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COMMITTEE ON SLAVERY,
Convention of Congregational Ministers
PRESENTED MAY 30, 1849.
of Slavery throughout our land,
Appendix-Extract from the “Madison Papers,”
Extracts from Minutes of the Convention of Congregational Minis
ters of Massachusetts.
THURSDAY, JUNE 1, 1848. Resolved, That a Committee of nine be appointed to prepare a Report,—to be presented at the next Annual Meeting of this Convention, --containing a brief history of the rise and progress of Slavery in our country, a view of the responsibility of the free States in regard to it, and a calm and temperate, but solemn and earnest appeal to the community on this momentous subject.*
The following members were appointed :-Dr. Lowell, of Boston ; Dr. Hitchcock, of Randolph ; Dr. Storrs, of Braintree; Mr. Thompson, of Salem; Dr. Worcester, of Salem ; Mr. Briggs, of Plymouth ; Mr. Hill, of Worcester ; Dr. Child, of Lowell; Mr. Lothrop, of Boston.
THURSDAY, MAY 31, 1849. Voted, That the Committee on Slavery be authorized to publish the following resolution in connection with their Report :
Resolved, That the Convention, having listened to a full Abstract of the Document prepared by the Committee appointed last year to consider and report upon the subject of Slavery, approve of the general principles and results of the same; and without holding themselves responsible for its particular arguments and illustrations, hereby authorize its publication, in such way as said Committee may deem best, and can effect, without drawing upon the funds of the Convention, which are sacredly appropriated to the relief of the widows and orphans of our deceased brethren. A true copy.-Attest,
A. C. THOMPSON,
Scribe of Convention.
The “ Abstract to which the last vote of the Convention refers, and which was read, the afternoon previous, contained, as is intimated, a very full synopsis of the Report. It embodied all the important principles and doctrines, premises and conclusions, which are presented in the following pages; and, perhaps, if it had been submitted as
* On motion of Dr. Lowell.
the Report itself, would alone have been sufficient to assure the Convention, that the Committee had not lightly regarded the service, to which they had been called.
After considerable discussion in regard to the question of hearing the “ Abstract or the whole “Report," it was decided that the former should be read. It was received with a very marked expression of approval, and was immediately adopted ;-a single hand only being raised in the negative, and this not being observed by the Chairman, the vote was declared to be unanimous. The whole Report was then re-committed, with authority to publish it, provided the means of defraying the expense could be secured by the Committee.
From the animated and earnest response, on all sides, to the sentiments and statements of the “ Abstract,” the Committee are confident that if the time could have been found for a hearing of the full Reportand if the whole of our numerous body, exceeding five hundred members, could have been present—the Report itself, in all its length and breadth, would have received the sanction and seal of a prompt and cordial adoption, by an overwhelming, if not unanimous vote. They are sure, that no exception would have been taken, by any considerable number, to any part of the Report which the Committee themselves would be solicitous to retain, as being indispensable, or quite essential, to their main argument and appeal. And they deem it proper to add, that they have sought to execute their commission with a just sense of the magnitude of their responsibility ; -and, as they trust, with fervent supplication to the “ Father of lights,” from whom "cometh down every good gift and every perfect gift."
By agreement in the Committee, soon after their appointment, each member was assigned a specific part of the general subject, in order that the work might be more effectually performed, than could reasonably have been anticipated, if the whole labor had been imposed upon any one member, or even upon a sub-committee. With a single exception, the members have all, more or less, contributed to the preparation of the Report. As an unavoidable consequence, it is somewhat more detailed and less comprehensive, than it might otherwise have been. The Committee would hope, however, that with all its defects, it will be found to be essentially homogeneous; and as a whole, not unworthy of the candid and attentive consideration of their brethren and of their fellow-citizens generally.
In the examination of the subject before us, our attention is first called to the History of Slavery. Of this, however, an outline is all that we can present; since a statement of the details, in their various connections, would be nothing short of a universal history.
The first slaves, it is believed, were captives in war. These were considered entirely at the disposal of their captors, and a life-long condition of bondage was probably felt to be an equitable commutation for their lives.* There was also this feature of equity in the system, that its oppressions were not restricted to a single race, nor dependent upon shades of complexion. Nor did slavery in the earliest times present an insuperable barrier to ambition, and reduce to a dead level of outward condition all grades of intellectual and moral power. Thus we find Joseph becoming prime minister of Egypt, and this, too, without sacrificing his religion to the prejudices of that country.
Though we have no means of determining the exact relation and treatment of slaves, at so early a period, yet it is sufficiently clear, that the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt was of a political, rather than of a personal character. They were not the private property of individuals, but were compelled to labor upon public works. They certainly were not disabled from acquiring and retaining private property; and it is probable, that their condition was not worse than that of the lower orders of the Egyptians themselves. Moreover, a purely political reason is assigned for the oppressions which were heaped upon them. After their establishment in the promised land, a system of slavery was tolerated among them, but very different in
*“ The Latin word servus,' a slave, appears to have been derived from servo,' I preserve, and to have meant a person whose life was preserved on condition of giving his labor to his conqueror; so that slavery, how repulsive soever to our present feelings, probably formed at one time an important mitigation of the horrors of bar. barism." -Brande's Encyclopedia, Art. Slavery.