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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER VIII.
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“Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal.”

From what has been said in the last chapter, it is presumed that it will appear that the Christian church of America by no means occupies that position, with regard to slavery, that the apostles did, or that the church of the earlier ages did.

However they may choose to interpret the language of the apostles, the fact still remains undeniable, that the church organization which grew up immediately after these instructions did intend and did effect the abolition of slavery.

But we wish to give still further consideration to one idea which is often put forward by those who defend American slavery. It is this. That the institution is not of itself a sinful one, and that the only sin consists in the neglect of its relative duties. All that is necessary, they say, is to regulate the institution by the precepts of the gospel. They admit that no slavery is defensible which is not so regulated.

If, therefore, it shall appear that American slave-law cannot be regulated by the precepts of the gospel, without such alterations as will entirely do away the whole system, then it will appear that it is an unchristian institution, against which every Christian is bound to remonstrate, and from which he should entirely withdraw.

The Roman slave-code was a code made by heathen,—by a race, too, proverbially stern and unfeeling. It was made in the darkest ages of the world, before the light of the gospel had dawned. Christianity gradually but certainly abolished it. Some centuries later, a company of men, from Christian nations, go to the continent of Africa; there they kindle wars, sow strifes, set tribes against tribes with demoniac violence, burn villages, and in the midst of these diabolical scenes kidnap and carry off, from time to time, hundreds and thousands of miserable captives. Such of those as do not die of terror, grief, suffocation, ship-fever, and other horrors, are, from time to time, landed on the shores of America. Here they are. And now a set of Christian legislators meet together to construct a system and laws of servitude, with regard to these unfortunates, which is hereafter to be considered as a Christian institution.

Of course, in order to have any valid title to such a name, the institution must be regulated 242by the principles which Christ and his apostles have laid down for the government of those who assume the relation of masters. The New Testament sums up these principles in a single sentence: “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal.”

But, forasmuch as there is always some confusion of mind in regard to what is just and equal in our neighbor’s affairs, our Lord has given this direction, by which we may arrive at infallible certainty. “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

It is, therefore, evident that if Christian legislators are about to form a Christian system of servitude, they must base it on these two laws, one of which is a particular specification under the other.

Let us now examine some of the particulars of the code which they have formed, and see if it bear this character.

First, they commence by declaring that their brother shall no longer be considered as a person, but deemed, sold, taken, and reputed, as a chattel personal.—This is “just and equal!”

This being the fundamental principle of the system, the following are specified as its consequences:

1. That he shall have no right to hold property of any kind, under any circumstances.—Just and equal!

2. That he shall have no power to contract a legal marriage, or claim any woman in particular for his wife.—Just and equal!

3. That he shall have no right to his children, either to protect, restrain, guide or educate.—Just and equal!

4. That the power of his master over him shall be ABSOLUTE, without any possibility of appeal or redress in consequence of any injury whatever.

To secure this, they enact that he shall not be able to enter suit in any court for any cause.—Just and equal!

That he shall not be allowed to bear testimony in any court where any white person is concerned.—Just and equal!

That the owner of a servant, for “malicious, cruel, and excessive beating of his slave, cannot be indicted.”—Just and equal!

It is further decided, that by no indirect mode of suit, through a guardian, shall a slave obtain redress for ill-treatment. (Dorothea v. Coquillon et al, 9 Martin La. Rep. 350.)—Just and equal!

5. It is decided that the slave shall not only have no legal redress for injuries inflicted by his master, but shall have no redress for those inflicted by any other person, unless the injury impair his property value.—Just and equal!

Under this head it is distinctly asserted as follows:

“There can be no offence against the peace of the state, by the mere beating of a slave, unaccompanied by any circumstances of cruelty, or an intent to kill and murder. The peace of the state is not thereby broken.” (State v. Maner, 2 Hill’s Rep. S. C.)—Just and equal!

If a slave strike a white, he is to be condemned to death; but if a master kill his slave by torture, no white witnesses being present, he may clear himself by his own oath. (Louisiana.)—Just and equal!

The law decrees fine and imprisonment to the person who shall release the servant of another from the torture of the iron collar. (Louisiana.)—Just and equal!

It decrees a much smaller fine, without imprisonment, to the man who shall torture him with red-hot irons, cut out his tongue, put out his eyes, and scald or maim him. (Ibid.)—Just and equal!

It decrees the same punishment to him who teaches him to write as to him who puts out his eyes.—Just and equal!

As it might be expected that only very ignorant and brutal people could be kept in a condition like this, especially in a country where every book and every newspaper are full of dissertations on the rights of man, they therefore enact laws that neither he nor his children, to all generations, shall learn to read and write.—Just and equal!

And as, if allowed to meet for religious worship, they might concert some plan of escape or redress, they enact that “no congregation of negroes, under pretence of divine worship, shall assemble themselves; and that every slave found at such meetings shall be immediately corrected, without trial, by receiving on the bare back twenty-five stripes with a whip, switch or cowskin.” (Law of Georgia. Prince’s Digest, p. 447.)—Just and equal!

Though the servant is thus kept in ignorance, nevertheless in his ignorance he is punished more severely for the same crimes than freemen.—Just and equal!

By way of protecting him from over-work, they enact that he shall not labor more than five hours longer than convicts at hard labor in a penitentiary!

They also enact that the master or overseer, not the slave, shall decide when he is too sick to work.—Just and equal!

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