Christianity and Slavery in Early America

Published: 2022-12-16
Christianity and Slavery in Early America
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories: Management Research Analysis Law Medicine
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1451 words
13 min read

The conversation of the relationship between Christianity and slavery in early America captured raised many questions. Many held that the conversation of a negro to Christianity permitted him to freedom, on the basis that one Christian should not keep another as a slave, others asserted that after conversion he should at least be entitled to religious privileges that should be conferred on others because they were Christians (Harvey, 1153). The issue raised dissenting opinions from various sects. Those for the conversion of slave such as The Society of Friends played a critical role in bringing Christianity to America. The Relationship between Christianity and slavery lay the ground for future emancipation and relaxation of racism in early America. This paper seeks to expound the relationship between Christianity and slavery. The paper will examine Frederick Douglass's 'Evangelical Flogging' and 'The meaning of July Fourth for the negro'. The essay will also examine the views of abolitionist, those of pro-slavery and the moderates as well as how they based their arguments on the bible.

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William Meade became assistant Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 1829 and became the bishop in 1841. Meade was an outspoken proponent of the religious justification of slavery. Meade sermons circulated widely and came to the attention of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass (Campbell, 93). Douglass objected to Meade to Meade sermon in his speech entitled, 'Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country'. In the speech, he refers to Meade's sermons as advising 'evangelical flogging'. Douglass efforts to demolish slavery were based on the views of Christianity. He verified the way religion and its writings, the Bible, had a damaging influence and outcome on slavery as well as the growth of white Christianity. According to Douglass, there was two types of Christianity at the time, Christianity of Christ and Christianity of this 'land'. He defines Christ as loving, peace-loving, untainted and the impartial Christianity of Christ. He asserts his hate for the corrupt, women whipping, slaveholding and cradle plunderer and deceitful Christians that characterized that 'land'. The land in this context refers to early America. Douglass points out that non-religious slaveholders were not as hostile and cruel as religious slaveholders. This assertion though puzzling shows that slaveholders had endorsed Christianity as a means to justify their slaveholding. Douglass noted that Meade's repetition of the message that, "He that knows his master's will, and does not do it, shall be beaten with many strips" provided masters with evidence to justify their actions. Frederick Douglass was vocal at showing the opposing relationship between Christianity and slavery.

Frederick Douglass gave a speech titled, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro" almost a decade before the outbreak of the Civil War and in a period of Emancipation Proclamation. Though himself no longer a slave, he was very conscious, of the distance between that plantation and the hall he was granted a platform. In the speech, he states how the American forefathers pronounced the measures of government that are unjust, unreasonable and oppressive are not to be submitted to do. He then asserts that his opinion of the measures aligns with those of their forefathers. Douglass elaborates his admiration for the revolution. In his speech, he points out that the same oppression against the early Americans was being revisited upon blacks in America. He asserts of the hypocrisy in his invitation into the hall to extol the virtues of liberty which are not being espoused by the behavior of white men towards the black men. Douglass concludes by saying the celebration of liberty as cruel as long as a significant proportion of the countries inhabitants are not free. Douglass criticism of 'evangelical flogging' and liberty celebration in the July Fourth speech aim to show the hypocrisy and insensitivity in a Christian nation with its black population denied freedoms.

Abolitionist based their arguments on both the Bible and Christian practices together with American patriotism and national ideals (Rae, 2018). Angelina Grimke's was one such abolitionist who stressed the fact that as a Christian woman, she comprehends her readers, sympathizes with them and shares their emotional state and concerns. She cites the bible using passages from both Psalms 119 and 2 Corinthians 11:1. She uses the avenue to encourage women to support their husbands. She faults the US laws' respect for slaveholders and asserts that Christian women are reasonable to resist civil laws for the sake of religious principles. She successfully wedded the religious argument to the founding principles of the nation. She makes a revolutionary assertion, that the equally cited in the Declaration applies to both the white persons and property and the black persons as well. Basing her arguments on the bible she makes the case that slavery issue is not Christian nor patriotic and that Christians ought to act or face divine justice for their failure. Radical abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison held that slavery was evil despite there being teachings that supported slavery. Garrison believed that slavery was in direct conflict with scripture.

The pro-slavery side also used the bible in pushing for slavery. The proponents quoted extensively to form the Old and New Testaments and argued convincingly and coherently (Rae, 2018). Most accepted the statements of the bible at face value and deduced that slavery was not only to be tolerated but also embraced. However, some of the arguments were painfully twisted to paint a picture that God had allowed slavery. One such abnormal argument as advanced by Josiah Priest in his book, "Slavery, as it relates to the Negro or African Race" who defended slavery using narratives from the Book of Genesis (Campbell, 140). Priest argued that blacks had been created by God to be slaves. He cites Noah's curse on his son, Ham, whom he refers to as black sin. Priest asserts that the word Ham, from Hebrew and Arabic interpretations, meant heat and violence and was thus prone to acts of cruelty, war, murder forgeries, and cannibalism. He further argues that the definition was consistent with Hama real-life character as well as that of his race which was black. Another argument advanced by pro-slavery activists was that of master and slave. This argument was particularly advanced by William Meade. In one of Meade sermons, he lays out the duties that slaves owe to their masters and mistresses on earth (Campbell, 93). Furthermore, he asks slaves to do all tasks to them as if they were doing them to God himself. The bishop goes on to say that whether they deserve it or not, it is the duty of a negro and Almighty God requires they bear it patiently.

Unlike the hard stances taken by those in support of slavery and those advocating the abolition of slavery, others held a moderate view. The moderates held the view that since slavery was entrenched in the American system it would be difficult to immediately ban slavery. Instead, the group advocated for a more gradual and indirect means of eliminating slavery. Charles Hodge, a Presbyterian theologian who supported the moderate and gradualist approach. Hodge took the view of gradual emancipation of slaves as opposed to immediate emancipation which he argued would cause cultural, societal and civil chaos (Harvey, 1154). Hodge proposed that to achieve emancipation in a generation, children born in slavery be freed when they reach the age of twenty-five and they should adopt educational practices that would elevate slaves. The group took a moderate interpretation of the bible acknowledging both sides. The efforts o moderates focused on how the expansion of slavery could be curtailed. Hodge asserts that the South should either embrace emancipation of slaves or abide with the issue of continued conflict against the law of God.

In conclusion, the paper has focused on the relationship between Christianity and Slavery. The relationship mainly focused on the views of Christianity in supporting or opposing slavery. The paper examined the role of Frederick Douglass and his opposition to evangelical flogging by William Meade as his speech, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro". Though there were other Christian abolitionists, Frederick Douglass played the role of uncovering the double position taken by the Christians American whites. Frederick cites that the Christian slaveholders only purposed to use the bible to advance the idea of slavery. Moreover, the paper has examined the position taken by Christian abolitionists as well as those in support of slavery and how they used the bible to their advantage.

Works Cited

Campbell, B. Richmond's Unhealed History. Brandylane Publishers, 2012.

Harvey, P. "Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World. By Katharine Gerbner." Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 86, no. 4, 2018, pp. 1153-1155, doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfy029.

Rae, N. "How Christian Slaveholders Used the Bible to Justify Slavery." 23 Feb. 2018,

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