The Heart of the Debate
Weyland presses forward, and is given the final word in their debate. He gives Fuller plenty of time to build his case to justify his right, or the right of anyone to own slaves, repeating his definition of slavery as,“You define slavery to be the right to oblige another to labor for us without his contract or consent.”(20) Weyland also notes that,“This right you (Fuller) suppose to be conferred upon us by the precepts of the New Testament.”(21) But Weyland doesn’t concede the day, but returns to what brought about his first reply to Fuller, his criticism of Fuller’s use of his book to defend his position. Weyland turns Fuller’s argument around and runs him through, noting, “If this right to oblige another man to labor for us is thus given to human nature, it is as really and truly given to black men as to white men.”(22) So that he can conclude, “Thus, if the slaves of any state or plantation should rise and enslave their masters, this precept would justify them ; and yet more, the other precepts, according to your interpretation, would oblige the masters as Christians to obey them, ‘doing service from the heart, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward’.”(23) Weyland’s closing argument is that Fuller is not being consistent with his own argument because, “…his focus [is] on the benefits of slavery…”(24)
In the final analysis, it is terribly easy to take “the winning side” in this debate, with winning being defined as the side that was surrendered to at Appomattox courthouse almost twenty years later, if the case is argued that this was the prelude to a theological was that was played out by political means. In looking at a parallel division in the Presbyterian denomination that occurred around the same time, it is asserted that, “…the North was succumbing to heresy while the South retained orthodox Christianity.”(25) Indeed, if the question of history and cultural practice were brought to bear, the summation of evidences would indeed support Fuller’s view over and against Weyland’s, although Weyland wound up turning Fuller’s argument against him in order to display a measure of utter hypocrisy.
The “winning side” of the debate, in the eyes of history had not won the battle by reasonable force of argumentation but by force of arms in the end. While these men held so much in common, “…[their] interpretive practices … would prohibit either man from persuading his opponent.”(26) It therefore is a difficult pill to swallow to believe that hermeneutical differences could serve as fuel to ignite a fire that would eventually divide a nation and lead to the deaths of over six hundred thousand.
Whether one is a Baptist or not, or even a believer or not, we are fortunate to have such a debate on record from two learned men who brought to the issue the best and most comprehensive thought. They were willing to think through their positions, and attempt to bring them together under a common authority. Both men, in one sense, were right; and both men, in another sense, were wrong. This is easy to see when their arguments are brought to light. Fuller was right to point out that the Bible saw nothing wrong with slavery as an institution, but he was wrong to assume that what he practiced was anything like what they engaged in. Weyland was right to conclude that there was an intended expiration date on certain societal practices, but he was wrong in how to bring them about. The mistake is to believe that truth is what won out. Indeed justice may have won the day, but truth was one of the casualties of the battle.
20. Fuller, Richard and Wayland, Francis. Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution: In a Correspondence Between the Rev. Richard Fuller of Beaufort, S. C., and the Rev. Francis Wayland, of Providence, RI. New York, NY: Lewis Colby Publisher. 1845. p.230
21. Fuller. p. 236
22. Fuller. p. 237
23. Fuller. p.238
24. Weaver, Doug. “Review: Domestic Slavery as Scriptural Institution.” http://jsr.fsu.edu/issues/vol15/weaver.html..
25. Sebest, Edward H. and Hague, Euan. “The US Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South”. Canadian Review of American Studies 32 no. 3 (2002). p. 265
26. Roberts, Kristoff. “Scripture in the Public Forum: The Fuller-Wayland Letters and the Debate over Domestic Slavery.” https://jsr.shanti.virginia.edu/files/2016/03/ROBERTS-READY-FOR-PUB.pdf.