I replayed an debate from the Friends’ Intelligencer about whether Quakers should pay a $300 commutation fee to avoid the military draft.

there were other drafts, and Congress changed the rules a bit. In the original draft, any draftee could ether hire a substitute or pay $300 in commutation money to get out of it. As time went on, Congress tightened the rules on substitutes and commutations, but at the same time tried to carve out some concession for conscientious objectors. In one example, members of religious denominations that had a pacifist creed were, when drafted, to “be considered non-combatants” at which point they had two choices:

  1. get assigned “to duty in the hospitals, or to the care of freedmen”
  2. “pay the sum of three hundred dollars, to be applied to the benefit of sick and wounded soldiers”

This opened another debate in the Friends’ Intelligencer (and elsewhere) over whether Quakers could in good conscience take advantage of either of these routes of legal conscientious objection, or if they would have to stick to their guns (as it were) and just resist the draft entirely.

The New York “Representative Meeting” sent out a notice about the new draft act to its Quarterly Meetings, saying that the new legal provision allowing conscientious objectors to be assigned to non-combatant roles “was felt to be a very important concession by the Government, for which we should be grateful, and… calls for acquiescence on the part of Friends as far as they can feel a freedom to do.” The Friends’ Review reproduced this note, and editorialized in favor of the position it took, saying:

We understand that Ohio Meeting for Sufferings has, with much unanimity, taken similar ground, and we do not see how Friends can justly take any other unless they assume the position that they have no “duties of faithful citizenship” to perform, or that the Government, by recognizing their right of conscience, and granting them religious liberty and exemption from bearing arms, forfeits all claim to any other service from them, however consonant it may be with their religious principles and their benevolent practice. Such assumption would, of course, be preposterous.

The Review editorialist then went on at some length to defend this point of view. One of the arguments went like this: Quakers are prohibited by their beliefs from taking oaths or swearing. The law sometimes accomodates Quakers by permitting them to “affirm” in contexts where other people are told to “swear” something (for instance, when giving testimony in court). Since Quakers don’t mind affirming things, they also don’t object to doing so formally in these contexts, even though the affirmation is given as a substitute for an oath. Similarly, since Quakers don’t have any objection to treating the wounded and sick or helping freed slaves, they shouldn’t raise a fuss about being drafted by the government to do so, even though this is a substitute for military service that they would object to.

The editorial then, in sort of a sideways fashion, accused people who thought Quakers could not take advantage of the provisions of “invent[ing] crosses and sacrifices,” “[seeking] to be martyrs” and relying on a “mere technicality of language.” The whole of the editorial was aggressively dismissive of opposing points of view.

Gideon Frost, in Friends’ Intelligencer, responded to the Review, making these points:

  1. Neither the New York Meeting message nor the editorial mention the $300 commutation option specifically, leaving the implication that it too is a provision that Friends should be encouraged to take advantage of.
  2. The oaths/affirmations analogy does not hold. Quakers have no objection to verifying their word, they just opposed the oath-taking ritual as being anti-Christian. But Quakers do have an objection to participating in war, and not just to participating in it in some particular form in such a way that the form could be superficially altered to make such participation okay.
  3. Quakers who have held fast to the peace testimony and have refused either to serve in the military or to do any of the various substitutes (such as commutation fines) — on both sides of the lines during the Civil War — have, after enduring some persecution, have been relieved by their government of their legal obligations and have prompted those governments to make further concessions to conscientious objectors: proving the worth of taking such a stand.

Samuel Rhoads, the Review editor, and probably the author of the original editorial, responded in the Intelligencer. He says that Frost’s accusation that the Review was silent on the $300 commutation fee “is not correct.” The $300, remember, was designated by the law “to be applied to the benefit of sick and wounded soldiers.” Rhoads clarifies his stand on whether Friends can pay such a fee without impermissibly supporting the war effort: “it is inconsistent with Friends’ principles,” he says, “to give an indiscriminate care and support of the sick and wounded in military hospitals — because these form a necessary part of the military system. In individual cases, where the sick and wounded are so far disabled as to be released from their obligation to return to the army, it is probable few Friends would object to rendering them needful aid.” (Did he expect that after paying the $300 or being drafted into hospital service, a Quaker could then choose the money or the service only to go to such soldiers as were unable to return to battle?)

Frost replied that “[w]hen a Friend is drafted for military purposes, and assumes the performance of hospital duties in lieu of personal service, he complies with a military requisition, as really as if he served in the army… [this] is either a compliance with a military requisition, or it is the payment of a penalty for non-compliance,” both of which are explicitly forbidden by the Quaker Discipline.

A variety of positions on these questions were being taken by other writers and other Meetings at this time. You can find some other examples in American Quaker War Tax Resistance.

Rhoads had his own concerns about the intersection of money and Quaker morality. According to Still’s Underground Rail Road Records (1879), Rhoads,

…while sympathizing with other phases of the Anti-slavery movement, took especial interest in the subject of abstaining from the use of articles produced by slave labor. Believing that the purchase of such articles, by furnishing to the master the only possibility of pecuniary profit from the labor of his slaves, supplied one motive for holding them in bondage, and that the purchaser thus became, however unwittingly, a partaker in the guilt, he felt conscientiously bound to withhold his individual support as far as practicable, and to recommend the same course to others.

[Around ] he united with the American Free Produce Association, which had been formed in 1838, and in 1845 took an active part in the formation of the Free Produce Association of Friends of Philadelphia, Y.M.; both associations having the object of promoting the production by free labor of articles usually grown by slaves, particularly of cotton. Agents were sent into the cotton States, to make arrangements with small planters, who were growing cotton by the labor of themselves and their families without the help of slaves, to obtain their crops, which otherwise went into the general market, and could not be distinguished.


Exemption from Bearing Arms

Friends’ Review

The following Minute, which has been sent to the Quarterly and other subordinate meetings of New York Yearly Meeting, by its Representative Meeting, takes, we believe, a correct view of the exemption law:—

At a Special Representative Meeting held in New York, The Meeting was led into consideration of the situation of the younger members of Society, who are liable to be drafted under the late call for additional military forces. The following section of the military law recently enacted by Congress also claimed attention:

Sec. 7. And be it further enacted, That members of religious denominations, who shall by oath or affirmation declare that they are conscientiously opposed to the bearing of arms, and who are prohibited from doing so by the rules and articles of faith and practice of said religious denominations, shall, when drafted in the military service, be considered non-combatants, and shall be assigned by the Secretary of War to duty in the hospitals, or to the care of freedmen, or shall pay the sum of three hundred dollars, to be applied to the benefit of sick and wounded soldiers. And provided, That no person shall be entitled to the benefit of the provisions of this section, unless his declaration of conscientious scruples against bearing arms shall be supported by satisfactory evidence that his deportment has been uniformly consistent with such declaration.

The recognition by Congress of the rights of conscience by thus making provision for the release of those who are religiously opposed to war, by declaring them to be non-combatants, and assigning them to hospital service, or to the care of Freedmen, was felt to be a very important concession by the Government, for which we should be grateful, and that it calls for acquiescence on the part of Friends as far as they can feel a freedom to do.

Taken from the Minutes,
William Wood, Clerk

We understand that Ohio Meeting for Sufferings has, with much unanimity, taken similar ground, and we do not see how Friends can justly take any other unless they assume the position that they have no “duties of faithful citizenship” to perform, or that the Government, by recognizing their right of conscience, and granting them religious liberty and exemption from bearing arms, forfeits all claim to any other service from them, however consonant it may be with their religious principles and their benevolent practice. Such assumption would, of course, be preposterous.

If Friends had been called upon to draw up an exemption law, it is possible they might have made it more satisfactory to themselves. They would probably prefer not being enrolled at all, yet, as the law stands, it may be regarded as simply a mode by which a certain proportion of non-combatants may be selected for peaceful duties, just as a similar proportion of other people is chosen to bear arms. Friends are enrolled as citizens, and they are not drawn for war purposes, except so far as an indiscriminate care of the sick and wounded in military hospitals may be considered as such, and on this subject our opinions have not been withheld. Whatever views may be entertained on this point, there can be no difference of opinion in respect to the propriety of aiding in the care of the freed people.

But the principle of the question at issue does not depend on the character of the services to which non-combatants are to be assigned. That question is, whether Friends, being released from military service, and having their claim to religious liberty and the rights of conscience fully and absolutely acknowledged by the government, are required by their religious principles to refuse the performance of every service belonging to good citizens, under the apprehension that such performance would be an unjustifiable purchase of a religious liberty with which governments have no right to interfere. As well might our early Friends have refused to take the affirmation prescribed by parliament in lieu of an oath. Oaths and bearing arms are equally prohibited in the New Testament; so that governments have no more right to impose oath-taking than they have to require military service; and if those whose scruples against fighting procure them exemption from it, are not justifiable in yielding to the call of government for some other service, it is clear, by parity of reason, that an affirmation cannot be taken in lieu of an oath by those who believe that swearing is not allowed under the Gospel dispensation.

Never since the Society of Friends came into existence has there been a greater necessity than at the present time for observing faithfully its testimony against bearing arms, and avoiding, as far as possible, any implication in military matters; but, in the language of a correspondent, “it is the least of our business to study to invent crosses and sacrifices in religion.”

Friends have always believed it right to apply to governments for relief from oppressive laws and practices; they have not sought to be martyrs, but have always gratefully accepted and acknowledged the just action of rulers and legislators in their behalf; and no mere technicality of language should induce them to refuse compliance with beneficent provisions of law, on the one hand, and the just claims of their country, on the other.

Government Drafts

Gideon Frost
Friends’ Intelligencer

We will first consider the minute of the New York (Orthodox) “Meeting for Sufferings,” or “Representative Meeting,” as it is now called, which minute was addressed to their Quarterly and Monthly Meetings, as copied by the Intelligencer from the Review.

This minute says, “The recognition by Congress of the right of conscience, by thus making provision for the relief of those who are religiously opposed to war, by declaring them non-combatants, and assigning them to hospital service, or the care of Freedmen, was felt to be a very important concession by government, for which we should be grateful, and that it calls for acquiescence on the part of Friends, as far as they can feel a freedom to.”

Two noticeable traits are discovered in this minute: one of which is an absence of any expression of sympathy, and encouragement in favor of such in their young members who feel straightened in relation to rendering any equivalent for personal military service: and the other is, a recommendation to their members to acquiesce in the demands of government, or in other words to suppress those religious scruples, “As far as they can feel a freedom to.”

It is moreover to be remarked that although the payment of $300 is one of the terms of exemption prescribed by the law, and although the payment of such a commutation tax is a direct violation of their discipline, as well as ours, yet the minute under consideration, contains no caution against the infraction of that article of discipline, and no counsel in favor of its faithful maintenance. It presents the aspect of a political apology for the compliance with the law, rather than an expression of sympathy and encouragement for those who may be brought under suffering on account of their faithful testimony, in its various branches, against the spirit of war.

The general tenor of the minute, leads almost necessarily to the opinion that the minute of our New York Representative Meeting of Orthodox Friends, was not intended to be interpreted as disapprobating the payment of the commutation tax.

Although the Ohio “Meeting for Sufferings” has followed the example of their New York Friends, I am unwilling to believe that the Meetings for Sufferings representing the Yearly Meetings of Philadelphia, Baltimore, North Carolina, Indiana, and the two New England Yearly Meetings are prepared to issue a similar epistle to their conscientious young members.

Nor will the editorial remarks of the Review bear a critical examination, more than the minute of advice to which I have alluded. The Review says; “As well might our early Friends have refused to take the affirmation, prescribed by parliament in lieu of an oath.” To which I answer there is no parallel between the substitution of an “affirmation for an oath,” and the substitution of “a fine or other imposition, in lieu of military service.” The purpose of the prescribed oath was to verify a statement whether made in writing or orally. Did early Friends ever object to verifying their word? They never did. They were willing to verify their word by a simple affirmation, subject to the same penalty to which others were liable who violated their oath. They had no scruples against the verification of their words, but only against the anti-christian mode of doing it: and hence when the objectionable form was removed, their scruples were also removed.

But is it to be said that Friends have no scruples against taking human life; but only against the anti-christian mode of accomplishing it? The question needs no answer. There is therefore no parallel between the two propositions, so that the whole argument which is based upon the supposed parallelism between oaths and military service necessarily fails, and becomes of no force or application.

In relation to the payment of the $300 commutation fine, the Review slides over it without specification, so that the reader is left to conjecture whether a faithful observance of that article of discipline is intended to be classed among the “self-invented crosses and sacrifices” approvingly quoted in the editorial.

While some of our elderly Friends in both branches of society, being terrified by the apparition of court martials, and the deserter’s doom on the one hand, or lured by the supposed duties of citizenship, have either directly or indirectly encouraged the payment of the commutation fine, a number of our young Friends, through faithfulness to manifested duty, have been enabled to discover and walk in that path — “Which the vulture’s eye hath not seen, and which the lion’s whelp has not trodden, neither hath the fierce lion passed that way,” and in that path have found both peace and safety.

About a year ago, and previous to the congressional law, upon the subject of exemptions, a number of young Friends in both branches of Society, being conscientious against bearing arms or paying a commutation tax, were paroled by the heads of the War Department without any compromise of their religious scruples. They were neither coerced into the army, nor court-martialed as deserters, nor restrained of their liberty, longer than was necessary to present the required credentials to the Government. The paroles then granted, have not to my knowledge been either recalled or revoked; and the Friends holding them, are not subject to another draft, until they are revoked.

We may thus perceive in how remarkable a manner, a faithful maintenance of our excellent discipline, and a faithful attention to manifested duty have led the conscientious young men in the path of peace and safety, and has enabled them to preserve a conscience void of offence towards God and man.

Is there not cause to fear that some are about ready to let go their hold and trust in the preserving care of a superintending Providence, and place their confidence in the arm of flesh? Instead of devising arguments and apologies for the evasion of our discipline upon this subject, would it not be more consistent to endeavor, through holy help, so to quicken and enlighten the consciences of our children that they could, when called before governors and rulers for conscience sake, aver with sincerity, “I am conscientiously opposed to destroying the lives of my fellow beings, and also to the payment of purchase money for the liberty of obeying my Father which is in heaven.”

Many readers of the Intelligencer doubtless remember the interesting narrative of the few North Carolina Friends, who were forced into the rebel army, because of their scruples against paying a commutation fine, and of their remarkable preservation and final deliverance: but there are probably some who have not been informed that the Confederate Congress at their next session, passed a law, exempting Friends from all military service whatever.

Here is another instance of the influence which faithfulness to manifested duty, is capable of exercising upon the powers of the earth. If Friends had been generally as faithful as the few of our own Society to whom I have alluded, or as the North Carolina Friends and some others of the same distinctive brotherhood, is there any reason to fear that we should have been less favored by our government, than southern Friends are by that under which they live?

It is a remarkable fact, but not less remarkable than true, that the heads of the War Department at Washington appear to profess a more correct and appreciative view of the consistency of our discipline against paying a commutation tax than many of the members, not only of our own, but the other branch of the Society.

While some are expatiating upon the duties of citizenship and almost taunting conscientious Friends by indirectly intimating that their scruples against the payment of a commutation tax is but “an invented cross, a self imposed religious sacrifice” — while these things are taking place among some branches of Friends’ Society, we perceive on the other hand, that the heads of the War Department have no difficulty in discovering that the payment of a commutation tax, is nothing less than an equivalent for personal services upon the battle field.

And hence, when these conscientious drafted Friends applied, either personally or through the agency of their brethren, for relief, the War Department did not upbraid them with attempting “self-imposed sacrifice in religion,” but in every instance, as far as I know, readily granted a parole, unconditioned upon the performance of any commutation service whatever. This act of relief was not in consequence of the passage of the law before quoted, for it was previous to the enactment of that law; but the heads of the War Department assumed the responsibility of performing this appreciative act, from a conviction that our testimony against paying an equivalent for war services is as consistent and valid as our testimony against war itself.

The remarks herein communicated are offered as an expression of sympathy and encouragement for those young Friends, in every branch of the Society, who are earnestly desirous of preserving “a conscience void of offence, towards both God and man.”

Our duty to our Creator comprises and absorbs all other duties; and those who are deficient in their duty to their Maker are very likely to be disqualified to define with precision what the duties of Christian citizenship are. He who supposes he can conciliate the favor of the Almighty by sacrifices to human governments, may eventually realize Cardinal Woolsey’s wail upon his death-bed, when he mournfully exclaimed, “Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my King he would not in mine age have left me naked to my enemies.”

Government Drafts — The Exemption Laws

Samuel Rhoads
Friends Intelligencer

Some remarks by Gideon Frost… need correction and brief notice…

G.F. says “the Review slides over… the payment of the $300 commutation fine… without specification.” This representation is not correct. Referring to the “indiscriminate care of the sick and wounded in military hospitals,” the Editorial says: “On this subject our opinions have not been withheld.” If G.F. had read the Review, he would have found that, since the war commenced, the Editor has repeatedly expressed the opinion that it is inconsistent with Friends’ principles to give an indiscriminate care and support of the sick and wounded in military hospitals — because these form a necessary part of the military system. In individual cases, where the sick and wounded are so far disabled as to be released from their obligation to return to the army, it is probable few Friends would object to rendering them needful aid. The Review, then, did not “slide over” the matter.

[Frost] further states, “It is a remarkable fact, but not less (more) remarkable than true, that the heads of the War Department at Washington appear to profess a more correct and appreciative view of the consistency of our Discipline against paying a commutation tax than many of the members, not only of our own, but the other branch of the Society.” G.F. does not appear to be aware of the fact that the Exemption bill was drawn up by Secretary Stanton and passed by Congress at his desire. He does not regard the care of the freedmen and of the sick and wounded as a penalty imposed for refusing to fight; nor the payment of $300 as a “commutation fine.”

The Commutation Law

Gideon Frost
Friends’ Intelligencer

The Discipline says: “Those who actively comply with military requisitions, or pay a fine, penalty, or tax in lieu of personal services, unless they give satisfaction to the Monthly Meeting, are to be disowned.”

When a Friend is drafted for military purposes, and assumes the performance of hospital duties in lieu of personal service, he complies with a military requisition, as really as if he served in the army; and by the same act he pays a penalty for being exempted from actual fighting. The performance of commuted services of whatever character, is either a compliance with a military requisition, or it is the payment of a penalty for non-compliance; there is no evading this conclusion that I can discover.

What interpretation then are we to place upon the advisory Minute of the New York Representative Meeting, and upon the advocacy of that Minute by the Review?…

…I am not prepared to believe that a body of Friends composed of such members as a Representative Meeting should be, would intentionally counsel its drafted members to comply with a military requisition, and to pay a penalty for non-compliance; practices which are not only violations of discipline, but which have led to the actual disownment of all those engaged therein, within the precincts of every Yearly Meeting, from the establishment of discipline until the accession of the present war.

I respectfully suggest whether the use of such expressions as “morbid consciences,” and “self-invented crosses and sacrifices in religion,” are not unsympathizing and unkind, rather than otherwise, if used in reference to those who cannot conscientiously comply with military requisitions, nor pay a penalty for noncompliance; and if those words are not used in reference to such, it is difficult to divine their meaning.

Such allusions appear especially inappropriate when we remember that those young Friends are practically supporting the discipline in its purity; and that in the view they take of the subject, they are sustained by the unanimous verdict, and practice also, of the most religiously concerned and eminent members Society has produced. The exceptions to this remark, if any, have occurred during the present war, a visitation which it must be confessed is trying the religious stability of many.

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