On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #32

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On Friday I began reading the ABS’s mail.

The letters of the ABS Corresponding Secretary in the years between 1848 and 1876 have some fascinating material related to slavery.  Yesterday I familiarized myself with an 1840s and 1850s debate between the ABS and Boston abolitionists over distributing the Bible to slaves in the South. 

The abolitionists wanted the ABS to be more proactive in bringing Bibles to the slave population. They believed that the Bible would inspire slaves to pursue freedom.  

The ABS was sympathetic, but its original constitution stated that the actual work of distribution had to be performed by local auxiliary agencies.  Of course the abolitionists claimed that the leaders of the southern auxiliaries were slaveholders and unless the ABS did something to force them to distribute Bibles to the slaves they would not do it.

This group of Boston abolitionists were mostly Protestant ministers.  They accused the ABS of keeping the Bible away from a certain class of people (slaves) much in the same way that the Roman Catholic Church kept the Bible away from the laity.  This accusation, of course, comes at a time when ABS anti-Catholicism was at an all time high.

Interesting stuff.  Stay tuned for more.