THE POLITICS OF DESPAIR:
THE QUAKER PEACE TESTIMONY, 1661
But it also raised the statement above the immediate issue: "All bloody principles and practices.., we do utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoeve." As for the kingdoms of the world, the authors revised their radical millenarian emphasis of the past decade without giving it up entirely: "we can not covet them, much less can we fight for them, but we do earnest desire and wait, that by the Word of Gods power and its effectual operation in the hearts of men, the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ."
This tactical retreat from the political involvement that had frightened defenders of the status quo enough to make them want to restore the monarchy indicated that Friends wanted to remain aloof from politics. Thus it marked a sharp departure in the Quaker approach of the previous decade, one that presupposed fundamental changes in the nations economic, political, and social systems. Before they had hoped to fill the role of guardians, even rulers, of the country.
Their new stance amounted to a tacit admission that they would not be available for such a task but would seek to protect their own immediate interests. Now they saw themselves as heirs of another kingdom, not of this world, ruled by one calling them to respond without resisting to swords, clubs, staves, and pistols. "Therefore we cannot learn war any more, neither rise up against nation or kingdom with outward weapons. . . ." "[O)ur weapons," they insisted, "are spiritual and not carnal, yet mighty through God, to the pulling down of the strongholds of sin and Satan."
The statement was signed by twelve men (no women affixed their signatures, certainly not Agnes Wilkinson, apparently already disgraced for sexual irregularities, nor Margaret Fell or Ann Curtis, the former in London at the time, the latter at her home in nearby Reading). Not issued by a meeting with formal authority, it never had the status that, say, the womens meetings enjoyed in the next decade.14
A bundle of ambivalences remained in the statement. Fox and Hubberthorne did not rule out payment of taxes for war, an omission that brought down on them criticism from at least one dissident non-Foxian Quaker.15 The fact that they supported use of "spiritual" weapons to pull down the "strongholds of sin and Satan" laid the basis for a continuing engagement with the state that was quite unlike the isolation practiced by Anabaptists in the other main peace churches; this emphasis fed directly into the positions taken in the twentieth century by the AFSC and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Similarly, Fox, at least, never betook himself to deny the right, even duty, of a ruler to wield weapons in a just cause. The problem was determining exactly what such a cause was and by whose standards it would be judged. In this sense, it fed the individualism at the heart of Quakerism, for it ultimately left to each Friend the responsibility of making that determination.
In addition, since the statement spoke only for Friends and formally represented only the signers personal testimony against participation in war, it never presumed to speak for those beyond the bounds of the Quaker faith. Certainly in denying carnal weapons, it was not making a universal statement. Hence its spirit was foreign to the kind of Enlightenment optimism that practically oozed from William Penns 1693 Essay "Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe," only a bit more than a generation later.16
This pamphlet proposed a structure for a united European parliament that would end international conflict and secure peace. The difference between the two approaches involved more than the mere passage of time: one from two ill-educated Quakers, whose despair at the Stuart Restoration gave them little hope of ever seeing "the Day of the Lord" or having to person- ally confront the question of wielding the sword in a just cause; the other from the pen of a thoughtful, well-off, and worldly educated imperial proprietor who oversaw his colonys rules.
The implications of the peace testimony thus stand apart from most modern Quaker peacemaking, which owes more to the aristocratic Penn than to the ruder Fox and Hubberthorne. When our 1661 authors stated that they spoke for those "whom the Lord has called into the obedience of his Truth," they were affirming a course open only to those who might apprehend "as God persuades every mans heart to believe." The Quaker peace testimony amounted to a sectarian call to Friends to be faithful to the word of God they had heard in the silence of their meetings; it spoke only to those who had been convinced of its truth and knew themselves called to uphold a unique standard.
Friends thus witnessed to their own experiences and convictions, hardly expecting others to follow their lonely course. Its words still ring, for they retain their aura of experiential truth, however--perhaps because--they echo its authors heartache and despair. Yet the absolute course they recommend regarding participation in war fits illy on sophisticated modern Quakers, determined to be all things to all people.
1 Arthur J. Mekeel, "The Founding Years," in John M. Moore, ed., Friends in the Delaware Valley (Haverford, Penn.: Friends Historical Association, 1981), 50, 252.
2 Rufus M. Jones, The Later Periods of Quakerism (London: Macmillan, 1921), I, 165-66.
3 For background to the peace testimony, I will draw from my biography of George Fox, First Among Friends: George Fox and the Creation of Quakerism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), esp. chs. 12 and 13.
4 Interestingly, when London Yearly Meetings Meeting for Sufferings attempted in the mid-1980s to lay before the queen its concern about nuclear weapons and "the right nurturing of international relations" in the mid-1980s, they were rebuffed and informed that exercising the right of a privileged body could occur only on formal occasions. See The Friend 141 (7 Oct 1983), 1268-69, (11 Nov 1983), 1429, and 142 (10 Feb 1984), 173-74, for discussion of this matter in the Meeting for Sufferings. Significantly, one Friend said London Yearly Meetings status as a "privileged body" worried him.
5 A Journal or Historical Account of. .. George Fox (London: no publ, 1694), 46.
6 Ibid., 48.
7 One of his most illuminating efforts in this regard occurred on Foxs first meeting with Margaret Fells husband Thomas during which he was willing to link himself with the regicides. See Journal, 80, and lngle, First Among Friends, 9 1-92.
8 Agnes Wilkinson, Epistle, 1653, Swarthmore Ms, IV, 228, Library of the Society of Friends, London.
9 On this point see H. Larry Ingle, "George Fox, Millenarian," Albion, 24 (1992): 261-78.
10 Barry Reay, "The Quakers and 1659: Two Newly Discovered Broadsides by Edward Burrough," Journal of the Friends Historical Society, 54(1977): 101-11.
11 Richard Hubberthorne, The Real Cause of the Nations Bondage and Slavery, here Demonstrated (London: N.p, 1659), 2.
12 The Short Journal and Itinerary Journals of George Fox, ed. Norman Penney (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925), 56.
13 There is an expanded version of this broadside in George Fox, Gospel-Truth Demonstrated (London: T. Sowle, 1706), 223-25; quotation, 223. If it was published before June 1660, a publication date I prefer, it refutes Bonnelyn Y. Kunze in her assertion that Margaret Fell was "the first radical sectarian to publish.., a statement on the peaceful principle of Quakerism." See her Margaret Fell and the Rise of Quakerism (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1994), 5, 137.
14 The most convenient source for the peace testimony is Journal of George Fox, ed. John L. Nickalls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), 398-403.
15 William Mucklow, Tyranny and Hypocrisy Detected (London: N.p., 1673), 225.
16 The most convenient source for this essay is Frederick B. Tolles and E. Gordon Alderfer, The Witness of William Penn (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 140-59.
Copyright (c) by H. larry Ingle. All rights reserved. Used by Permission.
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