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Opposing the African Slave Trade - 1790 New Haven Sermon
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Our late warfare was expressly founded on such principles as these: ‘All men are created equal: They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.... Those who profess to understand and regard the principles of liberty should cheerfully unite to abolish slavery....

In 1784, Connecticut passed a law that all slaves born after March 1, 1784, were to be freed before or when they reached the age of 25. In 1790, a group of clergymen, lawyers, and academics formed the Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Freedom and for the Relief of Persons Unlawfully Holden in Bondage to support the law. Yale University president and Congregationalist minister Ezra Stiles, formerly a slave owner, served as the society’s first president. Here, Rev. Doctor James Dana reviews the history and extent of slavery in the world. Calling it unjust, unchristian, and against the principles of the American Revolution, he urges abolition. Dana’s sermon, and those preached at the Society by Jonathan Edwards Jr., Theodore Dwight, and others, were among the most popular anti-slavery literature from the period. However, the Connecticut Society lapsed and disappeared after the turn of the century.

JAMES DANA. Pamphlet. The African Slave Trade. A Discourse Delivered in the City of New-Haven, September 9, 1790, before The Connecticut Society for The Promotion of Freedom. Half-title: Doctor Dana’s Sermon on the African Slave Trade. New Haven: Thomas and Samuel Green, 1791. Evans 23308. 33 pp., 4¾ x 8¼ in.

Inventory #24464       Price: $1,900


So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free. – Epistle to the Galatians, IV.31

Christianity is a reasonable service, and founded in personal persuasion. It permits us to “call no man master; for one is our master, even Christ”; to whom alone everyone must stand or fall. His religion is friendly to free enquiry: It directs us to “prove all things”—to claim the liberty of grounding our faith, not on the wisdom of man, but the power of God; and to allow others the same. Our liberty may not be judged of their consciences, nor their liberty of our conscience. They who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak; and should take heed lest by any means their liberty, their improved knowledge in Christianity, should be a stumbling block to uninformed minds....

The Africans belong to the families for whom heaven designed a participation in the blessing of Abraham. We need not discuss the question, what the state of those, whom the Europeans have enslaved, was antecedently to such their slavery. It is more proper to enquire when and how the African slave-trade commenced—what nations have engaged in it—in what manner they have carried it on—what the probable numbers they have reduced to slavery—in what condition these slaves are held—and what reasons are offered in vindication of the trade....

Twenty million slaves, at £.30 sterling each, amount to the commercial value of £.600,000,000… traffic in the souls of men!!!

By whom hath this commerce been opened, and so long and ardently pursued? The subjects of their most faithful, most catholic, most Christian, most protestant majesties, defenders of the faith… with the sanction of St. Peter's successor. Unprovoked, without any pretended injury, these have kindled and kept alive the flame of war through three quarters of the continent of Africa…. These have taught the Africans to steal, sell and murder one another. On any or no pretence the different tribes make prisoners of each other, or the chiefs seize their own people, and drive them, as herds of cattle, to market.... Christianity and humanity would rather have dictated the sending books and teachers into Africa, and endeavors for their civilization. Have they been treated as children of the same family with ourselves? as having the same Father, whose tender mercies are over all his works? as having the same natural prerogatives with other nations? Or have they been treated as outcasts from humanity?...

Admitting these just principles, we need not puzzle ourselves with the question, whether a black complexion is a token of God's wrath? If attempts to account for the color of the blacks, by ascribing it to climate, or the state of society, or both, should not be perfectly satisfactory (and perhaps they are not), shall we therefore conclude, that they did not spring from the same original parents?How then shall we account either for their origin or our own? The Mosaic, which is the only account of the origin of mankind, doth not inform us what was the complexion of Adam and Eve....

Those who profess to understand and regard the principles of liberty should cheerfully unite to abolish slavery.... The revolution in the United States hath given free course to the principles of liberty… The spirit will spread, and shake the throne of despotic princes. Neither an habit of submission to arbitrary rule in church and state, nor the menaced interference of neighboring kingdoms, could prevent, or counterwork, a revolution, propitious in its aspect on the rights of other nations, and of mankind. No combination of European potentates can impede the progress of freedom.... 

In vain do we assert our natural and civil liberty…provided we ourselves are not made free from the condemnation and dominion of sin. If there is such a thing as slavery, the servant of sin is a slave—and self-made. The captive, prisoner and slave, in an outward respect, may be free in Christ, free indeed; while he who enjoys full external liberty, may, in regard to his inward man, be under the power of wicked spirits…The new Jerusalem is free in a more exalted sense than the church on earth…. In that day of complete redemption, of glorious liberty, may God of his infinite mercy grant that we may meet all the ransomed of the Lord, with songs and everlasting joy…”

Full text of sermon

James Dana (1735-1812) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard University in 1753. In 1758, he was ordained and made the pastor of the Congregational church in Wallingford, Connecticut. That caused a rift in Connecticut Congregationalism, as opponents viewed him as representative of the liberal school in Boston. In 1768, the University of Edinburgh conferred on him a Doctor of Divinity degree.  He returned to America, and gained support due to patriotic sermons in the period leading up to the American Revolution.  In 1789, he became the pastor of the first church in New Haven, remaining there until 1805.


Ex-New York Public Library, with duplicate stamp on the verso of title page, and a pencil note by Wilberforce Eames, Chief of the American History Division, on the half title.


Disbound. Light tanning, occasional foxing

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