Quakers to Governor: We Won’t Give You Money to Build Fort

In , a group of Quakers wrote to the governor of New York to explain why they wouldn’t be giving him money to repair his fort (this from Rufus M. Jones’s The Quakers in the American Colonies, ):

Whereas it was desired of the country that all who would willingly contribute towards repairing the fort of New York would give in their names and sums, and we whose names are under written not being found on the list, it was since desired by the High Sheriff that we would give our reasons unto the Governor how willing and ready we have been to pay our customs as county rates and needful town charges and how we have behaved ourselves peaceably and quietly amongst our neighbors, and are ready to be serviceable in anything which does not infringe upon our tender consciences, but being in measure redeemed of wars and stripes we cannot for conscience’ sake be concerned in upholding things of that nature, as you yourselves well know. It has not been our practice in Old England since we were a people, and this in meekness we declare. In behalf of ourselves and our friends, love and good will unto thee and all men.

For the governor, this sort of thing took some getting used to. By , his military funding requests were accompanied by various rhetorical methods to get past these peculiar scruples:

I have sundry things to offer to your Consideration, but shall only insist upon two at present.

1st. You know that government, if it be not supported, becomes precarious, void, and ends in nothing.

2nd. Gentlemen, here is a letter directed to me as governor of this province, from her Majesty, whereof you shall have a copy. The province of New York has been a long time burdened with a troublesome war, (if it may be called a war, for indeed the French and Indians in Canada are a pitiful enemy, if they could be brought to fight fair, but the wood, swamps and bushes gives them the opportunity of vexing us). You will see by this letter their Majesties’ commands, and what is expected from you towards the assistance of that province.

Gentlemen, if there be any amongst you that scruple the giving of money to support war, there are a great many other charges in that government, for the support thereof, as officers salaries and other charges, that amount to a considerable sum: Your money shall be converted to these uses, and shall not be dipped in blood. The money raised there for the support of the government shall be employed for the defense of the frontiers which do give you protection.

I would have you consider the walls about your gardens and orchards; your doors and locks of your houses; mastiff dogs and such other things as you make use of to defend your goods and property against thieves and robbers are the same courses that their Majesties take for their forts, garrisons and soldiers, etc. to secure their kingdoms and provinces, and you as well as the rest of their subjects. I speak the more to this matter because I have their Majesties’ command, which lies now here before you.

This line of attack would come up again and again in the debates about Quaker war tax resistance to follow.

The Quakers would attempt to prove themselves good citizens, on the one hand, by noting that they believed firmly in rendering unto Cæsar and giving all due respect to the established powers-that-be; but on the other hand, they’d insist that the gospel demanded that Christians not participate in violent measures, but turn the other cheek and so forth, and so they would have to stand aloof when it came to war.

Their annoyed opponents would point out that the establishment of government is all about being the violent measure of last resort, and if you’re going to claim that you are against violence because it is prohibited by God & Conscience, it’s silly to limit that to war. If you rely on government to protect your property or enforce your laws, you’re relying on violence, of which war is just a subset.

Lewis Morris (), who would later become governor of New Jersey, noted in that Lord Cornbury (Edward Hyde), who was governor of New York at the time and whom Morris disliked, had by that point given up on trying to negotiate:

In the Militia Act the Quakers that could not for conscience, forsooth, bear arms was to pay a certain sum yearly, and forfeitures were laid upon other defaulters, but there was no provision made to return the surplus of the distresses, if any such thing should be. My Lord [Cornbury] had made a set of officers suitable to his turn, to say no more of them, these were punctual in making distresses, and generally above ten times the value, which, when they came to expose to sale, nobody would buy, so that there is or lately was a house at Burlington, filled with demonstrations of the obstinacy of the Quakers, there was boots, hats, shoes, clothes, dishes, plows, knives, earthenware, with many other things and these distresses amounts, as is said, to above 1,000£ a year, almost enough to defray the charges of the government without any other way.

By , after Morris became a colonial governor himself, his memories of the actions of Lord Cornbury became more sympathetic. Here’s how he recollects the same event then:

there was a militia act in force here, something better calculated for the purpose than that here now in use, which those called Quakers would by no means, on pretense of conscience, obey. And while they were unmolested and not distrained on they laughed at those that did. This made others murmur who were obliged to train and muster and encouraged their refusing to do so, they claiming as much right to an exemption from training as the Quakers. This being judged at that time inconvenient, the officers were ordered to make distresses pursuant to the act, and (not being Quakers) perhaps put it in execution with more vigor than they should have done. This was called persecution for conscience sake, and these Quakers grew fond of what they called suffering, and gloried in the doing so, calling it a suffering for the Lords sake. Stores were filled with distrained goods such as hats, shoes, coats, britches, saddles, bridles etc. but nobody would buy them when offered to sale.

Later, his frustration with the Quakers grew. Here’s an excerpt from a letter from :

I have attempted in two Assemblies past, to get a bill for the settlement of the militia for our own defense, but without success. The people called Quakers who are in our Assembly, and chiefly influence there, will by no means be prevailed to came into it; and if they will not do any thing for their own defense, you may easily Judge how unlikely it is they will do any thing in this case. There is an odd entry made by them in the Journals of the Assembly in which was done at the desire of a Quaker in behalf of himself and other Quakers then members of the house in the following words viz. The members of this house being of the “people called Quakers have always been and still are for raising of money for the support of her Majesty’s Government; but to raise money for raising of soldiers is against their religious principles; and for conscience cannot agree thereto.” This principle of conscience whether real or pretended (though contrary to the principles of natural reason and religion) they tenaciously pretend to adhere to; which renders those that are willing to act otherwise, incapable of doing any thing that way…