Dear King: Can’t You Do Something About These Pacifist Quakers?

On , some of the non-pacifist inhabitants of the Pennsylvania colony petitioned the King of England to do something about that darned Quaker-dominated colonial assembly that kept refusing to raise money to equip a militia. Here are some excerpts from that petition, as found in Charles Stillé’s “The Attitude of the Quakers in the Provincial Wars” (The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. Ⅹ, ):

[W]e have no hopes of seeing the assorted grievances redressed here while a great majority of men, whose avowed principles are against bearing arms, find means, continually, to thrust themselves into the Assembly of this province, and who have been frequently called upon to put the province in a posture of defense… but have always evaded the point, and spun out the time by unseasonable disputes, although nothing be required for this purpose but the bare sanction of a law to collect and conduct our natural strength as a colony.

[T]he Quakers in Pennsylvania have, upon every application, for 16 years now past,1 refused to raise a militia, refused to put the country in a posture of defense, refused to raise men or money for the king’s service, declare themselves principled against all military measures, and at length declared even self defense to be unlawful,2 and that at a time when the Indians and enemy were in the heart of their country, burning and destroying the inhabitants with unheard-of cruelties and barbarities.

  1. Stillé: “The best proof that the people of the province were satisfied with the conduct of their representatives is found in the fact that during these sixteen years, the majority in favor of its measures was not lessened at each annual election. Indeed, on the points in controversy referred to in the petition, the assembly was practically unanimous.”
  2. Stillé: “The Assembly, of course, never declared that self-defense was unlawful.”

The Quakers in Pennsylvania are not one-fifth of the people there. They consist principally of the descendants of those Quakers who originally went over thither, and they are generally settled in the South part of the province, most out of danger, and are the persons that are last to be devoured, so that the murder and destruction of their fellow subjects, the more modern settlers, who make their frontier is, to them, a light matter, being themselves out of the present danger, and they most piously cant that, according to their religious persuasions, self defense is unlawful.

Supposing they were sincere, those who maintain such an opinion are unfit for rule and government, who are principled contrary to the universal sense of all mankind besides themselves.

And that principle of theirs shows the necessity of what we desire, namely, that they should be excluded from the Assembly.

This exclusion could be easily accomplished if the crown were to require all Assembly members to take an oath of some sort (Quakers did not believe that Christians could take oaths).

They exempt all persons who, to save their money or their service, can work themselves up to be of a scrupulous opinion, which, in other words, is be but a Quaker and you shall neither serve or pay.

It is most manifest from that insolent address presented to the Assembly by 20 Quakers that this Assembly is led by the nose by that illegal cabal called their Yearly Meeting and their Quarterly Meeting.… these Meetings intermeddle in state & policy. They, by their resolutions, awe and control government and legislature… I do think there never was a more insolent paper than the Quaker’s address to the assembly…

When his majesty, the proprietor, the lieutenant governor, the people in general, their Indian allies, and their bleeding country, had one and all, repeatedly, called upon them to raise men and money and to defend themselves, and the enemy was in the heart of their country, destroying it and murdering the inhabitants, those 20 fellows address them to pursue measures consistent with their peaceable! principles, and declare they are mighty ready to contribute, to benevolent purposes, but they give them another charge, not to trust their committees with any money, for such committees may possibly apply that money to purposes inconsistent with our peaceable testimony, and if they do, they tell them flatly, they’ll rather suffer than pay a tax for such purposes.

Actually, the “insolent address” didn’t come from a Yearly or Quarterly Meeting, but from an independent group of Quakers. The Yearly Meeting put off taking a stand on the subject of that address until , when a subcommittee drafted this unenthusiastic statement:

Agreeably to the appointment of the Yearly Meeting we have met & had several weighty & deliberate conferences on the subject committed to us and as we find there are diversity of sentiments we are for that & several other reasons unanimously of the judgment that it is not proper to enter into a public discussion of the matter & we are one in judgment that it is highly necessary for the Yearly Meeting to recommend that Friends everywhere endeavor earnestly to have their minds covered with fervent charity towards one another, which report was entered on the minutes & copies sent in the extracts to the quarterly & monthly meetings.