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Listed Under:  Pro-Slavery Writings

John Fletcher

Wayland on conscience... Studies on Slavery, in Easy Lessons

Citation Information:John Fletcher, "Wayland on conscience as distinct faculty; Channing, Barnes and abolitionists generally on the same," Studies on Slavery, in Easy Lessons. Miami: Mnemosyne, 1969. First published Natchez, 1852.

  1. THE learned Doctor says:

  2. P.49. "By conscience, or moral sense, is meant that faculty by which we discern the moral quality of actions, and by which we are capable of certain affections in respect to this quality.

  3. "By faculty is meant any particular part of our constitution, by which we become affected by the various qualities and relations of beings around us?" * * * "Now, that we do actually observe a moral quality in the actions of men, must, I think, be admitted. Every human being is conscious, that, from childhood, he has observed it." * * * *

  4. P.50. "The question would then seem reduced to this: Do we perceive this quality of actions by a single faculty or by a combination of faculties? I think it must be evident from what has been already stated, that this is, in its nature, simple and ultimate, and distinct from every other notion.

  5. "Now, if this be the case, it seems self-evident that we must have a distinct and separate faculty, to make us acquainted with the existence of this distinct and separate quality."

  6. And for proof, he adds: "This is the case in respect to all other distinct qualities: it is, surely, reasonable to suppose, that it would be the case in this."

  7. What! have we a distinct faculty by which we determine one thing to be red, and another distinct faculty by which we discover a thing to be black; another distinct faculty by which we judge a thing to be a cube, and another distinct faculty by which we determine it to be a triangle? Have we one distinct faculty by which we find a melon and another by which we find a gourd? What! one distinct faculty by which we determine a professor of moral philosophy to be a correct teacher, and another by which we discover him to be a visionary?

  8. This faculty of moral sense puts us in mind of Dr. Testy's description of the peculiar and distinct particles upon the tongue, which render a man a liar, a lunatic, or a linguist; a treacher, a tattler, or a teacher, and so on. His theory is that every mental and moral quality of a man has its distinct particle, or little pimple, upon the tongue, whereby the quality is developed; or, by the aid of which the man is enabled to make the quality manifest. Long practice in examining the tongues of sick people enabled him, he says, to make the discovery. We should like to know what acumimated elevation of the cuticle of the tongue represented "conscience or moral sense," as a separate and distinct faculty!

  9. Why does he not at once borrow support from the extravagancies of phrenology, and assert, according to the notions of its teachers, that, since the brain is divided into distinct organs for the exercise of each distinct faculty, therefore there must be a distinct faculty for the conception of each idea? There is surely an evident relation between this theory of the author and the doctrines of Gall nor will the world fail to associate it with the phmantasies of Mesmer.

  10. But we ask the author and his pupils to apply to this theory the truism of Professor Dodd: "It is, at all times, a sufficient refutation of what purports to be a statement of facts, to show that the only kind of evidence by which the facts could possibly be sustained, does not exist."

  11. The theory by which the Doctor arrives at the conclusion that we possess a separate and distinct faculty for the perception of each separate and distinct quality, assimilates to that of a certain quack, who asserted that the human stomach was mapped off like Gall's cranium, into distinct organs of digestion; one solely for beef-steak, one for mutton-chops, and another for plum-pudding!

  12. It is a great point with certain of the higher class of abolition writers to establish the doctrine that man possesses a distinct mental power, which they call conscience, or moral sense, by which he is enabled to discover, of himself, and without the aid of study, teaching or even inspiration, what is right and what is wrong.

  13. The practice is, the child is taught by them that slavery is very wicked; that no slaveholder can be a good man; and much of such matter. Books are put into to the hands of the schoolboy and the youth, inculcating similar lessons, fraught with lamentation and sympathy for the imaginary woes of the slave, and hatred and disgust towards the master; and when maturer years are his, he is asked if he does not feel that slavery is very wicked; and the professors of moral philosophy then inform him that he feels so because he possesses "a distinct mental faculty''—distinct from the judgment —which teaches those who cultivate it, infallibly, all that is right and wrong; that this conscience, or moral sense, is more to be relied on than the Bible—than the ancient inspirations of God!

  14. Hence Channing says:

  15. "That same inward principle, which teaches a man what he is bound to do to others teaches equally, and at the same instant, what others are bound to do to him." * * * "His conscience, in revealing the moral law, does not reveal a law for himself only, but speaks as a universal legislator." * * * "There is no deeper principle in human nature than the consciousness of right." Vol. ii. p. 33.

  16. And Barnes, on Slavery, says:

  17. P.381. "If the Bible could be shown to defend and countenance slavery as a good institution, it would make thousands of infidels; for there are multitudes of minds that will see more clearly that slavery is against all the laws which God has written on the human soul, than they would see, that a book, sanctioning such a system, had evidence of Divine origin."

  18. And this same author makes Dr. Wayland say:

  19. P.310. "Well may we ask, in the words of Dr. Wayland, (pp. 83, 84,) whether there was ever such a moral superstructure raised on such a foundation? The doctrine of purgatory from a verse of Maccabees; the doctrine of papacy from the saying of Christ to Peter; the establishment of the Inquisition from the obligation to extend the knowledge of religious truth, all seem nothing to it. If the religion of Christ allows such a license from such precepts as these, the New Testament would be the greatest curse that ever was inflicted on our race.

  20. This book, as quoted by Barnes, we have not seen.

  21. Such is the doctrine of these theologians, growing out of the possession, as they imagine, of this distinct moral faculty, infallibly teaching them the truth touching the moral quality of the actions of men. And what is its effect upon their scarcely more wicked pupils? One of them, in a late speech in Congress, says:

  22. "Sir, I must express the most energetic dissent from those who would justify modern slavery from the Levitical law. My reason and conscience revolt from those interpretations which

  23. Torture the hallowed pages of the Bible,
    To sanction crime, and robbery, and blood,
    And, in oppression's hateful service, libel
    'Both man and God!'''

  24. The ignorant fanaticism, so proudly buoyant even in repose upon its ill-digested reason,—here so flippantly uttered,—to us bespeaks a dangerous man, (as far as he may have capacity,) in whatever station he may be found. The most hateful idolatry has never presented to the world a stronger proof of a distorted imagination giving vent to the rankest falsehood. It is to be deeply regretted that such intellects are ever permitted to have any influence upon the minds of the young. We deem it would be a fearful inquiry, to examine how far the strange assassinations, lately so common at the North, have been the direct result of that mental training of which we here see an example. We fear too little is thought of the quick transition from this erroneous theology to the darkened paths of man when enlightened alone by his own depraved heart.

  25. The saying is true, however awful: He who rejects or dispels the plain meaning of the Bible, rejects our God, and is an idolater: and God alone can give bound to his wicked conceptions.

  26. The foregoing extracts show us a specimen of the arguments and conclusions emanating from the doctrine that the conscience is a distinct mental power, and that it infallibly teaches what is right before God. We deem it quite objectionable—quite erroneous!

  27. We present the proposition: The judgment is as singly employed in the decision of what is right and wrong, as it is in the conclusion that all the parts of a timing constitute the whole of it. True, the judgment, when in the exercise of determining what is right and wrong in regard to our own acts, has been named conscience. But it remains for that class of philosophers, who argue that man possesses a faculty of clairvoyance, to establish that man has also a sister faculty, which they call conscience, or moral sense; annul that it exists as an independent mental power, distinct from judgment.


  28. Most men live without reflection. They think of nothing but the objects of sense, of pressing want, and the means of relief. The wonderful works of nature create no wonder. A mine of sea-shells on the Andes excites no surprise. Of the analogies or dissimilarities between things, or their essential relations, the mind takes no notice. Even their intellectual powers exist almost without their cognisance. Their mental faculties are little improved or cultivated; and, as they are forced to the Gazetteer for the description of some distant locality, so they would be to their logic, before they could speak of their own mental functions.

  29. The teaching of this doctrine, untrue as it is, may, therefore, be very harmful; as ill-informed individuals often form a very erroneous judgment about right and wrong, and, under the influence of its teachings may come to think and believe that their conclusion concerning rightt and wrong is the product of their infallible guide, the conscience, or moral sense, and therefore past all doubt and beyond question; that their minds are under the influence and control of a new and spiritually higher law than the law of the land, or even the moral law as laid down in the Bible, when not in unison with their feelings. And we venture to prophesy, in case this doctrine shall gain general credence, that such will be the rocks on which multitudes will founder; or simple and ill-informed people may thus be led, and doubtless are, to do very wicked and mischievous acts, under the influence of this belief—a belief of their possessing this power, which no one ever did possess, unless inspired.

  30. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." Prov. xvi. 25.


  31. Thus we see there is a class of theologians, who, in hot pursuit of abolitionism, seem ready to sacrifice their Bible and its religion to the establishment of such principles as they deem wholly contradictory to, and incompatible within, the existence of slavery; and it is hence that they attempt to teach that man possesses an intuitive sense of its wrong. But shall we not be forced with regret, to acknowledge, that there are quacks in divinity as well as in physic?