How, Samuel Blanchard.
Slaveholding Not Sinful. Slavery, the Punishment of Man's Sin,
its Remedy, the Gospel of Christ.
New Brunswick: J. Terhune's Press.
In June 1855, on behalf of the North Carolina Classis
of the German Reformed Church, the Reverend Thornton Butler made contact
with the General Synod of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church with
a request for a formal connection. Northern abolitionism ensured that
the early discussion on the request was rancorous, and the question
was ultimately tabled on the first day at the General Synod meeting
in New York City in October 1855. The nature and the closeness of the
50-47 vote in the affirmative persuaded the North Carolina churches
finally to withdraw their request. Contention was organized around the
main point that, in the current atmosphere, admitting churches representing
slaveholding congregations would sow discord and argument at any Synod
from that moment onward. Significant portions of the Synod also believed
simply that slaveholding was a sin. On the second day of the meeting,
the chair of the committee on correspondence, Samuel Blanchard How,
who had been involved in the matter from the beginning, addressed the
Synod with his response to the events and the criticism. How, though
presently ministering in his home state of New Jersey, had earlier experience
as a pastor in Georgia. His address was published in New Brunswick as
Slaveholding Not Sinful. Slavery, The Punishment of Man's Sin, Its
Remedy, The Gospel of Christ. The second edition, reproduced here,
contains the address as well as a long appendix; the latter includes
further supporting arguments together with attempts to demolish hostile
responses which had appeared in the press.
Reverend How states that slavery is "much to be lamented,"
but that it is not forbidden under the United States Constitution and
has been upheld in the Supreme Court. Though political and cultural
factors are included throughout How's argument, most of his evidence
is drawn from both the Old and New Testaments. Crucially, he argues
that the correct translation for the word "servant" throughout
the Bible should be "slave" in almost all cases. The books
of Genesis and Exodus indicate that these slaves were included in Hebrew
religious ritual and celebrations, including circumcision and fasting
for Passover. He goes on to argue that the Fourth Commandment, not to
covet, is the central establishment of property rights, including slaveholding.
In the New Testament, How then holds that Jesus mentioned slaves, or
servants, many times, and accepted converts who were slaveholders. Jesus
had many opportunities to denounce slavery, but never did. How's conclusion
is simply that slaveholding is not specifically banned in the laws of
God. As to why God would allow such an abomination to exist, he says
simply that it is one of the punishments of the Fall. As such, it has
become part of the established cultural order. Further, in practical
terms, abolition would be a chaotic disaster and would split the Union.
If slaveholding is a sin, he asks, are we to close all the churches
in the South? God inflicted the punishment, and only God and the Gospel
of Christ will eventually eradicate slavery.
The essays of the pamphlet's appendix include other justifications and
evidence. How writes that women also suffered in the Fall and that still
they suffer at the hands of the husbands who have been placed over them.
Where are the abolitionists speaking up for the emancipation of women?
Only the civilizing element of the Gospel has redeemed women so far,
and therefore the Gospel will redeem the slaves. Returning to the Old
Testament, he asks why God would have allowed Joshua to turn the Canaanites
into "hewers of wood and drawers of water" if this was a sin.
He then goes on to give his view of the origins of slavery, beginning
with the Aristotelian view that some are "slaves by nature"
and ending with a treatise on economics and war, both of which have
made slavery a part of our culture. How then turns to Africa and paints
a remarkable picture of cruelty and barbarity drawn from missionary
accounts, hinting that the status of American slave has brought civilization
to hundreds of thousands. Besides, northern abolitionists whose grandfathers
profited from the ships of the slave trade would need to think about
their own role. They, by rights, should offer to return the family fruits
of that evil if southern slaveholders were to be stripped of their property.
Calls for abolition not only violate states rights, but also hold the
Fourth and Tenth Commandments as "unrighteous." They would
undermine these roots of the sacred rights of property.
Several responses to the original address appeared immediately, including
John Van Dyke's The Argument of 'Slaveholding not Sinful' and
Reverend Hervey D. Ganse's Bible Slaveholding not Sinful. How's
personal rebuttal of Ganse's criticism appears here in the concluding
section of the appendix, while it is noted that How's son Henry replied
elsewhere to Van Dyke. The pamphlet concludes with several testimonials
of support from readers.
Samuel How's publication indicates not only his attitudes, but also
those of significant portions of the country and the clergy concerning
what had become the moral debate of the time. Abolitionism was growing,
especially among the northern clergy, and the clash in the Reformed
Church in the autumn of 1855 mirrored the emergence of a great divide
that was to contribute to the American Civil War. How's ideas of biblical
analysis and cultural belief seen in this publication have not been
removed from the cultural discourse, even with the end of slavery in
the United States; rather, their echoes have remained through the decades
in the discussion of American race relations.