as unexceptional and unobjectionable. With more than 17,000 enslaved men and women on their estates in Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Quito, and New Granada, the Jesuits as of 1760 were the largest slaveholders in South America, to cite only the most egregious example of church investment in unfree labour.2
The clergy, moreover, had provided the institution of slavery with crucial ideological support. The proslavery ideas mobilized by the defenders of slavery during the eighteenth century drew upon traditions that dated back to the founding of the faith. Christian slaveholders cited Paul and his instructions to both slaves and masters to honour their respective duties to one another. Further, Saint Augustine had taught that slavery represented just one of many consequences of the sinful condition of humanity; it was original sin that had made subjection to established authority a necessity. The morally and spiritually weak, Aquinas had added, stood to benefit from the supervision and authority of the strong. This cultural tradition provided a useful resource for Europeans looking to justify African slavery in the Americas. It helped cast slavery as part of the sacred order, even though slavery had been declining in western Europe during the late medieval and early modern eras. The confrontation with Islam over the preceding centuries had encouraged a tendency to consider adherence to the Christian faith a distinctive marker of identity that conveyed privileges as well as duties. If Christians could hold heathens in captivity, it was wrong to enslave other Christians. This emphasis on differences between those within and outside the faith helped theologians decide that Africans suffered from the Curse of Ham, which decreed that the progeny of his son Canaan would be consigned to slavery in perpetuity - a point of view to which defenders of slavery in the Americas would return with some frequency. For these benighted children of Africa, some slaveholders argued, the Atlantic slave trade might be regarded as providing a rescue from heathen lands. These arguments were made by churchmen as well as by their parishioners. The defenders of slavery included the most prominent and influential of theologians in Europe and the Americas, from New England to New Spain.3
Christianity, then, was as important to the expansion ofslavery in the Americas, as it was to its demise. In crucial ways, the antislavery movements of the late eighteenth century had 'secular' origins. The campaigns represented one consequence of the emergence and expansion of print culture, the ethos of politeness and sensibility, new theories of economic behaviour and new definitions of economic interests, a growing scepticism towards prescriptive authority, and, perhaps most importantly, a consequential series of conflicts
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