"The Lord gave me a sympathetic nature, so that I could not help sympathizing with innocent sufferers. Hence, early in life I set myself against slave holding. Some of the keenest sensation of mental anguish I ever felt were occasioned by contemplating the cruelties inflicted upon slaves.”
Reverend John Rankin, a Christian pastor, dedicated his life to ending slavery in America. Rankin was one of Ohio’s first and most active “conductors” on the Underground Railroad. Rankin opened his home, which sat on a hill on the far side of the Ohio River, to fleeing slaves. Rankin’s family used a lantern to signal those escaping from Kentucky when it was safe to cross the river. Rankin also built a staircase leading up the hill to their house for slaves to climb to safety.
On one occasion, Rankin saw a barefooted slave woman running across the iced-over river, holding a child. He helped her escape to safety and then later told the story to his friend, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe took that true story and wrote one of the most influential books about slavery called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Rankin preached against slavery from the platform of his church. He also went on tour to different churches throughout the Northern states to preach in support of immediately freeing slaves. Rankin’s efforts nearly cost him his life and his home when attackers came in the middle of the night to burn down his house. He was often the victim of mob violence because of his views.
Rankin was among the 62 founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society. He wrote persuasively against the practice of slavery. After discovering that his brother owned slaves, Rankin wrote a series of anti-slavery letters to him that were published in a local newspaper. The letters were eventually published as a book titled “Letters on Slavery,” and they were printed in William Lloyd Garrison’s famous anti-slavery newspaper, “The Liberator.” Rankin’s thoughts were so well-written that they became standard reading for all anti-slavery advocates in the America.
CENTERED ON CHRIST
Rankin was a sincere Christian who believed that owning slaves was a sin against God. In writing against slavery, Rankin cited concepts from the Bible that God created man to be free.
In his “Letters on Slavery,” Rankin wrote:
“The Creator is infinitely wise, and consequently must have created every being in his universe for occupying some particular station in the scale of created existence —To suppose him to create, without design, is to suppose him unwise. Again, if he has created every being to occupy a particular station in the scale of existence, he must have adapted the nature of every being to the station for which it was intended. To create for a particular purpose, and not adapt the thing created to that purpose, would argue the greatest want of wisdom…. It is most absurd to imagine that beings created with capacity for liberty were designed for bondage.
Did the capacity for freedom stand alone, it might itself be considered an argument sufficient to establish our point; but it stands not alone; it combines with it all the original properties of human nature—with it all these unite as so many heralds, sent by the Almighty to declare that man never was formed for involuntary slavery. Every man, who possesses all the original properties of humanity, desires to obtain knowledge, wealth, reputation, liberty, and a vast variety of other objects which are necessary to complete his happiness. Now who does not see how inconsistent slavery is with the acquirement and enjoyment of all these objects of desire, and how directly it is opposed to the happiness of man?... Finally, every man desires to be free, and this desire the Creator himself has implanted in the bosoms of all our race, and is certainly a conclusive proof that all were designed for freedom; else man was created for disappointment and misery.”