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Title pageAbout the Book

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.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.


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