SGA Historical Materials

Slavery and Anti-Slavery – Primary Source document

Sarah Grimké

An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States

New York – 1836

Brethren beloved in the Lord:

It is because I feel a portion of that love glowing in my heart towards you, which is infused into every bosom by the cordial reception of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that I am induced to address you as fellow professors of his holy religion.

A solemn sense of the duty which I owe as a Southerner to every class of the community of which I was once a party, likewise impels me to address you, especially, who are filling the important and responsible station of ministers of Jehovah, expounders of the lively oracles of God. It is because you sway the minds of a vast proportion of the Christian community, who regard you as the channel through which divine knowledge must flow. Nor does the fact that you are voluntarily invested by the people with this high prerogative, lessen the fearful weight of responsibility which attaches to you as watchmen on the wall of Zion. It adds rather a tenfold weight of guilt, because the very first duty which devolves upon you is to teach them not to trust in man. — Oh my brethren, is this duty faithfully performed? Is not the idea inculculated that to you they must look for the right understanding of the sacred volume, and has not your interpretation of the Word of God induced thousands and tens of thousand to receive as truth, sanctioned by the authority of Heaven, the oft repeated declaration that slavery, American slavery, stamped as it is with all its infinity of horrors, bears upon it the signet of that God whose name is Love?

Here is written in characters of fire continually blazing before the eyes of every man who holds his fellow man in bondage — In the image of God created between a man and a thing, and we are fighting against God's unchangeable decree by depriving this rational and immortal being of those inalienable rights which have been conferred upon him. He was created a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor, and designed to be God's vice-regent upon earth — but slavery has wrested the scepter of dominion from his hand, slavery has seized with an iron grasp this God-like being, and torn the crown from his head. Slavery has disrobed him of royalty, put on him the collar and the chain, and trampled the image of God in the dust.

This, my brethren, is slavery — this is what sublimates the atrocity of that act, which virtually says, I will as far as I am able destroy the image of God, blot him from creation as a man, and convert him into a thing — "a chattel personal." Can any crime, tremendous as is the history of human wickedness, compare in turpitude with this? — No, the immutable difference, the heaven-wide distinction which God has established between that being, whom he has made a little lower than the angels, and all the other works of this wonderful creation, cannot be annihilated without incurring a weight of guilt beyond expression terrible.

This distinction between men and things is marked with equal care and solemnity under the Jewish dispensation. "If a man steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep." But "he that stealeth a man and selleth him or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death." If this law were carried into effect now, what must be the inevitable doom of all those who hold man as property? If Jehovah were to exact the execution of this penalty upon the more enlightened and more spiritually minded men who live under the Christian dispensation, would he not instantly commission his most tremendous thunderbolts to strike from existence those who are thus trampling upon his laws, thus defacing his image?

Mr. Chandler of Norfolk, in a speech in the House of Delegates of Virginia, on the subject of negro slavery in 1832, speaking of our right to hold our colored brethren in bondage, says:

As a Virginian, I do not question the master's title to his slave; but I put it to that gentleman, as a man, as a moral man, as a Christian man, whether he has not some doubts of his claim to his slaves, being as absolute and unqualified as that to other property. Let us in the investigation of this title go back to its origin — Whence came slaves into this country? — From Africa. Were they free men there? At one time they were. How came they to be converted into slaves? — By the stratagem of war and the strong arm of the conqueror; who brought them to our shores, and disposed of them to the planters of Virginia... The truth is, our ancestors had no title to this property, and we have acquired it only by legislative enactments.

But can "legislative enactments" annul the laws of Jehovah, or sanctify the crimes of theft and oppression? "Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees... to take away the right from the poor of my people."

Another plea by which we endeavor to silence the voice of conscience is "that the child is invariably born to the condition of the parent." Hence the law of South Carolina, says "All their (the slaves) issue and offspring, born, or to be born, shall be, and they are hereby declared to be, and remain forever hereafter absolute slaves, and shall forever follow the condition of the mother." To support this assumption, recourse is had to the page of inspiration. Our colored brethren are said to be the descendants of Ham [a son of Noah] who was cursed with all his posterity, and their condition only in accordance with the declaration of Jehovah, that he visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children. — I need only remark that Canaan, not Ham, was the object of Noah's prophecy, and that upon his descendants it has been amply fulfilled.

The chains of the slave must be sundered; he must be taught that he is "heaven-born and destined to the skies again;" he must be restored to his dignified station in the scale of creation, he must be crowned again with the diadem of glory, again ranked amongst the sons of God and invested with lordly prerogative over every living creature. If you would aid in this mighty, this glorious achievement — "Preach the word" of Immediate Emancipation.

And now we have the most undeniable evidence of the safety of Immediate Emancipation, in the British West Indies. Every official account from these colonies, especially such as have rejected the apprenticeship system, comes fraught with encouragement to this country to deliver the poor and needy out of the hand of the oppressor.

To my brethren of the Methodist connection, with some of whom I have taken sweet counsel, and whose influence is probably more extensive than that of any other class of ministers at the South, it may avail something to the cause of humanity, which I am pleading, to quote the sentiments of John Wesley and Adam Clarke. Speaking of slavery the former says, "The blood of thy brother crieth against thee from the earth: oh, whatever it costs, put a stop to its cry before it is too late — instantly, at any price, were it the half of thy goods, deliver thyself from blood guiltiness. Thy hands, thy bed, thy furniture, thy house and thy lands, at present are stained with blood. Surely it is enough — accumulated no more guilt, spill no more blood of the innocent. Whether thou art a Christian or not, show thyself a man." Adam Clarke says, "In heathen countries, slavery was in some sort excusable. Among Christians it is an enormity and crime, for which perdition has scarcely an adequate punishment."

Brethren, farewell! I have written under a solemn sense of my responsibility to God for the truths I have uttered: I know that all were nobly dare to speak the truth will come up to the help of the Lord, and add testimony to testimony until time would fail to hear them.

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