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Strictures on the State of Slavery among the Na
tions of Antiquity.
TO investigate the origin of slavery, and to follow it in its progress and gradations, during the early ages of the world, do not belong to my plan. That it is an invention of modern times is not pretended. The antiquity of it cannot be de. nied. But I ask, Is the antiquity of any practice an infallible proof of the equity of it? Evil practices, no less than good, are as old, or almost as old, as creation itself. What evil thing can be said to be new in the world? What crime is committed in our times, that was not perpetrated in former ages? In the words of the wisest of men, I may ask, Is there any new thing, good, or evil, under the sun? But if slavery itself be not new, the mode of treating slaves in modern times, appears to be, in various in. stances, new. Modes of oppression and punishment have been practised in latter times, which seem to have been unknown in former ages. Vain is it to plead, that slavery, among the ancient Jews, had the sanction of heaven. Exi
ceedingly different, indeed, was the situation of the Jewish, from the condition of the modern slaves, of whom we have been speaking. To many, Jewish slavery was eventually a blessing, not a curse ; a privilege, not a punishment. The Jews, it would seem, took pains in imparting to their slaves the knowledge of the true God, and of the method of salvation by the Messiah, with which those strangers, had they continued in their own countries, must have remained unac. quainted. Not a few of them were admitted into the Jewish church, and to a participation of all their special privileges ; even in participating in the solemn ordinance of the passover; these strangers, when they became proselytes of the covenant, were on an equality with the native Jews. There was, as the sacred historian informs us, one law for both. Was not the admis. sion of those strangers into the Jewish church, an early prelude of the conversion of the Gentile nations to the Messiah and his church, in the times of the New Testament? Thus slavery was permitted among the Jews for salutary purposes. Besides, how safe and comfortable was the situation of slaves among the ancient Jews? Was it left to their masters to treat them with lenity or severity, as their inclination or caprice might direct them? No. That system of laws
which the Jews, through the instrumentality of Moses, received from heaven, contained express regulations for the treatment of their slaves; and secured to the latter the full possession of their unalienable natural rights. But even this is not all. Slavery among the Jews, was not like that among our modern Christians, so called, perpetual; but, at a certain period, expired. In the year of jubilee, so famous in Jewish history, the commencement of which was announced'by sound of trumpet; there was an universal emancipation of slaves; as well as the cancelling of debts, and the reversion of forfeited inheritances to their original proprietors. If we were to review the history of slavery among other nations, and in other countries, we should find two things obviously manifest. The one is, the wisest nations and individuals, have ever used their slaves in the best manner. The other is, in
proportion as slaves and vassals have been kindly treated by their masters, whether nations or particular persons, they have been useful and profitable to them. So happy and comforttable was the situation of slaves among the Jews, that, when the time arrived, at which, according to the Mosaic law, they were entitled to their freedom, some would not accept it; but voluntarily bound themselves to continue with their
masters till death, which, as the book of Job speaks, renders every servant free from hismaster.
The transition from the Jews to the Athenians, must occur to every person of reading. For progress in science, and every refinement, the Athenians are famous to latest times. Seldom, perhaps never, did any people, merely by the dint of natural powers, approach nearer to perfection. The equity, mildness, and humanity, with which they used their slaves, form a prominent feature in their character. On which account a celebrated philosopher could not forbear to say, that the life of a slave at Athens was much happier than that of a freeman in any other state of Greece. In the case of bad treatment from their masters, they had provided for them an asylum, to which they could at all times flee, and in which they remained in perfect safety, till the matter of complaint was fairly tried according to law. For justice was, at the expence of the public, administered to rich and poor without respect
of persons. If the complaint of a slave against his master was found, upon investigation, to be just, his master was obliged to assign over his service to another person. Slaves could, in the case of certain injuries offered to
them, demand an exchange of masters. They had, by law, provided for them protection against all insults and injuries any of the citizens might
be disposed to offer them. They were, by • law, entitled to acquire property, and, if in a con
dition to do it, to purchase their freedom. Nay, they were, by law, authorized to demand their freedom from their masters at a reasonable price. Their masters frequently, and the state often, rewarded their fidelity with freedom. If they were employed in war, they were certain of obtaining their freedom. For such were the exalted and refined ideas which the Athenians entertained, that they seem to have thought no man fit to defend the state, if he was not a member of it. Was this indulgence of the Athenians to their slaves abused by the latter? Far from it. In proportion as their masters were just, humane, and beneficent to their slaves, they were diligent, faithful, and advantageous to them. Both masters and servants were contented and happy.
What a contrast to the Athenians, in this instance, were their neighbours the Spartans ! In consequence of their capricious and impolitic' behaviour to their 'slaves, they were harassed with continual broils, and insurrections, and other concommitant evils.