« PreviousContinue »
this case, the holding of his posterity, not guilty of similar crimes, in a state of slavery, would be a flagrant violation of justice.--It is, then, against the stealing, the purchasing, and the enslaving of innocent persons, that I intend to argue-innocent, not in a moral, but in a civil sense.
For if we consider ourselves as the subjects of Jehovah's moral government, we are all guilty; we all deserve to perish, and lie at his mercy; nor would any man have the least ground of complaint against the divine conduct, were Eternal Justice to plunge him in final ruin. But with regard to that relation in which men stand to a secular sovereign, and as members of civil society, the case is widely different. For here they may be innocent; and, being so, are completely entitled to personal freedom.
In pursuance of my design, I shall now show, That the law in our text, though given to the ancient Hebrews as a body politic, proceeds on a moral ground-That God, in certain cases, permitted the Israelites to purchase their fellow-creatures for servitude; yet that purchase and servitude were attended with such restrictions, as rendered them essentially different from the European Slave Trade and its consequences-That supposing God had permitted the Israelitish people to traffic in the human species, and to enslave Gentiles in a much greater degree than he did; it would not have warranted the conduct of Europeans toward the Africans-And, that the European commerce in man, and the slavery consequent upon it, are absolutely inimical to the precepts of Jesus Christ, and the whole scope of his doctrine,
First, The law in our text, though given to the ancient Hebrews as a body politic, proceeds on a moral ground.
That no great labour of proof is necessary to evince the truth of this proposition, a small degree of reflection will show. For though the divine law before us was manifestly given to the Israelites, as part of their judicial code, and was intended to regulate their conduct one toward another; yet it no less apparently proceeds on the same principle with that prohibition of the decalogue, Thou shalt not steal. So Paul, with reference perhaps to this very passage, says, The law is not made for a righteous man, but for--murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoreinongers, for them that defile themselves with man, kind, for men-stealers, for liars, for perjured persons. Manstealing is here classed with such crimes as are most detestable in the sight of God, most pernicious to society, and most deserving of death by the sword of the civil magistrate. Manstealing, therefore, must be considered as a moral evil-universally evil, in every age and in every nation. Nor is it only an evil, but one of the first magnitude against our neighbour. If he who pilfers any one's property, steals a sheep, robs on the high-road, or commits a burglary, be considered and treated as a thief, a robber, a pest of society; of what enormous villany must he be guilty, who kidnaps my honest neighbour, my faithful servant, my dutiful child, or my affectionate wife, to transport the one or the other to a country entirely unknown, and never thence to return! This outrage on the sacred
rights of liberty, of justice, and of humanity, is greatly enhanced, if that worst of thieves intend, either to treat them himself as the most abject of slaves, like those in the British West Indies; or to sell them for that most infamous and cruel
purpose. In either of these cases, and much more when both are united, reason and conscience, the common sentiments and feelings of mankind, will all unite, if not debauched by avarice, or blunted by habit, in approving this law of Jehovah as just: He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. Nor is there å man upon earth, not even among those who are grown hoary in the trade of manstealing, or in bartering brandy and baubles' for human flesh and blood; that would not execrate the character of him to whose power or subtlety he had fallen a victim for similar purposes, and that would not pronounce him worthy of death.
Now, if this law of the Lord, given to the ancient Hebrews, be founded on a strictly moral principle; if it rest on the broad basis of common rectitude, of justice, and of humanity; as the manstealer himself deserves to die for his flagitious crime, the parchaser of those who are become the victims of his avarice cannot be accounted innocent. Innocent ! far from it! For his known, or, at least, supposed readiness to buy unoffending fellow-creatures, is generally the principal motive to the commission of the horrid theft. There is a vulgar saying, “If there were no receivers, there would be no thieves.' It is on the principle of that old observation the criminal law of this country proceeds, in punishing the purchasers of stolen goods, knowing them to be stolen : and it is much to be lamented that this part of our criminal code should have no force, relative to British subjects, whơ purchase on the coasts of Africa, not a little despicable property, but innocent persons, knowing: or having the highest possible presumptive reason to believe, that they were stolen! How insulting to moral justice, and how affrontiug to common sense, that those very persons who, in England, would be flogged at the cart's tail, or perhaps transported to Botany Bay, for secretly purchasing five shillings-worth of property, knowing it to have been stolen, should have it in their power publicly to buy and sell whole families of stolen, innocent Africans, with complete impurity, and without violating any prohibitory law of the land! As if rectitude and robbery were locał things! the former losing its respectability, and the latter its turpitude, whenever the liberty and the lives of harmless Negroes become the objects of British avarice! Or as if it were equally consistent with private justice and national honour, annually to fit out a number of ships, furnished with manacles, chains, and fetters, for cargoes of harmless men and women ; as it is for the Greenland traders to equip others, for the capturing and stowage of all that is valuable in whates and seats !-It being apparent, then, that the law under consideration rests on a moral ground, I shall proceed to show,
SECONDLY, That thoughi God, in certain cases, permitted the Israelites to purchase their fellowcreatures for servitude; yet that purchase and servis tude were attended with such restrictions, as rendered them essentially different from the European Slave Trade and its consequences.
There were two cases in which an Israelite himself might, according to divine law, be sold into a state of servitude. These were, theft, and insolvency. Relative to the former, the Mosaic statute runs thus : If a man steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, or four sheep for a sheep. If a thief-have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.* Here it is manifest the laws of the Hebrews had such a regard for personal freedom, that even a thief was not considered as a proper subject of sale and servitude, except he was unable to make the appointed restitution,
The Mosaic statutes permitted insolvent debtors to be sold for the benefit of their creditors : but then the servitude to which such debtor's were obliged, was far from being oppressive and cruel. For thus runs the law of the case: If thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bond-servant, but as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee; and then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return-Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour: but shalt fear thy God. So strictly, in this case, did the divine law guard against severity and oppression in the servitude !--* Exod. xxii. 1-4.
† Lev. xxv. 39-43. See 2 Kings is. 1. Matt, xviii, 24, 25.