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Collection African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection

Religion and the Church

In this pamphlet written for a British audience, the author James Birney attempts to show how Protestant churches in the United States helped propagate slavery by refusing to condemn the institution and by allowing church members to mistreat slaves without censure. The son of a wealthy Kentucky slaveowner, Birney advocated the immediate emancipation of slaves and established an anti-slavery newspaper, The Philanthropist, to serve the abolitionist cause. An active member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, he also ran for U.S. president twice as the candidate for the Liberty Party.

The American Churches, the Bulwarks of American Slavery. James Gillespie Birney (Newburyport, Mass.,1842)

Contrasting with Birney's pamphlet on how churches upheld the institution of slavery is this document listing the resolutions of various Northern Protestant churches condemning slavery. It equates the "perpetuation of Negro Slavery" with the "destruction of our National Union" and was written to show support for Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election.

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 required U. S. citizens, even in free states, to aid the return of runaway slaves. In this sermon the Reverend Nathaniel Colver of the First Free Baptist Church in Boston urges his congregation to reject this legislation and to be willing to abide by its penalties. To justify his call for civil disobedience, Colver quotes the Bible's instruction that "thou shalt not deliver to his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee." He concludes, "Such is the inherent and manifest iniquity of this Bill, such its hostility to the law of God, as to render disobedience to its demands a solemn duty."

Work Among the Freedmen. Samuel J. Fisher (Allegheny, Pa.?, 1902?)

Colver was an active agent in the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1867, he founded the Colver Institute to train African-American ministers in Richmond, Virginia.

Christianity Versus Treason and Slavery. (Philadelphia, 1864)

In the years following the Civil War churches took an active role in educating former slaves. This pamphlet discusses the history of the Committee of Missions to the Freedmen, a group founded by Presbyterians to teach African Americans the Gospel. At the time when the Reverend Samuel J. Fisher delivered this address on the committee, its duties also included training ministers and teachers; building churches, seminaries, colleges, and dormitories; and creating schools and industrial training for youth.

The Fugitive Slave Bill; or, God's Laws Paramount to the Laws of Men. Nathaniel Colver (Boston, 1850)