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Covenanters and Slavery - Part Three: 'To hold any of our fellow men in perpetual slavery is sinful.'

By Angela Wittman

In the pamphlet Negro Slavery Unjustifiable Pastor McLeod went on to write of the "natural rights of man" and what this means from a Biblical viewpoint, which is very different from the antinomian view of Libertarians [emphasis in bold text is mine - AW]:
I. To hold any of our fellow men in perpetual slavery is sinful.

1. This appears from the inconsistency of the practice of holding slaves with the natural rights of man, This is a term which has been much abused. It is proper that accurate ideas should be annexed to it, otherwise its force, in the present argument, will not be perceptible. If man were a being, owing his existence to accident, and not a creature of God, his rights would indeed be negative. If he stood in a state of independency of his Maker, and not a subject of law, his rights could be determined only by the will of society. But he is neither the son of chance nor the possessor of independency. His life and his faculties are the gift of God. From heaven he derives positive rights, defined by positive precepts.[1] Considering man as a free agent, by the constitution of nature he has a right to the exercise of freedom, in conformity to the precepts of that law by which the author of nature has ordered him to regulate his actions. A delegated power he has from God, and no creature has a right to restrict him in its rightful exercise. To oppose the force of an individual, or of a society, to this, is to wage war against the Supreme Ruler: It is an attempt to reduce a moral agent to a mere machine, whose motions are to be regulated by external force; and, consequently, a denial of his right to the person enslaved, and an arrogant assumption of lawless authority by the usurper. Is it necessary to pursue this argument before an American audience? It is generally, if not universally admitted. The principle is stated and maintained in that instrument which lies at the foundation of your national existence. In defence of it you have fought—you have appealed to the Lord of Hosts; and in its support he has led on your armies to victory.

2. If an opposite principle of action were universally admitted, it would lead to absolute absurdity. A demonstration of this will confirm the proposition.

If one man have a right to the services of another, without an equivalent, right stands opposite and contrary to right. This confounds the distinction between right and wrong. It destroys morality, and justice between man and man, between nation and nation. I have a right to enslave and sell you. You have an equal right to enslave and sell me. The British have a right to enslave the French, and the French the British—the Americans the Africans, and the Africans the Americans. This would be to expel right from the human family—to resolve law into force, and justice into cunning. In the struggle of contending rights, violence would be the only arbiter. The decisions of reason would be perverted, and the seine of morality extirpated from the breast.

Such absurdity will meet with few advocates to plead its cause in theory. Is it not, therefore, lamentable, that any should indulge a principle, or countenance a practice, the justification of which would necessarily lead to it? But,

3. The practice of enslaving our fellow men stands equally opposed to the general tenor of the sacred scriptures.

The Bible is the criterion of doctrine and conduct. It represents the European and the Asiatic, the African and the American, as different members of the same great family—the different children of the same benign and universal parent. God has made of one blood all the nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the bounds of their habitation. Acts 17:26. In relation to one another, they are equally bound to the exercise of benevolence, and are respected as naturally having no inequality of rights. Every man is bound to respect his fellow man as his neighbour, and is commanded to love him as himself.[2] Our reciprocal duties the divine Jesus summarily comprehends in that direction commonly called the golden rule: Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.[3] This is the sum of the duties inculcated in the law of Moses, and in the writings of the inspired prophets. How opposite the spirit of these precepts and doctrines to the practice of the slave-holder! If he is consistent with himself he will reason thus: "These slaves are not of one blood with me. They are not entitled to the love I give to my neighbour. The conduct which I should pursue, were I enslaved by another, I would not recommend to them. I shall feed and clothe them from the same principle that I feed and stable my cattle. They are my property as much as these; and when they do not serve my purpose agreeably to my wishes, I shall dispose of them for money to another trafficker in human flesh. I acknowledge, if any person was to enslave me, I should endeavour to embrace the first opportunity of making my escape. But if my Negro offers to run away, I shall pursue, and severely chastise him. He has no right to leave his master; the rule, Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also so to them, notwithstanding."—I need not add, brethren, that such sentiments are opposite to the principles of the Christian Religion.


[1] The author of "Political Justice" maintains that the rights of man are all negative—that man had no rights. His reasoning is ingenious, and is certainly less absurd than that which would introduce blasphemy and vice among the rights of man. Both sentiments are, however, absurd, and the absurdity proceeds from the same source. Man is considered in relation to man only. The interest of truth requires this error to be detected and exposed. Before man is considered in relation to man, his relation to God must be understood. This is the primary one. It is that by which all others must be regulated. Consider man as a creature of God, and depending upon his bounty, and you see him receiving certain privileges from that Lord who has a necessary and absolute property in all things. These are the rights of man. They are not inherent, but derived. Consider man as a creature, and you see him under a law to God. His possessions are completely circumscribed. Beyond this he has no right. All the rights of man are derived from God, and agreeable to his law.

By punctual attention to this principle, the friends of truth may consistently and successfully combat those who would rob man of his rights, or would unduly extend them. From this double battery, by maintaining a well-directed fire, they may defeat the supporters of civil and religious usurpation on the one side, and the propagators of licentiousness in politics and religion on the other.

[2] Mark 12:31.

[3] Matthew 7:12.

To be continued.


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