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Slavery and Religion in Antebellum America

Seminar Paper 2004 15 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography

Excerpt

Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Different Churches and their Attitude to Slavery
2.1. Churches and Slavery in General
2.2. The Protestant Episcopal Church
2.3. The Methodist Episcopal Church
2.4. The Presbyterian Church
2.5. Congregationalists
2.6. Baptists
2.7. The Society of Friends / Quakers
2.8. Other Denominations

3. Religious Proslavery Argumentations
3.1. Southerners’ Self-Assessment and the Justification of Slavery
3.2. Noah’s Curse on Ham and his Son Canaan
3.3. Jesus and Slavery
3.4. Comparisons between Slavery in the Bible and in America
3.5. The Terms “Slave” and “Servant” in the Bible

4. Aspects of the Conversion of Slaves

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

My original plan, to compare the northern and southern states of antebellum America with regard to the influence of religion on the attitude to slavery, proved to be problematic, because of the difficulties connected with getting information about the local residences of the different denominations. I found a lot of information about several aspects dealing with connections between religion and slavery, and thus I concentrated on the other aspect of the title, which were southern proslavery argumentations. As far as the idea of comparison is concerned, I collected information about the different denominations of antebellum America and their contribution to abolition or their indifference and inability to take a stand against slavery.

To find relevant secondary literature I searched the university library Magdeburg, the university library Hamburg and the digital library of the “Making of America” website. I also found secondary literature in the internet through a search via the search engine www.google.de.

First I want to present the different churches and denominations of antebellum America and their attitude to slavery. In most cases a development in the attitude can be observed. The second part of this essay concentrates on religiously oriented proslavery argumentations and is separated in different approaches and biblical aspects. The final topic deals with the conversion of slaves, which I found interesting, too, but I decided to mention this aspect only to some extent, because the centre of attention was supposed to be the attitude to slavery in connection to religion.

Since I found more information than I initially had expected, I found myself compelled to make more footnotes, than I would have preferred to do. Since this is caused by the wealth of information, I ask to be excused for this.

2. The Different Churches and their Attitude to Slavery

2.1. Churches and Slavery in General

Since it was difficult to find information about the local residences of the different denominations, I decided to write about the topic of the churches’ attitude to slavery in itself.

In his book “The church and slavery” Albert Barnes claims that the general course of the churches has been against slavery and that slaveholders were a minority among Christians. He emphasizes the churches’ responsibility and influence and says if the churches detached themselves from slavery, it would be abolished soon.[1] The general and significant characteristics of evangelicals are described by Donald Mathews: their belief in their capability to do God’s Will, their reduced reliance on scholars, a certain doubt towards politics and the preference for feelings and passion over logic were evangelicals’ qualities which made a contribution to built a basis for the fight against slavery.[2] But John Patrick Daly makes clear that when evangelicals became aware of their contradictory argumentation by defending singular slaveholders but condemning the institution of slavery as a whole, they broke up the discussion.[3] This way of coping with the problem expresses the evangelical clergymen’s lack of integrity and the inability to solve the problem even theoretically. This phenomenon is also mentioned by Donald Mathews, who says that around the year 1800 the evangelists’ “delicate” discussion about slavery began to disappear, because the southern solidarity was seen as more important and rumours about conspiracies among slaves made people cautious.[4] John McKivigan emphasizes that the American abolition movement persistently put pressure on the churches to the cause of immediate emancipation, but the negative and indifferent attitude of the clergymen destroyed the abolitionists’ hopes. Abolitionists accused the churches therefore of supporting and sanctioning slavery.[5]

2.2. The Protestant Episcopal Church

The Protestant Episcopal Church did not much engage in the discussion about slavery, but it took action against anti-slavery movements whenever it had an opportunity.[6]

2.3. The Methodist Episcopal Church

The Methodist Episcopal Church spoke out against slavery in 1780, but in 1836 it dissociated itself from the discussion and in the year 1838 the church gave in to the pressure of slaveholders and announced that slavery was not a “moral evil”.[7]

John McKivigan presents a similar view. He mentions that although the Methodist Episcopal church condemned slavery, it did not make a great effort to enforce this rule to make sure the growth of the community would not be endangered.[8] In 1844 the Methodist Episcopal church split on the slavery question, what can be seen as a sign of an increasing antislavery attitude in the North.[9] However, it is not clear whether the persistent southern intellectuals or the northern antislavery militants provoked the churches’ schisms.[10]

2.4. The Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church announced in 1793 that slavery must be seen as theft, because people are robbed of their freedom, and therefore slavery is a sin. Although the Presbyterian church expressed itself against slavery, slaveholders were not expelled from church. In 1818 slavery was called a violation of human rights by the General Assembly, but the church only warned slaveholders of total abolition, if they would not change their attitude. In reality, the majority of Presbyterians held slaves.[11] This thesis is confirmed by John McKivigan, who mentions that in 1845 the Old School Presbyterian church admitted that slavery was an evil, but declared that the Bible did not demand the exclusion of slaveholders from the church.[12] At a Presbyterian session in 1836 the majority resolved that the discussion about slavery endangered the cohesion of the church members and decided to stay out of the discussion.[13] The Presbyterians’ final statement contained that slavery was a social problem for which individual slave owners could not be held responsible.[14] But it is obvious that the society consists of individuals and it is possible to evoke a social change by exercising influence on individuals. I have the suspicion that the Presbyterian church intentionally ignored the connection between social problems and individuals.

[...]


[1] Albert Barnes. The church and slavery. Philadelphia: Parry & McMillan, 1857. 19 August 2004 <http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?sid=f415e5bc53ba21d5d4c5f631eafd35ba&idno=abt8113.0001.001&xc=1&c=moa&cc=moa&g=moagrp&q1=slavery+religion&seq=29&size=s&view=image>. 45-47, 169

[2] Donald G. Mathews. “Religion and Slavery – The Case of the American South.” Slavery, Religion and Reform – Essays in Memory of Roger Anstey. Eds. Seymour Drescher, Christine Bolt, eds. Dawson: Falkestone, 1980. 208

[3] John Patrick Daly. When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002. 52

[4] Donald G. Mathews. “Religion and Slavery – The Case of the American South.” Slavery, Religion and Reform – Essays in Memory of Roger Anstey. Eds. Seymour Drescher, Christine Bolt, eds. Dawson: Falkestone, 1980. 215

[5] John R. McKivigan. The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830 – 1865. New York: Cornell University Press, 1984.13-15

[6] James G. Birney. The American Churches: The Bulwarks of American Slavery. London: Thomas Ward, 1840. 4 August 2004 <http://medicolegal.tripod.com/bulwarks.htm>. 39

[7] ibid. 10-15

[8] John R. McKivigan. The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830 – 1865. New York: Cornell University Press, 1984. 25

[9] ibid. 74

[10] John R. McKivigan. The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830 – 1865. New York: Cornell University Press, 1984. 90

[11] James G. Birney. The American Churches: The Bulwarks of American Slavery. London: Thomas Ward, 1840. 4 August 2004 <http://medicolegal.tripod.com/bulwarks.htm>. 28-29

[12] John R. McKivigan. The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830 – 1865. New York: Cornell University Press, 1984. 166

[13] James G. Birney. The American Churches: The Bulwarks of American Slavery. London: Thomas Ward, 1840. 4 August 2004 <http://medicolegal.tripod.com/bulwarks.htm>. 31

[14] John R. McKivigan. The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830 – 1865. New York: Cornell University Press, 1984. 26

Details

Pages
15
Year
2004
ISBN (eBook)
9783638429948
ISBN (Book)
9783640330386
File size
515 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v45623
Institution / College
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg – Institut für fremdsprachliche Philologien
Grade
1-
Tags
Slavery Religion Antebellum America

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Title: Slavery and Religion in Antebellum America