III. We argue the voluntariness of servants from their peculiar opportunities and facilities for escape. Three times every year, all the males over twelve years, were required to attend the national feasts. They were thus absent from their homes not less than three weeks at each time, making nine weeks annually. As these caravans moved over the country, were there military scouts lining the way, to intercept deserters?—a corporal's guard at each pass of the mountains, sentinels pacing the hill-tops, and light horse scouring the defiles? The Israelites must have had some safe contrivance for taking their "slaves" three times in a year to Jerusalem and back. When a body of slaves is moved any distance in our republic, they are hand-cuffed and chained together, to keep them from running away, or beating their drivers' brains out. Was this the Mosaic plan, or an improvement introduced by Samuel, or was it left for the wisdom of Solomon? The usage, doubtless, claims a paternity not less venerable and biblical! Perhaps they were lashed upon camels, and transported in bundles, or caged up, and trundled on wheels to and fro, and while at the Holy City, "lodged in jail for safe keeping,"
a proclamation would have been an effectual lure to men whose condition was a constant counteraction of will. Besides the same command which protected the servant from the power of his foreign master, protected him equally from the power of an Israelite. It was not, "Thou shalt not deliver him unto his master" but "he shall dwell with thee, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates where it liketh him best." Every Israelite was forbidden to put him in any condition against his will. What was this but a proclamation, that all who chose to live in the land and obey the laws, were left to their own free will, to dispose of their services at such a rate, to such persons, and in such places as they pleased? Besides, grant that this command prohibited the sending back of foreign servants merely, there was no law requiring the return of servants who had escaped from the Israelites. Property lost, and cattle escaped, they were required to return, but not escaped servants. These verses contain 1st, a command, "Thou shalt not deliver," &c., 2d, a declaration of the fugitive's right of free choice, and of God's will that he should exercise it at his own discretion; and 3d, a command guarding this right, namely, "Thou shalt not oppress him," as though God had said, "If you restrain him from exercising his own choice, as to the place and condition of his residence, it is oppression."