How and Why Did Some Christians Defend Slavery?

Aaron Menikoff | February 24, 2017

My elementary teachers taught me George Washington boldly led the Continental Army, ably served as America’s first president, and humbly refused to seek re-election after a second term. Nobody told me he owned slaves. Though he emancipated his slaves upon his death, while he lived he depended on slaves to run his Mount Vernon farm.[1]

Looking back, we understand Washington, like other Founding Fathers, was a man of his times. A devout but private Anglican, he never wore religion on his sleeve. He never offered a biblical defense for slavery. Like so many others, he took for granted that Scripture permitted it. And even if he thought slavery unkind, Washington’s economic interests trumped his moral reservations.

Of course, some Americans did more than assume slavery. They argued for it. Baptist pastor Richard Fuller, for example, used the Bible to defend the institution of slavery. Fuller’s parents raised him Episcopalian before sending him to Harvard. He graduated in 1824, earned a law degree, got married, and became a Baptist. After practicing law, he led churches in Beaufort, South Carolina, and in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1847, Fuller and Brown University president Francis Wayland published Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution. The heart of the matter boiled…

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