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Reflections  >  Religious Dissension in Quaker Philadelphia


Chronicles of Pennsylvania

from the English Revolution to the Peace of Aix-La-Chapelle 1688-1748

by Charles P. Keith

In two volumes

(Philadelphia: Patterson & White, 1917.)

from Preface:

"The religion that approaches the nearest of all others to true deism, in the moral and benign part thereof, is that professed by the Quakers … though I revere their philanthropy, I cannot help smiling at [their] conceit; … if the taste of a Quaker [had] been consulted at the Creation, what a silent and drab-colored Creation it would have been! Not a flower would have blossomed its gaieties, nor a bird been permitted to sing."

EPISTLE TO QUAKERS

To the Representatives of the Religious Society of the People called Quakers, or to so many of them as were concerned in publishing a late piece, entitled "THE ANCIENT TESTIMONY and PRINCIPLES of the people called QUAKERS renewed with respect to the KING and GOVERNMENT, and Touching the COMMOTIONS now prevailing in these and other parts of AMERICA, addressed to the PEOPLE IN GENERAL."

THE writer of this is one of those few, who never dishonors religion either by ridiculing, or cavilling at any denomination whatsoever. To God, and not to man, are all men accountable on the score of religion. Wherefore, this epistle is not so properly addressed to you as a religious, but as a political body, dabbling in matters, which the professed quietude of your Principles instruct you not to meddle with.

As you have, without a proper authority for so doing, put yourselves in the place of the whole body of the Quakers, so, the writer of this, in order to be on an equal rank with yourselves, is under the necessity, of putting himself in the place of all those who approve the very writings and principles, against which your testimony is directed: And he hath chosen their singular situation, in order that you might discover in him, that presumption of character which you cannot see in yourselves. For neither he nor you have any claim or title to Political Representation.

When men have departed from the right way, it is no wonder that they stumble and fall. And it is evident from the manner in which ye have managed your testimony, that politics, (as a religious body of men) is not your proper walk; for however well adapted it might appear to you, it is, nevertheless, a jumble of good and bad put unwisely together, and the conclusion drawn therefrom, both unnatural and unjust.

The two first pages, (and the whole doth not make four) we give you credit for, and expect the same civility from you, because the love and desire of peace is not confined to Quakerism, it is the natural, as well as the religious wish of all denominations of men. And on this ground, as men laboring to establish an Independent Constitution of our own, do we exceed all others in our hope, end, and aim. Our plan is peace for ever. We are tired of contention with Britain, and can see no real end to it but in a final separation. We act consistently, because for the sake of introducing an endless and uninterrupted peace, do we bear the evils and burdens of the present day. We are endeavoring, and will steadily continue to endeavor, to separate and dissolve a connection which hath already filled our land with blood; and which, while the name of it remains, will be the fatal cause of future mischiefs to both countries.

We fight neither for revenge nor conquest; neither from pride nor passion; we are not insulting the world with our fleets and armies, nor ravaging the globe for plunder. Beneath the shade of our own vines are we attacked; in our own houses, and on our own lands, is the violence committed against us. We view our enemies in the characters of highwaymen and housebreakers, and having no defence for ourselves in the civil law; are obliged to punish them by the military one, and apply the sword, in the very case, where you have before now, applied the halter. Perhaps we feel for the ruined and insulted sufferers in all and every part of the continent, and with a degree of tenderness which hath not yet made its way into some of your bosoms. But be ye sure that ye mistake not the cause and ground of your Testimony. Call not coldness of soul, religion; nor put the bigot in the place of the Christian.

O ye partial ministers of your own acknowledged principles! If the bearing arms be sinful, the first going to war must be more so, by all the difference between wilful attack and unavoidable defence.

Wherefore, if ye really preach from conscience, and mean not to make a political hobby-horse of your religion, convince the world thereof, by proclaiming your doctrine to our enemies, for they likewise bear ARMS. Give us proof of your sincerity by publishing it at St. James's, to the commanders in chief at Boston, to the admirals and captains who are practically ravaging our coasts, and to all the murdering miscreants who are acting in authority under HIM whom ye profess to serve. Had ye the honest soul of Barclay* ye would preach repentance to your king; Ye would tell the royal tyrant of his sins, and warn him of eternal ruin. Ye would not spend your partial invectives against the injured and the insulted only, but like faithful ministers, would cry aloud and spare none. Say not that ye are persecuted, neither endeavor to make us the authors of that reproach, which, ye are bringing upon yourselves; for we testify unto all men, that we do not complain against you because ye are Quakers, but because ye pretend to be and are NOT Quakers.

*"Thou hast tasted of prosperity and adversity; thou knowest what it is to be banished thy native country, to be overruled as well as to rule, and set upon the throne; and being oppressed thou hast reason to know now hateful the oppressor is both to God and man. If after all these warnings and advertisements, thou dost not turn unto the Lord with all thy heart, but forget him who remembered thee in thy distress, and give up thyself to follow lust and vanity, surely great will be thy condemnation. Against which snare, as well as the temptation of those who may or do feed thee, and prompt thee to evil, the most excellent and prevalent remedy will be, to apply thyself to that light of Christ which shineth in thy conscience and which neither can, nor will flatter thee, nor suffer thee to be at ease in thy sins."- Barclay's Address to Charles II.

Alas! it seems by the particular tendency of some part of your Testimony, and other parts of your conduct, as if all sin was reduced to, and comprehended in the act of bearing arms, and that by the people only. Ye appear to us, to have mistaken party for conscience, because the general tenor of your actions wants uniformity: And it is exceedingly difficult to us to give credit to many of your pretended scruples; because we see them made by the same men, who, in the very instant that they are exclaiming against the mammon of this world, are nevertheless, hunting after it with a step as steady as Time, and an appetite as keen as Death.

The quotation which ye have made from Proverbs, in the third page of your testimony, that, "when a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him;" is very unwisely chosen on your part; because it amounts to a proof, that the king's ways (whom ye are so desirous of supporting) do not please the Lord, otherwise, his reign would be in peace.

I now proceed to the latter part of your testimony, and that, for which all the foregoing seems only an introduction, viz:

"It hath ever been our judgment and principle, since we were called to profess the light of Christ Jesus, manifested in our consciences unto this day, that the setting up and putting down kings and governments, is God's peculiar prerogative; for causes best known to himself: And that it is not our business to have any hand or contrivance therein; nor to be busy-bodies above our station, much less to plot and contrive the ruin, or overturn any of them, but to pray for the king, and safety of our nation, and good of all men: that we may live a peaceable and quiet life, in all goodliness and honesty; under the government which God is pleased to set over us." If these are really your principles why do ye not abide by them? Why do ye not leave that, which ye call God's work, to be managed by himself? These very principles instruct you to wait with patience and humility, for the event of all public measures, and to receive that event as the divine will towards you. Wherefore, what occasion is there for your political Testimony if you fully believe what it contains? And the very publishing it proves, that either, ye do not believe what ye profess, or have not virtue enough to practice what ye believe.

The principles of Quakerism have a direct tendency to make a man the quiet and inoffensive subject of any, and every government which is set over him. And if the setting up and putting down of kings and governments is God's peculiar prerogative, he most certainly will not be robbed thereof by us; wherefore, the principle itself leads you to approve of every thing, which ever happened, or may happen to kings as being his work. Oliver Cromwell thanks you. Charles, then, died not by the hands of man; and should the present proud imitator of him, come to the same untimely end, the writers and publishers of the Testimony, are bound by the doctrine it contains, to applaud the fact. Kings are not taken away by miracles, neither are changes in governments brought about by any other means than such as are common and human; and such as we are now using. Even the dispersing of the Jews, though foretold by our Savior, was effected by arms. Wherefore, as ye refuse to be the means on one side, ye ought not to be meddlers on the other; but to wait the issue in silence; and unless you can produce divine authority, to prove, that the Almighty who hath created and placed this new world, at the greatest distance it could possibly stand, east and west, from every part of the old, doth, nevertheless, disapprove of its being independent of the corrupt and abandoned court of Britain; unless I say, ye can show this, how can ye, on the ground of your principles, justify the exciting and stirring up of the people "firmly to unite in the abhorrence of all such writings, and measures, as evidence a desire and design to break off the happy connection we have hitherto enjoyed, with the kingdom of Great Britain, and our just and necessary subordination to the king, and those who are lawfully placed in authority under him." What a slap in the face is here! the men, who, in the very paragraph before, have quietly and passively resigned up the ordering, altering, and disposal of kings and governments, into the hands of God, are now recalling their principles, and putting in for a share of the business. Is it possible, that the conclusion, which is here justly quoted, can any ways follow from the doctrine laid down? The inconsistency is too glaring not to be seen; the absurdity too great not to be laughed at; and such as could only have been made by those, whose understandings were darkened by the narrow and crabby spirit of a despairing political party; for ye are not to be considered as the whole body of the Quakers but only as a factional and fractional part thereof.

Here ends the examination of your testimony; (which I call upon no man to abhor, as ye have done, but only to read and judge of fairly;) to which I subjoin the following remark; "That the setting up and putting down of kings," most certainly mean, the making him a king, who is yet not so, and the making him no king who is already one. And pray what hath this to do in the present case? We neither mean to set up nor to put down, neither to make nor to unmake, but to have nothing to do with them. Wherefore your testimony in whatever light it is viewed serves only to dishonor your judgment, and for many other reasons had better have been let alone than published.

First. Because it tends to the decrease and reproach of religion whatever, and is of the utmost danger to society, to make it a party in political disputes. Secondly. Because it exhibits a body of men, numbers of whom disavow the publishing political testimonies, as being concerned therein and approvers thereof. Thirdly. Because it hath a tendency to undo that continental harmony and friendship which yourselves by your late liberal and charitable donations hath lent a hand to establish; and the preservation of which, is of the utmost consequence to us all.

And here, without anger or resentment I bid you farewell. Sincerely wishing, that as men and Christians, ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means of securing it to others; but that the example which ye have unwisely set, of mingling religion with politics, may be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America.


Notes and Links

[Lists of names were included in the original text, rather than as footnotes. Other notes here are added, drawing from elsewhere in the book and from the on-line catalogs of university libraries, e.g. the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin catalog .]

Footnotes

(1)
Gough, John, 1721-1791. History of the people called Quakers : From their first rise to the present time. / Compiled from authentic records, and from the writings of that people. Dublin : Printed by Robert Jackson ..., 1790.
(2)
The British during this period started the new year in March, and the Quaker convention of dating months by number generally made March "1st month"/"1mo.," etc. The translation will be noted in the text only in the most confusing instances.
(3)
Viz: George Hutcheson, Thomas Winn (evidently Dr. Thomas Wynne, Speaker of the Assembly) Thomas Budd, Paul Saunders, John Hart, Thomas Hooton, John Lynam, Anthony Taylor, Thomas Paschall, Ralph Jackson, Abel Noble, Humphrey Hodges, Phillip James, Nicholas Pearce, Henry Furnis, Richard Hillyard, John Furnis, Anthony Sturges, John Redman, Robert Wallis, Thomas Peart, John Williamd, Thomas Jenner, Thomas Tresse, Ralph Ward, William David, John Loftus, William Dillwyn, Francis Cook, William Harwood, John Duploveys, Henry Johnson, James Chick, John Budd, Joseph Walker, Thomas Morris, William Bradford, Hugh Derborough, John McComb, William Paschall, William Say, John Hutchins, Joseph Willcox, William Hard, and James Cooper.
(4)
Thomas Lloyd, John Willsford, Nicholas Waln, William Watson, George Maris, William Cooper, Thomas Thackory, William Biles (printed "Byles"), Samuel Jennings, Thomas Duckett, Joshua Fearne, Even Morris, Richard Walter, John Symcock, Griffith Owen, John Bown, Henry Willis, Paul Sanders, John Blunston, John Deleval, William Yardley (printed "Yeardly"), Joseph Kirkbride, Walter Fawcit, Hugh Roberts, Robert Owen, William Walker, John Lynam, George Gray
(5)
Richard Dungworth, John Wells, Phillip James, Henry Furnis, James Shattuck, James Cooper, Sen., William Davis, Robert Wallis, James Poulter, Nicholas Pierce, Thomas Budd, John Barclay, William Bradford, James Cooper, Junr., John Loftus, John McComb, James Chick, John Bartram, Abel Noble, Joseph Walker, Thomas Paschall, Richard Hilliard, William Waite, Anthony Sturges, Ralph Ward, Thomas Peart, John Chandler, Peter Chamberlain
(6)
When Peter Babbitt and some accomplices stole a sloop from a wharf in Philadelphia, three magistrates, including a minister and two other Quakers, "issued a warrant in the nature of a hue and cry," followed by the owner's offer of a 100l. reward. A party of volunteers recovered the vessel and captured the robbers. (C. Keith, page 208.)
(7)
This comment was originally printed in 1917, during the first World War, when civil liberties had been seriously abridged in many U.S. courts.
(8)
New-England's spirit of persecution transmitted to Pennsilvania, : and the pretended Quaker found persecuting the true Christrian-Quaker, in the tryal of Peter Boss, George Keith, Thomas Budd, and William Bradford, at the sessions held at Philadelphia the nineth, tenth and twelfth days of December, 1692. Giving an account of the most arbitrary procedure of that court. By George Keith. Printed (by William Bradford?) in New York, 1693.
(9)
Robert Turner, Elias Burling, John Reid, Charles Read, Thomas Coborne, Harmon Updengraves, Thomas Powell, Nathaniel Fitzrandal, Joseph Richards, Edmund Wells, Thomas Kimber, Edward White, Thomas Gladwin, Thomas Rutter, Edward Smith, Benjamin Morgan, Joseph Sharp, William Thomas, John Bainbridge, John Snowden, William Black, William Snowden, Nathaniel Walton, Robert Roe, Peter Boss, Thomas Bowles, William Budd, James Silver, Samuell Taylor, Griffith Jones, William Righton, Thomas Kendall, Samuell Houghton, John Neall, Anthony Woodward, Andrew Smith, William Hixon, John Pancoast, Henry Burcham, Thomas Hearse, John Jones, Joseph Willcox, Thomas Godfrey, John Budd, Roger Parke, Caleb Wheatly, Abraham Brown, John Hampton, Daniel Bacon, Joseph Adams, Edward Guy, Bernard Devonish, Samuel Ellis, Thomas Cross, James Moore, Thomas Jenner, John Harper, Robert Wheeler, Emanuel Smith, Peter Daite, Richard Sery, George Willcox, William Wells, Isaac Jacobs Van Biber, Cornelius Scivers, William Snead, David Sherkis, John Carter, Henry Paxon, Thomas Tindal
(10)
In the aftermath of the unsuccessful Preston Conspiracy to return James II to the throne in England, William Penn's loyalty to King William was called into question. Colonel Benjamin Fletcher, Governor of New York, was commissioned to take the Province of Pennsylvania under his command, and in April, 1693, Fletcher arrived in Philadelphia. He was apparently welcomed by many Philadelphians, not least the Keithian Quakers, while Thomas Lloyd and others in the Quaker establishment ascquiesced to the new regime (much to Penn's dismay).
(11)
See chapter on Germans, in C. Keith, 1917.
(12)
Julius Friedrich Sachse, 1842-1919, a Philadelphia-area historian who wrote primarily on German emigration to Pennsylvania.
(13)
David Lloyd, William Harwood, Thomas Makin, Nathan Stanbury, Edward Shippen, Samuel Richardson, Isaac Norris, Abra. Hardiman, James Fox, Antho. Morris, Samuel Preston, Jno. Symcocke, Hugh Roberts, Samuel Carpenter, Alexander Beardsley, John Linam, Caleb Pusey, Robert Ewer, Walter Faucett, George Gray.