Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

33

Fragment on Pro-Slavery theology:
CW, 3:204–205

The idea that the Bible and God's will justified slavery held a central place in proslavery ideology, especially after the 1830s. A prime example of this trend is the 1857 book Slavery Ordained of God by the Alabama Presbyterian minister and doctor of divinity Frederick A. Ross. In a series of speeches and letters, some addressed to the Northern antislavery minister Albert Barnes, Ross—who, ironically, had freed his own slaves—offered common ground that both Northern and Southern Christians could occupy to maintain “the union of this great people.” In short, he asserted, “slavery is of God,” and should be continued “for the good of the slave, the good of the master, the good of the whole American family, until another and better destiny may be unfolded.” Slavery may be an evil, even a curse, he asserted, but it “has its corresponding and greater good” such that an enslaved man “is elevated and ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa.” In this 1858 fragment, Lincoln deepened his objection to the institution of slavery, challenging those who claimed to know best what God ordained. While Lincoln rarely attended church and scorned evangelicalism, he had great familiarity with the Bible and had fashioned his own fatalistic belief in God. The confidence that Ross and his ilk showed in their belief that God approved of and willed slavery, to Lincoln, represented a “perversion of the Bible.” He expressed his revulsion for those who lived off the labor of others and claimed that God had ordained such an arrangement. As he would repeatedly assert, if slavery was such a divine and positive institution, why did its advocates not suggest it for themselves? Quotations in Frederick A. Ross, Slavery Ordained of God (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1857), 1, 6.

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