“[A] Negro may Justly Challenge, and has an undeniable right to his . . . Liberty: Consequently, the practice of Slave-Keeping, which so much abounds in this Land is illicit.”
A patriot who fought during the American Revolution, Lemuel Haynes combined his Calvinist beliefs with the pro-independence ideals of the period—including those introduced in the Declaration of Independence—to denounce slavery as a sin and argue for the emancipation of enslaved people in America. In his 1776 essay “Liberty Further Extended,” he points out the irony of slave owners pursuing their own independence while denying liberty to others. Haynes’s piece, also known as “Free Thoughts on the Illegality of Slave Keeping,” was never published during his lifetime—it was discovered by Ruth Bogin in a Harvard University archive in 1983, more than two centuries after he wrote it.
By 1776, the relationship between the American colonies and Great Britain had deteriorated beyond the possibility of reconciliation. Tensions had slowly built since King George III and Parliament began raising and introducing new taxes on the colonies in the 1760s to help lower the debt Britain incurred during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). The new tax rates, coupled with unpopular policies—such as the Quartering Act of 1765, which required the colonies to provide provisions and housing for British troops—fostered increased indignation among the colonies and fanned pro-independence fervor.
In 1770, rhetoric and protests gave way to open confrontations and violence. In New York, a group of protesting colonists clashed with British troops over the governor’s decision to dissolve that colony’s legislature—for refusing to comply with the Quartering Act—and replace it with a more submissive body. Later that year, a group of British soldiers stationed in Boston opened fire on an angry crowd of colonists, killing five men.
The Boston Tea Party of 1773 sent the independence movement into a fever pitch. A group of men disguised as Mohawk Indians showed their opposition to a new tax on non-British tea by dumping several shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor. Parliament responded by imposing a new set of highly restrictive laws and measures on the colonies. The laws were known as the Coercive Acts, or the Intolerable Acts, as they were dubbed in the colonies.
The colonies protested the Acts by convening the First Continental Congress in 1774, which appealed to Parliament to lift its increasingly oppressive hand from the colonies. At the same time, the Congress also authorized raising military forces to counter the British threat. Twenty-one-year-old Haynes, who had just been released from indentured servitude, was among the men who enlisted as a minuteman soldier.
In April 1775, the colonies put this militia to use at Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolution. Haynes later wrote a poem celebrating the fight between the minutemen and British regulars. The following month, the Second Continental Congress convened, during which the Continental Army was raised under the command of General George Washington. Then, in 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote and Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, an official proclamation to the British that America was no longer the property of the Crown. Haynes, inspired by the language used in the Declaration, wrote his own treatise about freedom, “Liberty Further Extended.”
Lemuel Haynes was born on July 18, 1753, in West Hartford, Connecticut. His mother, who was white, came from a well-established family, but she and Haynes’s African father abandoned young Haynes. Shortly thereafter, he was bound to indentured service to farmer David Rose in Granville, Massachusetts. He remained with the Rose family until he reached the age of twenty-one. While working for the Roses, he developed an interest in reading, especially the Bible and related literature. He also occasionally conducted church services while still in his teenage years.
In 1774, Haynes reached the end of his servitude. He joined the minutemen shortly thereafter and, once it was raised, enlisted in the Continental Army, serving in a Connecticut military unit that operated under then Colonel Ethan Allen. A year after the Battles of Lexington and Concord of 1775, Haynes penned one of his most well-known ballads, “The Battle of Lexington,” in which he makes the statement, “Much better those in Death Consign / Than a Surviving Slave.” Haynes identifies himself in that poem as a mulatto who taught himself to read. He wrote “Liberty Further Extended” that same year.
After the war, Haynes returned to Connecticut to study Greek and Latin and pursue his education as a minister. He received approval for his preaching license in 1780. Three years later, he married a white schoolteacher, Elizabeth Babbitt, with whom he had ten children. In 1785, he became the first African American officially ordained as a minister. In, 1788, after being subjected to strong prejudice by a number of the members of his all-white Connecticut congregation, Haynes moved to rural Vermont.
Haynes spent more than thirty years in service to his congregation of Rutland, Vermont, which was part of the “New Light” brand of evangelical Protestantism. There, he developed a reputation as an outstanding orator and writer. He was prolific, publishing thousands of sermons. Haynes’s congregation grew considerably over the years, a testament to his effectiveness as a pastor. In 1804, he received an honorary master’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont, the first such degree awarded by that institution.
After three decades of service, however, Haynes’s contract was not renewed. Haynes and others in the congregation acknowledged that his race likely played a major role in his dismissal from the Rutland congregation. He moved on to a short stint in Manchester, Vermont, where he successfully defended two murder suspects. For the remainder of his life, Haynes served as a minister to a congregation in northern New York. He died on September 28, 1833, in Granville, New York.
Although the exact date on which “Liberty Further Extended” was written is unknown, it is believed to have been created shortly after the Declaration of Independence was adopted. This assumption is based on Haynes’s choice of verbiage, which appears to be greatly influenced by the ideals articulated in that iconic document. Haynes’s essay begins with a commentary on the value of freedom and liberty to each human. He describes freedom as a natural principle ingrained in every person and bestowed by God. It is to be expected, therefore, that every person would vigorously defend his or her liberty from those who claim to have the authority to govern it. In these areas, “Liberty Further Extended” seems to echo the ideals set forth by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration.
However, Haynes expands this argument beyond a statement solely against the tyranny of the British. “Liberty” evolves into a statement on slavery and the plight of enslaved African Americans, taking to task what Haynes suggests is a hypocritical notion: that the colonies should be free from the bondage of the British and yet take others into servitude. The only way to make a true statement against oppression, Haynes argues, is for all people in America to be able to safeguard and enjoy their freedom.
“Liberty Further Extended” starts with a broad statement about freedom. Liberty, Haynes states, is an “innate” concept, one instilled in every human. It should not be viewed as strange if a person places a high value in his or her freedom and therefore seeks to pursue it throughout his or her life—such a pursuit is simply part of his or her nature. It should also not seem unusual that a person whose individual liberties are threatened by another would defend those liberties by confronting the attacker; if the person does not defend his or her own interests from such an attack, such a submissive position could be viewed as counteractive to the laws of nature.
Liberty, Haynes explains, is like a jewel that comes from the “cabinet of [Heaven].” God handed down this precious item to humanity. God, therefore, is the only one who can rescind it. Additionally, this gift is eternal, according to Haynes. Freedom, in his estimation, is “coeval”—it has existed as long as God himself has existed. It is therefore one of the most treasured principles in existence throughout the universe. Any individual who acts to take another man’s freedom, Haynes states, presumes to have God’s authority to do so, since God is the only party with the ability to take away that which he gave humanity.
Haynes continues this line of thought by suggesting that all people are equals according to the laws of nature, and that all people are given the gift of liberty in equal proportions in accordance with God’s will. Of course, a man might claim to be superior over others according to natural privilege, as was the case with British royalty as well as those who practiced slavery. However, any individual who makes such a claim needs to provide evidence of this natural “preeminence.” If he fails to prove his incomparability, his status should be considered suspect. Haynes suggests that any such claim would be dubious, as all people are given in equal proportions the gift of liberty.
Following this discussion, the essay comments on the rights of the British vis-à-vis other parties. The British right to liberty, particularly for those living in the American colonies, Haynes states, had been “so clearly Evinced, Especially of Late.” In other words, the British-American conflicts of the mid-1770s proved the value that colonial Americans placed on freedom. To revisit the idea “would be But Superfluous tautology”—redundant. However, Haynes questions whether the liberty enjoyed by the British nation and its subjects abroad could in fact be localized to one single country and yet be denied to the people of another nation. To accept the notion that any person—”Even an African”—should enjoy the same rights to liberty as do the British, seems logical to Haynes. Such an ideal is simply an extension of the argument that people should enjoy the liberty bestowed on them by God.
Haynes expounds upon his point about African liberty by commenting on the slave trade. People involved in the slave trade, he states, claim to have evidence of their God-given superiority over those whom they take into slavery. In fact, many of the Europeans who helped launch the transatlantic slave trade did use ambiguous language found in the Bible—specifically, the Book of Genesis—as the basis for taking and selling Africans as slaves. In Genesis, Noah, following the Great Flood, places the curse of slavery on Canaan, the son of his son, Ham; Ham had committed an unspecified act to anger his father. The accursed Canaan later settles in Africa. His descendants, therefore, were—in the minds of those seeking justification for the practice—subject to slavery. Haynes discounts this and other such stories, however, saying that any person who claims to find justification for slavery is incorrect. Even the most rational arguments in this arena, given a thorough and careful examination, fail to prove sufficient to validate taking people into servitude.
According to Haynes, every human at the time (1776) seemed focused on his or her own respective freedom and liberty. Liberty was not an issue in the just American colonies either: Haynes states that it “is the subject of many millions Concern” around the world. Most people would rather lose their lives than sacrifice their freedom. Furthermore, people would defend their freedoms with great zeal when confronted by an invader.
Then again, although people would staunchly protect their own interests in this regard, Haynes states that it is not a stretch to argue that each person has the potential to oppress others in a fashion similar to that from which he or she would seek safety. At the time, the focus of the colonists was on the oppressive actions of Britain. However, Haynes wants every person to look inward, taking into consideration the way they treat and possibly oppress others in a similar, if not far greater way.
Haynes reemphasizes his point by stating that an African, like any other person, has an “undeniable right” to defend his liberty against those who would take it from him. He acknowledges that the practice of slavery was flourishing in America, providing a testament to the prevailing opinion among the colonists that the liberty which Americans sought applied only to white colonists and not to the slaves they kept. However, in Haynes’s opinion, slavery is an illegal practice.
Next, Haynes reiterates his belief that the privileges that all of humanity enjoys are given by God and can therefore only be rescinded by God and His “Court of Heaven.” Any legal institution on earth that rescinds a person’s God-given rights is offending the edicts of Heaven. Furthermore, that earthbound institution has taken the form of “an unreasonable, and tyrannic power.” In light of these circumstances, any action, even a legal one, that attempts to strip a person of his or her rights and liberty should, according to Haynes, be considered illegal.
Further elaborating on his views on liberty and those who should have freedom, Haynes claims that all of humanity descends from the same bloodline. He cites the New Testament’s Book of Acts, Chapter 17, as evidence of humanity’s common heritage. In this story, Paul, who was charged with spreading around the world the news about Christ’s resurrection, travels to several cities in Greece. Some of the Jewish people to whom he presents this information are highly skeptical of the news. Passing by one of the idols in Athens, Paul reads the inscription across it. The inscription, “To The Unknown God,” speaks of the notion that this god has created men in singular fashion, that every person of every nation is born from a single blood through his will. Paul finds commonality with this idol, saying that the “unknown” god is the same as his God, and that all of humanity is descended from God.
Haynes builds upon this ideal of a common heritage among all humanity. Since every human is part of the same species, they are also subject to the same laws and ideals of any nation. Each person plays an equal role in the pursuit of his or her respective nation’s aspirations. Furthermore, the effects of a nation’s laws, ideals, and pursuits should be felt in similar fashion by each member of the society. Haynes’s point here is that every person within a society should have equal footing.
In light of this right, Haynes argues, an aspect of life which one man regards as “precious” is also likely be seen as invaluable to others. Similarly, that which is seen by one person as “irksome, or intolerable” is likely be so to others within the society. This connection is due, according to Haynes, to the “Law of Nature” from which the pursuit of human happiness is derived.
Here, the influence of the pro-independence movement on Haynes is particularly evident. Like many other Revolutionary War figures, such as Thomas Jefferson, Haynes believed that people were born into a “natural state.” This concept was introduced by John Locke, a seventeenth century political philosopher whose ideals heavily influenced heavily the American Revolution. According to Locke, individuals in their natural state pursue their own interests and happiness, but join together on issues of common interest, such as defense and security. The resulting government that arises from a state of nature is inherently limited and not intrusive. Any laws developed within this state are applied equally because every person’s right to his liberty is to be considered equal.
Taking this concept into account, Haynes believed that the notions of liberty and bondage should be equally addressed by every member of society. The principle of liberty, he argues, is “as precious to a Black man, as it is to a white one.” Conversely, slavery is to an African as odious a concept as it is to a European.
Haynes understood that slavery was part of America’s economic engines and that, in order to be such, the people who engaged in it either did not find it morally abhorrent or were simply indifferent on the subject. However, Haynes’s point is that a white man would welcome his own liberty and defend himself against bondage. Others, he argues, should be expected to do the same.
From this perspective, slavery negatively impacts the state of nature in which all people live. According to Haynes’s argument, if a man living in a natural state impedes upon the interests—namely, freedom—of others in pursuit of his own happiness, conflict would arise, necessitating the intervention of an external intermediary such as the government. In other words, the natural state of human existence would be disrupted because of the conflict between those who have their freedom and those who would take it from them.
Haynes’s arguments for the liberty and freedom of all people, no matter the color of their skin, involve the analysis of both natural law and the word of God. Haynes makes clear his belief that there is no differentiation between races in natural law. He returns to the idea that slavery is a concept only allowed by God. Any privileges to which humanity has access, including liberty, Haynes reiterates, are given by God. God’s law does not place any race above another. Furthermore, as liberty is a gift from God, no one other than God has the authority to take away such rights without the express permission of the individual relinquishing them.
Haynes further takes to task any historical or spiritual event that white people could perceive as grounds for participating in the practice of slavery. There is no discernible precept or practice described in the Bible or any other Christian scripture that “constitutes a Black man a Slave, any more than a white one.” Again, Haynes is referring to the “Curse of Ham,” used by Europeans as a Biblical justification of the bondage of Africans. He then emphasizes that is no indication of slavery as acceptable under natural law, either. Natural law encompasses all of humanity, each member of which is afforded the same right to liberty. Haynes saw no merit in the idea of natural law applying differently to different people. He therefore questions the need to use a person’s skin color as the “Decisive Criterion” for judging whether or not his or her natural rights should be rescinded. Difference in skin color, to Haynes, is no reason for one person to be deprived of the same rights his neighbor enjoys and which distinguishes all humans from animals.
Haynes concludes his essay by stating that people are different from one another through their “natural abilities.” God takes pleasure from this diversity. However, these diversities are natural characteristics, not matters of natural right that are provided directly to humanity by God. Only God can govern these rights, and only God can rescind them.
By the time Haynes penned “Liberty Further Extended,” the American colonies’ call for liberty from the British Empire had escalated to war. Haynes himself was strongly influenced by the American Revolution, having joined the minutemen immediately after being released from servitude and later being a part of the Continental Army. The Declaration of Independence may have inspired him to write this essay.
Then again, Haynes was also influenced by his own servitude and experiences with racism and bigotry. He developed the view that slavery is not only unfair and morally unsavory—it is illegal and contradicted the very ideals for which American colonies were at the time fighting. The resulting document therefore melded together the independence movement and abolition.
Haynes’s essay uses two major themes to support his position. The first of these was popular among the Founding Fathers and other revolutionaries: Locke’s concept of natural law. Within this framework, Haynes argues that the natural state of being in which every human should be living does not abide or accommodate for the practice of slavery. Each person is entitled to pursue his or her own happiness, according to natural law, and retains the right to defend his or her freedom when that pursuit is threatened by others. Slavery, however, suggests that not all members of the human race are entitled to the possession and defense of freedom, and therefore exists contrary to natural law.
Haynes’s second major point is the idea that only God has the power to permit or prohibit slavery. Freedom, after all, is a precious gift bestowed upon all of humanity by God. Additionally, all of humanity is of a single bloodline, created by God. As a result of nature, many people of different colors and racial characteristics have come into being, but God looks upon this diversity with favor; no one race can presume superiority over others, since God smiles on the diversity and yet singularity of the human race. A member of the human race who seeks to take away the liberty of another is acting against God—only God is qualified to rescind a human’s freedom. Any person purporting to enjoy such authority should, according to Haynes, be greeted with skepticism. There is no reference in any religious scripture that advocates the enslavement of Africans. In order to successfully escape the oppression of the British, Americans themselves needed to stop oppressing others. Such an act, to Haynes, is both in accordance with God’s will and natural law.
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