Earliest American Protest Against Slavery (February, 1688, Drawn up by Mennonite Germans)
EARLIEST AMERICAN PROTEST AGAINST SLAVERY (February, 1688, Drawn up by Mennonite Germans)
William Penn's establishment of the principle of religious toleration in his proprietorship of Pennsylvania attracted a variety of religious sects from Europe. Along with the Quakers, Moravians, Lutherans, and Dunkers were the Mennonites, a strongly cohesive group that practiced a basic form of Christianity focusing on simplicity, individualism, hard work, and prayer. These German immigrants believed that all humans were equal, being children of God the Creator. They practiced toleration in all of its forms. They opposed any restrictions on human rights and liberty.
The Mennonites gave expression to these beliefs in 1688. They argued that Blacks and Whites were essentially equal, that it was unjust and a contradiction of Christianity to enslave them. They pointed out that Christian slave-owners were no better than the "Turks," or Muslims, who practiced slavery in Asia and Africa. They appealed to the consciences of slave-owners, asking them to realize that the sin of slavery led to many other sins, such as adultery when the master lay with the female slave. The consequence of this sinful union was the birth of a child rejected and enslaved by the master, who denied all that was right and true by denying his own flesh and blood. The Mennonites believed that all social relations should be based on the Golden Rule, to treat others as you would have them treat you.
This is to the Monthly Meeting held at Rigert Worrell's.
These are the reason why we are against the traffic of mens-body as follows: Is there any that would be done or handled at this manner, viz., to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life? How fearful and fainthearted are many on sea when they see a strange vessel, being afraid it should be a Turk, and they should be taken and sold for slaves in Turkey. Now what is this better done as Turks do? Yea, rather is it worse for them which say they are Christians, for we hear that the most part of such Negroes are brought hither against their will and consent, and that many of them are stolen. Now, though they are black, we cannot conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves as it is to have other white ones. There is a saying that we shall do to all men like as we will be done ourselves, making no difference of what generation, descent, or color they are. And those who steal or rob men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alike? Here is liberty of conscience, which is right and reasonable. Here ought to be likewise liberty of the body, except of evildoers, which is another case. But to bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against.
In Europe there are many oppressed for conscience sake; and here there are those oppressed which are of a black color. And we, who know that men must not commit adultery, some do commit adultery in others, separating wives from their husbands and giving them to others, and some sell the children of those poor creatures to other men. Oh! do consider well this thing, you who do it, if you would be done at this manner, and if it is done according [to] Christianity? You surpass Holland and Germany in this thing. This makes an ill report in all those countries of Europe, where they hear of that the Quakers do here handle men like they handle there the cattle. And for that reason some have no mind or inclination to come hither.
And who shall maintain this your cause or plead for it? Truly we cannot do so except you shall inform us better hereof, viz., that Christians have liberty to practise these things. Pray! What thing in the world can be done worse toward us than if men should rob or steal us away and sell us for slaves to strange countries, separating husbands from their wives and children.
Being now this is not done at that manner we will be done at, therefore, we contradict and are against this traffic of mens-bodies. And we who profess that it is not lawful to steal must likewise avoid to purchase such things as are stolen, but rather help to stop this robbing and stealing if possible and such men ought to be delivered out of the hands of the robbers and set free as well as in Europe. Then is Pennsylvania to have a good report; instead it has now a bad one for this sake in other countries. Especially whereas the Europeans are desirous to know in what manner the Quakers do rule in their province, and most of them do look upon us with an envious eye. But if this is done well, what shall we say is done evil?
If once these slaves (which they say are so wicked and stubborn men) should join themselves, fight for their freedom and handle their masters and mistresses as they did handle them before, will these masters and mistresses take the sword at hand and war against these poor slaves, like we are able to believe some will not refuse to do? Or have these Negroes not as much right to fight for their freedom as you have to keep them slaves?
Now consider well this thing, if it is good or bad. And in case you find it to be good to handle these blacks at that manner, we desire and require you hereby lovingly that you may inform us herein, which at this time never was done, viz., that Christians have liberty to do so, to the end we shall be satisfied in this point, and satisfy likewise our good friends and acquaintances in our native country, to whom it is a terror or fearful thing that men should be handled so in Pennsylvania.
SOURCE: The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 4, 1880.