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Thomas Jefferson™s theory that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing”
was quickly becoming obsolete.7 Indeed, Paul Douglas Newman™s work on the
1798“99 Fries™s Rebellion, with its peaceful, constitutional protest, indicates
that there was an important change in attitude and behavior that was due in
large part to Quaker in¬‚uence.8
Despite Dickinson™s considerable presence at the Constitutional Convention,
it is dif¬cult to ascertain the in¬‚uence of his Quakerism on the proceedings.
By this time, many of the delegates had similar ideas. About the concept of the
perpetual and amendable constitution, for example, one can only argue that
the idea originally developed in Quaker thought. That it came to be expressed
by other Americans at the Founding may or may not have been coincidental.
With a few exceptions, such as his original proposal for state and national
representation, Dickinson™s role may only have been to reinforce and encourage
the direction to which his countrymen were already inclined. Because illness
took him from the Convention early, we cannot know what more he might
have contributed.

Quaker In¬‚uence beyond the Founding
Whereas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries hard evidence of direct
Quaker in¬‚uence on the polity is limited, in the nineteenth century it is abun-
dant. Despite their claims of rejecting politics, not only did Quakers themselves
step to the fore on the national scene to advocate their traditional causes, but
there also appeared explicit statements by non-Friends of how Quakers and
Quakerism shaped their thought and action. In fact, in signi¬cant ways, Quak-
ers became more, not less, political after their withdrawals from politics in
1756 and 1776: Where early on their stated cause had been spiritual equality
of the poor, women, blacks, and other oppressed groups, it had now evolved

6 Ser. 1. b. Political, 1774“1807, n.d., RRL/HSP. The language and message are indicative enough
of his writings that we have reason to suspect his authorship. The clipping included no title or
indication of the paper in which it was published.
7 Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, January 30, 1787, in Julian P. Boyd and Barbara B. Oberg,
et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001),
29: 280. This is not to say that violence as a tool for change was no longer used. We know
that it has been used even through the twentieth century, but now, few would justify it. One
might also argue that the Civil War complicates this conclusion. Certainly it demonstrates that
the question of unity and how to dissent was not unanimous (if it ever has been) until after
the mid-nineteenth century. But we must remember that although revolution of a sort and
separation seemed acceptable to half the country, the other half disagreed. And the view of the
latter prevailed.
8 Paul Douglas Newman, Fries™s Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).
Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism 315

into a conscious struggle for civil equality for these same groups. Quakers were
the founders and among the most active leaders of the movements for civil
rights in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.9
Not only were Quakers continuing their grassroots activism with renewed
fervor, their efforts were facilitated and their in¬‚uence deepened by a new pub-
lic image. By the early nineteenth century, the public had forgotten their ranting
enthusiasm of the seventeenth century, and even the memory of their alleged
Loyalism in the Revolution had faded considerably. Much to the contrary, a
new image of the virtuous Quaker began to take a wide hold. Their moral
uprightness was interpreted by some as priggishness, and jokes and cartoons
surfaced that poked fun at Quakers™ rigidity and linguistic idiosyncrasies, not
to mention their religious dilemma in the Civil War. By most, however, the
Quaker was now seen as a paragon of virtue. As the language of republicanism
became diffuse through the new nation, Americans came around to the French
understanding of Friends as representing all that republican citizens ought to
be “ simple and plain, frugal, industrious, trustworthy, honest, concerned with
the rights of man, and patriotic. One might look to the popular literature of the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to see the American fascination with
Friends. It is replete with Quaker intonations such as “The Quaker Settlement”
in Harriet Beecher Stowe™s Uncle Tom™s Cabin, Meg as pretty as a Quakeress in
Louisa May Alcott™s Little Women (1869), Melville™s Nantucket Quakers in
Moby Dick (1851), and characters such as Old Broadbrim and Young Broad-
brim in the dime detective novels at the turn of the century.10 By the time
of the Civil War, Quakers were once again used as a barometer, not, this
time, to gauge popular sentiment so much as to indicate the righteousness
of the Northern cause. As the “New Quaker Bonnet” indicates, Americans
had come to recognize “ at least intuitively “ that the Quakers™ twin concerns
were liberty and union (Figure 9). Far from being subversive of government, in
the popular mind, they now represented the core values of American political
Another powerful indicator of the American fascination with Quakerism
is found in commerce and popular culture. Since the Quakers™ ascent into
respectability, Americans have capitalized on their name and image, using
it to sell everything imaginable: clothing of all sorts, ¬re¬ghters™ protective

9 Lest one is inclined to associate Quaker activism too closely and simply with modern liberal
social activism, Howell John Harris has offered a caution in “War in the Social Order: The
Great War and the Liberalization of American Quakerism,” in David K. Adams and Cornelis A.
Van Minnen, eds., Religious and Secular Reform in America: Ideas, Belief, and Social Change
(New York: New York University Press, 1999), 179“203.
10 For more instances of Quakers in popular literature, see Anna Breiner Caul¬eld, Quakers in
Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography (Northhampton, MA: Pittenbruach Press, 1993).
11 The Quaker image was hardly as uncomplicated as I have represented it here. Not surprisingly,
because of their peace testimony, their advocacy of the Northern cause and participation in
the war was problematic and heavily quali¬ed. This led to substantial public ridicule by non-
Quakers. For a rich discussion of the Quaker image in the popular mind that deals with this and
other topics, see Jennifer Connerley, “Friendly Americans: Representing Quakers in the United
States, 1850“1920” (Ph.D. Thesis, University of North Carolina, 2006).
316 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

figure 9. “The New Quaker Bonnet, 1861.” Covers such as this were sent through
the mail as envelopes or postcards during the Civil War era. A similar image is also
represented by Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier in “Barbara Frietchie.” After Fri-
etchie protects the American ¬‚ag from Confederate invaders, he writes, “Over Barbara
Frietchie™s grave,/ Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!/ Peace and order and beauty draw/
Round thy symbol of light and law[.]”

figure 10. Old Quaker Whiskey label, n.d. No doubt related to this brand is “An Old
Quaker ˜Health™: Here™s to thee and thy folks/ From me and my folks./ Sure there never
was folks,/ Since folks was folks,/ Ever loved any folks,/ Half as much as me and my
folks,/ Love thee and thy folks” (postcard, 1910). One must suspect that the irony on
the part of the Schenley Corporation and this health was intentional, considering the
close association of Quakers with the temperance movement.
Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism 317

figure 11. Hart Brand Little Quaker Wax Beans can label, n.d.

gear, table cloths, silver, heaters, canned vegetables, insurance, beer, doors
and windows, cornmeal, rubber, Coca-Cola, pottery and tableware, pens, wall
paper, bird calls, brake ¬‚uid, macaroni, cocoa, anti-freeze, scissors, model
airplanes, cooking ranges, birdseed, rugs, pet food, bitters, postcards, oil and
grease, milk, safety matches, bread, handbags, knives, coffee, and chili powder,
among other things. Of course, the best-known Quaker logo is the Quaker
Oats man, the very picture of the honest and trustworthy citizen, framed, of
course, in red, white, and blue.12 And then there are less wholesome products,
such as cigars and whiskey. Some of these items bear the image of a steady
“Old Quaker” or an innocent and blushing “Quaker maid” (Figures 10“13).
“Pure” and “honest” are adjectives that often accompany the images, as seen
in the advertisements for Little Quaker Wax Beans and Armstrong™s Quaker
Rugs (Figures 11 and 12). There are also plays, a ¬‚ower, a color, a moth,
restaurants, popular songs, “silent guns,”13 and a breed of parakeet that carry
the name of Quaker. No other religious group has held such a sway over the
national imagination. Although this fascination has waned considerably since
the mid-twentieth century, there are still vestiges of an idea of Quakerly purity.
The rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers depicts this purity sullied with
their lyrics, “Pushing dirt into a Quaker.”14 And a Quaker Oats television
commercial shows a statue of an eighteenth-century Quaker with a tray of
presumably wholesome granola bars, accompanying children to school and

12 It is interesting to note that Quakers themselves were profoundly unhappy with their name and
image being represented and used in this way. In 1910 they sued the Quaker Oats Company
and lost. See ibid. on the Quakers™ frustration with the use of their image (226“27).
13 “Quaker Guns” were logs painted to look like canons that the Confederate Army used in the
Civil War to give the impression of a strongly forti¬ed position. See Jane Chapman Whitt,
Elephants and Quaker Guns . . . A History of Civil War and Circus Days (New York: Vantage
Press, 1966).
14 Red Hot Chili Peppers (Michael Balzary. John Fruscianti, Anthony Kiedis, Chad Smith), “We
Believe,” Stadium Arcadium Disc 2: Mars (Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Records, Inc., 2006).
318 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

figure 12. Armstrong™s Quaker Rugs advertisement. (The Saturday Evening Post,
1934.) Used with permission from Armstrong World Industries, Inc.
Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism 319

figure 13. Quaker Cigar label, n.d.

play while singing a jolly tune. On the other hand, today many people think
Quakers live in Utah and build nice furniture.15
The main dif¬culty in dealing with Quakerism from the nineteenth century
forward is not lack of evidence of their in¬‚uence on American popular and
political culture, but rather, because of an event in Quaker history known as
the Hicksite Separation of 1827“29, exactly what the range and quality of that
in¬‚uence was.16 Before this, Quakerism, while not homogenous, had at least
been able to strike that delicate balance between unity and dissent; or, if the
balance was off, the dissent was never strong enough to challenge the unity
seriously or permanently, and the Society remained whole. The Separation was
the loss of this balance.
The remaining pages will touch on the thought of a few of the most in¬‚u-
ential Quaker reformers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with an
overview of some of the changes and continuities in political or “civil” Quak-
erism.17 To unravel the complexities of modern Quakerism and its in¬‚uences
15 Dickinson, when remembered, has not fared as well in contemporary popular culture. He serves
mainly as foil to John Adams in the Broadway musical and ¬lm 1776 (1969, 1972). More
recently he has appeared in cartoon form on PBS™s Liberty™s Kids and on Comedy Central™s
South Park as a “soft pussy [war] protester” (Episode 701: “I™m a Little Bit Country,” April 9,
2003). Most recently, he is cast as the villain opposite hero John Adams in the HBO mini-series
based on David McCullough™s biography, John Adams (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001).
16 The two works that form a pair in dealing with this topic are H. Larry Ingle, Quakers in Con¬‚ict:
The Hicksite Reformation (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986); and Hamm, The
Transformation of American Quakerism.
17 Once again, I am intentionally neglecting mention of the myriad Quaker reform organizations
that existed during these periods. As in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they were
established or maintained for giving aid to various unfortunate and disenfranchised groups,
such as blacks, alcoholics, women, Indians, and the poor. In addition to carrying on many
320 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

on American culture would require at least another book and certainly more to
follow the various threads to their conclusions. With this epilogue, therefore,
I hope only to give a sense of the import of Quakerism for modern American
political culture and suggest further avenues for thought.

The Transformation of Quaker Political Thought in Antebellum America
In 1764 Quaker minister George Churchman proclaimed, “Let none neither
male nor female be discouraged, who may feel an engagement for Israel™s
welfare: Let not your Lights be hidden under any bed of ease, nor under
Mammon™s bushel, but let them be set up on the candlestick in sight of your
neighbors, that others may be thereby incited to look at their own indolence.”18
Lucretia Mott, prominent women™s rights advocate and abolitionist, answered
Churchman™s call eighty-six years later when she preached, “[L]et our lights
so shine that men may see our good works and glorify our father which is in
But Mott and many other Quaker reformers of this age had a different
understanding of the Light, as well as many other theological principles, than
did Churchman.20 The activism of Quakers is usually at least mentioned by
historians of Antebellum reform movements, but an in-depth treatment is often
lacking. Although scholars have explored the lives and works of ¬gures such
as Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and fellow travelers such as William
Lloyd Garrison and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, few have analyzed the theologico-
political philosophy that drove them into the public sphere and conditioned
their mode of civic engagement.21 Likewise, there is little mention in the
literature of the fact that the inspiration for the Seneca Falls Convention grew
from the Junius Friends Meeting in New York.22

of these concerns, they also organized to face new ones such as the Vietnam and Gulf Wars,
nuclear proliferation, environmental issues, and the death penalty.
18 Journal of George Churchman, 1764, 2: 46, HQC.
19 Lucretia Mott, “Keep yourselves from Idols,” in Dana Greene, ed., Lucretia Mott: Her Complete
Sermons and Speeches (New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1980), 178“79.
20 The following argument challenges conventional interpretations of Quaker history that agrees
with Mott and ¬nds that her Quakerism corresponded with that of earlier Friends. See Margaret
Hope Bacon, Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott (New York: Walker and Company,
1980), 115.
21 See, for example, Nancy A. Hewitt, Women™s Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New
York, 1822“1872 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); and Zigler, Advocates of Peace
in Antebellum America. Exceptions include Thomas D. Hamm, God™s Government Begun:
The Society for Universal Inquiry and Reform, 1842“1846 (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1995); and Nancy Isenberg, “Pillars in the Same Temple.” Likewise, Anna M. Speicher
provides a model for how such analysis might be undertaken in greater depth in The Religious
World of Antislavery Women: Spirituality in the Lives of Five Abolitionist Lecturers (New
York: Syracuse University Press, 2000). For Stanton™s religious convictions as they pertained
speci¬cally to women, see Kathi Kern, Mrs. Stanton™s Bible (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Press, 2001).
22 My thanks to Christopher Densmore of Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, for
bringing this fact to my attention. For a recent study of the Convention and its origins, see
Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism 321

When the Society split for theological reasons, the Hicksites took some
aspects of the theology and political theory with them, the Orthodox took
others, and yet more splinter groups did the same. It is impossible to discuss all
the variations here. I will instead restrict the discussion to the strain that had
the most in¬‚uence on the reform movements “ the radical Hicksite Quakerism
of Mott and her followers “ and compare it with the traditional theory.23
When Friends separated, at issue was the locus of divine authority and, by
extension, the seat of authority in the ecclesiastical polity. To describe it very
simply, those who followed Elias Hicks came to believe that power was in
the Light (now becoming indistinguishable from reason) and the individual
conscience, while the Orthodox held that it was found in dogma, Scripture,
and the church government. Hicksites accused the Orthodox of tyranny; the
Orthodox accused the Hicksites of anarchy. The dissenters no longer sought
to convince, and the Orthodox no longer let themselves be convinced. For
the former, individual conscience took precedence over unity; for the latter,
conformity to existing ideas and structures prevailed over expression of the
individual conscience. There was no longer a via media.
Lucretia Mott was clearly the leading proponent of this brand of Hick-
site Quakerism. Her understanding of the Light, like those of most Hicksites,
emphasized individual interpretations and opposed coercion of the conscience
by the church. If Mott was not as radical as conservative Friends painted her,
her sermons were sometimes vague and suggestive in such a way that could
easily lead to extremist interpretations. A case in point is William Lloyd Gar-
rison, whose thought was shaped by Mott™s teachings. He wrote, “If my mind
has . . . become liberalized to any degree, (and I think it has burst every sec-
tarian trammel) “ if theological dogmas which I once regarded as essential to
Christianity, I now repudiate as absurd and pernicious “ I am largely indebted
to [James and Lucretia Mott] for the change.”24 He and others picked up on
Mott™s strain of theologico-political thought and developed it into the nonre-
sistance and come-outerism movements. Not only was Mott the mentor for
radical reformers such as Garrison, she also approved of their actions. “I care
not,” she said, “how radical the true inquirer may become, if a regard for true
religion is preserved.”25

Judith Wellman, The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman™s
Rights Convention (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004).
23 Orthodox Friends represented the withdrawing extreme of Quaker behavior. While they were
also in favor of abolition, for example, they did not openly advocate the cause, preferring
instead to undertake any efforts surreptitiously, if at all. The result was that they were accused
by some of contributing to the problem. See Ryan Jordan, Slavery and the Meetinghouse: The
Quakers and the Abolitionist Dilemma, 1820“1865 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
24 William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator, November 9, 1849. See also William L. van Deberg,
“William Lloyd Garrison and the ˜Pro-Slavery Priesthood™: The Changing Beliefs of an Evan-
gelical Reformer, 1830“1840,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion vol. 43, no. 2
(1975), 224“37.
25 Lucretia Mott to Sister, 1st mo. 3rd, 1865, in Anna Davis Hallowell, ed., James and Lucretia
Mott: Life and Letters (Boston: Houghton Mif¬‚in and Co., 1884), 415.
322 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

Nonresistance and come-outerism were seminal to the radical activism on
abolitionism and women™s rights. And both of them were extreme interpreta-
tions of some Quaker theological tenets. Come-outerism was the idea that peo-
ple should remove themselves from the corrupt institutions of society, namely
the church and the state.26 This, of course, is a legacy of Quaker quietism
that caused some Friends to remove themselves from the civil government of
Pennsylvania. Nonresistance was an extreme paci¬st position that held that
these institutions had no right to coerce the consciences of individuals, yet they
must not be resisted by force. As Thomas Hamm has noted, this was a logical
extension of the peace testimony.27 In essence, these movements denied the
legitimacy of government and the engagement of the individual with it. Both
were based on the idea of the perfection of the individual and the notion that
when man was perfect, and under the government of God directly, he would
need no earthly government.
The advocates of these theologico-political philosophies were very conscious
of the Quaker roots of their beliefs and argued for their own continuity with
the faith and practice of early Friends and notable eighteenth-century activists.
James and Lucretia Mott proclaimed their beliefs were “in accordance with
Fox, Penn, and Barclay.”28 Mott seemed to be trying to revive the practices of
early Friends in de¬ance of how Orthodox Quakers were now portraying the
same principles “ accurately or not. “˜Our principles,™” she quoted an early
source, “˜lead us to reject and to intreat the oppressed to reject all carnal
weapons, relying solely on those which are mighty through God to the pulling
down of strongholds.™”29 Garrison and others also thought of themselves as
the heirs of these early Friends, as did Edward Burrough and, later, John
Woolman. Then in a statement that many Quakers would consider heretical,
Mott declared, “I am no advocate of passivity.” But she did not mean to
sanction overt violence. To clarify, she continued by making the distinction
that has eluded most historians for decades: “Quakerism, as I understand it,
does not mean quietism. The early Friends were agitators; disturbers of the
peace; and were more obnoxious in their day to charges which are now so
freely made than we are.”30
While Mott was correct in her interpretation of early Quaker activism,
ironically, in spite of their rhetoric of peace and salvation, there was something
quite violent and unforgiving about the paci¬sm of nonresisters. Their beliefs
were an expression of the peace testimony in one way, but, in another way,
they violated it. The philosophy of government and civic engagement that Mott,

26 Isenberg, “Pillars in the Same Temple,” 101“02; and Lewis Perry, Radical Abolitionism: Anar-
chy and the Government of God in Antislavery Thought (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
1973), passim.
27 Thomas D. Hamm, “Hicksite Quakerism and the Antebellum Non-resistance Movement,”
Church History vol. 63, no. 4 (1994), 557“69. See also, Hamm, God™s Government Begun.
28 James Mott to Wiliam Smeal, 8th mo. 24th, 1840, in Hallowell, Life and Letters, 178.
29 Mott, “I am no advocate of passivity,” in Greene, Lucretia Mott, 261“62, 261.
30 Ibid., 262.
Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism 323

Garrison, Stanton, and others advocated was decidedly contrary to traditional
Quaker theologico-political thought in several ways. Although Mott was also
correct that there had always been a powerful individualistic component of
the Inward Light, early Quakers believed that it was precisely to restrict the
“scattering” tendency of the Light that God ordained the government. As we
have seen, Fox wrote the ¬rst constitution of the Quaker church to control
wayward Friends, and Barclay wrote the Anarchy of the Ranters in its defense
to explain to radical Friends why they were about to be coerced by the new
church government, and why this was part of God™s plan for them. Subsequent
Quakers in the Society and Pennsylvania government advocated a measure of
coercion to achieve unity. By contrast, Mott preached that “we are perhaps
too much taught to venerate . . . the government . . . more than is consistent
with true Quakerism or true Christianity.”31 Famously, Garrison went so far
as to burn the Constitution in public, call it “a covenant with Death and
an agreement with Hell,” and advocate its abolition.32 Such language and
behavior is clearly contrary to the peaceable conversation and walking of earlier
Quakerism. Moreover, politicians thinking in the Quaker tradition, such as
William Penn and John Dickinson, referred to the constitution and government
as sacred institutions. Nevertheless, Mott responded to Garrisonian hostility
to the Constitution by saying, “[The abolitionists] have found it their duty to
come out against the Constitution and Government of the country, as it is at
present construed . . . I am glad . . . of the progress evident in this.”33 Therefore,
while they crusaded for individual rights and rejected institutional coercion,
radical Quakers and their followers applied their own coercion to the polity
with the intent to disrupt it as much as need be to achieve their ends “ to abolish
it along with civil injustice.
What Quakers had always striven for, and what Mott, Garrison, and their
followers abandoned to one degree or another in their pursuit of individual
liberties, was the security for liberty that a balanced system would ensure.
Barclay wrote Anarchy of the Ranters (renamed blandly in 1822 A Treatise
on Church Government) in hopes that Quakers could avoid both tyranny and
anarchy in their ecclesiastical government. There was no aspect of traditional
Quaker politics that would have supported Elizabeth Cady Stanton™s goal to
“Educate women into rebellion.”34 For many, if not most Quakers, the ques-
tion had never been whether slaves should be freed or women given equal
rights, but how. In traditional Quakerism, the ends did not justify the means
because the wrong means might destroy the polity. And when the polity is
destroyed, the freedom of all is lost. As president of Delaware, John Dickinson

31 Mott, “Keep Yourselves from Idols,” in Greene, Lucretia Mott, 173“74.
32 Perry, Radical Abolitionism, 189; James H. Hutson, “The Creation of the Constitution: Schol-
arship at a Standstill,” Reviews in American History vol. 12, no. 4 (1984), 463“477, 465.
33 Mott, “Law of Progress,” in Greene, Lucretia Mott, 77“78.
34 Elizabeth Cady Stanton quoted in Sandra Stanley Holton, “˜To Educate Women into Rebellion™:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Creation of a Transatlantic Network of Suffragists,” American
Historical Review vol. 99, no. 4 (1994), 1112“36.
324 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

drafted a bill for the gradual abolition of slavery in that state.35 Slavery was
abhorrent to him, yet he believed that cautious, measured manumission was the
only way to do it without risking the polity. Freedoms should be introduced
into society slowly in order that both individuals and the established order
can have time to adjust to adjust to it properly. Nonresisters, for their part,
abandoned the political and ecclesiastical process that in many ways de¬ned
Even as Garrison and others protested that they were following in the steps of
great reformers such as John Woolman, they rejected the conciliatory language
that more moderate Friends used to preach against slavery while also preserving
the harmony and perpetuity of the Union. Garrison wrote to Mott that “there
seems to be something like an attempt to propitiate the spirit of these cruel
and ungodly oppressors, in a way which I do not like.”36 Unlike Woolman,
Garrison had apparently given up on the possibility of salvation for these
“ungodly” people.

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