Henry Van Dyke Sermon on Abolitionism

Publication Year: 1860

Van Dyke, Henry Jackson. The Character and Influence of Abolitionism: a Sermon Preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, on Sabbath Evening, Dec. 9th, 1860 (New York: G.F. Nesbit & Co., 1860). 
PHS Call number: PAM E 449 .V242 1860

Reading suggestions

See especially pages 20-21, 23, 30-34, and 36. 

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Source note

The zealous language and seemingly extreme tactics of some abolitionists brought about criticism from many Americans in the early to mid-19th century, including some Protestant ministers. Henry Van Dyke (1822-1891) was a Presbyterian minister of the Old School branch. In this 1860 sermon, he states that slavery was a necessary step in bringing Africans towards Christianity and that abolitionists were dividing the country. Educated at Princeton Theological Seminary, Van Dyke spent most of his career in Brooklyn, New York. His anti-abolitionist stance was not uncommon in the north—a reminder that division over the institution of slavery did not fall neatly along the Mason-Dixon line. 

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Reading questions

1.    Who is the author of this document? Who is his audience? How might his audience differ from that of Document 1’s author, Daniel Rice?

2.    Under what conditions, according to Van Dyke, is slavery “permitted and regulated by the Divine law, under both the Jewish and Christian dispensations (page 20)”?

3.    What common and long-used apology for the institution of slavery does Van Dyke use in his sermon, on page 20? How do you think this argument was received in his Brooklyn, NY church?

4.    Why does Van Dyke sympathize with the pro-secession ministers Dr. Thornwell of South Carolina, and Dr. Palmer of New Orleans (page 21)? 

5.    What rebuttal does Van Dyke offer to the abolitionist’s argument that “the idea of property in man blots out his manhood, and degrades him to the level of a brute or a stone (page 23)”?

6.    What purpose might Van Dyke have in claiming “the States in which Abolitionism has achieved its most signal triumphs, are at the same time the great strongholds of infidelity in the land (page 30)”? How does this point support his larger argument about the evils of abolitionism?

7.    Van Dyke quotes from an article in the Princeton Review that foretells a violent clash over the issue of slavery, a conflict that will tear the country apart. How does Van Dyke’s opinion on this subject differ from Rice’s? How important is the timing of Van Dyke’s sermon, versus the timing of Rice’s to the writer’s attitudes about how the end of slavery will come about (page 33)?

8.    Why, according to Van Dyke, is the issue of slavery “a conflict that will run the ploughshare of division through every state and neighborhood in the land (page 36)”?

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Source type
History Topics
Abolition and Anti-slavery
African American History
Presbyterian History
Time Period
Slavery, Sectionalism, and Social Reform (1815-1861)