Slavery and Politics


The moral truth of slavery as an unspeakable crime against humanity, I feel, is the most evident of any decree ever to be laid out by man. This fundamental law is so divine and pure that to believe otherwise is to cast oneself into the ranks of a subhuman race unfit to tread the Earth’s soil. When I read James De Bow’s “Slavery and the Bible,” not only am I frustrated as to how these Southern “gentlemen” can use a three thousand year old book, a book whose writers merely try to interpret god’s will (and who knows how well the writers actually fulfill this will), and argue that it is the ordained word on slavery, I am angry to a degree that I wish all like-minded men be cast off the face of this planet! Let them go to another far off world where they themselves are considered inferior, without intelligence or emotion, and subjected to the very same treatment they believe is right for their African Americans. My reasoning is discussed in detail with a comparison between William E. Channing’s excerpt in “Selections from Slavery” and the article in De Bow’s Review called “Slavery and the Bible.”


William Channing was a Unitarian clergyman, a member of a faith that stresses the free use of reason in religion. He headed the development of New England Transcendentalism. Through Ralph Waldo Emerson, an outspoken Transcendental philosopher and poet, we learn that transcendentalism is the intuitive awareness of god’s universal truths. Self-reliance, literally, is the method where we can discover these truths independently. It has nothing to do with traditional, organized religion which, Emerson believes, restricts human behavior based on the “will of god” as interpreted by other men. These beliefs formed the backbone of Channing’s anti-slavery views. In the “Selections from Slavery,” Channing states, in quite convincing detail, that no man can be held as property. His reasoning is broken down into seven supporting points that clarify his intuitive thoughts. Essentially, the first principle is that if one man can be legally held as a slave, then there is not a single human being who is safe from enslavement, including those who claim their rights as slave owners. It is repugnant to think as ourselves being lowered to the condition of tools. Such degradation would be inexhaustibly wrong. This has nothing to do with the color of the skin, or the place of birth, or strength, or wealth; the right to ourselves as human beings is a fundamental part of our moral being. If we cannot be justly be made slaves, then no man can rightfully be enslaved. In effect, we condemn ourselves as criminals if we seek to make others our slaves.


The second argument Channing sets forth is that all human beings have Rights. Even slave laws, which strip a man of liberty, affirm his right to life and threaten his murderer with punishment. In essence, slavery places an innocent man into the hands of another. The rights claimed by a slave owner, especially to prevent the slightest opposition to his authority, is a virtual denial of all human rights.


The third principle is that all men are “born equal.” Individual men are bestowed with various talents, talents that are meant to be utilized for the general good, which is the improvement of society of a whole. These gifts have been given without regard to one’s status, condition in life, or race. Furthermore, these gifts have been distributed throughout humankind in balance with one another. Human beings, although diverse, are nonetheless equal. Who, then, can claim the right to make other men his property, his tools, and the mere interests of his private interests and gratification? Obviously, equality of human beings makes the essence of slavery wrong because no man was designated by nature as above or below another.


If the ownership of property is an exclusive right, then the slave has no right to himself. He does not own his own body; he has no right to his own strength; even his spirit belongs to his master. Conversely, a criminal forfeits his rights as a result of his crime, but the concept of forfeiture means that he had possessed these rights originally. Oftentimes