This dissertation argues that transatlantic abolitionists used the Bible to condemn American slavery as a national sin that would be punished by God. In a chronological series of thematic chapters, it demonstrates how abolitionists developed a sustained critique of American slavery at its various developing stages from the American Revolution to the Civil War. In its analysis of abolitionist anti-slavery arguments, “The Bible Against Slavery” focuses on sources that abolitionists generated. In their books, sermons, and addresses they arraigned the oppressive aspects of American slavery. This study shows how American and British abolitionists applied biblical precepts to define the maltreatment of African Americans as sins not only against the enslaved, but also against God. The issues abolitionists exposed to biblical scrutiny, and that are analyzed in this dissertation, correlate with recent scholarly treatments of American slavery.
American slavery evolved in the period bracketed by the American Revolution and the Civil War. From 1790 to 1808 American slavery transitioned from reliance on the international slave trade to a domestic market. Abolitionists’ anti-slavery arguments likewise transitioned from focusing on the maltreatment of the immigrant, widow and orphan, to a focus on the proliferation of the sexual exploitation of women and the destruction of African American families. Abolitionists challenged every evolutionary step of American slavery. They argued that slavery was responsible for the destruction of American cities and the split of the British Empire during the crisis of the Revolution. They also denounced the constitutional compromises that protected slavery for 78 years, they challenged its spread westward, decried its dehumanization and sexual exploitation of African Americans, and its destruction of African American families. They galvanized a generation of women anti-slavery activists that launched the feminist movement. Abolitionists’ prediction, meanwhile, that divine retribution would come remained constant. Abolitionists produced such a prodigious body of biblical anti-slavery literature that by the Civil War, their arguments were echoed among northern pastors and even President Abraham Lincoln.