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their conviction of this inconsistence, and given it as a reason for freeing our slaves, in the following words: “ Whereas the inhabitants of America are generally engaged in the preservation of their own rights and liberties, among which that of personal freedom must be considered as the greatest, and as those who are desirous of enjoying all the advantages of liberty themselves should be willing to extend personal liberty to others : therefore, be it enacted,” etc.
Is it possible that any one should not feel the irresistible force of this reason? And who would be willing to practise this glaring self-contradiction, rather than let his servants go out free, even though he should hereby give up the greatest part of his living, yea, every penny he has in the world? With what propriety will all such inconsistent oppressors be addressed by Him before whom masters and their slaves will shortly stand as their impartial Judge—“Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant!”
Be intreated, also, seriously to consider how very offensive to God unrighteousness and the oppression of the poor, the stranger, and the fatherless is represented to be in the Holy Scripture. This is often spoken of as the procuring cause of
. the calamities that came on God's professing people of old, and of their final ruin. It may suffice to quote a few passages of this tenor, and refer you to places where others are to be found. "O house of David, thus saith the Lord, Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him that is spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury go out like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings." (Jer. xxi. 12.) “ The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy; yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them.” (Eze. xxii. 29–31.) “ Thus saith the Lord, For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes." (Amos ii. 6.) “ Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying,
freeing all the negro slaves in the colony without delay. As Rhode Island has been more deeply interested in the slave trade, and has enslaved more of the poor Africans, than any other colony in New England, it has been to the honor of that colony that they have lately made a law prohibiting the importation of any more slaves. How becoming, honorable, and happy would it have been had they acted up to the truth asserted in the preamble mentioned, and taken the lead of all the united colonies in effectually providing for the freedom of all their slaves !
Since the above was published, the general assembly of that State have made a law by which all the blacks born in it after March, 1784, are made free. And the masters who have slaves under forty years old are authorized to free them, without being bound, or liable to maintain them, if afterwards they should be unable to support themselves.
. Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother: and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. But they refused to hearken; yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts." (Zech. vii. 9–13.) See to the same purpose Isa. iii. 14, 15; x. 1-4. Jer. v. 27–29; vi. 6,7; xxii. 13–17. Amos iv. 1, 2; v. 11, 12; viii. 4-8.
Are not the African slaves among us the poor, the strangers, the fatherless, who are oppressed and vexed, and sold for silver! And will not God visit and punish such oppression? Are you willing to be the instruments of bringing judgments and ruin on this land, and on yourselves and families, rather than let the oppressed go out free?
On the contrary, mercy, deliverance, and prosperity were often promised them, if they would leave off their oppressions and do justice and show mercy in delivering the oppressed, and showing kindness to the stranger and the poor. (Isa. i. 16-18.) “ Čease to do evil, learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.” (Jer. vii. 1-7.) “ Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word and say, If ye thoroughly
, amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if you oppress not the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place; then will I cause you to dwell in the land I gave to your fathers, forever and ever.” (Jer. xxii. 3–5.) “ Thus saith the Lord, Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor widow; for if ye do this thing indeed," etc. (Isa. xxxiii. 15, 16; lviii. 6, etc. Jer. v. 1.)
How can we attend to the voice of God in these sacred writings, and not see that you are most clearly pointed out ? And will you be affronted, or even disregard us, while we entreat and conjure you by all that is important and sacred, so far to regard these threatenings and promises, and pursue your own highest interest and that of the public, as to let your oppressed slaves go out free? Do not say, " This is too great a sacrifice for us to make; who will indemnify us if we give up our servants ?” The sovereign owner of all things has
promised you indemnity, yea, infinitely more, deliverance from the awful curse which comes upon the oppressor, and his protection and blessing. And here it may be proper to remind you of the divine answer to the king of Judah, when being ordered to dismiss the mercenaries he had procured to assist him, he asked what he should do for the hundred talents which this army had cost him? “ And the man of God answered, The Lord is able to give thee much than this." (2 Chron. xxv. 6-9.)
Consider also how very inconsistent this injustice and oppression is with worshipping God through Christ, and attending on the institutions of religion, and how unacceptable and abominable these must be while you neglect to let the oppressed go free, and refuse to do justice and love mercy. The Bible is full of declarations of this. (Isa. lviii., and ch. i. v. 10–18, Amos v. 21, 22.)
“ To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” Without the former, the latter is nothing but gross hypocrisy and abomination to God; for he “will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” He requires no devotion or attendance on any religious rite or institution which is inconsistent with mercy, or that is done without the love and exercise of mercy; but rejects all such prayers and service as most dishonorable and abominable to him. And when we consider that Christianity is the greatest instance and exhibition of righteousness and mercy that was ever known or can be conceived of, and the great Author of it is, in the most eminent and glorious degree, the just God and the Savior, we shall not wonder that no offering can be acceptable to him which is without the exercise and practice of righteousness and mercy, and that "he shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no mercy."
You who are professors of religion, and yet the owners of slaves, are entreated well to consider how you must appear in the sight of God, and of all who view your conduct in a true light, while you attend your family and public devotions, and sit down from time to time at the table of the Lord. If your neighbor wrong you of a few shillings, you think him utterly unfit to attend that sacred ordinance with you; but what is this to the wrong you are doing to your brethren, whom you are holding in slavery? Should a man at Algiers have a number of your children his slaves, and should by some means be converted and become a professor of Christianity, would you not expect he would soon set your children at liberty? And if after you had particularly dealt with him about it, and offered abundant light and matter of conviction of the oppression and cruelty of which he was guilty, he should be deaf to all you could say, and resolve to hold them and their children in slavery, what would you think of him when you see him at his prayers, and attending at the Lord's supper? Would you think he was more acceptable to God than if he neglected these institutions, and yet had been so just and mer*ciful as to set all his slaves at liberty? Yea, would you scruple to say his devotion and attendance on the holy supper were hypocrisy and abomination? If Nathan the prophet was here, he would say,
66 Thou art the man.” * The Friends, who are commonly called Quakers, have been for a number of years bearing testimony against this oppres. sion as inconsistent with Christianity, and striving to purge themselves of this iniquity, rejecting those from fellowship with them who will not free their slaves. They indeed do not attend the Lord's supper, and it is granted they are herein neglecting an important institution of Christ; but ought it not to alarm you to think that while you are condemning them for this neglect, your attendance, in the omission of that righteousness and mercy which they practise, is inexpressibly more dishonorable and offensive to Christ than their neglect? These things you ought first to have done, to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke, and then not leave the other undone.
May you all, in this day of your visitation, know and practise the things that belong to your peace, and the safety and happiness of the united American colonies, by no longer oppressing these poor strangers wrongfully, and doing violence to them; but by executing judgment, relieve the oppressed, and deliver the spoiled out of the hands of the oppressor. May this counsel be acceptable unto you, and you break off this your sin, and all your sins, by righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to these poor, that it may be a lengthening of the tranquillity of yourselves, your families, and of this now distressed land.
* It is granted this oppression has been practised in ignorance by many, if not the most, who have been owners of slaves; and though this has been a very criminal ignorance, yet professors of religion and real Christians may have lived in this sin through ignorance, consistent with sincerity, and so as to be acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, in their devotions, etc. But though God has in time past suffered us, ignorantly, to walk in this wicked way, he is now using special means to open our eyes, and commands all every where to repent of his iniquity. And they who persist in this sin in opposition to the clear light and alarming admonitions which are now set before us, will greatly aggravate their own guilt if they do not hereby give just reason to suspect the sincerity of their profession. Some who are in the Scriptures declared to be good men, lived in evil practices, consistent with sincerity in their attendance on divine institutions ; in which practices no Christian can now live consistent with his Christian character, because we enjoy much greater light than they had, and these evil ways are more fully exposed and condemned