Lane Theological Seminary - Slavery Debates

Slavery Debates

Weld was an active supporter of "immediate emancipation" abolitionism, as opposed to colonization, which proposed sending blacks home to Africa. Despite the fact that the Seminary had its own colonization society, over a period of several months Weld convinced nearly all of the students individually of the superiority of the abolitionist view. When the merits of the proposed solutions to slavery were debated over 18 days at the Seminary in February, 1834, it was one of the first major public discussions of the topic, but it was more of an anti-slavery revival than a "debate." The two specific questions addressed were:

  1. "Ought the people of the slaveholding states to abolish slavery immediately?", and
  2. "Are the doctrines, tendencies, and measures of the American Colonization Society, and the influence of its principal supporters, such as render it worthy of the patronage of the Christian public?"

Each question was debated for two and a half hours a night for nine nights. Among the participants:

  • Eleven had been born and brought up in slave states.
  • Seven were sons of slaveholders.
  • One had only recently ceased to be a slaveholder.
  • One had been a slave and had bought his freedom.
  • Ten had lived in slave states.
  • One was an agent of the Colonization Society.

Arguments addressing the first question in favor of the immediate abolition of slavery included:

  • Slaves long for freedom.
  • When inspired with a promise of freedom, slaves will toil with incredible alacrity and faithfulness.
  • No matter how kind their master is, slaves are dissatisfied and would rather be his hired servants than his slaves.
  • Blacks are abundantly able to take care of, and provide for themselves.
  • Blacks would be kind and docile if immediately emancipated.

One of the most stirring speeches of the first nine nights was given by James A. Thome, the son of a slaveholder in Kentucky. His first-hand experience of the brutal realities of the slave system helped convince many of the students that there was no other remedy for them than the immediate and complete overthrow of slavery.

In response to the second question, Reverend Dr. Samuel H. Cox, who had served as an agent for the Colonization Society, testified that his view of the Society's plan changed when he realized that no blacks, despite the claims of those who ventured to speak for them, would ever consent to be removed from their native country and transplanted to a foreign land. He reasoned, therefore, that the plan could only be enacted by a "national society of kidnappers."

At the end of the debate, many of the participants concluded not only that slavery was a sin, but also that the policy of the American Colonization Society to send blacks to Africa was wrong. As a result, these students formed an antislavery society and began organizing activities and outreach work among the black population of Cincinnati. They intended to attain the emancipation of blacks, not by rebellion or force, but by "approaching the minds of slave holders with the truth, in the spirit of the Gospel." (Fletcher, p. 154)

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