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Samuel Sewell's Arguments Against Slavery

Aug 17, 2007
Samuel Sewell, an ex-Puritan Judge with the Massachusetts Superior Court, writes a poignant article to persuade others that slavery is immoral. Sewell uses scripture to point out that slavery is inhumane and that all men should be seen as equal in the eyes of God. He writes a pamphlet in 1700 entitled: "The Selling of Joseph, a Memorial."

This pamphlet remembers the detailed life of Joseph. a slave. In it, he brings out his premise that "evil must not be done, that good may come of it." Sewell appears righteously angry at the injustice of slavery, and he cites several examples of this.

He talks about the evil of snatching husbands, fathers, and sons, away from their country and forcing our values and religion upon them. By receiving and participating in slavery, Sewell states that we could become as barbaric and cruel as the slave master.

On the other side of the slavery being evil viewpoint, there arises another judge named John Saffin, who actually embraces slavery as being a benefit to society. He cites several Biblical references to slavery, persuading others to believe that slavery is permissible, just in the eyes of God, and something that benefits the good of the land and the country.

Perhaps Saffin's strongest argument comes in the following statement: "It is no Evil thing to bring them out of their own Heathenish country, where they may have the knowledge of the true God, be converted and eternally saved."

Saffin repeats: "Abraham had servants bought with his money, and born in his house." Further, he persuades others that Abraham is the father of all that believe." (Romans 4:16) Scriptures are cited in favor of slavery as a necessary function of society.

If you take the Golden Rule that comes from the words of Jesus Christ Himself, one gets a better shining light into the validity of both Sewell & Saffin's claims. The simple but powerful words of Christ: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." If you apply them to Sewell's argument, you can see where he is right in assuming that all men must be treated equally in God's sight.

Sewell also brings to light the stripping of a husband from his family, the taking of a man from his own country, and more. In fact his whole argument can be summed up in his final words: "These are the sons and daughters of the first Adam, the offspring of God--they aught to be treated with a respect agreeable."

Reflect for a minute upon what it would be like to be at your place of employment, and then have someone come from another country and tear you away from your own country, put you in a ship and order you to worship a new God. Just the first hours alone would be enough traumas to last a lifetime. These views of Sewell's, I believe, are Biblical and moral in nature, and are not led by man's own understanding.

John Saffin, on the other hand, uses scriptures to justify slavery on the grounds that it is normal and moral behavior. His argument that Abraham had slaves, so we should all have slaves--is interesting, but in the light of the true interpretation of scriptures, it pales in comparison to Sewell's.

Let me be truthful and just say that scriptures are not to be interpreted in our own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6. The example Jesus Christ gives of: "If your eye offends you, then pluck it out" could so easily be misinterpreted. All logical persons know that Christ was speaking again, most likely metaphorically. If that wasn't the case, then we may have read about the plucking out of all the eyes present that day and the rejoicing of the believers over it.

Saffin points to a time where slavery may have been allowed, but one may wonder if it was more like the manager/employee workplace we see today. Scripture, to my knowledge, doesn't talk about slaves as being less than their master, or to be beaten and tread upon.

Saffin's fatal argument, I believe, comes in the statement: "It is no evil thing to bring them out of their own heathenish country--to be converted, and eternally saved." The problem lies in the "no" part. How can it be no evil to violently remove someone from his or her home? Lots of evils will occur in just the first hour of the captivity of a slave alone. Perhaps it all can be summed up by the possible last words of a slave: "Where are you taking me?"
About the Author
Don Alexander, Published Writer & Online Business Mentor
"Helping ALL to Succeed"
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