Back to top

The Bible Vindicated from the Charge of Sustaining Slavery


A religious tract of biblical disputation published in Columbus, Ohio, in 1837 by Goodsell Buckingham, a local Methodist antislavery lecturer. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.

Goodsell Buckingham’s The Bible Vindicated on Charges on Sustaining Slavery was an entry into the biblical disputation that was becoming a central feature of anti-slavery and pro-slavery argument by the 1830s.  Unlike many texts from this debate, the present tract did not emerge from a familiar publishing house in Boston or New York, but rather from the offices of an obscure provincial temperance newspaper located in Columbus, Ohio.  It represents an amalgam of reform and religious engagements, typical of much antislavery literature of the period.

The tract, which evidences a self-taught knowledge of biblical Hebrew, examines a broad variety of primarily Old Testament verses to demonstrate differences between slavery as practiced among the ancient Hebrews and slavery in the American South.  The author’s purpose lies in proving to bible-cognizant readers that not only are the two systems incongruent, but that the terms of biblical slavery provide for eventual freedom.  Therefore, the Southern system of perpetual slavery opposes the more liberal terms of slavery in the pastoral world of the Hebrew tribes.  Buckingham measures the claim that the Bible authorizes slavery, which was a consistent theme of pro-slavery apologetic literature, against a social profile of slavery as it appeared in the Old Testament.

Later in the text, Buckingham deals more briefly with the New Testament in order to juxtapose characteristic conditions of Southern slavery with cautionary New Testament verses.  After his exegesis of biblical texts, he concludes "American slavery is enormously criminal, sinful in the pure light of the bible, and the way to get rid of it is clearly pointed out in that good book." (p. 22)  An end to slavery is thus an end to catastrophic national sin that opposes divine commandments, a sin that can be remedied only with emancipation.

Buckingham calls, among other points, for immediate emancipation of slaves; payment of fair wages for labor; establishment of marriage ceremonies and personal chastity among ex-slaves; and a religious mission to freed slaves to provide them with churches, schools, and ministers.  Adopting an attitude common among both religious and secular whites, Buckingham viewed blacks as living within a "great darkness" (p. 22) that required moral reform and uplift from benevolent whites.

This relatively brief text reflects the religious character of antislavery debate in Ohio, and through counter-example seeks to contradict the bible citations employed by pro-slavery advocates.  It is the work of an obscure grassroots moral reform activist, determined to disprove any citation of the bible in support of slavery.

- Joe Lockard