Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

Leader Resource 5: Imagining a Parker-Gannett Debate

You will present a mock debate between two great Unitarians of the 19th century, Theodore Parker and Ezra Stiles Gannett. Both men were esteemed preachers who spoke eloquently and passionately for their cause. Review their arguments for and against the Fugitive Slave Law, and dive in! Remember, this is an imaginary debate, not a historical re-enactment, so do not feel pressured to get it "right." Instead, try to portray Gannett or Parker as a principled, well-intentioned man making his best case for the betterment of society.

Ezra Stiles Gannett

  • Slavery, right or wrong, is the law of the land.
  • Obeying legal rules is our moral duty. Without law, our country will descend into chaos.
  • Picking and choosing which laws to obey is a slippery slope. What is to keep every individual from deciding for themselves which laws to disregard?
  • Without the Fugitive Slave Law enforced, Southern states will secede from the Union and all chance of peace will be lost. The peace of a law-abiding nation is a higher moral good than the immediate abolition of slavery.

Theodore Parker

  • Slavery is patently immoral.
  • Moral law is above any law made by the state.
  • Because slavery is absolutely immoral, we have an obligation to resist it.
  • Human beings have a right to defend themselves, with violence if necessary. Slavery is a grave moral offense against human beings, and therefore may be resisted through the use of violent means.