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to protect him, should not be permitted to deliver him up, but should give him shelter, and suffer him to dwell in safety, wherever he chose, without oppressing him.
This beneficent statute was, in this view, a key-stone for the arch of freedom which the Jewish legislation was appointed to rear in the midst of universal despotism and slavery ; it formed a security for the keeping of all the other many provisions in favor of those held to labor or domestic service; it opened a gate of refuge for the oppressed, and operated as a powerful restraint against the cruelty of the tyrannical master. There might be cruelty and tyranny in the land of Judea, but there was a legal escape from it; the servant, the 7, if men attempted to treat him as a slave, could quit and choose his master, was not compelled to abide in bondage, was not hunted as a fugitive, nay, by law was protected from being so hunted, and everywhere, on his escape, found friends in every dwelling, and a friend and protector in the law.
It is impossible that such a provision as this should be made only in regard to the heathen slaves of the Canaanites, or of the nations around Judea, since the Jews were forbidden to enter into any treaties with the Canaanites, and were commanded to bring under tribute of service as many of them as were spared. Their whole legislation, in regard to all the heathen, was by no means that of amity with masters or kings, but of opposition and of jealousy against them. They were forbidden to enter into covenant with them. Nor was there any more need of a statute for not restoring heathen slaves that had fled into the country of the Hebrews, than there would be of a law in Great Britain for not restoring the slaves of Egypt, or of the South-Sea Islanders, or of the cannibals or savages in New Zealand, that had got away from their masters. But there might be need of such a law among the Hebrews, to mitigate the evils of servitude, to preserve the 702, the indentured servant of all work, from cruelty and oppression, to prevent his service from passing into slavery, and to render it for the master's interest to treat him well and kindly, as knowing that, if he did not, the in
jured servant could escape from him, and seek another mas. ter, with impunity. So, if he would not lose him altogether, he was compelled to treat him kindly.
There was no such law as this, no such humane statute, among the heathen ; and hence the heathen masters were ferocious despots, and were accustomed to restore fugitive slaves, even for the support of the system of slavery, that there might be neither relief nor release from their own authority, nor restraint nor check upon their own cruelty. Accordingly we see the terror of the Egyptian slave whom David encountered after the foray upon Ziklag, lest he should be sent back to his master (1 Sam. 30: 15). The slave called himself a young man of Egypt (973), the servant (972) to an Amalekite (1 Sam. 30: 11), and his master had left him to die, because he fell sick. He made David swear that he would not send him back into that slavery. There was no such system of slavery among the Hebrews, and, with this humane law, there could be none. The operation of this law, in connection with other statutes, was certain, at length, to destroy all remains of slavery among the people, and to make all within the limits of the Hebrew nation wholly free. To bring about this desirable end, God so surrounded the system of servitude with wholesome checks, and entangled and crippled it with such meshes of benevolent legislation, such careful protection of the servants, such guardianship of their rights, such admission of them to all the privileges of the covenant, such instruction of them, and such adoption of them at length as Hebrews, even when they were foreigners at first, that, in that land, among that people, there could be no such thing as that system of injustice, cruelty, and robbery, which we call slavery. It did not, and it could not, exist.
Force of the demonstration from this Statute against the pos.
sibility of Property in Man. This law, like the grand statute against man-stealing, strikes at the principle of property in man. It shows that
God would not permit human beings to be regarded as property, as slaves in our day are considered property. Even if they had been called slaves, it is clear that their masters were not considered to be their owners, for they could take themselves off at pleasure, if oppressed, and nevertheless no wrong was charged upon them for thus escaping from bondage. They did not belong to the master in such manner that wherever found he had a claim upon them, and they must be given back. When they fled away, they were not considered as having stolen themselves; and the man who found them neither acquired any claim over them himself, nor was under any obligation to the master to return them or to inform against them. The master, in such a case, was not the owner.
This statute must be compared, under this view, with the laws concerning the restoration of articles of property, whether found or stolen, and it will at once be seen what a difference is made between the ownership of a man over his servants, and over his cattle, his lands, his houses, and all riches. Ex. 23: 4: “ If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.” So in Deuteronomy: “ Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them; thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother. And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again. In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost things of thy brother's, which he has lost and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise; thou mayest not hide thyself” (Deut. 22: 1–3).
Now as to the force of this demonstration that men cannot be property, that men-servants and maid-servants were not and could not be the property of their masters, it makes no difference whether this statute be restricted to the heathen or not. It was incumbent on the Jew, if he saw the ox or the ass, even of his enemy, even of a heathen, or a stranger,
going astray, to inform him of it, or bring the animal back; it belonged to the man who had lost it, from whose power it had escaped. But if the servant of the same man, worth to him fourfold, escaped from him, and the Jew knew it, there was not only no obligation to let the master know, or to help return the fugitive, but a direct command from God not to do this, but on the contrary to aid and protect the fugitive. It is impossible to deny or condemn more forcibly the assumption of property in man. Yet that is the assumption on which slavery is grounded, and if God condemns
he does the other. We may add
add that, if the servant in any class, either the or the map, had been regarded as property, and if the law against the recapture or restoration of fugitive servants was intended only with reference to foreigners, and did not apply to the Hebrews, then must the exception necessarily have been made clear in such a statute as Deut. 22: 1-3. “All lost things” of his brother's, a Hebrew was bound to restore; and if slaves were property, and the Hebrews had held slaves, then inevitably must lost or escaped slaves have been enumerated as among the things to be restored. Compare Ex. 22: 9, “ For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges, and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbor.” If men had not been forbidden thus to challenge the fugitive 79, the escaping servant, as their property, a like provision must inevitably have been made for trying this claim also before the judges. But in the whole history of the Hebrews, there are no instances on record of the reclamation of fugitive slaves in their country, under their laws. There are cases mentioned of servants escaping; and the statute itself was the supposition that they would escape, and formed a protection and a safeguard for them; but there is never a case named, nor any intimation of any such event, of a master hunting for slaves, going in search of, or reclaiming, his runaway property, in the country of
the Hebrews. There are instances of men going from Dan to Beersheba to hunt up and reclaim an ox or an ass, but never a hint of any such thing as a man hunting, or reclaiming, or recapturing, a fugitive servant.
And yet, from incidental testimony, the more striking because it falls out naturally in the course of the history of David, we said that it was no uncommon thing for servants to escape, and to be going at large, unmolested. Nabal's complaint to the messengers of David proves this ; " there be many servants (07797) nowadays, that break away every man from his master (1 Sam. 25: 10);” and the manner of the complaint argues the anger of Nabal because such a thing could be, and the servants get off with impunity. But no instance can be found of any man undertaking, with marshals, or otherwise, to recapture them. There is no hint of any posse comitatus at the disposal of the master for this purpose. Had there been such a thing as a Fugitive Slave Law against the slave, instead of one for his protection, Nabal's language would rather have been that of threatening, than complaint. “ You rogues, if you do not take your. selves off, I will have you arrested as fugitive slaves, such as you doubtless are, you vagrant rascals. I will have lodged in the county jail, and, if your master does not appear, you shall be sold to pay the jail fees.” But Nabal's language is that of “ a son of Belial,” who is furious because there is no help for such insubordination against tyranny.
The case of Shimei must be considered in illustration, because, at first thought, it might seem to be an exception, and might appear as an instance of reclamation. 1 Kings 2: 39, 40. Two of the servants (1977) of Shimei ran away to Achish, king of Gath, son of Maachah, and from thence information came to Shimei; and in his blind haste to recapture these runaways, forgetting or despising his oath to Solomon, he saddled his ass and went to Gath, and found his servants, and brought them back to Jerusalem. It is no wonder, from the description given of Shimei's cursed manners and disposition, that his servants, even purchased, as they may have been, from the heathen, could