Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.
Thomas Jefferson, 1785
I have always agreed with this sentiment of President Abraham Lincoln:
“Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
If the Civil War was the punishment visited upon the nation for slavery, what plague will visit us for celebrating the “right” to abortion?
Something for the weekend. Give us a Flag, the unofficial anthem of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, written by a private serving in the 54th Massachusetts.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the notice by Lincoln of the Emancipation Proclamation, to take effect on January 1, 1863, Lincoln doing so after the Union victory at Antietam on September 17, 1862. Reaction was, to say the least, mixed. In the North the abolitionists were enraptured. Most Northern opinion was favorable, although there was a substantial minority, embodied almost entirely in the Democrat party, that completely opposed this move. Opinion in the Border States was resoundingly negative. In the Confederacy the Confederate government denounced the proposed Emancipation Proclamation as a call for a race war. Today, almost all Americans view the Emancipation Proclamation as a long overdue ending of slavery. At the time it was very much a step into the unknown, and the consequences impossible to determine. Lincoln had converted the War for the Union into a War for the Union and against Slavery. It remained to be seen as to whether the War, whatever its objectives, could be won. Here is the text of Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation: Continue reading
One of the more interesting tidbits about Thomas Jonathan Jackson, universally known as Stonewall, is that he and his wife established a Sunday School for free and slave blacks in Lexington, Virginia. The school taught free blacks and slaves to read although this was against Virginia law.
Jackson’s personal views on slavery are probably best summed up by this statement from his wife:
I have heard him say that he would prefer to see the negroes free, but he believed that the Bible taught that slavery was sanctioned by the Creator Himself, who maketh all men to differ, and instituted laws for the bond and free. He therefore accepted slavery, as it existed in the South, not as a thing desirable in itself, but as allowed by Providence for ends which it was not his business to determine.
Jackson continued to financially support the Sunday School during the War, and one his last pieces of correspondence prior to his fatal wounding contained his regular contribution. Here is a letter Jackson wrote on June 7, 1858 describing the operation of the school to Lyle Davis, a Professor at Washington College and a member of the same Presbyterian Church in Lexington that Jackson attended: Continue reading
One of the more fashionable responses to any Christian’s objection to the legalization of “gay marriage”, or for that matter, any objection to anything blatantly immoral in modern society, is to immediately announce that since the Bible (allegedly) endorses slavery, anything it has to say on any moral issue is completely irrelevant.
I suppose the argument goes something like this for most people in their heads: “so your Bible says that (insert the sin you want to justify here) is immoral, eh? Well let me tell YOU something:
The Bible says slavery is moral. (Premise 1)
Slavery, as we all (allegedly) know is immoral. (Premise 2)
Therefore the Bible endorses something that is immoral. (Premise 3)
Therefore, the Bible is not a legitimate source of moral arguments. (Conclusion)”
Have I got that right? I think I do. So let’s deconstruct these premises and demonstrate why this ever-so popular argument is really just another lazy, uncritical, decontextualized, factually-deficient and hypocritical canard.
Lincoln was first and foremost a politician, and the sincerity of politicians is always subject to question, but it is impossible after examining his speeches and private letters not to be convinced of his deep and abiding hatred of slavery.
His attitude towards slavery was well set forth in the following letter to A.G. Hodges on April 4, 1864: Continue reading
In the 19th century it became fashionable among pro-slavery advocates to deride the idea that the Declaration of Independence’s ringing assertion that “All men are created equal” applied to blacks.
In the Dred Scott decision the majority of the Supreme Court stated that it was a simple historical fact that blacks were not included:
The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration, for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted, and instead of the sympathy of mankind to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.
Yet the men who framed this declaration were great men — high in literary acquirements, high in their sense of honor, and incapable of asserting principles inconsistent with those on which they were acting. They perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others, and they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery. They spoke and acted according to the then established doctrines and principles, and in the ordinary language of the day, and no one misunderstood them. The unhappy black race were separated from the white by indelible marks, and laws long before established, and were never thought of or spoken of except as property, and when the claims of the owner or the profit of the trader were supposed to need protection.
Interestingly enough, John C. Calhoun, statesman and chief political theorist in defense of slavery, disagreed with this line of pro-slavery argument. While lamenting the inclusion of the “All men are created equal” phrase in the Declaration, he had no doubt that it was intended to apply to blacks:
They have been made vastly more so by the dangerous error I have attempted to expose, that all men are born free and equal, as if those high qualities belonged to man without effort to acquire them, and to all equally alike, regardless of their intellectual and moral condition. The attempt to carry into practice this, the most dangerous of all political error, and to bestow on all, without regard to their fitness either to acquire or maintain liberty, that unbounded and individual liberty supposed to belong to man in the hypothetical and misnamed state of nature, has done more to retard the cause of liberty and civilization, and is doing more at present, than all other causes combined. While it is powerful to pull down governments, it is still more powerful to prevent their construction on proper principles. It is the leading cause among those…which have been overthrown, threatening thereby the quarter of the globe most advanced in progress and civilization with hopeless anarchy, to be followed by military despotism. Nor are we exempt from its disorganizing effects. We now begin to experience the danger of admitting so great an error to have a place in the declaration of our independence. For a long time it lay dormant; but in the process of time it began to germinate, and produce its poisonous fruits. It had strong hold on the mind of Mr. Jefferson, the author of that document, which caused him to take an utterly false view of the subordinate relation of the black to the white race in the South; and to hold, in consequence, that the former, though utterly unqualified to possess liberty, were as fully entitled to both liberty and equality as the latter; and that to deprive them of it was unjust and immoral. To this error, his proposition to exclude slavery from the territory northwest of the Ohio may be traced, and to that of the ordinance of ’87, and through it the deep and dangerous agitation which now threatens to ingulf, and will certainly ingulf, if not speedily settled, our political institutions, and involve the country in countless woes.
Abraham Lincoln rose in defense of the Founders and the Declaration. Lincoln has attained such a folksy image in American folklore that we lose sight of how incisive a mind he possessed. It was on full display in this passage from a speech that he gave on June 26, 1857 on the Dred Scott decision: Continue reading
John C. Fremont led a life of considerable achievement and seemed to many of his contemporaries a man of destiny. However, in the Civil War his destiny eluded him. An engineering officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers, his personal charm led to his marriage in 1841 to Jesse Benton, a woman of considerable ambition and the daughter of the legendary Senator from Missouri, Thomas Hart Bent. Now politically well connected, Benton achieved fame and the title The Pathfinder, by leading settlers along with scout Kit Carson over the Oregon Trail. In the 1830′s Fremont had taken part in various topographical mapping expeditions into the West and this served him in good stead in determining the best routes for the pioneers. His exploits were steadily followed in the eastern papers, and Fremont became a national celebrity. During the Mexican War, Fremont played a major role in the conquest of California, although he displayed much energy but little military skill. After the war he served as military governor for California, and, after California was admitted to the Union, Fremont served briefly as a US Senator for the state.
Although he was of Southern birth, Fremont was an ardent foe of slavery and became the first Republican candidate for President in 1856. Obtaining a third of the vote, and 114 electoral votes, Fremont proved that the new Republican party was a serious contender in national politics. His electoral slogan of “Free Men! Free Soil! Fremont!”, resounded throughout the North, Fremont winning all of the Northern states except Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana, demonstrating that if the North was unified, it could elect a President. Fremont suffered in the election by false allegations that his father was a French aristocrat and that Fremont was a Catholic. (Fremont’s father was a middle class Frenchman who fought for the Royalists in France and who immigrated to America. Fremont was an Episcopalian.) The Democrats also made hay of the fact that Fremont had been born out of wedlock, and that at the time they started their romance, his mother had been married to a man not his father. Salacious political gossip is not an invention of the Twenty-First century.
One hundred and fifty years ago, while war raged on land in America, a lesser known struggle was also being waged on the high seas. Confederate privateers were beginning a campaign which would decimate the United States merchant fleet by the end of the Civil War.
William Tillman, a free black, was cook and steward aboard the S. J. Waring. Sailing out of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, the Waring was bound for Montevideo, Uruguay with a mixed cargo. Three days out from Sandy Hook, at latitude 38 degrees, longitude 69 degrees, the Waring was captured by the rebel privateer Jeff Davis. The Captain of the Waring was taken aboard the Jeff Davis. A prize crew was put aboard the Waring. The Confederates advised Tillman that they were sailing the Waring to Charleston where she would be sold as a prize of war and Tillman would be sold as a slave.
Tillman continued to perform the duties of cook and steward and had the run of the ship. Although the Confederates kept a careful guard on the Waring’s captured white crew and passengers, they paid little attention to Tillman. That was a mistake. Tillman decided that he would retake the ship, or die in the attempt, preferring to die rather than being sold as a slave. Continue reading
In his day Patrick Henry was considered the finest orator in America. Contemporary accounts often state that the cold words of the text of his speeches can give no true assessment of the impact of the words on his listeners as he spoke them. I have always regarded his speech of March 23, 1775, prophetic in its prediction of the start of the Revolutionary War, to the Virginia Convention to be his finest, both for its fiery style, and for the timeless truths it conveys:
MR. PRESIDENT: No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings. Continue reading