Appeal to the Christian Women of the South

9781518856891: Appeal to the Christian Women of the South

Toward the beginning of the 19th century a significant and increasing number of Protestant evangelicals in northern states had determined that slavery was a sin that, as a matter of urgency, must be abolished immediately at all costs. But they faced a powerful obstacle: the very Bible they revere which contains several passages that condone a conditional slave system. Slave owners and their supporters readily pointed to chapters in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, which outlined the many laws surrounding slavery but did not condemn it. Even the New Testament commanded the slaves to obey their masters and to “regard them worthy of all honor.”

“In her ‘Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,’ Grimkè had suggested that free white southern women oppose slavery by performing a series of unexceptional private acts within the domestic circle – reading, praying, being kind, convincing the males in their families that slavery is wrong, and persuading the slaves to remain submissive. But she also urged these southern women to perform exceptional acts – to break state laws and emancipate their slaves, pay them wages, and teach them to read and write. She had proposed that these women flaunt the statutes forbidding emancipation and literacy in obedience to a Higher Law, and counseled that, if apprehended, they should practice the doctrine of Christian resignation: ‘If a law commands me to sin I will break it; if it calls me to suffer, I will let it take its course unresistingly.’” -Eric J. Sundquist, New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin, Cambridge University Press, 1986

The power of these arguments was demonstrated by their effect: copies of this book were burned publicly in South Carolina, and even the Philadelphia Quakers felt that the author had gone too far.

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About the Author:

Angelina Grimké (1805-1879), the daughter of distinguished South Carolina slaveholders, was raised in the Episcopal Church. Always outspoken, she converted to the more evangelical Presbyterian Church at a young age, and increasingly became convinced that slavery was an immoral and unchristian system that denied human rights. Expelled by the southern Presbyterians for her views on slavery and the equality of women, she left the South for Philadelphia and joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), another evangelical group that had been the earliest and most ardent opponents of slavery.

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