How a Quaker Sacrificed Much Rather than Assist the Military

The British Friend republished a letter-to-the-editor by “a writer… not belonging to our Society,” first published in “a Plymouth paper,” saying that the letter:

…evinces the good effects of faithfulness to principle, in leading others to see not only the antichristian nature of war, but to denounce the oppressiveness of seizing the goods of those who cannot, in such cases, actively comply with the unrighteous demands of the authorities, however small may be the sum exacted.

…we trust Friends everywhere may, by such examples of consistency, be encouraged to maintain their peaceful principles in uprightness and integrity:—

The Seizure of the Friends’ Goods.

Sir,— A case has recently reached my ear which I deem to be of particular hardship, the more so, as by a little care, it might have been easily prevented, and have saved a most respectable and worthy townsman from severe and perfectly unnecessary loss.

It appears that lately, on the occasion of some military baggage having to be carted to Millbay Pier, the police constable most unhappily stumbled upon Friend Thomas Luscombe’s cart. Now, everybody knows, that that estimable body, the Society of Friends (to whom Thomas Luscombe belongs), refuse to be in any way mixed up with any and all military or naval affairs; they steadily decline any and all participation in such matters. Thomas Luscombe having declined, not from caprice or disloyalty, but purely from conscientious motives, to allow his cart to be thus employed — the officer goes further, and hires another in lieu, which costs an additional two shillings. The officer asks Thomas Luscombe for this two shillings, who declines, simply for consistency sake; he then goes to the office of the authorities, procures a warrant or “summons,” and straightway our Friend has to appear at the Guildhall “as an evil-doer.” Once there, the law allows no discretion to the presiding official; Mr. Luscombe is fined in the lowest sum of two pounds, which, with court expenses, soon reaches to two pounds ten shillings and sixpence more, regret being expressed at the entire circumstance. The case, however, cannot end here; nay, it is but “the beginning of sorrows.” On presenting the demand, a similar difficulty arises. Our Friend says, “I am very sorry, but I cannot pay thee; my principles forbid.” A bailiff is sent to the house to distrain — he seizes a quantity of cork, value ten pounds! and not until, by a room being employed in which to secure the seized article, the bailiff to hold the key — can the house be rid of so troublesome an occupant, in order to await the consummation of the whole matter, by the cork being turned into cash, at a price, most probably, very far below its actual cost, to raise the money to pay this most unhappy demand.

One would not apply harsh terms, but any party who had it in his power so to mulct a fellow-townsman, should well ponder ere he thus seizes; should use a little discretion touching that sometimes terrible engine “the law;” especially remembering the words of a certain book we have seen employed in the Guildhall, “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil;” and judging, as we do, that Friends’ principles are anything but evil (at least in their social and political aspect), we deeply sympathize with our afflicted friend, and cannot but feel grieved at the contrast between the litigated amount at starting, and the serious sum it has grown to. Nor does it mitigate the evil, and one’s sense of the unfairness of the whole transaction, that there are even religious people, who do not all go quite so far as the conscientious Quaker on the war question; though, decidedly many, and a growing number do nearly. I suppose this affair in the case of Friend T.L., has gone too far now to admit remedy; but I do hope, for the sake of all that is civilly and legally dignified — by every consideration of mutual good faith and good will — by every aspect of “the golden rule” — by every thought and feeling worthy the English people, and a nation professing high morality — I hope, by all these considerations, that in future those who have it in their power to take the initiative in law, will take care not to expose a highly respectable and esteemed member of society to such flagrant ill-usage. The sum originally at stake is so paltry as to excite one’s utter contempt, and I maintain that by an arrangement that might have been most easily made, this vexatious case might have been entirely prevented — and thus the sanctions and powers of British law would have been reserved for cases as worthy of its fearful exercise, as this must be judged by all candid persons to be wholly un-worthy. May a recurrence of it never be witnessed within our entire shores — may the time speedily come when nations shall learn the art of war no more, when all the pomp and form of military offence (and we now speak of offensive war) shall pass away, whether in militia form or any other; and when men shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks, and embrace each other in the bonds of social peace and unaffected benevolence, and so resemble Him whose name is “love.”