Sunday, February 24, 2008

Seventh Day Baptist History IV

“A Nation cannot long endure…”
1790 - 1865

From the beginning of the Republic until the end of the American Civil War, the great political and moral question was, in Lincoln’s words, whether the nation could “endure permanently half slave and half free.” Throughout the first half of the 19th century, the nation moved from political crisis to crisis as it attempted to accommodate increasingly incompatible positions about slavery. It was one of those questions not amenable to normal political compromise because of its fundamental moral implications.

The American Constitution provided for the end of the American slave trade and the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. Most of the northern states had ended slavery by that time as well and a powerful political movement, motivated primarily by Christian moral conviction, was advocating the complete abolition of slavery in the United States.

Joseph Goodrich
Abolitionism. As the abolition of slavery became an important movement Seventh Day Baptists were not equivocal on the issue. As early as 1836, the General Conference resolved that:
“…we consider the practice of holding human beings as mere goods and chattel, entirely subject to the will of their masters…. is a practice forbidden by the law of God, at variance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which no human legislation can render morally right - which no worldly considerations can justify - and which ought to be immediately abandoned.

Resolved, That the condition of more than two millions of native Americans, unrighteously held in bondage, demands the sympathies and prayers of citizens, who are commanded to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them."
Hosea Rood
Subsequent Conferences adopted resolutions that were explicitly abolitionist, for instance in 1849:
“…the sin of slavery is a high-handed outrage against the Majesty of Heaven and the Rights of Man, and that we have no fellowship with those who hold their fellow-men as slaves, or with those who aid or abet them.”
During those years the pages of the Sabbath Recorder were filled with accounts describing the iniquities of slavery and slave catchers. After passage of the Fugitive Slave Act which allowed the pursuit of slaves into free states in the North, Seventh Day Baptists were among the active supporters of the Underground Railway, assisting fugitives escaping to freedom in Canada.

Unlike many other denominations, Seventh Day Baptists had few churches in slave states, and so there was little division on the question. A member of the Lost Creek Church, in Virginia [soon to be West Virginia], owned slaves he had inherited and that elicited general condemnation from other Seventh Day Baptists.

W.C. Whitford
Civil War. When war finally came, Seventh Day Baptists served the Union cause. The student bodies of Milton and Alfred provided large numbers of volunteers, as did many of the churches, east and west. Alfred students were accompanied by the college president who served as chaplain. The president of Milton College, W.C. Whitford, traveled to northern Virginia to visit his students in the Army of the Potomac.

Historians debate whether those who fought for the United States were primarily motivated by a desire to preserve the Union or to abolish slavery. It would seem that for Seventh Day Baptists the causes were one and the same.

Source: Don Sanford, A People Speak Out Against Slavery, n.d.

The pictures are all Seventh Day Baptists: from the top, Joseph Goodrich, whose Milton House was a stop on the Underground Railway, Hosea W. Rood, taken at the end of the war, and W.C. Whitford, college president, who traveled to visit his students in the army.

The next in the series: "Seventh Day Baptist History V - An Era of Growth and Ferment

This series begins with: "Seventh Day Baptist History I - Seventh Day Baptist Origins"

Links to all of the posts about Seventh Day Baptist History can be found here.

This series of short summaries of Seventh Day Baptist history is part of a project undertaken for the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, which maintains its archives and a museum in Janesville, Wisconsin.

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