Letters to the Honorable John Forsyth, On the Subject of Domestic Slavery

The intemperate course which Mr. O'Connell has chosen to pursue in relation to a large portion of the American people, and his late most unwarantable attempt to impart the semblance of religious authority to his incendiary appeals concerning slavery, to his former fellow subjects, now citizens of these United States, have rendered it expedient, in the judgement of many persons, to repriat, together with the recent apostolical letter of the Sovereign pontiff on the slave trade, the celebrated letters of Bishop England to the Honorable John Forsyth, on domestic slavery, in a form accessible to a great majority of readers.

It is more than probable that Mr. O'Connell little dreampt of the micheif he was doing to a still holier cause than that of injured Ireland, when, in the ardour of his vituperation against America, he ventured to miscontrue the Pope's denunciation of the African slave trade(denounced no less by our own and almost every civilized government) into a denial of the compatibility of domestic slavery as existing in this country, with the practice unto salvation of the Catholic religion. Still there are many, whom just admiration of his talents, and confidence in his many virtues, might betray into an inconsiderate adoption of his theologican errors; whilst those unprincipled polemics, who conduct a certain portion of the American press, would eagerly avail themselves of his misstatements to justify new calumnies against the church.

To our fellow citizens of Irish origin, therefore, and the candid and intelligent of every persuasion, these letters on slavery, by the great apostle of this western world, incomplete as they fell from his hurried pen, and sealed by death mid way his argument, will yet prove of inestimable value, as exhibiting the true doctrine of Christianity on the fundamental principle of involuntary servitude, in her ameliorating influences on a state ordained of God, yet liable, like most other social institutions, to manifold and great abuses.

And to him who, forgetful of much that might and ought to have moved him to forebearance, could turn aside unprovoked, from baying to the British lion, to "scatter arrows, firebrands, and death" amongst his most sincere and disinterested well wishers, this volume should seem a sad "momento" from the grave of his noblest friend, whose intention it was, as himself assured me, (when last my guest, in the fall of 1841,) that if God permitted him to conclude his essay, it should be dedicated to Daniel O'Connell!

Wm. Geo. Read
Baltimore, Dec. 19th, 1843



For the future memory of the matter.

Placed at the supreme height of the Apostolate, and, although no meritsof our own assisting, vicegerents of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who, by reason of his exceeding great charity, Having been made man, hath also vouchsafed to die for the redemption of the world, we consider that it pertaineth to our pastoral solicitude that we taineth to our pastoral solicitude that we should thoroughly endeavour to turn away the faithful from the inhuman traffic in negroes, or any other class of men.

When, Indeed, the light of the Gospel first began to be diffused, those wretched persons, who, at the time, in such great number, went down into the most rigorous slavery, principally by occasional of wars, felt their condition very much alleviated among the Christians. For the Apostles, inspired by the divine Spirit, taught, in fact, the slaves themselves, to obey their carnal masters to act well towards their slaves, and to do to them what is what is just and equal, and to forbear threatenings; knowing that there is a Master, both of those and of themselves in the heavens, and that with Him there is no respect of persons.

Universally, however, since sincere charity to all would most strenuously be recommended by the law of the Gospel, and Christ, our Lord, could declare that he would esteem as done or denied to himself whatever of kindness or mercy might be done or denied to the least and to the poor, it easily ensued therefrom, not only that Christians should regard their slaves, and especially Christians, as brethen, but also that they should be more prone to present with liberty those who might deserve it; which, indeed, Gregory, of Nyssa, indicates to have been first habitually done on the occasion of the paschal solemnities. Nor were wanting some who, excited by more ardent charity, cast themselves into chains that they might redeem others, of whom that apostolic man, our predecessor, Clement I., the same of most holy memory, testifies that he had known many. Therefore, in the course of time, the darkness of pagan superstitions being more fully dissipated, and the morals also of the ruder nations being softened by means of faith working by charity, the matter progressed so far that now, for many ages, no slaves can be held among many Christian nations. But, grieving much we very number of the faithful, those who, basely blinded by the lust of sordid gain, in remote and distant lands, reduced to slavery Indians, negroes, or other miserable persons; or, by traffic begun and extended in those who had been made captive by others, did not hesitate to aid the shameful crime of the latter. By no means, indeed, did many Roman Pontiffs of glorious memory, our predecessors, omit severly to rebuke, according to their duty, the conduct of those persons as dangerous to their own spiritual safety, and disgraceful to the Christian name; from which, also, they perceived this to follow, that the nations of infidels would be more and more hardened to hate our true religion. Tow which refer the apostolic letter of Paul III., of the 29th day of May, 1537, given under the Fisherman's Ring to the cardinal archbishop of Toledo, and another, subsequently, more ample than the former, by Urban VIII., given on the 22nd day of April, 1639, to the Collector of the Rights of the Apostolic Chamber in Portugal, in which letter they are by name most severly censured who should dare or presume to reduce to slavery the western or southern Indians, to sell, to buy, to exchange, or give them away, to separate them from their wives and children, or spoil them of their property and goods, to conduct or send them to other places, or in any manner to deprive them of liberty, or retain them in slavery, and also to afford to those who do the aforesaid things, counsel, aid, favour or assistance, upon any pretext or studies excuse, or to preach or teach that it is lawful, or in any other mode to co-operate in the premises. These ordinances of the said pontiffs, Benedict XIV: afterwards confirmed and renewed by a new apostolic letter to the Bishops of Brazil, and of certain other regions, given on the 20th day of December, 1741, by which he excited the solicitude of those prelates to the same end. Still earlier, moreover, another predecesoor of ours, more ancient than these, Pius II., when, in his time, the dominion of the Portuguese was extended into Guinea, a region of the negroes, gave a letter on the 7th day of October, 1462, to the Bishop of Rubi who was about to proceed thither, in which he not only conferred on that prelate proper faculties for exercising his sacred ministry the same occasion, animadverted severely neophytes into slavery. And, in our times, also, Pius VII., led by the same spirit of religion and charity as his predecessors, sedulously interposed his offices with influential persons, that the traffic in negroes should at lenth cease entirely among Christians. These ordinances and cares of our predecessors, indeed, by the aid of God, profited persons aforesaid from the cruelty of invaders or the cupidity of Christian merchants; not so much, however, thath this holy see could rejoice in the full success of its efforts in that behalf; since, on the contrary, the traffic in negroes, although in some degree diminished, is yet, hitherto, carried on by many Christians. Wherefore WE, desiring to turn away so great a reproach as this from all the voundaries of Christians, and the whole matter being maturely weighed, certain cardinals of the holy Roman Church, our venerable brethen being also called into council, treading in the footsteps of our predecessors, with apostolic authority, do vehemently admonish and adjure in the Lord all believers in Christ, of whatsoever condition, that no one hereafter may dare unjustly to molest Indians, negroes, or other men of this sort; or to spoil them of their goods; or to reduce them to slavery; or to extend help or favour to others who perptrate such things against them; or to exercise thath inhuman trade by which negroes, as if they were not men, but mere animals, howsoever reduced into slavery, are, without any distinction, contrary to the laws of justice and humanity, bought, sold, and doomed sometimes to the most sever and exhausting labours; and, moreover, the hope of gain being by that trade proposed to the first captors of teh negroes, dissensions, also, and as it were, perpetual wars are formented in their countries. We, indeed, with apostolicauthority, do strictly prohibit and interdict some to defend that very trade in negroes as, lawful under any pretext or studied excuse, or otherwise to preach, or in any manner, publicly or privately, to teach contrary to those things which we have charged in this, our Apostolic Letter. But that this, our same letter, may be more easily notorious to all, nor any one may be able to allege ignorance of it, we decree and order it to our cursitors, at the doors of the church of Chancery, and of the General Court upon Campo di Fiora de urbe, and the copies to be fixed there.

Given at Rome, at St. Mary Major's, under the Fisherman's Ring, on the 3d day of December, 1839, in the ninth year of our pontificate.