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32, 34, and 36, and likewise Ex. 22:11, 12, 14, 15. Here, in the first case, where the subject is a human being (the servant), the master (117) is spoken of, but never the owner. The relations and responsibilities are brought to view between master and servant, but never between owner and slave. But in the other cases, where the subject is property, as an ox, ass, sheep, or article of raiment or furniture, the owner (5.a) is spoken of, not the master. The distinction is one of purpose and care, and not accidental; and in no case is any such relation between human beings brought to view as of the one being owner of the other, with sanction of such relation. The history of such relationship is the history of crime, and the selling of human beings is always a criminal transaction. The whole transaction of the selling of Joseph is described as the crime of stealing ; and no person in Judea could ever have sold any human being, no matter by what means in his power, without the conviction of doing what was forbidden of God. Man-selling was no more permitted than man-stealing. Accordingly, there are no instances of its being practised.
Now if there had been in Judea, from Abraham downwards, the system of what we call slavery, the system of chattelism, the purchase, ownership, and sale, of human beings as articles of property, there must have been some traces of such purchase, ownership, and sale, in the history of the people. Their domestic life is so fully set before us, that, if this system were a fixture of it, the evidence could not fail to have leaked out; nay, the proof would have been glaring. If this fixture, with all its concomitant transactions and habits, had existed, had been maintained, as a national institute, against the divine law, we should as certainly have found it in the history and the books of the prophets, as idolatry itself; we do find it instantly recorded, in the only cases in which it was attempted; and the case in which the crime was completed, occasioned the instant vengeance of God, in the destruction of the Jewish State. But if it had existed by appointment of the divine law, under the sanction and favor of God, then much more should we have found some traces of VOL. XIII. No. 50.
it, not only in the law itself, but in the manners and customs of the people, and in their historical and commercial records.
But in the whole history, from that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, down through the whole line of their descendants, not one instance is to be found of the sale of a man, a servant or a slave. The only approximations to such a thing are treated and denounced as criminal; as for example in Amos 2: 6, thus saith the Lord, “ For three transgressions of Israel and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof, because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes.” When they obtained servants, or purchased them, as the phrase was, they purchased their time and labor from themselves; but if they attempted to sell them, it could not be done without stealing them; it was making articles of property out of them; it was asserting and violently assuming ownership in them; it was manstealing. But if slavery had been a legal institution appointed of God, a righteous policy and habit of the domestic life, we should have found, somewhere, some traces of the transactions by which always it is attended and maintained. We should have found mention not only of obtaining servants by contracts made with them, but of buying them, as slaves, from others, and of ownership in them, and of the sale of them; and if they were considered in law as chattels, as articles of property, we should have found legal provisions for reclaiming and securing them when lost, fugitive, or stolen; just as we do in the cases of oxen, asses, sheep, or property of any kind, lost, strayed, or stolen. It would not be possible, for example, to write the history of laws and customs in the United States for a single century, without such traces of slavery and of slave-laws coming out.
When, therefore, we search for such traces in the Mosaic legislation, what do we stumble upon? The first thing in regard to fugitives is this law before us, a law made for their protection against their masters, and not in behalf of the masters, or to recover their lost property. The judgment gathered from this law in regard to slavery is in condemna
tion of the whole system, and remains in full, to whatever class of inhabitants the passage be applied. The question is, whether its operation was intended to comprehend Hebrew servants, or heathen servants only; whether it was a law for Judea at home, or for the nations abroad, or equally for both.
1. There is no restriction or limitation expressed ; it would have to be supposed, and a construction forced upon the passage, which the terms do not indicate, and will hardly permit. It would be unfortunate to have to treat any passage in this manner, to make out a case, unless the context required it, or the history and some more comprehensive laws enforced it. Compare, for illustration, the command in Isaiah 58: 6, 9, where it is enjoined: “ to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke.” And again : “ If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke.” We might assert concerning these passages that they referred only to the heathen, whereas it is notorious that they applied to abuses and oppressions committed, not among the heathen, but in Judea itself, by the Hebrews themselves, and not against strangers only, but against their own countrymen, as in Amos 2: 6, and 8: 6, and Jer. 22: 13-17, and Hab. 1: 14–16, and other places. But when it is said, that ye break every yoke, it is not meant that the lawful and appointed contracts with Hebrew servants or others were to be broken up, for those were not yokes, nor regarded as such; and it only needed the application of common sense to know perfectly the application of the passage to unjust and illegal oppressions. But again, if a stranger or a heathen was thus oppressed and subjected to the yoke, it applied to him, as well as to the Hebrew; and the distinction was well known between oppressive and involuntary servitude, which was forbidden of God, and the voluntary service for paid wages or purchase-money, as appointed by the law. The command to take away the yoke from the midst of thee, applies to every form of bondage imposed upon any persons whatsoever in the land, contrary to the
if thou remove from the midst , אִם־תָּסִיר מִתּוֹסְךְ מוֹטָה ,is emphatic
divine law, and without agreement on the part of the servant. The fugitive from such oppression was to be relieved and protected, and not delivered back to bondage. The Hebrew
, , of thee the yoke; the yoke in thine own country, not in a heathen country. And so, in the statute before us, the oppression, the escape, and the protection are neither, nor all, exclusive of Hebrews.
2. But second, it is contended by some, that this is merely a law to prevent heathen slaves that were escaping into the land of Judea, from being sent back to their heathen masters. It certainly comprehends this class of persons, and this would be an inevitable result of its operation, at any rate, whether Hebrew servants were excluded, or not. But no intimation can be found, either in the text, the context, or the whole history, of its application being restricted to the heathen. The word in this statute used for servant is 7. It is not a statute concerning the hired servant, the habe, nor the six years' hired servant, who could not be compelled to remain at service any longer than that period, but was free as soon as his engagement was over.
It certainly could not apply to him, for he received his pay from his master beforehand, and the law would have been an incentive to dishonesty and villany, if he could have received his six years' wages, on entering into covenant of service, and the next week could have decamped from his master with the money in his pocket, secure against being retaken. Such a person was not the contemplated in this law, nor could there have been any danger of its being so perverted. At the same time, the proofs are numerous that in the land of Judea, among the Hebrews themselves, there were, and would be, persons unjustly held as servants beyond their time of service, as contracted for, persons oppressed in such bondage, and for whose protection such a statute as the fugitive law before us, might be more necessary than for persons fleeing from idolatrous masters in heathen lands.
3. In the third place, then, we must remember, that there were servants in Judea, both of the Hebrews and the hea.
then, whose term of service was not limited to six years, but extended, with somewhat more undefined dominion of the master, to the Jubilee. There were servants of all work, indentured servants, bound, by their own contract, for the whole number of years intervening between the time of the contract and the Jubilee. These were mostly of heathen families, though also of Hebrew, and were much more in the power of their masters for ill treatment and oppression, if they were cruelly disposed. Now it is most likely that the statute in question was interposed for the protection of just this class of servants from the cruelty of their masters; servants, the nature and the term of whose service was, to such a degree, undefined and unlimited. There certainly was such a kind of service, and such a class of servants, to which and to whom the expressions, and service of an 7 peculiarly applied. See, for example, Lev. 25: 39, 40: the Hebrew servant, contracting till the Jubilee, shall not be compelled to serve with the service of an (the servant of all work), but as a hired servant and a sojourner. But the term of service was unlimited, except by the Jubilee; and so, in some respects, was the power of the master.
The statute before us seems to have been passed for the protection of such servants from the possible cruelty of their masters. Although it was not deemed best entirely to abolish that kind and tenure of servitude, but to lay it mainly upon
the idolatrous nations who were to be conquered by the Jews; yet God imposed such protective safeguards in respect to it, as would keep it from being a cruel and unjust treatment, even of them; such safeguards, that the masters should find kindness towards their servants not only commanded by the letter and spirit of the law, but the only safe and profitable policy. Therefore it was enacted that, if any servant chose to flee from a tyrannical and cruel master, and could succeed in getting away, the master should not be able by law to recover him, should not be able to force him back; or, at all events, that none should be obliged to return him to his master; on the contrary, that those to whom he might flee from the oppression of a cruel master, should be bound