Samuel Gardner Drake Pamphlet Collection (Library.

The tables turned. A letter to the Congregational association of New York, reviewing the report of their committee on The relation of the American tract society to the subject of slavery. online

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Online LibrarySamuel Gardner Drake Pamphlet Collection (LibraryThe tables turned. A letter to the Congregational association of New York, reviewing the report of their committee on The relation of the American tract society to the subject of slavery. → online text (page 1 of 6)
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Dear Brethren — At your late annual meeting at Spencerport,
August 26, 1855, you are represented to have "unanimously adopted"
the report of a Committee on the " relation of the leading benevolent
societies to the subject of slavery." " The document was received by
the association with a deep and painful solemnity ; evincing the grief
of good men at the course of the Tract Society." "It was voted
that it should be published with the minutes, and in the newspapers,
and that the delegates of the association to corresponding bodies be
requested to acquaint those bodies with its general purport," Thus
the ecclesiastical organizations of the several New England states,
and of Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Canada, and
the general assembly of the (N. S.) Presbyterian church, with which
your association hold correspondence, are to enjoy the light shed on
a great question by the investigations of your Committee.

The extraordinary importance given to this document will war-
rant a somewhat detailed examination of its statements and reason-
ings. There is the more occasion for inquiry as to the facts in the
case, inasmuch as some of the Congregational journals have been
unceasing in their reiteration of the charges of wrong-doing on the
part of the American Tract Society. For the first time, these injuri-
ous allegations have received a responsible endorsement by the unan-
imous sanction of a grave ecclesiastical body. The officers of the
Society have been occupied with other and better work than news-
paper controversy ; and the friends of the Society, while grieved
with the spirit in which the discussion has been conducted, seem, by
common consent, to have maintained a discreet silence. In the hum-
ble judgment of a member of your own honored communion, the

time has come to examine the complaints against a peaceful Chris-
tian institution, and to disabuse the public mind of those suspicions
with which it has been needlessly filled. As unconscious, and it
may be hoped unwilling, though responsible, parties to what appears
to me to be vital wrong towards an unoffending Society, you are ap-
pealed to for the exercise of candor and magnanimity in reviewing a
document to which you have lent the influence of your unanimous

I wish to be understood distinctly on one point, at the outset.
The right of individual members of benevolent societies, or of Chris-
tian pastors, or associations of ministers, to investigate the affairs of
religious charitable institutions — nay, the duty of investigating them,
so as to have a secure basis for Christian confidence and cooperation,
is undeniable. No responsible Society but courts and welcomes such
inquiry. But it must be deliberate investigation, not inconsiderate
reprehension ; candid inquiry, not fixed pre-judgment, or it is
an abuse and a wrong. You intended no such wrong. You pro-
ceeded with prudence and caution. A year ago, at your session at
Madrid, you passed the following resolution :

"Besolved — That Eev, Ray Palmer, D. D., Rev. J. P. Thompson, and
Rev. S. W. Streeter be constituted a Committee to investigate, and
to report at the next meeting of this body, in regard to the course
pursued by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mis-
sions, the American Home Missionary Society, the American Tract
Society, the American Missionary Association, and the American
Sunday-school Union, on the subject of slavery." See minutes,
page 11.

You expected and had a right to expect your Committee to "in-
vestigated' a matter of grave concern, and bring before you the results
of that investigation. You could not but have supposed that, in a
matter involving the character of " the leading benevolent Societies,"
and their Committees and officers on a vital question — a matter of
such moment as to warrant an appeal from your association to all
the sister churches in the land with which you hold correspondence,
perhaps implicating the character of our entire communion, and in-
volving revolutionary action — the members of your Committee would
confer, frequently and prayerfully, about their report. It must have
been the conviction that you had thus attained the impartial truth,
from impartial and pains-taking men, which induced "a deep feeling
of sorrow and of shame, that the cause of Christ was reproached,
the Christianity of the North misrepresented, and the Christianity of

the South enfeebled by a policy which eliminates from the gospel, as
pubUshed by the Tract Society, the heavenly spirit of equal love to

The fads are these : the chairman of your Committee, whose
name alone would entitle it to general credit — never saw the Report,
till weeks after your meeting had been hdd, and was absent from the
meeting at which it was presented. The report of your meeting
leaves the impression tliat Dr, Palmer was present, and a party to
this whole matter, no intimation to the contrary being given, either
in newspaper or pamphlet, and his name appearing in capitals as
"Register and Treasurer" in the account of your "organization" —
see Independent, August 30 — though it must be presumed that some
verbal explanation was made to the twenty or thirty members of your
body. And the further fact is stated, without fear of contradiction,
that the acting chairman of your Committee, whose multiform duties
have required him to pass almost daily the door of the Tract house
during the year of his appointment, has in no instance, within that
period, made an inquiry of any officer or Committee-man connected
with the institution on any point embraced in the Report ; while
there is indubitable internal proof in the document itself, of a total
lack of investigation of the public documents of the Society — with the
exception of a pamphlet of sixteen pages, to be noticed hereafter —
all which are furnished gratuitously for the asking ; and a lamentable
ignorance of the extensive series of standard publications, censured
without examination. Was this what you expected when you
appointed a Committee for investigation? Were such your impres-
sions when you adopted unanimously the document they brought
before your body ? Is this the method of ascertaining the relations
of benevolent societies? You will pardon me a somewhat careful
investigation and dissection of the document you have given to the
world under such solemn sanctions. In attempting this painful
task, I propose to follow the order of the Report, with the intention
of meeting every important allegation with Christian candor and
impartial truth.

The first topic of complaint in your Committee's Report is


" The first example of suppression and alteration of sentiments on
the subject of slavery," say your Committee, "is in the reprint of

Cotton Mather's Essays to do Good. The preface to the Tract Society's
edition states that ' in this edition such portions of the original essays
are omitted, and such changes have been made in the phraseology
as might be expected after the lapse of more than a century since the
work was written.' In Cotton Mather's book, as he wrote it, occurs
this sentence :

" ' that the souls of our slaves were more regarded by us ! that
we might give a better demonstration that we despise not our own
souls, by doing what we can for the souls of our slaves, [and not
using them as if they had no souls 1 That the poor slaves and blacks
which live with us may by our means be made candidates of the
heavenly life ! ] How can we pretend to Christianity when we do no
more to Christianize our slaves ?'

" The edition of the Tract Society omits the sentences in brackets,
and substitutes 'servants' for 'slaves.'

"The following paragraph, which Mather wrote in the same con-
nection, is suppressed in the Tract Society's edition: 'But if any
servant of God may be so honored by him as to be made the success-
ful instrument of obtaining from the British Parliament ' an act for
the Christianizing of slaves in the plantations,'" etc., as quoted below.

To the foregoing statements, your Committee add the sarcastic
comment, "Such are the changes in phraseology which might be ex-
pected after the lapse of more than a century." The preface as
quoted by your Committee, said, ^^ portions of the original essays are
omitted :" your Committee say, "such are the changes in phraseology."

I have quoted from your report thus fully, that there may be no
possible question as to the meaning of your Committee, which cer-
tainly must be that the Tract Society are responsible for the alter-
tion or suppression of Mather's anti-shivery views, and that thus injury
is done to the cause of freedom. The " Unanimous Remonstrance,"
of a part of Mr. Patton's church, citing this book as proof that " those
sentences which have condemned slavery as sinful have been stricken
out" by the Tract Society, "for the avowed purpose of avoiding the
expression of sentiments which would be distasteful to slave-holders,"
is followed by your Committee, as above.

I join issue with your Committee, and with the "Unanimous
Eemonstrance," on every count and phase of this indictment. The
book of Mather was not altered by the Trad Society on the subject of
slavery, but was printed word for word as in Dr. Burder's abridg-
ment of this work ; no " Tract Society's edition" of it has been issued
for ten years ; the original edition tiever contained anti-slavery views,
but, on the contrary, must be condemned by your Committee them-
selves as pro-slavery ; and the charge of alteration or suppression
recoils upon the head of its authors, as I proceed to show.

So much importance has been attached to this case as to warrant
the quotation entire of the passages in question, from the reprint of
the original edition of 1110. They are as follows: the passages in
brackets are omitted in " Burder's edition :" those in italics or small
capitals are sujp'pressed in your Committee's Report,


"Masters, yea, and mistresses too, must have their devices how to do
good unto their servants ; how to make them the servants of Christ, and the
children of God. God, whom you must remember to he ' your Master in
heiren,^ has brought them, and put them into your hands. Who can tell


" Oh, that the souls of our slaves were of more account with us I
that we gave a better demonstration that we despise not our own
souls, by doing what we can for the souls of our slaves, [and not
using them as if they had no souls 1 That the poor slaves and blacks
which Hve with us, may by our means be made the candidates of the
heavenly life !] How can we pretend unto Christianity, when we do
no more to Christianize our slaves ? Verily, you must give an account
unto God concerning them. If they be lost through your negligence,
what answer can you make unto " God, the Judge of all ?" Methinks,
comvion principles of gratitude should incline you, to study the happiness of
those, by whose obsequious labors your lives are so much accommodated.
Certainly, they would be the better servants to you, the more faithful, the
more honest, the more industrious, and submissive servants to you, for bring-
ing them into the service of your common Lord.

["But if any servant of God, may be so honored by him, as to be
made the successful instrument of obtaining from a British Parlia-
ment, 'an Act for the Christianizing of the slaves in the plantations,'
then it may be hoped something more may be done than has yet
been done, that the blood of souls may not be found in the skirts of
our nation : a controversy of heaven with our colonies may be re-
moved, and prosperity may be restored ; or, however, the honorable
instrument will have unspeakable peace and joy in the remem-
brance of his endeavors. In the meantime, the slave-trade is a spec-
tacle that shocks humanity.

"The harmless nations basely they trepan,
And barter baubles for the bouIs of men ;
The wretches, they to Christian climes bring o'er,
To serve worse heath<;ns than they did before."]

Mass. Sab. S. Soc. Edition, pp. 101-4.

Your Committee rely on changes in this hook as proof of the
"alteration or suppresslbn" of "sentiments which would be dis-
tasteful to slave-holders 1 I" There is not a line in the whole pas-

sage adverse to slave-holding, not a sentiment ^'distasteful to slave-hol-
ders" — though there is just one line and a stanza reprobating the
slave-trade — but it is wholly incidental to the main drift of Mather's
thought, as is seen by his introducing it with the disjunctive
phrase, "In the meantime." On the contrary, do not your Commit-
tee, and those who sympathize with them, oppose and denounce the
sentiment of Mather's " Original Essays," that slaves are "the elect of
God, fetched from Africa, or the Indies, and hrought,'

*' To serve worse heathens than they did before,"

"on purpose that by the means of their being here, they may be brought home
unto the Shepherd of souls ?" That kind of Calvinism savors of the
South, more than of New England, just now. And would not your
Committee scout the idea of Mather, that gratitude for the " obsequious
labors" of slaves should incline to "bringing them into the service of
your common Lord" — not to make them free — not even to prepare
them for emancipation — but because "they would certainly be the
more faithful, the more industrious, and SUBMISSIVE servants to
3'ou." Why, this is a sentiment so foreign from the literature of the
anti-slavery stamp of our day, that the man who should pen it would
be denounced without mercy. Yet these are the sentiments which
define and control the meaning of the passage complained of for "sup-
pression ;" — and these views are suppressed by your Committee, that
they may make occasion for complaint against a Christian institution !
Had your Committee found two such virtually pro-slavery passages in
the Tract Society's books, would they not have furnished a text for
numberless diatribes on the subjection of that unfortunate institution
to " the slave oligarchy ?" And would not your Committee have
hailed one convincing proof of its delinquency? But your Com-
mittee have no thunders for a " leading publishing Society " of their
oicn denomination for issuing the edition of Mather containing these
very pro-slavery passages ; while they denounce the Tract Society,
on anti-slavery grounds, for not pulilishing these passages — or rather,
for not publishing the part of them which, by mutilation, they tor-
ture into an anti-slavery sense !

I repeat the remark, as furnishing one of the most astounding
illustrations of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi the world ever wit-
nessed — that your Committee, in charging the Tract Society with
"the alteration and suppression of books penned by pure and holy
minds to condemn slavery," have thems^ves so altered and sup-
pressed the sentiments of their author as to make you believe, and

as to alarm the public with the belief that passages m opposition to
slavery were expunged from Mather ; whereas no line or sentiment
of that character was in the book, but sentiments exactly the con-
verse were there.

The fact seems to have escaped the thoughts of your committee
that Mather lived and wrote a century and a half ago, in the midst
of colonial slavery — for aught that appears in his book, himself a
holder of slaves* — and before "the great apostasy." Then it was not
fatal heresy to think and write that God may have had great designs
of mercy in bringing black heathen into Christian households to be
evangelized, or that a care for their souls would make them more
"industrious and submissive" "slaves." Jumping at the conclusion
that whenever in a book the word "slaves" is found, the writer must
be an abolitionist ; and noticing that in the "Tract Society's edition"
that word did not occur so frequently, they seem to have seized the
bait — and have " caught a Tartar."

After your Report had been printed in the Independent, some of
"the laymen of New York and Brooklyn" suggested to your com-
mittee that they should at least have been as candid as Mr. Patton
was ; and having borrowed their material from his "Unanimous Re-
monstrance," they should have given the Tract Society the benefit of
two facts stated therein, namely, that Mather's Essays was abridged
by Rev. George Burder in 1807, which abridged edition was followed
in this country ; and that the "Tract Society's edition" was dropped

° Tliere are intimations in Mather's Essays that the author was himself a slave-
holder. In the passages quoted in the text, he speaks of ' ' the poor slaves and blacks
whicli live with us." And then follows "a paper under this title, the Resolution
op A Master," beginning thus:

" 1. I would always remember that my servants are in some sort my children,"
etc., the whole of which is consistent with the idea of his personal relationship as
the ' ' master ' ' of slaves. The paper may or may not have been written for Ma-
ther's personal use. But the exact reprint of the original edition contains this
"note:" "These Evolutions were also doubtless written by Mather." And Bur-
der' s edition has a similar note : "The modesty of the author thus expresses, prob-
ably, his own production." We leave to the reader the question of Mather's con-
nection with the slave system ; simply quoting the appendix to these resolutions
as proof that he was a humane and considerate "master," if he was one :

' ' Age is well-nigh sufiScient with some masters to obliterate every letter and
action in the history of a meritorious life ; and old services are generally buried
under the ruins of an old carcass. It is a barbarous inhumanity in men towards
their servants, to make their small failings to be a crime, without allowing their past services
to have been a virtue. Good God, keep thy servant from such ingratitude. Worse
than villanous ingratitude !" Mathek's Essays, page 107.


in 1845. Being partly found out, they put a patcli on the pamphlet
edition of their Report, intimating that Burder's edition was followed
by the Tract Society, and that the book has been dropped from its
catalogue ; but making a new issue, to this effect :


"Burder stated in a note, that he had omitted passages relating to
slavery, as being inapplicable to England. The original unaltered
edition was accessible to the Publishing Committee of the Tract So-
ciety, but by following Burder, they adopted his changes, and by
dropping out his note, they left the reader uninformed of the nature and
extent of those changes ;" and yet, although the book is dropped,
they say, " the changes made in it, when published, show the settled
policy of the Committee on the subject of slavery^'

In an editorial in the Independent, Oct. 18, nearly two months
after your Report was unanimously adopted and printed, another
shift is made, thus :

"It is due that an exact and complete statement of the facts should
be given to the public. We will therefore state the case precisely as
we understand it from competent and reliable sources. The constitu-
ency desire to know these facts for their own guidance, and surely
they are entitled to know them, unless the Tract Society is a fiction."

The " facts " relate to the Tract Society's responsibility for the
"note" in Burder's edition, alluded to above, respecting which they

" The responsibility of the administration of the Tract Society
for these alterations as transferred to their edition, must be deter-
mined by three questions which admit of a categorical answer :

" Did they know that Dr. Burder had made alterations and omis-
sions on the subject of slavery ?"

" Did the copy of Burder's edition before them contain his note,
informing the reader that he had omitted the author's remarks on
slavery 1 If so, with what design was that note omitted while Burder
was followed in his alterations ? Was it because remarks on slavery
were happily inapplicable to this country ?" etc.

This, then, is " an exact and complete stateTnetit of the facts," after two
months of supplementary investigation. The sum of all is, that
Burder's " note, informing the reader that he had omitted the author's
remarks on slavery," was omitted by the Tract Society. The main
fact, without which the whole allegation is " a sham," namely, that
there is not even the semblance of an anti-slavery sentiment in the
book, is still " suppressed."

But that " note," with its announcement of " remarks on slavery .'"

let us look at it. Are spiritual appeals to men holding slaves to care
for their souls that they may be "more submissive slaves," or are
paragraphs on the treatment of slaves, " remarks on slavery''^ as a system ?
Does a note referring to "the usage of slaves," mean ^'remarks on
SLAVERY J*" The note to Burder's edition is as follows :

fi^" " In the original work, some observations are made in this
place with respect to the usage of slaves, ^^ [that is, the treatment of
slaves;] "but as the subject has happily no connection with our
country, the passage is here omitted."

There is no more allusion to the morality of slave-holding or of
slavery in the note, than there would be to marriage, in a note refer-
ring to the education of children. I will answer your Committee's
" three questions," then, by asking a few :

Did they know that the original edition of Mather's Essays did not
contain a sentiment in opposition to slavery ? If they did, are they
honest ? If they did not, are they not reckless ?

Did they know that the note to Burder's edition says nothing
about "remarks on slavery" or "passages relating to slavery" as being
omitted, but only alludes to observations on the " usage of slaves ?" ^
If they did, have they not imposed anew on the public ? If they did
not, what do they mean by " an exad and complete statement of facts ?"

Did they know the fact stated in the preface to the reprint, (in
1845,) of the original edition, that the "first edition of the Essays pub-
lished in ITIO, was never reprinted" — out of print for one hundred
and thirty-five years ! — and that " it was so rare that a copy of it not
long since sold at auction in Boston for about six dollars ?" If they did,
what ground have they for the unqualified assertion that "the original
unaltered edition ^cas accessible to the Publishing Committee ?" If they
did not, why do they write about books they never examined ? [The
original edition was n^t "accessible," and was not seen.]

Did your Committee ever see the " original edition," or the " exact
reprint" published by their own denominational concern, or even the
" Note" to Burder's edition ? If yea, did they examine the two pages
from which they pretend to quote, and find the "pro-slavery" senti-
ments in connection with those respecting the "usage of slaves,"
which they dare not quote, and cannot endorse ? If nay, what reli-
ance can be placed on the statements of any other part of their re-

If Mather contained pro-slavery sentiments ; and if George Burder
omitted them, in the heat of the anti-slavery controversy in England


in 180t, because they were "distasteful" to abolitionists; and the
Publishing Committee followed Burder's edition ; and this act " shows
the settled policy of the Committee on the stibject of slavery," is not the
whole report of your Committee and the action based upon it an ab-
surd farce ?

So many misrepresentations have clustered around this book, that
it may be helpful to recapitulate : Your Committee charged the Tract
Society with suppressing Mather's anti-slavery sentiments : I have
cited the entire passage to show that the only color for the charge
was made by the suppression on the part of your Committee of ex-

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Online LibrarySamuel Gardner Drake Pamphlet Collection (LibraryThe tables turned. A letter to the Congregational association of New York, reviewing the report of their committee on The relation of the American tract society to the subject of slavery. → online text (page 1 of 6)