retain, as being indispensable, or quite
essential, to their main argument and appeal. And they deem it
proper to add, that they have sought to execute their commission with
a just sense of the magnitude of their responsibility ; and, as they
trust, with fervent supplication to the " Father of lights," from whom
" Cometh down every good gift and every perfect gift."

By agreement in the Committee, soon after their appointment, each
member was assigned a specific part of the general subject, in order
that the work might be more effectually performed, than could reason-
ably have been anticipated, if the whole labor had been imposed upon
any one member, or even upon a sub-committee. With a single
exception, the members have all, more or less, contributed to the
preparation of the Report. As an unavoidable consequence, it is
somewhat more detailed and less comprehensive, than it might other-
wise have been. The Committee would hope, however, that with all
its defects, it will be found to be essentially homogeneous ; and as a
whole, not unworthy of the candid and attentive consideration of their
brethren and of their fellow-citizens generally.



REPORT.



In the examination of the subject before us, our attention is
first called to the History of Slavery. Of this, however, an
outline is all that we can present ; since a statement of the de-
tails, in their various connections, would be nothing short of a
universal history.

The first slaves, it is believed, were captives in war. These
were considered entirely at the disposal of their captors, and a
life-long condition of bondage was probably felt to be an equi-
table commutation for their lives.* There was also this feature
of equity in the system, that its oppressions were not restricted
to a single race, nor dependent upon shades of complexion.
Nor did slavery in the earliest times present an insuperable
barrier to ambition, and reduce to a dead level of outward con-
dition all grades of intellectual and moral power. Thus we
find Joseph becoming prime minister of Egypt, and this, too,
without sacrificing his religion to the prejudices of that
country.

Though we have no means of determining the exact relation
and treatment of slaves, at so early a period, yet it is sufficient-
ly clear, that the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt was of a
political, rather than of a personal character. They were not
the private property of individuals, but were compelled to labor
upon public works. They certainly were not disabled from
acquiring and retaining private property ; and it is probable,
that their condition was not worse than that of the lower orders
of the Egyptians themselves. Moreover, a purely political
reason is assigned for the oppressions which were heaped upon
them. After their establishment in the promised land, a system
of slavery was tolerated among them, but very diflerent in

*" The Latin word ' servus,' a slave, appears to have been derived from ' servo,' /
preserve, and to have meant a person whose life was preserved on condition of giving
his labor to his conqueror; so that slavery, how repulsive soever to our present
feelings, probably formed at one time an important mitigation of the horrors of bar-
barism." — Brandc's Encyclopedia, Jlrt. Slavery.

2



some important particulars from that existing among their co-
temporaries in any part of the world. In our examination of
the Scriptures, with reference to this subject generally, we
shall have occasion to describe the servitude which existed
under the laws of Moses, somewhat minutely. It is sufficient,
therefore, to remark in this place, that the Hebrews were
iaught by the principles and by the precepts of their religion,
that personal freedom is an inestimable privilege ; and, that
wherever involuntary servitude is found to exist, the evils at-
tending it, whether physical or moral, ought, as far as possible,
to be mitigated and diminished, in obedience to the law of love
to God and love to man. In general, the requirements of the
Mosaic code respecting servants who were of the Hebrews, and
" bond-men " and " bond-maids " that might be bought of the
heathen, were so far observed, that the actual condition of this
class of persons in the land of Israel must have been incompa-
rably superior to that of the slaves among the Gentiles. And
the evidence is ample and decisive, that even the system of
slavery which Moses did not prohibit, but, to a certain extent,
suffered to remain among the chosen people, was continually
in conflict with uncompromising antagonistical elements, both
in the means and ends of the beneficent institutions of the He-
brew commonwealth. The natural effect of those institutions
was, to ameliorate the condition of slaves in every respect, and
ultimately to abolish the practice of slave-holding. It is a fact
worthy of particular notice in this connection, that if a bond-
woman bore a child to her master, the child followed the condi-
tion of the father. The doctrine of partus seqnitur vctitrem, is
of much later origin.

In several respects the condition of slaves in Mohammedan
nations has been similar to that of those among the ancient
Israelites ; and we shall therefore refer to it in this place, al-
though out of chronological order. — Under Mohammedan law,
slaves may compel their masters to set a price for their redemp-
tion, or to sell ihem to another master. The Turks make no
distinction in the treatment of children born to them by their
female slaves and those born in wedlock. The mother of a
sultan may be a slave. Christian slaves also may obtain their
freedom by professing Mohammedanism. In general, the treat-
ment of slaves wherever this religion prevails, appears to par-
take of the lenity and humanity of the Jewish system. The
condition of Christian captives in the Barbary States may appear
to offer an exception ; but the cruelties to which they were
subjected, may be ascribed either to the desire of revenge, or the
hope of extorting a larger or speedier ransom. To recent
movements with reference to slavery in those States, we shall
refer in another part of our Report.



Returning now to the ancient nations, — Homer may be cited
in proof of the early existence of slavery among the Greeks.
It is to be remembered, that Homer was an Asiatic, and his
pictures of domestic life have often an Asiatic coloring. At
most he is only authority for the slavery of captives of war.
In the nature of things it would seem scarcely possible, that
slaves could be numerous among a simple and hardy people.

Slaves in Greece were of two kinds. The Helots of Sparta
were serfs (adscript! gleboB) who were bound to the soil which
they cultivated, and on which they paid a certain rent. At
Corinth and Athens, slaves were chattels personal. They be-
came in time so numerous and skilful, that every species of
handicraft was performed by them. With the exception of
those employed in the mines, they seem to have been not un-
kindly treated. They were under the protection of law, and
an Athenian slave could take refuge from the cruelty of his
owner in the temple of Theseus. He could also compel his
master to sell him; but whether he could buy his own freedom
is doubtful. But whatever features of mildness slavery may
have assumed among the Greeks, can any one, who is at all
conversant with their history, believe that they ever reaped any
moral or social advantage from it ? Did any of them enjoy a
purer or more ennobling freedom, by the ignominious thraldom
of a portion of their community ?

We find traces of slavery in the earliest history of Rome.
Slaves, however, were, at first, very few in number. They
were captives, were employed in agriculture, and were treated,
probably, like other servants. We find that they sat at the
same table with their masters. As luxury increased, the num-
ber of slaves became larger. And beside the immense multi-
tude of captives taken in the constant wars of the republic,
there grew up a regular slave trade, by which slaves were pro-
cured from Asia and Africa. Nevertheless, the dealers in slaves
were a disreputable and odious class ; and were not allowed to
assume the title of merchants.

While the Roman laws allowed the exercise of great severity
in the treatment of slaves, even to the extent of taking life,
there were yet some important advantages enjoyed by the
slaves, as compared with those of our own country. The slave,
under certain prescribed conditions, could acquire property.
There was no bar to his emancipation by his master, and he
became a citizen as soon as emancipated. When slaves were
sold, families could not be separated. The general condition
of the slaves improved gradually with the advance of Chris-
tianity, and the system itself finally disappeared — either being
merged in the serfdom of the feudal institutions, or abolished
altogether.



8

From that serfdom to entire enfranchisement, the progress
was gradual, but steady. The law seems to have leaned strong-
ly toward liberty; andthe lawyers were strenuous in asserting
the most liberal interpretation of it. In this way the lord's
tenure of his serf was rendered as uncertain and vexatious as
possible. What was unjust was made inconvenient. The
popular element of the commonwealth asserted itself with more
and more distinctness ; and serfdom crumbled away like those
material relics of the past which are disentombed from ancient
repositories of the dead, by the simple contact of a freer atmos-
phere.

In looking at the several species of human bondage, at which
we have thus glanced, while our sympathies are appealed to by
their evident injustice, the mind is not impressed with any
logical inconsequence. They were in keeping with the spirit
and principles of the times. But in considering the slavery of
the African race in America, not only are we pained by its in-
humanity and its open breach of the acknowledged principles
of justice, but we are sensible that it is an anachronism.

Slavery in the ancient world, and at the present day in the
East, appears a natural and necessary part of the political fabric.
It is supported on every side by kindred institutions, like a
stone in mosaic. Natural justice has been the same in all ages;
but the limits to the view which each generation is enabled to
take of it, are in a great measure defined by habit, education
and surrounding circumstances. Thus we find even Luther,
taking sides against the insurgent serfs, because the absorption
of his mind in one object, as we may conjecture, did not allow
him to perceive, that their movement was a fair political corol-
lary from the premises which he had established in spiritual
matters. In this way we may conceive, that certain forms of
the social system which the pure reason must disown, may still
be in unison with the demands of the reasoning faculty, as
logical deductions from premises universally granted. But
American slavery has no such congruity. On the contrary, it
is in direct antagonism to the premises on which our govern-
ment rests; and- involves us every day in fresh contradictions
and compromises.

We have now reached the point in our survey where it is
proper to state the leading facts in the history of American
Slavery — passing at once from the ancient to the modern aspect
of the institution.

The first negroes, enslaved by a Christian nation iu modern
times, were brought to Portugal, about fifty years before the
discovery of America. Some of their enslavers, in the first
instance, were actuated by motives of benevolence ; conceiving
that the simple ceremony of baptism secured their eternal sal-



vation. From this chance seed, nevertheless, sprang the deadly-
upas of American slavery. The Portuguese gradually establish-
ed a traffic in slaves, but not upon a very large scale ; for, except
as articles of luxury, there could be no great demand for them
in Spain and Portugal. But the discovery of America, by open-
ing new fields for their labor, soon rendered the business per-
manent and profitable.

As long as Isabella lived, her womanly sympathies were in-
terposed between the happy and gentle islanders of the Caribbean
group and their rapacious invaders. She succeeded in prevent-
ing their enslavement, at least in name. Bnt Spain was far off
and the gold mines were near. A system of involuntary and
unrequited labor soon arose, which, shortly after the death of
Isabella, assumed the name, as it had already displayed all the
attributes, of Slavery. History has but faintly recorded (for
words are weak) the atrocities of which the Spanish colonists
were guilty toward that race which Columbus described as
Christians in all but the name. They who read the past wisely,
should not forget how Hayti, where slavery was first planted,
went through a fearful purgation of blood and flame.

It is well known, that, when in the sixteenth century it
was proposed to different powers of Europe to legislate for the
transportation of Africans, as slaves, to supply the alleged
necessities of the colonies in America, the purpose shocked the
moral sense of all Christendom ! And yet not a thousandth
part of the atrocities of the slave-trade had begun to be known
or imagined. It was only by the most artful and unwearied
management and deception, that the sovereigns of Spain, France
and England, were induced to give a partial and restricted in-
dulgence to the detestable traffic. A dispute between the
Franciscans who encouraged and the Dominicans who denoun-
ced both the slave-trade and the system of slavery, was adjudi-
cated by Leo X., whose righteous decision was, that ^^ not only
the Christian religion^ hut nature herself^ cried out against
Slavery f"

The desire of gold had become only more insatiable by a par-
tial satisfaction. The mines demanded new victims, and, the
natives having been literally annihilated, the loss must be sup-
plied from Africa. For more than three hundred years the
trade in human flesh has been carried on. For more than three
hundred years the slave-ship has been almost the only messen-
ger which Christendom has sent forth to Africa. Denounced
by all civilized men, this accursed traffic has still continued to
flourish, and must continue while the system that gives it life
is tolerated. It should be for our instruction and our gratitude,
that our New England ancestors, true to their principles and
their piety, strenuously, though ineffectually, withstood the in-
2*



10

troduction of slaves amongst them. But subject as they were
to the overshadowing power of the mother country, they could
not do as they would ; and a minority of the population pre-
vailed against a decided preponderance of public sentiment.

Sir John Hawkins was the first Englishman who made a
voyage to the African coast for slaves. In his second venture
Royalty went partner. Slaves were introduced into the Eng-
lish colonies in America as soon as it became profitable to
introduce them. In Massachusetts the system of slavery never
took kindly root, and the first efforts for its abolition were made
here. Early in the history of the colony, the captain of a
vessel who had brought some negroes hither from Africa was
ordered by the General Court to carry them back ; and by the
very act which gave her existence as an independent State,
Massachusetts proclaimed liberty to her bond-men.

If it be undeniable, that a portion of New England commerce
for many years participated largely in the " merchandize " of
men, it was with no better defence than " the son of perdition"
could have made for betraying his Lord " to be crucified and
slain." The public sentiment of Massachusetts, and of New
England generally, was irreconcilably opposed to the principle
and the practice of slave-holding ; and the intervals were brief, if
they occurred at all, in which there were not in the pulpit and
out of the pulpit, unsleeping and indomitable witnesses for truth
and righteousness, who " lifted up their voice like a trumpet "
and " spared not," while a portion of their fellow-citizens, with
a few "brethren in the Lord," delayed to loose the bonds of
wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppress-
ed go free.

But the two great crises in the history of American slavery,
and the consideration of which will be more immediately to
our purpose, were the adoption of the Federal Constitution in
1787, and the admission of Missouri as a slave State in 1S20.

After the war of the Revolution had been brought to an end,
it was very generally felt that the holding of slaves was grossly
inconsistent with the principles on which were grounded our
own claims to freedom. Though the Declaration of Independ-
ence, inspired by the sublimity of the occasion, laid down
axioms in advance of the public opinion and practice of the
day, it accorded well with the undefined feeling of an excited
people. But when the ennobling and invigorating impulse of a
struggle for liberty was withdrawn from men's minds and al-
lowed them to recede to their habitual level, and when selfish
interests were enabled to renew their hold, it was found that
the love of gain had lost none of its power; and the conduct
of the several States in regard to slavery, was far too much
graduated by the scale of profit. In the Eastern States, heredi-



11

tary or acquired principles of justice and mercy, unquestionably
exerted a paramount influence to bring about emancipation.
But we cannot concede them an unqualified commendation on
this score ; because a supposed commercial interest was permit-
ted to prevail against the decisions of public sentiment, in re-
gard to the impolicy and wickedness of the slave-trade.

We have called the period of the adoption of the Federal
Constitution a crisis in the history of slavery ; because at that
time the slave-power, which has since made such formidable
usurpations, was a trembling ])etitioner for the license even to
exist at all.

A reference to the " Madison Papers" will show, that a con-
tinuance of the slave-trade till the year ISOS, was conceded to
the clamors of South Carolina and Georgia; and we think it
clear even from such fragments as remain to us of the debates
of the Federal Convention, that the majority of the members
of that body looked upon the extinction of the slave-trade and
of slavery as synonymous. And it was universally supposed at
that time, that the number of slaves could onlybe kept from di-
minishing by fresh importations. For this reason the word
Slave was carefully excluded from the Constitution, that, Avhen
Human Bondage became a thing of the past, no trace of its ex-
istence, even, much less suspicion of connivance, should leave
its stain upon that instrument. " I think it wrong to admit in
the Constitution the idea that there can be property in man."
So said Mr. Madison in the Convention, and in so saying he
echoed the sentiments of a large majority of the members from
all sections of the country. Throughout the debates on the
slavery-clauses of the Constitution, it is very clear, that the
advocates of slavery acted entirely on the defensive. It could
not well be otherwise, since almost every statesman, eminent
in those early days of the Republic, has left on record his un-
qualified condemnation of the system. Some of the heartiest
denouncers of slavery were from Maryland and Virginia.

But in the thirty-three years which had elapsed between
the adoption of the Federal Constitution, and the admission of
Missouri, the posture of aff'airs had entirely changed. Slavery
now for the first time became aggressive, and the protection of
liberty which was intended to be the rule of our government,
had grown to be the rare exception. By the stopping of the


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Online LibraryConvention of Congregational Ministers of MassachuReport of the Committee on Slavery, to the Convention of Congregational Ministers of Massachusetts. Presented May 30, 1849 (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 11)