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Prove all things; hi)ld fast that which it; good."— Paul.




Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1837,


in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Connecticut.



Introduction, - - - - - -5


Patriarchal Servitude, -... - 9

• The Servitude of the Mosaic Institutes, - - - 19

The New Testament doctrines respecting Servitude, - - 35

The Slavery of the Greeks and Romans, - - - - 49


The nature of Righteous Servitude, - - - - 57


The different kinds of Servitude, - .... (.5

Is Slavery wrong 1- - - - - - 75

I Ought Slavery to be immediately abolished] - - . . 88


The following Dissertation is devoted to an extensive
subject, and one of great practical importance. Servi-
tude occupies a prominent place in the Scriptures, and
is illustrated by a great variety of Scripture precepts
and examples. It enters into several of the most im-
portant institutions of civilized and christian society,
and opens a field for investigation, pertaining to the
deepest principles of morality and religion.

This subject in all its branches is now brought into
discussion, by the existing excitement in relation to
slavery. The advocates and apologists for slavery, are
examining it for the purpose of fortifying their positions
and maintaining more effectually their tottering cause.

The opposers of slavery are examining it for the op-
posite purpose ; namely, that of assailing more effect-
ually the object of their opposition. This subject, there-
fore, is one of interest to all classes of persons.

The order pursued in this Dissertation, has appeared
to the writer to possess several important advantai^es. It
follows the divine communications on this sul)ject, be-
ginning with the earliest, and proceeding regularly to
the latest. On leaving them, it proceeds naturally from
the more simple to the more complicated and dilficiilt
topics of inquiry. Whatever may liave been his suc-
cess, the writer has sought diligently and honestly for
the truth, in respect to tiie Scripture exam})les of servi-
tude, and the doctrines they inculcate on tliis subject.
Those doctrines and exam})les, as they liave appeared
to him, are herein impartially set forth, and are com-


mended, not to the blind credulity, but to the diligent
investigation of every reader.

Truth will bear examination. It is our high privi-
lege to prove all things by free and liberal inquiry ; and
we must do it in order to attain and hold fast that, and
that only, which is truly good.

The present inquiry has led the writer to several con-
clusions which he did not anticipate at the commence-
ment of it. Many of them have been hio^hly gratifying
to his feelings, and in his opinion, favorable to the honor
of religion. As far as those conclusions are according to
truth, and no farther, he would be glad to conduct oth-
ers to the same.

The truth is not bound. It is not altogether con-
cealed, nor yet does it all appear to the superficial and
hasty inquirer. It must be sought for with diligence
and patience, and with continued attention and repeated
eifort, in order to its being fully explored even in its
most simple developments. Moral truth must also be
sought with a humble, submissive, teachable, and chris-
tian spirit, in order to its being fully understood and
appreciated. Labor and argument are often expended
in vain upon the unhumbled and unteachable, already
wiser in their own eyes, and in entire ignorance, than
seven men who can demonstrate the truth of their opin-
ions. Prov. xxvi. 16.

A christian spirit is peculiarly necessary in the inves-
tigation of the nature and relations of slavery. Here it
becomes us all to feel that we are but men, and that
truth is of God. Here our inquiries ought to be prose-
cuted with special deliberation and care, remembering
that we are responsible to God for our opinions and
words, as well as for our actions. Errors of opinion
lead to those of affection and action. We must think
right on all practical subjects, in order to feel and act

The subject of slavery is one of practical interest to
every citizen of the United States. We all have some-
thing to do with it as citizens, to approve or disapprove,


to eiicourao^e or discouras^e, to build up or pull down.
We have done too much in ignorance ; it becomes us
now to act with intelligence and discretion. Not to
feel a desire to understand this subject, indicates an un-
usual and criminal apathy in respect to the interests of
humanity and religion ; and also in respect to the influ-
ence which we are bound as individuals to exert.

Slavery is not only supported by the slave-holding
states and districts in which it exists, but by every por-
tion of the United States. Every part of the Union is
implicated in its support, by the action of their repre-
sentatives in congress. The national legislature has
assumed the responsibility of continuing it in the Dis-
trict of Columbia, the heart of the nation, and the very
Citadel of freedom, and in other districts under its entire
control, at the South and West. It has permitted this
acknowledged evil to increase and extend itself from
year to year, till its present alarming magnitude has
been attained. In this procedure of the national govern-
ment, the North and non slave-holding states have gen-
erally co-operated. The voice of remonstrance from
this quarter has been occasionally heard ; but it has been
only occasional, feeble, and consequently ineftectual.
This co-operation of the North in the support and ex-
tension of slavery, is the more surprising on account of
the general condemnation and abhorrence of this insti-
tution by the mass of northern men. It is acknowledged
to be wrong. It is deplored as a great political evil,
and a source of imminent peril to our liberties as a na-
tion. Over the South it is seen to hancr like a dark
portentous cloud of the wrath of the vVlmighty, wiio de-
clares both by his word and providence, that though
hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunislied ;
(Prov. xi. 21 ;) and that evil shall pursue them. A
sentiment has generally prevailed, that something effec-
tual ought to be done to check this extending and in-
creasing evil ; but till this time it has gone on uncheck-
ed, and is now in the full tide of advancement.

In the opinion of the wisest and most discerning


minds, this matter must ultimately come to a crisis. If
it is not prosecuted and overtaken with remedial mea-
sures by us, it will ultimately become too great and
dreadful to be sustained, and will recoil upon its sup-
porters with tremendous and wide-spread ruin. We
ought not to close our eyes against approaching danger ;
but to forsee the evil which is advancing upon us, and
if possible, avoid it.

On the church of Christ the subject of this Disserta-
tion possesses undoubted and peculiar claims. That
association was formed for the purpose of promoting the
exercise of justice and mercy. We are bound to exercise
mercy towards men, as the necessary condition of our
receiving it from God. James ii. 13. We are bound
as christians to sympathize with the afflicted and op-
pressed everywhere, but especially within the sphere of
our immediate influence.

If slave-holding is wrong, the church ought not in
any way to countenance or encourage it. Here the
light of truth ought to shine with unclouded radiance ;
and from this sacred enclosure, the law of love ought
to proceed. " Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are
true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things
are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things
are lovely, and of good report ; if there be any virtue and
any praise, think of these things ;" pursue them steadily
and earnestly ; " and the God of peace shall be with

Come thou blessed Jesus in the glory of thy truth and
love, and send forth judgment to victory ; (Matt. xii. 20 ;)
and let every one that readeth say come.




The state of society in the early periods of our race, is in-
volved in considerable obscurity. The Bible is the only source
of authentic information on this subject, and the information
which it contains is necessarily limited. It teaches us, however,
that marriage existed from the commencement of human society,
and that the relations of husband and wife, and of parent and
child, were recognized in the family of Adam, and continued,
and respected in every succeeding age.

At the commencement of human society, all government was
naturally and almost necessarily patriarchal. Adam probably
long continued to be the patriarchal head of his increasing pos-
terity, and to exercise over them some degree of patriarchal au-
thority. Each succeeding family was, however, a little kingdom
of itself, having acknowledged rights and privileges of its own,
and looking to its immediate head as the fountain of authority in
respect to all ordinary affairs. How far family government was
modified by patriarchal authority, or within what limits patriarchal
authority was restrained, it is impossible to determine with j)re-

Abraham was not subject to any patriarchal authority exerci-
sed by his ancestors, after his departure from Harari, when he
was seventy-five years old. Gen. xii. 5. Previous to that time,
he seems to have been in some degree under the authority of
Terah liis father, as did also Lot his nephew, (icn. xi. 31.

In Egypt, Abraham submitted to the monarchical government


then existing in that country, and was for a time protected by it.
At this time he possessed " sheep, and oxen, and asses, and men-
servants, and maid-servants, and camels." It appears also, that
Lot had not yet separated from him. Gen. xii. 14 — 20.

Men-servants and maid-servants are here enumerated among
Abraham's possessions. What authority he exercised over
them, or by what right he held them in a state of servitude, we
are not informed. It is evident, however, that Abraham's author-
ity over his servants was not derived from the civil government
of the countries in which he lived ; but that it was entirely inde-
pendent of those governments. It made no difference as to
that, whether he was in Egypt or Canaan ; within the domains
of an absolute monarchy, or where no civil government of any
kind extended its authority over him.

In Gen. xvi. we find an account of Hagar, an Egyptian fe-
male servant belonging to Sarah, Abraham's wife. After a res-
idence of ten jears in the land of Canaan, Sarah seeing that
she had no children, requested Abraham to take Hagar her maid-
servant as his concubine, or wife of the second class. Abra-
ham complied with her request, and thus brought upon himself
the stain and guilt of polygamy, and planted the seeds of severe
domestic afflictions in his family. It is to be presumed that this
female servant did not become the wife of Abraham without her
consent, or contrary to her own will.

The word JTT'lsJi mistress, which expresses the relation of
Sarah to Hagar, Gen. xvi. 8, 9, is applied in other parts of the
Bible to denote a person of high rank, generally a queen. " And
Hadad found great favor in the sight of Pharaoh, so that he
gave him as a wife, the sister of his own wife, the sister of
Tahpenes Ji-i"^!!:;'" the queen." 1 Kings xi. 19: xv. 13; 2
Kings X. 13; 2"fchron. xv. 16.

The severity which Hagar experienced from Sarah, was prob-
ably as inexcusable as tb.e sin of polygamy, into which Abraham
had been led by the advice of his first and principal wife.

We are told that Abraham made provision for the sons of his
concubines, and that he sent them eastward into the East country,
while he yet lived. Gen. xxv. 6.

The word concubines is the translation of D"'^":ib'>S and de-
notes wives of an inferior class, such as Hagar. In Gen. xxv.
10, 13, Hagar is called |-i7:M incorrectly translated bond-woman.
Hannah applies this word to herself, 1 Sam. i. 11,16; Abigail,


the wife of Nabal, does the same, 1 Sam. xxv. 24, 27, 28, 31,
41 ; and the wise woman of Tckoa, 2 Sam. xiv. 15. It undoubt-
edly denotes a state of subjection, in opposition to one of autlior-
ity ; and an inferior, considered in ix-spcct to rank. But it does
not denote a slave, or a person held as property. Ha^^ar was
not so held by Abraham ; certainly not after lie had taken her
to be his wife. An important dilference of meaning between
this word and the ordinary name of a female servant, is clearly
indicated in 1 Sam. xxv. 41, where Abigail requests David to
take herself for a servant.

In Gen. xx. 14, Abimeleck, king of Gerar, to compensate
Abraham for an injury he had ignorantly done him, " took sheep
and oxen and men-servants and women-servants, and gave them
to him." These were probably given as subjects are transfer-
red from one civil government to another.

In Gen. xxx. 43, Jacob is said to have had " many sheep, and
maid-servants, and men-servants, and camels, and asses."
These passages bear a striking resemblance to Gen. xii. It),
where we have a similar inventory of the possessions of Abraham.

The most common names of patriarchal servants, were D"'^^:?
men-servants, and nhsilJ female-servants. They are several
times, however, mentioned in the patriarchal history by dilTerent

In Gen. xiv. 14, Abraham's servants are called iri"»n "^T'b"'
children of bis family ; probably the same as family or house-
hold servants — servants belonging to his family. Of these he
led out in person three hundred and eighteen, who were trained
for military service, on a sudden expedition against the con-
querors of Sodom and the adjacent country, by wiiom nis nephew
Lot had been taken captive. With this force and his confederates
he marclied from Hebron to Dan. Here he attacked them by
night, retook their spoil and captives, and pursued them with
great slaughter to Hobah, west of Damascus.

These were probably comprehended among those referred to
as belonging to Abraham, Gen. xii. 10, under the appellation
of men-servants. They may however have denoted a cUlss <»f
servants, attached in a peculiar manner to their master and civil
governor, and liable to be called upon on any sudden emer-
gency in preference to others, and may have been entitled to pe-
culiar privileges.

In Gen. xvii. 12, 13, 23, n^n n^b"^ child ol" the family, occurs


as the appellation of a class of servants who were so far under
the authority of Abraham, as to be required by him to receive
circumcision ; and of course they must have been equally under
his control, in respect to other manifest duties.

They are in this chapter distinguished from others in a state
of equal subjection so far as religious duties were concerned,
termed p]D3-n2[P/j the purchase of silver, or of money. This
latter name, derived from the mode of their acquisition, by pur-
chase, denotes a distinct class of servants, without defining the
nature of their servitude. It seems that all the servants of
Abraham belonged to one or other of these classes. Properly
translated, the passages referred to read thus :

" 12. He that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you,
every man-child in your generations ; the household servant or
child of the family, and the purchase of money, him that is
bought with money. 13. The household servant and he that is
bought with thy money, must be circumcised. 23. And Abra-
ham took Ishmael bis son, and ail his household servants, and
all his bought servants, every male among the men of the house
or family of Abraham, and circumcised them in the same day,
as God had commanded him."

The household or family of Abraham comprehended these
two classes of servants. It must of course have been very
large, for we have three hundred and eighteen of one only of
these classes mentioned on a former occasion, and those such
as had been qualified by appropriate instruction and exercise for
military service, and such as could be called into the field upon
the shortest notice.

In Gen. xv. 2, 3, Abraham not yet having had any children,
complains of his having no child to inherit his property and au-
thority, and that Eliezur of Damascus, a household servant, was
likely to be his heir. It appears from this remarkable passage,
that in respect to the inheritance of property and authority, the
household servants took precedence of all other relatives, except
lineal descendants ; for Abraham had a nephew near, namely,
Lot, and had other relatives in Haran ; yet Eliezur his servant
was at this time liis presumptive heir, to the exclusion of all his

In Gen. xxiv. 2, mention is made of a patriarchal servant, the
elder or ruler of Abraham's house or family, who is described as
exercising under Abraham the highest authority, and havins all


the affairs of this extensive patriarchate or family, under hisim.
mediate supervision and control.

The word translated eldest, in our common version of verse 2,
is generally translated elder, and ought to be so rendered here.
It is the common Hebrew name for a ruler of any kind, whether
civil or religious, or both.

This ruler calls himself Abraham's servant, verse 34, and
calls Abraham his master, and describes him tts having been
greatly blessed, and as being a man of great distinction. Vei>;e
35. He describes the possessions of Abraham as consisting
chiefly in flocks, and herds, and silver, and ,«;old, and men-ser-
vants, and female servants, and camels, and asses. All these
possessions are said to have been given or translerred to Isaac,
as his successor and heir. Verse 30.

Abraham seems to have exercised the authority of a prince
or chief. He was the sole head and ruler of the little dyucusiy
which was composed of his servants and children, and which is
repeatedly referred to by Moses, as his n'^i patriarchate or fam-
ily. The person who ruled under him, over all that he had, v>q.s
only ']'r\^2 "ipT the elder or ruler of his family.

Abraham's family or household, which he commanded to keep
the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment, (Gen. xviii. 11),)
comprehended all his servants, both the servants of the family,
properly so called, and those bought with money. Gen. xvii.
12, 13, 23.

The covenant of grace formed with Abraham, as the visible
head of the church, extended its kind provisions to his servants
as well as to his children, inasmuch as they, equally with his
children, were required to receive the mark of circumcision, the
external seal of that covenant. Gen. xvii. 12, 13, 14.

The extent of his authority over his servants, so far as it is
indicated in the inspired record of Moses, does not appear to be
greater than it was over his children. He was the civil and re-
ligious sovereign of both. This sovereignty was probably vested
in him partly by inheritance, partly by the usages of the times
and countries in which he lived, and still more by the consent of
his subjects.

Men who live in society must be the subjects of some govern-
ment ; they must bow to some authority which they become oh.
ligated to uphold, and which becomes obligati'tl in its turn, to af-
ford them protection. The government of Abraham was upheld
by the combined support of his servants.



So far as appears from the inspired account of this dynasty,
that support must have been voluntary, or chiefly so. There
was no higher power by which a reluctant submission could
have been enforced. There was no middle class to stand be-
tween Abraham and his servants, who in consequence of pecu-
liar privileges, might have had an interest to assist him in oppres-
sing them. He stood nearly if not quite alone, with nothing to
bind his servants to him, but the benefits they could derive from
his government, patronage, and protection. Those benefits, we
liave reason to believe, were not few nor small ; for his was a
government in which the doing of judgment and justice was
strictly enforced. Gen. xviii. 19.

A kindred species of government and of servitude still contin-
ues in the East, though with far less of judgment and justice, and
with far more of the exercise of arbitrary power, than can rea-
sonably be attributed to Abraham and his successors in office.

When Jacob left his father's residence, in order to escape the
displeasure of Esau, whom he had both injured and offended, he
visited Laban, his mother's brother, and abode with him for tlie
space of a month. Gen. xxix. 14. Laban then " said anto him,
because thou art my brother, shouldst thou therefore serve me
for nothing? Tell me what shall be thy wages." Gen. xxix.
15. This passage teaches, that Jacob resided with Laban in the
capacity of a servant, and that as such he was entitled to wages.

In verse 20, we are informed that Jacob served seven years
for Rachel. At the expiration of that term, he received Leah,
an older sister, in place of Rachel, contrary to the terms of the
agreement. He then had the offer of Rachel on condition that
lie should continue to serve Laban seven years more, verse 27,
which he accepted. Jacob's wives received the gift of a maid-
servant for each, from their father.

Each of these maid-servants became at a later period the in*
ferior wives of Jacob, at the request of their mistresses respect-
ively. Gen. xxx. 4, 9 ; xxxv. 22.

The servitude of Jacob for his wives, consisted of two periods
of seven years. It may be denominated septennial servitude, in
distinction from that which is perpetual. It corresponds in re-
spect to duration, to our present system of apprenticeship to
trades, which is generally for a term of years, and in many ca-
ses that of seven. An apprentice is a servant, and continues
such during the period of his apprenticeship. For aught that
appears in the inspired nai'rative, the condition of Jacob during


the period of his servitude for liis wives, was substantiallv the
same as that of others who were servants for ViU;, or durin«^ the
pleasure of their masters. He may liave lx>en as mucli in the
power of his master for the time beinjx, as they were lor life.

The word haiid-maid, which so often occurs in the Old Tes-
tament, is the same as maid-servant, being a less eligible trans,
lation of the same word.

Isaac says to Esau, respecting the blessing which he had pro-
nounced upon Jacob : " Behold, I have made him thy lord, and
all his brethren have I given him for servants." Gen. xxvii. 37.

The nature of the patriarchal government administered by
Isaac, is here clearly indicated. Esau was Isaac's apparent
heir by right of primogeniture. As such, he had evidently ex-
pected to be invested with the government of the patriarchate,
on the decease or retirement of his father.

In the solemn patriarchal benediction, however, Jacob had
been distinctly designated as the immediate ruler of the patriarch-
ate, in preference to Esau, and his family as the ruling branch of
the family of Isaac. In pronouncing this blessing upon Jacob,
his father had acted under a false impression that he was blessing
his first-born. But he was conscious of having acted under the
impulse of the Holy Spirit, and he had no authority to recall
what he had said.

In giving Jacob his brethren for servants, Isaac obviously in-
tended to invest him with the exclusive government of the patri-
archate. He did not divide that government among his sons,
but he purposed to give it to the oldest, agreeably to the usages
of those times. The brethren of the proposed sovereign in the

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Online LibraryLeicester Ambrose SawyerA dissertation on servitude: → online text (page 1 of 11)