The Oberlin Evangelist
June 22, 1859
“Caesar and Christ; or the Higher Law.”
We have received a communication, which refers to the sermon lately published in the Evangelist on the above mentioned subject, and takes exceptions to some of the positions therein assumed. The writer says, “I am pleased with the spirit of the author (of the sermon,) and the conclusions which he reaches, and their application to the case of the persons on trial in the rescue case. Yet when all this is said – and much more might be said in its praise – I wish it (the discourse) had never been preached, and much more that it had never been published. I am pained exceedingly - more than I can frame language to express 0 at seeing so noble a structure (the sermon) so fatally marred. Though the conclusions are just, and the application to the case in hand, well made, the logic is ruined by one or two fatal admissions which destroy its adaptation to such a case.”
What are these fatal admissions? What are “the broken links in the chain” of reasoning of which he also speaks? The amount, according to his own showing, to but one And what is that? It is found in the following passage – “Is there aught in this case that can be rendered unto Caesar as properly his? If so what, and how much? This is to be stringently construed, and not one iota yielded by any false liberality, or spurious patriotism. The provisions relating to fugitives from service, together with all the provisions in the Constitution recognizing and favoring Slavery, contrary to the intent and expectation of the framers of that document, have in our time the relation of supports to a system of oppression flourishing and formidable, instead of one long since defunct, and tolerated only for a time. Let this be ever borne in mind. The Constitution, which only gave slavery the poor privilege to die a lingering death in the repugnant bosom of the Republic, cannot in good faith be used to promote its vigorous growth and to perpetuate its power, so deadly to Liberty. Lower law itself forbids this. Now all that can be claimed in reason is that the slave power be suffered to make what use it legitimately can of the Constitutional provisions, without involving the aid, or expecting the countenance of the people of the free States, or the strong arm of the Federal Government. Let the master pursue, unresisted by violence, his fleeing chattel, catch it if he can, prove property, and take it back. This sufferance is all the service Christian citizens can render the Southern Caesar; and even this requires a measure of forbearance that borders on recreancy –
Thus stands the case with the private citizen of one of the free States.”
On this the writer remarks – “Now if Christian citizens can render this much service consistently with their obligation to the Higher Law, to the Souther Caesar, I am so dull of apprehension that I cannot understand on what ground the ‘rescuers’ can be justified. How can it be that in resisting with force and arms the lower law they did not do violence to the higher law as well?”
Let us humbly endeavor to enlighten this honest and worthy enquirer, according to our measure of light, if perchance the light that is in us be not darkness. Remember then that it is of individual citizens living in the free states that we are inquiring – what shall they render unto the Southern Caesar? Not what the Federal Government should render, not what the Free States collectively or separately should render; but what individual citizens should render. And they are to render only what they have not power to withhold, namely – mere toleration of the slave power – BECAUSE THEY CANNOT SUCCESSFULLY RESIST IT BY FORCE. For this reason they are to, they must, suffer the slaveholder to continue to hold his slaves; for the same reason they must suffer him to pursue, recapture and return his fugitive slaves; they must, that is they have not the physical force to prevent it. Suffering recapture in this sense, involves the same principle and is justified on the same ground, of suffering slavery itself – the ground of necessity. Obligation is limited by power. What we can do we ought to do – and are bound to do. We can protest against slavery at the South, and against slave-hunting in the free States, and use all moral and political means in opposition to both. We can refrain from aiding the master to recapture his fleeing chattels, we can help the fugitive, in divers ways, to elude his pursuers, and when one alleged to be, and claimed as a fugitive slave is seized to be taken back to slavery, we can insist on a fair trial, and employ every legal means to rescue the captive, and we can use the force of numbers to detain the parties till such trial shall be had; and we can use this force also to liberate the captured person, ifhe is remanded by the magistrate or commissioner, into slavery; though we thereby subject ourselves to the pains and penalties of the Fugitive Slave Law. Of course one or two citizens could not do this, and should not therefore attempt it. Hence they must render, by compulsion, unto Caesar what they have not power to withhold. The American people, as such, are not amenable to this law of force; they have the power to overthrow this Southern Caesar, and they ought to do it, and they are guilty for not doing it. Slavery has no longer any support in the Constitution of the United States, it exists now in violation of the spirit of the Constitution and of the intent of the very provisions which relate to it.
The Federal Judiciary has the power to abolish Slavery by a decision; and is bound to exert this power. But the individual citizen has not the power, physical or political, to abolish slavery. He has the personal moral power to influence others, to contribute to the production of a right public sentiment, and thus to secure the needed change in the administration of the general government. We hold that Christ’s precept – “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s – was intended to be binding only temporarily, so long, that is, as Caesar should have the power to enforce his authority – and no longer. His dominion was no more a rightful one, in the sight of our Lord, than the dominion of the Slave Power now is. But it was to be suffered by the Jews and by the Christians too and obeyed in so far as its decrees were not positively inconsistent with allegiance to God and Christ. The case before our Savior was we think quite analogous to the case of American Slavery. Caesar held at that time the imperial power, Slavery now wields the political power of the Republic; the Jews and the Christians were then subject to the authority of Caesar, the free citizens and the Christians citizens of the United States are now subject in certain respects to the Slave power. The dominion of Caesar over the Jews and Christians was usurped and unrighteous; so is the control of the Slave power over the citizens of the free States. In either case submission is forced, and is obligatory only as it cannot be successfully renounced, and is obligatory only as it cannot be successfully renounced, and then only in matters that do not involve rebellion against God.
The time came when nothing was to be rendered unto Caesar, when there was no Caesar, for Christ overcame him, and ruled over Rome itself: and so, we assuredly believe, the time is coming when nothing shall remain to be rendered, perforce, to the Slave power, when Slavery shall be no more in America, for Christ shall abolish it. Whatever we may now be constrained to render to this Southern Caesar, should be rendered under stern protest, in the name of Christ, who suffers Slavery for a time; and whatever may be withheld from this Caesar out of regard to the Higher Law at hazard of property, liberty and life should be boldly withheld, and the liabilities bravely met and patiently endured – in this confidence that the Captain of our Salvation will conduct his people into and through just that sort of conflict with Slavery which shall the most speedily gain a complete victory over it. J. A. T.