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"Slavery," an anonymous letter published in the Columbus (GA) Enquirer, 1851

Columbus Enquirer, Columbus, Georgia, August 5, 1851:

Slavery
[By Anonymous]

Editors Columbus Enquirer:

The subject of slavery in our country seems to be approaching a crisis which should elicit the interest and feelings of every citizen to its investigation, that we may know the grounds upon which we stand, in order, if false to abandon them, and if just and true, to inspire that confidence and courage in their defence, which is absolutely necessary to success. We justly appreciate our political Institutions, their cost, duration, prosperity and happiness, all plead strongly for their perpetuity; and nothing short of death, or a conviction of our error should induce us to surrender, or even compromise institutions which have the approbation of God, and are, consequently, founded in justice and equity.

I am not aware that the grounds I am about to take on this important subject, have been much considered by our apologists hitherto, though they stand out in bold relief upon the pages of the Bible, and are as much a decree and a [word illegible] from the Great Donor of all our blessings as any others we enjoy. This, I know, is taking a high and bold stand, but I shall endeavor to show that its height is not greater than its foundation is broad, and true, nor bolder than is susceptible of the strongest defence.

Let us look then, first, to the origin of slavery.

"And Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard, and he drank of the wine and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth, took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father, and their faces were backward and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him. And he said, cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant." Gen. 9, 20-27.

I have made this lengthy quotation of this transaction, that all may see at a glance, the cause and decree of God's curse upon Ham, and his posterity, and the mode by which this curse and decree should be accomplished. A perpetual servitude to their brethren, the descendants of Shem and Japheth. That Noah spake by inspiration on this occasion, will not, I presume, be denied. And it appears that Canaan, one of the sons of Ham, was grossly implicated in the sin of his father, hence the wrath of God against this branch of Hams [sic] posterity was poured out with more fury, as it was Canaan's posterity whom the Israelites exterminated, and took possession of their inheritance by Divine command.

The meaning of Ham, being burnt, or black, is peculiarly significant of the countries allotted to his family, for Noah, in dividing the earth between his three sons, apportioned the Southern and hot regions of Asia and Africa to Ham; the better portion of Asia to Shem, and Europe to Japheth. The Israelites were the descendants of the Shem branch of Noah's family, and the Divine grant of Shem of the services of Ham's posterity, was renewed through Moses, the Jewish Lawgiver, when he authorised the Israelites by Divine Authority to levy and possess to themselves and their children forever, the strangers and their children of the nations around them. Both thy bondmen and bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round 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 begat in your land, and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them for an inheritance for your children, after you to inherit them for a possession, they shall be your bondmen forever. But of your brethren, the children of Israel, ye shall not rule over another with rigor. Leviticus, 25, 44-46.

It is to be well observed, that in these extracts the posterity of Ham are the only legalized servants by Divine prescript. Fortunately, then, for the United States, our slaves are so strongly marked as to leave their identity unquestionable. Every scruple, therefore, of tender consciences in regard to the propriety and Divine right of the Institutions of Slavery, as far as the posterity of Ham extends, and that through all time (for there is no limit to the decree) may be forever silenced by this authority. And it is the only authority that can justify slavery in the proper sense of the term. Hence, all slavery of the respective posterities of Shem and Japheth and having for its authority the sanction and practice of human governments only, is a flagrant outrage upon the natural rights of man, and an abomination in the sight of God. If it is objected, that many of our slaves partake of a mixture of the races, I answer that it is the effect of a violation of the Divine Law, an outrage upon decency and morality, and therefore, a sin which should subject the accomplices in adultery to everlasting shame and contempt, and their spurious offspring to the same degradation and servitude, as the full blood sons and daughters of Ham. And as one spot of leprosy (which was an emblem of sin) under the Jewish economy, subjected the subject to all the disabilities of those who were lepers as white as snow, with that loathsome disease, so it is equally just in the sight of heaven that the offspring of adultery should inherit the double infamy of their parents.

It is true, that God has in various instances for sin, permitted the servitude of one portion of the same race to another, as in the case of the respective posterities of Esaw [sic] and Jacob, but it has only been temporary and generally ceased, when the causes for it were abandoned. It was the usage of ancient nations to make slaves of captives taken in war, of whatever race, they might be, as the Saxons, Grecians, and Romans; and some ethical writers of comparatively modern date, incline to the opinion that slavery from such causes was just, and a commutation of liberty for life, presuming at the same time, that the cause of war against the captured and subdued nation was just. The species of servitude from this cause has been varied in time and degree from that of moderate tribute for a short time, to servile and perpetual labor, and even imprisonment for life, together with a privation of all political, civil, and religious privileges. Montesquien [sic], who, I believe, is considered the standard of criminal, as well as national and civil law in this country, says: It is false that killing in war is lawful, unless in the case of absolute necessity; but when a man has made another his slave, he cannot be said to have been under a necessity of taking away his life, since he actually did not take it away. War gives us no other right over prisoners, than to disable them from doing any further harm, by securing their persons. And if a prisoner of war is not reduced to slavery, much less are his children. This reason, therefore, with others, assigned by civilians in justification of slavery, he concludes, is 'false.' Spirit of Laws, Book 15, ch. 2.

No doubt, but God had just and powerful reasons to induce him to sentence the posterity of Ham to perpetual servitude, and to allot to the posterities of Shem and Japheth prosperity and dominion.

'He claims to rule the world which he has made,
In this right of Providence is laid.'

The decree is a standing monument of his hatred to sin, and love of righteousness. What can be more disgusting that the contempt and reprehensible levity with which Ham and his son Canaan treated their father on that occasion? And on the other hand, the reverence, respect, and piety, exhibited in the conduct of Shem and Japheth, is worthy of all commendation and taken together, are more actions of opposite characters, acted out in the first age of the posdeluvian [sic] world, as indexes of those moral qualities which should meet the approbation or disapprobation of God, through all future time; and held up to the world by the perpetual punishment of the curse of servitude to the one, and prosperity and dominion of the others, as an admonition and warning against sin on the one hand, and incentives to virtue and religion on the other. And wherever, throughout the earth, the sable sons of Ham are scattered as bondmen and bondmaids to their brethren, the posterities of Shem and Japheth, we read in unmistakable characters, God's curse upon sin of every hue, and his everlasting love of righteousness.

And as the Jewish theocracy was a model in its day, of morality and piety to the surrounding nations, the Institution of Slavery was so modified and softened, as to relieve it of much of its harshness and cruelty, with which it was fraught among the heathens. In this respect, as others of the Jewish Theocracy, was the 'light of the world' in this day; so that, a slave absconding from a heathen, and taking refuge in Judea, was forbidden by the Law of Moses to be delivered [remainder of sentence obscured and unreadable]. We learn that their condition was made as easy and comfortable as their relative position would admit. 'They were all circumcised, and therefore, initiated into the true religion; they had the full and strict advantage of the Sabbath confirmed to them by express statute; they had access to the solemn religious festivals of the Jews; and partook of the feasts made upon the offerings; and that all the fruits which grew spontaneously during the Sabbatical year, were given to them and to the indigent.' Michelaes [sic], has also showed, that not only was the ox not musled [sic] when traeding [sic] out the corn, but that the slaves and day laborers might eat without restraint of the fruits they were gathering in their master's service, and drank of the wine they pressed from the wine press.' Watson's Institutes, vol. 3, page 272.

Watson, however, has failed to notice slavery as of Divine Institution, but supposes it was tolerated to the Jews, for the purpose of softening a state of things already existing, and grown into general practice. He says, too, that the heathens who became slaves to the Jews, were under a malediction because of their idolatries, and can be no rule for a Christian state,' forgetting that our slaves are the descendants of Ham's posterity of Africa, and idolaters of the grossest character. He assumes, that slavery is inimical to the spirit of Christianity, and therefore should be abolished in all Christian States. But where is the proof of this? Servitude is repeatedly recognized in the New Testament, but no where forbidden; sometimes the servant and master are both recognized as Christians, and their relative duties prescribed. Can we suppose in all this, slavery would have been recognized and tolerated, had it been inimical to the spirit of Christianity? If a people, or a nation sins, has not God the right to punish it in whatever mode he pleases; and is this mode of punishment worse than the earth's opening and swallowing of them up; their destruction by dearths, fire, and tempest; and their extermination by nations almost in a day? And if he chooses to bless his people with the services of the proscribed sons and daughters of a wicked Ham, as a mitigation of their just deserts, and 'to make his power known,' 'Who art thou, O! man, that repliest against God?' Is thine eye evil because I am good?

Dr. Clark, the Biblical Commentator has left on record in this case, the remarkable fact-that error is its own detector. In the case of the curse pronounced on Ham and his posterity for their wicked conduct to their father Noah, he says: 'God had wise and powerful reasons to induce him to sentence the one to perpetual servitude, and to allot to the others (Shem and Japhet [sic]) prosperity and dominion.' When he comes to that part of the law of the Jewish Theocracy granting to the Israelites the privilege of buying servants of the heathen for themselves and their children forever; he passes it over in mute silence. Leviticus 25, 45, 46. He however, breaks silence on the subject when he comes to the New Testament, in his note on the 5th verse of the 6th chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, 'Servants be obedient to them who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ,' he holds the following language: 'Though the Greek word which we translate servant, signifies a slave or bondman, yet if often implies a servant in general, or any one bound to another either for a limited time, or for life. Even a slave if a Christian was bound to serve him faithfully by whose money he was bought, howsoever illegal that traffic may be considered. In heathen countries slavery was in some sort excusable; among Christians, it is an enormity and a crime, for which perdition has scarcely an adequate state of punishment.' How, I ask, does this note harmonize with that on Gen. 9, 25, and with his silence on Leviticus 25, 45, 46. This execration, too, is belched forth in the very face of a text then under his eye, enjoining obedience on Christian servants to Christian masters, as unto Christ!

We shall only bring to notice one more case of flagrant inconsistency on this subject.

Mr. Jefferson in his Declaration of Independence says: 'All men are born with equal rights.' This sentiment has been endorsed ostensibly by the people of the United States of America. For an infidel, who discarded the authenticity of the Sacred Scriptures, and saddled the Christian religion with a 'fable,' such a sentiment is in keeping; but for a People to hold this sentiment and the Institution of Slavery as it exists in the Southern States is a paradox; and every time it is announced whether private or public the lie is given to the Institution, for if all men are born with with [repeated word in original] equal rights, then unconditional servitude imposed upon the weak by the strong is an evident subversion of the eternal principles of Justice and Truth to mere brute force.

If the slaves who lived in the British Colonies of North America when that Declaration was announced were born with a natural right to liberty, the Government of the United States had no right to take that liberty from them, and consequently could confer no such right in their masters, for a government, no more than an individual, can give what it never had. If then our right to the servitude of our slaves is based only upon the right of our Government to confer it, it is a false issue, and the Institution is a violation by physical force, of natural rights, and we are held up to the world as our enemies insist, as the veriest despots on Earth, while making loud and long professions of liberty. Holding the Declaration of equal rights to all men in one hand, and the scorpion lash in the other! But fortunately for us we are relieved from such an ignomy [sic] by Divine authority. Cursed be Canaan a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren comes to our relief, and until the Sacred Scriptures are proved a 'fable' we have the same right to the services of the descendants of wicked Ham, under a mild administration of the grant, as to the patrimony of another inheritance.

Under this view of the subject the Government of the United States had a right, and was under obligation to secure to her citizens this species of prosperity in common with others.

In conclusion then, let us never forget that the sin of Ham was the cause of the curse and that sin in the sight of God is as hateful to day as in the days of Ham; that it was for sin the Israelites, who had the grant to buy and hold slaves were made slaves themselves. And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel unto Assyria, and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes: Because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and would not hear them nor do them, 2 Kings, 18, 11, 12.

As every blessing may be converted into a curse, so has been and so is the Institution of Slavery. Upon Christians who hold slaves is the duty devolved, as it was upon the Jews to soften the rigors and abolish the cruelty, by sympathy and humanity, which have too often stained the Institution with blood, and thus brought a just reproach upon Christendom; and for which the angry clouds of God's displeasure hang lowering over the land, and we are threatened with a storm and convulsion should the clouds break, that will rend us asunder, and pour out the vials of his wrath upon us.

Let us not forget that the moral code of the Bible is the only foundation, upon which the civil government can stand; that God is as truly the governor of this world as he is the Creator, and that he will award a just retribution upon the violators of his Covenant.

And as Judea's once fruitful fields, were cursed with sterility; her crowded and happy population thinned by pestilence and war; her sons and daughters that were blessed with the protection of omnipotence and the bounties of providence, reduced to starvation and made captives by their enemies, her proud Temple demolished, and her palaces razed to the ground; her streets bedewed with the tears of her children, and the elements filled with the lamentations of the distressed and dying; So let proud America, rescued from the thraldom [sic] of British tyranny by the blood of our fathers, Blessed with her free institutions, her fruitful fields, her splendid cities and crowded population-all blessed with peace, prosperity and happiness; take warning and profit by the calamities of other nations; lest deserted by her Protector, Ichabod be written on the walls of her Zion; Sterility's frown mock the labors of the husband-man; and Desolation's iron wand extend over her once fruitful and happy plains.

A NATIVE AMERICAN.


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