<< . .

. 20
( : 44)



. . >>

The most signi¬cant political move Kinsey made during his career was to
appropriate the peace testimony for the purpose of retaining Quaker power
over the colony. For a brief period, and out of keeping with Quaker tradition,
Kinsey took this testimony to an extreme. Because it was at the heart of Quaker
theologico-politics as the doctrine that preserved their constitutional unity,
Kinsey™s actions had monumental consequences both for the Society of Friends
and the political culture of Pennsylvania.
Historically, Friends had two separate yet harmonious testimonies “ those
concerning peace on the one hand and one™s obligation to civil government
on the other.133 In the seventeenth century and through at least half of the
eighteenth, the peace testimony was a personal matter, not a matter of state.
For example, although a good Quaker could not take up arms himself against
his fellow man, he could, in good conscience, pay taxes for the necessary
defense of the state. This distinction allowed Quaker politicians to separate
their religious lives and their political lives to a certain degree, which in turn
enabled them to ful¬ll a basic obligation to their constituents “ protecting them
and their property. In the earlier years of Pennsylvania government, Quakers
gave money to either the crown or the governor to support defensive military
measures, and their actions were in keeping with traditional Quaker practice.134
Governor Thomas set Friends against him immediately when he responded
to the demands of the British government to raise a militia and meet the needs
of the vulnerable Pennsylvania coastline. His enlistment of indentured servants
angered the masters who saw it as an encroachment on their property rights.
But the militia bill Thomas wrote to raise forces within the colony challenged
Quaker power in more fundamental ways. It brought two important issues into
question “ the extent of the peace testimony and the extent of Quaker control
over provincial affairs.
Friends moved aggressively to halt the progress of the bill. What was most
important to Kinsey and the Quakers in the Assembly was not whether the
colony should be defended from within, but who had the power to decide
on policy inside the colony. In the past, Friends had looked to the crown to

133 The following discussion draws on Herman Wellenreuther™s “The Political Dilemma of the
Quakers in Pennsylvania, 1681“1748,” PMHB vol. 94 (1970), 135“72. See also Peter Brock,
Pioneers of the Peaceable Kingdom, 97“99. Brock explains the following episode in Pennsyl-
vania history as exemplifying “the basic difference of viewpoint between the two sides.” He
does not, as does Wellenreuther, identify the two con¬‚icting testimonies. On the contrary, he
explains how the Quakers made their cases for the consistency of their behavior with regard
to giving money for “the king™s use” in the past and ¬nds that their argument “possessed
greater validity than the governor was prepared to recognize.” His discussion does not take
into account any possible political motives for this apparent change in the use of the peace
testimony. For more on the peace testimony during this period, see Jack D. Marietta, “Con-
science, the Quaker Community, and the French and Indian War,” PMHB vol. 95 (1971),
3“27.
134 Wellenreuther, “The Political Dilemma of the Quakers,” 172.
Civil Unity and Dissention 163

provide defense from threats outside the colony™s borders, but when threats
came from within, the Assemblymen wanted to reserve their right to determine
how to react. But the peace testimony had put the Quaker Assemblymen in
a bind. If they allowed the crown to come in to Pennsylvania and defend
their colony, they would be relinquishing a signi¬cant degree of control. If,
on the other hand, they did any more than give money to the king, they
would be transgressing the peace testimony. Kinsey™s solution was to rede¬ne
the testimony in hopes that their unity would result in a stronger Quaker
position. In order to assert their legislative prerogative, then, Friends dissented
from the governor™s and proprietor™s plans to prepare the colony for defense
and disobeyed their demands for funds by adapting the testimony for their
purposes. Now, for the ¬rst time, the peace testimony would preclude giving
money for defense purposes.135
But ¬rst, in order to ensure that they would be able to use the peace testimony
at all as a means of resistance, Kinsey had to make sure that enough Friends
were in of¬ce. Accordingly, before the 1739 election, Kinsey rallied the forces
with an epistle directing Friends to adhere steadfastly to the testimony as
pressure mounted from the crown and the governor for Friends to defend
Pennsylvania with military force.136 Once Friends were securely in of¬ce for
another term, they could then effect a transformation of the peace testimony
from a personal religious testimony into a form of collective political resistance.
No sooner had the Assembly convened for its ¬rst session than the disobedience
began. In 1740, in response to Governor Thomas™s request for the Assembly
to impose a tax to support Britain™s war with Spain, Quakers argued:

We have ever esteemed it our Duty to pay Tribute to Caesar, and yield Obedience to the
Powers that God hath set over us, so far as our conscientious Perswasions will permit;
but we cannot preserve good Consciences, and come into the Levying of Money, and
appropriating it to the Uses recommended to us in the Governor™s Speech, because it
is repugnant to the religious Principles professed by the greater Number of the present
Assembly, who are of the People called Quakers.137

Therefore, rather than relinquish control by allowing outsiders to dictate inter-
nal decisions, Friends pled conscience, and used their stance on peace as a tool
to delineate the extent of their obedience. Now, for the ¬rst time, the testimony
for peace became government policy, and the testimony for civil government
fell by the wayside.138

135 Ibid., 158.
136 Ibid., 158“9; LL, 2: 593.
137 PA, 3: 2593.
138 Wellenreuther, “The Political Dilemma of the Quakers,” 159. He explains that the consti-
tutional principle involved, on which the Quakers rested their case in all disputes with the
governor and the crown, was that only the representatives could decide on matters relating to
affairs within the colony. If the Quaker representatives had extended their demand for defense
by the crown to the area of Pennsylvania, then this would surely have affected the validity of
their claim to speak and decide on provincial matters.
164 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

While the philosophes and others who were removed from the threat of
attack in Pennsylvania praised Quaker paci¬sm, this new interpretation and
use of the peace testimony was neither welcomed nor sanctioned by all inhab-
itants of Pennsylvania. In 1740 Thomas petitioned the Board of Trade to have
Quakers removed from of¬ce, and in 1741 a group of prominent non-Quaker
merchants petitioned the king to limit their power.139 Signi¬cantly, there were
also many Friends who disapproved of the new interpretation. Before long,
weighty Friends levied criticisms against Kinsey for his “stubborn and provoca-
tive attitude” and his departure from the proper process of legal discernment.
“For my own part,” wrote Quaker Justice Samuel Chew, “I look upon this
doctrine not only to be without warrant or colour, either from reason or rev-
elation, but in its consequences pernicious to society, and entirely inconsistent
with, and destructive of all civil government.”140 James Logan wrote a lengthy
letter in a similar vein to Friends, reminding them that “friends have recom-
mended themselves to ye Govt . . . by complying with its Demands, in chearfully
contributing by ye paymt of their Taxes towds every War.” Furthermore, he
recommended that “all Such, who for Conscience Sake cannot joyn in a Law
for Self-Defence, Should, not only decline standing Candidates at the ensu-
ing Election for Representatives themselves, but also advise all others who are
equally Scrupulous to do the Same.”141
The extent to which Friends would go to preserve unity and power is evident
in an incident in a meeting for business. One week before the general election
in 1741, Logan presented PYM with an epistle on the defenselessness of the
province. Instead of letting him read it, the Meeting formed a committee to
see if the contents were appropriate for general consideration. After looking
it over, the committee decided it was not and was ostensibly better suited for
people who would understand the military and geographic issues it dealt with.
One member, however, dissented. He stood and observed that since it was
written by a weighty Friend and was meant “for the Good of the Society at
these ¬ckle & precarious Times,” it should be considered by the whole group.
But instead this Friend was rebuked and silenced. In the meeting, “Jonathan
Bringhouse pluck™d him by the coat and told him with a sharp Tone of Voice,
˜Sit thee down Robert, thou art single in that opinion.™”142 Clearly some sorts
of dissent were no longer acceptable.
The new interpretation and use of the peace testimony did not last in the
short term. Within two years, the body of Friends reverted to their original
position on it, objected strongly to Kinsey™s actions, and the Assembly voted


139 LL, 2: 65, 72“73.
140 Samuel Chew, The Speech of Samuel Chew, Esq. Chief Judge of the Counties of Newcastle,
Kent, and Sussex on Delaware. On the Lawfulness of Defence against an Armed Enemy.
Delivered from the Bench to the Grand Jury of the County of Newcastle, Nov. 21. 1741 (rpt.,
Philadelphia, 1775), 2.
141 James Logan, September 22, 1741, American Friends Letters, HQC.
142 Richard Peters Letterbook, 1739“1743, 33, HSP.
Civil Unity and Dissention 165

to give money for defense after all.143 But Kinsey™s politicking had planted
seeds in a couple of fertile beds. First, his new version of the peace testimony
would soon become the accepted interpretation of it. And second, his use of
it set a powerful example for non-Quakers of how to dissent aggressively.
But more than that, and much more problematic, was that this example of
dissent expressed ambiguity “ and perhaps ambivalence “ about the testimony
that preserved the unity of the polity. The message Quakers sent was that the
testimony was something to be manipulated, and perhaps not taken seriously.
Both of these seeds would bear fruit in the next two decades.


Charter Rights
What were ultimately at stake for the Quakers in their struggle with the pro-
prietors were their constitutional rights as they were embodied in the 1701
Charter. Early in 1742 an apparently minor controversy arose that exempli¬es
the continuing pattern of Quaker resistance to government with the Charter at
the center of it all. The speci¬cs of the original cause of this particular contro-
versy are relatively insigni¬cant. They were instigated over who had the power
to appoint doctors to meet ships arriving in port with potentially sick immi-
grants. The Assembly had replaced a doctor appointed by the governor with
one of its own choosing. But the in¬‚amed rhetoric and bitter acrimony of the
debate indicated that the matter went much deeper than the mere appointment
of a doctor. And eventually, in a heated exchange between Thomas and the
Assembly, led by Kinsey, the issue boiled down to its essence. For the Assem-
blymen, at stake was the sanctity of the Charter of Privileges, the preservation
of their liberties, and the de¬nition of the legitimate boundaries of a potentially
arbitrary power; for the governor, it was the containment of a radical group
overstepping its proper bounds. Quakers saw it as maintaining constitutional
balance and keeping power in the rightful hands.
Thomas began with the now-usual accusation of the Assembly that in
appointing a different doctor they were trying to “seize all the Powers of Gov-
ernment into their own Hands.”144 Echoing Penn and his agents, he argued
that the Assemblymen were “assuming to themselves a Power the Law hath
not intrusted them with; is illegal and unwarrentable, a high Invasion of the
Powers of Government; and a very dangerous Example.”145 But it was the gov-
ernor™s mistake if he thought he could make any headway with an argument
based on the Charter. After having been in of¬ce only four years, he could not
hope to know how to use the Charter as well as Friends, who had created it
and used it for their advantage for nearly half a century; nor did he have their
training in the dissenting process. In their response to the governor, Quakers
claimed there was a “manifest design against the Liberties of the Freemen of

143 Wellenreuther, “The Political Dilemma of the Quakers,” 159.
144 PA, 4: 2740.
145 Ibid., 4: 2741.
166 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

this Province,” enumerated at length their constitutional rights, and chastised
him for his “unnatural Attack upon our Charter and Privileges.”146
They charged the governor with “clandestinely attempting to deprive [them]
of those religious and civil liberties which [he] had solemnly promised to sup-
port.”147 Meanwhile, as a petition was on its way to England, Richard Peters
reported that “[the Quakers] are not ashamed openly to usurp Powers they
have no Pretense of Claim to, & to endeavour without any regard to decency
& manners to reduce another part of ye Legislature wch by ye Constitution is
in all respects their equal & in many their super[ior].”148 But what had made
Thomas angry was that the Assembly had not been open in their protest either.
Contrary to appropriate Quaker process, it was they who had acted surrepti-
tiously; they had submitted their petition in secret and neglected to publish it in
the of¬cial proceedings or to deliver a copy to the governor. Not surprisingly,
Thomas denounced the petition as a “Stab in the Dark, which was intended
both to Blast my Character and ruin my Fortune,” and he insisted the Quakers™
motives were merely to “prejudice [the Freemen of the Province] against me,
the seeds of Dissention have been plentifully sown.”149 Peters echoed Thomas™s
sentiments, writing to England that the Quakers “must know ye Proprs. can™t
but see that they are attempting to strip their Govr. of ye most & essential Parts
of Govmt. & ye Person of Coll. Thomas they are doing him all the Injury they
possibly can.”150
But Friends, unperturbed by the accusations, calmly replied that “the pre-
senting of Petitions is the Right of every of the King™s Subjects when they
think themselves aggrieved . . . It was intended neither ˜to Blast the Governor™s
Character,™ nor ˜ruin his Fortune™ . . . but to obtain Justice.”151 The criticisms
Thomas leveled at the Assembly sound the same as those always leveled at
Quakers for their lack of deference to secular authority. “Your Language and
Behaviour,” he said, “shew a contempt of his Majesty™s Sentiments, as well as
a Departure from the Decencies Observed by all other publick Bodies towards
Persons in Authority.”152 Clearly the Quakers™ degree of antiauthoritarianism
seemed to Thomas blatant and unusual in the context of colonial government.
The Quakers, meanwhile, denied their behavior was anything but decent and
proper and offered reasons for their actions: “People may, it is true, grow wan-
ton with Liberty,” Kinsey admitted. But he immediately turned the accusation
back on the governor, adding, “and Governors may play the Wanton with the
Liberties of the People.” For Quakers in Pennsylvania, it was at least as much
a function of their collective history as actual (or imagined) tyranny in their
own government that prompted their behavior. “The Memory of what has

146 Ibid., 4: 2752 and 2757.
147 Ibid., 4: 2743.
148 Richard Peters Letterbook, 1739“1743, 74, HSP.
149 PA, 4: 2744.
150 Richard Peters Letterbook, 1739“1743, 74, HSP.
151 PA, 4: 2758.
152 Ibid., 4: 2743.
Civil Unity and Dissention 167

passed in our own Time,” he explains, “as well as History, afford us Examples
of both; and perhaps the latter are the most numerous.” Finally, to Thomas™s
complaint that he had been falsely charged with attempted tyranny, and that
he “is as much a Friend to Liberty as the most zealous Assertor of it,” the
Quakers™ ¬‚ippant reply was, “Actions speak louder than Words.”153
In this heated debate between the governor and the Assembly “ ostensibly
over the appointment of a doctor “ Thomas cut to the quick, placing the Quaker
assembly in a broader context and suggesting the underlying motive for their
vehement protests:
Has the Honour of the Province been advanced . . . by the distinguishing Behaviour of
the Assembly here from all others in America? Have the odious Insinuations and bitter
Invectives thrown out against me, been of Use to convince the World of your Meekness
and Moderation, or have they been for the Reputation of the religious Society of which
you call yourselves Members? Perhaps you will say, it is enough to have opposed a
designing and arbitrary Governor: But this will be only calling Names without any
Proof of my being such a Person.154

Here Thomas identi¬ed a twin Quaker concern “ to resist authority and to
cultivate a public image that would convince non-Friends to join their political
cause, if not their religious society. His powers of observation about the Assem-
bly were fairly on the mark. He was fully aware, as he put it, that “[t]he Interest
of [the] Leaders . . . depend[s] upon keeping alive a Spirit of Faction.”155 Quak-
ers used their dissenting ethic to unite their supporters and pit them against
their perceived oppressors. Thus, when the Assembly was full of one sort of
people, it could easily dominate all the interests of the colony. To this end,
public relations played a vital role in Friendly politics. Richard Peters made
note of the Quakers™ cultivation of partisanship as well: “Here they stick at
nothing to preserve the Affections of ye People & by being a low weak sort of
Men do strangely impose upon them, in short they have their Ear & can by
that means give the best face to ye worst designs.”156
With the extreme tension between the Assembly and the governor, the 1742
election was a pivotal one for both parties. Both used the best means at their
disposal to win: The Quakers used their bureaucracy; the Proprietary, on the
other hand, resorted to violence. As for the Quakers, in one of the most blatant
examples of the use of his religious of¬ce for political ends, Kinsey functionally
merged the meetinghouse with the state house. Again, Richard Peters reported
that “[w]e have another Dif¬culty to cope with. It is yt a [Letter] is come from
Friends in Britain to Friends here earnestly exhorting them to return none to
the Assembly but contientious Friends who will be sure to support ye Cause
of Truth agst the violent Attack made on it by ye Govr & [his] Friends.” Such
a directive from London Friends would have been newsworthy enough. But
153 Ibid., 4: 2762.
154 PA, 4: 2748. Emphasis added.
155 Ibid., 4: 2769.
156 Richard Peters Letterbook, 1739“43, 102, HSP.
168 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

it was where the letter was read that attracted the most attention. Peters was
troubled “That this [Letter] came to Jon Kinsey as Clerk of ye yearly Meeting
& that he open™d it and read it in ye Lobby of ye Assembly Room & that it was
subscrib™d by a large number of Hands.”157 As far as Kinsey was concerned,
the desired effect was achieved when Quakers were elected by a substantial
margin over other candidates for the Assembly.
The election was itself an indicator of the climate in Pennsylvania, as the
Proprietary faction took an even less honorable route to resist the Quakers™
tactics. “On ye Morning of ye Election,” wrote Richard Peters, “40 or 50
Sailors appear™d abt 7 a Clock at Andrew Hamilton™s Warf with Clubbs in
their Hands & s[aid]d to one another; Now my lads mind your mark, A plain
coat & broad hat.” They were warned by some Quakers “to disperse, & give no
disturbance to Peoples Minds, who were going to do one of ye most important
Things to the good of ye Publick that is to elect their Representatives, & yt if
they came near ye place of Election they woud be committed to Jayle & severely
punished.” Before long, however, the sailors began beating people with their
clubs. The sailors “promised to give up their Clubs & separate if he [Quaker
Edward Shippen] wou™d give them a Drink.” When no liquor was forthcoming,
recounts Peters,

this enragd the Sailors to that degree yt they went to ye place of Election & in one
Minute disper™d 500 Dutch & others, knock™d all down that were upon ye Stairs & laid
abt ˜em in ye most Shocking manner Eye ever beheld, it was realy a frightful sight & I
expect numbers woud have been killd: for besides their Sticks ye Sailors threw whole
Bricks at ye El[ec]t[ion] House Door where ye innocent Country People were giving in
their Tickets, tho whether ye Sailors or ye Freeholders ¬rst threw Bricks is uncertain.

Peters concluded grimly that since the election riot was widely considered to
have been orchestrated by supporters of the Proprietary, “it will turn greatly to
ye prejudice of ye Publick” against them. “[F]or ye leading men in ye Assembly
will think they are now more than ever at liberty to gratify their Resentmt agst
ye Proprs & instead of doing ye Business of ye Country.”158 In con¬rmation
of Peters™s fears, Isaac Norris, Jr., prominent member of the Assembly, wrote
in a letter four days later that

the Dangr. among our selves seems to be pretty much over for in our last Electn that
party [the proprietary] has not only lost in every where to a prodigious dissproportn in
all ye Counties . . . but have brot. such a reproach upon the heads of ye party as they
will never clear themselves from and I think have effectually secured the Electn agt
[them]selves for the future.159

157 Ibid., 128. See also, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Minutes, 1739“41, HQC.
158 Richard Peters Letterbook, 1739“1743, 134“38, HSP. It should be noted that in the heat of
the moment, a few young Quakers forgot their testimony of peace and joined in beating the
sailors “ but only after the sailors had been safely apprehended by the authorities.
159 Isaac Norris Letterbook, 1719“1756, November 21, 1742, HSP.
Civil Unity and Dissention 169

As Norris hoped and Peters feared, this incident settled the question of the
Quaker Party™s dominance in Pennsylvania for the remainder of the colonial
period.160 Peters cautioned the proprietors in 1742 that Friends were united
amongst themselves, they had united the people, and they were busy using their
bureaucratic skills for resistance and the security of their liberties. “They are
contriving all sorts of Bills yt they think will give you uneasiness & they have
by the impudence of ye last Election gain™d a deeper hold of ye common People
than ever & can never be shaken unless they quarrel with one another.161
From this point on until the eve of the American Revolution, their hegemony
provoked frequent attacks, but these too only strengthened it.
Despite their dominance, Quakers continued to use their testimonies to resist
the government and accrue more power. A seemingly insigni¬cant testimony
serves to illustrate the new lengths to which Quakers “ and especially Kinsey
“ would go to use traditional Quaker means for new political ends. In 1745
Kinsey recounted a discussion with Isaac Norris about whether or not to remove
their hats when meeting with Governor Thomas. “I said, in Effect, as follows:
That our not putting off our hats to the Governor was not for want of true
respect &c. to a Gentleman in his Station, but from principle.” The principle
at stake as far as Kinsey was concerned was not as it had been traditionally
for Friends, spiritual equality. Rather, he believed that if the Quakers should
be made by the governor to remove their hats in his presence, “such an act of
[the governor] would be Af¬rming overall a power he had not.” The principle
was political power. Norris, on the other hand, was not entirely comfortable
with Kinsey™s testimony in this case and “seemed inclinable to permitt our hatts
to be taken of[f].” In a more conciliatory vein, Norris argued: “That it might
be said the law assumes no superiority, that [the governor] was bare himself
and directing us to be Uncovered was putting up only in Equal condition with
himself.” But Kinsey would have none of it. As far as he was concerned, whether
to remove their hats or not had to be their own free choice. If they were ordered
to do it, all suggestion of equality of power would be destroyed. He asserted,
“tho the Gov. himself might of shew make it his choice to be uncovered, yet as
we were principally against it, and it could not be done with our consent, to
suffer it to be done by order was plainly giving up the Equality we had a right
to claim.”162
Some historians have questioned the sincerity of Kinsey™s hat testimony.
The biographical dictionary Lawmaking and Legislators, for example, details
a similar incident involving Kinsey and Governor William Keith in 1730. While

160 Although Quakers dominated the Assembly for the entire life of the colony, during the 1740s
it was almost complete when “Quaker majorities ranged as high as 90 percent.” LL, Figure
III. Religious Af¬liation of Assemblymen by Assembly (1710“1756), 2: 132“33. See also
Isaac Norris Letterbook, 1719“1756, HSP; Tully, William Penn™s Legacy, 28“29; Pemberton
Papers, 3:36, HSP; PA, 3: 2663; Richard Peters Letterbook, 1739“1743, HSP; Philadelphia
Yearly Meeting, Minutes, 1741, HQC.
161 Richard Peters, Letterbook, 1739“1743, 153, HSP.
162 Journal of John Kinsey, FHL.
170 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

arguing a court case before Keith, Kinsey also refused to uncover his head and
was forcibly removed from the court. In the wake of the incident, Quakers
united behind Kinsey, and Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting condemned Keith
for violating Kinsey™s religious liberty. The editors of the volume speculate
whether Kinsey was merely “grandstanding” for political purposes.163 Whereas
some see Quaker testimonies as insincere, others see them as too sincere. Daniel
Boorstin argues that Friends adhered to their principles and testimonies too
rigidly to be effective governors. “[T]he Quakers weakened themselves not by
being false to their teachings, but by being too true to them,” he says.164
But both of these assessments miss the point. What neither takes into account
is the use and purpose of the testimonies for Friends. Boorstin believed that
at this time “the Quaker™s refusal to remove his hat became as arrogant and
purposeless as the non-Quaker™s insistence on hat-honor.”165 On the contrary,
however, there was a great purpose behind it. Testimonies had always been a
mode of dissent; they were the Quakers™ traditional mode of political expres-
sion before they held of¬ce. They were a form of protest, a statement of justice,
an indication of their antiauthoritarianism, and a statement of corporate soli-
darity. And then, during the mid-eighteenth century, they also became a tool for
retaining and solidifying political unity and power. Kinsey™s actions, admits the
biographical dictionary, “enhanced [his] reputation among the Quakers and
increased his notoriety in general” and furthered his political career.166 How
much Kinsey™s actions were motivated by faith or mercurial ends it is impossi-
ble to determine.167 There is no doubt, however, that he used the testimony to
the political advantage of the Quaker Party. Quaker critics, at least, recognized
it as such. Quakers, writes Bugg,

tell us that they were raised contrary to all Men, and as such cannot seek to Authority.
But how their Practice gives the Lie to their Principles, I shall shew anon. You see also

<< . .

. 20
( : 44)



. . >>