In the accounts of the debate that follow, things sometimes flip between the first and third person.
I’m guessing that this is because they are partially taken from prepared speeches, manuscripts of which were provided by the speakers to the recorder (Jeremiah Perley), and partially taken from notes that Perley or one of his assistants took while more spontaneous debates and asides were spoken.
Samuel Redington told the delegates why asking Quakers to pay a fine, or fee, or exemption payment in lieu of direct military service wasn’t going to do the trick:
But George Thatcher replied with a long critique of the scriptural basis of Quaker war tax resistance, and with his doubts about the reasonableness of any special legal concessions for individual “conscientious” objection to obligations placed on citizens by the government:
Judge Thacher enquired who was to determine what a man’s conscientious scruples were; and when they were sincere?
The Judge said, he was very well acquainted with the Societies of Friends, and for many years while he was at New York, and Philadelphia, he had opportunities of seeing much of their regulations as societies of christians, and to be intimately acquainted with many of them as individuals, and he did not hesitate to say he was ready to go farther than any member had gone in appreciating their principles in general as a sect of christians, and of their individual conduct that it approached, in several respects, nearer to evangelical purity than any other sect he was acquainted with; yet he thought they had some errors; though he looked upon them as less pernicious to society than the errors of some other sects. — He declared that he was himself against war, and was much inclined to the opinion that christians ought not to go to war; that he was a friend and well wisher to all the various means lately adopted by associations to prevent future wars by eradicating, softening and giving a new direction to the passions which led to war; and he had no doubt, as people acted upon pure evangelical principles, they would become averse to war; and in the same ratio wars would diminish in frequency, and become less cruel in the manner they had been carried on. — But, he said, he did not think it a safe or proper principle for government to adopt, always to leave it to the consciences of individuals, and simply for them to say whether they will obey a general law or not, and so, on that ground, claim an exemption from a general duty.
In the course of forty years, he continued, he had heard a great deal about conscience and conscientious scruples, in Courts where individuals had appeared to him, but he judged only for himself, to feel more for a small tax to support a minister or to build a meetinghouse than of its real repugnance to any of the Laws of Jesus, their real or pretended master — that is contrary to the laws of that kingdom which is not of this world.
Of this, however, he was ready to do justice to the Quakers.
He had never found them very zealous in making converts from other denominations; nor did he know of their interfering with other societies by attempting to exempt their regular members from a parish tax by extending to them the legal covering and protection of the mere forms of their own society, as some other sects had frequently done — Of which practice he believed he could produce a number of instances from trials that had taken place in the courts of law; where he thought it was manifest, that conscience was but a secondary consideration, and a pretense to get clear of a regular tax.
Furthermore. he said there were already formed societies, and probably others of a like nature and profession might start up, whose professed object is to discountenance national wars; and, he had no doubt, that if the amendment took place, it would soon become a supposed natural sentiment with their members, especially those who might mistake obstinacy or party spirit, for conscience, to plead conscience as a ground and justifying reason why they should be exempted from the militia, of some tax they may please to say their conscience tells them is to carry on a war.
Indeed, he felt persuaded, there could tie no fixed limits to exemptions if the amendment became a constitutional principle.
He was perfectly satisfied, he continued, this talk about conscience of which some people made so much noise, in one sect and another, was not clearly understood; and he begged the attention of the Convention, a few moments, and he thought he should be able to satisfy every member of it, that it was not only an unsafe ground to found exemptions upon; but that those who have pleaded it, and now contend so much for it, have altogether mistaken the nature and character of their own views of the Christian Religion — But he wished to premise first — that in a country where the christian religion was so generally professed, in some form or other, as to be supported by all the inhabitants, it is not to be presumed that any Legislature would knowingly pass a general law, directly contrary to the laws of their religion, which it is acknowledged in this country, are contained in the Bible — there, and there only must people look for the religion of christians.
And in this country he thought all would agree with him that it would he very unsafe indeed to leave it to the opinions of individuals that they could not in conscience obey such or such a law, or pay an equivalent in money or services because they might be of opinion they could shew by reasoning on the common principles of the understanding and of natural theology, that the requisitions of the law were repugnant to the dictates of their consciences.
Many individuals may consider a law is not so beneficial to the public, or their particular interests as it might be if it were altered in some respects — or even that it would be better for the community if it were repealed altogether; but such opinions or convictions of conscience, as some may call them, are no legitimate grounds for personal exemptions.
Conscience, he thought ought rather to be considered as an impelling force, than a directing principle in human actions.
And where the understanding is uninformed and darkened by prejudices or party spirit, an ardent, zealous temporal man was likely to do as much hurt to individuals and the public by adhering to his conscience, as one who made no pretension at all to religion — He alluded to the family of the Dutartres, of South-Carolina; and to old Calvin, and asked, who ever doubted but the latter acted very conscientiously in the aid and advice he gave to the burning of poor Servetus?
But who, he again demanded, ever committed a more wicked and cruel action?
The torture of the victim was not the less, because his persecutor, through ignorance of the principles and spirit of his professed religion, might have acted conscientiously.
He thought it foreign to the point in debate to go into a consideration, how far the criminality of the action would be affected by these considerations.
Who ever called in question the sincerity of the consciences of the Judges and Jurors who condemned so many men and women at Salem, for Witches and Wizards?
The Quakers themselves were persecuted by our pious, godly and conscientious forefathers; and so were some other sects.
Indeed he observed, the whole history of the Church, (not to rest solely on the case of the great Apostle to the Gentiles whose unenlightened, though sincere conscience is very much to the point, how far it ought to be made the ground of exemption from general civil duty) as well as all party disputes of a political nature amount to a moral demonstration that conscience or the moral sense is a principle, in human nature, that needs instruction as much as any other of its original principles, and where it is neglected it did about as much hurt as good, and was as often wrong as right; and when wrong, but connected with erroneous principles of religion, it never failed to impel devotees to the greatest enormities.
But to come more directly to the argument, he said, it might be taken for granted, that the Quakers and others, who claim the exemption on the ground of conscience, do it as Christians, that is, as disciples and followers of Jesus, and in obedience to his religion; or in other words they claim to be subjects of his kingdom, and as such cannot render obedience to the laws or requisitions of any other government that are contrary to, or forbidden by the laws of his kingdom.
He thought this was the ground they ought to take; and as a Christian and brother disciple he was willing they with him should enjoy the benefits of that kingdom to its utmost extent, as Jesus, their common Master and King intended his followers should.
The principle of this claim, he said, was common to all governments.
It is acknowledged every day in the State Governments with regard to their constitutions and laws, as related to the constitution and laws of the United States; and in the laws of each state, as related to their respective constitutions — when the laws of Congress are contrary to the Constitution of the United States, or the laws of a State are contrary to its Constitution, or that of the United States, they are void — So any law of man, or requisition under a human law, contrary to, or forbidden by the laws of Christ’s kingdom, are null and void — But the laws of Christ’s kingdom, that are to be received by his disciples as paramount to all human, laws ought to be clear and express; it cannot be received, as he before observed, that every man’s opinion of particular actions being wrong according to some mode of ratiocination on supposed principles of expediency, or general utility, will bring those actions within the case.
And it must he recollected that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.
He never pretended to regulate things that are called property, according to the laws of particular nations, or the actions of men in but few cases — His laws are over the heart, they regulate the feelings, affections and temper; they take higher ground than human laws; he does not simply say, you shall not kill; but purify the heart, and when duly obeyed, make it as unnecessary to say to his disciples, you shall not kill, as it would’ve been for the Deity, on the creation of Adam, to command him not to fly like the eagle.
A little attention to some of the precepts that compose the code of that kingdom into which men enter when they become disciples of Jesus, will shew whether they interfere at all with the proposed article in question — He would name a few of them by way of illustration — “Jesus is to be received as the Christ” — “He is to be acknowledged before men; and any denial of him before men is a renunciation of allegiance” — “All his subjects must love one another” — “they must love their enemies” — “they must do good to those who do evil to them” — in other words they should render good for evil — “they must never act from revenge or malice” — “they must forgive those who offend and injure them” — “they must preach and publish the gospel” — “they must on all occasions obey God rather than man.”
Now all these, with the rest of the code, too numerous to detail, but of the same character, the apostles, in their various epistles, explained and enforced consistently with obedience to the general laws of the empire.
And wherein, at this time, is the command of government, that all its citizens shall contribute to its support, repugnant to, or forbidden by any of the precepts just recited, or of any others of the heavenly code?
For the vesting the legislature with authority to call upon all its subjects to perform militia duty, or pay a sum of money for an exemption, ought to be considered only as a mode of national defense; and will any one of this Convention say, that a national defense, when attacked by a public enemy, is unlawful?
Let them then who contend for the exemption on the ground of the demand being against conscience, point out the law in the christian code which clearly prohibits, or means counter to the requisition, and he would give up his opposition and support their cause: for he believed he felt as much repugnance to a willful violation of his Master’s commands, as any of them.
Every Quaker and Baptist, indeed every disciple of Jesus, ought to act in the common affairs of life, and in all their intercourse with the governments of this world under which they live, in the same manner as they have good reason to believe their King and Master would, were he in their particular situation.
And fortunately we are not left in the dark on this subject.
The general conduct of Jesus in his intercourse with society, as well as his laws and precepts, are for our instruction and direction in like cases: and his disciples may safely regulate their intercourse with the existing governments, by the examples he has left them on record.
The Judge said he hoped every member of the Convention would attend to the authorities he was about to cite, for in his mind they had great weight, and seemed to him conclusive on the subject in debate.
It would he recollected, when Jesus, with his disciples, was returning from Galilee to Jerusalem, they entered into Capernaum; and they who received tribute came to Peter and asked him, if his master paid tribute?
And he answered them, that he did; and when Peter was come into the house, probably to get some money of Jesus; but Jesus, knowing what he wanted, prevented his question, by demanding of him, of whom the kings of the earth took custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Peter answered, of strangers: Then said Jesus to him, the children are free.
Nevertheless, continued Jesus, lest we should offend them, go you and cast an hook into the sea, and the first fish that cometh, take it up, and on opening its mouth you shall find a piece of money; take it and give it to them for you and me.
Now, said the Judge, can there be a more direct authority, as lawyers say when they cite precedents, than this is to the point in debate?
Here was demanded of Jesus and his disciples, an unlawful tax, but rather than make any dispute about it, a miracle was wrought to get money to pay it.
He continued that he did not see how the principle of the authority can be avoided, unless those who contend for the amendment should say, that the tribute demanded of Jesus and his companions, was a tax laid by the Jews themselves towards the defraying of the expenses of the temple, and so being a lawful tax according to the law of Moses, it was legally binding on Jesus and his disciples, they being Jews, and the temple worship not yet being fully abrogated.
And if any member should take this ground to avoid the application of the authority, he was ready to reply and support the application.
But he must beg the attention of the Convention a few moments longer, and he would produce another text, by way of authority, which he looked upon free from all objection whatever.
It was from the same reporter, Saint Matthew, chapter 22.
The Pharisees took counsel together how they might entangle Jesus in his talk, and so they sent out to him some of their own disciples, with the Herodians (the Judge observed it was probable these Herodians were among the leaders of a party who adhered to Herod their King, and might, on that account, be somewhat attached to the Roman government so long as it supported Herod and their party) and they addressed Jesus by calling him Master, and, in words, at least, acknowledged that he was a teacher sent from God, and that he cared for no man.
Tell us, said they, (what they thought of great importance to the nation of the Jews) was it lawful or not to give tribute to Cæsar?
And there can be no doubt, but they expected he would answer, yea or nay.
If he had answered in the affirmative, then the Pharisees would have charged him with being a friend to the Romans, and an enemy to his own people the Jews; and if he answered in the negative, then the Herodians would have faulted him as a disturber of the existing administration.
But Jesus perceiving their wicked and fraudulent design, said to them; shew me the tribute money; and they brought him a penny — and he demanded of them whose image and superscription was on the coin?
And they said, it was Cæsar’s; then said he to them, render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
The Judge observed, as long as he had been conversant in courts of law, he did not recollect ever to have met a case so completely proved by authority of precedents as the present case is by the two examples of Christ’s conduct now quoted.
He continued that it might be fairly inferred from the last that Jesus did not look upon money, that is, the circulating coin of a nation, as a matter within the jurisdiction of his kingdom, or as having any value set upon it by his laws.
All the value it had received from the authority of the Emperor, that is the civil power over the kingdom of this world; and whenever he or his officers should call for any portion of it, let it be in whose hands it may, if the demand he made according to the general regulations of the empire, it was the duty of the holder to give it up; and the paying of it would not be considered by Jesus himself as an action forbidden by, or contrary to any of the laws of his kingdom. — He desired the New Testament, where are recorded the laws of the kingdom to which Christians belong as disciples of Jesus Christ, and are often explained and enforced by his Apostles, might be examined, and the law or precept pointed out which is contravened by a holder of Cæsar’s coin paying it to discharge a legal tax to a collector.
This he said, he thought, could not be done. — To pay the tribute actually demanded of Peter and his Master at Capernaum, or the taxes figuratively alluded to as having the stamp of Cæsar on the coins were simple actions necessary in civil society to support government on the part of those who demanded, as well as those who paid it, without any reference or implication whatever, whether Jesus was the Messiah or not; neither was the money demanded with an intent that the payment should he considered and taken advantage of as evidence of a denial of Christ before men; or as evidence that the man paying the tax was thereby to be considered as obeying man rather than God.
So, in the present case, under a militia law where citizens are called upon to learn the military art by exercising and manoeuvring with arms in their hands a certain number of days in the year, or to pay a small sum of money to compensate those who do, and thereby to be exempted themselves, the sole object of the Legislature is to provide for national defense. and the Judge said he thought national defense, and consequently, a preparation for it, could not, on any rational construction of scripture, be looked upon as an action forbid by the laws of Christ’s kingdom.
These and such governmental requisitions necessary for its support are altogether different from the requisitions made by the Roman government through the empire, in after persecutions; when christians were called upon to do some act, such as throwing a handful of salt into a fire on a heathen altar, or offering a sacrifice, or bowing to the image of the emperor, all which were demanded, and it was expected they were to be performed intentionally as plenary evidence of a denial of Christ before men; and a willingness to obey man rather than God; and which were prescribed as the only means of saving their lives and their worldly estate.
On the foregoing principles and considerations, the Judge said, when he heard of a Quaker, Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian, or any other denomination objecting to a tax, legally made, to support a minister, or to exempt from military duty, on the ground of conscience and as disciples of Jesus Christ, he could not, after the most serious and deliberate investigation of the subject, but think they entertained very mistaken notions of conscience, and that their views of religion and civil intercourse were very much confused.
In this opinion, however, he did not mean to call their sincerity in question.
For he was perfectly satisfied, from philosophical considerations and history, that sincerity, might, by habit, become associated with error as well as with truth.
The Judge then observed, he wished it to be expressly understood by the Convention, that he did not mean to oppose the exemption of Quakers, and all his observations and reasoning were intended to oppose the allowance of the exemption on the ground of conscience, as had been contended for by some of several denominations — And so far he thought both reason and scripture supported him.
There was another ground on which he was clearly of opinion the sect of Quakers might claim an exemption; which was that their society, as a sort of religious government peculiar to themselves, did render to the government of the State an equivalent for military duty, in that they always took care to have no poor people, or if they had any, they maintained them themselves.
He had never heard of a pauper Quaker being maintained by a town.
He was inclined to think their christian principles had such an influence on their hearts as to lead them to provide for, aid and assist one another in all the arts of useful living so as to preclude what is commonly called pauperism.
He said the Quakers have always been known and distinguished as a body from all other people, as much as the followers of Christ were in the apostolic age; and they are now equally distinguished as individuals and a society.
When it is proved that a person is of that denomination, it follows of consequence that he is opposed to war; there is no need of his making a declaration of his personal conscience, he believed it to be amalgamated in their common creed; and this he believed could not he said of any other sect and society in the Commonwealth.
Though he believed the Moravians, or united brethren as they are called, had made it an article of their creed, not to fight.
But he knew none of that sect in the State.
He continued, that it was suggested to him at the moment, that the Quakers educated their own children and had very little or no benefit from the town schools, though they were generally taxed for that purpose.
He knew this to be the case in some large towns where there were many of that denomination living compactly, but he had not heard how it was in the country towns.
He added, whenever any other sect of christians should become embodied and distinguished as the Quakers are, and afford the same evidence from their known principles and practice that war was their aversion and like them in consequence of their principles render an equivalent, he should be ready to vote their exemption, as he now was that of the Quakers.
But it must not be an hypocritical conscience; or where individuals, here and there, sometimes of one denomination, sometimes of another, and about as often of no fixed state of religious worship whatever, start up, in times of a national war, or when taxes bear heavily on the community, and proclaim they cannot in conscience meet in a militia company, and their consciences tell them they ought not to pay an exemption tax, or a parochial tax, he was ready to acknowledge, he had very little faith in such time serving consciences.
And he said he could not refrain from observing that these kinds of tender consciences, of late, seemed to increase, and extended to almost every requisition of Government. — He had lately known some to claim an exemption from acting as jurors in capital trials, on the ground of conscientious scruples; and another who did not see his way clear to take the oath or affirmation of a grand juror, merely because it was impressed on his mind that he could do more good than by spending his time that way.
These kind of consciences, he said, stood in need of instruction.