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In the years preceding the American Civil War, religion was at the heart of the debate over slavery. William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) had rejected the strict Calvinism of his background to become the leading Unitarian spokesman and preacher, and in later life he began to address the subject of slavery. Published in 1836, this work was Channing's most substantial contribution to the debate, revealing the real difficulties men such as Channing had in questioning a practice with which they had grown up. He vacillates between contempt for the institution and empathy for the slaveholders, writing, 'I do not intend to pass sentence on the character of the slave-holder.' He sees black slaves as humans, but not of equal status with white people. The final chapter is particularly prescient: 'There is a great dread ... that the union of the States may be dissolved by the conflict about slavery.'