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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Elon Galusha and O. S. Murray
From Facts for Baptist Churches, 1850
The American Baptist Anti-Slavery Convention, holding its first session in the City of New York, on the 28th, 29th, and 30th of April, 1840,
To the Baptist Slaveholders of the Southern States:
Fathers and Brethren:
We have assembled, to the number of one hundred persons at the written call of seven hundred Baptists from thirteen of the United States. Of this number, about four hundred are accredited ministers of Jesus Christ.
A conviction of duty, which we humbly conceive, is based upon the fear of God and the love of our fellow-men—whether bond or free, oppressors or oppressed—constrains us to submit a few thoughts for your special and candid consideration. In doing so, we appeal with the firmest confidence to the Omniscient God for the rectitude of our intentions.
We solemnly profess a prayerful and submissive reverence for the principles of his recorded will. We feelingly avow a tender sympathy, not only for the slave, but also for you, upon many of whom slavery is entailed by heritage, and enforced by law; while inexorable habits, formed in the passive state of infancy, as well as universal usage, impose bonds upon yourselves scarcely less stronger or less oppressive than the fetters of the slave.
Hear us, then, with patience and kindness. It is our firm conviction that the whole system of American slavery, in theory and practice, is a violation of the instincts of nature—a perversion of principles of justice—and a positive transgression of the revealed will of God. For, man instinctively seeks happiness and repels outrage; while slavery compels him to forego the former and endure the latter, for himself and his posterity, until the end of time.
Justice, in its very nature, assumes the existence of free moral agents, mutually bound by established principles, and acting towards each other with perfect reciprocity. We do not speak of justice towards a "chattel personal," a horse, or a swine. But the statutes of the South pronounce a slave "a chattel personal” to all intents and purposes whatsoever; and thus set him beyond the pale of justice as utterly disqualified to assert a right and to redress a wrong.
Divine revelation, as committed to Moses and expounded by our Lord, teaches that pious self-love is the only proper measure of our love towards others. Does slavery, especially its laws which quench or smother in the slave the light of the mind, which tear from his agonized bosom the dearest objects of his natural affection conform to that rule of Holy Writ?
We believe that God only has the right to take away the health, the wife, the children or the life of men guilty of no social crime. When man, single or associated, uses his power for such ends, he appears to us to arrogate to himself the prerogative of the Almighty, and to assume a responsibility under which an archangel would stagger.
God, it is true, made use of the Jews to exterminate certain heathen tribes, and to inflict upon others a mild servitude, carefully defined and restricted. To employ this mode of punishment, or any other that He chose, was His unquestionable right. But where is the Scripture warrant to apply this special license of Jehovah for the extirpation of the human race at large, or the enslavement of any nation in particular? This specific direction to His oracular people is but an exception that confirms the general rule of His Son. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The heart of the Blessed Jesus was indeed an overflowing fountain of the tenderest sympathy for human woe.
Food, health, and life were his boon, never withheld when solicited, and the gospel preached to the poor was the peculiar and characteristic proof of his being the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
No evidence exists that He ever witnessed a scene of slavery. It is not shown that Hebrews of that day trafficked in human flesh. The chained coffle, the naked gang of the cotton field, the exposed female reeling under the lash, the child torn forever from its mother’s breaking heart, these and worse acts of slavery’s tragedy were not performed, so far as history speaks, before the face of Jesus. But his warmest, almost His only burst of indignation, is against those who devoured the helpless widow’s substance and for a pretense made long prayers and liberal contributions to the cause of God.
His itinerant inspired followers were too busy in draining off the universal deluge of idolatry, explaining the nature of the one living God, and establishing the claims of Jesus as the true Messiah, to define, or to condemn, in form, every species and variety of crime, in every age, that hell, fruitful of inventions, might suggest, and fallen human nature perpetrate. Hence, horse-racing, gambling, piracy, the rum-traffic, and the African and American slave-trade, remain ungraduated in the Scripture scale of human sins.
Paul, however, exhorts the servants of heathen masters to respectfulness and patience, for the reason that the name of God be not blasphemed; and advises them, while patient under bondage, to prefer freedom. He enjoins Christian masters to give their servants what is just and equal. Do the slaves of American Baptists obtain justice and equity? He implores his brother Philemon to receive again the converted fugitive, not, as he probably had been, the heathen vassal of a heathen lord, but as a beloved brother in Jesus Christ. Thus we behold, in all the Scriptures a virtual and total condemnation of American slavery.
Besides, American Baptists, as a whole denomination, have been hitherto regarded by the Christian world as responsible for the sins of Baptist Slaveholders, and the sufferings of one hundred thousand Baptist slaves. And if we fail, as many do, to testify our abhorrence of a system that allows a fellow-Christian to sell his brother, or his brother's wife or child, or to dissolve the marriage tie at pleasure, we see not how to escape the merited contempt of mankind, the reproaches of conscience, or the displeasure of God. For, the followers of Jesus are ordained the light of the world and His witnesses of the truth until the end of time.
Further, in the exhaustion of your once teeming soil,—the non-increase, and, in some parts, diminution of your white population,—the depreciation of your staple products, and the competition of British enterprise in India,—the jubilee shout of West Indian emancipation, rousing the dormant spirit of your slaves to assert the rights of man,—your intrinsic incapacity of self-defense in case of foreign aggression,—your constant exposure to servile insurrection and massacre,—and in the general reprobation of republican slavery throughout the rest of the civilized and Christian world,—we behold indications that God attests, by earthly signs, the precept of his heavenly oracles, to "let the oppressed go free."
Again, if you have thus far heard us with candor, you may perhaps inquire, “What would you have us do?" We answer —at once confess before heaven and earth the sinfulness of holding slaves; admit it to be not only a misfortune, but a crime; remonstrate against laws that bind the system on you; petition for the guaranty to all of "national and inalienable rights."
If your remonstrances and prayers to man are disregarded, cast yourselves on the God of providence and justice; forsake, like Abraham, your father-land, and carry your children and your households to the vast asylum of our prairies and our wilderness, where our Father in heaven has bidden our mother earth to open her exuberant breast for the nourishment of many sons.
Finally,—if you should, (which Heaven avert!) remain deaf to the voice of warning and entreaty,—if you still cling to the power-maintained privilege of living on unpaid toil, and of claiming as property the image of God, which Jesus bought with His precious blood,—we solemnly declare, as we fear the Lord, that we cannot and we dare not recognize you as consistent brethren in Christ.
We cannot join in partial, selfish prayers, that the groans of the slave may be unheard; we cannot hear preaching which makes God the author and approver of human misery and vassalage; and we cannot, at the Lord's Table, cordially take that as a brother's hand, which plies the scourge on woman's naked flesh, which thrusts a gag into the mouth of man, which rivets fetters on the innocent, and which shuts up the Bible from human eyes. We deplore your condition; we pray for your deliverance; and God forbid that we should ever sin against Him by ceasing so to pray.
Elon Galusha, President
O. S. Murray, Secretary