Philadelphia Quakers Beg Congress to Exempt Them From Militia Tax

On , a group of Quakers attended a session of the U.S. House of Representatives, and presented them with the following petition, prepared by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting clerk Nicholas Waln:

To the President, Senate, and House of Representatives of the United States, in Congress Assembled

The Address and Memorial of the People called Quakers, convened at their Yearly-Meeting for Pennsylvania, New-Jersey, Delaware, and the Eastern Parts of Maryland and Virginia, held in Philadelphia, by adjournments, from , inclusive.

Through the continued favour of Divine Providence, being once more permitted to assemble for the purpose of preserving circumspection of life, and decent order throughout our religious society, and as far as infinite wisdom may be pleased to qualify us to promote an increase of gospel righteousness and peace in the earth. In the course of our weighty deliberations we have been informed, that a bill is published by direction of the house of representatives, that the public sentiment may be obtained on the subject, entitled, “A bill more effectually to provide for the national defence, by establishing a uniform militia throughout the United States;” in which, although we perceive that some parts thereof appear intended for the relief of such who are conscientiously scrupulous of taking any part in war, yet we apprehend it our duty to remark, that if enacted into a law, will materially affect us, and our fellow members in general, in the free exercise of conscience, as in section the sixteenth, where it enacts, that every person of the age of eighteen years, and under fifty years, who are exempted from personal service in the militia, by the second section of the said act (except all ministers of religion actually having charge of a church or congregation, all principals, professors, and other teachers of, together with the students in, universities, colleges, and academies, all schoolmasters actually having the charge of a school, and all mariners employed in the sea service of any citizen or merchant within the United States as aforesaid) shall pay an annual tax of two dollars into the public treasury of the United States, to be applied towards the support of the civil government thereof, &c.

Although we cannot but gratefully acknowledge our obligation to the divine author and source of every mercy and blessing, that he hath so illuminated the understandings of men, and disposed the minds of the rulers of this land, as to allow that degree of freedom in matters of conscience which is already enjoyed, yet duty to Almighty God, revealed in the consciences of men, and confirmed by the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, is an invariable rule which should govern their judgments and actions, he being the only Lord and sovereign of conscience, as by him all men are finally to be judged.

By conscience we mean, that apprehension and persuasion a man has 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 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 religious and civil society; and it must be allowed on serious reflection, that every deviation from such religious duty, essentially disqualifies for that adoration and worship, which is incumbent on all men to perform, to the Supreme Being from whose bounty all our blessings are derived, and every restraint imposed or attempted by human laws on the free exercise thereof, is not only an infringement on the just rights of men, but also an invasion of the prerogative of Almighty God.

Under these considerations we apprehend, that we may reasonably solicit an exemption from being subjected to sufferings on account of our conscientious scruples; but at the same time, we may assure you that many of us are more solicitous to promote the prevalence of the dominion and government of the Prince of Peace, than to escape the sufferings we may undergo by the operation of such a law, firmly believing that all revenge, animosity, strife, and contention are utterly forbidden by Christ our Lord, as appears by his own declaration, Mat. ⅴ. 38. viz. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you that ye resist not evil,” &c. And Mat. ⅴ. 43, 44, 45. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you 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, that ye may be the children of your father which is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just, and on the unjust.”

Convinced of the necessity of a strict adherence to these, and numerous other divine precepts to the same effect, as well as to the peaceful spirit of the gospel; our religious society have not only uniformly declined joining personally in war, but have also considered themselves conscientiously bound to refuse the payment of any sum required in lieu of such personal service, or in consideration of an exemption from military employment, however laudable the purposes are, to which the money is intended to be applied, as it manifestly infringes on the rights of conscience.

With fervent desires that you may be favoured to discern the true interests of the people, and be qualified to judge with a righteous precision, in what relates to the important concerns of conscience, that the advancement of the glorious gospel day, prophetically declared, may not be retarded, when mankind shall no longer view each other with an indignant eye of malevolence, but cordially embrace as brethren, and nation shall not life up sword against nation neither learn war any more.

We are, respectfully,
Your sincere friends.
Signed in and on behalf of the said Yearly-meeting, by
Nicholas Waln,
Clerk to the meeting this year