Part Three of a lecture series entitled:
Quakerism - its Origin, Development, Testimonies and Activities
written and presented to the Plainfield, NJ Friends' Adult Class on May 10, 1970
by Curt Regen
When we approach the driveway to this Meeting House we find a large bulletin board just where the mail boxes to the post office next door are located; people in their automobiles are so intent to reach the slots for dropping their mail from the car window that most of them do not see the poster; passersby occasionally stop and read them - but I wonder whether any of us here recall the text of the poster which had been placed there for the past three weeks. And if we do not recall the wording, perhaps someone remembers the origin. Well, the poster says: "True Godliness does not turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavor to mend it." And who said that? William Penn! This quotation may be considered the leitmotif for today's talk.
In the previous presentation, brief mention was made of Penn's new and different ideas, namely his "Holy Experiment" in creating a colony along new, daring lines of democracy, religious liberty and ideals of "live and let live". The urge to "mend this world", to use Penn's phrase, still exists among present-day Quakers. At least according to an English newspaper, the Sunday Citizen, which a few years ago had a feature article headed: "Stubborn reformers who think of all the best ideas first" - opening with this sentence: "The trouble about the Quakers has always been that they were ahead of their time."
But, let us not assume that all the best ideas have a Quaker origin. However, a great many contributions to the religious, political and social life of this world can be attributed to Quaker insight or actions originated by Quakers and taken up by others who have carried on. The pattern or fabric of our present- day society contains a lot of threads which can be ascribed to the gift of Quaker men and women who espoused their new, radical ideas.
To give a few hints: Why is there no more slavery in the world? Why did the original colonies become the United States? Who coined the word "Congress"? Why has each State two Senators and not another number? The injustice of "taxation without representation": is that a Quaker query, or should I say, outcry? The Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution - how much Quaker inspired are they? What is the origin of our public schools? Who created the first English grammar in the vernacular? And who had the idea of Adult Education? Why is it that so many people in the world eat English Quaker chocolate or Irish Quaker biscuits? And what have Listerine and railroad tickets to do with Quakerism? And let us not forget the care of those imprisoned and the mentally ill, also the trend toward abolishing Capital Punishment. It seems impossible to name all the phases in our society influenced by Quaker action or thought; a few detailed references must suffice.
One of William Penn's mottos was: "Liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery". The first time he applied this wisdom was in his writing the "Concessions and Agreements" which served as a constitution for the little province of West Jersey; he said: "There we lay a foundation for after ages to understand their liberty as men and Christians, that they may not be brought in bondage but by their own consent; for we put the power in the people. And later when preparing for the Government of Pennsylvania, he wrote: "Any government is free to the people under it whatever be the frame, where the laws rule and the people are a party to those laws." It is said that under Penn's frame of government, "Pennsylvania became the most consistently free colony in the country, the most consistently prosperous, the most rapid in its growth in freedom and prosperity." After the Declaration of Independence in 1776 all the newly independent colonies adopted new constitutions and it is natural that they looked toward Pennsylvania for, as Andrew Hamilton, Speaker of the Assembly, said: Pennsylvania owed her peace and prosperity not to the fertility of her soil, but to the excellence of her constitution. Another important point of view from the standpoint of democracy was religious liberty. Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Delaware, the three colonies in which the Society of Friends was strongest, were the only three that did not have a state church. Furthermore, Penn provided for change of the constitution if found necessary. At one time he said to his Assembly: "Friends, if in the constitution by charter there be anything that jars, alter it. If you want a law for this or that, prepare it ... Study peace and be at unity."
Penn realized that a really democratic constitution must be flexible to be able to adjust to changing conditions with the years. And so Penn's ideas have lived to be the models for many others. In contrast, John Locke's constitution for South Carolina, aristocratic and rigid, broke down under the first strain. Another new feature was that the Pennsylvania Assembly met and broke up by law. No longer were the people dependent on the Crown to call their governing body. We must remember that in England at that time, the King might rule for years without calling a parliament. And similarly, in other colonies the assemblies met only when they were called by the governors. This must suffice as examples of how the Quaker Penn was years ahead of his time and how others followed him.
Here are three other Quaker firsts - as far back as 1688, Friends who had settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania made a pronouncement declaring that holding a person as property is a sin against God and man, the first known expression against slavery. And in 1643, Penn suggested in his "Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace in Europe" a council of all sovereign states of Europe to adjust differences and compel submission to its resolutions. The idea of the League of Nations and now the United Nations had been planted in the minds of men nearly 2-1/2 centuries earlier. But of particular interest to us in this country is William Penn's plan of union of the colonies, a proposal made in 1696. He called for two representatives of each province to meet in New York to arrange matters of common interest, like commerce, and to find ways of supporting "the union and safety of these provinces against the public enemies." The gathering of all these two representatives of the various colonies was to be called "Congress". But in 1696, the colonies scattered and jealous of each other, had no interest in such a plan. Yet in 1787, when the independent states at last were preparing to make the constitution, they turned back to Penn's plan of union and took from it some of the principles he set forth and even some of the actual wording.
From our history lessons we shall remember that as the 18th century wore on, the colonies had more difficulties with England. More and more important men wrote and talked about democracy and the rights of the people. Some of these influential men were Quakers. One of them was Governor Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island. Except for Penn, no other Quaker in America has been so important in politics and government, or contributed so much to our history; he has been called one of the "makers of the American nation. He was one of the first men in the country to see the injustice of taxation without representation, and as a member of the Providence Town Meeting, he made the first and official proposal for a Continental Congress, and of course, he, among other Quakers, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. And let us not forget that Thomas Paine's father and wife had been Quakers, as was Benjamin Franklin's mother. Benjamin Franklin, living in Philadelphia, was much influenced by Quaker thought. And here is another observation - the use of the affirmation as an alternative to the oath is largely due to the Quaker stand against oaths; and so is the idea of the freedom of the press; a stubborn Quaker in New York State brought this about.
Let us now think of several Quaker personalities who had great influence in shaping society's attitudes toward other people: namely - slaves, those imprisoned, the mentally ill, and last but not least, women. The acts of these Quakers seem to follow the principles of William Penn who expressed sincere friendliness and tender regard for the Indians as people.
It was a Friend from New Jersey who was the great inspirer of the anti slavery movement within the Religious Society of Friends - John Woolman. In his numerous travels in the ministry among Friends, Woolman gradually influenced the Friends Meetings, first to discourage the selling and buying of slaves, then followed by demanding their education, and eventually giving up all slaves - and this not only in the colonies, but among Friends in Great Britain as well. One hundred years before the emancipation of the black man, all Quakers had given up their slaves. John Woolman did not live long enough to witness Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, in 1779, when that Meeting concluded that masters should make reparations to their former slaves for past services - an idea probably as repulsive to some people at that time as the request in the Black Manifesto that the white majority make reparation to the Black Man in these days. But how difficult it was in some of the colonies to free slaves! Let's consider the situation in the Carolinas: here Friends discovered that their freed slaves were seized and sold again to the highest bidder for the benefit of the parish. Upon a lawsuit won by the Friends, the Assembly passed a new law making it illegal to free slaves, and even the schools Friends had set up for Negroes were prohibited, as the Assembly sensed that educated Negroes would be restless Negroes.
In years past, Friends were urged to emancipate their slaves and members who refused were disowned by their Meetings. Now, with the restrictive laws, there were two options open to Friends: one, to follow their conscience and continue setting free of their slaves, but leaving them at the mercy of the system ú which meant families would be separated, children taken from their mothers' arms never to meet again, and knowing that freedmen would experience a cruel life under hard taskmasters. The other option would be keeping their slaves, caring for them as members of their households, and continuing their education in their own homes. It is a thrilling story how Carolina Friends came to a solution after much effort to change the laws of the Colony. To prevent a Negro being considered property of an estate of a deceased Friend, all slaves were turned over to appointed trustees or agents of the various Meetings. It may seem that the Meetings were now in the slave business while relieving the individuals of responsibility but this was the only moral course open to them, an action that penetrated or transcended the system and its legalism with a testimony of love and justice for the Negroes as fellow human beings. The corporate responsibility for the so-called slaves was as good or perhaps even better than had they been left on their own. The disagreement of the settlers in the Carolinas with the Quakers led to the first large scale emigration to Ohio and further west, territories where the Quakers could take their freed slaves, to have them live as freedmen.
About a generation after John Woolman, an English Quaker, William Tuke, startled his compatriots with a revolutionary treatment of the insane. At a time when even George III was chained during his bouts of madness. William Tuke set his patients free! He founded "'The Retreat" in York in 1796 and there replaced restraint by courageous kindliness and reassurance. Patients were set at work - "occupational therapy" was born! At the same time first attempts were made at the classification of mental diseases, opening the way for later scientific studies. And another generation later the great Quaker star of Elisabeth Fry appeared. It is always a pleasurable surprise to me to hear from prison administrators that they know of one other Quaker (besides me), namely, Elizabeth Fry. It was this woman who early in the 19th century revolutionized the current attitudes toward those imprisoned, eventually bringing about reforms of prisons and the criminal law in much of Europe and the United States.
I had hinted at other Quaker personalities in regard to women. Do we realize that Lucretia Mott, who originally was a leader in the abolitionist movement, as a woman was not allowed to take a seat as a delegate to the World's Anti Slavery Convention in London; that this Nantucket girl, Lucretia Coffin Mott, together with the Quaker Susan B. Anthony, became the outstanding and most despised women's rights exponents? And what was their propaganda sheet named? "The Revolution", of course! The United States honored these two Quaker women a century later by issuing commemorative postage stamps, but we should not forget that the power or strength behind these two women was the tradition of Friends, namely: giving women the same rights as men, and with it the same responsibility in their communities.
This was possible as the Friends' ideas about education were again revolutionary. From the beginning Friends felt that girls as well as the poor had a right to be among the educated. The development of Quaker education was a parallel current with that of religion. Wherever Quakers settled and built their Meeting Houses there was a schoolhouse nearby, or so often alongside; even the Meeting House serving as a school in pioneering days. Often the home of the first Quaker settlers served as a classroom. While originally the schools were established for Friends' children, this was soon broadened to include the community; sometimes the neighbors were shocked upon hearing that boys and girls were to be instructed in the same classroom. By an appropriate Query, Friends were reminded not to overlook the poor. It can be said that generally the chain of Friends schools pre ceded the public schools in the various states and territories where Quakers had settled. It is said that the Friends School in what is now "downtown" New York became Public School No. 1 of that City. As public schools for the lower grades developed, Friends established so-called "Academies" and Boarding Schools, both serving the secondary level which later frequently developed into Friends Colleges. The number of Friends elementary and secondary schools, presently 58, and the 16 Friends Colleges in existence today, is out of proportion to the small number of Quakers in the United States and Canada.
With the growing concern for the black man, Friends also instructed their slaves in the four R's - reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic and religion- and later set up schools for the freedmen. During and after the Civil War Friends established several schools in the South, some of them becoming leading agricultural and industrial schools. The last ones were transferred to public hands within the lifetime of most of us. I remember vividly a visit to William Penn School on St. Helena Island in South Carolina in the 1940's, where Philadelphia Quakers had been working for seventy years, a section with the lowest crime rate of all South Carolina. Cheney State College, originally a Friends secondary school for Negroes, located near Westtown School outside Philadelphia, still receives grants from a Philadelphia Yearly Meeting trust fund. It is not a surprise that the Bureau of Education in the Department of the Interior, in a report some years ago, said that "no religious group has surpassed the Friends, either in financial contribution or personal endeavor for the education of the Negroes."
As Friends showed leadership in the development of educational institutions, they continued their concern for the racial minorities. Their care for the Negro has been mentioned; their attitude toward the Indian from the very first days of settling on this continent is traditional knowledge. With the spreading of Quakerism over large areas in the United States, the various Yearly Meetings appointed standing committees on Indian Affairs, committees which are still carrying on the work. Roman Catholics and Friends were outstanding in help to the Indians, by establishing missions and schools, but Friends committees mostly tried to see that there was justice in the decisions which were made in Washington about the Indians. Unfortunately, the government pursued an unwise and unkind policy, resulting in a series of wars with the Indians in the 1850's and 1860's. Besides the pain and death and sorrow of the wars, it was a most expensive policy. General Sherman said that fifty Indians could checkmate 3, 000 soldiers, and in the Cheyenne War of 1864 it was estimated that every Indian killed cost the government $1,000,000 - situations rather similar to present-day events.
After the second Cheyenne War, Friends all over the country held conferences on Indian affairs, and out of these conferences came The Associated Executive Committee of Friends on Indian Affairs, a committee still in existence. In 1869, when Ulysses S. Grant had been elected president, but had not yet taken office, a delegation of Friends shared their concern for a more peaceful and Christian policy toward the Indians. Said Mr. Grant: "Gentlemen, your advice is good, I accept it. Now give me the names of some Friends for Indian Agents and I will appoint them."
For eight years the work of what was to become the Office of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior was run exclusively by Friends. Many more schools were set up, largely conducted by Friends and the Yearly Meetings contributed money to the work. But the new Commissioner appointed by the succeeding President Hayes was unfriendly to the Quakers and forced them to give up their government work for the Indians, although they still kept their interest in the schools which they had started. A consequence of the Friends' leaving the administration was the Sioux uprising led by Sitting Bull. However, the Indians' faith in the Quakers as their friends and guardians of their rights has never lessened.
Let us now turn to certain testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends as they appear throughout the more than 300 years of its existence. The Peace Testimony is frequently based on a statement made in 1660 to Charles II which in part said: "We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world. ... the Spirit of Christ, which leads us unto all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world. ... Therefore, we cannot learn war any more."
It should not be thought that the peace principle is only a negative one, a refusal to participate in war. Throughout the past centuries, members of the Religious Society of Friends have taken steps to remove the causes of war, or to reduce the damage done by hatred and prejudice. One particular, yet unsuccessful effort by British Friends last century involved the Quaker delegation to the Czar of Russia in 1854, which, had there been less hysteria in England, might have prevented the Crimean War. Even during the Napoleonic War early last century, London Yearly Meeting spoke out against the fighting and we must remember that this was at a time when England considered herself much endangered. Friends even tried to avert the American War of Revolution! Up to the present, Quaker leaders frequently address governments through epistles or visiting committees on the subject of the peaceful settlement of differences.
Closely related to these efforts is the relief work undertaken to repair damage or ease suffering caused by war. The very first known relief work outside the Society of Friends was during the Irish War in 1690, when Quakers supplied prisoners of war with food and clothing. The first running of a blockade occurred during the siege of Boston when Quakers collected large sums of money for food for the sufferers and smuggled it through the British lines. After the Crimean War, English Friends bought food, clothing, seed corn, fishing nets and other supplies to the people an the coast of Finland which had been under bombardment by the British Fleet. The people of Ireland have never forgotten the great relief action during the famine of 1846-47. And of course, during our Civil War, Quaker relief was constantly in motion. It was during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when English Friends distributed relief supplies to both sides, that the black and red star now known as the "Quaker Star" all over the world, was first used as a distinguishing mark. And during the Boer War in 1900, in South Africa, the report of Friends about the crowded concentration camps in which whole Boer families were confined, succeeded in arousing British feelings for improved conditions. Besides relief, Friends gave tedious labor for the restoration of the Boers' most treasured heir- looms, their family Bibles, a task much more difficult than envisioned.
Traditionally Friends consider the terms "opponent" or "enemy" as alien; they recognize human beings only. Therefore, it is not surprising that at times relief activities were started for those who were supposed to be the enemy. In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, British Friends formed the Committee for the assistance of Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Turks in Distress". And during the early part of World War II, American Friends carried out relief work among French people under German occupation, a situation which caused many to consider that the Quakers were giving indirect help to the Germans. It was in 1917 that, upon the United States joining the conflict of World War I, the American Friends Service Committee was formed, originally to assist conscientious objectors carrying out reconstruction and relief work in France. After the first World War more than one million children were being fed daily in Germany and Austria. These works of mercy were jointly carried out with British Friends who operate the Friends Service Council, using the same black and red star for identification of vehicles and relief shipments. Just prior to World War II, a large relief project was operated by American and European Friends during the Spanish Civil War, providing food and clothing to civilians on both sides of that tragic, bitter conflict. The long story of Friends Service has been told in many books and frequently outsiders consider the Society of Friends just a philanthropic organization carrying out relief measures. In 1947 the British and American Friends Service bodies were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their faithful adherence to impartial administration of relief.
Here is another example of how present-day Friends try to adhere to Penn's idea of being excited in their endeavor to mend the world. The Friends Committee on National Legislation is an intra-Friends agency widely supported by almost every group. It is the only church-related lobby in Washington - a lobby not working for its own interests as the usual lobbies do, but speaking for the rights of man, for the underprivileged, the racial minorities, for better relations with other countries, etc. As mentioned earlier, the Society of Friends has always been concerned for peace action on the legislative front, as well as for the rights of the Indians and the freedom of slaves. One of the most significant Quaker personalities of a century ago was John Bright, a member of Parliament and pioneer in constructive legislation tor the common people. But this Friends Committee on National Legislation has a dual purpose: it brings its thinking to members of Congress, who by the way at times consult the Committee on certain issues, and it also informs the readers of its monthly newsletter of legislation before the Congress and suggests action Friends and readers may take if they are inclined to do so.
While most of what we have heard deals with the life of Friends in the United States, it must be said that similar actions to live better in this world, to borrow from Penn's phrase, are carried out by Friends all over the world. German Friends were largely responsible for obtaining a modern law in regard to the rights of War Resisters; Australian Friends are giving much thought and work toward the improvement of the conditions of the aborigines; Swiss Friends are urging their government to share more of their country's wealth with developing nations, at the same time trying to have a law passed limiting the export of weapons; Friends in Kenya, East Africa, are outstanding leaders in their country's educational system - a long range of examples could be given, but it seems that these hints should suffice to make clear that the past and present actions and interests of Quakers in America are about the same as of Quakers around the world.
While Quakerism is often thought of as an Anglo-American institution, due to the large number of members in the United States and the British Isles and Commonwealth, one should realize that about 25% of the recorded membership in the world is not English speaking. There are Quaker groups in North America, including Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico; in South America, in many countries of Europe, in Africa, Asia and Australasia. In spite of this wide distribution, the total in the world is only 200,000, perhaps even a little short of that figure. The influence Friends have exercised upon the world is far in excess of the proportion to their numbers. Friends prefer to have their Religious Society known more as a movement than a sect. A good number of people are members of the Wider Quaker Fellowship, persons who are inclined toward the Quaker way of thought and practice but are not prepared to become members of the Society. Upon enrollment they receive a letter and literature four times a year. The last mailing went to every State in the Union and to 61 countries.
This Wider Quaker Fellowship is part of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, a body with headquarters in England and two sub-sections, one the American, the other the European and Near East Section. An African as well as an Asian Section, is under consideration. The Friends World Committee, through an expanding program of conferences and visitation, has given exposure of Friends to Friends on regional, national and world levels. Under its concern, certain relations between Friends and the world are maintained, as in the Quaker Program at the United Nations. The international character of the Friends World Committee for Consultation permits Friends to be represented at the United Nations as a non- governmental organization. The Quaker staff mingle with the delegates and do what they can to forward causes in which our Society is interested. Quaker House in New York City is an important center where UN delegates can meet one another, unnoticed by the press or their fellow delegates; it is considered a safe refuge in UN circles. In Paris and Geneva, Friends World Committee representatives are also working and many conferences sponsored by the United Nations are attended by Quakers anywhere in the world.
For several years I have been serving as a member of the Executive Committee of the American Section of the Friends World Committee, which explains my periodic absences from Plainfield, either on travels on this continent or in other parts of the world, During the last half of this year, my wife Rosalie and I expect again to be traveling in the ministry among European Friends after attending a Friends World Committee meeting in Sweden.
Quakerism in the world - it does not pretend to be a fixed, unified body - that would be too much to expect from a religious group without creed and dogma. Quakerism is better caught than taught; members of each country and each generation have to face prevailing problems for themselves. But wherever Friends are, they recognize the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man of ALL humanity, and thus extend their minds and hands for joyful service.
Return to Part 2
Friends for Three Hundred Years
Return to Title Page for this series
Return to Plainfield Friends Home Page