Quaker War Tax Resistance Debated at the 1837 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention

In , a convention met in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to rewrite the state constitution. The previous constitution had been enacted in , and had contained a section reading:

Whether to retain, omit, or alter this section was a hot point of debate over the course of the convention. This debate is a valuable record of how people of the time who were not Quaker pacifists or war tax resisters tried to come to grips with the arguments for conscientious objection and concientious objection to militiary taxation.

I’ve reproduced excerpts from this debate in the following pages:

Dramatis Personæ
Introducing the people engaged in the debate
Meet Colonel Pluck; also: Thomas Cope makes the case of the Society of Friends
, part one
James Biddle and John Porter take the Quaker side, William Smyth disagrees
, part two
John Cummin attacks the scriptural basis for Quaker pacifism
, part three
Joseph Chandler, Benjamin Martin, and William Darlington defend the Friends, John Fuller disagrees, and Charles Brown tries to bring things down to earth
John Cummin says William Penn did not found a pacifist state, Ephraim Banks makes a curious Shakespeare allusion, John M’Cahen and Emanuel Reigart stand up for government prerogatives, James Porter puts in his two cents, and Benjamin Martin tries to calm them down
Benjamin Martin and John M’Cahen continue to disagree about the proposed amendment
, part one
James Dunlop wonders where the Mennonites fit in, and expresses doubts about conscience as an excuse for legal exemptions
, part two
Thomas Bell proposes a compromise, which George Woodward attacks; also: is it a fine or a tax?
, part three
William Darlington and James Biddle stand up for Quaker consciences and cite precedent, John Fuller notes that the proposed compromise makes no sense on conscientious grounds, James Porter says that it does however jibe better with the U.S. Constitution, John Cummin expresses contempt for the Quaker peace testimony, Ebenezer Sturdevant lands a blow or two himself, Thomas Bell modifies his amendment, and Walter Forward defends the right of conscience
, part four
Walter Forward resumes his remarks, Ephraim Banks says conscience has been pushed too far, Emanuel Reigart says Quakers should not enjoy an exclusive state-granted privilege, James Merrill stands up for respecting conscience in the law
Samuel Purviance says it’s a fine and not a tax, George Woodward unleashes the mighty power of his rhetoric (and who is this guy, anyway?), Walter Forward rises to defend himself, and Andrew Cline denies that there is such thing as a right of conscience
Thomas Bell says maybe they should just leave it up to the legislature, but John Cummin isn’t buying that for a minute
James Porter thinks Bell’s proposal is just fine, and Joseph Chandler agrees, but the amendment is rejected
John Cummin can’t resist trying to get in the last word against the dastardly Quakers (and against his exasperated colleagues)
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