New Jersey Quakers Petition for Exemption from Militia Tax

This comes from an edition of The Friend:

To the Editor of “The Friend.”

Having an opportunity of transcribing from the office in which the state records of New Jersey are kept, the memorial of the meeting for sufferings to the legislature of that state on the subject of the militia law, I enclose a copy for publication, to which I presume there can be no objection, as it is a public document accessible to all.

A Constant Reader.
Trenton, .

To the Legislative Council and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey.

The memorial of the religious Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the eastern part of Maryland, respectfully showeth:

That having noticed the following passage in the late message of the Governor to the Council and General Assembly, we believe it right to address you upon the subject. In allusion to the militia system, he says, “It is respectfully recommended that an effort be made to form a system which will abolish trainings of the whole mass of the militia in the present unprofitable mode — will secure more perfect discipline and instruction to such part as may be designated for the purpose, or who may voluntary perform the duty; and as will also relieve those who are conscientiously opposed to bearing arms, by requiring from them the payment of a tax equal to the fine which shall be imposed on others as a substitute for duty; and devoting the proceeds of that tax to the school funds, or some other object not opposed to their religious feelings.”

We do not doubt that this suggestion has proceeded from a friendly feeling on the part of the governor towards the persons alluded to, and we regard it as an evidence of the increase of Christian toleration in the world: yet it is due to ourselves to state that so far as we are concerned, the proposed change in the law will not afford us the intended relief. We trust that we shall ever be found willing to bear our full share of the public burden towards promoting education and other benevolent purposes, although we cannot do it in the manner suggested in the message. Without desiring to make any display of our own acts, it may be proper to mention, that besides supporting and schooling all our own poor, a large amount of our funds in the state of New Jersey has been annually expended in gratuitously educating the children of others not members, nor having any special claim upon our Society: neither have we ever been backward to acknowledge the authority of civil government, or to yield a ready submission to laws which do not infringe upon the rights of conscience. We cheerfully pay the taxes required for its support; as its essential object is the maintenance of peace and social order, without which the true interests of mankind cannot be promoted.

Our religious Society from its rise to the present day, has always believed in and fully acknowledged the divinity and offices of the Son of God, our holy Redeemer, mediator and propitiation with the Father; his doctrines, commands and precepts we hold to be indispensably obligatory. In accordance with the ancient prophecy, that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; annulling the avenging features of the Mosaic law, he taught his disciples, saying, “Ye have heard that it hath been said of old time, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you that ye resist not evil. Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” As mankind are brought under the influence of the spirit of Christ Jesus, and fully obey his divine commands, wars and fightings must cease: and it is firmly held by us that they are forbidden by these commands under the gospel dispensation. To their sincerity in this belief, our predecessors invariably bore testimony, frequently suffering the spoiling of goods, or long and cruel imprisonment. Although the trials of our faith in the present day are not so severe as they were formerly, we do not the less hold this testimony to be an essential part of sound Christian doctrine, and its faithful support to be our indispensable duty. That which our Lord has forbidden no human enactments can make lawful: when these require us to violate the divine law, we submit to suffer all that man may be permitted to inflict, rather than wound our consciences.

Consistently with our Christian faith, we cannot either perform militia duty, or pay any fine in lieu thereof: it matters not to what object of public good these fines may be applied; they are not enacted as a tax for benevolent purposes, but as an equivalent for military duty. Their infliction can only be viewed by us in the light of a penalty for refusing to do what we believe the Christian religion forbids; and it appears to us that no object of public utility is secured by their continuance. As regards us, they cannot promote the design of their enactment, which is learning the art of war, and they can scarcely be said to add any thing to the public treasury, for the part which finds its way there, bears a very small proportion to the value of the property taken from us under the cover of the militia law.

This is frequently manifold more than the amount of the fine, and is often levied in a manner wounding to our feelings and derogatory to the character of the government. If they should still be insisted on, we have no alternative but to submit to the distraint of our goods or to imprisonment; and this land of professed religious liberty must continue to exhibit the spectacle of a Christian people, oppressed in their persons and property, for refusing to violate their consciences by disobeying the express injunctions of the Saviour of men. By conscience we mean that apprehension and persuasion a man has impressed on his mind of his duty to God: and the liberty of conscience we plead for is a free and open profession and unmolested exercise of that duty: such a conscience as keeps men within the bounds of morality in all the affairs of human life, and requires us to live soberly, righteously and godly in the world; on which depend the peace, safety and happiness of every government.

Having stated these unalterable grounds of our objections to the impositions of militia law and the proposed substitute; we desire that the legislature may be favoured in their deliberations with that wisdom which is from above, and under its influence, may so regard the doctrines of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as to preserve inviolate those inestimable rights which are of sacred origin.

Signed in and on behalf of a meeting of the representatives of the religious Society aforesaid in Philadelphia the .

Jonathan Evans, Clerk.