views updated May 23 2018



Radical Roots. The Society of Friends, or Quakers as they are better known, have always stood apart from the mainstream of American religion. Because of this, they offer some important lessons about the range of religious beliefs and practices in early America. During the revolutionary era Quakers dominated Philadelphia, at the time the largest city in America and a center of support for independence. They struggled in special ways with the relations between religion and the American Revolution. Their struggles were rooted in their particular beliefs. Quakers believed in the inner light. This was the notion that God was a spiritual presence within each individual and could speak to all humans through the words and actions of anyone. Their spiritualism led them to reject worldliness more than most Protestants, and they became easy to recognize by their use of the informal pronouns thee and thou and their refusal to doff their hats to their social superiors since they tried at all times to promote a spiritual equality. Quakers also refused to take oaths. Quaker worship also emphasized equality by letting all persons participate on the same basis. Quakers had no ordained ministers, and at services there was no public Bible reading or sermon, just silence, until the spirit moved someone to speak about a religious story or some personal experience. Women could speak as well as men, although over time, men and women came to meet for worship separately. Quakers read the Bible, but because of their highly individualized and spiritual attitudes, the story of Jesuss death and resurrection did not have the same importance for them as for most early Americans. Most orthodox Americans considered Quaker beliefs to be radical and threatening to the social and religious order based on biblical authority. They were outcasts in many parts of America and tended to live together in separate communities, although by 1770 these communities were found all along the Atlantic seaboard.

Social Prominence. The largest Quaker communities were in the parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey centered around Philadelphia. The English Quaker William Penn founded the city in 1682 as a refuge for his coreligionists and guaranteed religious toleration and freedom of conscience in the colonys frame of government. By the 1750s, Philadelphia was a large city, remarkable for its ethnic and religious diversity. Quakers mingled on the streets with Scots-Irish Presbyterians, English Congregationalists, Swedish Lutherans, Dutch Reformed Protestants, German Moravians, Anglicans, and even Roman Catholics. If Quakers were religiously just one group among many tolerated equals, socially and politically they were Pennsylvanias first citizens. The colonial government concentrated political power in Quaker hands. The citys commerce was similarly focused on the tight networks of Quaker families on both sides of the Atlantic that controlled shipping and trade and made the Quakers countinghouses at least as important as their meetinghouses. Many Quakers felt they had declined from the intense spirituality of the groups early days. The coming of the Seven Years War changed this, however.

Challenge. As war began in 1754, Quaker leaders found it more and more difficult to reconcile their social position with their religious beliefs. One of those beliefs was pacifism. Most Quakers obeyed the biblical order to submit to the legitimate civil authority even though it meant agreeing to requests from the government for money that would be used for war as well as for peaceful purposes. In 1755, however, Gen. Edward Braddock was ambushed by French and Indian forces at Fort Duquesne in western Pennsylvania. This stunning defeat prompted the Pennsylvania assembly to take the military initiative for the first time and vote for funds to raise a militia and defend the frontier. Many Philadelphia Quakers, some of whom saw Braddocks defeat as a sign of Gods judgment on their worldly ways, developed a crisis of conscience. In 1755 several prominent Quakers issued a statement supporting tax resistance on religious grounds, one of the first signs of a deeper reform movement within American Quakerism. The reformers challenged those Quakers in the assembly to withdraw from public affairs in order to limit their involvement with the war and to avoid contradicting their religious beliefs. Ten members obeyed the call by resigning or refusing to run for reelection. Some would later reenter the assembly, but after 1756 the Quakers would never have a majority in the legislature again. The Quakers withdrawal was not only an important step in religious reform but also marked significant political changes. Until the Revolution, the political initiative in Pennsylvania would be taken by the colonys governor, or proprietor, who lived in England, because there was no longer a powerful enough group on the scene in Philadelphia to control the political process. The principles the Quakers in the assembly had supported continued to be important, but they were now articulated by Benjamin Franklin and his party of supporters rather than by devout Quakers, who mainly removed themselves from politics to concentrate on business and religion.

Revolution. The growing conflict with Britain after the end of the Seven Years War brought new problems to Quakers. One of the basic beliefs of the Society of Friends was pacifism. The duty to testify to peace at every opportunity was taken seriously by most Quakers and had been at the root of the 1755 withdrawal from colonial government. As the Stamp Act crisis began to move Americans toward independence, Quakers were caught in the middle. At first Americans pursued economic measures, such as nonimportation, which at least some Quakers were willing to support as nonviolent. Others objected to any form of resistance to the acknowledged government, including boycotts. The coming of actual war in 1775 made it even harder for Quakers to participate in the patriots efforts even if they disagreed with Britains actions. Most Quakers refused to participate in the framing of the new state governments forming after 1776 or to serve in the Continental Army or in the state militias. They were criticized by their neighbors for their principled stand against war and were fined and punished by the American governments. Quakers endured their sufferings and sought other ways than fighting to share in the burden of war. In Boston and other battle areas, for example, they offered medical help to the wounded on both sides. The American Revolution was a civil war in part, and it divided Quakers just as it divided other American groups. A significant minority of the Society of Friends supported the American cause and paid war taxes and even did military service. For this, many were disowned by the Quaker communities. In 1781 a few of these people, led by Samuel Wetherill Jr. and including seamstress Betsy Ross, broke away and formed the Society of Free Quakers in Philadelphia. This small group was a refuge for the Society of Friends, who actively supported American independence as well as the principles of Quakerism. Most Quakers desperately tried to remain neutral during the war, but their witness for peace was taken as support for the British by most of their neighbors. Pacificism further isolated the Society of Friends from the mainstream of American society.

John Woolman. One of the supporters of the 1755 tax-resistance movement was a man named John Woolman. Woolman wrote a detailed spiritual diary that was published a year after his 1772 death. The Journal made Woolman a well-known model of the Quaker spirituality that reasserted itself after the 1750s. In the Journal the daily events of Woolmans life are much less prominent than his thoughts on religious matters and moral action. Everyday life is important only as it leads to spiritual growth. Woolman was a shopkeeper for a while, but his work eventually brought Woolman to an appreciation of the destructive power of the desire for luxury goods. Because of this, he became a traveling minister and schoolteacher. Over the years his typically Quaker openness to finding spiritual possibilities everywhere led him to understand religion as the center of his life and as something that incorporated many elements. The Journal records these. It has elements of revivalistic Christianity, as when Woolman describes his spiritual awakening as a feeling of God in my soul, like a consuming fire. He considered Jesus an important religious personality, but was less moved by the specific doctrines most Christians found in the Bible. Instead he preferred to chart the movement of the spirit within himself, and to describe this he took up the Quaker language of singleness of heart, clearness and purity. He described visions where he was able to communicate directly with the light, the preeminent Quaker symbol of the presence of God. Finally he was drawn to nature as a source of guidance about spiritual truth and good behavior. It led him to think of harmonious relations between humans and nature as part of the moderation in all things that Woolman held out as the ideal that the Society of Friends should pursue. Again, Woolmans central complaint was about worldliness. He wrote that the least degree of luxury . . . hath some connection with evil, hath some connection with unnecessary labor.


Religious singing in the revolutionary period was much less common and much simpler than it is today. Few people had the time to devote themselves to music, and few congregations had the wealth to pay for organs or choirs. Some groups, such as the most traditional Congregationalists, frowned on all singing other than the chanting of psalms and refused to allow musical instruments into the service. By far the most important musical figure was the English Dissenting minister Isaac Watts. Watts wrote numerous hymns based on the psalms, that were more elaborate than the plain chants of the earlier colonial period. Editions of Wattss hymns were among the bestselling books in eighteenth-century America.

Americans started writing their own hymns during the mid 1700s, spurred on in part by the intense religious feelings associated with the revivals. As the revolution developed, some of these hymns became as much about patriotism as religion. William Billings, one of Americas first professional church musicians, wrote the following hymn, Chester, in 1778. It demonstrates how close the connection between religion and politics could be for many Americans. As soldiers sang it over and over, Chester became an unofficial anthem of the American Revolution.

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And slavery clank her galling chains.
We fear them not; we trust in God;
New Englands God forever reigns.
When God inspired us for the fight
Their ranks were broke, their lines were forced;
Their ships were shattered in our sight
Or swiftly driven from our coast.
The foe comes on with haughty stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise.
Their veterans flee before our youth,
and generals yield to beardless boys.
What grateful offerings shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us sing,
And praise his name on every chord.

Source: Albert Christ-Janer and others, American Hymns, Old and New (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 143,

Reform. Woolmans personal journey toward a more saintly life was mirrored in a broader reform movement that preoccupied American Quakers throughout the revolutionary era. Giving up political offices was one thing, but giving up the genteel lifestyle pursued by elite Quakers in Philadelphia and elsewhere was another. From the 1750s on, reforming Quakers reminded their neighbors of the traditions of the Society of Friends, which historically had promoted a simpler existence oriented toward spiritual growth rather than accumulating wealth and material goods. They thought the evangelical Protestants around them, still in the throes of the emotionalism of the Great Awakening, rightly thirsted for a greater appreciation of the spirit even if they were doing it in a distastefully enthusiastic manner that did not accord with the quiet ways of Quakerism. The reformers, including John Churchman, Sophia Hume, Catherine Phillips, and Israel and John Pemberton, took up the idea of Quaker discipline, stressing Quakerism as a complete form of life rather than a religion that could be separated from the rest of ones existence. These men and women traveled through America, visiting Quaker meetings and speaking tirelessly about the importance of bringing children up in the Quaker tradition and putting the beliefs of the Society of Friends into action at every opportunity. Visiting committees were formed in many areas to visit Quaker families in their homes and observe the ways Quaker principles were being practiced. By the 1770s there had been a marked increase in cases of discipline for neglect of these principles in Quaker communities throughout the colonies. The stricter Quakerism that was emerging focused on the Quaker family as the core of a purer, more religious society. It meant, in the end, greater separation between Quakers and the rest of American society. The reform movement corresponded with the political isolation of the Quakers during the Revolutionary War. The Society of Friends became more and more like a sect, removed from the general trend of American Protestantism toward greater denominational interaction and toleration. Quakers lost their direct influence over society, as they became increasingly tribal, but they became a prophetic voice, urging reforms that would only be realized well into the nineteenth century.

Abolition. The most significant of these was agitation against slavery. Woolman was also important in this movement, which had deep roots in the Quaker vision of the spiritual equality of all believers. Many American Quakers held slaves and engaged in the slave trade just like their non-Quaker neighbors. Slowly, over the first half of the eighteenth century, opposition to both of these practices grew. The Quaker belief in the ongoing presence and teaching of the spirit within the Quaker meeting gave them an opportunity to reflect on their behavior and develop new ideas in response to it over time. This is what happened with slavery, as gradually more and more Society of Friends members came to see slavery as incompatible with their religious culture. Various meetings, including the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the general governing body of the large Pennsylvania Quaker community, spoke out about the evil of the slave trade and later, of slaveholding. Woolman was one early convert to antislavery, and he wrote a treatise about slavery in 1746 that was finally published in 1754. That same year the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting issued an epistle, or letter to the community, that declared slaveholding as unrighteous. In 1758 the Yearly Meeting took the first step toward enforcing that judgment. A committee was formed to visit local meetings and individuals, to educate them about the policy, and to impose sanctions on those who continued to be involved with slavery. The committee included Woolman, and he added these duties to his other chores as a traveling Quaker minister.

Anthony Benezet. The most significant antislavery activist among the Quakers was Anthony Benezet, who took the emerging antislavery feeling of the 1750s to the next level, linking it to a more general humanitarian movement. Benezet came from a French Protestant family and converted to Quakerism after his immigration to America in 1731. Like his friend Woolman, he became a teacher. In 1755 he opened the first advanced school for Quaker girls and later taught in the first Quaker school for blacks. Benezet read widely and wrote on many topics. His broad interests deeply informed his stand against slavery, which he attacked with arguments drawn from many disciplines. As part of his exploration of the effects of the slave trade, Benezet wrote the first Englishlanguage history of West Africa. As Americans began to complain about their enslavement by the British during the Stamp Act crisis, Benezet taught and wrote to remind them of the conditions of African American slaves. This writing was some of the first to make an appeal against slavery on humanitarian grounds, trying to establish an emotional bond between slaves and white readers that would move the readers against slavery. Benezet also argued that blacks were not naturally inferior to whites and that the differences between the races could be accounted for by the degrading experience of life in bondage. These powerful arguments slowly had an effect. He reached several readers in England and Europe and made an important contribution to the emerging abolition movement in Britain. In America, Benezets work first had an effect in New England, where Quaker meetings in the 1770s began to urge their members to free their slaves. Philadelphia followed in 1774, when the meeting passed measures to disown members who refused to free slaves. In 1775 Benezet formed the first American antislavery society, designed to protect free blacks unlawfully held in bondage. Benezet was an important supporter of the decision of the Pennsylvania assembly in 1780 to end slavery gradually. The Philadelphia Quakers in 1783 rightly took credit for their efforts against slavery that led the new nation in an effort that would conclude only some eighty years later. To Benezet goes the credit for giving the antislavery movement its grounding in humanitarianism, something that would link it to the powerful reform movements of the nineteenth century and give it the broadest possible appeal.


Hugh Barbour and J. William Frost, The Quakers (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988);

Thomas E. Drake, Quakers and Slavery in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950);

Jack D. Marietta, The Reformation of American Quakerism, 17481783 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984).

Phillips P. Moulton, ed., Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971);


views updated May 08 2018


QUAKERS . The Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, arose in seventeenth-century England and America out of a shared experience of the Light and Spirit of God within each person. This source of worship, insight, and power they identify as the Spirit of Christ that also guided the biblical prophets and apostles. Quakers also affirm each person's ability to recognize and respond to truth and to obey the Light perfectly through the leading of an inner witness, or "Seed," called by some Quakers "Christ reborn in us" and by others "that of God in every [hu]man," out of which transformed personalities can grow. They therefore ask of each other, and of human society, uncompromising honesty, simplicity of life, nonviolence, and justice. Quakers have often been sensitive to new forms of social evil and creative in their programs to overcome them. Their worship has been based on silent waiting upon God without outward ritual.

The early Friends, as Quakers were named (from John 15:5) by their first leader George Fox, arose in England during the Puritan Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, manifesting an inward intensification of radical and spiritual forms of Puritanism; they were influenced by uncompromising Baptists, quietist Seekers, antinomian Ranters, and theocratic militants; and these were in turn influenced by English Lollards, by European Anabaptist Mennonites who rejected both the state and class inequality, and by mystics like Jakob Boehme and the Familists. Unlike their predecessors, Quakers held distinctive ideas on the purely inward nature of true baptism and Communion, on the ministry of all laymen and women, on God's power judging and working within hearts and history, and on the need for biblical events to be fulfilled within each person's life-story; but many of these ideas simply carried further those trends, already active in the mainstream of Protestant doctrine, that had turned English Christians from Catholics into Anglicans, and then into Presbyterians or radical Puritans. Indeed, many Quakers had fought in the Puritan armies of the English Civil War and had turned back from the futility of merely military millennia.

A regional mass awakening in the English Northwest, which had not been strongly reached by Puritanism or any other vital religious movement, sprang up in 1652 around George Fox and the Quaker preachers inspired by him. From open-air meetings on the Yorkshire, Westmorland, and Cumberland moors, groups were gathered who were convinced to sit under the Light, largely in silence, for months of anguished self-searching of their motives and habits. The name Quaker reflected the physical impact of their inner struggles to yield all self-will to the judgments and guidance of the Light until they could live purely and speak entirely by its "leadings." Only then would joy and love come.

The early Quaker mission throughout England, in 16541656, was presented as the "Day of Visitation" by the Lord to each town or region; newly transformed Friends spoke in markets and parish churches despite mobbing and arrests. In New England, Quakers challenging the "biblical commonwealth" were banished on pain of death, and Mary Dyer and three men were hanged in Boston. The pope and the sultan of Turkey had been visited but not converted. To Quakers, Puritan apocalyptic hopes for God's cosmic victory over evil seemed fulfilled as through their work the spirit of Christ conquered the world nonviolently in "the Lamb's war" (Rev. 19:1115). Outward violence they saw as only the devil's distraction, injuring God's good physical creation. All early Quaker ethical standards were part of the crucial inward war of truth against human pride and, thus, were sure to arouse anger; among them were the use of "thee" and "thou" to individuals, the making of true statements without oaths, the refusal of titles such as sir, doctor, and my lady, and the refusal of hat honor and of tithe taxes to state churches.

To persecution for these offenses under the Puritans was added, after the restoration of Charles II, mass arrestsdue to the Anglicans' Conventicle Acts of 1664 and 1670. Out of fifty thousand Friends, five hundred died in jail. Quaker courage won over to Quakerism such leaders as William Penn, the mystic Isaac Penington, and the theologian Robert Barclay. Quaker ethical testimonies of speech and dress and the continuing of silent Meetings for worship were increasingly stressed as badges of loyalty and as the fruits of the Spirit guiding "the sense of the Meeting."

The formal network of Quaker Meetings for Business, held monthly for a town, quarterly for a county, or yearly for a state or nation, was set up to replace reliance on individual leaders. The duties of these Meetings were to register births, marriages, and burials and to aid prisoners, widows, and poor Friends. Fox insisted after 1670 on independent Women's Meetings for Business throughout Quakerism. The monthly Meeting for Sufferings in London and local Meetings recorded imprisonments, oversaw publication of Quaker books, and disowned actions untrue to Quaker norms, disavowing those who so acted until they renounced their acts. Later, Yearly Meeting Epistles and Queries became regular parts of Quaker books of discipline.

Quaker theological writings began with 461 wordy debate tracts poured out by Fox and all other major Quaker leaders to answer the charges made by anti-Quaker writings; Penn wrote more systematically on the universality of the saving Light; Robert Barclay's 1678 Apology became the most-read statement of Quaker beliefs and worship, presenting the Bible as testimony to authentically inspired experience, parallel to that of the Friends. In Barclay's words, the death of Jesus atones for past sins, but the power of the Spirit can purify from sinning in the present. The cross stands for self-renunciation. The essence of the sacraments is inner washing, nurture, and Christ's real presence in worship; outward water, bread, and wine are needless. Ministry and even prayer must wait for and result from direct divine leading.

Toleration was always a concern for Friends: their arguments early turned from protests against persecution of God's messengers to moral, rational, and pragmatic appeals. Penn spoke for increasing groups of Englishmen convinced of the need to allow dissenting or nonconformist worship outside the national Anglican church, which led both to the Toleration Act of 1689 and the tradition of liberal Protestant reformers; he made moral appeals to all consciences, advising nonviolence and loyal opposition to government policies and people in power.

Quaker governments were set up in 1675 and 1682 by Edward Billing and Penn in their new colonies of West New Jersey and Pennsylvania; the charters of these governments mandated toleration and political and legal rights for all including the Delaware Indians. Yet even after Quakers had become a minority in these colonies, all citizens' consciences were expected to concur with the Quakers' in rejecting forts and arms, oaths, most capital punishment, and the slave trade. England's wars with France forced increasingly unacceptable compromises on Pennsylvania Quaker legislators, most of whom resigned in 17551758. By tender persuasion, John Woolman and others led Quakers also to make collectively the harder decision to liberate their slaves and disown Quaker slave owners. Friends were jailed and fined throughout America in the wars of 17551763 and 1812 and during the Revolution; the few Friends who joined or paid for the militias were disowned by their Meetings.

Friendship with the American Indians was a Quaker policy: a Quaker committee shared in peace negotiations in 17561758 and 17631768, and others set up schools and mediation for the New York Senecas and for the Shawnees and other tribes evicted from Ohio and sent to Oklahoma after 1830. In the 1870s, President Grant asked Friends to administer the Indian Agencies of Kansas-Nebraska.

The antislavery work of British and American Quakers and their allies helped to end legal slave trade in both countries in 1807, but tension piled up against Quakers such as the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, Lucretia Mott, and the Grimke sisters (pioneers also in the women's rights movement) who advocated immediate national abolition of slave-owning. Many Quakers felt driven for the first time to break laws secretly in order to protect fugitive slaves through the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, southern Quakers suffered much; northern Friends were inwardly torn; some enlisted to fight. In England, John Bright sacrificed his parliamentary career to oppose both England's entry into the Crimean War and cotton mill owners' support for the American Confederacy.

Change and growth characterized Quaker activities during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Eighteenth-century English industry, banking, and science were increasingly led by the interbred Quaker families of Darbys, Barclays, Lloyds, and Gurneys, who (notably Elizabeth Fry) also pioneered in reforming prisons, mental hospitals, and education for Quaker youth and the poor. Philadelphia Friends emulated them. Quaker worship, watchful against self-will, rationalism, and emotionalism had turned quietist. Among non-Quaker partners in trade or philanthropy, an evangelical orthodoxy that returned to the Bible and Christ's atonement was resurgent and began after 1800 to shape the experience of urban Quakers such as banker Joseph John Gurney, who wrote theology and traveled in America. Community revivals and regional awakenings further stimulated evangelicalism in both the creed and the experience of fifty thousand Friends who between 1795 and 1828 had been drawn to the American frontier in Ohio and Indiana from Virginia, the Carolinas, New England, and Pennsylvania by the promise of open land and freedom from slave-owning neighbors.

The 18271828 separation was initiated by the preaching of quietism and the urging of a boycott of slave-made products by Elias Hicks, the patriarchal farmer from New York State. The breach was widened by the influence of evangelical English Quakers traveling in America and disciplinary acts of evangelical urban elders. Friends from older close-knit rural Meetings who withdrew in protest from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting did not foresee that the split would extend to Yearly Meetings and most Monthly Meetings, as well as to schools and committees in New York, Baltimore, Ohio, and Indiana, and that it would continue permanently.

New methods of revivalism begun after 1830 by Charles G. Finney in midwestern America seemed to the Rhode Island Quaker John Wilbur to be reflected in Gurney's Bible study methods. Rural Wilburite Friends, evangelical in doctrine but rejecting evangelism, were driven in 1846 into a second split, followed by like-minded Friends in Ohio and Canada and later in Iowa and Carolina.

The word holiness, in midwestern revivals and Bible conferences after 1858, came to mean a sudden second work of grace totally purifying the hearts of already-converted Christians. This experience predominated in Quaker Holiness revivals in Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa after 1867 led by John Henry Douglas and David Updegraff and others close to non-Quaker revivalists. Simultaneously, evangelical Friends were aroused to foreign mission projects in India, Japan, China, Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico, Kenya, Guatemala, Bolivia, and among both Indians and Inuit in Alaska.

Quaker organization and worship, not greatly changed since 1690, were now centered in the American Midwest on revivals and hymns and hence on pastors and superintendents, led by Douglas in Iowa and Oregon. By 1898 half the Meetings, even in Indiana, supported pastors and programmed worship with sermons and hymns and biblical Sunday schools. The Richmond Conference of 1887 gathered all orthodox Friends to look at these new patterns and to restrain Updegraff's advocacy of water baptism. The Richmond Declaration of Faith reaffirmed evangelical orthodoxy. Concern for unity led in 1902 to a formally gathered Five Years Meeting, which since 1960 has been called Friends United Meeting, and is still centered in Richmond, Indiana; it currently includes seven Orthodox (evangelical) American Yearly Meetings (mostly midwestern); the reunited Baltimore, Canadian, New England, New York, and Southeastern Yearly Meetings; three Yearly Meetings in Kenya; and one each in Cuba, Jamaica, and Palestine arising from missions. Their total 2002 membership was 34,863 in North America and about 100,000 overseas. The year 1902 also saw the gathering of Hicksite Yearly Meetings into the Friends General Conference, centered in Philadelphia, with a 2002 membership of 34,557, including Yearly Meetings of "silent Meeting Friends" in western and midwestern cities and colleges. The three Wilburite or Conservative Yearly Meetings had shrunk by 1981 to a membership of 1,832. Intensifying of the biblical and Holiness concentration, however, drove evangelical Yearly Meetings of Ohio, Kansas, and Oregon out of the Richmond network and led in 1961 to their forming the Evangelical Friends Alliance, to which were added other Friends Churches, some begun by Quaker missions in Asia and Latin America. In 1998, there remained 20,000 Friends in England and Scotland, 1,750 in Ireland as of 1985, approximately 3,000 in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa as of 1996, and 20 to 400 each in eight post-1918 Yearly Meetings in nations of continental Europe.

Quaker universalism and mysticism were replacing quietism as the central religious experience of many Hicksite and British Friends even before Rufus Jones, student and teacher at Haverford College, Pennsylvania, drew on Emerson and European mystics to make normative for their language "positive" or "ethical mysticism" and the experience of the soul's unity with "the divine in every [hu]man." Quaker education and service programs became linked to these humanitarian or humanist ideas. Rufus Jones channeled the service of Quaker conscientious objectors in World War I by helping to found the American Friends Service Committee, which then joined with the older British War Victims Relief and Friends Service Council in feeding two million German children and many victims of the 1922 Russian famine. The 19291939 Depression and World War II prompted Quaker interest in their own nations' unemployed and then in issues of world peace. In 1943 the Friends Committee on National Legislation was formed to coordinate and lobby for Quaker ideals in American policy. Quaker schools of all levels moved away from the guarded education of a purist sect toward a humanism aimed at developing the whole person. American colleges of Quaker origin (Haverford, Guilford, Earlham, Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and others) and the famous Quaker secondary boarding schools on both continents increasingly draw brilliant students of all faiths and none. Graduate study centers have been set up at Woodbrooke by the Cadbury family and at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia. The Earlham School of Religion trains all branches of Friends for ministry of all kinds.

New patterns of unity and division have emerged since the 1960s. Conferences, international visits, and sharing of theological concerns are sponsored by the Friends World Committee for Consultation. Increasingly periodicals such as Friends Quarterly and The Friend in England and Quaker Life, Friends Journal, and The Evangelical Friend in America transcend Quaker divisions. Reunion of Yearly Meetings and local Meetings from the Hicksite separations have occurred in Philadelphia, Canada, New York, and Baltimore. Young Friends, who have often led Quakers into new ways, are concerned now with nuclear arms, communes, and new foundations in theology.

See Also

Fox, George; Penn, William; Puritanism; Quietism.


The Journal of George Fox, edited by Thomas Ellwood (1694; reprint, Richmond, Ind., 1983); John Woolman's Journal (1774; reprint, New York, 1971); Robert Barclay's Apology (1676; reprint, Newport, R.I., 1729); and William Penn's No Cross, No Crown (London, 1669) remain the central classics of the Friends. The Papers of William Penn (Philadelphia, 1987) photocopies of The Works of George Fox, 3 vols. (1831; New York, 1975), and A Collection of the Works of William Penn, 2 vols. (1727; New York, 1974), are in print. Other primary sources are in Early Quaker Writings, 16501700, edited by Hugh Barbour and Arthur O. Roberts (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1973).

Joseph Smith's Descriptive Catalogue of Friends Books, 2 vols. (London, 1867), remains the most complete bibliography, but see also Donald Wing's Short-Title Catalogue of Books 16411700, 3 vols. (New York, 19451951). Leonard Hodgson's Christian Faith and Practice (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1950), with topical selections from all periods, and Church Government, rev. ed. (London, 1951), together make up the London Yearly Meeting's Book of Discipline ; those of other Yearly Meetings are less complete.

William C. Braithwaite's The Beginnings of Quakerism (1912; 2d ed., Cambridge, U.K., 1955) and The Second Period of Quakerism (1919; reprint, Cambridge, U.K., 1961), together with Rufus M. Jones's studies titled The Later Periods of Quakerism, 2 vols. (1921; reprint, Westport, Conn., 1970), and The Quakers in the American Colonies (1911; reprint, New York, 1962) were designed to form the normative "Rowntree Series," based on documentary work by Norman Penney. A. Neave Brayshaw's The Quakers (London, 1921) combines history and ideas, as do Howard Brinton's study of Quaker mysticism titled Friends for Three Hundred Years (New York, 1952) and John Punshon's Portrait in Grey (London, 1984). Each is an outstanding interpretation. Elbert Russell's The History of Quakerism (1945; reprint, Richmond, Ind., 1980), centered on America, with Efrida Vipont Foulds's The Story of Quakerism (London, 1954). Both are good one-volume histories.

Each Yearly Meeting has a printed history, and biographies have been written of most key Quakers. On early Quaker history, see various works by Edwin Bronner and Frederick Tolles; on the eighteenth century, by Sydney James and Arthur Raistrick; and on the nineteenth, by J. Ormerod Greenwood, Elizabeth Isichei, and Philip Benjamin. On Quaker ethical outlooks and doctrines, especially for the early periods, Richard Bauman's Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence among Seventeenth Century Quakers (Cambridge, U.K., 1983), Melvin B. Endy, Jr.'s William Penn and Early Quakerism (Princeton, N.J., 1973), J. William Frost's The Quaker Family in Colonial America (New York, 1973), and works by Hugh Barbour, Lewis Benson, Maurice Creasey, Christopher Hill, and Geoffrey Nuttall give solid data and a variety of insights. Thomas R. Kelly's A Testament of Devotion, 6th ed. (New York, 1941), remains beloved as inspiration.

New Sources

Benefiel, M., and R. D. Phipps. "Practical Mysticism: Quakers and Social Transformation." In Mysticism and Social Transformation, edited by Janet Ruffing, pp. 129142. Syracuse, N.Y., 2001.

Steinkraus, W. E. "Quaker Mysticism." In Mysticism and the Mystical Experience: East and West, edited by Donald H. Bishop, pp. 110132. Selinsgrove, Pa., 1995.

Hugh Barbour (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 14 2018


The nineteenth century witnessed significant changes within the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Quakerism had arisen amid the tumult and experimentation of the English Revolution of the mid-seventeenth century. One of many radical religious groups of that era, Friends had proclaimed God's availability to each individual through the Inward Christ or the Inner Light, rendering creeds, outward sacraments, and clerical hierarchy unnecessary. Quakers worshiped by gathering in silence until the spirit inspired someone to speak. To the scandal of many in that day, women as well as men felt led to preach in Quaker worship. Early Quaker spirituality embraced both the inward and the outward life: inner purification led to a powerful sense of union with God and with one another, and the victory of good over evil in the soul energized Friends to seek to transform human society. Quaker social ethics emphasized equality, simplicity, integrity, and peace. When decades of persecution persuaded Friends that the rest of the world was not going to join their program, they withdrew into a quieter, settled life of spiritual discipline, tending toward separation from the larger society. William Penn's Holy Experiment in colonial Pennsylvania, however, kept alive the Quaker ideal of a humane political and social order until Friends withdrew from the legislature in the 1750s, when the English crown insisted on a militia. The American Revolution, during which Friends as pacifists maintained neutrality and suffered for it from both sides, pushed Quakers even further into a sectarian existence.


By 1820 new winds were blowing. Westward migration to Ohio and Indiana produced new social settings and structures, and the "hedge" that had separated "God's peculiar people" from "the world's people" was successively lowered. Some Quakers began to find common ground with other religious groups on matters of philanthropy or social reform, such as abolition. The evangelical movement was at the forefront of many progressive social issues at that time, and evangelical theology began to influence some Quaker thought.

The attraction to the evangelical movement was also a conscious move away from Quaker traditions of the eighteenth century. Quaker thought in that era is often described as "quietist." The turning inward of Quakers as a group paralleled an inward turning of each individual. Quietist thought built on the earlier Quaker understanding of the Inner Light and held that the only trustworthy religious experience was an inward, direct dependence upon God for guidance. Quietism was suspicious of all human initiative.

Elias Hicks (1748–1830) can represent the quietist position for the nineteenth century, though he himself did not use this term. In his understanding, in order to allow the Inward Christ to work in the soul, the self must abstain from all willing and acting. The animated devotion of evangelicals looked to him like emotional self-indulgence. The appropriate goal of the religious life was instead to lose the self in union with God, to experience annihilation, to become nothing. Evangelicals would find his description of God too impersonal, but to Hicks this did not matter because the aim was selflessness, a state in which there was practically speaking no self left that could be in relationship with a personal God. His views may remind others of the exalted but austere ideals of medieval mystics such as Meister Eckehart or Sufi mystics such as Ibn al-'Arabi.

Hicks was a radical on the issue of slavery. When others suggested that slaves should be purchased from their keepers in order to be set free, he replied that slave owners had no right to additional payment. Not only should they be denied such funds, but they should also be required to set their slaves free and then compensate them for previous services rendered. Hicks promoted a boycott of slave-produced goods. Yet his radical ethic was also separatist: he did not believe that Quakers should cooperate with other antislavery activists. Such social promiscuity could endanger the purity of God's peculiar people. Some antislavery speakers, for example, were professional clergy, so to work with them could be seen as tacit approval of clergy. Hicks was reluctant to compromise on any issue.

Other Friends found the quietist impulse in Quakerism too confining. The sectarian strain prevented collaboration with other sincere Christians on the pressing social issues of the day. Quietism was inadequate to the needs of the times. Additionally, the lofty severity of quietist inwardness felt like a denial of human emotion as a divinely given gift. Evangelical piety focused on love, centered in the love of God. The divinity of Jesus demonstrated God's love, and the humanity of Jesus affirmed the human qualities of the individual believer. To evangelicals, the suffering of Christ awakened in the faithful a sympathy that extended to others who are suffering. This sympathy motivated evangelicals to participate in efforts to relieve human suffering, such as the antislavery movement or prison reform.

Among North American Friends, quietists and evangelicals vied for political power within Quakerism, resulting in a schism in 1827–1828, first in Philadelphia and then spreading throughout North American Quakerism. The evangelicals called themselves Orthodox Friends. Their counterparts were the Hicksites, who came to include both quietists and liberals. Liberals valued reason over emotion and questioned the infallibility of the Bible. The progressive mood of the era fostered a desire for freedom from what liberals perceived as narrow dogma. Some quietists, fearing the heresy that they found inherent in liberalism, chose the Orthodox camp over the Hicksite. By mid-century this resulted in further division among the Orthodox, resulting in three major factions: the evangelical Gurneyite Friends who took their name from Joseph John Gurney (1788–1847); the quietist Wilburites whose name derived from John Wilbur (1774–1856); and the increasingly liberal Hicksites named after Elias Hicks. Later, the evangelical revivals of the late 1860s and beyond brought changes to the evangelical Quaker worship, which came to resemble mainstream Protestant worship with hymns, a planned sermon, and a paid pastor. But before those innovations, the divisions among Quakers must have seemed insignificant or imperceptible to the wider world. While it is true that other Protestant denominations in the United States were likewise dividing along the same lines regarding the evangelical movement, both Quaker parties continued to hold on to common Quaker traditions that were not matters of doctrine. Both parties continued the same pattern of worship in silence. Both groups allowed women to preach. Both sides followed the same pattern of plain dress. Both continued opposition to slavery and war.

The abolitionist and poet John Greenleaf Whittier was the best-known Quaker literary figure of the era. Critics of a later generation regarded as a drawback precisely what was attractive to the audience of Whittier's day: a romantic appreciation of nature, a nostalgia that more recent tastes would consider sentimentality, and the subservience of his poetic craft to his moral passions (especially antislavery). In the early twenty-first century, it is Whittier's religious poetry that remains known in some circles: numerous poems of his are found in hymnals of many denominations. There is a mix of appropriateness and irony in this: his justly revered "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," found in many hymnals of the evangelical tradition, is drawn from a larger poem, "The Brewing of the Soma," which is sharply critical of the emotional extremes of the evangelical revivals of that era. The verses used as a hymn reflect the gentle quietist element of his Quakerism, as do these lines from "The Meeting."

And so I find it well to come 
For deeper rest to this still room,
For here the habit of the soul
Feels less the outer world's control;
The strength of mutual purpose pleads
More earnestly our common needs;
And from the silence multiplied
By these still forms on either side,
The world that time and sense have known
Falls off and leaves us God alone.

Whittier, The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, p. 446.


Quakers in the nineteenth century were perhaps best known for their antislavery work, and among Quaker abolitionists perhaps the best known was Levi Coffin (1798–1877). He had migrated from North Carolina to Indiana, as did many southern Friends, to leave behind the land where slavery was legal and to take up life in territories where it was prohibited. He became a leader in the Underground Railroad, the clandestine movement of escaped slaves on their way to Canada. Coffin's activities were controversial among some Quakers. In earlier days Friends had broken the law—for example, to continue to hold Quaker worship when it was illegal in England—but they had done so publicly, despite the threat of persecution. Now their defiance of the law endangered not themselves but those whom they were attempting to help, so Coffin and others were comfortable acting in secret so as not to endanger the safety of the refugees. Fidelity to the Quaker commitment to equality led to careful reflection on Quaker devotion to moral integrity, when the traditional Quaker practice of honesty could threaten the lives and liberty of the escapees.

Levi Coffin's Reminiscences (1876) relates many tales of his work with the Underground Railroad and reveal his considerable skills as a raconteur. Among his stories is an account of his houseguest Eliza Harris, the historical figure who inspired her namesake in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) Eliza Harris, escaping from Kentucky, crossed the Ohio River near Ripley on drifting broken ice with her child in her arm. Readers of Uncle Tom's Cabin from Levi Coffin's day to the early twenty-first century have speculated that Simeon and Rachel Halliday are Levi and Catherine Coffin in thin disguise. After some twenty years in Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana, where they assisted thousands of refugees from slavery, the Coffins moved to Cincinnati, where they continued in the Underground Railroad. Coffin also became a leader in the free-labor movement. Another form of protest against slavery, this movement bought and sold only goods produced without the exploitation of slaves. After the Civil War, Coffin worked with freed slaves in Arkansas. He traveled to England, where he raised $100,000 to support the work with freedmen.

Other Friends recognized for their antislavery work in this period include the abolitionist Thomas Garrett (1789–1871) and the Grimké sisters Sarah (1792–1873) and Angelina (1805–1879). Some used journalism to promote antislavery work, as did John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892), who worked for several newspapers; Benjamin Lundy (1789–1839) in his newspaper the Genius of Universal Emancipation; and Elisha Bates (1781–1861), whose Moral Advocate also protested against capital punishment and war and promoted temperance and prison reform.

American Quakers engaged in prison reform also included Stephen Grellet (1773–1855)—who made his home in New York but reported to the tsar, the pope, the sultan, and various European monarchs on the sorry conditions of their prisons—and Charles (1823–1916) and Rhoda (1826–1909) Coffin, relatives of Levi. Elizabeth Comstock (1815–1891) promoted prison reform and also worked in the Underground Railroad before the Civil War and with freedman's concerns thereafter as well as temperance and women's equality. Elizabeth Howland (1827–1929) shared these last three concerns.

The following is the portion of Whittier's "The Brewing of the Soma" that often appears in hymnals.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind, 
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise. 
In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee! 
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love!
With that deep hush subduing all 
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire 
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

Whittier, The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, p. 450.

If a single person can represent the breadth of Quaker commitment to social reform in the nineteenth century, Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793–1880, also related to Levi through common Nantucket Quaker ancestry) may be the best candidate. A liberal Friend committed to freedom and progress, she acquired her antislavery views early in life. In 1830 she and her husband, James, befriended the renowned abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. They supported the Anti-Slavery Society in America, though only James could join because women were not admitted into membership. In response, Lucretia Mott and other Quaker women, along with free blacks, formed the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.

Mott was not satisfied to call for the end of slavery in the South: she also protested the racism of the North. She defied the segregationist customs of her day, offering hospitality to African Americans in her home and preaching in black churches. Lucretia and James Mott were appointed delegates to the first World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, but as a woman she was not seated as a delegate but only invited to sit politely in the ladies' gallery. Quite a stir followed as she and others held for the recognition of women as official delegates. At that conference she befriended the young Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Upon their return to the United States, they committed themselves to laboring for women's rights. The outcome of their (and others') resolve was the conference at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 and its famous Declaration of Sentiments, which led the way to the women's suffrage movement. Mott also worked with peace societies, the Nonresistance Society, anti-Sabbath groups, Native American concerns, and on education, including women's medical education. Bold and unshakable in her ethical passions, Mott was nearly pushed out of Quakerism by more conservative voices. She stood her ground, and by her later years Hicksite Friends considered her as their spiritual leader.


Portraits of Quakers in American literature from 1820 to 1870 range from the unsympathetic to the idealized. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) was not especially appreciative of seventeenth-century Quakers, but then his literary works do not reveal much appreciation for any religion in that era. In "The Gentle Boy," from Twice-Told Tales, Hawthorne describes early Quakerism as "unbridled fanaticism" (1:104) and an "enthusiasm heightened almost to madness" that "abstractly considered, well deserved the moderate chastisement of the rod" (1:86). Yet the Quakers in this tale are chiefly a vehicle for comparison with the cold brutality of the Puritans who persecuted and martyred them. Quakers appear as victims of persecution in The Scarlet Letter (chapter 6), and in "Young Goodman Brown" the devil informs the protagonist that Brown's grandfather, who persecuted Quakers, was the devil's partner in so doing. In "Main Street" the narrator suggests a more positive regard, noting that the itinerant Quaker preachers in Salem had "the gift of a new idea" (3:461).

Herman Melville's (1819–1891) Moby-Dick includes Quakers, since Nantucket was a whaling as well as a Quaker community. Peleg and Bildad, the ship owners, seem more like caricatures, the former being the Quaker by culture who wears a plain coat but has no real use for religion and the latter a pious but hypocritical tightwad who will not pay Ishmael a decent wage if he can get away with it. Both of them Melville calls "fighting Quakers" (p. 71) who profess pacifism against humans but have no quarrel with the brutal killing of the noble monsters of the deep. Starbuck, the virtuous but cautious first mate, also a Quaker, is courageous enough to face any natural danger and to stand up to Ahab, only to give in ultimately. He ponders but then resists the urge to save the crew by killing Ahab. Melville's point may be that Starbuck's weakness is that, in spite of knowing good from evil, he cannot summon the strength to act decisively. Near the end Starbuck questions the justice of it all if his life of devotion leads only to a watery grave.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) held a genuine appreciation for Quakers, including Lucretia Mott, whom he knew personally. He wrote that much of the best thought of his day had been anticipated by early Friends. In his essay "Natural Religion," Emerson praised Friends for their likeness to the earliest Christians' ideals: "The sect of Quakers in their best representatives appear to me to come nearer to the sublime history and genius of Christ than any other of the sects. They have kept the traditions perhaps for a longer time, kept the early purity" (p. 57).

Walt Whitman (1819–1892), reminiscing some sixty years later, wrote of hearing the resonant preaching of Elias Hicks, whom he admired for his attacks on evangelical doctrines. Whitman appreciated the inwardness of Hicks's thought, which would submit to no outward creed, scripture, or theology of blood atonement. Hicks would have been surprised by some of Whitman's praise: "Always E[lias] H[icks] gives the service of pointing to the fountain of all naked theology, all religion, . . . namely yourself and your inherent relations. . . . This he incessantly labors to kindle, nourish, educate, bring forward and strengthen. He is the most democratic of the religionists" (2:627).

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) has numerous Quaker characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin, some (as mentioned above) perhaps inspired by Levi and Catherine Coffin. Through them she pictured a religious life without ostentatious self-righteousness or racial bigotry. Her Quakers are idealized, as were Whitman's memories of Elias Hicks, but genuine Quakers would have recognized the ideas as their own.

The only Quaker of literary renown in this period was the poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). He was an ardent abolitionist and a friend of William Lloyd Garrison, with whom he faced mob violence from opponents of abolition. Later the two came to differ over the issue of political involvement, when Whittier became an enthusiastic supporter of the antislavery Liberty Party. Whittier once aspired to a life in politics and was elected to the state legislature in Massachusetts, but frail health and his outspoken abolitionist views put an end to his hopes for election to Congress. He worked as an editor for abolitionist newspapers and composed antislavery poems, such a "The Christian Slave," "The Hunters of Men," and "Ichabod," and lived on the edge of poverty until the publication of Snow-Bound (1866) and "The Tent on the Beach" (1868) brought him popular fame. These collections of poetry captured the spirit of the age and spoke to the inner needs of a society struggling to recover from the trauma of a civil war. Late in his life he achieved such popularity that his birthday was a school holiday in his native Massachusetts. Whittier was a friend of the poets James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his poetry, as in his life, Whittier sought to integrate the inward life of quiet receptivity to the divine presence with a devoted effort to better human society. In this he reflected the ideals of Quakerism.

See alsoAbolitionist Writing; The Bible; Evangelicals; Feminism; Moby-Dick;Reform; Religion; Slavery; Transcendentalism; Uncle Tom's Cabin;Underground Railroad


Primary Works

Coffin, Levi. Reminiscences of Levi Coffin. Cincinnati: Robert Clark, 1876.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Uncollected Lectures by Ralph WaldoEmerson; Reports of Lectures on American Life and Natural Religion, Reprinted from the Commonwealth. Edited by Clarence L. F. Gohdes. New York: W. E. Rudge, 1932.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Complete Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. 13 vols. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1882–1883.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. 1851. New York: Norton, 1967.

Mott, Lucretia. Lucretia Mott: Her Complete Speeches andSermons. Edited by Dana Greene. New York: Edward Mellen Press, 1980.

Whitman, Walt. Walt Whitman: Prose Works 1892. 2 vols. Edited by Floyd Stovall. New York: New York University Press, 1964.

Whittier, John Greenleaf. The Complete Poetical Works of JohnGreenleaf Whittier. Edited by Horace E. Scudder. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894.

Secondary Works

Bacon, Margaret Hope. Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott. New York: Walker, 1980.

Barbour, Hugh, and J. William Frost. The Quakers. Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 1994.

Hamm, Thomas D. The Transformation of AmericanQuakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800–1907. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Ingle, H. Larry. Quakers in Conflict: The Hicksite Reformation. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986.

Jones, Rufus M. Later Periods of Quakerism. 2 vols. London: Macmillan, 1921.

Michael L. Birkel


views updated May 21 2018


QUAKERS. Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) emerged in the north of England in the early 1650s as one of the many sects spawned by the Puritan revolution. George Fox (16241691), the most prominent early leader, after seeking for certainty among many religious groups, experienced what he and other Friends described as the Inward Light of Christ, an unmediated contact with God. Quakerism was an attempt to communicate and institutionalize this encounter with divinity that was available to all women and men. Worship consisted of meetings held in silence in an unornamented room with preaching or prayer spoken under the guidance of the Light. There was no educated and ordained clergy, no liturgy, hymns, or Bible reading to come between a person and God. Friends refused to pay tithes, take oaths, or show deference to social superiors and denounced all other forms of worship as corrupt.

Early Friends attracted the middling classes and few of the very rich and powerful or the poor. Traveling ministers (persons recognized as able to preach the new faith) brought the movement by 1654 to London, Bristol, and Norfolk and soon after to the West Indies, Ireland, and North America. The rapid spread and religious and social radicalism of many early Friends brought sporadic persecution, even under Oliver Cromwell (ruled 16531658).

The Restoration in 1660 brought twenty-four years of occasional persecution by royal and Anglican authorities who saw Friends as threatening religious uniformity and social order. Friends also experienced internal divisions occasioned by Fox's effort to organize a hierarchy of meetings, including separate gatherings for women. Robert Barclay's (16481690) Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1678) provided a theological framework, and William Penn (16441718) emerged as an advocate for religious toleration for all Dissenters and Roman Catholics.

After the Revolution of 1688, Friends repudiated their social radicalism and became respectable dissenters. No longer openly challenging church or state, Friends enjoyed toleration, accepted distraints for tithes, and sought to ensure their survival by concentrating upon family nurture and preserving distinctive customs of dress, speech, and endogamous marriage (that is, marriage with other Friends). Their primary impact on England came through innovations in technology, industry, and finance, for example the Darbys and Lloyds in iron and Barclays and Lloyds in banking.

Outside Britain, the primary concentrations of Friends were in Rhode Island, Maryland, and North Carolina, where inhabitants converted, and New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which were settled by Quaker immigrants. In 1681 William Penn obtained a charter for Pennsylvania, and colonization began the next year. Penn's law guaranteed religious liberty, created a representative assembly, ended capital punishment for most crimes, and instituted a strict moral code. Quakers dominated the assembly until the eve of the American Revolution. Conflict with the proprietors, first with Penn and then with his sons, became characteristic as Quakers sought political power and won every assembly election until 1775 on a platform of low taxes, no established church, and no militia. Pennsylvania and Friends prospered, and Philadelphia became a cosmopolitan town with Quakers supporting the American Philosophical Society, the Pennsylvania Hospital, and the Library Company.

The French defeat of a British force in 1755 near present-day Pittsburgh brought a major transformation of Quakerism. Blaming the war on their own moral failures, Quakers now pronounced slavery a moral evil, initiated an Indian rights movement, questioned the legitimacy of their exercising political power and paying war taxes, and tightened the enforcement of testimonies on all Friends. The reform movement eventually spread to meetings throughout the colonies and Great Britain.

American Friends supported the protests against British taxation beginning in 1765 until they concluded that the agitation was leading to war. After 1774, Quakers began withdrawing from politics and opposing the movement toward independence. In 1776 they proclaimed neutrality between the two warring parties and noninvolvement in politics, required all members to free their slaves, and disowned members who served in the military or occupied political office. They also began the international antislavery movement taken up by British Friends after 1783. In the new Republic, Friends saw it as their role to be advocates for American Indians and African Americans.

See also American Independence, War of (17751783) ; Cromwell, Oliver ; Dissenters, English ; English Civil War Radicalism ; Puritanism .


Barbour, Hugh, and J. William Frost. The Quakers. New York, 1988.

Ingle, H. Larry. First among Friends: George Fox and the Creation of Quakerism. New York, 1994.

Larson, Rebecca. Daughters of Light: Quaker Women Preaching and Prophesying in the Colonies and Abroad (17001775). New York, 1999.

Marietta, Jack. The Reformation of American Quakerism, 17481783. Philadelphia, 1984.

Moore, Rosemary. The Light in Their Consciences: The Early Quakers in Britain, 16461666. University Park, Pa., 2000.

Tolles, Frederick. Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia, 16821763. New York, 1963; first published 1948.

J. William Frost

Society of Friends

views updated May 18 2018

Society of Friends


Radical Sect. The Society of Friends originated as a radical offshoot of puritanism that arose during the English Civil War of the seventeenth century. George Fox is usually credited as its founder and was ridiculed as a quaker when he told a judge to tremble at the words of the Lord. Quakers first settled in tolerant Rhode Island, from which they sent missionaries to proselytize in Puritan New England. They preached extemporaneously, paraded in the streets, mocked the clergy, and generally challenged both the theology and society of New England. Quakers believed that all humans possessed the Inner Light of Christ, which was more important than the Scriptures in ruling ones life. They ordained no ministers, followed no formal liturgy in their worship, and recognized no sacraments. Instead they gathered and spoke at the prompting of their Inner Light, men and women alike. Believing in the equality of all people, Friends recognized no hierarchy and refused to engage in the customary rituals of deference, such as tipping their hats in the presence of their betters or referring to important people with the formal you. Instead they employed the more familiar thee and thou for everyone. They dressed plainly, eschewing any ornamentation, to signify that the material life was unimportant. As a matter of Christian principle they refused to bear arms or to take the oaths required in courts of law. The Puritans reserved the harshest penalty for these deviants and, for a time, hanged those who returned after having been banished from their colonies. In time Quakers moderated their attacks and settled down to a pious and sober Christian lifestyle that others admired.


Ye are called to peace, therefore follow it... seek the peace of all men, and no mans hurt... keep out of plots and bustling and the arm of the flesh, for all these are amongst Adams sons in the Fall, where they are destroying mens lives like dogs and beasts and swine, goring, rending and biting one another and destroying one another, and wrestling with flesh and blood. From whence arise these wars and killing but from the lusts?

Source: George Fox, Journal, edited by John L. Nickalls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), p. 357.

William Penn. The man most responsible for creating a legitimate space for the Society of Friends and attracting them to the colonies was William Penn. He was one of the leading lights of the English Quakers and wanted to create a model colony based on their beliefs. He first joined other proprietors in founding West Jersey for Quakers and in 1681 was granted a charter for Pennsylvania (Penns Forest). Penn immediately traveled through Europe, inviting all to come, offering generous grants of land and guaranteeing freedom of conscience by his Frame of Government and, later, Charter of Liberties. The right to vote and hold office in the assembly was open to almost every free man, and oaths were not required. Penn also set the tone that the colony would follow in dealing with the Native Americans. He considered Indians to be descendants of Old Testament Jews who practiced a primitive Christianity and treated them with the same respect that he accorded others. He purchased land from them at a fair price, prohibited the sale of alcohol to them, regulated the fur trade, and learned their language. The lavish wampum belt that the grateful Delawares gave him can still be seen at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Although open to all, Pennsylvania was dominated by the Quakers, both in population and control of political office. As other immigrants arrived, this dominance became increasingly difficult to maintain, and the Quakers withdrew into their subculture that separated themselves from these newcomers.

Meetings. Local Friends gathered at least once a week, usually in simple meetinghouses but also in private homes and barns. The meetinghouses were plain, rectangular buildings with windows high in the walls, which were often whitewashed to heighten spiritual intensity. They were also sparsely furnished, with no pulpits, altars, or ornaments of any kind. Members arrived quietly, with men and women entering by separate doors and sitting apart. Seating was by order of arrival, not rank, except for the elders. A time of silence allowed all to turn inward and tune into their Inner Light. As the spirit moved them, people rose and spoke spontaneouslymen, women, and children alike. When there seemed to be no more messages, the elders rose, shook hands, and the meeting ended. Although all possessed the Inner Light, individuals were expected to employ their unique talents in following it. Those who had a gift for speaking of the spirit and leading others to contact it were called Public Friends (ministers). These men and women traveled around, ministering to Quakers and non-Quakers alike. Likewise, at monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings men and women met separately and had different responsibilities. Men conducted the more-public business; women were responsible for charity, child rearing, marriage, and the moral conduct of the female sex.

Family and Community. Local meetings were almost synonymous with the community of extended families, for Quakers built their homes in clusters, or loving neighborhoods, where they could monitor behavior. Those who did not behave as charitable Christians were required to stand before the meeting, shame themselves, and be forgiven in love. Individual families also relied on spiritual love rather than authoritarian hierarchy to maintain harmony. Families were openly affectionate and oriented to their children, regarding them as innocent and incapable of sin until at least eleven years of age. Then they used rewards and reason to encourage proper behavior. Adolescence was the most dangerous time, for Friends viewed lust as a sin and premarital sex as an abomination. Young people were watched closely by the elders, prohibited from physical contact, and married within the faith and only with the consent of their parents. Quakers spent little on formal education, other than learning to read and write and to perform in practical trades. They felt that too much book learning might obscure the Inner Light. Quaker homes were large by colonial standards, reflecting their family orientation, but were as plain as their dress. Because clothes were a badge of wealth and status in these times, rich and poor dressed in somber colors with no ornamentationnot even buttons.

Keithian Schism. George Keith arrived in Philadelphia in 1688 to head a Quaker Latin school and became active among the Society of Friends. By 1691 he was accusing ministers of downplaying the importance of a knowledge of the Scriptures and Christ, not inquiring into the spiritual state of members, and refusing to discipline their flocks. He demanded that the Quakers adopt a creed, require a relation of spiritual experience of all who attended meetings, and formalize the handling of discipline and finances in local meetings. He did all of this in a loud and censorious voice. His followers even organized separate local meetings, calling themselves Christian Quakers. Other Quakers called the Public Friends condemned them and fought to keep members from joining their schism. Eventually Keith returned to England, was forced out of the Society, and became an Anglican. He returned to Pennsylvania as a missionary with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and continued to plague the Quakers.

Formalization. Keiths charges struck a nerve among the Society of Friends, which responded by implementing much of what he advocated. Public Friends issued a statement of their beliefs which served as the orthodoxy, even though they did not force anyone to sign it. They became much more careful of whom they admitted to their meetings and more stringent in disciplining their own, especially the children. The Yearly Meeting began to circulate specific directives on what Quaker children could not do, such as wear over long scarves or their hair in bangs. Local meetings were directed to appoint Overseers to scrutinize behavior by asking standardized questions drawn up by the monthly meetings. Finally, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting even prepared papers on discipline and practice which all of the lower meetings were directed to follow. Special quarterly meetings were instituted where the children were to be drilled in their duties. Weighty Friends (wealthy and respected elders) took a greater role in all of the meetings where the Public Friends had been dominant. The lines of authority were clarified: Overseers of local meetings, monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, and finally the Yearly Meeting. Decisions made at one level could be appealed at the next.

Decline. The Great Awakening of the 1740s had little impact on the Society of Friends. The theological emphasis on predestination and emotional preaching flew in the face of Quaker understanding of the Inner Light and practice of quiet contemplation. In addition Public Friends, or ministers, began sharing responsibilities with Weighty Friends and Overseers, so New Side and New Light attacks against ministers attracted little interest. Moreover, Quakers were less concerned with attracting converts, another goal of the various revivalists in the Awakening. Friends were more concerned about increased secularization. Prosperity was taking its toll on the Quaker lifestyle as wealthy merchants built bigger homes, purchased household items of exquisite craftsmanship, and acquired larger wardrobes of the finest and most expensive fabrics, even if they were still in dark colors and sported no ornamentation. It seemed as if the countinghouses of their businesses were attracting more of their attention than the meetinghouses of their faith. Young people followed suit, engaging in more games and social activities, often with non-Quakers. Some even married outside of the faith. Although they personally refused to bear arms, Friends in office were under increasing pressure to vote for military spending to defend the western frontier from Native American attacks. Some succumbed and voted for military stores; more defied the proprietor, which caused political conflict, or withdrew from office, leaving the governance of the colony to others.


Hugh Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan New England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964);

Ewin B. Bronner, William Penris Holy Experiment: The Founding of Pennsylvania, 16811701 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962);

Barry Levy, Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware Valley (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988);

Frederick B. Tolles, Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia, 16821763 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1948).


views updated Jun 11 2018


QUAKERS. The Society of Friends was the most enduring of several religious groups to emerge out of the social and religious turmoil of the English Puritan Revolution. The movement dates its origins from 1652, when George Fox announced he had received from God a vision of "a great people to be gathered" in northwest England. The movement spread to the American colonies soon thereafter.

The core of Friends' theology was the Inner Light, or the intervention of the Holy Spirit in the consciousness of ordinary men and women. Friends, or "Quakers" (so called because of the trembling said to follow divine illumination), agreed with the Puritans that the Anglican Church had not gone far enough toward purifying itself of the external forms of the Catholic Church. But Quakers went further than the Puritans in their effort to clear the path to a direct and personal religious experience. They rejected the need for clergy or outward sacraments and adopted a plain worship style. Community worship took place not in churches, but in "meetings," during which members sat in silence until one among them felt moved by the Inner Light to speak. Quaker ethics, or "testimonies," were rooted in the belief that pride and wastefulness obstructed the path of the purifying Light. Thus they opposed ostentatious dress and other signs of social hierarchy, such as formal greetings, titles, and "doffing the hat" before superiors; insisted on fair business dealings; and refused to take oaths. The Quaker "peace testimony" against raising money or men for wars (deriving from their belief that war, too, was a manifestation of pride) evolved over time to become one of the more distinctive Quaker beliefs. Quakers believed that theirs was the only true religion and that God was working through them to turn others to the Light of Christ within and thereby remake humanity and society.

Quakers in the colonies, as in England, faced severe persecution in response to their persistent challenges to existing religious and civil authority. Between 1659 and 1661, several Quaker missionaries were hanged in Massachusetts Bay Colony because the Puritan leaders considered them a threat to their Bible Commonwealth. Persecution abated there and elsewhere in the colonies in the 1660s, but Quakerism spread most successfully in Rhode Island, which granted religious freedom, and in those areas of Long Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina where the established church was weak. When George Fox visited America (1671–1673) he helped institutionalize the colonial meeting structure, establishing "Yearly Meetings" in New England (1671) and Maryland (1672). Quakers emigrated to America in the 1670s and early 1680s in large numbers, escaping harsh persecution in England and seeking new opportunities for religious and economic prosperity. They migrated in families and sometimes Quaker communities, the majority coming from the "middling ranks" of English, Irish, and Welsh society.

Pennsylvania, founded in 1681 by English Quaker convert William Penn, was the largest haven for emigreting

Quakers. Penn, who had been granted a royal charter (probably in payment of a debt), planned Pennsylvania as a "Holy Experiment"—a peaceful community formed in obedience to God, which, if successful, would prefigure Christ's reign on earth. Although Pennsylvanians expected conformity to Quaker moral codes, the colony allowed freedom of religion. Pennsylvania was to have no militia and to maintain peaceful relations with the local Delaware Indians. The early decades of the colony were characterized by internal conflict over how best to govern and collect revenue for the colony while maintaining religious commitments. Tensions peaked in the Keithian Controversy (1691–1692), in which George Keith challenged the ministerial authority of the Quaker leaders and was disowned. Quaker society in Pennsylvania and the Delaware River region achieved stability by the 1720s. Philadelphia, or the "City of Brotherly Love," became the center of temporal and religious power in the colonies.

Beginning in the 1720s Quaker strictures on plain dress and simple living increasingly gave way to visible signs of wealth and class difference. Quakers' fair business dealings and frugal habits had made them successful businessmen. By the 1740s Quaker "grandees," or wealthy Philadelphia merchants (many of whom owned slaves), dominated Philadelphia's legislative assembly. Beginning in the 1750s, in response to a perceived fall from "first principles," reformers within the Society brought about a quietist, sectarian turn in Quaker theology and practice. They worked to foster commitment to Quakerism within the community through strengthening the family and tightening enforcement of Quaker moral codes, or "disciplines"—particularly that forbidding marriage to non-Quakers. In this same period, Quakers withdrew from political leadership of Pennsylvania and sharpened their opposition to slavery and violence against Indians. During the French and Indian War (1754–1763), the Quaker-led Assembly battled with proprietor Thomas Penn (William Penn's son) and German and Scotch-Irish frontiersmen—long embittered by the Quakers' pacifist relations with the Indians—over appropriations to fight the Delawares, who had sided with the French. By 1756 the Quakers in the Assembly were forced to resign or compromise their peace testimony. Quakers never again controlled the Assembly.

While some Quakers had criticized slavery since the time of Fox, there was no consensus against it until the time of the American Revolution. Germantown Quakers had written the first protest against slavery in the colonies in 1688, and George Keith had spoken out against slavery; but not until the sectarian turn of the 1750s did Quakers as a group begin to condemn slavery. John Woolman's antislavery tract, "Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes" (1754), rallied Quaker meetings against slavery. In 1775 Philadelphia Quakers launched the first abolitionist society in America. By 1776 Quaker slaveholders who did not manumit their slaves were disowned. During the Revolution, Quakers incurred patriot hostility because of their pacifism. In these tumultuous years Quakers had become a religious sect, seeking to reform the world they inhabited without becoming contaminated by it.

In the nineteenth century, Quakers left southern states and migrated westward, relocating to the slave-free states of the Northwest Territory, and eventually farther west. In response to the pressures of the market revolution and the evangelical revivals of the Second Great Awakening, Quakers underwent a series of schisms in the nineteenth century that brought the majority into greater conformity with the broader evangelical culture.

By the 1840s Quakers were divided into "Hicksites," "Wilburites," and "Gurneyites." "Hicksite" followers broke off in 1827, when the "Orthodox" majority disowned Elias Hicks for rejecting the Atonement, Original Sin, and other standard Christian tenets for total obedience to the Inner Light. Orthodox Friends went on in the 1840s to divide over the evangelical innovations to Quakerism of English preacher Joseph John Gurney. Gurney emphasized the importance of Scripture and justification by simple act of faith, thus adopting the more immediate "conversion" experience of evangelical Christianity over the slow process of justification by Divine Light characterizing early Quaker belief. Gurney, closely associated with leaders of the British antislavery movement, also defended abolition and other philanthropic reform activities of the kind evangelicals were actively pursuing in the nineteenth century. Five hundred "Wilburites" followed John Wilbur in separating from the "Gurneyites" in 1843, calling for a return to a more quietist vision of Quakerism. A wave of revivalism influenced by the interdenominational Holiness movement coursed through Gurneyite Meetings in the 1870s, leading to further divisions, which presaged the Fundamentalist-Modernist divide. Holiness Friends, along with some "Conservative" Wilburites and Gurneyites rejected higher criticism of the Bible, the theory of evolution, and the immanence of God in human history. More moderately evangelical Friends embraced the social gospel and theological liberalism, finding a spokesperson in American Friend editor and Haverford professor Rufus M. Jones.

Quakers in the nineteenth century, particularly of the "Gurneyite" variety, sought to partake of the broader evangelical Protestant culture without losing Quaker distinctiveness. They strengthened Quaker commitment to secondary and higher education and extended the humanitarian implications of the doctrine of the Inner Light. While they devoted themselves most energetically to temperance reform, they also supported foreign and home philanthropic mission efforts, pioneered prison-reform activities, and fought to end slavery in the South. Many Quakers held leadership positions in the abolitionist movement, including John Greenleaf Whittier, Levi Coffin, and Angelina and Sarah Grimké. Quakers also dedicated themselves to freedmen's aid after the Civil War.

In response to the total wars of the twentieth century, Quakers sought to expand their peacemaking role in creative ways. In 1917 Gurneyites, Hicksites, and Philadelphia

Orthodox worked together to create the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), modeled after British war-relief organizations, to provide conscientious objectors with alternative ways to serve their country in war—including civilian relief, reconstruction, and medical work overseas. The AFSC's youth work camps, starting in the 1930s, helped pave the way for the government's development of the Peace Corps in the 1960s. The AFSC has also assisted in arbitration efforts, defended the rights of conscientious objectors, and, back home, engaged in social welfare, prison reform, and civil rights activism.

A distinctive legacy of Quakers is their disproportionately large presence in the ranks of the early feminists. Although official Quakerism may not have abided the activities of many of these feminists, the Quaker belief that "in souls there is no sex," and the opportunities provided Quaker women to preach, hold meetings, and write epistles, gave rise to the high percentage of Quakers among the "mothers of feminism," including Angelina and Sarah Grimké, Lucretia Mott, Abby Kelley, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul.


Bacon, Margaret Hope. Mothers of Feminism: The Story of Quaker Women in America. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986.

Barbour, Hugh, and J. William Frost. The Quakers. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Hamm, Thomas D. The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800–1907. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Marietta, Jack D. The Reformation of American Quakerism, 1748– 1783. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

Soderlund, Jean R. Quakers and Slavery: A Divided Spirit. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.


See alsoAwakening, Second ; Evangelicalism and Revivalism ; Puritans and Puritanism .


views updated Jun 08 2018

Quakers. The Religious Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers (so dubbed derisively by a seventeenth‐ century judge who said they quaked before the power of the Lord), has opposed war and violence from its inception, and has sought instead to do away with the causes of war and alleviate the suffering it causes.

George Fox (1624–1691), usually regarded as the founder of the Friends, preached in the 1640s, during the English Civil War, that there was a divine spark within each person, which means that all human beings are infinitely precious in God's sight and no one is justified in taking the life of another.

After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, radical religious groups stirred up rebellion, which led Friends, in 1661, to issue a declaration beginning,: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons….” Eventually, this Peace Testimony became fundamental to Quakerism.

In 1682, William Penn founded his “holy experiment” in Pennsylvania, based on the belief that a province that had no army, treated Native Americans as equals, and offered religious liberty could make the Peace Testimony a living reality. Penn published his Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe (1693), which offered a plan for bringing peace and justice. Although Pennsylvania was drawn into two wars between England and France, the colonists avoided deep involvement, and peace returned in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. When the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, most of the Quaker politicians resigned from government rather than support the war.

Two decades later, at the start of the Revolutionary War, Friends took a neutral position and were persecuted by both British loyalists and American Whig revolutionaries. Quakers raised money and sent supplies to assist civilians, first in Boston in 1775, later elsewhere. In 1777, seventeen Philadelphia Quaker leaders were unfairly accused of treason and exiled to Virginia by the Whigs, but the following spring the fourteen who survived were released without trial. Several hundred Friends, including Betsy Ross, were strongly drawn to the revolutionary cause, and many of them joined the armed forces, notably Gen. Nathanael Greene from Rhode Island. When disowned by their Meetings, they organized a new group known as Free Quakers, but this group died out by the 1830s. A few Friends also joined the British cause as loyalists.

Friends turned their humanitarian efforts to opposition to slavery and other reforms, including the peace movement. When the Civil War broke out (1861), many Quakers were troubled by their desire to use the conflict as a way to end slavery, for such action ran counter to the Peace Testimony. The official position of Quakers remained unchanged, but some Friends were tolerant toward those who supported the war for the Union and emancipation and allowed members who joined the armed forces to remain. President Abraham Lincoln's government was more lenient toward conscientious objection than the Confederate government, but some conscientious objectors (COs) on both sides suffered for their refusal to fight.

After the Civil War, individual Friends were active for peace. Benjamin F. Trueblood served as secretary of the American Peace Society; Hannah J. Bailey, a New England Quaker, edited magazines for adults and children on peace education; and Albert K. Smiley sponsored the Mohonk Conferences on International Arbitration in New York.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Quakers organized the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to assist COs and engage in relief work in Europe. The government recognized COs who belonged to traditional peace churches such as Quakers and Mennonites, but they were expected to serve in the army as noncombatants, usually in the medical corps. Many Quaker COs refused. Some were furloughed to do farm work; a few were imprisoned.

Through the AFSC, Quaker volunteers did relief work in France and Germany—eventually feeding 1 million children daily—in Central Europe, and then in Russia during the famine there. Herbert C. Hoover and other Friends raised several million dollars for such work.

Quaker organizations strongly advocated the Peace Testimony between the two world wars. In contrast to isolationists, they supported the League of Nations and conducted peace education in churches and schools; they also helped bring persecuted German Jews to the United States. However, the Friends joined other pacifist groups in opposing conscription, rearmament, and entrance of the United States into World War II.

The Selective Service Act of 1940 included a provision that COs might be assigned to do “civilian work of national importance” in Civilian Public Service units administered by the peace churches under Selective Service regulations. Some 12,000 men worked in forestry camps, agricultural projects, mental hospitals and institutions for the mentally deficient, and as “guinea pigs” in medical experiments. They received no pay and none of the benefits provided veterans of the armed forces. Deeply stirred by outrageous conditions in mental hospitals, some of the COs created the National Mental Health Foundation in 1946, and four years later this body merged with two others to create the National Association for Mental Health.

In 1947, the AFSC and the Friends Service Council of Britain received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in Europe and Asia during and after the war.

Quakers opposed the nuclear arms race and the reintroduction of conscription (1948). The Friends Committee for National Legislation lobbied in Washington, D.C., for Quaker principles.

During the Vietnam War, when antiwar feeling swept over the nation, Quakers, a tiny minority of the Vietnam Antiwar Movement, sought to prevent violence and the use of force in antiwar protests. Most young Friends of draft age opposed the war, the first time in the twentieth century that the official Quaker position matched the wartime practices of most of its members of military age. Many Friends' organizations strongly supported members who resisted conscription, and offered help to those imprisoned; at the same time, the AFSC and others provided relief and medical supplies to civilians in Vietnam during and after the war. Similarly, they opposed the Persian Gulf War and aided its civilian victims.

The AFSC and other Quaker bodies continue to support peace and humanitarian work around the world.
[See also Nonviolence; Peace and Antiwar Movements; Rustin, Bayard; Woolman, John.]


Mary Hoxie Jones , Swords into Ploughshares, 1937.
Mulford Q. Sibley and and Philip E. Jacob , Conscription of Conscience, the American State and the Conscientious Objector, 1940–1947, 1952.
Edwin B. Bronner , William Penn's “Holy Experiment,” 1962.
Peter Brock , Twentieth Century Pacifism, 1970.
John Ormerod Greenwood , Quaker Encounters, Vol. 1: Friends and Relief, 1975.
Lawrence S. Wittner , Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement 1933–1983, 1984.
Peter Brock , The Quaker Peace Testimony, 1660–1914, 1990.
Charles C. Moskos and John Whiteclay Chambers, eds., The New Conscientious Objection: From Sacred to Secular Resistance, 1993.
Alex Sareyan , The Turning Point, How Men of Conscience Brought About Major Change in the Care of American Mentally Ill, 1994.
Arthur J. Mekeel , The American Revolution, 1996.

Edwin B. Bronner


views updated Jun 08 2018


QUAKERS. For the approximately sixty thousand members of the Society of Friends—known as Friends or Quakers—the American Revolution was a trying time. During a military conflict in which Americans were forced to choose sides, most Friends throughout British North America followed their spiritual convictions and rejected violence. Quaker pacifism arose from their belief that all individuals possessed an "Inner Light" and were thus spiritual equals before God who must be treated with kindness and respect. As a result, Quakers refused to take sides in the Revolutionary War, nor did they offer support to the military efforts of either American or British forces. At the same time, their spiritual beliefs led them to aid all those who suffered because of the war. Though Quaker charity work often garnered praise during and after the war, their refusal to choose sides after 1775 led to regular harassment, financial hardships, and deep suspicion, particularly among AmericanPatriots, the most ardent of whom viewed Friends as closet Loyalists.


It had not always been so. When the imperial conflict between Great Britain and the colonies erupted in the mid-1760s, Quakers supported the Patriot cause and agreed that the colonies had a right to protest (peacefully) British incursions upon their liberties, particularly the imposition of taxes by the British Parliament without the consent of provincial assemblies. As the crisis deepened, however, leading Friends worried that the coercive and extralegal nature of the Patriot response, particularly the enforcement of nonimportation agreements and the growing danger of crowd violence, threatened to violate the Quaker peace testimony. As a result, in January 1775 the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which played a leading role in establishing the rules (or discipline) of Quaker conduct, issued an epistle addressed to American Friends which declared that participation in the resistance movement constituted a violation of the sect's religious principles. After violence erupted in 1775, Quakers adopted a more resolute stand in favor of absolute neutrality. In January 1776 the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting issued an epistle addressed to the public at large designed to explain the sect's neutrality and avert a final break with Great Britain. Unfortunately, this public statement, which compared the "peace and plenty" Americans enjoyed under British rule with the "calamities and afflictions" that plagued public life in 1776, was interpreted by Patriots such as Thomas Paine, in a postscript to the second edition of Common Sense, as a sign of Friends' Tory sympathies. Quakers fell into further disrepute in August 1777, when Congress published a fabricated letter from the nonexistent "Spanktown Yearly Meeting" addressed to British military leaders that described in detail the size and location of George Washington's forces in Pennsylvania. Despite the Society's rebuttals, the widely publicized letter further stirred anti-Quaker sentiment.

A month later, this hostile environment and the British army's advance on Philadelphia prompted Congress to order the arrest of over forty suspected Loyalists, including many of Philadelphia's leading Quakers. Offered their freedom in exchange for pledging loyalty to Pennsylvania, eighteen Quakers could not in good conscience take the oath and remained incarcerated without charge. Ultimately, they were transported to Winchester, Virginia, where they were held for over seven months. Despite relatively tolerable conditions, two of the "Virginia exiles" died during the incarceration, while all faced the emotional trauma and economic disruption that resulted from enforced separation from their families, friends, and business concerns. Most galling to the exiles, however, was that they were held without charge or trial. For Quakers, the denial of habeas corpus seemed to belie the cause for which Patriots were fighting. Ultimately, many Patriots raised the same concerns, though it was mid-April 1778 before Congress and Pennsylvania ordered the exiles returned to the state and released. This episode was the most notorious example of repression faced by the Quakers, revealing that by 1777 many Patriots viewed Friends and Loyalists as one and the same.

In the meantime, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting decided to clarify the sect's discipline to ensure that Quakers throughout America responded to threats in a unified fashion. Friends, the meeting decided in epistles issued in September and December 1776, were not allowed to hold positions in the new state governments, serve in the military in any capacity, or pay any war taxes or military fines. Failure to follow these injunctions, the Philadelphia Meeting added, would result in disownment from the sect. By mid-1777, all the yearly meetings in America had embraced these measures, ensuring that Friends throughout the new nation embraced a militant pacifist stance.


Though conditions differed in each state, Quaker pacifists faced real hardships during the war. First, most of the various Patriot governments tried to force Friends to serve in the military, particularly during times of manpower shortages. Young Quaker men who refused service were frequently threatened, publicly ridiculed, or jailed and, less frequently, beaten or forcibly marched to the front. Quakers meticulously documented these abuses in newly-created executive committees, or "Meetings for Sufferings," believing that their trials represented an opportunity to spread their spiritual truths. Some Quakers, however, were unable to abide by the strict pacifism of the sect, particularly because so many shared the goals—political and civil liberty—if not the tactics of the Patriots. In all, some one thousand Friends were disowned for serving in the military over the course of the war, and in 1781 a small group of Philadelphia Friends who actively supported the Revolutionary cause established the Free Quakers, which survived as a separate meeting into the early nineteenth century. Still, despite the hardships involved, the vast majority of Friends remained faithful to the peace testimony and refused to serve in the military.

If demands for military service were the most visible problem faced by Quaker pacifists, a more widespread difficulty was the fines imposed by states for nonservice or refusing to hire substitutes. Seeking to avoid complicity in war making in any way, Friends refused to hire substitutes or pay fines for nonservice. The states responded by distraining, or seizing, Quaker property and jailing those who owned little of value. Ultimately, the loss of property was the biggest problem Quakers faced during the war, with estimated losses amounting to over 100,000 pounds. As in the case of military service, some Friends found themselves unable to uphold this aspect of the peace testimony; over the course of the war, local meetings dealt with over 450 individuals who paid fines or hired substitutes; ultimately, the meetings disowned 250. Still, it is striking how rare such violations were.

A third problem facing Friends during the war was the taking of loyalty oaths. Friends had long rejected oath taking, but during the Revolution oaths became still more problematic, because Quakers believed that by swearing loyalty to the new governments, they would be sanctioning the violence that created them. For this decision, Quakers suffered a variety of punishments. A Pennsylvania law of 1778, for example, denied nonjuror Friends access to the courts; required that they pay double (and later treble) taxes; and closed the medical, legal, and educational professions to them. Still, only 187 Friends were disowned for taking loyalty oaths.

The payment of taxes presented larger problems for Quakers. Though the sect agreed that Friends should refuse to pay specific war taxes, they divided over whether members should pay general taxes that were used for both peaceful and military purposes. The Philadelphia and Virginia Yearly Meetings called on members to avoid paying all taxes to the new American governments during wartime, but other meetings were less adamant, and ultimately no meeting made the payment of general taxes a disownable offense. Still, if calls for broad tax resistance failed to generate widespread support, the American Revolution marked the first time Friends as a body refused to pay war taxes. For their stand, Quakers suffered the distraint of property, in the process paying far more to the state governments than had they paid the taxes. Quakers also divided on whether they could use Continental currency, created to fund the war, in good conscience. A minority of steadfast Friends condemned the use of paper money, but ultimately the yearly meetings left this issue up the conscience of individuals, because widespread support for such radical measures did not exist.


If Quaker spiritual values prompted Friends to embrace neutrality, they also pointed in another direction: providing aid to those who suffered because of war. Thus, despite their economic woes, the Society generously provided aid to Quakers and non-Quakers alike who faced hardship as a result of the fighting. For Friends, charitable contributions of this kind became an ideal way to display their spiritual principles while simultaneously enabling them to contribute to the new civil society taking shape in America. Early in the war, Friends sent aid to beleaguered families in New England and Norfolk, and the British occupations of New York in 1776 and Philadelphia in 1777–1778 prompted similar outpourings of relief. When the war turned south in 1778, Quakers raised funds for war-ravaged civilians in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Friends also provided medical aid to wounded soldiers and helped to bury the dead of both armies when fighting took place in their vicinity.

The American Revolution was a time of suffering for Quakers. Paradoxically, however, the depredations of war also enabled the sect to forge a new sense of unity and strengthen its internal discipline. Perhaps more important, the war enabled Quakers to establish a novel public role for themselves in the new nation. During the war, Friends viewed both their willingness to suffer for their beliefs and their relief efforts as testimony to their higher spiritual values. After the war, they continued to adopt unpopular positions—opposition to slavery, defending the interests of Indians, and continued pacifism—as part of an ongoing battle to improve the nation by spreading virtue. In effect, Quakers became the conscience of the nation.

SEE ALSO Religion and the American Revolution.


Brock, Peter. Pioneers of the Peaceable Kingdom. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968.

Gilpin, Thomas. Exiles in Virginia: With Observations on the Conduct of the Society of Friends during the Revolutionary War. Philadelphia: n.p., 1848.

James, Sydney V. "The Impact of the American Revolution on Quakers' Ideas about Their Sect." William and Mary Quarterly, third series, 19 (July 1962): 360-382.

Mekeel, Arthur J. The Relation of the Quakers to the American Revolution. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1979.

Oaks, Robert F. "Philadelphians in Exile: The Problem of Loyalty during the American Revolution." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 96 (1972): 298-325.

Tiedemann, Joseph S. "Queens County, New York, Quakers in the American Revolution: Loyalists or Neutrals?" Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 52 (1983): 215-227.


views updated May 23 2018


Members of the Religious Society of Friends, popularly known as Quakers, have never been dominant in number, but their influence on American culture has surpassed their size. With roots in radical Christian movements of seventeenth-century England, Quakers linked their religious experiences and convictions with their daily lives in ways that placed them at the center of controversy and cast them into leadership roles in movements advocating reform and social justice. While their worship practices have changed over four centuries, the Quaker commitments to pacifism and to social equality have remained constant, making their history particularly relevant in understanding Quakerism today.

Like Puritanism, Quakerism arose amid the social and religious upheaval of the Protestant Reformation in England. Initially Quakers shared the Puritan desire to reform the Church of England, but by the 1650s, when George Fox, credited with founding the Society of Friends, began preaching in northern England, differences between the Quakers and the Calvinistic Puritans were already evident. Most important among these differences, the Puritan doctrine of election ran counter to the more democratic and universalist Quaker belief in the Inner Light. Unlike the Puritans, who believed salvation to be limited to those predestined to be among God's elect, the Quakers believed that everyone had the capacity for salvation and that one had only to turn inward to be saved. The nickname "Quaker" reflected the physical shaking early Friends sometimes exhibited as they wrestled to find the Light within themselves.

The Inner Light is central to Quaker religious practices. Early Quaker worship was marked by silence, when Meetings sat quietly waiting for God to lead someone to speak. Early Friends wrote of the difficulty in finding a balance between inappropriate speech and the need to wisely use every opportunity to speak when God leads one to do so. The Inner Light also mandates that Quaker actions follow "testimonies" of honesty, simplicity, equality, and peace. Adherence to these ethical principles has placed Quakers in conflicted positions throughout American history.

From their earliest arrival in the American colonies, Quakers were seen as a "peculiar people." Their plain style of dress in adherence to their testimony of simplicity, their use of "thee" and "thou" to address all persons regardless of class or title, their refusal to remove their hats as a sign of deference that would violate their testimony of equality, and their refusal to take oaths in a court of law because it would imply that they were at other times less honest—these practices set them apart from the dominant culture. More importantly, however, their belief in the Inner Light threatened the foundations of Puritan culture, making the early Quakers seem like dangerous heretics who could not be allowed to spread their message in the colonies. When the first Quakers in America, Mary Austin and Anne Fisher, arrived in Boston in 1656, they were imprisoned as witches and their books burned. This harsh treatment notwithstanding, Quakers continued to arrive in increasing numbers, and anti-Quaker laws proliferated throughout the colonies. By 1658, punishment for Quakerism included imprisonment, deportation, whipping, ear-cropping, and death for repeat offenders. Among the most famous of these repeat offenders was Mary Dyer, who was hanged in Boston Common and symbolized Quaker martyrdom for later generations. At the end of the seventeenth century, almost every New England and mid-Atlantic colony had enacted anti-Quaker legislation, much of it reserving the harshest punishments for local converts to Quakerism.

The eighteenth-century Quaker population grew, and brutal persecutions of Quakers ceased. Owing to large land grants in Pennsylvania and in western New Jersey, Quakers were concentrated the mid-Atlantic colonies. Friends in these areas became successful, wealthy businessmen, and their names appeared in almost every list of political, legal, and civic leaders. One of the challenges facing eighteenth-century Quakers was how to reconcile their financial success with their testimony of simplicity. As the Revolution loomed large, Quakers also faced tests of their pacifist beliefs. Rather than violate Quaker practice that mandated strict neutrality and noninvolvement in war efforts, most Quakers relinquished their positions of political power. Even with diminished political power, the Quaker presence spread. Friends migrated westward into the frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia and also moved southwest, to the Carolina Piedmont. By the 1790s, Quaker communities dotted the Ohio Valley and were spreading into the Midwest, with many of the migrants fleeing from southern states to protest slavery.

As Quakerism spread geographically, the consensus that characterized eighteenth-century Meetings could no longer hold. Nineteenth-century debates resulted in a series of schisms among the Society of Friends. Most severe among them was the separation in the 1820s between Orthodox and Hicksite Quakers. Following Elias Hicks, a quietist who called for greater strictures against commercialism and wealthy lifestyles, the Hicksites opposed the so-called Orthodox Friends, who had begun to find pure forms of quietism less useful in facing the challenges of their daily lives. Hicksite Meetings, composed largely of recent immigrants and rural Friends, gained dominance in many rural areas, while Orthodox Meetings, including members of the socially cohesive business community, remained dominant in Philadelphia and other urban centers.

Central to the lives of nineteenth-century Quakers were reform efforts. Quaker women led campaigns for prison reform and women's rights, with four of the five women responsible for the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention being Quakers. From the 1830s onward, Quakers such as William Lloyd Garrison, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, and Lucretia Mott, heeding their testimony of equality, provided leadership in the abolitionist movement. When their peaceful efforts failed and the Civil War began, Friends faced traumatic decisions. Their testimony of peace in direct conflict with their testimony of equality, they were torn by their desire to support the Union cause, even though their faith prescribed complete neutrality. Many Quakers risked disownment and banishment from their Meeting by fighting in the war, and others found numerous ways to support them.

Beginning with these divisions and continuing through the twentieth century, the varieties of Quaker practices have become legion, with many contemporary Friends rejecting traditional quietism in favor of liberalism. What remain constant, however, are practices supporting the Quaker ethic. The American Friends Service Committee provides an institutionalized means of spreading the pacifist message and of renegotiating the meaning of the peace testimony in the face of global conflicts. Social justice and racial equality continue to be hallmarks of Quaker activism, with twentieth-century Quakers on the front lines of civil rights efforts, protests against the Vietnam War, and antinuclear activities.

Quakers are no longer a "peculiar people" marked by differences from the dominant culture, and contemporary Quaker Meetings are composed of members of that dominant culture, often attracting professional and working-class members dissatisfied with more mainstream denominations. If the image of Quakers has changed, their adherence to an ethics of peace and equality and their willingness to bring these beliefs into their daily lives link contemporary Friends to their seventeenth-century ancestors.

See alsoChurch; Church and State; Civil Rights Movement; Freedom of Religion; Pacifism; Practice; Religious Communities; Religious Persecution.


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Chu, Jonathan M. Neighbors, Friends, or Madmen: ThePuritan Adjustment to Quakerism in Seventeenth-CenturyMassachusetts Bay. 1985.

Frost, J. William. The Quaker Family in Colonial America:A Portrait of the Society of Friends. 1973.

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Cristine Levenduski


views updated Jun 11 2018


Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends, began as a religious movement in 1652 in northern England. Religious persecution, harassment, arrest, and execution led the followers of George Fox, the pioneer of the faith, to the colonies in search of religious freedom. Seeds of the faith were first planted in the mid-Atlantic in the late seventeenth century, when the Quaker colony of West Jersey was founded. This colony was managed by William Penn (1644–1718), who in 1681 established Pennsylvania on land granted to him by King Charles II. In spite of continued persecution, the Friends moved southward to Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The popularity of the faith reached its peak during the Revolutionary era. At that time, Quakers numbered 50,000 among the total colonial population of 1,580,000.

On the question of independence, the Quakers faced trouble from both sides. The British questioned the Quakers' loyalty to the crown. The new American Patriots assumed all Friends were Tories because, as pacifists, members refused to take a stand on independence and Quaker men refused to enlist in the Continental Army. Quakers also refused to pay war taxes. Large numbers of Quakers throughout the colonies did in fact side with the Patriots. Those few Quakers who fought in the war were no longer allowed to attend meetings.

Quakerism in America did not catch on quickly or develop easily. "Missionaries" and their converts were routinely ostracized. Because of the perseverance of such Quakers as martyr Mary Dyer, hung in Boston for her beliefs in 1660, William Penn, and John Woolman, who advocated an end to slavery among fellow Quakers, the Friends made a significant impact on the development of the new nation.

aspects of quakerism

Throughout the religion's history, differences in beliefs have resulted in splits within the faith. However, the basic tenet of the faith is the concept of inner light, which holds that anyone is capable of a direct experience with God through quiet seeking and diligent searching. Quakers view men and women as equals, and both sexes participate in leading services, called meetings, whenever they are moved to speak. They do not use trained clergy. Quakers do not observe traditional sacraments like communion. They sing hymns at some pastoral meetings, but otherwise services are unusually quiet, with members searching through solitary introspection to connect with God.

Quakers in early America wore stark dress and shunned material goods such as lavish furnishings, jewelry, and colorful clothing. Many members, through thrift and successful business practices, became wealthy and were known for purchasing goods of the finest quality but the plainest nature. Some members of the Society of Friends took strong stances on social issues: they opposed slavery, espoused pacifism, expressed concern over the treatment of Native Americans, and supported education and care of the impoverished.

quaker antislavery movement

Before and after the Revolution, Quakers spoke out loudly against slavery. Members first denounced the idea of owning slaves, then encouraged members to emancipate their slaves and eventually ousted members who refused to do so. The politician John Dickinson (1732–1808), called the "penman of the revolution," succumbed to the pressures of his local meeting in Delaware and the desires of his Quaker wife and provided gradual emancipation of the slaves on his Delaware plantation.

Two leading Quaker antislavery advocates in the late eighteenth century were John Woolman, the author of Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes (1754), and Anthony Benezet. Their influence extended throughout the mid-Atlantic region. After the Revolution, Quakers increased their abolitionist work. Lucretia Mott (1793–1880), an early advocate for women's rights, spoke out against slavery and the consumption of goods produced by slave labor. The journalist William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) was imprisoned for his outspoken attacks against slavery while writing for The Genius of Universal Emancipation, edited by the abolitionist Benjamin Lundy (1789–1839).

Quaker efforts resulted in organizations dedicated to abolishing slavery: the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes, Unlawfully Held in Bondage (1775); and the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage and for Improving the Condition of the African Race (1787). By 1784 Yearly Meetings of the Society of Friends had followed the lead of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to ban the ownership of slaves among their members. In 1790 Friends presented a petition to Congress calling for the abolition of the slave trade and mounted a concerted antislavery effort to pressure the federal government in Philadelphia.

This activism caused many Quakers to be forced out of their communities in the southern colonies. As southern Quakers emancipated their slaves, they faced harsh criticism from the proslavery community. Yet the antislavery urgings of such early leaders as Woolman and Benezet kept Friends focused on ending human bondage. In many instances, the decision to free their slaves left southern Quakers destitute, while others spent small fortunes to bring lawsuits against neighbors who simply bought the slaves as quickly as the Friends freed them.

The opening of the Northwest Territory appealed to many Quakers, and a large migration began toward Ohio and Indiana. Once established in these locales, some Friends became involved in the Underground Railroad, putting Quakers in the forefront as the group most friendly to slaves. A network of safe houses and routes to freedom and Canada were established in the Midwest, out of the South, and along the mid-Atlantic coast. Quakers, non-Quakers, blacks, and whites risked their safety for the antislavery cause. One of the best-known Quakers associated with the Underground Railroad is Thomas Garrett of Delaware, who helped hundreds of runaway slaves to freedom.

quakers and native americans

Whereas most Euro-Americans viewed Native Americans as savages, Quakers, according to their belief that all people are precious in the eyes of God, approached Native American relations with the same level of respect they offered to their fellow Society members. During the period of Western expansion, Quakers lived in harmony with Native Americans and established trade and business relations with them. Non-Quakers' disdain for Native Americans sometimes resulted in violent conflicts, but Quakers had no such problems on the frontier.


As some Quakers started to place emphasis on evangelical matters and called for meetings to develop more fundamental interpretations of the Bible, rumblings of discontent spread through the Quaker community. Historically, Quakers shunned the idea of forced doctrine. A relatively uneducated but pious farmer, Elias Hicks, vehemently opposed the changes being forced upon the faith. In 1827, when a resolution could not be reached and the more powerful elders of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting blasted Hicks, the Quaker church split into two factions: the Hicksite Movement and the Orthodox. Further divisions took place during the years to follow.


Bacon, Margaret Hope. The Quiet Rebels: The Story of the Quakers in America. Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill, 1999.

Hamm, Thomas D. The Quakers in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Woodman, Charles M. Quakers Find a Way: Their Discoveries in Practical Living. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1950.

Shaun-Marie Newcomer