« ZurückWeiter »
THE CHURCH CARRIED ALONG; OR, THE OPINIONS
OF A D.D. ON SLAVERY.
BY REV. BERIAH GREEN, PRESIDENT OF ONEIDA INSTITUTE.
CHARGED as they are with being ignorant, rash, and headlong, the abolitionists are at length furnished with a guide. And a guide too, of such pretensions and of such a reputation ! No less a master than the late Rev. John H. RICE, D.D., Professor of Christian Theology in Union Theological Seminary, Virginia, backed by the authority of the Christian Spectator. It would not, we think, be easy to find among southern clergymen, living or dead, a name equally honored—an authority equally weighty and powerful. Those, who wish to know how and why he came to have so high a place in the esteem and confidence of his fellowchristians may, if they choose, consult the reviews of his memoirs in the Christian Spectator, and in the Literary and Theological Review.
In this paper we would devote some attention to his views of the subject of American Slavery. These are contained in a letter of his to William Maxwell, Esq., and introduced in the Christian Spectator with the following paragraph;
“ His views on the delicate and difficult subject of slavery, many of our readers may wish to learn. And it will not be out of place, perhaps, at the present time, when this subject is undergoing so vigorous a discussion, to give them. As a Virginian, educated amid the associations and under the many influences of this strong feature in the laws and the social economy of his native section of country, his views on this subject are, perhaps, as enlightened and liberal as from the nature of the case they could be expected to be. We are not quite sure, that, when they are looked upon in their application to the existing state of things at this moment, and with all the advantage of our position as northern men, they are not both just and important." It is immediately added; “ The following remarks are extracted from a letter to William Maxwell, Esq.:
“ 'I am most fully convinced that slavery is the greatest evil in our country, except whiskey; and it is my most ardent prayer that we may be delivered from it. But it is my full belief that the deliverance is not to be accomplished by the
combination of benevolent societies. The great tudy of persons composing such societies are to little accustomed to calculate cons quences. They go directly at their measure, and have no means of accomplishing it but the pruducii g, by means of speeches and addresses, a strong excilernent. But on a subject of this delicale character, where much opposrion is to be encountered, these very means give the adversary an advantage, which he will not fail 'o use to te injury, perhaps to the destruction of the society. While, therefore, I do m st devoudy wish siccess :o the Colon zetion Society, I du es nestly wish that its frends may not refer o it as a means of delivegance from slavery. Should that sucress which I hope for, crown the efforts of this association, the existence of a prusperons clony on the western coast wil of itse li do more for the cause of emancipation, than all that any, or all of us, now can effect by speaking of these things. So fully am I convinced of this, that I deplore every movement that raises any thing like opposition to the society.
The reason why I am so strenuously opposed to any movement by the church or the ministers of religion on this subject, is simply this. I am co v nced that any thing we can do wiil injure religion, and retard the march of public feling in relation to slavery. I take the case to be just this: as slavery exists am ng us, the only possible chance of deliverance is by making the people willing to get rid of it. At any rate, it is this or physical force. The ;roblem to be solv d is, to produce that state of he public will, which will cause the peop e to move spontaneously to the erudication of the evil. Slaves by law are held as prop ry. If the church or the min ster of religion touches the subject, it is touching what are called the righıs of property. The jealousy am ng our cuntrymen en this subject is such, t at we cannot move a step in his way, without waken rg up the st ongest opposition, and producing the most violent exci ement. The whole mass of the community will be set in mouon, and the great body of the church will be carried along. Under this conviction, I wish the ministers of religion to be convinced that here is nuthing in the New Tes ament which obliges i hem to take hod of this subject directly. In fact, I te iev. thin it never has fared well with either church or s a ę, when the church meddled with temporal affairs. And I should knowing liow unmanage-ble religious fi elirg is, when pot kept under the immediate influence of divine truth-be exceedi gly fı aid to see it brought to bear directly on ibe subject of slavery. Where the movement might end, I could not p'etend to conje ture.
But I tell you what I wish. While we go on minding our own business, and endeavoring to make as many good christ.a'is as possible among masters and servants, let be subject of slavery be discussed in the p litical papers, reviews, &c., as a question of political ecuncmy. Keep is entirely free from all ecclesiastical connections, and from all the politics of the general govern ent; and treat it as a matter of sta'e concernment. Examine its effec:s on the agriculture, commerce and manufactures of the state. Compare the expense of free and slave labor. Bring distinctly be ore the people the evil in its unavoidable operat ons and its fearful increase. Set them to calculati' g the weight of their burdens. Let them see how many old slaves, and young slaves, who produce no hing, they have to support. Show them how sla very deducts from he military forre as well as the wealth of a country, etc. etc. Considerations of this sort, combined with
the benevolent feelings growing out of a gradual, uninterrupted progress of religion, will, I believe, s t the people of their own accord to seek deliverance. They will foresee the necessity of a cbinge; soon begin to prepare for it; and it will come about without violence or convulsion. Such is my op nion.'” pp. 306— 308.
Dr. Rice then had the strongest conviction, that excepting intemperance, slavery was the greatest evil in our country. We shall not dispute its claims to such an unenviable distinction. It seizes a child of God; mars the divine image which had been impressed upon him; puts him among “ goods and chattels," and disposes of him as if he had been reduced to a piece of property. It lays his “life, liberty, and happiness” at the feet of any creature, who has a heart hard enough and a purse long enough, to buy him. It blights his intellect; blasts his honor; treads out his soul. This it has done-this it is still doing, for millions within our republic and among our churches ;—for millions of sufferers, who are not allowed the poor privilege of giving free utterance to their sighs' and groans and tears. In doing this, moreover, it is debauching the morals, disgracing the name, trampling upon the constitution and laws, and destroying the prospects of no less a nation than the United States ! What an evil, then, must slavery be!
“I am most fully convinced,” declared Dr. Rice, “that slavery is the greatest evil in our country except whiskey." But what sort of evil did our theological professor think it was? Did he regard it as a calamity or as a crime? As a misfortune or as a sin ? Nothing can be more important here than just discrimination and accurate definition. A misfortune may be to be deplored and submitted to; but sin never. It is always and immediately to be repented of and abandoned. To our brethren who are under the pressure of calamity, it is our privilege to offer our heart-felt condolence; our fellow sinners are entitled to reproof, and to our assistance in breaking the “bonds of iniquity." How then did Dr. Rice regard the evil of slavery? This inquiry may be fairly settled in the light of the hints, which he suggests. In the first place, then, let us mark the class of evils in which he gives slavery a place. At the head of it we find intemperance. Was drunkenness in the eye of Dr. Rice, a misfortune or a sin ? It opens a flood-gate, through which misfortunes rush, doubtless. This is an office which sin is
always commissioned to perform; and which it does perform with fearful fidelity and terrible effect. Moral evil may always be expected to open the way for physical. Those who sin must suffer. But surely it cannot be rash to presume, that Dr. Rice would pronounce it wicked for any man to intoxicate himself with “whiskey." The evil of intemperance, we cannot doubt, was with him a moral evil. With intemperance he ranks slavery. Not only does he assign it to the same class; he also gives it a marked prominency there. It has the second place. It stands “ next to the head ;"_near enough to inhale the fetid breath of its swollen neighbor. In the next place, Dr. Rice makes the prevalence of slavery to depend upon the “public will." “ The problem to be solved is," as he informs us, “ to produce that state of the public will, which will cause the people to move spontaneously to the eradication of the evil." The great thing to be attempted in the abolition of slavery is, according to him and in his words, to “make the people willing to get rid of it.” But what can that evil be, whose prevalence depends upon the human will? What sort of evils are they, which vanish whenever “the people are willing to get rid” of them? Are they hurricanes, and plagues, and broken bones? No, no. Dr. Rice knew-every man knows, that they are sins. When moral eyils are to be “got rid” of—when wicked habits are to be broken up, then the very problem which Dr. Rice presents, is to be disposed of. Then “that state of the public will must be produced, which will cause” transgressors “to move spontaneously to the eradication of the evil.” In the light, then, in which Dr. Rice exhibits slavery, we cannot hesitate to pronounce it a sin-one of the greatest sins which disgraces and afflicts our country. And as such, if he understood the import of his own language, he must from the “fullest convictions” have been ready to pronounce it—"sin."
Yet Dr. Rice would not have“ benevolent societies” meddle with slavery. He was “exceedingly afraid”—we quote his own words— to see RELIGIOUS FEELINGS brought to bear directly” upon this subject ! Let us see what were his objections.
His first objection to the combination of benevolent societies” to deliver the nation from the evil of slavery, is to be found in the directness of their exertions. “They go,” says the Doctor, “ directly at their measure." By this we understand that they fix their eyes full upon their object distinctly and carefully survey it-adopt such measures as are best adapted to accomplish it ; and like frank, honest, fearless men, aunouncing their intentions, go about their work. They thus choose a path strongly marked by the foot prints of their Lord and his Apostles. This the Doctor thinks is not-the best way to contend with one of “ the greatest evils in our country.” He could not think so, and remain what he claimed to be, an ardent friend to the scheme of the American Colonization Society. Nothing could be more indirect than the exertions of that organization to break up the system of American slavery. Such a thing was not even proposed by the supporters of that scheme. Not a few of them were themselves slaveholders. They impudently claimed, and stoutly held, the right of property in their fellow men. They never dreamed, living or dying, of striking the chains from the limbs of their own vassals ; much less of urging on the petty tyrants around them the doctrine and the duty of emancipation. And such men held the highest offices, and exerted the leading influences in this pseudo-benevolent society. So far were they from expecting in it any direct means for the abolition of slavery, that they seem to have regarded it as a shield to protect the hydra. Others—and perhaps Dr. Rice belonged to this class—seem to have hoped, that in some inconceivable, inexplicable, roundabout way, the expatriation of the free would open the door for the enfranchisement of the enslaved! And if, at some shining point, midwav perhaps between now and never, their plan inight take effect and ensure success, they saw no cause for discontent or discouragement. And then what a happy method ! Nobody's claim to property in human flesh disputed ! Nobody's crimes assailed! Nobody's prejudices aroused ! Nobody's passions inflamed! Thus by humoring in the oppressor
the lust of the eye, and the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life," these sentiments and habits, gradually becoming weaker, would at length, of their own accord, let go of the heart in which they had been cherished ! Could such a plan succeed, the devil, that old hunter, who has for many ages been busy at work setting traps for others, would for the first time, be himself entrapped-and entrapped by those who would thus outwit him in wiliness, and outdo him in trickery!