Joseph Smith: Critique of Abolitionism (April 1836)
Joseph Smith: Critique of Abolitionism (April 1836)
NOTE: This article is unsigned, but appears to represent Joseph Smith’s views at the time. Another article in the same issue of the Messenger and Advocate does bear his name and presents the same position.
Latter-Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. II, No. 7 (April 1836): “The Abolitionists,” 299-301
Kirtland, Ohio, April, 1836.
We particularly invite the attention of our readers to those communications upon the subject of Slavery. We have long looked upon this as a matter of deep moment involving the dearest interests of a powerful, a wealthy, a free and happy republic. No one can appreciate more highly than ourself the freedom of speech, the liberty of conscience, and the liberty of the press.—Most sincerely do we believe ours to be one of the most happy forms of government ever established by men. But to see it distracted and rent to the center with local questions—questions which cannot be discussed without the sacrifice of human blood, calls forth the feelings and sympathy of every Christian heart.
There is no disposition in us to abridge the privilege of free discussion—far from this; but we wonder at the folly of men who push this important subject before communities, who are wholly unprepared to judge of its merits, or demerits, and call for public sentiment before the opposite side of the matter has been touched.
If those who run through the free states, exciting their indignation against our brothers of the South, feel so much sympathy and kindness towards the blacks, were to go to the southern states, where the alleged evil exists, and warn those who are guilty of these enormous crimes, to repent and turn from their wickedness, or would purchase the slaves and then set them at liberty, we should have no objections to this provided they would place them upon some other continent than ours. Then we should begin to believe they were acting honestly; but till something of this is manifested, we shall think otherwise.
What benefit can the slave derive from the long harangues and discussions held in the north? Certainly the people of the north have no legal right to interfere with the property of the south, neither have they a right to say they shall, or shall not, hold slaves. These states were admitted into the Union with the privilege of forming their own state governments; besides if they were not disposed, they  are in no situation to let their slaves loose. If the evil is on them it was brought on them by the acts of their fathers, and endure it they must. But so long as they do not complain, why should we? If we dislike slavery we are free from it and are in no danger of being afflicted with it. If they are satisfied with it, it is their right as governments, and any interference with them on the subject, so as to endanger their lives, can have its origin from no other source than from such as seek the overthrow and dissolution of our government.
Where can be the common sense of any wishing to see the slaves of the south set at liberty, is past our comprehension. Such a thing could not take place without corrupting all civil and wholesome society, of both the north and the south! Let the blacks of the south be free, and our community is overrun with paupers, and a reckless mass of human beings, uncultivated, untaught and unaccustomed to provide for themselves the necessaries of life—endangering the chastity of every female who might by chance be found in our streets—our prisons filled with convicts, and the hang-man wearied with executing the functions of his office! This must unavoidably be the case, every rational man must admit, who have ever travelled in the slave states, or we must open our houses, unfold our arms, and bid these degraded and degrading sons of Canaan, a hearty welcome and a free admittance to all we possess! A society of this nature, to us, is so intolerably degrading, that the bare reflection causes our feelings to recoil, and our hearts to revolt.
We repeat, that we have long looked upon this subject with deep feeling, and till now have remained silent; but for this once we wash our hands of the matter.
We have travelled in the south, and have seen the condition of both master and servant; and without the least disposition to deprive others of their liberty of thinking, we unhesitatingly say that if ever the condition of the slave is bettered, under our present form of government, it must be by converting the master to the faith of the gospel and then teaching him to be kind to his slave. The idea of transportation is folly, the project of emancipation is destructive to our government, and the notion of amalgamation is devilish!—And insensible to feeling must be the heart, and low indeed must be the mind, that would consent for a moment, to see his fair daughter, his sister, or perhaps, his bosom companion, in the embrace of a NEGRO!
We entreat our brethren of the Eastern, the free States, the Canadas, and all, wherever they may be found, not to be surprised or astonished at this step, which we have thus publicly taken: were they acquainted with the present condition of the slave, they would see that they could not be freed, and we enjoy our present, civil and social societies. And further, that this matter cannot be discussed without exciting the feelings of the black population, and cause them to rise, sooner or later, and lay waste and desolate many parts of the Southern country.
This cannot be done without consigning to the dust thousands of human beings. And the bare reflection of being instrumental in causing unprovoked blood to flow, must shock the heart of every saint.
Heretofore we have confined our comments to the principles of the gospel, the restoration of Israel, and matters connected with them, when ever attempting to write for the public eye; but owing to the great increase of the church, as it respects numbers, and the deep anxiety felt by our southern brethren on this subject, we have now simply stated our belief. It is a fact, and one which appeals to our heart with great force, that members of this church resident in the South, have long looked for something from this press, calculated to do away that bitter feeling existing against them, through unfounded jealousy, on the subject of slavery. And we have asked the question, can they look to us and plead for assistance in vain? We answer No. They have our fellowship, they have our prayers, they have our best desires, and if we can give them influence by expressing our sentiments, and thereby enable them to be more beneficial and successful in proclaiming the gospel, we will not withhold. And if our brethren of the free States differ from us, on these principles, we beseech them, in the name of Jesus Christ to withhold, and consider that every step they take to encourage that factious spirit so prevalent in our land,  is not only closing up the way of the gospel in the mouths of the elders, but is, most certainly, endangering the life of every man who embraces it in the south.
We speak as an individual and as a man in this manner. Our strong feeling for liberty, and prejudice against the south, in consequence of education, at a former period, would have urged us, perhaps, to pursue another course; but after examining this matter seriously, and looking at its principles from the scriptures, as well as being some what prepared to judge from an actual experiance [experience] in the south, we again repeat, that the condition of the slave cannot be bettered other than by converting the master to the faith of the gospel.
It was an inhuman thing to tear a people of another color from their friends and homes, and bring them to a strange land, and cause them to endure the toils of servitude; and that which was done by a few ship’s loads by our fathers, has now involved us, their children, in trouble and difficulty; but, I am more inclined to take the garment upon my shoulders and walk backward, and cover their folly, than expose them further to shame, or laugh at their conduct. They have done as they have—we are not accountable for their conduct—they have long since fled to be here no more: and why disgrace ourselves by contending about that that we cannot better by contention, at the same time involving ourselves in everlasting ruin?
There is a strange mysteriousness over the face of the scripture with regard to servitude. The fourth son of Ham was cursed by Noah, and to this day we may look upon the fulfilment of that singular thing. When it will be removed we know not, and where he now remains in bondage, remain he must till the hand of God interposes. As to this nation his face is inevitably sealed, so long as this form of government exists.
From what we have said, let no one charge us with inhumanity—it is for the cause of humanity we have thus freely written. It is the good of all men we desire, and for their salvation we labor, and for a long time have labored, night and day; and what further remains in our power to do, shall as freely and faithfully be done.
Let those who may be disposed to differ from us take the trouble to examine the gospel, as taught by the ancient apostles; let them follow their instructions to the different churches, raised up through their instrumentality; let them look with a feeling eye to our brethren of the south, and contemplate the flow of human blood, occasioned by an unjust excitement; let them ask that God before whom they must stand in judgment, if they are justified in leading on a dissolution of this Union and piercing the hearts of millions with the weapons of death, to gratify a vain ambition; let them examine the prophets, and see if the children of Israel will not, when they return, “lay their hand upon Edom and Moab, and cause the children of Ammon to obey them;” if they will not “take them captives whose captives they were, and rule over their oppressors,” and then let them look into that law which was thundered from Sinai, the fundamental principles of which govern the civilized nations of the earth, and if after this, they differ from us, it may be a matter between them and Jehovah,—our governments are unspotted!
In this matter we consider we have spoken in behalf of the slave, as well as the slave holder. It has not been a thing of hasty conclusion; but deliberately and carefully examined, and we are sensible, if there are any who believe the gospel as we, and differ from us in point of national government, and would take the pains to inform themselves, not only by searching the holy scriptures, but by visiting the south, they would soon commend us for the course we have now taken.
Those who feel disposed, may easily ascertain the feelings of this church, as published in the book of doctrine and covenants; and from that, and what has already been said, those who are laboring in the south, will be able to set the matter in a fair light, and we trust, escape persecution and death: which we hope God will order, for his Son’s sake.