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The Issue of Slavery
James M. Pendleton
From Reminiscences of A Long Life
      As to the sinfulness of slavery in itself, Southern slaveholders did not believe the doctrine. They generally held the view expressed by Dr. Richard Fuller in his discussion with Dr. Francis Wayland, though some thought that view too moderate. Dr. Fuller showed very clearly that a distinction was to be made between slavery and the abuses of slavery.

      This distinction was certainly recognized in Kentucky. The law gave the master the right to separate husband and wife, but no master did this without injury to his reputation; for it was considered an abuse of slavery. There was a class of men called by the odious designation, "negro traders," but they were not received in the best circle of society. They bought slaves, conveyed them farther South, and sold them to cotton and sugar planters. They were an odious class.

      The opinion of slaveholders generally was that they were not responsible for the existence of slavery, because it was introduced into the country before they were born. For its introduction the North was as accountable as the South, and the South felt that it must adjust itself to the circumstances of the case. There was always an Emancipation party in Kentucky, and if in making the second Constitution in 1799, the sagacious policy of Henry Clay had been carried out, the State would have been free before the war.

      As to the negroes, I saw among them in the days of slavery as pious Christians as I ever saw anywhere. They attended church, occupied the place assigned them in the meeting-house, and partook of the Lord's Supper with their white brethren. I take pleasure in testifying that slavery in Kentucky and Tennessee, and I was not acquainted with it elsewhere, was of the mild type. When I went North nothing surprised me more than to see laborers at work in the rain and snow. In such weather, slaves in Kentucky and Tennessee would have been under shelter. It will astonish some of my friends to learn that at the death of my mother in 1863, I by the will of my father became a slave-holder. In the distribution of the estate a young girl was assigned to me. The law did not permit me to emancipate her, and the best I could do was to hire her out. I paid her the amount for which she hired and added to it ten per cent. When slavery was abolished I rejoiced in the severance of the relation I had sustained to her. I was not a slave-holder morally, but legally. My children may be interested in knowing these facts, and the additional fact that my conscience is clear.

      There is hope for the African race in this country. Its improvement, since the abolition of slavery, has been, all things considered, wonderful. The improvement has not of course been universal, but history records no such progress as has been made by the race since the war. In proof of this I may refer to a volume before me, styled, "The Negro Baptist Pulpit," containing sermons of which no white preacher need be ashamed. These preachers were slaves till the Emancipation Proclamation gave them liberty. The elevation to which they have risen is "the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes."


[From J. M. Pendleton, Reminiscences of a Long Life, 1891, pp. 126-128. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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