David Walker

Start Free Trial

How does David Walker describe slavery in America in his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World? How does it conflict with American ideals and Christianity?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

David Walker makes it clear that slavery is incompatible with American values as outlined in the Declaration of Independence. He points out that the language of the declaration says that all men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights. This means that these same rights should be extended to all men, regardless of their skin color. He points out the hypocrisy of Americans keeping slaves because of this.

He says that black people in America are the most wretched, degraded, and abject human beings in the world as a direct consequence of slavery. Walker uses the Christianity practiced by a majority of Americans at that time to show even more just how hypocritical it is for black people to be kept as slaves. The tenents of the Bible and the way it shows that slavery is wrong is something that slaveholders choose to ignore so that they can keep their slaves and keep denying rights to black Americans. He also points out that God can't be a God of Justice if he denies justice to black people and slaves. He repeatedly brings up the idea of Christianity, God, and slavery to show how interconnected these concepts are and to drive home the hypocrisy. He also explains that people in other religions offer those of other races kindness if they join their religion but that isn't something that American Christians do for black people.

Walker shows that people think of black people as less than them. There are laws preventing them from marrying white people. They are not represented in public office. However, he says that white people always want to say that the position of black people isn't difficult. They ignore the problems that exist in society because it's easier to do so.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I’m so excited to get to answer a David Walker question; I studied his Appeal in depth during college, and it’s always good to be able to use information that doesn't often apply to real-world situations! One thing that’s very important to note about Walker’s Appeal is who he is appealing to. The full title of the work is David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. He isn’t writing to or for white Americans; rather, he imagines a black, multi-national audience, and his depiction of slavery reflects this.

He defines American slavery as part of a wider historical and global phenomenon of subjugation. He links black peoples' experiences of slavery to the oppression of the Israelites at the hands of the ancient Egyptians. In so doing, he links American slavery to an event of epic, biblical proportions. Personally, I don’t think that Walker had much faith in the American political system. I read his descriptions of “the Republican land of liberty” to be more sarcastic than anything else. After all, he is not trying to appeal to or assimilate with white America or its dominant political culture. More than anything, I think he calls out the hypocrisy of America’s founding principles; to him, the idea that any meaningful liberty could occur alongside a system of slavery is a farce. More compelling to Walker are the biblical concept of justice and the broader political possibility of black people enjoying liberty outside the context of American democracy.

As far as the role of Christianity in Walker’s Appeal, I could (and actually did) write an entire essay on this subject alone. For the sake of brevity, however, I will focus on two themes that relate to religion in the text: the treatment of a group Walker refers to as “the white Christians of America” and the role that this text plays as a jeremiad. Walker explicitly and unequivocally rebukes the Christianity practiced by white Americans, writing that it is used to justify slavery. Moreover, Walker argues that white slaveholders use Christianity as a cover for their crimes against black bodies. Walker, however, makes it clear that Christianity as a belief system is not the issue. In fact, he uses Christian theology as the basis of his argument in favor of abolition, writing that

These positions I shall endeavour, by the help of the Lord, to demonstrate in the course of this Appeal, to the satisfaction of the most incredulous mind—and may God Almighty, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ open your hearts to understand and believe the truth.

More specifically, Walker harnesses the authority of a higher power to craft a jeremiad, or list of complaints culminating in a prophecy of punishment for wrongdoers. He warns:

Will not the Scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem, who had nothing but the laws of Moses and the Prophets to go by, rise up in judgment against Christian Americans, and condemn them.

He also cites God’s punishment for the people of Egypt in response to their treatment of the Israelites as an example of what happens when oppressors face the wrath of a just and angry God.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial