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Pro-Slavery Arguments: The Biblical Argument
Digital History ID 280

Author:   Thornton Stringfellow


One of the fundamental paradoxes of the South's slave system is that while slavery was a highly commercial, efficient, productive, and profitable institution, slaveholders tended to subscribe to an "anti-industrial" ideology, generally hostile to the forms of "modernization" taking place in the North. Even though slave plantations made extensive use of an extensive division of labor and factory-like discipline, the South, was slow to embrace public schools and manufacturing, and many potential sources of investment, particularly in urban trade, went untapped. Like other slave societies, the South failed to develop many cities, whose interactions with the surrounding countryside were the engine of economic growth in the antebellum North. In this selection, a southern theologian defends slavery as a divinely-sanctioned, paternalistic institution.

This excerpt appears in Thornton Stringfellow's "The Bible Argument: Or, Slavery in the Light of Divine Revelation," in E.N. Elliott, ed., Cotton is King.


[Slavery] is branded by one portion of the people, who take their rule of moral rectitude from the Scriptures, as a great sin; nay the greatest of sins that exist in the nation. And they hold the obligation to exterminate it, to be paramount to all others.

If slavery be thus sinful, it behooves all Christians who are involved in the sin, to repent in dust and ashes, and wash their hands of it, without consulting with flesh and blood....

I propose, therefore, to examine the sacred volume briefly, and if I am not greatly mistaken, I shall be able to make it appear that the institution of slavery has received, in the first place,

1st. The sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age.

2d. That it was incorporated into the only National Constitution which ever emanated from God.

3d. That its legality was recognized, and its relative duties regulated, by Jesus Christ in his kingdom; and

4th. That is full of mercy....

[The abolitionists'] hostility must be transferred from us to God, who established slavery by law in that kingdom over which he condescended to preside; and to Jesus, who recognized it as a relationship established in Israel by his Father, and in the Roman government by men, which he bound his followers to obey and honor.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Thornton Stringfellow in E.N. Elliott, ed., Cotton Is King

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