John Leland: Evolving Views of Slavery, 1789-1839
 As published in the Baptist History and Heritage Journal











Leland Essay Main Page   /    More Writings by Bruce Gourley 


(Part 1 of 7)

In 1789, the General Committee of Virginia Baptists turned to Massachusetts native John Leland to craft a statement concerning slavery. 

An articulate spokesperson for religious liberty among Virginia Baptists, Leland produced a stirring statement against slavery. (1) "Slavery is the violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with republican government," Leland declared, as he called for "the use of every legal measure to extirpate this horrible evil from the land." (2)

Fifty years later, in 1839, Leland, then living in his home state of Massachusetts, called the institution of slavery "humane, just and benevolent," and argued for the rights of slave owners rather than the liberty of slaves. In addition, Leland declared that slavery was "not an article to be settled by legislation.... It belongs to the moral and religious department, and not to the legislative." (3)

Continue to Historiography of Leland's Views on Slavery