Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, 24 October 1837, part 3

William Darlington “requested the indulgence of the committee” and began to appeal to precedent:

The matter seemed to be narrowed down to the single question, whether conscientious scruples against bearing arms do exist in any class of our citizens; and if so, whether such scruples deserve respect at our hands. Could there be any doubt in the mind of any man as to the existence of such scruples? Was there any one who could bring himself to the belief that it was merely a fallacy and delusion? Was there any one who had read the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as it was to be found in the annals of her legislation, and could come to the conclusion that there existed no such thing as conscientious scruples? Was it not for this that our forefathers fled from a land of persecution and settled themselves down here? What was almost the first step which they took after their arrival in this country, but recognition of these conscientious scruples? In the charter of privileges granted by William Penn, this principle is recognized in the strongest terms. In the first proceeding of the Legislature of this Province, in , we find a special enactment recognizing and tolerating this express right. By a reference to a law passed long before any other charter of rights but that granted to William Penn, the following enactment would be found.

Did this provision mean anything or nothing? Could there be any doubt on the subject in the mind of any man? As to whether it be a part of the religious creed of the Society of Friends to bear their testimony against war and fighting, we are not called on to determine. There was not any question of that kind before us. It would be found that at so early a period of our history as , the Legislature of Pennsylvania did conceive it proper to secure the inviolability of conscience to those who professed to be members of this society, as may be seen by the following extract from the law concerning liberty of consciences, passed in .

Shortly afterwards, in , this principle was carried still further by the Legislature, in the act for the advancement of justice, section 3, wherein it is enacted as follows: — 

Here again the Legislature recognized this principle. Here it would be found that one hundred and twenty years ago the principle of conscientious scruples regarding the taking of oaths, in reference to the Friends alone or very few others, was scrupulously regarded by the Legislature of the Province and embodied into laws which have continued to this day to be landmarks; nor need we confine ourselves to these instances alone. In every step in the formation of our government the same principle is recognized. In the Constitution of we find it laid down in the declaration of rights as follows:

Now, it was thus laid down that no man should be deprived of any right on account of his religious sentiments. If he should fail to show that this conscientious scruple to bear arms was a religious sentiment in those who belonged to the Society of Friends, then his argument based on this declaration in the Constitution of could amount to nothing. But if he should succeed in showing that it was a religious sentiment, a part of the creed of this class of our citizens, then we must renounce all these principles which our fathers had laid down if we refuse to respect it. The same principle is again laid down in the Constitution of . At every step thereupon we may trace the fact that conscientious scruples against bearing arms in those who profess to belong to the Society of Friends have been respected by those who have settled the government of the Commonwealth. In the Constitution of we have the sacred principle established: “That no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent, that no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.” No man therefore can be compelled to any particular form of worship, or to support any which he does not conscientiously believe to be right. The Constitution of contained no such clause as the present. Mr. D. here made a reference to the memorial of the Friends, to show that in its language it entirely harmonized with that of the charter of privileges, and that therefore no objection could be urged against it to which the charter itself was not liable. To sustain that position, he read an extract from the memorial of Friends.

Now he would ask, what was the conscientious practice; what the conscientious persuasion of the Society of Friends? He spoke in reference to the Friends alone, because his argument would equally apply to any other sect, or to every other individual holding conscientious scruples. If then every individual in the community, no matter how low his station, since this colony was settled, had been considered as deserving of such regard, and had been protected in his conscientious privileges and practice, were we now about to retrace our steps to those dark and barbarous ages when no human right was recognized except the right of the strongest? He trusted there was no such disposition in this body. If there were any who entertained conscientious scruples, he hoped these scruples would be protected and respected unless they should come in competition with the public safety. He made this exception, because he felt free to admit that the public necessity was superior to all law. Conscientious scruples, in times of public danger, must give way to public necessity. The principles of toleration which he had explained was not only to be found in the Legislative history of Pennsylvania, and in her Constitutional code, but in the Constitution of every State, even where the Society of Friends were scarcely, if at all, known, those who entertained conscientious scruples had been exempted from military duty. There was but one instance to which he would refer, which would, he believed, convince the committee, if any thing would, of the propriety of continuing this principle of toleration. In Tennessee, where perhaps there was no such person as a Quaker known, it had been thought necessary by a special provision in her Constitution to make it imperative on the Legislature to exempt those who had conscientious scruples on the subject from the necessity of bearing arms. The 8th article of the Constitution of Tennessee contained this clause on the subject: “Legislature shall pass laws exempting citizens belonging to any sect or denomination of religion, the tenets of which are known to be opposed to the bearing of arms, from attending private and general musters.”

Thus it would be seen that the Constitution of Tennessee did not even leave it discretionary with the Legislature, but made it imperative on that body to pass laws exempting from muster such persons as entertained religious scruples. This was going as far as any other Constitution had gone, if not farther. In many of the books he saw this principle of toleration recognized, although in our Constitution it is coupled with a clause — a dark spot in our organic law — compelling the Legislature to exact an equivalent.

The Constitution of Maine, article 7, section 5, runs thus: — “Persons of the denomination of Quakers and Shakers, justices of the supreme judicial court, and ministers of the gospel, may be exempted from military duty, but no other person of the age of eighteen, and under the age of forty-five years, excepting officers of the militia who have been honorably discharged, shall be so exempted, unless he shall pay an equivalent, to be fixed by law.”

Here the language makes it imperative, or at least holds out a strong invitation to the Legislature to make such exemption: but when such exemption is made, there is nothing said about an equivalent. Thus, Maine and Tennessee have adopted the same broad basis In Maine too, there were Quakers, and Shakers, and ministers. Perhaps only the Quakers and Shakers entertained conscientious scruples. But it was not left at the discretion of the Legislature to inflict any equivalent. Most of the other States recognized the principle of conscientious scruples but required an equivalent. It was not his purpose to go further than was proposed by the amendment of his colleague (Mr. Bell) to exempt those who professed scruples from actual service, and from paying an equivalent in time of peace; and, in war, from personal service, but requiring the payment of an equivalent, because no scruples could then be permitted to interfere with the public safety. Look one moment at the equivalent required. What was it? An equivalent in time of peace, when only one or two days training was required! What did it amount to? He wished it to be laid down as a principle that the conscientious scruples of individuals should be respected, unless some over-ruling circumstances rendered it necessary that these scruples should be disregarded. What were the services required in this case? To attend militia musters once or twice a year, under officers like the notorious Colonel Pluck. Are these the kind of services to be required of our citizens? The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania stands alone in the folly of her Legislature on this point. Did any one ever hear of an equivalent for standing in the street shouldering a corn-stalk? What was originally intended was that an equivalent should be given for actual service when such service was required. The militia laws had, on this point, never been in conformity with the Constitution. The Legislature had exempted some in disregard to the provision touching conscience, and had made others liable to service. Never, until they came to the point of arming and disciplining the militia, did the Legislature strictly comply with the provision in the Constitution as it now stands. There ought to be made evident some positive good — some over-ruling necessity, before we ventured to violate the conscientious scruples of any man. Gentlemen had told the committee of the exploits of militia in Europe, as well as in our country. He was astonished to hear the army of the great Napoleon designated as militia. He believed it to be a fact that Napoleon himself had said that the militia were only fit to stop a bullet until the regular troops could be brought up to action. He had therefore heard with astonishment that the whole army of Napoleon was merely militia. But it was not his purpose to take away the merits of any. In his part of the country there were no militia, there was no military spirit. He would now turn to an authority which he considered to be as great as that of Napoleon with every American. General Washington, in his letter to Congress in , in the midst of the war, used this language:

To place any dependence upon militia, is assuredly resting upon a broken staff. Men just dragged from the tender scenes of domestic life; unaccustomed to the din of arms; totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill; which, being followed by a want of confidence in themselves; when opposed to troops regularly trained, disciplined, and appointed; superior in knowledge and superior in arms; makes them timid and ready to fly from their own shadows. Besides, the sudden change in their manner of living, particularly in their lodging, brings on sickness in many, impatience in all; and such an unconquerable desire of returning to their respective homes, that it not only produces shameful and scandalous desertions among themselves, but infuses the like spirit in others.

Again, speaking of his preference for a standing army over the militia, he says: — “If I was called upon to declare upon oath whether the militia have been most serviceable or hurtful, upon the whole I should subscribe to the latter.”

With such evidence before us, he would ask, in the name of common sense, if to support such a system, the conscientious scruples of any of our citizens ought to be disregarded? Whether the right conferred by the Constitution ought to be violated to keep up an annual muster of men with corn-stalks? But it had been said by the gentleman from Franklin over the way, that if we open the door we shall allow the worthless to shield themselves from the duty of serving their country by setting up conscientious scruples, and thus make room for the escape of all who are cowards. It would be a singular spectacle to present to the world an army of cowards and traitors who, if they could, would shield themselves under the plea of conscientious scruples. It had been uniformly the military practice to drum such characters out of the corps. The argument therefore, defeated itself. The gentleman from Luzerne, (Mr. Woodward) had also said that the gentleman from Franklin had placed this question in a clear and unanswerable point of view, but was it likely that any one, merely to avoid the musters, would become a disciple of a creed which he did not believe and affect scruples which he did not feel? Was there any evidence of many having had resort to such fraudulent means to avoid service in time of war? But supposing it to be true that if we tolerated the scruples of one, we should open the door to others. Such a result was barely possible, but, because a few cowards or traitors, or both, might possibly shield themselves under such a pretext, was such a trifling and doubtful evil to be allowed to weigh against the feelings and religious opinions of so large and respectable a portion of our fellow citizens? All partial evil should be made to give way to a positive and a general good. He did not believe that this would be an evil at all. He did not think that it would be found to be the case that any citizens of Pennsylvania would shield themselves under the plea of conscientious scruples unless they seriously and religiously felt these scruples. It had been also said that if we allow this exemption it would be creating a privileged class among our citizens. But was this the fact? If so, your Legislature have already created a privileged class, because it is enacted that all who refuse to swear by the book may be allowed to affirm. Now was not this creating a privileged class? Why are they to be allowed, when called to testify on matters which involve life and death or important questions as to property, to evade the solemn form of an oath? Was not the exemption from this obligation erecting them into a privileged class? The only object now prayed for was a proper respect for these religious scruples which had been recognized and respected every where and at all times.

The gentleman from Luzerne had remarked upon a truism that in time of peace it was proper to prepare for war; and that it was also proper that taxes should be levied equally on all for the support of the war. He (Mr. D.) granted this position, that the tax should be levied equally; but had we ever heard of any individual in the community refusing, on account of his conscientious scruples, to pay a tax for the support of the government? No, it was not that this sect claimed any exemption from the ordinary burdens imposed on others. They had always been found among the best and most peaceable of our citizens; he would not say they were the best. They were always ready to pay their due proportion of the burdens of the government. It was certainly true that some of the money in the treasury might be applied to the purchase of arms for the defense of the country; but that money was levied by a general tax; it was not exclusively a military tax, and it was this alone to which they objected — namely, to levying a tax which was exclusively military — or to compelling them against the scruples of their conscience to bear arms, either in time of peace or war, or to pay an equivalent for personal service in time of peace. This, and this alone, was what the Friends objected to.

On a view of the whole case, he hoped that the Convention would act on the broad principle of human rights, and with a liberal respect for the rights of conscience in others; because no man should claim for himself what he is not willing to grant to others. He hoped that the Convention, feeling the force of the amendment, would this day affirm by its vote the sacred principles which was to be found in every Constitution in the United States, recognizing and favoring the sacred rights of conscience.

James C. Biddle joined him:

[I]t has been asked, should any class of the people of this country refuse to pay a tax for a great public purpose? Should they enjoy the blessings which are diffused among us, and refuse to give back their poor pittance towards the maintenance and support of that government which bestows all these blessings upon them? Sir, it appears to me that the learned gentleman, in his ingenuity, has mistaken the nature of duty imposed on the militiamen. The law requires that they shall parade at certain periods of the year for a certain length of time, and that, if they do not comply with the requisition of this law, they shall pay a fine. But, sir, this is not a tax levied for general purposes. My friend from Chester county, (Mr. Darlington) had said with great truth that there never had been a tax levied for general purposes which had not been most cheerfully paid by that class of our citizens who entertain these conscientious scruples. Probably no portion of our community has been more ready not only to pay taxes and bountifully to pour out their treasure for the support of the government, but to promote good and to ameliorate the condition of mankind in every form. Then they are not amenable to the charge of refusing to pay their portion towards the burdens of the government. But, sir, I assert again that this is not a tax; it is a fine, it is a penalty for not doing that which the law commands that they should do — it is like all other fines. We might as well say that a fine for an assault and battery was a tax. It is that which the law says they shall pay for neglecting to obey the command of the law, and you might with as much propriety say that any other fine imposed for the many numerous offences against the law was a tax, as say that this partakes of such a character. It has not a single characteristic of a tax; it is a fine — it is a penalty. Let me ask then, does not the argument we have heard as to a tax lose all its force? It is ingenious, however. Indeed the gentleman from whom it emanated never speaks without manifesting ingenuity; but we should not suffer ourselves on this account to be led astray from the plain matter of fact. Is the militia system itself a tax? If it is not, then neither is the equivalent for militia duty a tax. But it is said it is a great privilege — the privilege of bearing arms — that it is a right which all have to defend themselves. If, then, it is a great privilege of freemen, surely it is not to be designated as a tax; and if not a tax, how can its equivalent be called a tax?

I have thus endeavored, Mr. Chairman, to notice this argument of the gentleman from Luzerne; but he has proceeded further, and has entered into a learned inquiry whether the consciences of those who entertain these scruples were enlightened consciences or whether they are not ignorant, deceived, or mistaken. Sir, are we prepared to constitute ourselves here into judges of their consciences? The gentleman from Chester has truly said that no man doubts their sincerity. That they are numerous we all know — that they are intelligent we all know. The gentleman from Luzerne and myself differ in opinion with this class of our citizens, and we are ready at any moment to be led into the tented field to defend our country. But, because we differ from them, are we to say that all the light is ours and that they are groping in darkness, ignorance, and folly? We differ from them and that is all that can be said. But let us not mistake our course; let us not exalt our standard above theirs; and because they do not agree with us, let us not say that they shall yield their convictions to us. What is it? It is not giving them a privilege to protect themselves against wrong; it is an absolute command upon them to do that which they believe to be wrong. And would not we lose our respect for that society, if after struggling so long for conscience sake through every difficulty and every trial, by any act of uncalled for oppression we compel them to forsake their accustomed ways and to turn from the paths of peace, or lay a destructive grasp on their domestic joys and social happiness. Then, sir, I hope that we shall not undertake to set ourselves up as the judges of their consciences.

But, it is said that this is asked of us by the Friends as a class. And, it is asked, shall we, in this land of equal privileges, set up one class with privileges which another class of our fellow men are not permitted to enjoy? And thus, Mr. Chairman, by attacking our prejudices and by appealing to our feelings and our selfishness, we are asked to compel this body of men to do that which they believe they are forbidden by their Creator to do. But, sir, this boon is not asked by the Society of Friends as a class; it is asked for every human being who believes that the Almighty has forbidden him to bear arms. It is, then, only recognizing in this Commonwealth of Pennsylvania the principle that every man shall be entitled, not only in a place of worship to adore God as he pleases, but in all the walks of life to carry out and openly to illustrate the creed which he professes openly at his altar. And, sir, is it for the people of this Commonwealth, at this late day, to deny this great principle? What was it impelled our ancestors to forsake their homes, to abandon their firesides and the comforts and luxuries of European life — to cross the broad ocean and to come to this continent, which was then a wild wilderness of savages, where the war-whoop resounded in their ears? It was religious liberty; it was for that great blessing that every danger was braved and every peril fearlessly set at naught. Then they believed it was their duty, and that the voice which commanded them onward came from no human tongue; nothing could arrest their career — no tempest could appall them — the tomahawk lost its fears — they believed that the voice of God commanded them on and they went boldly forward. Are these the principles which governed them? Look at the laws agreed upon in England before they left their homes. One of the great principles to which they there pledged themselves, was the following, viz.:

Then, continued Mr. B. the great doctrine which brought them across the ocean and peopled this Commonwealth was the right of conscience, the right to live peaceably in a civil State without molestation on account of their religious principles. Are we, their descendants, ashamed of that great principle on which this Commonwealth was settled? Are we prepared to say that we will abandon the good old ways of our fathers; that they who came among the savages, teaching peace, not robbing them of their soil but purchasing it, and teaching them justice and liberality — shall we, I ask, who are their peculiar descendants, declare at this time of day by a Convention of Pennsylvania, (if it should be ratified by the people) that this principle shall now be obliterated from our fundamental code?

But John Fuller “said he was opposed to the amendment and also to the report of the standing committee” and he pointed out the weird contradiction in the proposed compromise:

He was at a loss to conceive how those gentlemen who were friendly to the views of the Society of Friends could reconcile to themselves what they asked in this amendment. What did they ask for? They asked to be exempted from the obligation of bearing arms or of paying an equivalent in time of peace. In time of exigency or war they asked for no exemption whatever. Now, if conscientious scruples existed at all with the Society of Friends, those scruples would most certainly be doubly urgent upon them to ask an exemption from all equivalent in time of war; inasmuch as the money accruing must be applied to repel force by force — and would furnish the means by which human life might be taken. In time of peace they ask for exemption when, as had been justly observed by the gentleman from Luzerne, the money would be applied merely in making preparations against any foreign invasion or insurrection. It was simply to prevent war; and although an attempt had been made by the gentleman from the city of Philadelphia, (Mr. Biddle) to show that this was not a tax, yet all fines and forfeitures went into the general funds to be used in payment of all necessary preparations for defense. Where then was the difference? Could there be any? Had the gentleman from the city of Philadelphia shown that there was any? But that which was most novel to him (Mr. F.) was that these persons having conscientious scruples against bearing arms, and standing in the position of a privileged class, did not ask for any exemption in time of war. If they had conscientious scruples against taking human life, why not ask for an exemption at that time when the money in the public treasury must, of necessity, be applied to such purposes. He presumed that would be inconsistent with what they had heretofore claimed and with what they claimed at this time. When this question had first come up — when the Society of Friends as well as another portion of the citizens of our Commonwealth claimed a change in the Constitution in respect to the militia trainings — in order to meet them on a ground of compromise, and to settle a certain great fundamental principle of our State, that a well regulated militia should be organized, he had offered an amendment which was voted down . He well knew that it would be voted down, but still he had felt it to be his duty to place it upon record. By that amendment the militia was to be enrolled and organized; but the disciplining of them was left to the discretion of the Legislature. That, however, was not satisfactory. , the gentleman from the city had preferred the words of the old Constitution. So also did he, (Mr. F.). They were admirably adapted to the purpose; they conveyed the proper idea, and that in terms so brief, yet comprehensive, that it was not possible for any man to misapprehend them. What were they? “The freemen of this Commonwealth shall be armed and disciplined for its defense.” This was the whole matter, excepting that in a subsequent paragraph were added the words, “Those who conscientiously scruple to bear arms, shall not be compelled to do so, but shall pay an equivalent for personal service.” How much preferable, continued Mr. F. were these words of the old Constitution to the words which the report of the committee proposed to substitute.

He should, therefore, vote against the amendment of the gentleman from Chester, because if he (Mr. F.) understood its purport it was irreconcilable with that which the Friends themselves desired to have. If the Friends did wish an exemption from fines in time of peace, they wanted a further exemption — and that was an exemption from the payment of an equivalent in money to pay men for killing their fellow men. If they wanted one, they wanted the other also. In the first case, no conscientious scruples can exist; but in the second case, the money was to be applied to a use which came in direct conflict with their conscientious scruples; and thus we were asking, in their behalf, for that which could not effect their conscientious scruples, whilst we passed altogether over that which appealed directly to those scruples. The Friends, as it appeared to him, complained of a burden imposed upon them by the old Constitution of ; and all they asked was to be exempted from that particular burden. Was this all they wanted? If so, why not be satisfied when the objectionable clause was struck out? But gentlemen on his right and on his left rise up with a further claim of a very strange character, and what was it? It was a claim not founded on conscientious scruples at all — it was a mere matter of dollars and cents. Conscience could have no concern in it. What! to claim exemption in time of peace from bearing arms or paying an equivalent therefor — and to be willing only in time of exigency or war to pay that equivalent, which they knew would be applied for the express purpose of taking the lives of their fellow men! This they were willing to pay for. Was not this the inference, and the only inference which could be drawn from the premises?

James M. Porter tried to explain this bizarre proposal that would exempt Quakers from connection with the military except in times of war — by appealing to the United States Constitution. The Constitution reserves to the U.S. Congress the authority “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States” but reserves to the individual States “the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress” [emphasis mine]. This seemed to take some of the discretion about how to organize the militia out of the hands of the State legislatures, particularly during such times when the militia is “employed in the service of the United States.”

This, Porter argued, was the reason why the Quakers were only asking for an exemption during peacetime. When the militia was under the command of the U.S. commander in chief, and employed in the service of the United States, it was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress, and not the Pennsylvania Constitution.

[T]he Society of Friends asked for… an entire exemption, as a matter of right and not of privilege, on the ground of the right of conscience, which was perfect and inalienable. The society required, not a partial but an absolute release from bearing arms. The committee had now the subject before them, and they could not run counter to the requirement of the Constitution of the United States. No exemption could be granted except in times of peace, and the committee was not willing to go farther. Now, this was not all that the society asked by the amendment under consideration; but it was all that would be granted to them. The chief purpose he had in view when he rose was to state what was the view entertained by the Society of Friends. If they should not get all they asked for, yet an exemption, as far as granted, would be a considerable relief to them, as all could not be demanded as a matter of right. So far as individually concerned, he stated, after having had a conversation with some gentlemen, that he supposed their advocates here would be satisfied if the clause should be stricken out which operated oppressively.

Good old John Cummin had to chime in, barely attempting to conceal his contempt for the Quaker peace testimony:

[He] read an extract from the memorial of the Society of Friends, which, he contended, went to show that the Friends are not only bent upon relieving themselves from all military duty, but that they are determined to exert all their influence for the purpose of “inculcating” their doctrines upon others. They admonish all others not to perform military service nor to pay an equivalent for it. They are not content with refusing themselves, but they encourage others to refuse to pay taxes. I took a book from the library the other day, — Gordon’s History of Pennsylvania, — which throws much light upon this subject. When I went to obtain it again, I found that a gentleman had taken it out, and upon further inquiry that he had mislaid it. So I cannot bring the book before you, but I carry enough of it for my purpose in this old brain of mine. This doctrine of “inculcating” their aversion to the defense of the country upon others, they begun to practice at a very early, and in a very interesting, period of our history. We may go back to the old French war, and shall find that the opposition of the Friends to the military system was then very conspicuous. They then opposed the preparations for the war, and endeavored to embarrass the province in its means of defense. The Friends, as they called themselves, — and they had done well to take that name, — and they may be friends to each other, — 


 — proved themselves at that time enemies to the government to which they owed all their safety and protection. When the colony was at war with the French and their savage allies, they “inculcated” upon those around them, and under their influence, the duty of withdrawing themselves from the public service. It was argued by the gentleman from Philadelphia, (Mr. Chandler) that they once had the government of the State, and that others came and rooted them out. This is true, and even for themselves it is well that it was so. During the French war of which I speak, the Assembly of the colony, according to Gordon, consisted of thirty members, twenty-seven of whom were Friends as they called themselves but enemies as I denominate them. They voted against the bill for calling out the militia, and against the bill for raising supplies to carry on the war and to defend the colony, — to defend themselves and their own families and property. Twenty-seven of this family of Friends voted against these bills in a time of public calamity and danger, — in a time that tried men’s souls. They were obliged, in consequence, to resign their seats, many of them, and the Governor called another set of men, who passed a militia law and provided the means of equipping and supporting a militia force. Well, at this time, the Menonists had become a numerous sect. They would not fight, for they left enough of that behind them in the country from which they came. They had conscientious scruples against fighting as well as the Friends; and, for some time, they hesitated also about paying an equivalent. They, however, consulted with the Friends, and finally came to the conclusion that if they did not fight they ought to pay; and that, sir, was not a bad notion of the men with the long beard. But, upon their consultation with the Friends, what did the Friends say? They said — “If you establish a militia force, you will, in a short time, be reduced to the same condition of slavery under which you lived in the old world; and if you pay for those who fight it will produce the same result. It will lead you into bondage.” But what said the Mennonist leader? “If we do not fight, we think we should pay, because we must support the government under which we live and by which we are protected.”

The advocates for this exemption tell us that Christ, by his example, discouraged war. But what said Christ to Peter? The tax gatherer came to Peter and said, Peter, does your master pay tribute to Cæsar? And Peter, in a great flurry, answered “Yes.” And when the Savior himself was applied to, was not his reply — “Render tribute to whom tribute is due.” I should like to know what the memorialists make of this? Will they say that Christ rebelled against, or refused to support the government under which he lived? Does not this government depend upon the payment of taxes? And is not the payment of taxes the very sinew of war [emphasis mine — ], as the gentleman from Luzerne (Mr. Woodward) so ably argued ? If one refuse to pay, all may refuse, and the country and government be left without any support. Never was there a claim made in the whole world so unreasonable as this — to be exempted from a fair proportion of the public taxes. No learning can dispute this, and any argument against the payment of taxes I can meet with the aid of this book which was dictated by divine wisdom.

I am surprised, sir, that gentlemen of so much learning and ability, should fall into so great an error in relation to the character of Penn’s grant. It was, as I have shown, a grant of religious freedom, and not of freedom or immunity from the support of the government. Why should we create an odious distinction in society?

Ebenezer W. Sturdevant agreed. He said he “could not vote for the amendment of the gentleman from Chester, because it conferred an exclusive privilege upon a particular class of our fellow citizens, and one which we would not dare to extend alike to every citizen of the State”:

He would not recognize their claim to exemption as a right; and though he would go as far as any to protect all men in the right of worshipping God after the dictates of their conscience, yet he would go no further.

He would not say to his neighbor who was of a different opinion with him and who held to a different faith, that he should be excused not only from being armed in defence of his country, but likewise from paying an equivalent to defend that country. He could not say to any class of men that they should receive protection from a government, while they were relieved from paying an equivalent for that protection. He looked upon this equivalent required to be paid under the existing Constitution as a tax, and to ask to excuse any class of persons from the payment of this equivalent, was absolutely and in fact asking that a portion of our citizens should be exempt from the payment of a tax which goes like all other taxes, directly into the treasury of the State. You will find by the act of , that all funds, collected as militia fines are directed to be placed directly in the treasury. The third section of that act provides “that the brigade inspectors, and persons appointed in the place of brigade inspectors, as aforesaid, shall keep an accurate account of all moneys received by them for the fines aforesaid, and shall annually in the month of January, in every year, settle with the Auditor General, who is hereby required to adjust their accounts, and shall pay into the State treasury any surplus arising from said fines.”

These fines therefore are a species of taxes which go directly into the State treasury, and are precisely on the same footing of other taxes. Now how can the society of Quakers ask us, on account of their conscientious scruples, to protect them from the payment of these taxes in time of peace, when they are not only willing to pay them in times of exigency and war, but to go into the battle field, as some gentleman has asserted?

They are willing to make their payments in time of war, and fight the battles of their country when it may become necessary, yet they ask us in time of peace to exempt them on account of conscientious scruples, from paying a tax which goes directly into the treasury of the Commonwealth. It appeared to him that gentlemen were asking a very great deal when they asked of us to exempt a class of our citizens, who received equal protection from the government with all our other citizens, from contributing their portion of the taxes necessary to be contributed in order that we might in time of peace be the better prepared for the hour of trial and difficulty and danger.… There are but few who would not take advantage of this provision in time of peace, and as “conscience makes cowards of us all,” many might avail themselves of it in times of danger.… A large majority of your citizens may be conscientious both in bearing arms and contributing money, so that the hands of the Legislature would be tied, and the storm of war would be upon you before the sinews of war were prepared to withstand it. If it is a fact, as has been asserted by some gentlemen in this debate, that the Quakers would be the first to shoulder their musket in defense of their country in time of invasion, why was it that in time of peace they were desirous of sheltering themselves behind conscientious scruples, from paying that small remuneration which was required of them by the government, to enable it to prepare for those emergencies.… Again, can it be expected that men will go and learn military tactics, losing some three or four days in the year, at an expense of perhaps fifty dollars, to support a system which their more wealthy favored and conscientious neighbor is entirely free from? If this was not to be expected, and certainly it was not, he thought we ought to be exceedingly cautious in altering the old Constitution in this particular.

This was taking things to unbelievable extremes. “[T]he Quakers would be the first to shoulder their musket in defense of their country in time of invasion?” Really. And there’s that “conscience makes cowards of us all” quote again.

Thomas Bell then modified his proposed amendment slightly:

If you compare this to his proposed amendment from , you’ll see that the wording is changed somewhat to emphasize that the “except in times of exigency or war” is meant only to apply to the “pay an equivalent” part and not to both that and the “be compelled to [bear arms]” part.

Walter Forward “would beg the indulgence of the committee, for a few minutes, while he laid before them some of the views which he entertained on this subject” on the subject of social contract theory and the theoretical basis of democraticish governments:

Sir, when men come into society and are parties to a compact or government, it is obvious that they must surrender some of their natural rights, otherwise government could not be organized, and if organized, could not be held together. What are the natural rights of men which must be surrendered, and what may be reserved consistently with the stability and safety of the government — what is the right of conscience? Is it a right which must be surrendered up to the government on entering into compact with it? No sir — it is a natural right which is reserved to the citizen, one which he never surrenders to government, one which he holds to in all forms of government and never gives up. Is liberty of conscience a natural right? Who denies it? Then is it open now for discussion? Liberty of conscience was not denied by anybody to be a natural right; this was conceded on all hands. Then why do gentlemen not trace to the sources of this right and see what it is? Why it is the right of worshipping God as every man may see fit, and this right is not to be infringed in this country. We call it a natural right because men acknowledging the Supreme Being as their ruler and guide hold themselves accountable to him in certain respects, and when they do this they feel that they owe a duty to that Being which cannot be dispensed with. This is the right of conscience. Is this then not to be tolerated? When men feel that there are obligations and duties which they owe to their Creator which are paramount to all others, is it to be said that this shall not be sanctioned by government? Is there a doubt on this subject, as to what all should do? When men believe in the Supreme Being, are accountable to Him, believe Him to be the moral Governor of the Universe, or take his revelation to be the guide of their conduct and believe it a part of their duty to obey his behests as they understood them; will any man say that this is not the right of conscience? Does any man doubt it? Is not this the same as the right of worshipping God according to the dictates of conscience? The whole matter rests upon the fact of a man’s acknowledging the Supreme Ruler of the Universe as his guide, and refusing to do any thing which he believed was not approved by that being.

The right of conscience in relation to bearing arms is a sacred right. It is equally sacred with that of the right of self-defense. They were both equally high and sacred rights, and when he heard gentlemen stand up here and call this liberty of conscience a privilege, he was astonished. If he understood some of the gentlemen who had spoken on this subject, they called it a privilege and hesitated whether it deserved the name of a right. While speaking of those rights which we are required to yield to a certain extent to the government for its perpetuity and safety, he should like gentlemen to show him the necessity for yielding this right; could gentlemen show wherein it was essential to the existence and perpetuity of the government to yield this right? When he was called upon to yield any of his rights he wished gentlemen to show him some reason why he should yield them. Show him that it was necessary, show him that the government could not exist without it, and he yielded the right. He had a natural right to self-defense, but he yielded that right in certain cases, and why? Because the government could not exist without it. The sheriff came to him with a capias, and laid his hand upon his shoulder, and perhaps might take him to prison, and unjustly too, and he had to yield to this, because civil society and the government could not be held together if every man had the right to rebel and not obey the officers of the law. There must be a common arbiter in society, and every man must yield to that arbiter. He may have been perfectly innocent of the charge brought against him, he may have committed no crime, he may have owed no money, and the man who brought the suit may have been the villain; yet, notwithstanding his innocence, he might be arrested and taken to prison, and he was obliged to submit to this, because the government and society demanded it at his hands. He must yield his natural right of self-defense, otherwise he would have knocked down the officer or repelled him from his house by force. This was the ground on which this matter stood. He found a class of men in the community who believed in God, and believed that they owed a duty to God paramount to all other duties. They believe it is their duty not to bear arms, and they owe it as a duty to the God that made them not to do so; and that if they do this they will be accountable at the judgment seat of heaven; it is blended with their hopes and their fears, with those hopes of enjoyment which lie anchored beyond the stars. This has been the belief of these people from the foundation of the government to the present time, and all their acts show it; then why should we be asked if this right was to be allowed them, which is here asked for? Are we to step in between these principles and the throne of God and rest his claim upon them? He for one would not do it, unless some imperious and high necessity could be shown to exist which required that this natural right should be given up. He hoped now that those gentlemen who were scrupulous about their indulgences to the Society of Friends, and had addressed the Convention on the subject, would meet on this principle. Let them come up to the mark and deny that this was a natural right. If they did so, he called for the proof; they must prove that it was not a natural right, and if they failed in that, they yielded all. If they failed, all was yielded and the right must be sustained because it was sacred; and he would ask any Christian community on earth where toleration was practiced; he would ask any individual in the country; he would ask the atheist who had no God, if any such there are, whether it was not our duty to grant this claim to all who sincerely asked it. It is as plain as day that there is a principle in this thing — it has been acknowledged in the Constitution itself, and in the Constitution of . This principle was then acknowledged when our soil was stained with hostile blood; when the country was agitated by fear and all were ready to acknowledge that there was a Supreme Being to be looked up to. The principle was acknowledged in the Constitution of as follows: “No part of a man’s property can be justly taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of his legal representatives, nor can any man who is conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms be justly compelled thereto, if he will pay such equivalent.” Sir, the right is secured here and they are left merely to pay the equivalent. In Tennessee it is regarded only in time of war, and in Maine the Constitution provides that the Legislature may exempt these classes. But he recurred to the principle and he desired that it should be yielded, except in case of imperious necessity. If that ground was established and proven, he yielded the matter. This matter had been argued in regard to certain facts which had been brought to the notice of the committee. Then taking it on this ground, what were the facts of the case, what necessity was there to call upon these men to surrender up their natural rights? The militia trainings. There is the necessity, and the only necessity for it. Let this matter be expatiated upon; let it be examined and see whether they are of such great importance as to demand the surrender of a right like this to them. Are the militia trainings in time of peace of that importance as to require the surrender of a part of a man’s natural rights? Why, the matter was yielded — it was given up. It was given up by the gentleman from Fayette that they were not of such importance. The whole of the gentleman’s argument went to yield the point.