David Root.

A fast sermon on slavery. Delivered April 2, 1835, to the Congregational church and society in Dover, N. H (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryDavid RootA fast sermon on slavery. Delivered April 2, 1835, to the Congregational church and society in Dover, N. H (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 3)
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APRIL 2, 1835,





By DAVID ROOT, Pastor.




S E R M O i\

ISAIAH LVlll. 6,

'■ is not tins the faut thai, 1 have choseu ? to loose the bauds o!' wicke^dnese,
to undo the Iieavy burdens, and to let the opiucssed go free, and that ye bxeak
•very yoke ?"

Our excelJeiil Goveniuiin hia piochimaiion appoiuliiig this day
to be observed as a day of fasting and })rayer, among other im-
portant matter, has recommended, that our SLipj)lications be offered
in behalf of the oppressed, that " God would graciously unloose
all heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free."

Taking occasion therefore from this item of the document, I
propose to direct your attention at the present time, to the sub-
ject of oppression. It is one in which this nation, and every in-
dividual of this nation, ought to feel a deep and trembling interest.
I do not suppose, my beloved hearers, that any of us, even those
who have thought most and prayed most in reference to this sub-
ject, have any adequate conceptions of the extent to vvhicii it in-
volves the destinies of this nation.

Slavery like an incubus presses upon the heart of this republic.
It is a cancer fastened upon the vitals of this great community. It
is evil and only evil and evil continually. It stirs the vvratli of
heaven, and if there be a God on higli who legislates in right-
eousness, unless speedy repentance prevent, tlie days of this na-
tion are nearly numbered and finished. No apology therefore is
needed for inlrodnciiiK to your consideration this subject on the
present occasion.

The words prefixed to tlii.^ discomse arc appropriate and in
like manner lead us to the contemplation of the same subject. —
The piophel by inspiration k leaching us what is the kind of fast
of which God accepts and approves. " Is not this the fast that I

have clioben ? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy
burdens and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every

This is the way then in which God would have us fast, not
merely to afflict our souls, but to nerve up our minds to works of
mercy and be ready to put forth actual and efficient efforts in be-
half of the oppressed.

But let us understand wliat slavery is. In the words of our
text, tlie bands of slavery are called bands of wickedness, be-
cause slavery is sin. To this point then let us first attend.

I. Slavery is sin. The testimony of the scriptures in reference
to this point is sufficiently clear and decisive. They condemn
every species of oppression. Unjust men and extortioners are
by the law of the Eternal excluded from heaven. For it is writ-
ten, "the hope of unjust men perisheth." But no injustice so
flagrant as slavery. And again, it is written, " neither thieves,
nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall
inherit the kingdom of God." But no extortion so foul as thctt
of slavery. It takes not only all that a man hath, but for the
want of more, it extorts body and soul.

We have no right to keep back the wages of those who serve
us. "The laborer is worthy of his hire." To withhold pay-
ment, because we have the power to do so, is gross fraud. And
hence says the apostle, " Behold, the hire of the laborers who
have reaped down your fields, which of you is kept back by fraud,
crieth : and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into
the ears of the Lord of sabaoth." Slavery keeps back every
thing. The slave holder compels his fellow man by violence to
serve him without any remuneration whatever. The slave owns
nothing, not even the rags on his back, not even his flesh and
limbs. The master claims to own his body and soul, and for the
sake of gain, taxes his bones and muscles to any extent he pleases.

There are parts of the Old Testament, which by some persons
have been interpreted as favoring slavery, particularly, what is
said of Abraham's servants. But Abraham's servants were not
slaves. They were (rained or educated servants, or dependants,
who went with him to battle, who fought side by side with him,
and who shared with him the spoils of victory.

Truly, there is a law in the Old Testament which recognizes sla-
very, but recognizes it as a crime, a foul crime, a capital crime.
*' He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his
hand, he shall surely be put to death." Suffice it to say,
there is not an instance of involuntary servitude justified in the
Old Testament, except in cases where it was required by God
as a punishment for sin. This declaration is not made unadvised-
ly. We repeat, there is no instance of .involuntary servitude jus-
tified in the Old Testament but as a punishment for sin.

Moreover, whai lesson do we learn iipoti this subject from llie
history of the Egyptian bondage r That bondage was cornpara-
lively light. It was only tributary. Under that bondage, the
Israelites not only owned themsolves, but they had possessions,
property ; lor when they went out of Egypt, they took with them
their flocks, their herds, and their little ones. And yet compara-
tively light as it was, it provoked the wrath of heaven, and God
exhibited judgment after judgment of the most fearful character,
until he effectually " brake the arm of the oppressor and let the
oppressed go free."

But let us continue our examination. And what may we gath-
er in relation to this subject from the instructions of the New
Testament.'^ Why, masters are commanded to " give unto their
servants," or those who serve them, "that which is just and equal."
Now, it will be perceived at once, that this passage condemns
slavery altogether ; for let masters obey this precept and give un-
to those who serve them that which is just and equal, that is, wa-
ges, fair wages, (and nothing less than this can be accounted just
•and equal) and slaverv ceases. Such servants thus compensated
are no longer slaves. For it is impossible to hold servants as
slaves, as property, and yet give unto them that which is just and
equal. The very position involves a gross inconsistency and ab-

But are not servants commanded to be obedient unto their
masters ? They are indeed. But that command furnishes no
justification of slavery. Those who serve should obey those who
are to be served. The injunction is wise and proper. If you
were to employ a servant, a laborer, a meclianic, or one to serve
you in any capacity, and he refused to follow your instructions,
would that be right f Surely not. Those who serve should ob-
serve the directions of their employers. But servants are not
slaves. The original word douloi does not necessarily signify
slaves. And the connexion in which it is most frequently found
in the New Testament, shews that it does not. Take two or
three examples. Paul is frequently called a servant of Jesus
Christ. B^it Paul was not the slavi- of.lesus Christ. " Behold
my servant whom I have chosen." But that Christ was the slave
of God the Father js an impious thought. .Joshua was the servant
of Moses, Elislia of Elijah, Gehazi of Elisha, and all the apostles
were the servants of Jesus Christ, but not the slaves of Jesus
Christ. Our Saviom- says, "where I am there shall also my
servants be." But the servants of Christ are not his slaves. In-
stances of this kind are exceedingly numerous. The word serv-
ant then, in its ordinary acceptation, does not signify a slave, but
one who serves, one who is employed to do service. And in this
sense it is evidently to be taken in those passages in which serv-
ants are required to be obedient to their masters.

Bui iviii tiot'Onesiniiis a runaway slave whom Paul sent, back
!o PliileiiHJii his master ? No, my hearers, we deny the position
tiiat he was a s!ave. He was a servant, and in some way prob-
ai)ly Itotiiid to do Philemon service, and had perhaps failed of ful-
tiilini^ his engagements, and hence Paul says to Philemon, " if he
hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that to mine ac-
•i;ount," which could not properly be said in regard to a slave. A
slave being himself property can own nothing, nor can he properly
be said to owe him by whom he is owned. He cannot owe his
owner. To suppose then that Onesimus was a slave is gratuit-
ous and contrary to evidence. Besides, if he had been a slave,
it seems hardly probable that Paul would have sent him back, as
he was forbidden to do so- by the Mosaic law, which forbade any
Israelite to give up the slave who had escaped to him. Paul
however sent him back to be received, " not even as a serv-
ant, but above a servant, a brother beloved." Whether there-
fore he were a slave or not, no justification of slavery can be
lound in diis transaction.

And look for one moment, I beseech you, my hearers, at the
consequences of supposing that Paul justified slavery. If Paul
justified slavery, then he justified the principle, that power gives
right to enslave. And upon this principle, if I am the stronger,
I have only to exercise my power and by violence reduce you to
■vassalage, in order to furnish myself witii a just claim to your
uncompensated services. For the slave holder retains his vic-
tim by no better right, and by no other right, than that of brut«

Adopt this principle then, and you necessarily justify the vety
worst forms of tyranny and despotism that ever curst the world.
Adopt this principle extensively, and the consequences would be
absolutely liorrible. Adopt tliis principle, and Pharaoh was in-
nocent. Nero was mild and merciful. The exorbitant de-
mands of the mother country upon her American Colonies, if she
rould have carried her points, would have been just and right.
Indeed, no Jacobin of the French revolution ever justified a more
dangerous doctrine than this. Robespierre would have blushed
to own such a doctrine. The very devils would be ashamed to
aclcnowledge the principle that power gives right to oppress. —
Power gives right ! ! Why, there are no forms of crime which
it would not sanction. And no language, of course, can express
(he abhorrence which we ought to feel toward such a principle.

Let us beware then, how we slaader that generous minded
aposde by intimating that he justified slavery, O, if Paul him-
self were present, with what just indignation would he repel the
slanderous impjitation ? I Patil justify slavery ? I who taught
and enforced the benevolent plan of the Gospel, and hovt ye
ought "to do justice and love merry," — ^" to render to all their

dues," — to those who serve you, 'Hliat which is just and equal" —
I who tauglit you that the law was made lor mansiealem as well
as for liars aud perjured persons ? 1 justify slavery f I who
enforced the great law of love ? God forbid !

My hearers, no man feels that slavery is right. No man is
willing 10 be a slave. Liberty is dear. All men love it, and
would sooner fight for it than for any other object on earth. Un-
influenced by interest or prejudice all men condemn slavery. If
there be one instinctive sentiment in the human breast, it is that
slavery is wrong.

But contemplate, for :; moment, some general principles of
moral action recognized by the word of God. The scriptures
specify few crimes. They advance general principles from
which we are to gather lessons of duty.

The eighth commandment says, " thou shalt not steal." —
What is it to .steal ? It is to take clandestinely that which belongs
to another. What is it to rob f It is to take by force that which
belongs to another. 13y what name then shall we call the crime
of him who takes by force, not only what belongs to another, but
rakes by force that other's own self, body and soul, makes him a
prisoner for life, and for mercenary purposes taxes his bones and
muscles to the utmost extent of which they are capable, every
day and every hour, to the last moment of his mortal existence.
By what name, I ask, shall we call this crime ? To call it rob-
bery would be inadequate and tame. He who by violence at-
tempts to efface from his fellow man the image of God, by mak-
ing him a beast of burden, perpetrates a crime for which the vo-
cabulary of our language furnishes no adequate name. It is the
most flagrant violation of the eighth commandment which can be

Consider also the golden rule of our Saviour, " Do unto oth-
ers as you would that others should do unto you." If you then,
an innocent man, were in unjust and cruel bondage, what would
be reasonable for you to ask and expect of those who held you
thus .'' Certainly it would be reasonable for you to ask and ex-
pect that your yoke be immediately broken and that you go free.
Suffice it to say, no man who holds his fellowman as property
does by him as he would be done by. In every such instance
the golden rule of the Saviour is violated. For no slave-hold-
er would willingly be treated as he treats his victim. Would he
be willing to be robbed every day of his just earnings, to be kept
in utter ignorance, to be subjected to the caprice and cruelty ol an
irresponsible individual, to be hrutized and held merely as
beasts of burden ? I need not answer.

But let us for a moment contemplate the band.*? of wickedness
with which oui colored countrymen are bound, and the heavy
burden which they are made to bear, and see if we have not just


•occaiiion lo fast and pray, and be humbled before God on account
of our Iniquitous oppressions. Look at slavery then as it exists in
Yhese United States.

What is it ? To show you what is its true aspect, allow me to
present you with the following summary gathered from the slave-
holding laws of the South. It is principally an abstract from that
part of Mrs Child's Appeal which treats of this subject.

1 . " Slavery is hereditary and perpetual to the last moment of
the slave's earthly existence, and to all his descendants, to the
latest posterity.

2. The labor of the slave is compulsory and uncompensated,
while the kind and amount of labor are dictated solely by the
master. No bargain is made, nor wages given. A pure despo-
tism governs the human brute.

3. The slave being considered a personal chattel may be sold
or exchanged for other commodities or used in any other way
like any other piece of property ; may be sold at auction either
individually or in lots to suit the purchaser. Of course he may
be separated from his family forever.

4. Neither a slave nor free colored person can in any case be
a witness against any white or free man in any court of justice,
but may give testimony against a fellow slave or free colored
man. The slave may be punished at his master's discretion with-
out trial and without any means of redress.

5. The slave whether male or female is not allowed to resist
any white or free man under any circumstances. Any, the least
resistance, even to defend chastity, may prove fatal.

G. The slave is entirely unprotected in his domestic relations.

7. The whole power of the laws is exerted to deprive the slaves
of moral and religious instruction, and to keep them in the lowest
state of ignorance and degradation.

8. There is a monstrous inequality of law and right. What is
a trifling offence in a white man, is punished in the negro with

Surely, Roman slavery, in point of severity and cruelty, bare no
•comparison with this. The slave laws of the South, like the laws
of Draco, are written in blood. There is a law in Louisiana
which in effect, makes it a capital offence for any white man to
read the Bible in the presence of a slave or colored person. This
law enacts, in substance, that if any person shall read, say or do
tmy thing, by signs or in any other way, calculated to make the
slave discontented with his condition, he shall be liable, 8ic.

Now it is plain, that the words of our text, read in the presence
of a slave, would be calculated to make him feel discontented, and
of course, would subject the individual who should do so, to the
penalty in question.

But allow me to give you another definition of slavery, the


definition of a soutiiem clergyman, the Rev. Robert Breckenridge
of Baltimore.

** What then is slavery f" asks he, in a public discussion on the
subject, " for the question relates to the action of certain princi-
ples upon it, and to its probable and proper results ; what is sla-
very as it exists among us ? We reply, it is that condition en-
forced by the laws of one half the states of this confederacy, in
which one portion of the community,called masters, is allowed such
power over another portion called slaves ; as

1. To deprive iheni of the entire earnings of their own labor,
except only so much as is necessary to continue labor itself by
continuing healthful existence, thus committing clear robbery.

2. To reduce them to the necessity of universal concubinage,
by denying to them the civil rights of marriage ; thus breaking up
the dearest relations of life and encouraging universal prostitution.

3. To deprive them of the means and opportunities of moral
and intellectual culture, in many slates making it a high penal of-
fence to teach them to read, thus perpetuating whatever of evil
iliere is that proceeds from ignorance.

4. To set up between parents and childeren an authority high-
er than the impulse of nature and the laws of God ; which breaks
up the authority of the father over his oftspring, and at pleasure
separates the mother at a returnless distance from her child ; thus
abrogating the dearest laws of nature ; thus outraging all decen-
cy and justice, and degrading and oppressing thousands upon
thousands of beings created like themselves in the image of the
Most High God. This is slavery as it is daily exhibited in every
slave state."

If this be not oppression, and oppression of the most cruel char-
acter, then there can be no such thing as oppression. But op-
pression of every kind is condennied in the most severe and un-
measured terms by the word of God.

Slavery is also contrary to the genius of our government. The
declaration of our independence recognizes all men as free and
equal, possessing certain inalienable rights, as life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness. How odious in the sight of God must be
the hypocrisy of reiterating such a declaration, and then, in the very
teeth of that declaration, robbing two millions of our countrymen of
the very rights we thus aver to be inalienable ! Henceforth when
that instrument is read, let shame cover us. Let every fourth of
July remind us of our iniquitous hypocricy, and instead of vain
boastings of our country's freedom and glory, let us think of our
guilt and our disgrace, and come before God with penitence and
prayer, that the judgments, which by our cruel oppressions we
have provoked and deserved, may be averted.

The toleration of slavery in this country is utterly at variance
u'ith our past policy, and inrolves our past procBedings as a na-

lion in cross inconsistency. By the war of ihe Revolution we
said tliat all men are free and equal, and we stood to it at the per-
il of our lives and with the shedding of much blood. But by the
toleraton of slavery, we now practically say it is right for one class
of men to reduce by violence another class to hopeless bondage.

The oppressed condition of the Greeks and Poles has in turn
excited our commiseration,' and we have to some extent put forth
our efforts in their behalf ; but when the cry of distressed, bleed-
ing humanity has reached us from the Southern borders of our
land, alas ! alas ! our ears we have closed, our hearts we have
hardened, and our hands have refused to help. We have turned
away with a cold and calculating indifference, and with the feel-
ings of the Priest and the Levile we have passed by on the other

II. Let us now consider the diity and safety of immediate

If slavery be a sin, which is manifest, than which nothing can
be more inanifesl, then it ought to be repented of without delay ;
and immediate emancipation becomes the duty of the master and
the right of the slave. Nothing short of such emancipation can
be regarded as fruits meet for repentance. No man truly re-
pents of his iniquity until he abandons it.

Is it sinful to hold our fellow men as property, as chattels, and
thus degrade God's image .'' If it be, then he w'hodoes it, ought
to cease from doing it at once.

Is it sinful to compel our fellow men by violence to toil for us
and withhold from them that which is just and equal, thus com-
mitting clear robbery ? if it be, then he who does it, ought to
cease from doing it at once.

Is it sinful to abrogate the law of marriage and to encourage
universal prostitution f If it be, then he who does it, ought to
cease from doing it at once.

Is it sinful to exclude men from a knowledge of the word of
God, and to keep them in ignorance of ti'uth and duty, and thus
to heathenize them .'' If it be, then he who does it ought to cease
from doing it at once.

Is it sinful to setup between parents and children an authority
higher than the impulse of nature and the laws of God, separat-
ing the father from hir^ offspring and removing the mother forev-
er from the child of her affections. If it be, then he who does it,
ought to cease from doing it at once.

But the slave holder abets, encourages and participates in all
this iniquity. You are ready then to say with me, that from such
iniquity he ought to cease at once. You are then to all intents
and purposes an immediate ;ibolitionist. You say, that no man
ought to hold his fellow man as property, that no man ought to
rob his fellow man of his hono?t eainiBgs., that no man ought to


encourage prostitution, that no man ought to exclude hh lellow
man from access to the Bible, and that no man ought to break
up the authority of the parent over his child, and you say right.
It is even so. But to cease from doing this is immediate eman-

But would immediate emancipation be safe ." My Ijcarerc,
what is right is always safe. What is agreeable to the will ol'
God can never be unsafe. The plea of danger is the tyrant's
plea, and utterly unworthy of patriotic, and christian men.

But let us look at the subject in view of probable consequen-
ces. Suppose the slaves of our country all emancipated at once,
which is by no means probable, nor hardly possible. What evils
would result ':' Would they rise and massacre their former mas-
ters as some persons have foolishly imagined r But they would
have no motives to perpetrate such deeds of blood. Men do not
act, especially in such a perilous and murderous enterprise, with-
out motives. But in this case they could have no motive, but
every consideration to dissuade them.

Moreover, ifthey would, they could accomplish no such purpose.
The white men, even now, are two to their one in the Southern
Slates, and the power is in their hands and would be for centu-
ries to come. But I will not occupy your time in controverting
an apprehension so utterly groundless and preposterous.

All history in relation to this subject shows, that immediate
emancipation is entirely safe. The history of St. Domingo fur-
nishes a most striking and happy illustration and proof of this po-
sition. It was not immediate emancipation which worked mis-
chief and havoc and ruin there. Immediate emancipation pro-
duced the happiest results, and under its benign influence that
Island rose as by enchantment to unwonted prosperity. But it
was the base and tyrannical attempt of Napoleon, instigated by
the mercenary aristocracy of the Island, to rivet again the chains
of those who had for a moment tasted the sweets of freedom.
It was this which wrought untold havoc and dyed her soil in a
profusion of blood.

Those British West India Islands, where inunediate emancipa-
tion has been recently effected, have been thus far entirely quiet^
orderly, and prosperous.

We must not forget that emancipation from the tyranny of an
irresponsible individual, is not an emancipation from law. The
enslaved man, by being made free, is not emancipated from gov-
ernment and law. He is restrained from the perpetration of
crime by the same laws which restrain other citizens. If he steal
he will be imprisoned, il he murders he will be hung.

We have said that all history relating to this subject shews the

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Online LibraryDavid RootA fast sermon on slavery. Delivered April 2, 1835, to the Congregational church and society in Dover, N. H (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 3)