(March 24th, 1840)
Propositions on the subject of Slavery
Samuel Simon Schmucker
Most discussions on religion and slavery focus on Biblical justifications for the institution. Here we have a theological discourse on the subject from a Lutheran minister of abolitionist leanings. Rev. Schmucker was the head of the Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary from 1826 to 1864. He wrote this at the request of the students, in 1840. I would like to thank Robert Moore, who posted this in an article about Schmucker on his excellent blog, Cenantua's Blog.
a) It virtually destroys the matrimonial relations, which God has instituted and commanded because it acknowledges no such relation in law, affords no legal protection to it, but puts it in the power of the master at any time and for any reason and even without any to separate those whom God, by the mutual covenant of the parties, hath joined together.
b) It tends to promote promiscuous concubinage by destroying the inviolability of the conjugal relation, and by frequent separations teaching the slave to regard it as less sacred by denying anything like legal protection to female chastity, it places the whole race of females at the mercy of the licentious master, and other licentious men.
c) It violates the parental relation by taking children from the control of their parents, then making it impossible for their parents to direct their destination in life, or to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
d) It is habitual injustice to the slave, and violation of the inspired precepts that the laborer is worthy of his hire.
e) It destroys the motives to industry and honesty by extorting labor without wages.
f) It in a great measure shuts out the written word of God from the slave by making it unusual to teach him to read, and thus it renders it impossible for him to discharge the duty enjoined on all to search the scriptures.
a) It was in all cases temporary; the Hebrew could not be kept longer than six years (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:121314) except when sold for debts, where he might be kept until the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:40). Some Jewish writers assert that this could be done only when the jubilee occurred within the ensuing 6 years. The foreign servant that was purchased could be contracted for till the year of jubilee and no longer (Leviticus 25:10). The term “forever” which is sometimes applied to these foreign servants appears to indicate only an indefinite time and does not see beyond the jubilee in which all servants were commanded to be set at liberty without exception. But if any servant was ill treated, or for any reason was dissatisfied with situation, he could move off and dwell in any place where it liked him best and the Israelite was commanded not to deliver him to his master (Deuteronomy 23:16). John 8:35 says the servant abideth not forever, but the son does.
b) This servitude was generally voluntary; it could not well be otherwise, as not only the manstealer was punished with death, but also every person in whose possession any one thus taken was found (Exodus 1:15). Manstealing is forcibly taking and selling another, or seducing him to bondage. Now, if it could not be done forcibly, it must be done voluntarily if at all, excepting cases where the law provided for the sale of persons involuntarily for debt, which case it is however not certain that it did occur (Leviticus 25:29) and all servants could terminate their servitude by absconding. The Hebrew sold himself (Leviticus 25:47) seeming to imply the legality of involuntary sale for debt, though Gesenius renders this passage makar “sold himself” like in verse 47 where even our own Common Version renders the same word “sell himself.” The Egyptians sold themselves to Pharaoh for bread (Genesis 47:49).
c) The conjugal relation was acknowledged and not severed; when the servant’s time had expired he took his wife with him, if he had been married before his indenture or servantship, and if he married afterward in his master’s family, his master was compelled to keep him if he desired to remain even after his time had expired (Exodus 21:32).
d) The religious privileges of servants were equal to those of their masters (Genesis17:1317; Exodus 20:30; Deuteronomy 5:14).
e) They were on equality with their masters in many respects; thus, they were entrusted with arms (Genesis 14:14, 32:6, 33:1).
f) They sometimes married into their master’s family (1 Chronicles 2:323435).
g) They partook of the feasts with their masters (Deuteronomy 12:1718, 16:11).
h) Paul says that the heir whilst a child or minor differs not from a servant; i.e. he asserts that their situation was in general similar, a thing which no one could with propriety assert of the condition of American slaves (Galatians 4:1).
a) first, persons convinced of the evils of slavery, but on whom slaves have been entailed by inheritance or marriage. By inheritance persons may become slaveholders in their sleep, as they may become owners of property or money made by gambling or other illegal traffic. The innocence of this slaveholding can continue only until there has been time for the master to execute deeds of manumission; or if the laws do not allow emancipation on the soil; until they can be transported to a place of safety or free state, or country.
b) In the former times of ignorance on this subject persons who had but little knowledge of human institutions themselves and had never been admonished on this subject, and who treated their slaves as they ought (viz., gave them religious instruction, governed them by moral motives) held slaves in comparative, though not absolute innocence; just as good men formerly drank ardent spirits moderately.
c) Those who before the sinfulness of slavery had been
discussed, did actually acknowledge the inviolable rights
and obligations of man in their slaves and they