After defining his terms, our author shifts to a full explanation of slavery’s sinful violations of Christian precepts.
Sins Against Liberty
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
In our first number from Free Soil pastor William Wilson, our author defined his terms and presented readers with “the great American question:” Should we govern ourselves as sovereign voters in a democratic republic, or shall we go down in literal flames spread by arsonist slaves and their constantly fidgeting masters? Having introduced both positions, our author now moves to fuller explications of each system. Unsurprisingly given his occupation, Wilson’s focus is on slavery’s violations of Christian religion—especially the Church’s supposed universalism.
The first plank of evidence in the edifice, though, bucked the entire system of racism which saddled North and South. Slavery, he declares, “is diametrically at war with the UNITY OF THE ORIGIN of the human race” as set for in Genesis. What could possibly be more anti‐Christian, then, than racism?
What’s more, of course, slavery encouraged the daily commission of mortal sins against the laws of God including murder and rape. Much as southern preachers might howl about the irreligiosity, the Free Loveism, the communism and degradation of northerners, Wilson makes clear that their protests are in vain. No true and honest Christian could look upon such a system and proclaim that their God has condemned such a vast portion of humanity to utter subjection and torture. No godly person who respects themselves could possibly ignore the separation of slave families, the hypocrisy of fathering children through rape and keeping them as property, the absolute and utter waste of humanity involved from start to finish. There it all was for any caring and cognizant person to see—and yet the people and their representatives held their tongues year after year.
Well, no more. Wilson and over two hundred thousand other northerners stood behind former President Martin Van Buren and the new Free Soil Party in 1848. This was their moment to seriously break from the hopeless minority position of the Liberty Party; this was the time to seize history and change it for the better. It was the “Springtime of Peoples” across the ocean and now was the time to crush the Slave Power before it swallowed up American democracy in service to the new doulocracy.
By William Wilson, A.M.
The Great American Question: Democracy vs Doulocracy
The merits of slavery and doulocracy being now fully and fairly before the public, and the view taken of them being calculated potentially to influence the decision of the GREAT QUESTION OF THE AGE at the polls, let me say a few words to you about these, as they are discovered when they tested by every sound, political, moral and religious standard. What is the character of that thing which our Southern friends, and Cass and Taylor, with their partisans in the Free States, — if indeed they have many, or any, here at the election, considering the detestable ground which they occupy, and the insult which is offered to every Northern man in asking for them his vote, — would have you and me to extend over territories which are now free of it? It is good, or useful, or becoming, or tolerable at all in the light of the nineteenth century, and in a land so favored by God with light, with free institutions, and with unexampled prosperity, and so proud and jealous of her liberties? And here we must glance at general principles and facts, which the mind may reflect upon, and reason out at leisure; for I have not time to argue them, were it necessary, which is happily not the case, nor have you to read anything prolix, on an occasion of high and laudable excitement, which freemen are called to prompt and decisive action. I ask you then attentively to consider,
THE SINFULNESS OF SLAVERY; WHICH IN ORDER TO PREVENT MISAPPREHENSION, I DEFINE TO BE, THE HOLDING OF UNOFFENDING MEN IN INVOLUNTARY BONDAGE.
It is diametrically at war with the UNITY OF THE ORIGIN of the human race. You believe, I presume, that all mankind have descended from a single pair. This is most orthodox. Adam and Eve were the progenitors “of all living.” To them the commandment was given by the Creator; “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the face of the earth.“ “Have we not all one Father?” “God hath made of One Blood all the nations of men, for to dwell upon all the face of the earth.” To these oracles, both of the Old and the New Testaments, enlightened Philosophy adds her consistent testimony. All human beings have the same physical, intellectual and moral constitutions. The enslaved and the enslaver are radically here alike. The differences are only of degrees and circumstance. This lays the foundation for mutual sympathy; and for the discharge of the offices of righteousness, kindness and love, among men of every nation and description. With all this, you know, slavery is irreconcilably at war. She first brutifies the man, and then affairs for her justification, that he is of a race inferior to that of those who have degraded and enslaved him. 1 And it is this brutal system which unblushingly asks our government to propagate it in its territories, which are at present free of its unhallowed foot, and of its poisonous and polluting influence. You will not, by your vote, elevate a man to office who is not distinctly pledged to limit this evil, and to rebuke this pretension. You, A Northern Freeman, surely cannot.
It is at war with THE IMAGE OF GOD in which man was created. It is this, and not the mere killing, or taking away of the animal life, of a human being, which makes murder a capital crime in the sight of Heaven. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” This mysterious being, this microcosm, who stands in a close relation to all existence, whether above or beneath him in its extended scale; in his inferior nature, to the inanimate, the animate and the irrational creation, and in his superior nature, to angels and to God himself, is indeed fallen into ruin by his sin; but still the wreck is noble. He is placed under a dispensation of grace by Jesus Christ our Lord; and for him God has a special care. And although he were a Cain, ill shall pursue those who do him wrong. It is this being, however, in which slavery trades as a chattel! You will, by your vote, do all in your power to arrest this.
It is at war with the LAW OF NATURE. No man is born a slave or a slaveholder, a [democrat] or a doulocrat. Such unnatural and false relations only exists, by might usurping the prerogatives of right. Every man is born of every other being but God. Hence, he has a right to dispose of himself, and his talents, and his movements, while his deportment is good, under accountability to God alone. With every attribute of this freedom, and with every line of the law of nature, slavery is irreconcilably at war. And it is this which asks, or commands freemen to extend its dark domain, commensurate with the expanding wings of the American Eagle! You, my friend, will unhesitatingly and firmly say, No. See that, by your vote, you contribute your influence to humble its towering, black, unnatural and hideous crest.
It is at war with the WRITTEN LAW OF GOD. This, the Holy Bible, discovers to man his proper rank in the scale of being, with his relations and duties toward his God, and his fellow‐creatures. It is the Magna Charta of the rights and liberties of the human race, over all the nations of the earth, as well as of the immunities and privileges of “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” It is not more opposed to sin than slavery. It is not less a fountain of liberty than of light. It is the grand instrumentality, provided by God, for the emancipation of the race from ignorance, and from social and political bondage. Shame on those lips which, in the name of Christianity and its Holy Ministry, have ever, for any consideration, attempted to vindicate or palliate slavery from the Book of God! Posterity will justly hold this in the deepest abhorrence. As well charge darkness upon the cloudless, meridian sun! Slavery sanctioned by, or consistent with, the Scriptures! How monstrous the allegation! But no. Their contemplated, just application, as none can rationally deny, will give liberty and happiness to all people and nations. They condemn and denounce the system of slavery, as a whole, and each of its constituent elements. It is radically at variance with every duty which they enjoin, and with every delineation which they give of what is well‐pleasing in the sight of God; of true religion; and of the glory of the latter days, when Christianity shall have taken her full effect upon the heart and upon society. It is no creation or institution of God, but solely the child of human cupidity, depravity and abuse of power. The prevalence of the Written Law will eradicate it from our world. For it is the genius and design of the Kingdom of Christ to root out, and “pluck up every plant which our Heavenly Father hath not planted.” The face of God is set against it: and it were altogether unworthy of him, and inconsistent with the mode of this revelations, to be more explicit against this parent sin, in the Sacred Oracles. And it is this child of perdition which seeks that you, a freeman, shall extend it, or at least wink at its growing influence, and rapid strides toward the shores of the Pacific Ocean! You will teach it another, and a very salutary lesson, by your vote, at the approaching election.
It is at war with the Grant of The Earth given by Jehovah to the children of men. Consult here, as evidence of this, Gen. i, 26–30, which my limits will not allow me to transcribe into this communication. You will clearly perceive from this, that the grant was made by the Possessor of heaven and earth, not to a class or caste, but to Man, as man; which generic term includes the whole human race. Earth was given to Man, and not to doulocrats or despots, as the place of his abode; as the empire over which he exercises his nobler powers, in the government of the inferior creatures; and as the theatre of his action, where he sows to reap, both now and forever, according as he occupies his talents, and meets his responsibilities. This grant, however, necessarily presupposes, as well as its acceptance, and the exercise of the rights which it confers, on the part of the recipient, that he is not a Slave, but a Freeman, having the entire control of his movements, under responsibility to God, and in conformity with the requisitions of wholesome law. All this slavery reverses. The doulocrats would take possession of our territories, with their long and black retinue of human chattels! They presume to ask our free Republic to aid, or at least to let them alone, in doing this! For this they solicit your vote. This is the very point now to be decided by you, as far as your act can go. Keep it distinctly before you, and separate from it all extraneous and minor questions. You will then fire your Republican bullet, the ballot, against the extension of “the accursed thing”, and in favor of FREE SOIL.
It is at war with the LAW OF JUSTICE OR RIGHTEOUSNESS. This requires that we should “render to every man his due.” It is, you are persuaded, I trust, perpetually binding upon all men and communities. By it all are commanded, under the sanction of the blessing or the curse of the Almighty, to do nothing but what is right to the person‐ the property‐ the character‐ the reputation‐ and the prosperity and happiness of their fellow‐man. But this law slavery entirely subverts. It robs the slave of himself‐ of his property; for it takes himself, and his time, and his labors, without his consent, and without any proper equivalent — of his character; for it sinks him to a level with the beasts of the field., or any other property of the slaveholder‐ of his reputation’ for he is affirmed to be so inferior as that he deserves no better treatment, and is prone to esteem himself, and to be taken by others, as being no more worthy than the law of the State pronounces him to be‐ and of all his prosperity and his manly happiness. And shall this “vine of Sodom” be planted, with your consent, under the aegis of the Republic, in California and New Mexico? The fact that you are a freeman, and worthy of the proud distinction and title, furnishes an ample guarantee that you will not; but, on the contrary, unhesitatingly rebuke, by your vote, the candidate who is favorable or indifferent to the extension of the area of doulocracy.
It is at war with the LAW OF BENEVOLENCE. This law is, that we shall love our neighbor as ourselves. On this commandment, with that requiring supreme love to God, we are assured by the best of expositors, Jesus Christ himself, “hang all the law and the prophets.” And the apostle Paul reasons that, because “love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Now, how stands slavery in the light of this law of God, whether as it respects the person, the property, the character, the reputation, or the interests of the poor slave? Alas, the scene of moral turpitude and heartless villainy which here rises up, is most loathsome, shocking and heart‐rending! How has such a system withstood the influence of civilization, liberty and Christianity, so long? Can it be that even doulocrats would desire that this, which they know be such a dreadful evil, should be extended to the waters of the Pacific, or over another foot of the free soil of God’s green earth, by the direct influence, or the connivance of our government? You will vote, my dear sir, so that this thing which, like the Devil, cannot love, shall not at least be propagated by your influence; and that any candidate who is either neutral or friendly toward it, shall have leave to stay at home, and not be allowed to occupy and dishonor “the White House.”
It is at war with the LAW OF RECIPROCITY. That law is as follows: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Comment here is unnecessary. It is obvious that slavery, either in whole or in part, can never even apparently be reconciled with this law. Would the slaveholder or his apologist be willing that his slaves should do to his reputation, character, property, person, or welfare and happiness, even as he does to them? “This is wickedness.” And shall we, by our apathy or our action, extend such an immoral relation, and such an unnatural and accursed state of society over the territories of the Republic? Her free children will come up at this crisis to her rescue and by their use of the Elective Franchise, at the coming election, prevent such a perversion of her principles and her powers; and do much to terminate her inconsistency, and to wipe away her reproach among the nations.
It is at war with the LAW OF HOLINESS, in general; but especially with the Institution of Marriage, which is to be between one man and one woman, who have a right thus to dispose of themselves, and to continue for life, except in cases of notorious infidelity, or such willful desertion as admits not of a remedy; and even then a divorce can only take place by the intervention of the competent public authority: in opposition to all polygamy, concubinage and uncleanness.
What has been already advanced in these pages, is sufficient to show that this is a most unholy system and practice. Upon this I need not, therefore, now directly insist. A sense of delicacy and propriety, too, forbids that I should here enter into a particular exposure of the licentiousness of slavery. To him who has travelled through the Slaves States of our Union, the copious “mixture of colors” which he everywhere meets, furnishes such convincing and melancholy proof of this as could not be supplied by volumes. Suffice it to say,- and this is what I ask you particularly and attentively to consider,- that there is not, neither can there be, any marriage among the slaves, according to the law of God. By the law of Slaves States, they are not persons who may contract marriage, but only chattels, the property of their masters. No regular civil or ecclesiastical officer either could or would unite them in marriage. They elect’ squires of their own number to perform the ceremony, which is but a mockery of the Divine Ordinance. Then the cruel. Then the cruel and wanton separation of those who are so united, and of parents and children! And yet their number has increased, since the adoption of the present Constitution of the United States, from 60,000 to 3,000,000 and upwards! What infernal pollution does all this infer!
How often have the heartstrings of affection been torn up and rent asunder, of those sable children of Africa, during this rapid increase! And that the slaves have warm and spirited hearts more poignantly to feel the separation of their families, the fact that, in the city of Covington, Ky., this very season, a male and a female slave, with their children, being on their way from Virginia, under the whip of the slave‐driver to a more Southern market where they would sell better, formed the desperate resolution, rather than be separated, to kill their children, and then to murder themselves, which they well‐nigh accomplished, abundantly demonstrates. This system and traffic cannot be Christianized, nor made compatible with liberty. Attempts so to exhibit it, only succeed in “making vice pleasing, and damnation shine.” It is high time that this mother of all abominations were arrested and rebuked. The South, as if by infatuation, has pressed the present issue upon us, and the freemen of the North will meet the great question, while adhering to all the compromises of the Constitution, in such a manner as to settle it in favor of freedom forever. Let your vote be only for those who have boldly declared themselves leaders to this result, and this glorious victory. No More Slaves States; No More Slave Extension! But look again, for a moment, at
THE INJURIOUSNESS OF SLAVERY
This is in direct proportion to its sinfulness. “The wages of sin [are] death.” The violation of the law of God most seriously injures all who are guilty of it, or who are affected by it, whether they be individuals or communities. Slavery is sinful, and therefore it is a curse. Here I might stop, but it may be well enough to consider the subject a little more in detail.
Slavery is injurious to the INDIVIDUAL, whether he be master or slave, who is unhappily a party to it. 1. To the soul; by cherishing evil passions, on the one hand; and by preventing proper intellectual development and spiritual culture, on the other, in the case of the master: and by almost entirely sinking and annihilating the man, in the case of the slave, so that he seems nearly a walking caricature of humanity. 2. To the body; by cherishing indolence, dependence, luxury and effeminacy, in the master; and by laziness, carelessness, apathy, filthiness, want of responsibility, and cruel treatment, in the case of the slave; as well as by the effects of the badly educated soul upon both ; so as that the latter, in his lowest state, exhibits but a sorry and painful specimen of “the creature looking upwards”, or of “the human face Divine.” 3. To the usefulness and the happiness of both. This results from the relation itself, and from all its attributes and accidents. 4. To the outward estate of both. This also grows out of the relation, and its circumstances. Unlawful possessions are not riches. The slaveholder is the worse for his slaves. A sound political economy discards the unblessed relation and commerce as a means of wealth, and brands it as a cause of poverty. As for the slave, work as he may, and live as long as he may, he never has any thing! He does not even own himself, nor his wife, nor his children! Why then should doulocrats ask our government, to extend such a withering evil to every interest of individual man? You, sir, will not be a party to such inquiry; but, by your vote, at once rebuke its perpetrators and their parasites.
It is injurious to SOCIETY. And here I ask you, 1. To examine and reflect seriously upon its unnaturalness, and the injury which it thus inflicts upon the social state, where it exists. Does it not put everything, more or less, into a false position? What is the great disturbing, counteracting and dividing influence in our country and government at the present day, and for a series of years past? Is it not slavery? 2. Its caste. How inconsistent with the true democratic idea of a model for the desirable state of society over the world: and with the simplicity of our free institutions, and domestic and social habits! Both the master who is fanned, and the slave who fans him are thereby degraded. Caste always injures society, but especially in a country like ours. 3. Its false relations, and the undue elevation of one class, and depression of the other. That these features prominently belong to it, cannot be doubted. And it is equally clear that they injure every department of society. Surely such a hideous system has already spread far enough on our continent. Let “NO FARTHER!” be the watchword in the camp of freemen. 4. The obstacles which it presents to social progress. These are not accidental, but natural and essential to it. This, were it necessary, might be demonstrated. But you have only to compare the Slave States with the Free States of our Confederacy, in order to be satisfied upon this point. 2 And I feel satisfied that, when the election arrives, you, my dear sir, will deposit your ballot in favor of the avowed and acknowledge standard‐bearers of the friends of individual and social man. For this, you have a glorious opportunity.
It is injurious to HUMAN INDUSTRY. You will be satisfied of this, if you duly ponder the following facts: 1. It makes labor in a lawful calling, disreputable and unprofitable to those who are not bondmen; and makes comparisons humiliating to the free white laborer, between him and the slave. 3 This is most parlaysing to honest industry and debasing to the individual and to the State. 2. It makes the master too proud to labor, and thus renders the slave unskillful, listless, feeble, indolent, leasing, truculent and perfidious. For he feels that he is wronged, without any hope of being righted; and that he has no interest in his labors, but that the proceeds must go the pamper and enrich the man who has robbed him of liberty. 4. It thus cuts the sinews of energy and enterprize. Of this the States where it exists contain the amplest, but no gratifying, evidence. And I am sure, sir, you will do all you can to keep and evil of such colossal magnitude, at least within its present boundaries. Remember, your chief influence lies in your vote.
It is injurious to SOUND MORALITY. This may easily be gathered from what has already been stated. It is not improper, however, to give it, in passing, a distinct consideration. And this is one of the weightiest charges which can be brought against it. It goes far, practically, to efface the Decalogue. The slaveholder usurps the place of God, in claiming and exercising the right of property in man. The slave in his obsequious and hypocritical follower and imitator, even apart from any coercion which he may employ. Look at this point in the light of the first table; and then with regard to the second, it is not hard to perceive that it virtually obliterates each of its precepts. It is one system of irreligion and immorality throughout. As we pity the parties to it, and the soil that is defiled by it, let us be sure that we employ our influence to prevent its further extension. To the man who is favorable or indifferent to this, you, my friend, cannot, without sin, give your vote.
It is injurious to RELIGION AND THE CHURCH. It renders the moral soil very stony, weedy and barren, as well as “turns” in a literal sense, “fat land to barreness.” It darkens the understandings, and hardens and corrupts the heart of both master and slave. It defiles and sears the conscience. By it the will is made perverse and obstinate. It renders the judgement unsound. Light and education find in it a most formidable antagonist. The territory over which it broods is by it flooded with ungodliness. It creates an unhealthy moral atmosphere. If the Church does not tolerate it in her fellowship, she is frowned upon and persecuted by the doulocrats. Judge Lynch would soon silence the faithful Ambassador of the Cross. If she shakes hands with it, and baptizes it, she greatly offends her Lord; grieves the Holy Spirit; and forfeits the respect of the world: for there are no evils considered as great as slavery, by professedly ungodly men who reside within the Slaves States. By fellowship with it, her character sinks as the light and the salt of the earth. It is the source of ecclesiastical schisms and sinful divisions. What Church in our land has not been shaken to its centre, or entirely rent, by its influence? It is, too, the great barrier to their re‐union, and their cordial co‐operation. And is it desirable that the empire of doulocracy should be extended? Your ballot, my friend, will effectively answer this question in the negative. It is the pest of Religion and the church of God, as well as of the civil commonwealth.
The tone of the doulocrats, whether in the Free or Slaves States, upon the subject of slavery has, of late years, become much more in favor of it than it formerly was; instead of diminishing by the progress of light and liberty. As a specimen of this, I cite the following from the 1136th page of the 1st Volume of the 4th Series of “American Archives” which gives an account of the proceedings, in 1775, of the “Darien Committee,” whose object was to put an end to the foreign and domestic slave trade in the colony of Georgia:
“We, therefore, the representatives of the extensive district of Darien, in the colony of Georgia, having now assembles in Congress, by authority and free choice of the inhabitants of the said district, now freed from their fetters, do resolve‐
“To show the world that we are not influenced by any contracted or interested motives, but a general philanthropy for all mankind, of whatever climate, language or complexion, we hereby declare our disapprobation and abhorrence of the unnatural practice of slavery in America‐ however the uncultivated state of our country, or other specious arguments, may plead for it‐ a practice founded in injustice and cruelty, and highly dangerous to our liberties, as well as lives, debasing part of our fellow‐creatures below men, and corrupting the virtue and morals of the rest, and as laying the basis of that liberty we contend for (and which we pray the Almighty to continue to the latest posterity) upon a very wrong foundation. We, therefore, resolve at all times to use our utmost endeavors for the manumission of our slaves in this colony, upon the most safe and equitable footing for the masters and themselves.” ↩
The following facts in the census of the United States will illustrate this, as well as the repulsion of the free white laborer, by slavery, from settling within its boundaries: In 1790, the free white population of the States of Maryland, Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, was 1,160,015. In the same States in 1840, it was 2,200,234. Thus it appears that the increase in fifty years was 1,050,219 or less than double. In 1784, the North‐Western Territory was ceded by Virginia. Its freedom from slavery was forever secured by the ordinance of 1787. In 1790, it contained only a very few inhabitants; and in 1840, the States which have been formed out of it, viz.: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, had a population of 2,895,383. These facts speak volumes. They are also a good index of the comparative prosperity of the Free and Slaves States, in all other respects. ↩
The colonial history of Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and the other colonies, in 1774 and 1775, &c, abundantly demonstrates the degradation to which slavery subjects the free laborer, as well as his exclusion by it from places where it exists. At that time a general protest was entered against it, as “a social, moral, and political evil” not only by the people in their popular assemblies, but by their legislative enactments….How, then, can any working man, or any other, in this enlightened age, be favorable to the extension of this blight upon population and industry, by the action or the permission of the General Government, to any portion of our territories; or vote for any candidate for office, as the question is now stated, although he were an “angel from heaven”, who is not unequivocally pledged against it? ↩