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of Quaker Theocracy

Quakers in Pennsylvania spent their ¬rst forty years from the 1680s to the
1720s struggling among themselves to realize the ideal structure of a Quaker
civil government. As in the establishment of their ecclesiastical polity, there
were competing visions for how it should function. And as always, Friends
were attempting to determine the extent of popular participation and where
the locus of authority should be “ in the hands of the people themselves or with
their spiritually and politically elite representatives. The dispute within the civil
government, as we have seen, resolved itself in favor of the popular branch. The
Assembly united against Penn and his agents, considering them an oppressive
force, and effectively wrote them out of the constitution as lawmakers.
Until this point, we have considered the dif¬culties of applying Quaker
theologico-political theory at the highest levels of government. But Friends did
not con¬ne themselves to shaping merely the government, narrowly construed.
They were naturally concerned with the entire polity, which was increasingly
non-Quaker. The question now at hand is: What does a political theory that
mixes unity and dissent that was originated by a group on the fringes of political
power look like when it is subsequently established as the basis of a political
system “ when the group moves from challenging the state to controlling the
state? The short answer seems contradictory: It was at once coercive and
antiauthoritarian. While their theory maintained the delicate balance between
anarchy and tyranny, dissent and conformity, working it out in practice was
more dif¬cult.1

1 This chapter might well be paired with Richard R. Beeman™s Chapter 8, “The Paradox of Popular
and Oligarchic Behavior in Colonial Pennsylvania,” in The Varieties of Political Experience in
Eighteenth-Century America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 204“42.
The argument here accords with Beeman™s in identifying a “paradox” of Quaker Pennsylvania.
But this discussion is cast and elucidated differently. Beeman takes a more technical approach
in examining the dual oligarchic and popular political culture by dealing with such issues as
elections and governmental structures, whereas the present argument focuses on explaining how

Civil Unity and Dissention 137

Now, as they controlled their own civil government, we must consider
Quaker theologico-political behavior from two perspectives “ ¬rst in the rela-
tion of Friends to the inhabitants of Pennsylvania and, second, in their rela-
tionship to the political authorities above them, the proprietary and the crown.
In the ¬rst instance, in question are the policies, regulatory laws, and prac-
tices that Friends implemented to create Quakerly unity in the colony.2 In the
second, the discussion will treat how Quakers modeled their own behavior
for their constituents in their relationship with the proprietors of the colony.
Friends attempted to create Pennsylvania as a larger version of their own eccle-
siastical polity, governed by the same bureaucratic-libertine process. Because
the major events of Pennsylvania history have been treated in detail elsewhere,
this discussion will paint with broad strokes and touch on a few familiar and
some lesser known events in Pennsylvania history that exemplify the Quaker
culture and the tension in the different aspects of their theory and practice. The
discussion will turn on their public policy, both formal and informal.
Alan Tully has examined well the phenomenon of Quaker political culture
in Pennsylvania. He argues in Forming American Politics that Friends devel-
oped a political language and unique culture all their own, which he calls “civil
Quakerism.” He de¬nes the components of civil Quakerism as “a deep appre-
ciation of Pennsylvania™s unique constitution, liberty of conscience, provincial
prosperity, loosely de¬ned paci¬sm, rejection of a militia, and resistance to the
arbitrary powers of proprietors.” “Friends,” he writes, “developed civil Quak-
erism into a unique language of politics “ a provincial dialect as it were.”3
My argument follows his “ that Quakers actively disseminated this culture
beyond the bounds of their immediate Society and compelled conformity to it.
But I take the discussion a bit further and in a different direction in this and
the next chapters to explore some further implications of this missionizing for
Pennsylvanian and American politics.
More than simply describing the Quakers™ behavior and efforts at govern-
ing, this chapter will also deal with the response of non-Quaker observers of
their government and religion.4 Because, as we have seen, one of the Quakers™
goals was convincing people of the Truth of Quakerism, their public image was
crucial. As the Society coalesced in the mid-seventeenth century and developed
into the early eighteenth, public opinion about Friends was predominantly

Quaker theology was expressed and received to create simultaneous, and ultimately, con¬‚icting
cultures of unity and dissent.
2 A work that deals extensively with this topic is Jack D. Marietta and G. S. Rowe, A Trou-
bled Experiment: Crime and Justice in Pennsylvania, 1682“1800 (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2006). A discussion of the principles of ecclesiastical unity and decision
making translated into Pennsylvania political culture is in Herman Wellenreuther, “The Quest
for Harmony in a Turbulent World: The Principle of ˜Love and Unity™ in Colonial Pennsylvania
Politics,” PMHB vol. 108 (1983), 537“76.
3 Tully, Forming American Politics, 258.
4 See also Rebecca Larson, “From ˜Witches™ to ˜Celebrated Preachers™: The Non-Quaker Response
to the Women Ministers,” in Daughters of Light, 232“95.
138 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

negative. Quaker detractors recognized the dualism in Quaker thought and
action and demanded that members of the Society explain it. Robert Barclay
wrote his treatise on church government in part to answer those “that accuse
[Quakers] of Disorder and Confusion on the one hand, and from such as
Calumniate them with Tyranny and Imposition on the other.”5 By the mid-
eighteenth century, this dualism remained, but now, because of changes in
Quakerism and the world around them, opinion was polarized. Their gov-
erning style and policy continued to evoke similar harsh criticisms, but, as
the transatlantic intellectual climate evolved into the Enlightenment, a new
and extremely positive view emerged based on many of the exact same prac-
tices that continued to elicit condemnation. As we shall see, Quakers were a
polarizing force in proportion to the degree of in¬‚uence they exercised over
Pennsylvania civil society. And the more extreme the views, the more dif¬cult it
is to tell whether observers were commenting on reality or a “mirage.”6 It was
likely both when they noted “ and exaggerated “ those de¬ning and seemingly
contradictory features of theologico-political Quakerism “ unity and tyranny,
dissent and anarchy, and the distinctive testimonies that continued to provoke
animosity, and now also admiration. Either way, Quakerism was a force that
demanded recognition and, for the inhabitants of Pennsylvania, adaptation.

Quakers as Political Elders
Despite the struggle among Friends to decide the locus of power among them-
selves, there was no question in their minds about the role they would play
in relation to the general population, which was growing quickly to make
Quakers the minority in their own colony.7 An observer of Quakers and their
experiment in Pennsylvania found that “the change of the Climate [from Eng-
land to America], has in no wise changed the Spirit of Quakerism.”8 Insofar
as they considered the civil polity to be the ecclesiastical polity writ large, the
goal for Pennsylvania was the same as the goal of any Quaker meeting “ to
achieve a perfectly united godly society. Accordingly, Quakers, as the most
spiritually weighty in the province, were the appropriate leaders. As Tully
put it, “Quaker legislators accumulated [power] to prevent its abuse.”9 Thus

5 Barclay, Anarchy, title page.
6 Durand Echeverria, Mirage in the West: A History of the French View of American Society to
1815 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968).
7 The massive in¬‚ux of immigrants was the cause of the Quakers™ minority. See Sally Schwartz,
“A Mixed Multitude”; Tully, Forming American Politics, 257. By contrast, according to LL, the
majority of the Assembly was clearly Quaker from the founding at least until 1756 (1: 801“06;
2: 1123“27). By 1750, Quakers were the third largest religious body in the colonies, exceeded
only by Anglicans and Congregationalists for number of churches. See Edwin Scott Gaustad,
Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 21“25, 92“96,
167, 169.
8 Edward Cockson, Rigid Quaker, Cruel Persecutor (London, 1705), 36.
9 Tully, Forming American Politics, 339.
Civil Unity and Dissention 139

although all freemen in Pennsylvania had a vote, only a few had divine com-
petence to rule.10 In the civil polity, as in the ecclesiastical, they believed that
“[God] hath laid Care upon some beyond others, who watch for Souls of their
Brethren, as they, that must give Account.”11 The Quaker Assembly cast itself
in relation to the populace the way the elite Provincial Council had to the
Assembly, before the Assembly nulli¬ed it “ as elders: They were collectively
“Brethren and Representatives of one body, only with {this} Difference that
wee may very well have the Elder Brothers place.”12 And their role was clear: In
1658 Edward Burrough explained that lawmakers should behave so that “the
people may receive examples of righteousness, and holy and lawfull walking
from their Conversations.”13 They must not act “contrary to the light in [their]
own conscience[s].”14 In 1687 Penn attempted to actualize this ideal when he
wrote to the Assembly, “lett the People Learn by your example as well as by
your powr the happy life of Concord.”15 As elders and ministers to the polity,
the Assembly thus had direction from Penn to use both persuasion (“example”)
and coercion (“powr”) for the development and security of the colony.
As discussed in Chapter 1, one of the prevailing concerns that shaped Quaker
behavior in the seventeenth century and that they carried to Pennsylvania was
the missionizing spirit. The Quaker impulse to reform and regulate the society
according to their religious principles was as old as Quakerism itself. But mis-
sionizing took on a new form in Pennsylvania, in keeping with the Quakers™
different worldly status as political insiders. It was no longer a “grassroots”
effort; it was institutionalized. Therefore, although not as apparent in the usual
ways, missionizing certainly was not gone. It had, on the contrary, become so
blatant that historians have not recognized it as such. Indeed, the Quaker gov-
ernment was the largest missionizing effort in American history.16 Similar to
the Puritan Massachusetts “city on a hill” mission, the Quakers came to Amer-
ica for a religious purpose “ to found a Christian colony and, more speci¬cally,
a Quaker colony. Unlike the Puritan experiment, however, Quakers sought

10 On the matter of voting, Quakers displayed the same penchant for encouraging individual
leadings and transparency through documentation as they did in other aspects of their religious
and political processes. Beeman explains that “the most notable feature of Pennsylvania election
laws . . . was the provision for written ballots” (209). Having the ballots in writing gave voters a
chance to re¬‚ect on their choices and “an opportunity to exercise political judgments free from
outside pressure” (ibid.).
11 Barclay, Anarchy, 9.
12 William Markham to William Penn, 21 July 1688, PWP, 3:196.
13 Edward Burrough, A Message for Instruction to all the Rulers, Judges, and Magistrates . . .
(1658), 1.
14 Ibid., 2.
15 Penn to the Commissioners of State, Feb. 1, 1687, PWP, 3: 145. Emphasis added.
16 Not only was Pennsylvania the largest colony, its efforts may have been signi¬cantly scaled
back from the Quakers™ original plans. According to John Pomfret, initially Pennsylvania was
merely part of a “grand strategy” by Friends to control a signi¬cant portion of America, from
New York to Maryland and west to the Ohio River. See John E. Pomfret, “The Proprietors of
the Province of West New Jersey, 1674“1702,” PMHB vol. 75 (1951), 117“46.
140 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

not to expel those who disagreed with them but rather to embrace and absorb
them. Moreover, they came not with an eye cast back to England with the intent
to reform a corrupt church, but rather on the future of their own province and
beyond.17 Compared to the Puritan endeavor, Quakers were more persistent
and energetic proselytizers. Their initial object was not simply to achieve con-
formity in action, but in conviction as well. Such an object was enabled by
the fact that they believed in universal salvation and human perfection, which
made many more people eligible to be Quakers than otherwise. Moreover, their
goals for convincing the world of Quakerism had changed since the seventeenth
century. They always believed that the Light was universally accessible, and
now, regardless of an individual™s profession, they believed he could ¬nd the
Light within without necessarily being a member of the Society of Friends.
Now they were less concerned that people be Quakers, as long as they acted
like Quakers. In other words, Friends believed that it was how one moved in
the world rather than the name of one™s sect that mattered. One disapproving
Frenchman claimed that “[t]his is their secret for one day becoming the masters
of the world.”18
One of the biggest misconceptions of Pennsylvania in our day is that it was
a bastion of separation of church and state and unfettered religious liberty.
It was, rather, in spite of the fact there was no of¬cially established church,
a powerful theocracy.19 While Puritan Massachusetts is usually what comes
to mind when we think of an early America theocracy, in that colony, in
some ways, there was a more distinct separation of church and state than in
Pennsylvania. Puritan leaders were clear that the religious ministers should
not also be political ministers.20 Most Quaker politicians, on the other hand,

17 Perry Miller, “Errand into the Wilderness,” in Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge, MA:
Belknap Press, Harvard University, 1956), 1“15. On Penn™s “peaceable imperialism” in the
New World, see Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton, Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty
in North America, 1500“2000 (New York: Viking, 2005), 54“103.
18 Gabriel Naud´ , Histoire abr´ g´ e de la naissance et du progr` s du Kouakerisme avec celle ses
e ee e
dogmas (1692) quoted in Edith Philips, The Good Quaker in French Legend (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1932), 29.
19 Tully argues that there was no separation of church and state. He ¬nds, however, that there was
less coercion than is suggested in the following argument (Forming American Politics, 115“16).
Some historians who have claimed that there was separation of church and state in Pennsylvania
are Sally Schwartz, “A Mixed Multitude,” 8, 22; John M. Murrin, “Religion and Politics from
the First Settlements to the Civil War,” in Mark A. Noll, ed., Religion and American Politics:
From the Colonial Period to the 1980s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 19“43.
33; J. William Frost, A Perfect Freedom, passim. Another favorite claim of these and many
other studies is that Pennsylvania is a “microcosm of the story of religion in America” (Robert
T. Handy, “The Contribution of Pennsylvania to the Rise of Religious Liberty in America,”
in E. Otto Reimherr, ed., Quest for Freedom: Aspects of Pennsylvania™s Religious Experience
[Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University, 1987], 19“37, 20). The argument here agrees more with
Glenn T. Miller who speaks of the “informal establishment” in Religious Liberty in America:
History and Prospects (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 52.
20 Perry Miller, “The Puritan State and Puritan Society,” in Errand into the Wilderness (Cam-
bridge, MA; Belknap Press, Harvard University, 1956), 148“52, 150; Morgan, The Puritan
Dilemma, 95“96.
Civil Unity and Dissention 141

assumed that there would be a tight, instrumental connection between the
governing structure of the meeting and that of the colony. It was the only
major colony in which the same people who held the leading positions in the
ecclesiastical polity also held the highest posts in the civil polity.21 The govern-
ment was essentially run by the meeting, with a built-in hierarchical structure
of monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings to allow the theologico-political
leaders to percolate to the top. Throughout most of the eighteenth century,
Quaker candidates for the Assembly were selected by the religious meeting.22
As the century progressed, the in¬‚uence of the meeting on the political pro-
cess became more blatant, causing one critic to remark that “the yearly and
monthly Meetings of leading Quakers in this Province are not entirely for
spiritual Purposes; but that they are degenerated into political Cabals, held
the Week before our annual Election, to ¬x the Choice of Assembly-men, and
issue out their Edicts to the several Meetings in the Province.”23 Indeed, in
1710, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the central Quaker governing structure
in the colonies, issued an epistle directing members to vote only for other
William Penn was in the minority when he disagreed with the mixing of
church and state. Early in Pennsylvania™s history, he expressed concern at this
trend of Quaker domination of the government. “We should look sel¬sh,” he
said, “& do that, wch we have cry™d out upon others for, namely, letting no
body touch wth Governmt but those of their own way.”25 The extent of Friends™
domination of the government can be ascertained from concerns expressed by
non-Quakers very early in the experiment. “There are grudges in some,” wrote
a devotee of Penn™s, “that none are put in places of power but friends.”26
Almost seventy years later a non-Friend complained that still “a great Majority
of one particular Persuasion, who are scarce a Fifth of the People of this
Province, and by their religious Principles unquali¬ed for Government, are
kept in the Assembly, by the in¬‚uence of the aforesaid Cabal, to the exclusion
of Men of superior Property and Quali¬cations.”27 These people worried about
“confusion and sad events” that might ensue if the proper “bounds and limits
of Ch[urch] and state” were not observed.28 Writing to William Penn in 1710,
Isaac Norris, Sr., summarized the dilemma of Quakers in government:

We are a mixed people, who all claim a right to use their own way. We say our principles
are not destructive or repugnant to Civil Government, and will admit of free liberty of

21 Rhode Island and New Jersey, also governed by Quakers, had similar overlap between ministers
and magistrates.
22 On the meeting structure and its relationship to the government, see LL, 2: 24.
23 William Smith, A Brief View of the Conduct of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1755), 21.
24 Ibid., 23“24.
25 William Penn to Jasper Blatt, February 5, 1683, PWP, 2: 347.
26 Holme to Penn, 25th of the 9th mo. 1686. PWP, 3: 131.
27 Smith, A Brief View of the Conduct of Pennsylvania, 19.
28 Holme to Penn, 25th of the 9th mo. 1686, PWP, 3: 131.
142 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

conscience to all; yet to me it appears . . . we must be either independent or entirely by
ourselves; or, if mixed, partial to our own opinion, and not allow liberty to others.29

But most Quakers did not see this dilemma. In some important ways, being
partial to their own opinions and not allowing liberty to others was the Quaker
agenda. Well before Pennsylvania was founded, Isaac Penington reminded his
readers of the purpose of government, writing, “remember this Word, Be sure
you smite none for Obedience to God. Limit not His holy Spirit in His People,
but limit the unclean and evil Spirit in those who manifest themselves not to be
his People. This is the true intent of Government.”30 What developed during
this period was a system that was, contrary to the Quaker theory of an ideal
government, not a spiritual aristocracy, but an oligarchy.31
The policy the Assembly pursued vis-a-vis its constituents has evoked widely
varied commentary from historians and contemporaries alike that reveals the
complexity of the Quaker approach to government. On the one hand, there
were those who criticized the Holy Experiment for exactly the same reasons
they did the Society of Friends. They were “cruel persecutors” in the eyes
of many, conducting their government as they did their religious meeting, by
imposing a severe discipline on all. And as their power stabilized and expanded,
they were charged with “priestcraft” by political opponents. Francis Bugg
claimed that the dominant Quaker faction was “Guilty of that Persecution
which they have condemn™d in others.”32 Similarly, Edward Cockson spoke
directly to the Quakers, arguing that “your Party have exceeded all Mankind
in the Extensions of their Persecutions.”33 Bugg claimed to see through the
surface image:

their Pretense, of Mercy, Justice, Peace, Freedom, Goodness, Righteousness, Meekness,
Temperance, Unity, Humility, Soberness, Constancy to Good Principles, &c. is nothing
but an Amusement, Deceit, Hypocrisy, and Gross Dissimulation; with a Design to
Engross and Translate the Government into their own Hands, and then to Exercise
both Cruelty and Injustice, Partiality and Persecution.34

But Quakers had partisans of their own. In the mid-eighteenth century, they
gained a mythical status among some observers of the colony. Their biggest fans

29 Isaac Norris to Penn, 23rd of the 9th mo. 1710, in Edward Armstrong, ed., Correspondence
between William Penn and James Logan, Secretary of the Province and Others (Philadelphia,
1870“72), 2: 431.
30 Isaac Penington, The Way of Life and Death Made Manifest, and Set Before Men (London,
1680), part I, 294.
31 On the Quaker oligarchy, see Tully, William Penn™s Legacy, and Richard Alan Ryerson, “Por-
trait of a Colonial Oligarchy: The Quaker Elite in the Pennsylvania Assembly, 1729“1776,”
in Bruce C. Daniels, ed., Power and Status: Of¬ce Holding in Colonial America (Middletown,
CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1986), 106“35.
32 Bugg, Hidden Things, 184.
33 Cockson, Rigid Quaker, Cruel Persecutor, 35.
34 Bugg, Quakerism Anatomized, 443.
Civil Unity and Dissention 143

were the French philosophes, for whom the Holy Experiment became a touch-
stone for the ideals of the Enlightenment.35 Historians of American politics,
even those who emphasize the in¬‚uence of the philosophes on the American
political ideas, seem to have overlooked their obsession with Quakerism.36 Yet
French anglophilia manifested itself most acutely in their interest in Quakers.
From the earliest days of the Society in the 1650s, the French had taken notice “
and Quakers had encouraged their notice “ of their peculiar breed of radical-
ism, which by the middle of the next century had blossomed into a tradition
of commentary that lasted into the twentieth century and spread well beyond
The philosophes praised Quaker Pennsylvania for embodying the Enlight-
enment. Quakers, it seemed, had invented the perfect civil society “ one that
would promote republican virtues of frugality, simplicity, equality, and peace.
Among the numerous French authors who wrote positively about les Trem-
bleurs are some of the best known, including Voltaire, Montesquieu, Bris-
sot, and Cr` vec“ur. Voltaire began the trend when he wrote in his Lettres
Philosophique that “William Penn might glory in having brought down upon
earth the so much boasted golden age, which in all probability never existed
but in Pensilvania.”37 The Encylopedists promoted Friends in several articles,
and Brissot championed them as “republicans” and “pure moralists,” writing,
“[t]his then is the sect for those States which would banish despotism, and all
other political crimes. It is the sect for republics; It is the sect for monarchies;
In a word, it is the sect for humanity. Since if Quakerism were universal, all
mankind would form but one loving and harmonious family.”38 In Letters
from an American Farmer, Cr` vec“ur discoursed on the idyllic homestead of
“enlightened botanist” John Bartram “ the pleasing simplicity of his speech
and manner, his kind treatment of his servants, and the profundity of a meet-
ing for worship with both silence and a female minister (Figure 2).39 Like the
Quakers™ opponents, the philosophes had their own agenda to promote and
Quakers seemed the best agents.
In answers to the charges of inappropriate mixing of religion and politics,
Quakers reconciled the dilemma of their authority in their own way. In a 1725
pamphlet, the Quaker author claimed, “I meddle not with Society: I only desire

35 Isaac Hunt, A Looking-Glass for Presbyterians. Or A brief examination of their loyalty, merit,
and other quali¬cations for government. With some animadversions on the Quaker unmask™d.
Humbly addres™d to the consideration of the loyal freemen of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia,
1764), 3.
36 There is only one monograph devoted entirely to the topic, Philips, The Good Quaker. See
also, Echeverria, Mirage in the West; Larson, Daughters of Light, 249“51; Bernard Fay, The
Revolutionary Spirit in France and America, trans. Ramon Guthrie (New York: Harcourt,
1927); William Pencak, “In Search of the American Character: French Travelers in Eighteenth-
Century Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania History vol. 55, no. 1 (1988), 2“30.
37 Voltaire, Letters Concerning the English Nation (London, 1733), 30.
38 Jean-Paul Brissot de Warville, A Critical Examination, 14, 48.
39 J. Hector St. John Cr` vec“ur, Letters from an American Farmer, 197.
144 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

figure 2. “Quaqueresse.” (FHL)

its protection.”40 But the meaning of his statement depends on how one de¬nes
“meddle” and “protection.”

Liberty of Conscience as an Instrument of Proselytization
As we have seen, for Penn, protection came from civil unity, which was based on
liberty of conscience. This liberty was something in which all Christians could
unite and thus prevent the destruction of civil society through religious wars
and persecution. In short, the freedom of particular religious bodies depended
on the stability of civil government. Quakers generally agreed that civil union
equaled civil safety. And they all agreed that liberty of conscience was the
means. But there was a subtle yet important difference between how Penn
understood liberty of conscience and how Quaker politicians thought it should

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( : 44)

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