Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Leader Resource 2: Slavery and Antislavery Quotes

1. The 1790 Universalist Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania passed this resolution, On Holding Slaves, written by Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence:

We believe it is to be inconsistent with the union of the human race in a common Savior, and the obligations to mutual and universal love, which flow from that union, to hold any part of our fellow creatures in bondage. We therefore recommend a total refraining from the African trade and the adoption of prudent measures for the gradual abolition of the slavery of the negroes (sic) in our country, and for the instruction and education of their children in English literature, and in the principles of the Gospel.

2. In 1833, Unitarian Lydia Maria Child wrote in An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans:

In a community where all the labor is done by one class, there must of course be another class, who live in indolence; and we all know how much people that have nothing to do are tempted by what the world calls pleasures; the result is, that slave-holding states and colonies are proverbial for dissipation. Hence too the contempt for industry, which prevails in such a state of society. Where none work but slaves, usefulness becomes degradation.

3. In 1835, Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing wrote, in Slavery:

He who cannot see a brother, a child of God, a man possessing all the rights of humanity, under a skin darker than his own, wants the vision of a Christian. He worships the outward. The spirit is not yet revealed to him. To look unmoved on the degradation and wrongs of a fellow-creature, because burned by a fiercer sun, proves us strangers to justice and love, in those universal forms which characterize Christianity.

4. In 1838, Theodore Clapp, Unitarian minister of the Independent Unitarian Society, New Orleans wrote:

I would say to every slave in the United States, 'You should realize that a wise, kind, and merciful Providence has appointed for you your condition in life; and, all things considered, you could not be more eligibly situated. The burden of your care, toils and responsibilities is much lighter than that, which God has imposed on your Master. The most enlightened philanthropists, with unlimited resources, could not place you in a situation more favorable to your present and everlasting welfare than that which you now occupy...'

5. In 1844, Unitarian Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

Slavery is no scholar, no improver; it does not love the whistle of the railroad; it does not love the newspaper, the mailbag, a college, a book or a preacher who has the absurd whim of saying what he thinks; it does not increase the white population; it does not improve the soil; everything goes to decay.

6. "A Protest Against Slavery, by One Hundred and Seventy-Three Unitarian Ministers," published in 1845, stated:

... by our political, commercial and social relations with the South, by the long silence of Northern Christians and Churches, but the fact that Northern men, gong to the South, often become Slaveholders and apologists for Slavery, we have given the Slaveholders reason to believe that it is only the accident of our position which prevents us from engaging in this system as fully as themselves. Our silence therefore is upholding Slavery, and we must speak against it in order not to speak in its support... We contend for mental freedom; shall we not denounce the system which fetters both mind and body? We have declared righteousness to be the essence of Christianity; shall we not oppose that system which is the sum of all wrong? We claim for all men the right of brotherhood before a universal Father; ought we not to testify against that which tramples so many of our brethren under foot?...

7. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a Unitarian minister, wrote and published this hymn, "The Nation's Sin," in 1846 while he was a student at Harvard Divinity School:

The land our fathers left to us

Is foul with hateful sin:

When shall, O Lord, this sorrow end,

And hope and joy begin?

What good, though growing might and wealth

Shall stretch from shore to shore,

If thus the fatal poison-taint

Be only spread the more?

Wipe out, O God, the nation's sin,

Then swell the nation's power;

But build not high our yearning hopes,

To wither in an hour!

No outward show nor fancied strength

From Thy stern justice saves;

There is no liberty for them

Who make their brethren slaves!

8. In 1851, Theodore Parker wrote in a sermon "On the Fugitive Slave Law:"

I have in my church black men, fugitive slaves. They are the crown of my apostleship, the seal of my ministry. It becomes me to look after their bodies in order to 'save their souls.' This law has brought us into the most intimate connection with the sin of slavery. I have been obliged to take my own parishioners into my house to keep them out of the clutches of the kidnapper. Yes, gentlemen, I have been obliged to do that; and then to keep my doors guarded by day as well as by night. Yes, I have had to arm myself. I have written my sermons with a pistol in my desk, - loaded, with a cap on the nipple, and ready for action. Yea, with a drawn sword within reach of my right hand. This I have done in Boston; in the middle of the nineteenth century; have been obliged to do it to defend the innocent members of my own church, women as well as men!...

9. Orville Dewey, a Unitarian minister, who was Channing's assistant, and later served congregations in Massachusetts and New York City, wrote in 1851:

(If a fugitive came to me, professed his divine right to be free, and asked for help, I would reply): your right to be free is not absolute, unqualified, irrespective of all consequences. If my espousal of your claim is likely to involve your race and mine together in disasters infinitely greater than your personal servitude, then you ought not to be free. In such a case personal rights ought to be sacrificed to the general good. You yourself ought to see this, and to be wiling to suffer for a while — one for many. If I were in your situation I should take this ground ...

10. Dr. Richard Dennis Arnold, mayor of Savannah, Georgia, and a lay leader of Unitarian Congregation, Savannah, wrote in 1851:

Servitude is happiness to the negro; liberty is a means of happiness to the Anglo-Saxon, and the present relative condition of both races is the best security for the prosperity and well being of the whole community... It has worked well, and would have worked well forever if left alone.

11. In 1854 Samuel Atkins Eliot, vestryman and warden of the King's Chapel, Boston, wrote:

Great as are the moral and political wrongs and evils of slavery, they are probably not so great as those of anti-slavery agitation.

12. In 1860, Caroline Howard Gilman, author and the wife of Samuel Gilman, minister of Archdale Street Unitarian Church, Charleston, South Carolina, wrote in "Letters of a Confederate Mother:"

... the old thirteen states made laws together, called a constitution, and promised to keep them. One of the laws was that runaway slaves should be returned to their owners. The North has broken the law, encourages the slaves to run away, and sends them to Canada. They do not take them home and make ladies and gentlemen of them, but put them in a freezing climate, to labor for their own living, good and bad together.

13. In 1866, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, African American writer, lecturer, and activist, wrote in "We Are All Bound Up Together:"

We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country... This grand and glorious revolution which has commenced will fail to reach its climax of success until throughout the length and breadth of the American Republic the nation shall be so color-blind as to know no man by the color of his skin or the curl of his hair. It will then have no privileged class, trampling upon and outraging the unprivileged classes, but will be then one great privileged nation, whose privilege will be to produce the loftiest manhood and womanhood that humanity can attain.

14. In May, 2007, in "Claiming Our History, Warts and All" David Pettee, a Unitarian Universalist minister, wrote:

I have wrestled long and hard to understand if I am now responsible for the actions and deeds of those who lived before me. If I allow myself to be disconnected from history, then I am off the hook. But when I acknowledge my true relationship to our community of memory, I can no longer make sense of the privileges I have inherited. I know that these comforts I enjoy are a direct product of the labors of others who were denied the opportunity to pursue their own dreams... We must be willing to claim all of our history, warts and all.

15. In 2007, UUA President and Unitarian Universalist minister William Sinkford wrote:

There's a kind of liberation that comes with being able to actually know our past and talk about it freely. If we're not able to talk about it freely, the past gets built into the walls in ways that we have a hard time seeing.