The consciences of individual Christians have often placed them at odds with the behavior of their neighbors. The trail to civil rights was blazed by Christians, especially those who belonged to minority sects. In the Americas, Quakers frequently took the lead. That was true on this day, February 18, 1688, when four Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania wrote a protest against enslavement of blacks. This is known as the Germantown Protest.
The four men were Garret Hendericks, Derick up de Graeff, Abraham up den Graef and Francis Daniell Pastorius. Pastorius struggled to word the protest in passable English. Its principle argument, based on the golden rule, was that Christians should do as they would want to be done by. Did capture by Turks frighten whites? In the same way, capture by whites frightened black people. Would whites fight for their freedom? Then blacks had the same right.
Another moral objection to slavery was its nature as theft. It is just as wrong to buy goods you know are stolen as it is to steal the goods yourself. Were not blacks stolen and brought to America against their will? Pastorius pointed out that many of those who would read his argument enjoyed freedom of conscience in Pennsylvania for the first time in their lives. They had fled Europe to escape intolerance there. Why then would they oppress blacks in the same hateful manner in which they had been oppressed?
Adultery is wrong. Yet slavers forced adultery on men and women by breaking up marriages when they resold husbands and wives to different owners. How could such actions be condoned by Christians? The bad report of American slavery shocked the conscience of Europe and kept potential immigrants away. Slavery was not an exercise of Christian liberty, but desperate wrongdoing.
The Germantown protest was written for presentation to a larger monthly meeting to be held at "Richard Worrell's place." Although many German-speaking Quaker and Moravian communities in Pennsylvania and surrounding states stoutly refused to own slaves, others ignored Pastorius's words and joined their secular neighbors in the dreadful human traffic.
The Germantown Protest was lost and not rediscovered for 144 years, just before the Civil War, when demands for the abolition of slavery were at their height. What misery the United States would have been spared if men had listened to the moral warning issued by the four German-speaking men in 1688. What moral warnings do we neglect today that will cost our children equal grief in the future?
- Bacon, Margaret A. The Quiet Rebels; the story of the Quakers in America. New York: Basic Books, Inc, 1969, p.94.
- "Germantown and Daniel Francis Pastorius." (www.voicenet.com/~wordinfo/deutsch/earlyhistory.htm). Last accessed December 2004.
- "Pastorius, Francis Daniel." Dictionary of American Biography. New York : Scribner, 1958-1964.
- Tolles, Frederick B. Quakers and the Atlantic Culture. New York: Macmillan, 1960, p.125.
- Various internet articles.