Theodore Weld, Letter to James Hall

Theodore Weld, Letter to James Hall, Editor, The Western Messenger, published in the Cincinnati Journal, 30 May 1834

The following communication is admitted at the request of a long-tried and much-loved friend. In the present case justice seemed to require that the writer should be heard. He, in common with other students of Lane Seminary, considered that injustice had been done them in the article complained of in the Western Magazine, and there seemed to be no more direct way of access to the community, than to give their reply and vindication a place in the Journal. [Eli Taylor, Assistant Editor, The Cincinnati Journal]

An erroneous and injurious impression, with reference to the Lane Seminary, has been made upon the community, by an article in the last Western Monthly Magazine. As the editor of that periodical refuses to disabuse the public mind, by any correction of its misrepresentations, I solicit the publication of the following communication in the Journal.
Editor of the Western Monthly Magazine.

Sir--As you have avowed yourself the author of an article published in the last Western Monthly Magazine, and headed Education and Slavery, I make no apology for addressing you thus publicly by name.

The article in question seems to have been framed with the design of exciting public indignation against the Lane Theological Seminary, on account of the stand recently taken by the students upon the subject of slavery. The text upon which the homily professes to be constructed, is 'The Preamble and Constitution of the Anti-Slavery Society of ---- Seminary.' To shrink from avowing the name of the seminary, whilst designating it in other respects, with a painstaking particularity, evinces a delicacy truly original. The courtesy of the article indicates a Chesterfieldian origin. A few specimens will serve as an illustration: 'precocious undergraduates,' 'minors, who are at school,' 'embryo clergymen,' 'a set of young gentlemen dreaming themselves into full-grown patriots,' 'boys at school,' 'sophomore declamation,' 'paper caps and wooden swords,' 'mind their own business and their books,' etc.

1. That the public may know something more of these 'minors at school,' who are rebuked for examining the subject of slavery, 'until they have acquired the privileges of acting as men, and voting as freemen,' I will give a few statistics of the theological students, whose infantile prattlings have so ruffled the equanimity of the reviewer.--Thirty of the theological class are over twenty-six years old, fourteen are over twenty-eight, and nine are between thirty and thirty-five. Two of the class were members of colleges seventeen years ago; two others graduated eight years since; and the remainder have either graduated, more recently, or have gone through a course of study substantially equal to a college course. One of the class was a practicing physician, for ten years; twelve others have been public agents for state and national benevolent institutions, employed in public lecturing, in various parts of the Union. Six of the class are married men; three of them have been so for nearly ten years. For more specific information relative to these striplings, permit me, sir, to refer you to Ely Taylor, esq. joint proprietor with yourself in the Western Monthly Magazine; and the enterprising publisher of the Cincinnati Journal. Some years since, Mr. Taylor was the classmate of twenty of the members of the present theological class, and the younger brother of not a few of them. So much for the babyhood of the theological students. . . .

I will state a few facts to show, that those who took part in the recent discussion were thoroughly acquainted with slavery in all its forms.

The discussion occupied eighteen evenings.--There were eighteen speakers, eight of them were born, and had always lived, in slave states. The average age of the eight speakers was twenty-four years. The remaining ten speakers had resided more or less in slave states. Six of them, from one to six years. The average age of these speakers was twenty-seven years. . . .

2. The entire tendency of your article is such, as to mislead the public mind, and produce the impression, that the discussion of the subject of slavery in this institution, was productive of wrath, malice, and every evil work. You talk of the 'rancor of party,' 'contests of party,' 'contamination of malignant passions,' 'the withering touch of party spirit,' 'angry bellows,' etc., etc. I do not assert that you have in so many words, explicitly declared that these results were actually realized at this seminary. But you have so dexterously practiced the tactics of manoeuvering, as to produce that impression upon the public mind, as strongly as if effected by direct assertion. Now, what are the facts in the case? Every student in this seminary will testify that courtesy and kindness pervaded the whole debate. Not an instance in which motives were impugned. No accusations of unfairness and misrepresentation were bandied. Harmony, and brotherly love prevailed not only during the debate, but still remains unbroken. True, it has been loudly bruited, that half of the students were driven from the seminary, by the rancor of the debate, and the wrathful spirit which succeeded it. The facts however are these. Only five of the students have taken a dismission from the seminary since the debate. One of them has been ordained as a missionary, under the American Board. The four others left from considerations totally unconnected with the question of slavery. During the same period, six individuals have become members of the seminary; twelve others have applied for admission. Of the latter, five are from the state of Kentucky, and have made application since the publication of your article.

3. Much pains is taken to produce the impression that the formation of an antislavery society, in this institution, was a political movement; that the students are political partizans, hot and heady, and are driving their measures to revolutionize the government. The article teems with swelling words about the 'establishment of political clubs,' 'predisposing minds to peculiar dogmas, in relation to political questions,' 'perverting seminaries of learning into political debating clubs'; and you say 'this is the first time we have known of a set of young gentlemen at school, setting seriously to work to organize a widespread political revolution, and to alter the constitution of their country.' Why, sir, did you not substantiate these charges? Why not quote the language of the document, and permit your readers to judge for themselves, whether its doctrines are unconstitutional and its spirit insurrectionary? Vague, vituperative harangue may easily avail to lash up popular clamor; and coarse appeals to the cruder elements, that reek on the surface, or thicken at the bottom, are cheap expedients for stamping upon any cause the indiscriminate stigma of a blind odium.

A good cause seeks no such auxiliaries. Let those enlist them that need their aid.
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4. You reprobate the discussion, on the score of policy; and allege its tendency to 'decrease the patronage' of the institution. What! are our theological seminaries to be awed into silence upon the great questions of human duty? Are they to be bribed over to the interests of an unholy public sentiment, by promises of patronage or by threats of its withdrawal? Shall they be tutored into passivity, and thrown to float like dead matter in the wake of the popular will, the sattelite and the slave of its shifting vagaries? Are theological students to be put under a board of conservators, with special instructions to stifle all discussion, except upon thepopular side? In selecting topics for discussion, are the students to avoid those which are of great public concernment, whose issues involve all human interests, and whose claims are as wide and deep, as right and wrong and weal and woe can make them? In taking sides upon such questions, the student must needs enquire, not where is right and what is duty,not which side is worthy of support,not what will quicken the church, turn the nations from their idols, pioneer into being the glories of the millennium, and cause earth to bloom with the hues of heaven. Ah! such interrogatories are all out of place. They would be 'impolitic' and 'decrease patronage.' 'Young gentlemen' who ask such questions, had better 'mind their business and their books.' The only questions becoming theological students, are, which side of the question is popular: which will be huzza'd and hosanna'd? Which will tickle the multitude, and soak a sop for the Cerberus of popular favor. Sir, the advocates of immediate emancipation lack every qualification for the propounding of such questions. They leave them to be put by those, who are fitted for the employment.
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6. But in solemn earnest, I ask, why should not theological students investigate and discuss the sin of slavery? Shall those who are soon to be ambassadors for Christ--commissioned to cry aloud--to show the people their transgressions--shall they refuse to think, and feel, and speak, when that accursed thing 'exalts itself above all that is called God'--and wags its impious head, and shakes its blood-red hands at heaven? Why, I ask, should not students examine into the subject of slavery? Is it not the business of theological seminaries to educate the heart, as well as the head? to mellow the sympathies, and deepen the emotions, as well as to provide the means of knowledge? If not, then give Lucifer a professorship. He is a prodigy of intellect, and an encyclopedia of learning. Whom does it behoove to keep his heart in contact with the woes and guilt of a perishing world, if not the student who is preparing for the ministry? What fitter employment for such a one, than gathering facts, and analyzing principles, and tracing the practical relations of the prominent sins and evils and all-whelming sorrows of his own age; especially when all these heave up their mountain masses full upon his own vision, and at his own door--and still more especially, when these accumulated wrongs and woes have been for ages unheeded? Is anything better able to quicken sympathy and enlarge benevolence, than deep pondering of the miseries and the wrongs of oppressed humanity, and thorough discussion of the best means for alleviation and redress? It is false, both in fact and philosophy, that anything is lost to the student, by engaging in such exercises. Instead of his progress being retarded in the appropriate studies of a theological course, (which should certainly be his main business) it will be accelerated. Whenever intellect moves in the sublimity of power, the heart generates its momentum. It is when the deep tides of emotion well out from full fountains, that intellect is buoyed upward, and borne onward in majesty and might. A subject so deeply freighted with human interests as that of slavery, cannot be investigated and discussed intelligently and thoroughly, without amplifying and expanding the intellect and increasing the power of its action upon all subjects. Let all our institutions engage in discussing subjects of great practical moment, such as slavery, temperance, and moral reform; let them address themselves to the effort, let it be persevered in through an entire course, and they will introduce a new era in mind--the era of disposable power and practical accomplishment. But besides the general impulse given to thought and emotion, by contact with subjects of vast practical moment, a large amount of definite knowledge upon such subjects must be acquired. The mind should have a household familiarity, with all their principles and bearings--the interests affected, the wide relations to right and wrong, and the ultimate effect on joy and woe. This applies with tenfold force to theological students. He who would preach in the nineteenth century, must know the nineteenth century. No matter how deeply read in the history of the past, if not versed in the records of his own day, he is not fit to preach the gospel. If he would bless the church now, he must know her now; where she is, and what her moral latitude--must scrutinize her condition--inspect her symptoms--ascertain the mode of previous treatment, and compare it with the prescriptions contained in God's book of directions, where the case is described. He must inquire diligently how obstructions are to be removed, the circulation quickened, the solids braced, the humors thrown off, and the sources of vitality replenished. Is a man prepared 'rightly to divide the word of truth, giving to each his proportion in due season,' who is ignorant of prevailing sins and evils, the moral movements of the day, the spirit of the age, the causes of existing inefficiency, and the nature, position, and relative power of those counteracting causes, which defeat instrumentality, both human and divine, and roll the world away from the millenium? It is an axiom of universal mind, that discussion, discussion free as air, is the grand desideratum for eliciting truth. If our theological seminaries pursue any other course, they will fall behind the age. This kind of training is as important a part of the preparation for the ministry, as an acquaintance with the principles of interpretation or a knowledge of didactic theology. In short our theological seminaries will only mock the exigencies of the age, and the expectations of the church, unless they hold their studentsin contact with these exigencies, that when they have finished their preparation, and are thrown into the midst of them, they may know where they are, and feel at home.
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  10. With reference to the promulgation of anti-slavery sentiments, your tone and air are quite extraordinary. You advertise your readers that 'it will meet the decided and prompt rebuke of public sentiment,' and finally you resort to menace, and proclaim that 'the indignation of the community will put it down.' This is precisely the inflammatory language, word for word, which was used by certain demagogue prints in the city of New York, last October. Such invocations of public indignation were the drag-nets, with which they swept the sewers for materials to mob down the meeting, which organized the city anti-slavery society. 'The indignation of the community will put it down.' What! Has it come to this? Is free inquiry to be paralyzed by the terror of pains and penalties? Is it to be driven in from its excursions, and made to cower under the menace of public indignation? Is investigation to be proscribed and hunted down, and catechized into subservience, by the spontoon of a drill master? Is research to be hoodwinked, and debate struck dumb, and scrutiny embargoed, and freedom of speech measured by the gag- law, and vision darkened, and sympathy made contraband, and vigilance drugged into slumber, and conscience death-struck in the act of resurrection, and moral combination against damning wrong to be forestalled by invocations of popular fury? Go on sir. Set in a blaze the passions of the mob. Such artifices rarely fail, even when practiced with ordinary skill--but of this be advertised that you have studied most superficially the character of those who advocate the immediate abolition of slavery, if you suppose they are to be frowned down by public sentiment. No, sir! They have pondered the whole subject too thoroughly. They have too long baptized it with prayer. They have too carefully inventoried its difficulties and its perils, one by one. They have sounded too deep into its woes and its wrongs, and have too strong an assurance that theirs is the cause of God, and that God is with them. The results at which they have arrived, are the deliberate convictions of long, varied, and conscientious inquiry. If they had taken council of worldly policy, time-serving expediency, suggestions of personal safety, popularity, ease, or earthly honor, they would have escaped the inflictions of public obloquy and rage. But they have counted the cost. Through evil report and good report, whether the storm beats in their faces or upon their backs, they will hold on their way. Sir, you have mistaken alike the cause, the age, and the men, if you think to intimidate by threats, or to silence by clamor, or shame by sneers, or put down by authority, or discourage by opposition, or appal by danger, those who have put their hands to this work. Through the grace of God, the history of the next five years will teach this lesson to the most reluctant learner.

From the entire tenor of your article, it is manifest that your main object is to forestall the public mind, and muzzle discussion upon the subject of slavery, especially in institutions of learning. You are too late, sir. Discussion has begun. Already the 'little one has become a thousand,' and moves victorious from conquering to conquer. What! think to put down discussion in eighteen hundred thirty-four! and that, too, by the dictum of self-clothed authority! Go, stop the stars in their courses, and puff out the sun with an infant's breath. Men will no longer take opinions on trust and think by proxy upon the subject of slavery. They will no longer admit the validity of the oppressor's claim to a monopoly of sympathy for the oppressed, and a monopoly of capacity to understand the system, and of wisdom, benevolence and conscience to devise the best means to determine the best time when the sin of oppression shall cease. Slavery, with its robbery of body and soul from birth to death, its exactions of toil unrecompensed, its sunderings of kindred, its frantic orgies of lust, its intellect levelled with the dust, its baptisms of blood, and its legacy of damning horrors to the eternity of the spirit--Slavery, in this land of liberty, and light, and revivals of millenial glory--its days are numbered and well-nigh finished. Would to God that they were not the daily enacted horrors of living reality--the legitimate fruits of a system authorized by Law, patronized and protected by republican institutions, sanctioned by public sentiment, and sanctified by religion. While these things are so, research, and discussion, and appeal, and remonstrance, and rebuke, and strong beseechings shall never cease. The nation is shaking off its slumbers to sleep no more.
  Yours, etc.,
  Theodore D. Weld