Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, 25 October 1837

, Samuel A. Purviance “would say a word further in relation to this question of conscience, and then he had done”:

Gentlemen had treated this subject as an application on the part of the Society of Friends to be exempted from the payment of a tax. Now he trusted that the committee would not be misled on this idea of its being a tax. What do they ask? Do they ask to be relieved from the payment of a tax for the support of the government? By no means. They merely ask to be relieved from the payment of a fine. What is a fine? What is the legal acceptation of the word? — because it has a legal meaning. What does it imply? It implies a degree of neglect on the part of the person who pays the fine; and hence it is that the Society of Friends believe that, in applying the word fine to them, you throw upon them a degree of censure for a supposed neglect. The Society of Friends never fail to perform their duties to the government. He asked the committee when it was, that the Society of Friends ever refused to contribute taxes to the support of the government. Why, sir, adopt this proposition and you do not relieve them from the payment of taxes. They pay their taxes as before, and those taxes go into the treasury of the State, and whenever your Legislature may see proper to levy a tax for carrying on a war, you will hear no complaints from the Quakers, because they hold it as a part of their creed to pay all necessary taxes to the government under which they live — to render to Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s. He could not regard this question in any other light than as a question of toleration, and on that ground and that alone, he hoped the amendment might be agreed to which would grant them the relief which they asked.

George W. Woodward thought it was ridiculous to compare demanding conscientious objectors to pay a fine to burning heretics at the stake, and asserted that if you free conscientious objectors from this fine on the basis of conscience pretty soon they’ll be demanding to be freed from any tax that pays for anything they conscientiously object to, and then what will happen to government?:

[T]here is a body of men in this Commonwealth who have conscientious scruples against bearing arms; conscientious scruples against conforming to the laws providing for keeping up this necessary military establishment. Such a body of men he knew existed, and he admired and respected them for their many virtues, and believed them to deserve all the high wrought eulogies which had been pronounced upon their characters. There was no man who respected these people more than he did, and he believed them sincere in the professions they make on this subject. He would therefore place in the Constitution a protection for their consciences, by relieving them from doing military duty. He would take precisely the same ground taken in the Constitution of by the fathers of our republican institutions. The framers of the Constitution had precisely the same application made to them from the same source, and they took the ground that no man should do military duty who had conscientious scruples against bearing arms, but that the allegiance which he owed to the Commonwealth should be preserved by the payment of a small contribution or tax; that he should pay something in lieu of the military service from which he was exempted. This was the ground then taken; this was the tolerance then practised; and such was the proposition that our fathers inserted in the Constitution, and which had been expunged from it on the motion of the gentleman from the county of Philadelphia.… But what are we told by the gentleman from Allegheny (Mr. Forward)? What are all told who stand by the broad principle of toleration as asserted in the Constitution of ? We are told that it is a revival of the fierce spirit of persecution of former ages; that it is the same spirit which planted the stake and kindled the fagot; that we are returning to the dark ages of barbarity; and that we are unmooring those hopes that have their anchorage beyond the stars. Why, any persons listening to these remarks would have thought that we were introducing some monstrous and unheard of doctrine into the Constitution. Who are they against whom this argument is addressed? Individuals who, acting upon their sense of propriety, are in favor of retaining in the Constitution the very tolerance principle that has distinguished this Commonwealth and all other free governments upon earth. A principle which has always secured to all men the right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience and to be exempt from the bearing of arms upon the payment of an equivalent. He submitted to the committee and to the country, whether the gentleman from Allegheny, in the warmth of his zeal in favor of these petitioners, had not imputed to others more than the question demanded or the circumstances of the case required. Whom do we propose to persecute? What is the system of persecution complained of? Who had brought forward a proposition for the persecution of anyone? What amendment have we brought forward to persecute the friends? Yet the gentleman from Allegheny had made the insinuation that we desired to return to the practices of the dark ages.…

The gentleman has told us in the course of his observation that this was indeed a tax; differing from other gentlemen on that side of the question — he tells us that it is a tax, but that it is a tax upon tender consciences. Now Mr. W. denied this. He denied that it was a tax on tender consciences. It is not the conscience that is taxed, but the purse; and does the gentleman from Allegheny mistake the one for the other? He trusted not.

It is the purse that is taxed for the relief of the conscience. The purse is taxed out of respect for the conscience; and this is the kind of toleration which the people of Pennsylvania are always willing to regard; and this principle has been engrafted on our Constitution and become the law of the land, upon the ground that the consciences of these people are against the performance of military duty. This was the doctrine that he cherished: but who ever heard in this discussion the consciences of these people assailed, or who ever heard that this was a persecuting tax upon conscience? There may have been force in the gentleman’s declamation, but there was no force in the argument. The Constitution of respects the scruples of those conscientious against bearing arms; but the man having conscientious scruples pays such tax as the government enforces upon him.

The Legislature of Pennsylvania had always decided that the militia establishment is necessary, and will always continue to do so. Now, sir, if the Legislature of Pennsylvania decided that the militia system was necessary for the safety, the security, and the defense of the Commonwealth, how is it to be sustained without some kind of preparation, and where is that preparation to be made? Contributions are to be made for the purpose of purchasing arms, erecting of arsenals, and paying the expenses of the militia, and when is all this to be done? It is to be done in time of peace. Then if conscientious scruples are to protect one class of men from making this contribution, it may another, and another, and when it becomes necessary to make these preparations, there will be nobody to call upon to contribute, for all will be protected by their consciences. Once say that conscience shall protect men from making these contributions, and you will have but few contributors in time of peace. There will be nobody to take the field, and there will be nobody on whom to call for means to make the preparations necessary for the defense of the country. Carry out this principle, establish this plea of conscience, and where will it end? A whole Commonwealth may shield themselves under this plea of conscience from contributing to the militia service for the purpose of keeping up your militia establishment. Your State becomes defenseless, feeble, and contemptible in the eyes of the world, your military spirit has fled, there is no protection for your citizens, you become the scorn and derision of the nation, and stand inviting aggression from abroad and encouraging sedition and rebellion in the bosom of your own State.

If these gentlemen’s doctrines become the law, where is the security for the citizens of this great Commonwealth? Where is the security for the property of the Quakers? Where the security for your homes, your firesides, your wives, and your children? On what arm will the gentlemen themselves lean for protection in the hour of trouble and danger? You become at once prostrate, feeble, contemptible, and a prey to every nation who choose to prey upon you. But carry this principle further. Once adopt it and excuse this class of men from paying what he contended was strictly a tax; excuse them from paying a militia tax, when all along the Legislature has deemed it necessary to the well being and safety of the government that the militia should be preserved, and what will be the next step you will be asked to take? Why, you will next be asked to excuse them from all taxes that go to sustain your judiciary establishment. If militia taxes are yielded, judicial taxes must be on the same ground. The argument will tell with the same force against these, but with the advantage of a precedent. The Quaker never sues anybody — he has no occasion for your judiciary — he is conscientiously scrupulous against employing it and of course against sustaining it. Every dollar he pays to sustain this expensive establishment is a tax on tender consciences; and, as the Constitution has taken them into its keeping, and relieved them from military taxes which are indispensable to the existence of the government, a fortiori, these judicial taxes must also be forgiven. This will be the argument, and how will you escape from it? Adopt the principle, and conscience may become arrayed against one tax after another until your government becomes a thing more contemptible even than a “corn-stalk militia” — a mere rope of sand. Aye, sir, the Keystone State is to be without the power of collecting taxes for any purpose, because conscience chooses to step in and arrest the arm of the collector. This was the first step to an entire and utter dissolution of our government and prostration of our Commonwealth.

They might disguise it as they pleased; they might ridicule their fellow citizens when acting in a military capacity under laws of the State, but he proclaimed that the moment the power of the Commonwealth was set at defiance, when, in the judgment of the Commonwealth, that power ought to be exercised either in relation to the militia, to the judiciary, or to any other State object — its sovereignty would be destroyed — the State would be deemed contemptible and would be split to atoms. He, for one, would never give his sanction to a step which he believed, if followed up, would inevitably lead to a dissolution of that government to which we all looked for protection, for our lives and our property.

But, he had been told that this was no tax. One gentleman had said that it was no more a tax than was a fine for an assault and battery — it had been called a penalty — an amercement — any thing but a tax. He, (Mr. W.) did not contend that these military fines were called taxes in our Constitution, or in our acts of Assembly, or probably in common parlance. He was not, however, to be cheated by names. “The rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” He looked at the substance of the thing, and he saw in this all the essentials of a tax. What was a tax? He would read its definition from Webster’s dictionary.

“Tax;” derived from the Greek root “tago,” is defined by Noah Webster, to be “to set, to throw on.”

“A tax,” says that author, “is a rate or sum of money assessed on the person or property of a citizen by government, for the use of the nation or State. Taxes, in free governments, are usually laid upon the property of citizens according to their income, or the value of their estates. Tax, is a term of general import, including almost every specie of impositions on persons or property, for supplying the public treasury, as tolls, tributes, subsidy, excise, imposts or exactions.”

This, then, continued Mr. W. was the definition of a tax; an imposition either upon the person or property for State objects. This was the general idea which we had of all taxes. He supposed that when a man was fined for an assault and battery, he had committed an offence which required punishment in some form, and this was the form which had been prescribed by the law. But, he would ask, what law had that man violated who chose to pay a fine instead of performing military service? Did not the law and the Constitution allow it? Did not every act of Assembly secure the right? And, when a man paid his tax to the collector, did he not act in conformity to the law? Was there any violation of the law? Did he become amenable to any legal tribunal? Not at all. He had simply accepted the compromise offered to him by the law of the land; either to do military duty or to pay a sum of money in lieu of it. And he had chosen the latter alternative. As well might we say that a man was punishable by fine for not working on the highways, as for not performing military duty. We have laws which compel every citizen to work upon the highway of the township in which he lived; but if a man chose not to march with his shovel and spade over his shoulder on the day on which he was notified by the supervisors to do so, he might pay a money equivalent or tax in lieu of performing personal service. Any man might do so. Was this like a fine upon a culprit — upon a man who had committed assault and battery? No — it was a tax — strictly a tax. The law had said to him, in advance, that he need not work if he choose to pay a tax. And so the law said in the present case; you need not do military duty unless you choose. You need not do military duty, but you shall pay an equivalent for it.

It was a contribution for a public object. What was that object? The defense of the State; to make preparations for defense in such manner as the law of our State might prescribe. This was the high and paramount object to which all men were bound to contribute, either by personal services or by the payment of a pecuniary equivalent. This was the high and paramount object for which this burden was laid upon the mass of our citizens. And was he not then correct in saying it was a tax, and in comparing it to all other taxes assessed for State purposes? He was well aware that it was not called a tax; but, in his view, this, as he had before stated, was a matter of no importance. He looked at the essential quality of this thing. He saw that it was money to be paid for a great public object — namely, public defense against a foreign enemy or domestic insurrection; and hence it was that he inferred it was a tax and nothing but a tax.

Standing then on this ground, let me ask if this amendment is not calculated to describe a circle round a certain portion of our fellow citizens and to erect them into a privileged party — a non-taxpaying party? It throws over them a Constitutional shield from the demands of the public, because their consciences are tender. And what would be the apology of the members of that Convention to their constituents, when they went home to the industrious farmers of the land and told them, “we compel you to pay a tax for military service while we have excused the most wealthy of our citizens from doing so.” What answer should we make, when asked the reason of this fanaticism? We should answer, their consciences forbid them to pay and we excused them.

But our yeomanry would see and feel the injustice and outrage, and if they did not pour upon us their contempt and indignation, he mistook much the character of the people of whom he spoke.

Never, until he was prepared to cut loose from all those sacred republican principles which constituted at once our pride and our security — never, until he was prepared for a privileged church establishment in this land, would he vote for an amendment which involved results such as these. There was no escape here. Gentlemen might talk as much as they pleased about taxes or their conscience. He would refer again to the authority which he had introduced the other day — he alluded to Proud’s History of Pennsylvania — a work in which all the tenets of this respectable sect of Christians were fully displayed; and it would there be found, in so many words, that their consciences required from them the payment of every tax which the public authorities might require. Talk of taxes being against conscience, while here it was expressly declared that it was the duty of every good Christian to pay such taxes as the Legislature might impose. And the high authority for this principle is recorded in the language of our Savior, when he commanded that tribute should be paid to Cæsar: — “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And, continued Mr. W., who was Cæsar but the personification of the power employed in persecuting the followers of the Christian faith? Is it lawful, our Savior was asked, to pay tribute to Cæsar, when mighty engines of power were engaged in overthrowing Christianity and in unloosing the faith of those whose hopes are moored beyond the stars? And what was the answer? “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This was the reply of our Blessed Redeemer, and this was the principle on which the Quakers placed their argument when they paid, that duty to the State and duty to conscience required them to pay all the taxes which the State, whose protection they enjoyed, might impose upon them.

This was mainly the argument taken here; and he was not to be stopped in his course by being told that we could not dive into the depths of the human heart, and construe the consciences of men according to our own opinions. It was his duty to look at this matter according to the sense which he had. He knew that it was not for him to explore the hearts and the consciences of others. But when a class of men come before a body such as this and asked extraordinary privileges — when they asked an entire exemption from the ordinary burdens of the government, he should take the liberty to inquire into their title to these privileges, and to look into the principle upon which they justified their demands — and he should never be deterred from the performance of this duty by being told that the subject was sacred. He had before explicitly stated and he now repeated that he did not doubt the sincerity of professions which were made of conscientious scruples; but when, in his representative capacity, as a delegate acting under the solemn responsibility which he owed to the people, he inquired whether the payment of this tax was a fit object to which to apply this matter of conscience by constitutional provision, it was necessary for him to discard all personal considerations. So inquiring anxiously, and conscientiously seeking to arrive at correct results, he could not find that the payment of this tax was a subject to which he could constitutionally apply this matter of conscience; nor could he see that the subject involved in any degree the question of religious toleration.

He had listened with much delight to the many rhapsodies which had been poured into the ears of this committee, on the subject of toleration of conscience. He listened at all times with pleasure to eloquence on such a topic. But whilst he admitted that toleration of conscience should ever be held a sacred and inviolable principle, he still contended that conscience had nothing under Heaven to do with the matter now under consideration. The great question was whether we should sustain or abandon our government — whether it was worthy of receiving our contributions for its defense — or, whether it had become so much a matter of indifference to us that it might be left a wreck on the ocean, at the mercy of the tempest and the storm. He repeated that it was no question of toleration of conscience. When the Convention, in the due progress of its labors, should come to that part of the Constitution which declares that no man shall be molested in worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of his own conscience, the gentleman from Allegheny, (Mr. Forward) would find him willing to go as far as anybody in sustaining that great principle of our Constitution. But he protested against every endeavor to connect this question of taxation with the subject of toleration of conscience. It was not so; the two matters were entirely distinct.

The object was the defense of our State. Was it unconscionable to defend our families, our homes, our rights, and our liberties? Surely it was not so. The Quakers of other days did not judge that it was so. That man who spoke “as never man spoke” did not judge so. When the State in which we lived, and which protects us in the enjoyment of all our earthly possessions, imposed a tax upon us, it was right we should meet it. He granted, indeed, that the people might rebel; for this was one of their first and most inalienable rights. But on no other pretext, save that of rebellion, could we justify resistance against the payment of a tax. You must either be for us or against us. You must either assert your allegiance by the payment of your taxes, or you must rebel and overthrow the government; and he granted, of course, that when the government became oppressive, tyrannical, and intolerable, rebellion was a sacred and indefeasible right, and in such case he would himself join in it. But it was a question of payment or rebellion; and if gentlemen could show him that our government was no longer worthy the support of honest and Christian men, he would join them in the effort to overthrow it. But, he would do it manfully, by open and direct attack, and not by secret or insidious attempts to undermine it. He would not do it by interposing his conscience between him and his duty, and thus making it the apology for every dereliction from duty.

The payment of this tax he held to be necessary. If not necessary, it would never have been imposed; and, if necessary, should it not be paid? How could gentlemen justify a refusal to pay it? Upon what principle was it to be withheld? On the principle of religious toleration! Were we to be frightened by thus laying it to the score of religious toleration, and to be told that this was the ground on which the justification rested? He denied it; he denied most emphatically that there was any question of religious toleration here. It was simply a question of supporting the government. And if the necessities of our government rendered such a tax necessary, where was the conscience in all this Commonwealth which would refuse to pay it for the defense of our State, of our homes and our altars.

[T]he gentleman from Allegheny had stated that it would be intolerant to require, from this particular class of men, either the performance of military duty or the payment of an equivalent for it, unless in the event of some great and over-ruling public necessity — in the existence of which he (Mr. F.) would not excuse any man. This was his, (Mr. W’s,) understanding of the general sense of the argument, and he now proposed to examine it. Let us look for a moment, not at what the Society of Friends ask us to yield to them, but at what is asked in their behalf by the gentleman from Allegheny. In time of peace, that gentleman asked that they should not be called upon either to perform military service nor to pay an equivalent for it, because their consciences were opposed to every measure of the kind. But then, he (Mr. W.) took the ground that this tax which was thus applied to preparations for defense in time of peace, was the very way to keep off a war. But this, it appeared, was against the consciences of these individuals. It was against their conscience to do that which would, in all probability, render the effective employment of military force unnecessary; but when the hour of difficulty and danger was at hand, when the foeman’s foot was planted on our soil, when “the dogs of war” had slipped, then the conscience of the Quaker is to yield; and his scruples against bearing arms are to be regarded no more than if they had never existed. And it should here be observed that the whole force of the argument lay in the fact that these particular individuals held conscientious scruples against the taking away of human life. This this was the “pith and marrow” of the argument; they would neither take away human life themselves, nor would they be instrumental in having others to take it away. And yet the argument of the gentleman from Allegheny would compel them to do so; for, the very moment an enemy landed on our coast, the gentleman’s argument required that they should smother the voice of their consciences; that they should march to the tented field in common with their fellow-citizens; and that there, whatever extremity was required, the still small voice of conscience should be hushed in the din and roar of bloody battle.

But “in these piping times of peace” where there was no danger to be apprehended, and when all those preparations might be made which would push off the danger of war, it might be, “to the last syllable of recorded time,” conscience stepped in and forbade them to do any thing which was calculated to sustain and perpetuate this happy reign of peace, this millennium of the Commonwealth. This was the strangest position in which he had ever seen so solemn a question placed by those voluntary advocates who came forward to vindicate it against that fierce and blood-thirsty spirit of the fifteenth century, which, if we were to believe what we were told, had found its way, at this late period of the history of the world, into the deliberations of this Convention. Conscience! sir, said Mr. W., I can not understand it if such be conscience. I thought I had some knowledge of it; I thought I felt its monitions; but if it be made of such stuff as some gentlemen seem to think it is, I confess myself a stranger to it. If its purpose is to seal men’s purses against taxation, it will not be wanting popularity, and the pulpit need not longer exhort to its cultivation. Conscience will flourish whatever else decays, and this amendment will plant it in many a bosom where it was never before suspected to exist.

But, continued Mr. W., it was to be remarked, as he believed it had already been remarked, that the Legislature of the State was the judge and the only judge of the necessity of these military preparations. It was to be remarked, as it already had been also remarked, that all these fines were to go into the treasury of the Commonwealth, there to become subject to distribution by the law making power in such way as that power might choose to direct. And who was that law making power? Were those persons who entertained these scruples of conscience excluded from participation in that power? Were they not fully represented therein? Was not their voice equally as potent as the voice of other classes of our citizens in judging of the necessity which existed for this military establishment, as it was in judging of appropriations of money for any other purpose? Surely it was so. One gentleman had remarked in the course of this debate, that this class of our people was always to be found on election ground like other men; that they were fully as active and fully as jealous of the preservation of their rights as any other men. There were no interpositions of conscience on such occasions. And he believed, so far as his (Mr. W’s.) knowledge extended, that these men were always abundantly represented in our legislative assembly. Where then was their grievance? On what ground had they any right to complain? By whom was injustice done to them? Their peace and security, their lives, their liberties, and their property were amply guarded by that legislative body of which they themselves were a component part. They had, in common with others, a voice in deciding at what time this military establishment was not necessary, and when necessary, whether the actual emergency had arisen or not. He said that these men were the judges of the matter because they were fairly represented in the body whose judgment was to control it. Of the time when defensive measures should be taken for the common weal, and of the extent to which they should be carried, and the character they should be of, were all questions for legislative decision, and these petitioners are fully represented in the Legislature. Where then, he would once more ask, was the source of complaint here? What more had any set of men a right to expect at the hands of our government? Where was the ground on which gentlemen in this body were to be pronounced unreasonable, intolerant, and opposed to the free exercise of the rights of conscience? Was there any foundation for such charges? Was there any class of our citizens, whatever might be their peculiar opinions on religious or other matters, who were mourning because they were taxed without representation? Was there any class of our citizens mourning that they were enslaved? that they were oppressed? that they were weighed down by the burdens which our government imposed upon them, and which they had no voice in imposing? He had heard of none such; nor did he believe that any such were to be found within our borders. He believed that all classes of our citizens enjoyed their privileges alike — that they were all equally taxed and all equally protected; and he could see no manner of reason for complaint from any quarter.

This same Constitutional Convention would formally restrict voting rights to white men. (Before this, it was an open question whether black men could legally vote in Pennsylvania.)

Woodward was an unapologetic white supremacist who was very much opposed to letting black people vote — indeed he thought that slavery itself was probably in the best interests of both the “inferior” and “superior” races — and he would fight a losing battle against “negro suffrage” in the United States Congress after the U.S. Civil War.

It wasn’t until the next Pennsylvania constitutional convention of that the word “white” was taken out of the list of qualifications. The question of women’s suffrage was a hot issue at that convention, which Woodward also attended. He called it a “loathsome question” on a “miserable subject” and did his best to keep the convention from even considering it.

But those little details aside…

It appeared to him that these men were represented everywhere; and if they could come to the Legislature and could succeed in convincing the Legislature that no militia was necessary, that no trainings were necessary, and that, therefore, it was not necessary to impose any fines, let them do so. The door was open to them — and he proposed to throw no impediment in their way. But when, in the judgment of that legislative body, it might be necessary to insist on this performance of militia duty, and to exact a tax or fine as an equivalent for its non-performance, then he would say that no man in this Commonwealth, be his opinions what they might, had the right to interpose his conscience in open defiance of the law-making power, on the plea that compliance with the law involved a violation of religious toleration or the freedom of conscience. Let them be allowed to convince the Legislature of Pennsylvania, if they could do so, that no man should arm himself with a corn-stalk to appear on training days at a militia muster. He was content with this. But when the day of emergency came, when peril was near, when a necessity for action had become apparent, he entered his protest against excusing one portion of citizens from the performance of duties necessarily imposed upon others. He desired that the blessings of our free government should be equally felt; he desired that its genial influences should descend like the dews of Heaven equally on all, guarding, protecting, and blessing all men of all conditions — the high and low — the rich and the poor alike. He would never consent to draw a sacred line of distinction around particular bodies of men: to say to those who have been so fortunate as to range themselves within that circle “you are free from taxation because you entertain conscientious scruples,” and to say to those without it, “you are not free because you do not entertain these scruples, you have not conscience enough — but cultivate its tenderness and it will entitle you to receive the especial favor of your government.” Here indeed would be inducements held out to every coward and hypocrite — to every miser and traitor in the land — inducements which would tend directly to the destruction of the moral character of the State of Pennsylvania and to the entire surrender of all the great bulwarks of our independence and our glory. To such results he, for one, would never contribute by his voice or vote.

He had said, however, that he was unwilling to set himself up as a judge upon the conscience of any man. He had also said, when he had before addressed the committee on the same subject, that one objection which he had to the amendment was its universality. He would endeavor to show to this committee that the power thus bestowed might be greatly abused — that it might protect many men who were utterly unworthy of protection. How utterly ridiculous, as well as criminal, might the operation of this amendment prove to be! Every mean coward who desired to shield himself from personal service or responsibility might say to the collector that he entertained conscientious scruples. True, it might be that he had been engaged during the whole of his life in dissipation and vice; true it might be that his character was in every respect low and degraded; true it might be that he was in every sense a pest to the country in which he lived; — still, under this amendment, he had the power to throw himself upon the reserved rights of conscience against the operation of this military tax — to say that he had a tender conscience, and that therefore he must beg to be excused. Such would be the operation of this amendment if it met with the sanction of this Convention. So soon as the fines were levied, we should find one man after another evading and nullifying the operation of our laws, and stopping up our resources by thrusting between the treasury and its sources, a conscience of the existence of which nothing had ever been heard before. This was the character and description of men who might abuse such a provision as was now proposed to be inserted in our fundamental law. It was not his intention, however, to apply these remarks to the Society of Friends; he merely intended to argue that this provision, from the fact of its universality, might be made to comprehend and to shield every worthless renegade in the land, who was either too cowardly to perform military duty when required to do so or too miserly to pay an equivalent for it. And he would much rather vote at once in favor of any provision which would go to exempt the Society of Friends from all responsibility in the matter, than he would vote in favor of a provision which might cover not only that society, but a mass of men much less worthy of the consideration and respect of this body. Nay, he would go even further — he declared he would vote for a constitutional recognition and establishment of that society and church, infinitely sooner than he would vote for an amendment which went to overturn the foundation of our government and to the absolute prostration of all those great principles which lay at the very base of our institutions.

But he would ask this committee whether they had any design to take such a step? Was it sincerely the intention of this body to recognize one church to the exclusion of all others? He could not for a moment believe that it was. The other sects, numerous as they were in our Commonwealth, had asked no such constitutional provision to be made in their favor. The methodists, a denomination of Christians composing men of as pure and exalted principles as were to be found in this land — a denomination of which the country was full, though not so full as he would desire — had preferred no such request. To this sect a large body of his constituents belonged. They were men, too, of tender and enlighted consciences, and as much opposed to the wanton sacrifice of human life as any other portion of our people. But not a syllable had been heard from that intelligent and growing body of men. They had not come forward to vex the cares and harass the deliberations of this Convention by petitions of such a character. Then, again, there were the Menonists — a large and highly respectable body of men; men, too, who entertained conscientious scruples against taking away the life of their fellow men equally as strong as those entertained by the Society of Friends. But they saw — they knew — that the surest way to avoid taking away life was to place ourselves in an attitude of defense by making some kind of preparation against an attack. They therefore had been silent. They had not harassed this Convention with petitions to be excused from the burdens imposed on others; they had not attempted to derive at the hands of this Convention some great political privilege that should for ever hereafter characterize and distinguish them. The Society of Friends was the only body which had sent forth its petitions.

Let that petition be treated respectfully; let it receive all the consideration to which the respectability of the source from which it emanated entitled it; let it be deliberately and candidly weighed; let those who favored the prayer of the petition be heard in its favor. But, when all this had been done, then let him (Mr. W.) be allowed, for one, with such conscience as God had given him, to say that they could not have that peculiar privilege; that they could not have that exemption which was forever to distinguish them as the State Church of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Let him be allowed to say that they could have the benefits and protection which a great, a wise, and a good government could bestow upon its citizens; but they never, with his consent, should be allowed to refuse to contribute their due proportion to the defense of the country; so long as they claimed that protection, and so long as they remained in the full enjoyment of it. He must be allowed to say, in all sincerity and candor, and with all respect at the same time to the feelings of the Society of Friends, that whilst they lived under this government they must either show that it was unworthy of support or they must contribute to sustain both the military, the judicial, and all other establishments which the law-making power of this Commonwealth considered it necessary to establish. So long as their churches and their church property were all protected by the laws and the Constitution of the Commonwealth, he must be allowed to say, here and everywhere else, however much they might desire to avoid such impositions, still they must contribute to the public burdens. They need not do military duty, nor need they march out in defense of their country. If there was any thing in the nature of the service which ran in conflict with their peculiar opinions, and forbade them to enlist as soldiers, they need not do so. They need not be compelled to take away the life of their fellow man. They might remain peaceably at their fire side while the mass of the people of Pennsylvania turned out, marched to the field of battle, and exposed their lives in the cause of our common country. But, of the abundance of this world’s stores with which they were blessed, let them contribute something to the common cause; let them do something at least to testify their affection for the government which thus protects them, by contributing cheerfully their proportion towards its maintenance and support.

He proposed to lay no tax on their consciences; the only demand he made was upon their purse. And upon what principle of justice or equity could that demand be resisted? Under what right of conscience could it be evaded? He knew of no such principle — he knew of no such right. He would admit that the gentlemen from Allegheny, (Mr. Forward) in begging this whole question, as he most undoubtedly had done, had made the argument his own and the conclusions his own. But when we looked to the facts, when we looked to the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as it was — when we looked to the character of our people — when we looked to the history of the provision in the Constitution of , — when we looked to that provision merely as a tribute paid to a tender conscience and to religious toleration, he (Mr. W.) denied that either the argument or the conclusion belonged to the gentleman from Allegheny.

Walter Forward then “rose, he said, to make a few brief explanations of the remarks which he had offered to the consideration of the committee”:

He felt the more anxious to do this because it was to him a matter of some concern that the sentiments which he had expressed should be rightly understood, both here and elsewhere. In the first place, then, he would remark that he had not stated, as had been imputed to him, that this was a tax upon conscience. No such language had ever escaped his lips. In reply to the argument which had given to this equivalent for non-performance of military duty the character of a tax, he had said that if it was a tax it was a tax upon conscience; but that, whatever name might be given to it, it was in fact and in substance what was called by law a penalty or fine; and that this was not only its legal character, but its true and proper character.

It would be remembered that one of the gentlemen who had addressed the committee on this subject had taken occasion to dwell upon the absurdity of the doctrine of non-resistance and non-combativeness. It would be recollected, also, that it had been further pressed upon the consideration of the committee that this was a tax and nothing more nor less than a tax.

In adverting to these arguments, he (Mr. F.) had taken occasion, fairly taken occasion, to say that in one of the main arguments brought against those who had been brought to the stake and suffered martyrdom by the fire and faggot, was that they had been guilty of absurdities; that their opinions were erroneous, and that they must know better than to believe in them. This was what he had said, and no more. In relation to tax, he had made the remark that in other countries, contributions to the support of a national church were levied as a tax, — that they were called by the name of a tax, and that this was essentially a tax upon conscience. Such was the ground which he had assumed, and he had yet heard nothing which should induce him to change his view of the matter. And now, when he had endeavored to point out the consequences of what he believed to be an erroneous argument: and when he endeavored, by such force of reasoning as he could command, to persuade a gentleman to review his opinions and to re-consider his arguments; when he had endeavored to show, with historical truth, that the argument which had been here used was the very argument which had been used in former ages of the world against those who had been persecuted to death for opinions’ sake; when he did this, and when, in a spirit of liberality and candor, he invited the gentleman to look at the consequences of his own argument, he was then told that he charged that gentleman, and others who entertained similar opinions, with introducing this argument for the purpose, and with the intention, of adopting the absurdities, and fanning into existence the fierce and blood-thirsty spirit of persecution which characterized . Now, he would ask this committee whether any man, looking fairly to what he (Mr. F.) had said, could so far have misunderstood his argument as to build up on its foundation such imputations as these? Had he taken any undue advantage in his remarks? Was it not fair to deduce absurd or erroneous consequences from the arguments of those who entertain different opinions from ourselves? Surely it was fair. And yet, for simply doing this, was he to be charged with imputing to others questionable motives, or a design to revive absurd doctrines? All that he had said was by way of warning; to show that the argument used on this floor was the same which had been used in , and for this, the gentleman told him that he had charged upon him (Mr. W.) the oppression of . If this was the only mode in which the gentleman from Luzerne was willing to treat the matter, there would be an end at once to all further discussion.

…If his worthy friend (and he trusted the gentleman would not repel this appellation) would take the trouble to turn to his books on logic, he would there find that one very common mode of sophistry consisted in mis-stating the argument of our adversaries; and he (Mr. F.) thought, if he was not much mistaken, that the gentleman would also find this characterized as not a very reputable kind of sophistry; because, in every event, an antagonist was entitled to fair dealing.…

The gentleman from Luzerne had been pleased to say that I would not exact, from persons having scruples of conscience, the duty of bearing arms in a time of peace when there was no enemy invading our soil and no danger threatening us; but that, in a time of war or in a case of emergency or anticipated attack, I would no longer respect their conscientious scruples but would compel them to go to the field of battle and shed the blood of their fellow-men, as though no such scruples had ever existed. And, sir, the gentleman is pleased to think that there is a great absurdity in this. Now, what I said was that in entering into society formed for the general good of the whole body, certain of our natural rights were, of necessity, surrendered to the government. And I said that this right of conscience never could be and never had been deemed to be surrendered, except on grounds of some great over-ruling public necessity. I said that in the event of war (although I did not intimate this as being my opinion, but merely alluded to it as an argument which had been broached by others), it might be fairly said that this necessity for the surrender of all these scruples to the general good actually existed, and that, therefore, their natural rights were to be given up on the altar of our country. But, sir, I never said that the Quakers, or Menonists, or Amonists, or any other denomination of people holding these scruples of conscience, should be compelled to go to the field of battle and to shed the blood of their fellow-men. On the contrary, I stated my belief that it was not right, in this age of the world, to compel a man to take up arms and to shed blood in despite of the dictates of a conscience which tells him that it is wrong and sinful to do so; but I expressed my opinion that in time of exigency or war he ought to be compelled to pay an equivalent for his personal services; that is to say, that he ought to be required to contribute towards the public service his proper proportion of those means which were necessary for the defense of the country. This is what I said, and not what the gentleman from Luzerne imputes to me. He has imputed to me in fact the very contrary of what I did in reality say.

In reference to the observations of the gentleman, that we were about to create a privileged class, and to bestow on that class immunities and privileges which we denied to other portions of our citizens, I have nothing to remark. We are not to be prevented from advocating and contending for a sacred principle on the ground that we are about to create a privileged class. If the principle of toleration is not sufficiently respected to furnish an exemption from a general rule, of one man in many thousands, it seems to me that we cannot boast much of its existence among us. If such a rule of conduct as this is to be adopted, we shall put down the principle of toleration in our government for ever. Who had ever heard of such a thing as a principle of toleration being applied to all men? And, if not applied to all men, what came of the fears and forebodings as to the stability of our government, which had been so emphatically expressed by the gentleman from Luzerne, if this principle is made a part of our fundamental code? This, however, is not the question. It is deemed, by the gentleman from Luzerne, to be enough to repel this claim to say that by granting it you establish a state church, because the claim is not universal. The gentleman is entitled to the full benefit of all his arguments in this matter; he may rest satisfied with them if he is so disposed. I leave them in his hands.

He desired to make one more explanation. He did not say or insinuate, with all deference to the gentleman from Luzerne (Mr. Woodward), that any experiment for taxes to support government was proper. In the sacred volume, he knew it was said, “render to Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s,” and they were so rendered. And he knew it was also said, “the powers that be are ordained of God.” And he also knew that the first and second Charles, James the first, Louis the fourteenth, and all monarchical governments, had adopted this passage in order to sustain the doctrine of the divine right of kings. But did he attribute to the gentleman from Luzerne the design to support the divine right of kings? No. But they all cited precisely the same argument: “Render to Cæsar,” etc. Could this be carried out to a tyrannical extent? And could the tyranny be exerted on the ground that it was right to “render to Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s?” Cæsar, he thanked God, was not here; although there were many, perhaps, who had been waiting and wishing for him for some years past. This much by way of explanation; and here he would leave the question as he found it.

Andrew J. Cline suspected that there was something fishy in the assertion that “conscience” was “a natural right”:

[He] did not now intend to go over the whole ground, but merely to advert to one proposition of the gentleman from Allegheny to which he could not give his assent and on which the whole of the argument of had turned. The speech of the gentleman was learned, able, and eloquent, but it failed to convince his (Mr. C’s) reason and conscience. The gentleman had affirmed that the right of conscience was a natural right, with which no one had a right to interfere. He (Mr. C.) wished the gentleman had stated what he meant by a right of conscience. I know (said Mr. C.) that a man is at liberty to exercise his conscience. I know that I am at liberty to exercise reason, understanding, and will; but it would be an awkward expression to speak of the right of reason, understanding, and will. It is equally so to say right of conscience. We might say it was the conclusion to which a man comes after the exercise of his reason and the faculties which God gave him. If we could be in error as to reason, so we might be as to conscience; so then, if we entertained scruples, they would be founded in error. What right had any man to say he had come to certain conclusions on the subject of the agrarian system, and that he had a right to share my property? I (said Mr. C.) could not submit to this conclusion. The government would not. If the government would, it was a state of things which he trusted never to see prevail in this country. Therefore, he must say he entertained great doubts as to these scruples of conscience. And he held these doubts, and made this declaration, with great deference to the gentleman from Allegheny, whose argument was most happy, able, and impressive, but the premises were not founded in reason. He (Mr. C.) did this also, with the utmost deference to that respectable society which made this appeal to the Convention, and he confined what he had to say to that class.

A respectable delegation of Quakers had solicited this from the committee, and he was present at an interview between them and the committee on the subject. They then stated their wish to be exempt, not in time of peace but of war, and to be exempt not only from personal service but from the payment of any equivalent for it. We should do great injustice, in his opinion, to the great body of our fellow citizens, if we granted this prayer and imposed an obligation on one class of citizens from which we exempted another. True, it was said that all citizens were at liberty to avail themselves of conscientious scruples on this subject. But this would not be tolerated: he could not think that it should be tolerated.

In regard to the freedom of conscience, he was willing that it should be secured to them. But why? Because that implied only the privilege of exercising their religious belief in a manner that would not conflict with any law for the support of the government. We give to all a right to worship the Deity in the manner most agreeable to their own consciences; and further than this no State had gone. No State Constitution contained a provision for the complete exemption of any portion of its citizens from personal service, or an equivalent, on account of conscientious scruples. He was of opinion that the Legislature ought to have the power to make the exemption; but not with reference to one class alone, but all classes and sects. He was inclined to believe that the militia trainings were of little or no value for any purpose; but he would not exempt one class from a duty that others were obliged to perform, on account of the religious scruples which the favored class might entertain.

There was something in the character of these scruples which he could not understand. They were not palpable and tangible. He could not grasp their meaning. The gentleman from Allegheny (Mr. Forward), who had spoken so eloquently on the subject of the rights of conscience, might well understand it. But in his mind there appeared to be great danger in allowing every man to say that, on account of this or that conscientious scruple which he entertained, he could not give his support and obedience to a law of the land, however necessary might be that law for the well-being of the country. Such a principle would be productive of the greatest confusion and perplexity. A man might, on the score of conscience, refuse to pay his tax for the support of a pauper, on the ground that the pauper had worked in a distillery and might work there again, contrary to the conscientious belief of this man that distilleries ought not to be in the most remote manner encouraged. Many laws might in some way or other be found to conflict, or they might be imagined to conflict, with the conscientious belief of mere individuals.

The gentleman’s position in regard to the rights of conscience, he could not understand. He may understand it, and so may you, Mr. Chairman; but to me, it appears to be very vague and indefinite to say that a man shall be exempt from obedience to laws concerning which he may have conscientious scruples. A man might memorialize and petition for the redress of what he conceived a grievance, but until his prayer was granted or the government dissolved, it was his duty to submit to the powers that be.