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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A New England Minister on Slavery

By Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803)

[Born in Waterbury, Conn., 1721. Died at Newport, R. I., 1803. A Dialogue concerning the Slavery of the Africans. 1776.]

B.I HOPE you will not appeal to the Holy Scripture in support of a practice which you and every one else must allow to be so inexpressibly unjust, inhuman, and cruel as is the slave trade, and, consequently, so glaringly contrary to the whole tenor of divine revelation; and if the slave trade is such a gross violation of every divine precept, it is impossible to vindicate the slavery to which the Africans have been reduced by this trade from the Holy Scripture. Of this we have such a certainty, a priori, that it would be a horrid reproach of divine revelation to pretend this practice can be supported by that, or even to look into it with any hope or expectation of finding anything there in favor of it; and if there be any passages in the Bible which are capable of a construction in favor of this practice, we may be very certain it is a wrong one. In a word, if any kind of slavery can be vindicated by the Holy Scriptures, we are already sure our making and holding the negroes our slaves, as we do, cannot be vindicated by anything we can find there, but is condemned by the whole of divine revelation. However, I am willing to hear what you can produce from Scripture in favor of any kind of slavery.

A.You know that a curse was pronounced on the posterity of Ham for his wickedness, in the following words: “A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” He could not be a servant unto his brethren unless they made him so, or at least held him in servitude. The curse could not take place unless they executed it, and they seem to be by God appointed to do this; therefore, while we, the children of Japheth, are making such abject slaves of the blacks, the children of Ham, we are only executing the righteous curse denounced upon them; which is so far from being wrong in us, that it would be a sin, even disobedience to the revealed will of God, to refuse to make slaves of them, and attempt to set them at liberty.

B.Do you think, my good sir, it was the duty of Pharaoh to make the Israelites serve him and the Egyptians, and afflict them by ruling over them with rigor, and holding them in hard and cruel bondage, because God has expressly told this, and said it should be done? And was the Assyrian king blameless while he executed the judgment which God had threatened to inflict on his professing people? Did God’s threatening them with those evils warrant this king to distress, captivate, and destroy them as he did? And will you say the Jews did right in crucifying our Lord, because by this they fulfilled the Scriptures, declaring that thus it must be? Your argument, if it is of any force, will assert and justify all this, and, therefore, I hope will be renounced by you, and by all who have the least regard for the Holy Scripture, with proper abhorrence. But if this argument were not so fraught with absurdity and impiety as it really is, and it were granted to be forcible with respect to all upon whom the mentioned curse was denounced, yet it would not justify our enslaving the Africans, for they are not the posterity of Canaan, who was the only son of Ham that was doomed to be a servant of servants. The other sons of Ham and their posterity are no more affected with this curse than the other sons of Noah and their posterity. Therefore, this prediction is as much of a warrant for the Africans’ enslaving us, as it is for us to make slaves of them. The truth is, it gives not the least shadow of a right to any one of the children of Noah to make slaves of any of their brethren.

A.The people of Israel were allowed by God to buy and make slaves from the nations that were round about them, and the strangers that lived among them,—which could not have been the case if this was wrong and unjust,—and why have not we an equal right to do the same?

B.And why have not we an equal right to invade any nation and land, as they did the land of Canaan, and destroy them all, men, women, and children, and beasts, without saving so much as one alive? It was right for the Israelites to do this, because they had a divine permission and direction to do it, as the God of Israel had a right to destroy the seven nations of Canaan in what way he thought best, and to direct whom he pleased to do it. And it was right for them to make bond-servants of the nations round them, they having an express permission to do it from him who has a right to dispose of all men as he pleases. God saw fit, for wise reasons, to allow the people of Israel thus to make and possess slaves; but is this any license to us to enslave any of our fellow-men, any more than their being allowed to kill the seven nations in Canaan is a license to us to kill any of our fellow-men whom we please and are able to destroy, and take possession of their estates?

This must be answered in the negative by every one who will allow himself a moment’s reflection. God gave many directions and laws to the Jews which had no respect to mankind in general; and this under consideration has all the marks of such a one. There is not any thing in it, or relating to it, from whence can be deduced the least evidence that it was designed to be a regulation for all nations through every age of the world, but everything to the contrary. The children of Israel were then distinguished from all other nations on earth; they were God’s peculiar people, and favored on many accounts above others, and had many things in their constitution and laws that were designed to keep up their separation and distinction from other nations, and to make the special favor of Heaven toward them more apparent to all who had any knowledge of them; and this law respecting bondage is suited to answer these ends. This distinction is now at an end, and all nations are put upon a level; and Christ, who has taken down the wall of separation, has taught us to look on all nations as our neighbors and brethren, without any respect of persons, and to love all men as ourselves, and to do to others as we would they should treat us; by which he has most effectually abolished this permission given to the Jews, as well as many other institutions which were peculiar to them. Besides, that this permission was not designed for all nations and ages will be very evident if we consider what such a supposition implies; for if this be so, then all other nations had a right to make slaves of the Jews. The Egyptians had a right to buy and sell them, and keep them all in bondage forever, and the nations round about Canaan had a right to bring them into bondage, as they sometimes did, and the Babylonians and Romans had a good warrant to reduce them to a state of captivity and servitude. And the Africans have a good right to make slaves of us and our children: the inhabitants of Great Britain may lawfully make slaves of all the Americans, and transport us to England, and buy and sell us in open market, as they do their cattle and horses, and perpetuate our bondage to the latest generation; and the Turks have a good right to all the Christian slaves they have among them, and to make as many more slaves of us and our children as shall be in their power, and to hold them and their children in bondage to the latest posterity. According to this every man has a warrant to make a bond-slave of his neighbor whenever it lies in his power, and no one has any right to his own freedom any longer than he can keep himself out of the power of others. For instance: if the blacks now among us should, by some remarkable providence, have the power in their hands to reduce us, they have a right to make us and our children their slaves, and we should have no reason to complain.

This would put mankind into such a state of perpetual war and confusion, and is so contrary to our loving our neighbor as ourselves, that he who has the least regard for his fellow-men, or the divine law, must reject it, and the principle from which it flows, with the greatest abhorrence. Let no Christian, then, plead this permission to the Jews to make bond-slaves of their neighbors as a warrant to hold the slaves he has made, and, consequently, for universal slavery.