SLAVERY ORDAINED OF GOD
Rev. Fred. A. Ross, D.D.
"The powers that be are ordained of God." Romans xiii. 1.
TO The Men NORTH AND SOUTH, WHO HONOR THE WORD OF GOD AND LOVE THEIR COUNTRY.
The book I give to the public, is not made up of isolated articles. It is one harmonious demonstration—that slavery is part of the government ordained in certain conditions of fallen mankind. I present the subject in the form of speeches, actually delivered, and letters written just as published. I adopt this method to make a readable book.
I give it to the North and South—to maintain harmony among Christians, and to secure the integrity of the union of this great people.
This harmony and union can be preserved only by the view presented in this volume,—i.e. that slavery is of God, and to continue for the good of the slave, the good of the master, the good of the whole American family, until another and better destiny may be unfolded.
The one great idea, which I submit to North and South, is expressed in the speech, first in order, delivered in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, May 27, 1853. I therein say:—
"Let us then, North and South, bring our minds to comprehend two ideas, and submit to their irresistible power. Let the Northern philanthropist learn from the Bible that the relation of master and slave is not sin per se. Let him learn that God says nowhere it is sin. Let him learn that sin is the transgression of the law; and where there is no law there is no sin, and that the Golden Rule may exist in the relations of slavery. Let him learn that slavery is simply an evil in certain circumstances. Let him learn that equality is only the highest form of social life; that subjection to authority, even slavery, may, in given conditions, be for a time better than freedom to the slave of any complexion. Let him learn that slavery, like all evils, has its corresponding and greater good; that the Southern slave, though degraded compared with his master, is elevated and ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa. Let the Northern man learn these things, and be wise to cultivate the spirit that will harmonize with his brethren of the South, who are lovers of liberty as truly as himself: And let the Southern Christian—nay, the Southern man of every grade—comprehend that God never intended the relation of master and slave to be perpetual. Let him give up the theory of Voltaire, that the negro is of a different species. Let him yield the semi-infidelity of Agassiz, that God created different races of the same species—in swarms, like bees—for Asia, Europe, America, Africa, and the islands of the sea. Let him believe that slavery, although not a sin, is a degraded condition,—the evil, the curse on the South,—yet having blessings in its time to the South and to the Union. Let him know that slavery is to pass away in the fulness of Providence. Let the South believe this, and prepare to obey the hand that moves their destiny."
All which comes after, in the speech delivered in New York, 1856, and in the letters, is just the expansion of this one controlling thought, which must be understood, believed, and acted out North and South.
Written in Cleveland, Ohio, May 28, 1857.
Speech Before the General Assembly at Buffalo Speech Before the General Assembly at New York Letter to Rev. A. Blackburn What Is the Foundation of Moral Obligation?
Letters to Rev. A. Barnes:—
I.—Results of the slavery agitation—Declaration of Independence— The way men are made infidels—Testimonies of General Assemblies II.—Government over man a divine institute III.—Man-stealing IV.—The Golden Rule
Speech Delivered at Buffalo, Before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.
To understand the following speech, the reader will be pleased to learn—if he don't know already—that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, before its division in 1838, and since,—both Old School and New School,—has been, for forty years and more, bearing testimony, after a fashion, against the system of slavery; that is to say, affirming, in one breath, that slave-holding is a "blot on our holy religion," &c. &c.; and then, in the next utterance, making all sorts of apologies and justifications for the slave-holder. Thus: this august body has been in the habit of telling the Southern master (especially in the Detroit resolutions of 1850) that he is a sinner, hardly meet to be called a Christian; but, nevertheless, if he will only sin "from unavoidable necessity, imposed by the laws of the States,"—if he will only sin under the "obligations of guardianship,"—if he will only sin "from the demands of humanity,"—why, then, forsooth, he may be a slave-holder as long as he has a mind to. Yea, he may hold one slave, one hundred or one thousand slaves, and till the day of judgment.
Happening to be in attendance, as a member of the body, in Buffalo, May, 1853, when, as usual, the system of slavery was touched, in a series of questions sent down to the church courts below, I made the following remarks, in good-natured ridicule of such preposterous and stultifying testimony; and, as an argument, opening the views I have since reproduced in the second speech of this volume, delivered in the General Assembly which convened in New York, May, 1856, and also in the letters following:—
BUFFALO, FRIDAY, May 27, 1853.
The order of the day was reached at a quarter before eleven, and the report read again,—viz.:
"1. That this body shall reaffirm the doctrine of the second resolution adopted by the General Assembly, convened in Detroit, in 1850, and,
"2. That with an express disavowal of any intention to be impertinently inquisitorial, and for the sole purpose of arriving at the truth, so as to correct misapprehensions and allay all causeless irritation, a committee be appointed of one from each of the synods of Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia, who shall be requested to report to the next General Assembly on the following points:—1. The number of slave-holders in connection with the churches, and the number of slaves held by them. 2. The extent to which slaves are held from an unavoidable necessity imposed by the laws of the States, the obligations of guardianship, and the demands of humanity. 3. Whether the Southern churches regard the sacredness of the marriage relation as it exists among the slaves; whether baptism is duly administered to the children of the slaves professing Christianity, and in general, to what extent and in what manner provision is made for the religious well-being of the slave," &c. &c.
Dr. Ross moved to amend the report by substituting the following,—with an express disavowal of being impertinently inquisitorial:—that a committee of one from each of the Northern synods of —— be appointed, who shall be requested to report to the next General Assembly,—
1. The number of Northern church-members concerned, directly or indirectly, in building and fitting out ships for the African slave-trade, and the slave-trade between the States.
2. The number of Northern church-members who traffic with slave-holders, and are seeking to make money by selling them negro-clothing, handcuffs, and cowhides.
3. The number of Northern church-members who have sent orders to New Orleans, and other Southern cities, to have slaves sold, to pay debts owing them from the South. [See Uncle Tom's Cabin.]
4. The number of Northern church-members who buy the cotton, sugar, rice, tobacco, oranges, pine-apples, figs, ginger, cocoa, melons, and a thousand other things, raised by slave-labor.
5. The number of Northern church-members who have intermarried with slave-holders, and have thus become slave-owners themselves, or enjoy the wealth made by the blood of the slave,—especially if there be any Northern ministers of the gospel in such a predicament.
6. The number of Northern church-members who are the descendants of the men who kidnapped negroes in Africa and brought them to Virginia and New England in former years.
7. The aggregate and individual wealth of members thus descended, and what action is best to compel them to disgorge this blood-stained gold, or to compel them to give dollar for dollar in equalizing the loss of the South by emancipation.
8. The number of Northern church-members, ministers especially, who have advocated murder in resistance to the laws of the land.
9. The number of Northern church-members who own stock in under-ground railroads, running off fugitive slaves, and in Sabbath-breaking railroads and canals.
10. That a special commission be sent up Red River, to ascertain whether Legree, who whipped Uncle Tom to death, (and who was a Northern gentleman,) be not still in connection with some Northern church in good and regular standing.
11. The number of Northern church-members who attend meetings of Spiritual Rappers,—or Bloomers,—or Women's-Rights Conventions.
12. The number of Northern church-members who are cruel husbands.
13. The number of Northern church-members who are hen-pecked husbands.
[As it is always difficult to know the temper of speaker and audience from a printed report, it is due alike to Dr. R., to the whole Assembly, and the galleries, to say, that he, in reading these resolutions, and throughout his speech, evinced great good-humour and kindness of feeling, which was equally manifested by the Assembly and spectators, repeatedly, while he was on the floor.]
Dr. Ross then proceeded:—Mr. Moderator, I move this amendment in the best spirit. I desire to imitate the committee in their refinement and delicacy of distinction. I disavow all intention to be impertinently inquisitorial. I intend to be inquisitorial, as the committee say they are,—but not impertinently so. No, sir; not at all; not at all. (Laughter.) Well, sir, we of the South, who desire the removal of the evil of slavery, and believe it will pass away in the developments of Providence, are grieved when we read your graphic, shuddering pictures of the "middle passage,"—the slave-ship, piling up her canvas, as the shot pours after her from English or American guns,—see her again and again hurrying hogshead after hogshead, filled with living slaves, into the deep, and, thus lightened, escape. Sir, what horror to believe that clipper-ship was built by the hands of Northern, noisy Abolition church-members! ["Yes, I know some in New York and Boston," said one in the crowd.] Again, sir, when we walk along your Broadways, and see, as we do, the soft hands of your church-members sending off to the South, not only clothing for the slave, but manacles and whips, manufactured expressly for him,—what must we think of your consistency of character? [True, true.] And what must we think of your self-righteousness, when we know your church-members order the sale of slaves,—yes, slaves such as St. Clair's,—and under circumstances involving all the separations and all the loathsome things you so mournfully deplore? Your Mrs. Stowe says so, and it is so, without her testimony. I have read that splendid, bad book. Splendid in its genius, over which I have wept, and laughed, and got mad, (here some one said, "All at the same time?") yes—all at the same time. Bad in its theology, bad in its morality, bad in its temporary evil influence here in the North, in England, and on the continent of Europe; bad, because her isolated cruelties will be taken (whether so meant by her or not) as the general condition of Southern life,—while her Shelbys, and St. Clairs, and Evas, will be looked upon as angel-visitors, lingering for a moment in that earthly hell. The impression made by the book is a falsehood.
Sir, why do your Northern church-members and philanthropists buy Southern products at all? You know you are purchasing cotton, rice, sugar, sprinkled with blood, literally, you say, from the lash of the driver! Why do you buy? What's the difference between my filching this blood-stained cotton from the outraged negro, and your standing by, taking it from me? What's the difference? You, yourselves, say, in your abstractions, there is no difference; and yet you daily stain your hands in this horrid traffic. You hate the traitor, but you love the treason. Your ladies, too,—oh, how they shun the slave-owner at a distance, in the abstract! But alas, when they see him in the concrete,—when they see the slave-owner himself, standing before them,—not the brutal driver, but the splendid gentleman, with his unmistakable grace of carriage and ease of manners,—why, lo, behold the lady says, "Oh, fie on your slavery!—what a wretch you are! But, indeed, sir, I love your sugar,—and truly, truly, sir, wretch as you are, I love you too." Your gentlemen talk just the same way when they behold our matchless women. And well for us all it is, that your good taste, and hearts, can thus appreciate our genius, and accomplishments, and fascinations, and loveliness, and sugar, and cotton. Why, sir, I heard this morning, from one pastor only, of two or three of his members thus intermarried in the South. May I thus give the mildest rebuke to your inconsistency of conduct? (Much good-natured excitement.)
Sir, may we know who are the descendants of the New England kidnappers? What is their wealth? Why, here you are, all around me. You, gentlemen, made the best of that bargain. And you have kept every dollar of your money from the charity of emancipating the slave. You have left us, unaided, to give millions. Will you now come to our help? Will you give dollar for dollar to equalize our loss? [Here many voices cried out, "Yes, yes, we will."]
Yes, yes? Then pour out your millions. Good. I may thank you personally. My own emancipated slaves would to-day be worth greatly more than $20,000. Will you give me back $10,000? Good. I need it now.
I recommend to you, sirs, to find out your advocates of murder,—your owners of stock in under-ground railroads,—your Sabbath-breakers for money. I particularly urge you to find Legree, who whipped Uncle Tom to death. He is a Northern gentleman, although having a somewhat Southern name. Now, sir, you know the Assembly was embarrassed all yesterday by the inquiry how the Northern churches may find their absent members, and what to do with them. Here then, sir, is a chance for you. Send a committee up Red River. You may find Legree to be a Garrison, Phillips, Smith, or runaway husband from some Abby Kelly. [Here Rev. Mr. Smith protested against Legree being proved to be a Smith. Great laughter. [Footnote: This gentleman was soon after made a D.D., and I think in part for that witticism.]] I move that you bring him back to lecture on the cuteness there is in leaving a Northern church, going South, changing his name, buying slaves, and calculating, without guessing, what the profit is of killing a negro with inhuman labor above the gain of treating him with kindness.
I have little to say of spirit-rappers, women's-rights conventionists, Bloomers, cruel husbands, or hen-pecked. But, if we may believe your own serious as well as caricature writers, you have things up here of which we down South know very little indeed. Sir, we have no young Bloomers, with hat to one side, cigar in mouth, and cane tapping the boot, striding up to a mincing young gentleman with long curls, attenuated waist, and soft velvet face,—the boy-lady to say, "May I see you home, sir?" and the lady-boy to reply, "I thank ye—no; pa will send the carriage." Sir, we of the South don't understand your women's-rights conventions. Women have their wrongs. "The Song of the Shirt,"—Charlotte Elizabeth,—many, many laws,—tell her wrongs. But your convention ladies despise the Bible. Yes, sir; and we of the South are afraid of them, and for you. When women despise the Bible, what next? Paris,—then the City of the Great Salt Lake,—then Sodom, before and after the Dead Sea. Oh, sir, if slavery tends in any way to give the honour of chivalry to Southern young gentlemen towards ladies, and the exquisite delicacy and heavenly integrity and love to Southern maid and matron, it has then a glorious blessing with its curse.
Sir, your inquisitorial committee, and the North so far as represented by them, (a small fraction, I know,) have, I take it, caught a Tartar this time. Boys say with us, and everywhere, I reckon, "You worry my dog, and I'll worry your cat." Sir, it is just simply a fixed fact: the South will not submit to these questions. No, not for an instant. We will not permit you to approach us at all. If we are morbidly sensitive, you have made us so. But you are directly and grossly violating the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church. The book forbids you to put such questions; the book forbids you to begin discipline; the book forbids your sending this committee to help common fame bear testimony against us; the book guards the honour of our humblest member, minister, church, presbytery, against all this impertinently-inquisitorial action. Have you a prosecutor, with his definite charge and witnesses? Have you Common Fame, with her specified charges and witnesses? Have you a request from the South that you send a committee to inquire into slanders? No. Then hands off. As gentlemen you may ask us these questions,—we will answer you. But, ecclesiastically, you cannot speak in this matter. You have no power to move as you propose.
I beg leave to say, just here, that Tennessee [Footnote: At that time I resided in Tennessee.] will be more calm under this movement than any other slave-region. Tennessee has been ever high above the storm, North and South,—especially we of the mountains. Tennessee!—"there she is,—look at her,"—binding this Union together like a great, long, broad, deep stone,—more splendid than all in the temple of Baalbec or Solomon. Tennessee!—there she is, in her calm valour. I will not lower her by calling her unconquerable, for she has never been assailed; but I call her ever-victorious. King's Mountain,—her pioneer battles:—Talladega, Emucfau, Horse-shoe, New Orleans, San Jacinto, Monterey, the Valley of Mexico. Jackson represented her well in his chivalry from South Carolina,—his fiery courage from Virginia and Kentucky,—all tempered by Scotch-Irish Presbyterian prudence from Tennessee. We, in his spirit, have looked on this storm for years untroubled. Yes, Jackson's old bones rattled in their grave when that infamous disunion convention met in Nashville, and its members turned pale and fled aghast. Yes, Tennessee, in her mighty million, feels secure; and, in her perfect preparation to discuss this question, politically, ecclesiastically, morally, metaphysically, or physically, with the extreme North or South, she is willing and able to persuade others to be calm. In this connection, I wish to say, for the South to the North, and to the world, that we have no fears from our slave-population. There might be a momentary insurrection and bloodshed; but destruction to the black man would be inevitable. The Greeks and Romans controlled immense masses of white slaves,—many of them as intelligent as their lords. Schoolmasters, fabulists, and poets were slaves. Athens, with her thirty thousand freemen, governed half a million of bondmen. Single Roman patricians owned thirty thousand. If, then, the phalanx and the legion mastered such slaves for ages, when battle was physical force of man to man, how certain it is that infantry, cavalry, and artillery could hold in bondage millions of Africans for a thousand years!
But, dear brethren, our Southern philanthropists do not seek to have this unending bondage; Oh, no, no. And I earnestly entreat you to "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord." Assume a masterly inactivity, and you will behold all you desire and pray for,—you will see America liberated from the curse of slavery.
The great question of the world is, WHAT IS TO BE THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN SLAVE?—WHAT IS TO BE THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN MASTER? The following extract from the "Charleston Mercury" gives my view of the subject with great and condensed particularity:—
"Married, Thursday, 26th inst., the Hon. Cushing Kewang, Secretary of State of the United States, to Laura, daughter of Paul Coligny, Vice-President of the United States, and one of our noblest Huguenot families. We learn that this distinguished gentleman, with his bride, will visit his father, the Emperor of China, at his summer palace, in Tartary, north of Pekin, and return to the Vice-President's Tea Pavilion, on Cooper River, ere the meeting of Congress." The editor of the "Mercury" goes on to say: "This marriage in high life is only one of many which have signalized that immense emigration from Christianized China during the last seventy-five years, whereby Charleston has a population of 1,250,000, and the State of South Carolina over 5,000,000,—an emigration which has wonderfully harmonized with the great exodus of the negro race to Africa." [Some gentleman here requested to know of Dr. Ross the date of the "Charleston Mercury" recording this marriage. The doctor replied, "The date is 27th May, 1953, exactly one hundred years from this day." Great laughter.]
Sir, this is a dream; but it is not all a dream. No, I verily believe you have there the Gordian knot of slavery untied; you have there the solution of the problem; you have there the curtain up, and the last scene in the last act of the great drama of Ham.
I am satisfied with the tendencies of things. I stand on the mountain-peak above the clouds. I see, far beyond the storm, the calm sea and blue sky; I see the Canaan of the African. I like to stand there on the Nebo of his exodus, and look across, not the Jordan, but the Atlantic. I see the African crossing as certainly as if I gazed upon the ocean divided by a great wind, and piled up in walls of green glittering glass on either hand, the dry ground, the marching host, and the pillar of cloud and of fire. I look over upon the Niger, black with death to the white man, instinct with life to the children of Ham. There is the black man's home. Oh, how strange that you of the North see not how you degrade him when you keep him here! You will not let him vote; you will not let him rise to honors or social equality; you will not let him hold a pew in your churches. Send him away, then; tell him, begone. Be urgent, like the Egyptians: send him out of this land. There, in his fatherland, he will exhibit his own type of Christianity. He is, of all races, the most gentle and kind. The man, the most submissive; the woman, the most affectionate. What other slaves would love their masters better than themselves?—rock them and fan them in their cradles? caress them—how tenderly!—boys and girls? honor them, grown up, as superior beings? and, in thousands of illustrious instances, be willing to give life, and, in fact, die, to serve or save them? Verily, verily, this emancipated race may reveal the most amiable form of spiritual life, and the jewel may glitter on the Ethiop's brow in meaning more sublime than all in the poet's imagery. Brethren, let them go; and, when they are gone,—ay, before they go away,—rear a monument; let it grow in greatness, if not on your highest mountain, in your hearts,—in lasting memory of the South,—in memory of your wrong to the South,—in memory of the self-denial of the South, and her philanthropy in training the slave to be free, enlightened, and Christian.
Can all this be? Can this double emigration civilize Africa and more than re-people the South? Yes; and I regard the difficulties presented here, in Congress, or the country, as little worth. God intends both emigrations. And, without miracle, he will accomplish both. Difficulties! There are no difficulties. Half a million emigrate to our shores, from Ireland, and all Europe, every year. And you gravely talk of difficulties in the negro's way to Africa! Verily, God will unfold their destiny as fast, and as fully, as he sees best for the highest good of the slave, the highest good of the master, and the glory of Christ in Africa.
And, sir, there are forty thousand Chinese in California. And in Cuba, this day, American gentlemen are cultivating sugar, with Chinese hired labor, more profitably than the Spaniards and their slaves. Oh! there is China—half the population of the globe—just fronting us across that peaceful sea,—her poor, living on rats and a pittance of red rice,—her rich, hoarding millions in senseless idolatry, or indulging in the luxuries of birds'-nests and roasted ice. Massed together, they must migrate. Where can they go? They must come to our shores. They must come, even did God forbid them. But he will hasten their coming. They can live in the extremest South. It is their latitude,—their side of the ocean. They can cultivate cotton, rice, sugar, tea, and the silkworm. Their skill, their manipulation, is unrivalled. Their commonest gong you can neither make nor explain. They are a law-abiding people, without castes, accustomed to rise by merit to highest distinctions, and capable of the noblest training, when their idolatry, which is waxing old as a garment, shall be folded up as a vesture and changed for that whose years shall not fail. The English ambassador assures us that the Chinese negotiator of the late treaty was a splendid gentleman, and a diplomatist to move in any court of Europe. Shem, then, can mingle with Japheth in America.
The Chinese must come. God will bring them. He will fulfil Benton's noble thought. The railroad must complete the voyage of Columbus. The statue of the Genoese, on some peak of the Rocky Mountains, high above the flying cars, must point to the West, saying, "There is the East! There is India and Cathay."
Let us, then, North and South, bring our minds to comprehend two ideas, and submit to their irresistible power. Let the Northern philanthropist learn from the Bible that the relation of master and slave is not sin per se. Let him learn that God nowhere says it is sin. Let him learn that sin is the transgression of the law; and where there is no law, there is no sin; and that the golden rule may exist in the relations of slavery. Let him learn that slavery is simply an evil in certain circumstances. Let him learn that equality is only the highest form of social life; that subjection to authority, even slavery, may, in given conditions, be for a time better than freedom to the slave, of any complexion. Let him learn that slavery, like all evils, has its corresponding and greater good; that the Southern slave, though degraded compared with his master, is elevated and ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa. Let the Northern man learn these things, and be wise to cultivate the spirit that will harmonize with his brethren of the South, who are lovers of liberty as truly as himself. And let the Southern Christian—nay, the Southern man of every grade—comprehend that God never intended the relation of master and slave to be perpetual. Let him give up the theory of Voltaire, that the negro is of a different species. Let him yield the semi-infidelity of Agassiz, that God created different races of the same species—in swarms, like bees—for Asia, Europe, America, Africa, and the islands of the sea. Let him believe that slavery, although not a sin, is a degraded condition,—the evil, the curse on the South,—yet having blessings in its time to the South and to the Union. Let him know that slavery is to pass away, in the fulness of Providence. Let the South believe this, and prepare to obey the hand that moves their destiny.
Ham will be ever lower than Shem; Shem will be ever lower than Japheth. All will rise in the Christian grandeur to be revealed. Ham will be lower than Shem, because he was sent to Central Africa. Man south of the Equator—in Asia, Australia, Oceanica, America, especially Africa—is inferior to his Northern brother. The blessing was upon Shem in his magnificent Asia. The greater blessing was upon Japheth in his man-developing Europe. Both blessings will be combined, in America, north of the Zone, in commingled light and life. I see it all in the first symbolical altar of Noah on that mound at the base of Ararat. The father of all living men bows before the incense of sacrifice, streaming up and mingling with the rays of the rising sun. His noble family, and all flesh saved, are grouped round about him. There is Ham, at the foot of the green hillock, standing, in his antediluvian, rakish recklessness, near the long-necked giraffe, type of his Africa,—his magnificent wife, seated on the grass, her little feet nestling in the tame lion's mane, her long black hair flowing over crimson drapery and covered with gems from mines before the flood. Higher up is Shem, leaning his arm over that mouse-colored horse,—his Arab steed. His wife, in pure white linen, feeds the elephant, and plays with his lithe proboscis,—the mother of Terah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, and Christ. And yet she looks up, and bows in mild humility, to her of Japheth, seated amid plumed birds, in robes like the sky. Her noble lord, meanwhile, high above all, stands, with folded arms, following that eagle which wheels up towards Ararat, displaying his breast glittering with stars and stripes of scarlet and silver,—radiant heraldry, traced by the hand of God. Now he purifies his eye in the sun, and now he spreads his broad wings in symbolic flight to the West, until lost to the prophetic eye of Japheth, under the bow of splendors set that day in the cloud. God's covenant with man,—oh, may the bow of covenant between us be here to-day, that the waters of this flood shall never again threaten our beloved land!
Speech Delivered in the General Assembly New York, 1856.
The circumstances, under which this speech was delivered, are sufficiently shown in the statement below.
It was not a hasty production. After being spoken, it was prepared for the "Journal of Commerce," with the greatest care I could give to it: most of it was written again and again. Unlike Pascal, who said, as to his longest and inferior sixteenth letter, that he had not had time to make it shorter, I had time; and I did condense in that one speech the matured reflections of my whole life. I am calmly satisfied I am right. I am sure God has said, and does say, "Well done."
The speech brings to view a wide range of thought, all belonging to the subject of slavery, of immense importance. As introductory,—there is the question of the abolition agitation the last thirty years; then, what is right and wrong, and the foundation of moral obligation; then, the definition of sin; next, the origin of human government, and the relations, in which God has placed men under his rule of subjection; finally, the word of God is brought to sustain all the positions taken.
The challenge to argue the question of slavery from the Bible was thrown down on the floor of the Assembly, as stated. Presently I took up the gauntlet, and made this argument. The challenger never claimed his glove, then nor since; nor has anybody, so far as I know, attempted to refute this speech. Nothing has come to my ears (save as to two points, to be noticed hereafter) but reckless, bold denial of God's truth, infidel affirmation without attempt at proof, and denunciations of myself.
Dr. Wisner having said that he would argue the question on the Bible at a following time, Dr. Ross rose, when he took his seat, and, taking his position on the platform near the Moderator's chair, said,—
"I accept the challenge given by Dr. Wisner, to argue the question of slavery from the Scriptures."
Dr. Wisner.—Does the brother propose to go into it here?
Dr. Ross.—Yes, sir.
Dr. Wisner.—Well, I did not propose to go into it here.
Dr. Ross.—You gave the challenge, and I accept it.
Dr. Wisner.—I said I would argue it at a proper time; but it is no matter. Go ahead.
Dr. Beman hoped the discussion would be ruled out. He did not think it a legitimate subject to go into,—Moses and the prophets, Christ and his apostles, and all intermediate authorities, on the subject of what the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America had done.
Judge Jessup considered the question had been opened by this report of the majority: after which Dr. Beman withdrew his objection, and Dr. Ross proceeded.
I am not a slave-holder. Nay, I have shown some self-denial in that matter. I emancipated slaves whose money-value would now be $40,000. In the providence of God, my riches have entirely passed from me. I do not mean that, like the widow, I gave all the living I had. My estate was then greater than that slave-property. I merely wish to show I have no selfish motive in giving, as I shall, the true Southern defence of slavery. (Applause.) I speak from Huntsville, Alabama, my present home. That gem of the South, that beautiful city where the mountain softens into the vale,—where the water gushes, a great fountain, from the rock,—where around that living stream there are streets of roses, and houses of intelligence and gracefulness and gentlest hospitality,—and, withal, where so high honor is ever given to the ministers of God.
Speaking then from that region where "Cotton is king," I affirm, contrary as my opinion is to that most common in the South, that the slavery agitation has accomplished and will do great good. I said so, to ministerial and political friends, twenty-five years ago. I have always favored the agitation,—just as I have always countenanced discussion upon all subjects. I felt that the slavery question needed examination. I believed it was not understood in its relations to the Bible and human liberty. Sir, the light is spreading North and South. 'Tis said, I know, this agitation has increased the severity of slavery. True, but for a moment only, in the days of the years of the life of this noble problem. Farmers tell us that deep ploughing in poor ground will, for a year or two, give you a worse crop than before you went so deep; but that that deep ploughing will turn up the under-soil, and sun and air and rain will give you harvests increasingly rich. So, this moral soil, North and South, was unproductive. It needed deep ploughing. For a time the harvest was worse. Now it is becoming more and more abundant. The political controversy, however fierce and threatening, is only for power. But the moral agitation is for the harmony of the Northern and Southern mind, in the right interpretations of Scripture on this great subject, and, of course, for the ultimate union of the hearts of all sensible people, to fulfil God's intention,—to bless the white man and the black man in America. I am sure of this. I take a wide view of the progress of the destiny of this vast empire. I see God in America. I see him in the North and in the South. I see him more honored in the South to-day than he was twenty-five years ago; and that that higher regard is due, mainly, to the agitation of the slavery question. Do you ask how? Why, sir, this is the how. Twenty-five years ago the religious mind of the South was leavened by wrong Northern training, on the great point of the right and wrong of slavery. Meanwhile, powerful intellects in the South, following the mere light of a healthy good sense, guided by the common grace of God, reached the very truth of this great matter,—namely, that the relation of the master and slave is not sin; and that, notwithstanding its admitted evils, it is a connection between the highest and the lowest races of man, revealing influences which may be, and will be, most benevolent for the ultimate good of the master and the slave,—conservative on the Union, by preserving the South from all forms of Northern fanaticism, and thereby being a great balance-wheel in the working of the tremendous machinery of our experiment of self-government. This seen result of slavery was found to be in absolute harmony with the word of God. These men, then, of highest grade of thought, who had turned in scorn from Northern notions, now see, in the Bible, that these notions are false and silly. They now read the Bible, never examined before, with growing respect. God is honored, and his glory will be more and more in their salvation. These are some of the moral consummations of this agitation in the South. The development has been twofold in the North. On the one hand, some anti-slavery men have left the light of the Bible, and wandered into the darkness until they have reached the blackness of the darkness of infidelity. Other some are following hard after, and are throwing the Bible into the furnace,—are melting it into iron, and forging it, and welding it, and twisting it, and grooving it into the shape and significance and goodness and gospel of Sharpe's rifles. Sir, are you not afraid that some of your once best men will soon have no better Bible than that?
But, on the other hand, many of your brightest minds are looking intensely at the subject, in the same light in which it is studied by the highest Southern reason. Ay, sir, mother-England, old fogy as she is, begins to open her eyes. What, then, is our gain? Sir, Uncle Tom's Cabin, in many of its conceptions, could not have been written twenty-five years ago. That book of genius,—over which I and hundreds in the world have freely wept,—true in all its facts, false in all its impressions,—yea, as false in the prejudice it creates to Southern social life as if Webster, the murderer of Parkman, may be believed to be a personification of the elite of honor in Cambridge, Boston, and New England. Nevertheless, Uncle Tom's Cabin could not have been written twenty-five years ago. Dr. Nehemiah Adams's "South-Side View" could not have been written twenty-five years ago. Nor Dr. Nathan Lord's "Letter of Inquiry." Nor Miss Murray's book. Nor "Cotton is King". Nor Bledsoe's "Liberty and Slavery". These books, written in the midst of this agitation, are all of high, some the highest, reach of talent and noblest piety; all give, with increasing confidence, the present Southern Bible reading on Slavery. May the agitation, then, go on! I know the New School Presbyterian church has sustained some temporary injury. But God is honored in his word. The reaction, when the first abolition-movement commenced, has been succeeded by the sober second thought of the South. The sun, stayed, is again travelling in the greatness of his strength, and will shine brighter and brighter to the perfect day.
My only fear, Mr. Moderator, is that, as you Northern people are so prone to go to extremes in your zeal and run every thing into the ground, you may, perhaps, become too pro-slavery; and that we may have to take measures against your coveting, over much, our daughters, if not our wives, our men-servants, our maid-servants, our houses, and our lands. (Laughter.)
Sir, I come now to the Bible argument. I begin at the beginning of eternity! (Laughter.) WHAT is RIGHT AND WRONG? That's the question of questions.
Two theories have obtained in the world. The one is, that right and wrong are eternal facts; that they exist per se in the nature of things; that they are ultimate truths above God; that he must study, and does study, to know them, as really as man. And that he comprehends them more clearly than man, only because he is a better student than man. Now, sir, this theory is atheism. For if right and wrong are like mathematical truths—fixed facts—then I may find them out, as I find out mathematical truths, without instruction from God. I do not ask God to tell me that one and one make two. I do not ask him to reveal to me the demonstrations of Euclid. I thank him for the mind to perceive. But I perceive mathematical relations without his telling me, because they exist independent of his will. If, then, moral truths, if right and wrong, if rectitude and sin, are, in like manner, fixed, eternal facts,—if they are out from and above God, like mathematical entities,—then I may find them for myself. I may condescend, perhaps, to regard the Bible as a hornbook, in which God, an older student than I, tells me how to begin to learn what he had to study; or I may decline to be taught, through the Bible, how to learn right and wrong. I may think the Bible was good enough, may be, for the Israelite in Egypt and in Canaan; good enough for the Christian in Jerusalem and Antioch and Rome, but not good enough, even as a hornbook, for me,—the man of the nineteenth century,—the man of Boston, New York, and Brooklyn! Oh, no. I may think I need it not at all. What next? Why, sir, if I may think I need not God to teach me moral truth, I may think I need him not to teach me any thing. What next? The irresistible conclusion is, I may think I can live without God; that Jehovah is a myth,—a name; I may bid him stand aside, or die. Oh, sir, I will be the fool to say there is no God. This is the result of the notion that right and wrong exist in the nature of things.
The other theory is, that right and wrong are results brought into being, mere contingencies, means to good, made to exist solely by the will of God, expressed through his word; or, when his will is not thus known, he shows it in the human reason by which he rules the natural heart. This is so; because God, in making all things, saw that in the relations he would constitute between himself and intelligent creatures, and among themselves, NATURAL GOOD AND EVIL would come to pass. In his benevolent wisdom, he then willed LAW, to control this natural good and evil. And he thereby made conformity to that law to be right, and non-conformity to be wrong. Why? Simply because he saw it to be good, and made it to be right; not because he saw it to be right, but because he made it to be right.
Hence, the ten specific commandments of the one moral law of love are just ten rules which God made to regulate the natural good and evil which he knew would be in the ten relations, which he himself constituted between himself and man, and between man and his neighbor. The Bible settles the question:—sin is the transgression of the law, and where there is no law there is no sin.
I must-advance one step further. What is sin, as a mental state? Is it some quality—some concentrated essence—some elementary moral particle in the nature of things—something black, or red, like crimson, in the constitution of the soul, or the soul and body as amalgamated? No. Is it self-love? No. Is it selfishness? No. What is it? Just exactly, self-will. Just that. I, the creature, WILL not submit to thy WILL, God, the Creator. It is the I AM, created, who dares to defy and dishonor the I AM, not created,—the Lord God, the Almighty, Holy, Eternal.
That IS SIN, per se. And that is all of it,—so help me God! Your child there—John—says to his father, "I WILL not to submit to your will." "Why not, John?" And he answers and says, "Because I WILL not." There, sir, John has revealed all of sin, on earth or in hell. Satan has never said—can never say—more. "I, Satan, WILL NOT, because I WILL not to submit to thee, God; MY WILL, not thine, shall be."
This beautiful theory is the ray of light which leads us from night, and twilight, and fog, and mist, and mystification, on this subject, to clear day. I will illustrate it by the law which has controlled and now regulates the most delicate of all the relations of life,—viz.: that of the intercourse between the sexes. I take this, because it presents the strongest apparent objections to my argument.
Cain and Abel married their sisters. Was it wrong in the nature of things? [Here Dr. Wisner spoke out, and said, "Certainly."] I deny it. What an absurdity, to suppose that God could not provide for the propagation of the human race from one pair, without requiring them to sin! Adam's sons and daughters must have married, had they remained in innocence. They must then have sinned in Eden, from the very necessity of the command upon the race:—"Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth." (Gen. i. 28). What pure nonsense! There, sir!—that, my one question, Dr. Wisner's reply, and my rejoinder, bring out, perfectly, the two theories of right and wrong. Sir, Abraham married his half-sister. And there is not a word forbidding such marriage, until God gave the law (Lev. xviii.) prohibiting marriage in certain degrees of consanguinity. That law made, then, such marriage sin. But God gave no such law in the family of Adam; because he made, himself, the marriage of brother and sister the way, and the only way, for the increase of the human race. He commanded them thus to marry. They would have sinned had they not thus married; for they would have transgressed his law. Such marriage was not even a natural evil, in the then family of man. But when, in the increase of numbers, it became a natural evil, physical and social, God placed man on a higher platform for the development of civilization, morals, and religion, and then made the law regulating marriages in the particulars of blood. But he still left polygamy untouched. [Here Dr. Wisner again asked if Dr. R. regarded the Bible as sustaining the polygamy of the Old Testament.] Dr. R.—Yes, sir; yes, sir; yes, sir. Let the reporters mark that question, and my answer. (Laughter.) My principle vindicates God from unintelligible abstractions. I fearlessly tell what the Bible says. In its strength, I am not afraid of earth or hell. I fear only God. God made no law against polygamy, in the beginning. Therefore it was no sin for a man to have more wives than one. God sanctioned it, and made laws in regard to it. Abraham had more wives than one; Jacob had, David had, Solomon had. God told David, by the mouth of Nathan, when he upbraided him with his ingratitude for the blessings he had given him, and said, "And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom." (2 Sam. xvii. 8.)
God, in the gospel, places man on another platform, for the revelation of a nobler social and spiritual life. He now forbids polygamy. Polygamy now is sin—not because it is in itself sin. No; but because God forbids it,—to restrain the natural and social evil, and to bring out a higher humanity. And see, sir, how gently in the gospel the transition from the lower to the higher table-land of our progress upward is made. Christ and his apostles do not declare polygamy to be sin. The new law is so wisely given that nothing existing is rudely disturbed. The minister of God, unmarried, must have only one wife at the same time. This law, silently and gradually, by inevitable and fair inference of its meaning, and from the example of the apostles, passed over the Christian world. God, in the gospel, places us in this higher and holier ground and air of love. We sin, then, if we marry the sister, and other near of kin; and we sin if we marry, at the same time, more wives than one, not because there is sin in the thing itself, whatever of natural evil there might be, but because in so doing we transgress God's law, given to secure and advance the good of man. I might comment in the same way on every one of the ten commandments, but I pass on.
The subject of slavery, in this view of right and wrong, is seen in the very light of heaven. And you, Mr. Moderator, know that, if the view I have presented be true, I have got you. (Great laughter.)
[The Moderator said, very pleasantly—Yes—if—but it is a long if.] (Continued laughter.)
Dr. R. touched the Moderator on the shoulder, and said, Yes, if—it is a long if; for it is this:—if there is a God, he is not Jupiter, bowing to the Fates, but God, the sovereign over the universe he has created, in which he makes right, by making law to be known and obeyed by angels and men, in their varied conditions.
He gave Adam that command,—sublime in its simplicity, and intended to vindicate the principle I am affirming,—that there is no right and wrong in the nature of things. There was no right or wrong, per se, in eating or willing to eat of that tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But God made the law,—Thou shall not eat of that tree. As if he had said,—I seek to test the submission of your will, freely, to my will. And, that your test may be perfect, I will let your temptation be nothing more than your natural desire for that fruit. Adam sinned. What was the sin?
Adam said, in heart, MY WILL, not thine, SHALL BE. That was the sin,—the simple transgression of God's law, when there was neither sin nor evil in the thing which God forbade to be done.
Man fell and was cursed. The law of the control of the superior over the inferior is now to begin, and is to go on in the depraved conditions of the fallen and cursed race. And, FIRST, God said to the woman, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." There, in that law, is the beginning of government ordained of God. There is the beginning of the rule of the superior over the inferior, bound to obey. There, in the family of Adam, is the germ of the rule in the tribe,—the state. Adam, in his right, from God, to rule over his wife and his children, had all the authority afterwards expanded in the patriarch and the king. This simple, beautiful fact, there, on the first leaf of the Bible, solves the problem, whence and how has man right to rule over man. In that great fact God gives his denial to the idea that government over man is the result of a social compact, in which each individual man living in a state of natural liberty, yielded some of that liberty to secure the greater good of government. Such a thing never was; such a thing never could have been. Government was ordained and established before the first child was born:—"HE SHALL RULE OVER THEE." Cain and Abel were born in a state as perfect as the empire of Britain or the rule of these United States. All that Blackstone, and Paley, and Hobbs, or anybody else, says about the social compact, is flatly and fully denied and upset by the Bible, history, and common sense. Let any New York lawyer—or even a Philadelphia lawyer—deny this if he dares. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness never were the inalienable right of the individual man.
His self-control, in all these particulars, from the beginning, was subordinate to the good of the family,—the empire. The command to Noah was,—"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." (Gen. ix. 6.)
This command to shed blood was, and is, in perfect harmony with the law,—"Thou shalt not kill." There is nothing right or wrong in the taking of life, per se, or in itself considered. It may or it may not be a natural good or evil. As a general fact, the taking of life is a natural evil. Hence, "Thou shalt not kill" is the general rule, to preserve the good there is in life. To take life under the forbidden conditions is sin, simply because God forbids it under those conditions. The sin is not in taking life, but in transgressing God's law.
But sometimes the taking of life will secure a greater good. God, then, commands that life be taken. Not to take life, under the commanded conditions, is sin,—solely because God then commands it.
This power over life, for the good of the one great family of man, God delegated to Noah, and through him to the tribe, the clan, the kingdom, the empire, the democracy, the republic, as they may be governed by chief, king, emperor, parliament, or congress. Had Ham killed Shem, Noah would have commanded Japheth to slay him. So much for the origin of the power over life: now for the power over liberty.
The right to take life included the right over liberty. But God intended the rule of the superior over the inferior, in relations of service, should exemplify human depravity, his curse and his overruling blessing.
The rule and the subordination which is essential to the existence of the family, God made commensurate with mankind; for mankind is only the congeries of families. When Ham, in his antediluvian recklessness, laughed at his father, God took occasion to give to the world the rule of the superior over the inferior. He cursed him. He cursed him because he left him unblessed. The withholding of the father's blessing, in the Bible, was curse. Hence Abraham prayed God, when Isaac was blessed, that Ishmael might not be passed by. Hence Esau prayed his father, when Jacob was blessed, that he might not be left untouched by his holy hands. Ham was cursed to render service, forever, to Shem and Japheth. The special curse on Canaan made the general curse on Ham conspicuous, historic, and explanatory, simply because his descendants were to be brought under the control of God's peculiar people. Shem was blessed to rule over Ham. Japheth was blessed to rule over both. God sent Ham to Africa, Shem to Asia, Japheth to Europe. Mr. Moderator, you have read Guyot's "Earth and Man." That admirable book is a commentary upon this part of Genesis. It is the philosophy of geography. And it is the philosophy of the rule of the higher races over the inferior, written on the very face of the earth. He tells you why the continents are shaped as they are shaped; why the mountains stand where they stand; why the rivers run where they run; why the currents of the sea and the air flow as they flow. And he tells you that the earth south of the Equator makes the inferior man. That the oceanic climate makes the inferior man in the Pacific Islands. That South America makes the inferior man. That the solid, unindented Southern Africa makes the inferior man. That the huge, heavy, massive, magnificent Asia makes the huge, heavy, massive, magnificent man. That Europe, indented by the sea on every side, with its varied scenery, and climate, and Northern influences, makes the varied intellect, the versatile power and life and action, of the master-man of the world. And it is so. Africa, with here and there an exception, has never produced men to compare with the men of Asia. For six thousand years, save the unintelligible stones of Egypt, she has had no history. Asia has had her great men and her name. But Europe has ever shown, and now, her nobler men and higher destiny. Japheth has now come to North America, to give us his past greatness and his transcendent glory. (Applause.) And, sir, I thank God our mountains stand where they stand; and that our rivers run where they run. Thank God they run not across longitudes, but across latitudes, from north to south. If they crossed longitudes, we might fear for the Union. But I hail the Union,—made by God, strong as the strength of our hills, and ever to live and expand,—like the flow and swell of the current of our streams. (Applause.)
These two theories of Right and Wrong,—these two ideas of human liberty,—the right, in the nature of things, or the right as made by God,—the liberty of the individual man, of Atheism, of Red Republicanism, of the devil,—or the liberty of man, in the family, in the State, the liberty from God,—these two theories now make the conflict of the world. This anti-slavery battle is only part of the great struggle: God will be victorious,—and we, in his might.
I now come to particular illustrations of the world-wide law that service shall be rendered by the inferior to the superior. The relations in which such service obtains are very many. Some of them are these:—husband and wife; parent and child; teacher and scholar; commander and soldier,—sailor; master and apprentice; master and hireling; master and slave. Now, sir, all these relations are ordained of God. They are all directly commanded, or they are the irresistible law of his providence, in conditions which must come up in the progress of depraved nature. The relations themselves are all good in certain conditions. And there may be no more of evil in the lowest than in the highest. And there may be in the lowest, as really as in the highest, the fulfilment of the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself, and of doing unto him whatsoever thou wouldst have him to do unto thee.
Why, sir, the wife everywhere, except where Christianity has given her elevation, is the slave. And, sir, I say, without fear of saying too strongly, that for every sigh, every groan, every tear, every agony of stripe or death, which has gone up to God from the relation of master and slave, there have been more sighs, more groans, more tears, and more agony in the rule of the husband over the wife. Sir, I have admitted, and do again admit, without qualification, that every fact in Uncle Tom's Cabin has occurred in the South. But, in reply, I say deliberately, what one of your first men told me, that he who will make the horrid examination will discover in New York City, in any number of years past, more cruelty from husband to wife, parent to child, than in all the South from master to slave in the same time. I dare the investigation. And you may extend it further, if you choose,—to all the results of honor and purity. I fear nothing on this subject. I stand on rock,—the Bible,—and therefore, just before I bring the Bible, to which all I have said is introductory, I will run a parallel between the relation of master and slave and that of husband and wife. I will say nothing of the grinding oppression of capital upon labor, in the power of the master over the hireling—the crushed peasant—the chain-harnessed coal-pit woman, a thousand feet under ground, working in darkness, her child toiling by her side, and another child not born; I will say nothing of the press-gang which fills the navy of Britain—the conscription which makes the army of France—the terrible floggings—the awful court-martial—the quick sentence—the lightning-shot—the chain, and ball, and every-day lash—the punishment of the soldier, sailor, slave, who had run away. I pass all this by: I will run the parallel between the slave and wife.
Do you say, The slave is held to involuntary service? So is the wife. Her relation to her husband, in the immense majority of cases, is made for her, and not by her. And when she makes it for herself, how often, and how soon, does it become involuntary! How often, and how soon, would she throw off the yoke if she could! O ye wives, I know how superior you are to your husbands in many respects,—not only in personal attraction, (although in that particular, comparison is out of place,) in grace, in refined thought, in passive fortitude, in enduring love, and in a heart to be filled with the spirit of heaven. Oh, I know all this. Nay, I know you may surpass him in his own sphere of boasted prudence and worldly wisdom about dollars and cents. Nevertheless, he has authority, from God, to rule over you. You are under service to him. You are bound to obey him in all things. Your service is very, very, very often involuntary from the first, and, if voluntary at first, becomes hopeless necessity afterwards. I know God has laid upon the husband to love you as Christ loved the church, and in that sublime obligation has placed you in the light and under the shadow of a love infinitely higher, and purer, and holier than all talked about in the romances of chivalry. But the husband may not so love you. He may rule you with the rod of iron. What can you do? Be divorced? God forbids it, save for crime. Will you say that you are free,—that you will go where you please, do as you please? Why, ye dear wives, your husbands may forbid. And listen, you cannot leave New York, nor your palaces, any more than your shanties. No; you cannot leave your parlor, nor your bedchamber, nor your couch, if your husband commands you to stay there! What can you do? Will you run away, with your stick and your bundle? He can advertise you!! What can you do? You can, and I fear some of you do, wish him, from the bottom of your hearts, at the bottom of the Hudson. Or, in your self-will, you will do just as you please. (Great laughter.)
[A word on the subject of divorce. One of your standing denunciations on the South is the terrible laxity of the marriage vow among the slaves. Well, sir, what does your Boston Dr. Nehemiah Adams say? He says, after giving eighty, sixty, and the like number of applications for divorce, and nearly all granted at individual quarterly courts in New England,—he says he is not sure but that the marriage relation is as enduring among the slaves in the South as it is among white people in New England. I only give what Dr. Adams says. I would fain vindicate the marriage relation from this rebuke. But one thing I will say: you seldom hear of a divorce in Virginia or South Carolina.]
But to proceed:—
Do you say the slave is sold and bought? So is the wife the world over. Everywhere, always, and now as the general fact, however done away or modified by Christianity. The savage buys her. The barbarian buys her. The Turk buys her. The Jew buys her. The Christian buys her,—Greek, Armenian, Nestorian, Roman Catholic, Protestant. The Portuguese, the Spaniard, the Italian, the German, the Russian, the Frenchman, the Englishman, the New England man, the New Yorker,—especially the upper ten,—buy the wife—in many, very many cases. She is seldom bought in the South, and never among the slaves themselves; for they always marry for love. (Continued laughter.) Sir, I say the wife is bought in the highest circles, too often, as really as the slave is bought. Oh, she is not sold and purchased in the public market. But come, sir, with me, and let us take the privilege of spirits out of the body to glide into that gilded saloon, or into that richly comfortable family room, of cabinets, and pictures, and statuary: see the parties, there, to sell and buy that human body and soul, and make her a chattel! See how they sit, and bend towards each other, in earnest colloquy, on sofa of rosewood and satin,—Turkey carpet (how befitting!) under feet, sunlight over head, softened through stained windows: or it is night, and the gas is turned nearly off, and the burners gleam like stars through the shadow from which the whisper is heard, in which that old ugly brute, with gray goatee—how fragrant!—bids one, two, five, ten hundred thousand dollars, and she is knocked off to him,—that beautiful young girl asleep up there, amid flowers, and innocent that she is sold and bought. Sir, that young girl would as soon permit a baboon to embrace her, as that old, ignorant, gross, disgusting wretch to approach her. Ah, has she not been sold and bought for money? But—But what? But, you say, she freely, and without parental authority, accepted him. Then she sold herself for money, and was guilty of that which is nothing better than legal prostitution. I know what I say; you know what I say. Up there in the gallery you know: you nod to one another. Ah! you know the parties. Yes, you say: All true, true, true. (Laughter.)
Now, Mr. Moderator, I will clinch all I have said by nails sure, and fastened from the word of God.
There is King James's English Bible, with its magnificent dedication. I bring the English acknowledged translation. And just one word more to push gently aside—for I am a kind man to those poor, deluded anti-slavery people—their last argument. It is that this English Bible, in those parts which treat of slavery, don't give the ideas which are found in the original Hebrew and Greek. Alas for the common people!—alas for this good old translation! Are its days numbered? No, sir; no, sir. The Unitarian, the Universalist, the Arminian, the Baptist, when pressed by this translation, have tried to find shelter for their false isms by making or asking for a new rendering. And now the anti-slavery men are driving hard at the same thing. (Laughter.) Sir, shall we permit our people everywhere to have their confidence in this noble translation undermined and destroyed by the isms and whims of every or any man in our pulpits? I affirm, whatever be our perfect liberty of examination into God's meaning in all the light of the original languages, that there is a respect due to this received version, and that great caution should be used, lest we teach the people to doubt its true rendering from the original word of God. I protest, sir, against having a Doctor-of-Divinity priest, Hebrew or Greek, to tell the people what God has spoken on the subject of slavery or any other subject. (Laughter.) I would as soon have a Latin priest,—I would as soon have Archbishop Hughes,—I would as soon go to Rome as to Jerusalem or Athens,—I would as soon have the Pope at once in his fallible infallibility,—as ten or twenty, little or big, anti-slavery Doctor-of-Divinity priests, each claiming to give his infallible rendering, however differing from his peer. (Laughter.) I never yet produced this Bible, in its plain unanswerable authority, for the relation of master and slave, but the anti-slavery man ran away into the fog of his Hebrew or Greek, (laughter,) or he jabbered the nonsense that God permitted the sin of slaveholding among the Jews, but that he don't do it now! Sir, God sanctioned slavery then, and sanctions it now. He made it right, they know, then and now. Having thus taken the last puff of wind out of the sails of the anti-slavery phantom ship, turn to the twenty-first chapter of Exodus, vs. 2-5. God, in these verses, gave the Israelites his command how they should buy and hold the Hebrew servant,—how, under certain conditions, he went free,—how, under other circumstances, he might be held to service forever, with his wife and her children. There it is. Don't run into the Hebrew. (Laughter.)
But what have we here?—vs. 7-11:—"And if a man sell his daughter to be a maid-servant, she shall not go out as the men-servants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he hath betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money." Now, sir, the wit of man can't dodge that passage, unless he runs away into the Hebrew. (Great laughter.) For what does God say? Why, this:—that an Israelite might sell his own daughter, not only into servitude, but into polygamy,—that the buyer might, if he pleased, give her to his son for a wife, or take her to himself. If he took her to himself, and she did not please him, he should not sell her unto a strange nation, but should allow her to be redeemed by her family. But, if he took him another wife before he allowed the first one to be redeemed, he should continue to give the first one food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage; that is to say, her right to his bed. If he did not do these three things, she should go out free; i.e. cease to be his slave, without his receiving any money for her. There, sir, God sanctioned the Israelite father in selling his daughter, and the Israelite man to buy her, into slavery and into polygamy. And it was then right, because God made it right. In verses 20 and 21, you have these words:—"And if a man smite his servant or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall be surely punished; notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money." What does this passage mean? Surely this:—if the master gave his slave a hasty blow with a rod, and he died under his hand, he should be punished. But, if the slave lived a day or two, it would so extenuate the act of the master he should not be punished, inasmuch as he would be in that case sufficiently punished in losing his money in his slave. Now, sir, I affirm that God was more lenient to the degraded Hebrew master than Southern laws are to the higher Southern master in like cases. But there you have what was the divine will. Find fault with God, ye anti-slavery men, if you dare. In Leviticus, xxv. 44-46, "Both thy bondmen and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they beget in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen forever."
Sir, I do not see how God could tell us more plainly that he did command his people to buy slaves from the heathen round about them, and from the stranger, and of their families sojourning among them. The passage has no other meaning. Did God merely permit sin?—did he merely tolerate a dreadful evil? God does not say so anywhere. He gives his people law to buy and hold slaves of the heathen forever, on certain conditions, and to buy and hold Hebrew slaves in variously-modified particulars. Well, how did the heathen, then, get slaves to sell? Did they capture them in war?—did they sell their own children? Wherever they got them, they sold them; and God's law gave his people the right to buy them.
God in the New Testament made no law prohibiting the relation of master and slave. But he made law regulating the relation under Greek and Roman slavery, which was the most oppressive in the world.
God saw that these regulations would ultimately remove the evils in the Greek and Roman systems, and do it away entirely from the fitness of things, as there existing; for Greek and Roman slaves, for the most part, were the equals in all respects of their masters. AEsop was a slave; Terence was a slave. The precepts in Colossians iv. 18, 23, 1 Tim. vi. 1-6, and other places, show, unanswerably, that God as really sanctioned the relation of master and slave as those of husband and wife, and parent and child; and that all the obligations of the moral law, and Christ's law of love, might and must be as truly fulfilled in the one relation as in the other. The fact that he has made the one set of relations permanent, and the other more or less dependent on conditions of mankind, or to pass away in the advancement of human progress, does not touch the question. He sanctioned it under the Old Testament and the New, and ordains it now while he sees it best to continue it, and he now, as heretofore, proclaims the duty of the master and the slave. Dr. Parker's admirable explanation of Colossians, and other New Testament passages, saves me the necessity of saying any thing more on the Scripture argument.
One word on the Detroit resolutions, and I conclude. Those resolutions of the Assembly of 1850 decide that slavery is sin, unless the master holds his slave as a guardian, or under the claims of humanity.
Mr. Moderator, I think we had on this floor, yesterday, proof conclusive that those resolutions mean any thing or nothing; that they are a fine specimen of Northern skill in platform-making; that it put in a plank here, to please this man,—a plank there, to please that man,—a plank for the North, a broad board for the South. It is Jackson's judicious tariff. It is a gum-elastic conscience, stretched now to a charity covering all the multitude of our Southern sins, contracted now, giving us hardly a fig-leaf of righteousness. It is a bowl of punch,—
A little sugar to make it sweet, A little lemon to make it sour, A little water to make it weak, A little brandy to give it power. (Laughter.)
As a Northern argument against us, it is a mass of lead so heavy that it weighed down even the strong shoulders of Judge Jessup. For, sir, when he closed his speech, I asked him a single question I had made ready for him. It was this:—"Do you allow that Mr. Aiken, of South Carolina, may, under the claims of humanity, hold three thousand slaves, or must he emancipate them?" The Judge staggered, and stammered, and said, "No man could rightly hold so many." I then asked, "How many may he hold, in humanity?" The Judge saw his fatal dilemma. He recovered himself handsomely, and fairly said, "Mr. Aiken might hold three thousand slaves, in harmony with the Detroit action." I replied, "Then, sir, you have surrendered the whole question of Southern slavery." And, sir, the Judge looked as if he felt he had surrendered it. And every man in this house, capable of understanding the force of that question, felt it had shivered the whole anti-slavery argument, on those resolutions, to atoms. Why, sir, if a man can hold three slaves, with a right heart and the approbation of God, he may hold thirty, three hundred, three thousand, or thirty thousand. It is a mere question of heart, and capacity to govern. The Emperor of Russia holds sixty millions of slaves: and is there a man in this house so much of a fool as to say that God regards the Emperor of Russia a sinner because he is the master of sixty millions of slaves? Sir, that Emperor has certainly a high and awful responsibility upon him. But, if he is good as he is great, he is a god of benevolence on earth. And so is every Southern master. His obligation is high, and great, and glorious. It is the same obligation, in kind, he is under to his wife and children, and in some respects immensely higher, by reason of the number and the tremendous interests involved for time and eternity in connection with this great country, Africa, and the world. Yes, sir, I know, whether Southern masters fully know it or not, that they hold from God, individually and collectively, the highest and the noblest responsibility ever given by Him to individual private men on all the face of the earth. For God has intrusted to them to train millions of the most degraded in form and intellect, but, at the same time, the most gentle, the most amiable, the most affectionate, the most imitative, the most susceptible of social and religious love, of all the races of mankind,—to train them, and to give them civilization, and the light and the life of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I thank God he has given this great work to that type of the noble family of Japheth best qualified to do it,—to the Cavalier stock,—the gentleman and the lady of England and France, born to command, and softened and refined under our Southern sky. May they know and feel and fulfil their destiny! Oh, may they "know that they also have a Master in heaven."
Letter from Dr. Ross.
I need only say, in reference to this letter, that my friends having questioned my position as to the good of the agitation, I wrote the following letter to vindicate that point, as given, in the New York speech:—
HUNTSVILLE, ALA., July 14, 1856.
Brother Blackburn:—I affirmed, in my New York speech, that the Slavery agitation has done, and will accomplish, good.
Your very kind and courteous disagreement on that point I will make the occasion to say something more thereon, without wishing you, my dear friend, to regard what I write as inviting any discussion.
I said that agitation has brought out, and would reveal still more fully, the Bible, in its relation to slavery and liberty,—also the infidelity which long has been, and is now, leavening with death the whole Northern mind. And that it would result in the triumph of the true Southern interpretation of the Bible; to the honor of God, and to the good of the master, the slave, the stability of the Union, and be a blessing to the world. To accomplish this, the sin per se doctrine will be utterly demolished. That doctrine is the difficulty in every Northern mind, (where there is any difficulty about slavery,) whether they confess it or not. Yes, the difficulty with every Northern man is, that the relation of master and slave is felt to be sin. I know that to be the fact. I have talked with all grades of Northern men, and come in contact with all varieties of Northern mind on this subject. And I know that the man who says and tries to believe, and does, partially in sober judgment, believe, that slavery is not sin, yet, in his feelings, in his educated prejudices, he feels that slavery is sin.
Yes, that is the difficulty, and that is the whole of the difficulty, between the North and the South, so far as the question is one of the Bible and morals. Now, I again say, that that sin per se doctrine will, in this agitation, be utterly demolished. And when that is done,—when the North will know and feel fully, perfectly, that the relation of master and slave is not sin, but sanctioned of God,—then, and not till then, the North and South can and will, without anger, consider the following questions:—Whether slavery, as it exists in the United States, all things considered, be or be not a great good, and the greatest good for a time, notwithstanding its admitted evils? Again, whether these evils can or cannot be modified and removed? Lastly, whether slavery itself can or cannot pass away from this land and the world? Now, sir, the moment the sin question is settled, then all is peace. For these other questions belong entirely to another category of morals. They belong entirely to the category of what is wise to realize good. This agitation will bring this great result. And therefore I affirm the agitation to be good.
There is another fact also, the result, in great measure, of this agitation, which in my view proves it to have been and to be of great good. I mean the astonishing rise and present stability of the slave-power of the United States. This fact, when examined, is undeniable. And it is equally undeniable that it has been caused, in great part, by the slavery question in all its bearings. It is a wonderful development made by God. And I must believe he intends thereby either to destroy or bless this great Union. But, as I believe he intends to bless, therefore I am fortified in affirming the good there has been and is in this agitation. Let me bring out to view this astonishing fact.
1. Twenty-five years ago, and previously, the whole slave-holding South and West had a strong tendency to emancipation, in some form. But the abolition movement then began, and arrested that Southern and Western leaning to emancipation. Many people have said, and do say, that that arrest was and is a great evil. I say it was and is a great good. Why? Answer: It was and would now be premature. Had it been carried out, it would have been and would now be evil, immense, inconceivable,—to master, slave, America, Africa, and the world; because neither master, slave, America, Africa, the world, were, or are, ready for emancipation. God has a great deal to do before he is ready for emancipation. He tells us so by this arrest put upon that tendency to emancipation years ago. For He put it into the hearts of abolitionists to make the arrest. And He stopped the Southern movement all the more perfectly by permitting Great Britain to emancipate Jamaica, and letting that experiment prove, as it has, a perfect failure and a terrible warning. JAMAICA IS DESTROYED. And now, whatever be done for its negroes must be done with the full admission that what has been attempted was in violation of the duty Britain owed to those negroes. But her failure in seeing and doing her duty, God has given to us to teach us knowledge; and, through us, to instruct the world in the demonstration of the problem of slavery.
2. God put it into the hearts of Northern men—especially abolitionists—to give Texas to the South. Texas, a territory so vast that a bird, as Webster said, can't fly over it in a week. Many in the South did not want Texas. But many longer-headed ones did want it. And Northern men voted and gave to the South exactly what these longer-headed Southern statesmen wanted. This, I grant, was Northern anti-slavery fatuity, utterly unaccountable but that God made them do it.
3. God put it into the hearts of Northern men—especially abolitionists—to vote for Polk, Dallas, and Texas. This gave us the Mexican War; and that immense territory, its spoil,—a territory which, although it may not be favorable for slave-labor, has increased, and will, in many ways, extend the slave-power.
4. This leads me to say that God put it into the hearts of many Northern men—especially abolitionists—to believe what Great Britain said,—namely, that free trade would result in slave-emancipation. But lo! the slave-holder wanted free trade. So Northern abolitionists helped to destroy the tariff policy, and thus to expand the demand for, and the culture of, cotton. Now, see, the gold of California has perpetuated free trade by enabling our merchants to meet the enormous demand for specie created by free trade. So California helps the slave-power. But the abolitionists gave us Polk, the Mexican War, and California.
5. God put it into the hearts of the North, and especially abolitionists, to stimulate the settlement of new free States, and to be the ardent friends of an immense foreign emigration. The result has been to send down to the South, with railroad speed and certainty, corn, wheat, flour, meal, bacon, pork, beef, and every other imaginable form of food, in quantity amazing, and so cheap that the planter can spread wider and wider the culture of cotton.
6. God has, by this growth of the Northwest, made the demand for cotton enormous in the North and Northwest. Again, he has made English and French experiments to procure cotton somewhere else than from the United States dead failures,—in the East Indies, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil. God has thus given to the Southern planter an absolute monopoly. A monopoly so great that he, the Southern planter, sits now upon his throne of cotton and wields the commercial sceptre of the world. Yes, it is the Southern planter who says to-day to haughty England, Go to war, if you dare; dismiss Dallas, if you dare. Yes, he who sits on the throne of the cotton-bag has triumphed at last over him who sits on the throne of the wool-sack. England is prostrate at his feet, as well as the abolitionists.
7. God has put it into the hearts of abolitionists to prevent half a million of free negroes from going to Liberia; and thereby the abolitionists have made them consumers of slave-products to the extension of the slave-power. And, by thus keeping them in America, the abolitionists have so increased their degradation as to prove all the more the utter folly of emancipation in the United States.