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On the 3lst of March, 1857, the following' paper
was adopted hij the Sessio?i of the Presbyterian
Church at Harlem :

Whereas, The General Assembly of 1839 did
" most solemnly refer to the lower judicatories the
subject of slavery, leaving it to them to take such
order thereon as in their judgment would be the
most judicious, and adapted* to' remove the evil ;"
and this injunction has never been recalled, but
has been renewed and repeated, as appears in the
records of the Assemblies of 1843, 184G, and 1850 :

And whereas the General Assembly of 1818 did
unanimously " consider the voluntary enslaving of
one part of the human race by another, as a gross
violation of the most precious and sacred rights of
human nature, as utterly inconsistent with the law
of God, which requires us to love our neighbor as
ourselves, and as totally irreconcilable with the
spirit and principles of the Gospel of Christ ;" and,
after exhorting "those portions of our Church and
country where the evil had been entailed upon
them, to continue, and, if possible, increase their
exertions to effect the total aholition of slavery,"

did declare, lliat " Tlie manifest violation or dis-
rcjLrard of the injunction here given, in its true
spirit and intention, ought to be considered as just
ground for tlie discipline and censures of the
( 'liurcli :*'

And whereas the General Assembly of 1846 did
declare that '• The system of slavery as it exists in
these United States, viewed either in the laws of
the several States which sanction it, or in actual
operation and results in society, is intrinsically an
unrighteous and oppressive system, and is opposed
to the prescriptions of the law of God, to the spirit
and precepts of the Gospel, and to the best interests
of humanity ;•' and yet the representative of the
Presbytery ot Hanover in Virginia, in the Assembly
of IHoC), did, in a solemn address before that body,
re([uirc the same to take notice that " He and the
ministers whom he represented, consented to be
recognized as slaveholders in the Christian Church,
Mild as accepting that system of slavery :''

And whereas the General Assembly of 1850 did
resolve, that " The holding of our fellow-men in the
condition of slavery, except in tiiose cases where it
is una\()idahh' by the laws of the State, the obliga-
tions of ;^uardians]iij), or the demands of humanity,
is an ollrncc in the proper import of that term as
used in the JJook of Discipline :*' l)ut the rej)resen-
tati\«' fi-oMi I he Prc^hylcry of \\ inchester in Wv-
;,nnia, in the As>»'njl)ly of IH.')."), in .an ollicial report,
piinl«(l in the Minutes of that body, did notify the

Assembl}^ and all the churches*, that the exceptions
stated ill that resolution were considered to cover
at least the vast majority of cases, if not every
case, of slaveholding in the land ; and in an address
to their constituents, published after the adjourn-
ment of the Assembly, united in by the body of
representatives from the Southern States, the same
thing was avowed in terms more unqualified and at
greater length :

Therefore, Resolved, That believing with the
General Assembly, the system of slavery as it
exists in the United vStates, to be intrinsically an
unrighteous and oppressive system, opposed to
the law of God, the spirit and precepts of the
Gospel, and the best interests of humanity, we be-
lieve that neither silence nor inaction ought to be
maintained by the Assembly or the lower judica-
tories, when whole bodies of ministers and churches
avow themselves to be slaveholders, accepting that
system of slavery. And believing, according to the
true spirit and intention of the Assembly, that the
holding of our fellow-men in the condition ot'
slavery is an offence in the proper import of that
term as used in the Book of Discipline, we consider
that the manifest perversion of the exceptional
language of the Assemldy. and the open and
avowed commission in the churches of the olience
thus defined, calls for language that none can mis-
interpret, and for action iVoni which wronfr-doers
within its jurisdiction c; in net escape.


J{is(tii'C(L TlKit we bclievo all men are created
(•(lual, and that no man can, without guilt before
God, volnntarily hold another as a slave, or with-
out such guilt exact his labor without wages, or
separate husband and wile, or parent and child,
or sell his fellow-being as a slave.

Reso/ved, That we feel it our duty to remember
them that are in bonds as bound with them, and
that we sympathize with our unhappy countrymen
who are held in slavery under cruel laws — praying
that the Lord would give them freedom and that
their oppressors may be brought to I'epentance.

Resolved, That we lament the spectacle exhibited
in the last General Assembly, when a representa-
tive of our own Presbj^tery arose in his place, and
by elaborate argument endeavored to sustain those
doctrines of slaveholders which are regarded by
good men as most oiTcnsive and unchristian, and
which are palpably contrary to the repeated and
solemn declarations of the General Assemblies of
our Church : and tliat in our opinion, that course
of our representative has imposed on the Presby-
tery at \\\\< time tlic most solemn obligation to
adopt such iiicasuics as shall prove before the next
Gen<'ial Ass< inbly lliat these churches are not, and
will M(»l l)c. icsponsibic for the guilt of slavehold-
iiig, or loi- the scnliments of those who defend it.

Resfj/rrtl. Thai a c(>j)y of the Ibrc^^oing preand>le
;ui(I i-c-olutioiis l)c -chl iij) to the J*res])ytery.


Minute on Slavery, adopted by the Fourth Pres-
bytery OF New York, April 20, 1857.

The Fourth Presbytery of New York, having
received a memorial from the session of the Church
at Harlem, on the subject of slavery in its relations
to the Presbyterian Church —

Resolved, That we record as our judgment on
this subject :

1st. That in the ditficult and responsible posi-
tion in which our branch of the Church is placed
by Divine Providence, in relation to the subject of
slavery, we need to cultivate a spirit of brotherly
love and forbearance, and to invoke earnestly the
guidance of that wisdom from above, Avhich is first
"pure, then peaceable, full of mercy and good

2d. That as a Presbytery, wc protest against
that interpretation of the action of the last General
Assembly, held in the city of New York, wdiich
represents us as receding from the anti-slavery
position and testimony of the Church.

3d. That though in unavoidable circumstances
the external relation of slaveholding mav exist

without involving the master in the sin and guilt
of the system of slavery, yet, that a continuance
of the relation can be justified only so far as the
slaveholder also uses all just and Christian means
for removing the evil from both Church and State.
4th. That the system of slavery is neither to be
viewed as an institution of natural or revealed
religion, nor is it kindred to civil government, nor
to the relation of husband and w^ife, nor to that of
parents and children, nor yet is it merely a legal
claim or right to service : but that, on the contrary,
the system of slavery, so far as it gives to man the
right of property in man, reducing the slave and
his posterity to the condition of chattels, dependent
on the will of the owner, so far as it annuls the
rights of marriage, so far as it forbids the general
and Christian education of the slave, and debars
him from the reading of the word of God, is a
system which is essentially opposed to the rights
of man, to the welfare of the republic, to the clear
position of our Church, and to the principles of the
Christian religion.


The General AssexMbly of the Presbyterian Church,
AT Cleveland, June 3d, 1857, adopted the follow-
ing paper :

The General Assembly, in view of the memo-
rials before them and of the present relations of
the Church to the subject of Shivery, feel called
upon to make the following exposition of principle
and duty : —

The Presbyterian Church in these United States
has, from the beginning, maintained an attitude of
decided opposition to the institution of slavery.

The Synod of New York and Philadelphia, in
1787, two years before the organization of the
General Assembly, declared that they did -highly
approve of the general principles in favor of uni-
versal liberty that prevail in America, and the
interest which many of the States have taken in
promoting the abolition of slavery ;*' and did " re-
commend it to all their people, to use the most
prudent measures, consistent witli tlic interest and
state of civil society in the parts where they live,
to procure eventually the final abolition of slavery
in America."


In 1793, while the constitution of the Presbyte-
rian Church was in process of formation and pub-
lication, the action of the Synod, just referred to,
was approved by the General Assembly and re-
published by its order.

The Assembly of 1815 declared, " that, although
in some sections of our country, under certain cir"
cumstances, the transfer of slaves may be unavoid-
able, yet they consider the buying and selling of
slaves by way of traffic, and all undue severity in
the management of them, as inconsistent with the
spirit of the Gospel. And they recommend it to
the presbyteries and sessions under their care, to
make use of all prudent measures to prevent such
shameful and unrighteous conduct.*'

The Assembly of 1815 "expressed their regret,
that the slavery of the Africans and of their de-
scendants still continues in so many places, and
even among those within the pale of the Church ;"
and called particular attention to the action of
1795, with respect to the buying and selling of

In 1818, the Assembly unanimously adopted a
report on this subject, prepared by Dr. Green of
Philadelphia, Dr. Baxter of Virginia, and Mr.
Burgess of Ohio, of which the following is a part:
" We consider the voluntary enslaving of one
pai-t of the human race by another as a gross vio-
lation of the most precious and sacred rights of
human nature ; as utterly inconsistent with the


law of God, which requires us to love our neighbor
as ourselves, and as totally irreconcilable with the
spirit and principles of the Gospel of Christ, which
enjoin, that ' all things whatsoever ye would that
men should do to you, do even so to them.' Slavery
creates a paradox in the moral system ; it exhibits
rational, accountable, and immortal beings in such
circumstances as scarcely to leave them the power
of moral action. It exhibits them as dependent on
the will of others, whether they shall receive reli-
gious instruction ; whether they shall know and
worship the true God; whether they shall enjoy
the ordinances of the Gospel ; whether they shall
perform the duties and cherish the endearments of
husbands and wives, parents and children, neigh-
bors and friends ; whether they shall preserve their
chastity and purity, or regard the dictates of justice
and humanity. Such are some of the consequences
of slavery — consequences not imaginary, but which
connect themselves with its very existence. The
evils to which the slave is always exposed often
take place in fact, and in their very worst degree
and form; and where all of them do not take
place — as we rejoice to say that in many instances,
through the influence of the principles of humanity
and religion on the minds of masters, they do not —
still the slave is deprived of his natural right, de-
graded as a human being, and exposed to the
danger of passing into the hands of a master who
may inflict upon him all the hardships and injuries
which inhumanity and avarice may suggest.


" From this view of the consequences resulting
from the practice, into which Christian people have
most inconsistently fallen, of enslaving a portion of
their hretliren of mankind — for God hath made of
one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face
of the earth — it is manifestly the duty of all Chris-
tians who enjoy the light of the present day, when
the inconsistency of slavery, both with the dictates
of humanity and religion, has been demonstrated
and is generally seen and acknowledged, to use
their honest, earnest, and unwearied endeavors to
correct the errors of former times, and as speedily
as possible to efface this blot on our holy religion,
and to obtain the complete abolition of slavery
throughout Christendom, and if possible through-
out the world."

The Assembly also recommended " to all mem-
bers of our religious denomination, not only to
permit but to facilitate and encourage the instruc-
tion of their slaves in the principles and duties of
the Christian religion;" and added : " We enjoin
it on all Church Sessions and Presbyteries, under
the care of this Assembly, to discountenance, and
as far as possible, to prevent, all cruelty of what-
ever kind in the treatment of slaves ; especially
the cruelty of separating husband and wife, parents
and children, and that which consists in selling
slaves, to those who will either themselves deprive
these unhappy ])roplc of the blessings of the Gospel,
or who will transport them to places where the


Gospel is not proclaimed, or where it is rorbidden
to slaves to attend upon its institutions."

The foregoing testimonials on the subject of
slavery were universally acquiesced in by the
Presbyterian Church up to the time of the division
in 1838.

In the year 1846, the General Assembly made a
declaration on the subject, of which the following
is the introductory paragraph : —

" 1. The system of slavery, as it exists in these
United States, viewed either in the laws of the
several States which sanction it, or in its actual
operation and results in society, is intrinsically an
unrighteous and oppressive system, and is opposed
to the prescriptions of the law of God, to the spirit
and precepts of the Gospel, and to the ])est interests
of humanity."

In 1849, the Assem1)ly explicitly reallirmcd the
sentiments expressed by the Assembles of 1815,
1818, and 1840.

In the year 1850 the General Assembly made the
following declaration : —

"We exceedingly deplore the workinjr of the
whole system of slavery as it exists in our country,
and is interwoven with the political institutions of
the slaveholding States, as fraught with many and
great evils to the civil, political, and moral interests
of those regions where it exists.

" The holding of our fellow-men in the condition


of slavery, except in those cases where it is un-
avoidable, by the laws of the State, the obligations
of guardianship, or the demands of humanity, is an
oflence in the proper import of that term, as used
in the Book of Discipline, chap. 1, sec. 3, and should
be regarded and treated in the same manner as
other offences."

Occupying the position in relation to this subject
which the framers of our Constitution held at the
first, and which our Church has always held, it is
with deep grief that we now discover, that a por-
tion of the Church at the South has so far departed
from the established doctrine of the Church in re-
lation to slavery, as to maintain that " it is an
ordinance of God," and that the system of slavery
existing in these United States is Scriptural and
right. Against this new doctrine we feel con-
strained to bear our solemn testimony. It is at war
with the whole spirit and tenor of the Gospel of
love and good will, as well as abhorrent to the
conscience of the Christian world. We can have
no sympathy or fellowship with it ; and we exhort
all our people to eschew it as serious and j^erni-
cious error.

We arc especially pained by the fact, that the
Presbytery of J^exinglon, South, have given official
notice to us, that a number of ministers and ruling
oklers, as well as many church members, in their
connection, hold slaves " from principle" and " of
choice," ''believing it to be according to the Bible


right," and have, without any qualilyin^^ explana-
tion, assumed the responsibility of sustaining such
ministers, elders, and church members, in their
position. We deem it our duty, in the exercise of
our constitutional authority " to bear testimony
against error in doctrine,- or immorality in prac-
tice, in any Church, Presbytery, or Synod," to dis-
approve and earnestly condemn the position, which
has been thus assumed by the Presbytery of Lex-
ington, South, as one which is opposed to the
established convictions of the Presbyterian Church,
and must operate to mar its peace and seriously
hinder its prosperity, as well as bring reproach on
our holy religion ; and we do hereby call on that
Presbytery to review and rectify their position.
Such doctrines and practice cannot be perma-
nently tolerated in the Presbyterian Church. ^Nlay
they speedily melt away under the illuminating
and mello\Ving influence of the Gospel and grace
of God our Saviour.

We do not, indeed, pronounce a sentence of in-
discriminate condemnation upon all our brethren
who are unfortunately connected with the system
of slavery. We tenderly sympathize with all those
who deplore the evil, and are honestly doing all in
their power for the present well being of their
slaves, and for their complete emancipation. We
would aid and not embarrass such brethren. And
yet, in the language of the General Assembly of
1818, we would "earnestly warn them against


unduly extending the plea of necessity ; against
making it a cover for the love and practice of
slavery, or a pretence for not using efforts that
are lawful and practicable to extinguish this evil."
In conclusion, the Assembly call the attention of
the Publication Committee to this subject, and
recommend the publication, in a convenient form,
of the testimony of the Presbyterian Church touch-
ing this subject, at the earliest practicable


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Online LibraryPresbyterian Church in the U.S.A. General AssemblyTestimony on slavery → online text (page 1 of 1)