hierarchies, has been adverse to the practical recognition of every innocent man's right to his own limbs and sinews, and to sell or employ his own labor as to himself shall seem best.
, Congregational, Baptist
, and kindred “Orthodox” denominations, have no very consistent or luminous record on this subject.
Thus, the Presbyterian
General Assembly did, at its session in 1794--long before its division into Old school and New school --adopt a note to one of the questions in its longer Catechism, wherein, expounding and applying the Eighth Commandment, it affirmed that the Biblical condemnation of “manstealers
comprehends all who are concerned in bringing any of the human race into Slavery, or retaining them therein. Stealers of men are those who bring off slaves or freemen, and keep, sell, or buy them. To steal a freeman, says Grotius, is the highest kind of theft, etc., etc.
But this note was directed to be erased
by the General Assembly of 1816, in a resolve which characterizes Slavery as a “mournful evil,” but does not direct that the churches be purged of it. In 1818, a fresh Assembly adopted an “Expression of views,” wherein Slavery is reprobated as a
gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of human nature, utterly inconsistent with the law of God, which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and totally irreconcilable with the spirit and principles of the gospel of Christ, which enjoin that “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them.”
But, instead of requiring its members to clear themselves, and keep
clear, of slaveholding, the Assembly exhorted them to “continue and increase their exertions to effect a total abolition of Slavery, with no greater delay than a regard for the public welfare demands
and recommended that, if “a Christian professor shall sell
a slave, who is also in communion with our Church
” --said slave not being a consenting party to the sale — the seller be “suspended till he shall repent and make reparation!”
It need hardly be added that, with few and spasmodic exceptions, the Presbyterian Church thenceforth was found apologizing for Slavery, and censuring its determined assailants far oftener than doing or devising anything to hasten that “total abolition,” which it had solemnly pronounced a requirement of Christianity.
And, though the Synod
, in 1835, adopted a report on Slavery, which condemned slave-holding broadly and thoroughly, and reprobated the domestic slave-trade as revolting, even horrible, in its cruelty, the same report admits that “those who hold to our communion, are involved in it ;” and no action was taken whereby they should be required to choose between their connection with the Church
and persistence in buying, holding, and selling men, women, and children, as slaves.
Nor did the division of this Church, which occurred not long afterward, work any improvement in this respect.
A majority of the slaveholding members, doubtless, adhered to the “Old school;” but the New school did not see fit to make slaveholding a bar to its communion.
On the contrary, certain Presbyteries having done so, the General Assembly of 1843 censured their action, and required that it be rescinded.
And though, in 1846, the next General Assembly reiterated, in substance, the broad condemnation of Slavery