Synopsis: This paper illustrates and defines the plight of the Quakers and their impact on the American Revolution. Through documented research, this paper will also examine the history and existence of the Quakers during this revolutionary period.
The Quakers and the American Revolution
Like other civil wars, the American Revolution asked ordinary people to chose between two extraordinary positions. The Revolution forced competition among colonists' allegiances: to England and the King, to colonial homes and families, and even to religious convictions. To support the war was to refute the King, to oppose the war was to deny one's homeland. For Pennsylvania Quakers (members of the ...view middle of the document...
Quakers on both sides of the Atlantic heralded the repeal of the Stamp Act and most of the Townshend duties. After these initial forays into protest politics, however, Quakers became uneasy with the Patriots' increasingly radical and sometimes violent responses to British actions.
The radical “Boston Tea Party” followed the Tea Act of 1773 and quickly led to the formation of the First Continental Congress. This went too far according to the Quakers. The Quakers saw that the patriots' interest in reconciliation with the British was waning and their fears of imminent warfare proved too quickly well founded by the outbreak of fighting at Lexington and Concord (Meikel, 1979).
First articulated during the English Civil War of the mid-seventeenth century, the Quaker Peace Testimony committed members of the Society of Friends to nonviolence. Believing that violence was a product of the kind of "lusts of men . . . out of which lusts the Lord hath redeemed us," Quaker founder George Fox declared in 1684 that "the Spirit of Christ will never move us to fight and war against any man." The Peace Testimony previously had caused Friends political trouble in Pennsylvania, especially during the Seven Year War when other Pennsylvanians were calling for an armed response to Indian provocations on the colony frontier. Quakers in the Pennsylvania Assembly had resigned rather than accede to those demands. The Revolution thus not only raised anew concerns about Quakers' potentially contradictory commitments to Pennsylvania and pacifism, but also intensified them (Meikel, 1979).
For Quakers, finding a middle road would prove a frustrating task. At first they tried simply to advocate conciliatory measures. At home they published statements condemning all (English and American) breaches of law and the English constitution. In England they tried to broker reconciliation with the king. Ultimately, though, their efforts were to no avail. With the Revolution underway, in September of 1776 the largest organization of Quakers in America---the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting---formally directed its members to observe strict neutrality. This meant that Quakers should not vote or take oaths of loyalty to support either side, should not engage in combat or pay for a substitute (a not uncommon practice in that era), and should not pay taxes to support the war effort.
The responses of Quakers to these requirements varied. Probably the majority, torn by conflicting loyalties, sympathized with both sides. Many remained tacit Loyalists, supporting without materially aiding the King's army. Other Quakers renounced neutrality and actively sided with the Patriots. In Pennsylvania almost 1,000 Quakers were disowned during the course of the war, the large majority of them for taking up arms. One group even formed their own separate denomination, the Free Quakers or Fighting Quakers, whose leader Timothy Matlack served on political committees alongside such radicals as ex-Quaker Thomas...