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Reconstruction: The Second Civil War | Primary Source

In God We Trust

In his Thanksgiving sermon at New Orleans' First Presbyterian Church in 1860, Dr. Benjamin Morgan Palmer described slavery as a duty of white Southerners.

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Dr. Benjamin Morgan Palmer

This duty is bound upon us again as the constituted guardians of the slaves themselves. Our lot is not more implicated in theirs, than their lot in ours; in our mutual relations we survive or perish together. The worst foes of the black race are those who have intermeddled on their behalf. We know better than others that every attribute of their character fits them for dependence and servitude. By nature the most affectionate and loyal of all races beneath the sun, they are also the most helpless; and no calamity can befall them greater than the loss of that protection they enjoy under this patriarchal system. Indeed, the experiment has been grandly tried of precipitating them upon freedom which they know not how to enjoy; and the dismal results are before us in statistics that astonish the world. With the fairest portion of the earth in their possession and with the advantage of a long discipline as cultivators of the soil, their constitutional indolence has converted the most beautiful islands of the sea into a howling waste.

It is not too much to say that if the South should, at this moment surrender every slave, the wisdom of the entire world, united in solemn council, could not solve the question of their disposal. Their transportation to Africa, even if it were feasible, would be but the most refined cruelty; they must perish with starvation before they could have time to relapse into their primitive barbarism. Their residence here, in the presence of the vigorous Saxon race, would be but the signal for their rapid extermination before they had time to waste away through listlessness, filth and vice. Freedom would be their doom.

Excerpt from Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Thanksgiving Sermon, Delivered at the First Presbyterian Church, New Orleans, on Thursday, December 29, 1860. New York: G. F. Hesbit & Co., Printers, 1860.

The Reverend Edward Scott, who had run away from slavery and helped others escape via the underground railroad, talked about Christianity among slaveholders in this October 1857 speech delivered at the Roger Williams Freewill Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island.

Mr. President:

It has been said by some of our learned men that the slaves, if emancipated, would not be able to take care of themselves. Now, do I not look as though I took care of myself, Mr. President? Look at me well, and see if I don't look as though I took pretty good care of myself. So much for that argument. I've stove it all in pieces.

(A voice: Was Bro. Scott ever emancipated?)

No, I ran away, taking leg bail. I was thinking, while brother Dunn was speaking, of Christianity among slaveholders. Now, I am a kind of president of the Underground Railroad, and once helped to get one of Henry Clay's slaves away. He used to drive old Henry round. A few years before he ran away, he said his master thought he experienced religion. But all he could say was, "whereas I was once blind, now I see. And yet," said the runaway, "he sold my son." Good Christian still. I tell you, Mr. President, I believe but little in the religion of the South. My old mistress was one of the greatest Christians you ever saw. Why, she was brimful of religion. I want to tell you just how she used to serve me. She used to tie me to the bedpost and whip me. I remember one time, just as she was doing it, the minister came in. And oh, you ought to have seen the long face she put on as she said, "they are so bad, I am obliged to correct them." And so the minister prayed. And heaven knows, I was all the time praying that the devil would take both woman and minister. I have known much of religion in the South. In many places, where the blacks are to be preached to, the smallest boy can tell what the text is to be. They have got it by heart -- "Servants be obedient to your masters."So time serving are Southern ministers. And many at the North are not two cents better. Mr. President, you all know that I am a fugitive. And knowing what I know of slavery, and feeling what I have felt of it, if called upon to go back to it, I would say, "give me liberty or give me death." This is the doctrine preached down there in Pond Street. Ministers preach against fighting. That is very well. But in the name of God, how can fugitives join the Peace Society, with Judge Taney at their back? White folks' religion won't do for black folks anyhow. The devil is at our heels every day in the shape of slaveholders.

Mr. President, a few weeks ago I sat in that great gathering in this city of all the great ministers of the country. I watched their prayers, and heard not one of them pray for the sin of our nation. I looked at them, and was so wicked -- I confess to you, but I would not to one of those creatures -- that I said in my heart, oh you palefaced hypocrites! They had agreed to keep still, and did. Send missionaries to the heathen, and shed great crocodile tears as big as your fist! In the name of God, how is it that God calls so many to preach to the heathen, and none to the South? This is a puzzler to me. I should think somebody would be called to take their lives in their hands and preach to the heathen of the South.

Today while standing here as a representative of three millions of my brethren, I feel grateful as a man and as a Christian that my lot was ever cast among Freewill Baptists. And now all I want is that you should take this subject right home to yourselves. Go with me for a moment into the South. You are sitting with your family around your fireside. A being walks in, in the shape of a man, and begins to feel of the hands and head of your boy and girl, and says to your boy, "I have bought you, you must go with me." How would you feel, mothers and fathers? Now take this matter right home to yourselves.

I have often told some of you how I was taken and carried on board the slave ship. When I was thirteen years old, a man put handcuffs on me, and carried me on board the Sea King [?] on Norfolk river. Oh, I thought if I could only see my mother once more, I should be willing to go. But, alas! of this I was deprived; but in an unexpected moment, a young man came to the hold of the vessel and said, "Edward, your father is alongside." And there was my old greyheaded father in a canoe. Said he, "Edward, is that you?" "It is," I answered, and I dropped my head over the bulwark and mingled my tears with his in the river. And I remember what he said to me. "My child, I can do nothing for you. Get religion. Get the religion of Jesus Christ, and then if we meet no more here, we will meet where there is no slavery." No slavery! And sometimes when I think of it, knowing that the old man, and mother too, died in the triumphs of faith, and see the sin of this nation, I am almost ready to say,

Fly swiftly round ye wheels of time,
And bring the joyful day.

Brethren, I feel safe among you. No other denomination in the United States, I think, takes so decided anti-slavery ground as you. We shall all have equal rights in heaven. You have a fine church here without a Jim Crow pew. You always give me a seat, but should you ever turn a cold shoulder to poor Edward, he will tell you of it.

Excerpt from C. Peter Ripley, ed., The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume IV, The United States, 1847-1858. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

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