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For nonresisters and come-outers, perfectionism was possible for individu-
als “ or rather, for some individuals. For traditional Quakers, perfectionism
also applied to the civil constitution. This idea was exempli¬ed in how Friends
actualized their ecclesiastical and civil constitutions and governments. Despite
tremendous convulsions in the early Society and in Pennsylvania government,
Friends never separated as a Society, except brie¬‚y during the Keithian Contro-
versy and during the Revolution, or resorted to the overthrow of the govern-
ment to achieve the liberties they sought. Instead, as we have seen, they worked
through peaceful extralegal means or within the system for reform rather than
revolution.
Early Quakers had a theory and practice of civil disobedience that would
gradually lead to constitutional perfection, but we cannot say the same for
the most noteworthy of Quaker reformers in the nineteenth century, who
abandoned the key element that de¬ned civil disobedience “ political obliga-
tion. Although seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Quaker politicians demon-
strated in their theory and practice that profound reforms could be achieved
peacefully within the political system, prior to the Civil War, many Americans
seemed not yet to have learned this lesson. The radical Hicksites and their
followers articulated the question clearly on the minds of many Americans in
the Antebellum period: Could a constitution be amended peacefully, or must
it be abandoned when it or the union it symbolizes is imperfect?
With such a vigorous public campaign for the rights of the individual over
the collective, it is interesting to speculate about the long-term effects that radi-
cal Hicksites and their followers had on the rise of what Tocqueville, observing
Americans during this period, called individualism. Today the popular conno-
tation of this word is positive, and it is used as a synonym for individuality;

35 John Dickinson, “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery,” Logan Family Papers, vol. 30,
HSP.
36 William Lloyd Garrison to Lucretia Mott, April 28, 1840, in Hallowell, Life and Letters, 140.
Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism 325

but for Tocqueville, it was a particularly detrimental development in Ameri-
can culture. He described it as a focus on the individual to the exclusion of
the rest of society that “dams the spring of public virtues” and eventually
“attacks and destroys all the others too and ¬nally merges in egoism.”37 As
we have seen, Quakers were always concerned that many within their meeting
might develop a “libertine spirit” that was dif¬cult to keep in check. And they
recognized that non-Quakers also took this spirit away from their meetings
instead of “bearing the cross” of membership. This was most certainly at issue
with the Quaker-infused political culture in Pennsylvania before the Revolu-
tion and the disproportionate number of radical Revolutionaries that emerged
from the colony. And as certainly, if they looked, scholars would ¬nd a con-
nection between Quakerly libertinism and the rise of American individualism.
Radical Quakers and their followers left it instead to their more moderate and
more obscure brethren to show them how to advocate both rights and political
obligation at the same time.


Traditional Quaker Thought in the Nineteenth Century
Despite the dominance of radical Hicksite Quakerism in the reform movements,
the traditional strain of Quaker theologico-political thought remained in a few
thinkers and actors. Their mark was, however, relatively faint, and they have
largely disappeared from Anglo-American historical consciousness. Thomas
Clarkson and Jonathan Dymond were among the traditionalists who made an
impression both within and without the Society of Friends.38 What we see for
the ¬rst time during this period are explicit expressions of many of the principles
of Quaker theologico-politics that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
must be deduced mainly from their practice and theology. They articulated
the same priorities “ a strong central government with a divinely ordained
constitution, and the imperative to resist it peacefully by breaking unjust laws
with the aim of reform.
Thomas Clarkson (1760“1846) was an abolitionist and president of the
British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, which still exists today as Anti-Slavery
International. What is most signi¬cant about Clarkson™s writing is his near-
complete articulation of the de¬nition of civil disobedience. Following almost
exactly Edward Burrough™s statement in 1661, Clarkson wrote in 1806, “As the
governed in [the case of an unjust law] ought in obedience to God . . . refuse a
compliance with the law of their own governors, so they ought to be prepared
to submit to the penalties which are annexed to such a refusal, and on no
account, if just representations made in the quiet spirit of their religion, are not
37 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 507.
38 Although Clarkson and Dymond were British Friends, with the strong transatlantic Quaker
network, their in¬‚uence would not have been markedly less in America than that of American
Friends. On this network, which persisted long after the American Revolution and still exists
to some extent today, see Alison Olson, “The Lobbying of London Quakers for Pennsylvania
Friends,” PMHB vol. 117, no. 3 (1993), 131“52.
326 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

likely to be effectual, to take up arms or resist them by force.”39 This statement
lacks only two components to make it complete. The ¬rst is the condition
that the breaking of the law must be public. At this time, publicity was still
understood by all to be the Quaker way. The other is that it should be for
change and not merely to appease the conscience. A statement of this principle
was forthcoming.
Jonathan Dymond (1796“1828), a British linen draper and political theo-
rist, gives us perhaps the most explicit discussion of civil disobedience by any
Quaker until the twentieth century.40 In Essays on the Principles of Morality
and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1829)
he lays out the tenets that have de¬ned Quaker civic engagement since nearly
the beginning and, in doing so, comes tantalizingly close to using the very
phrase in question. First, he identi¬es the imperative for political obligation
to the divinely ordained constitution. “[T]he general duty of Civil obedience,”
he writes, is “because government is an institution sanctioned by the Deity.”41
Dymond went on to articulate even more aspects typical of Quaker philosophy
than did Clarkson, including the reason“revelation dilemma, the perpetuity and
mutability of the constitution, and the popular sovereignty that could change it.
In an interesting mixture of the language of reason and progressive revelation,
he described the changeable constitution:

The science of government . . . acquires a constant accession of light. . . . Forms of Gov-
ernment should be capable of admitting, without disturbance, those improvements
which experience may dictate, or the advancing conditions may require. Upon these
grounds no constitution should be regarded as absolutely and sacredly ¬xed, so that
none ought and none have the right to alter it.

And he continued with a statement of what Quakers had known and practiced
since the establishment of their ecclesiastical polity, and which they continued
in their civil polity “ the principle of constituent sovereignty. “The question of
right,” he explained, “is easily settled. It is inherent in the community, or in
the legislature as their agents.”42
Although for some Quakers the difference between reason and the Light
was becoming negligible, a few such as Dymond still maintained the distinc-
tion, at least when it came to civil resistance. He adhered to the traditional
understanding put forth by the early Quakers that reason might allow various
courses of action, but divine revelation only one. When following the law of
nature “ the law of reason “ all means are permitted to resist government.

39 Thomas Clarkson, A Portraiture of Quakerism, 3: 7. On Clarkson, see Ellen Gibson Wilson,
Thomas Clarkson: A Biography (New York: St. Martin™s Press, 1990).
40 There is no extant biography of Dymond. For a brief discussion of his life and work, see Jones,
The Later Periods of Quakerism, 716“17.
41 Dymond, Essays on the Principles of Morality, 323, 324.
42 Ibid., 337.
Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism 327

But, said Dymond, “When we turn from the law of nature to Christianity,
we ¬nd, as we are wont, that the moral cord is tightened, and that not every
means of opposing government for the public good is permitted to us.”43 The
government, he wrote, “should be susceptible to peaceable change”; “Chris-
tianity forbids an armed resistance to the civil power.”44 Finally, Dymond
added one of the missing components of Clarkson™s description: Disobedience
must generally be undertaken with the “view to an alteration of the existing
institutions.”45 At least one scholar of the period has found that Dymond™s
work not only pre¬gured the work of important nineteenth-century dissenters
but also likely shaped it.46
If non-Quakers have heard of Dymond, it is likely because he was read
and noted by Henry David Thoreau (1817“62). While at Harvard, Thoreau
wrote that he undertook an “examination of Mr. Dymond™s opinions.”47 But
although he read this Quaker theorist, who was very clear in his explanation
of civil disobedience, and although during his life he was surrounded by social
reform movements that had grown out of and were in large part led by Quakers,
he did not espouse or practice their teachings in their entirety. It is one of
the biggest misconceptions in American scholarship that Thoreau was a civil
disobedient. Only a few scholars have noted that his famous work, which
they call On Civil Disobedience (1866), was actually originally entitled On
Resistance to Civil Government; and this was not merely because the term civil
disobedience was not yet in use. If we adhere to the de¬nition used in this
study, Thoreau did not advocate it. Nor did he practice it in his own resistance.
He does not make acceptance of legal punishment a condition of resistance,
nor must resistance necessarily be peaceful. Further, his resistance was not
undertaken publicly. He was imprisoned for not paying taxes to support the
Mexican-American War, but he did not announce his intentions, and was
not even arrested until years later. At the time, he did it to appease his own
conscience, not to convince the world of the injustice of the war. Neither
should we overlook the fact that he openly supported violent rebellion. He
was a champion and sympathizer of John Brown™s bloody raid on Harper™s
Ferry.48 As important as Thoreau™s in¬‚uence was on later reformers, we must
look elsewhere for a theory and practice of true civil disobedience.

43 Ibid., 323.
44 Ibid., 337 and 326.
45 Ibid., 330. He quali¬es statement by saying that one ought to resist orders to commit crimes
without a view to changing the system.
46 James Duban, “Thoreau, Garrison, and Dymond: Unbending Firmness of Mind,” American
Literature vol. 57, no. 2 (1985), 309“17, 310“11.
47 Thoreau quoted in Duban, “Thoreau, Garrison, and Dymond,” 312.
48 See William H. Herr, “Thoreau: A Civil Disobedient?” Ethics vol. 85, no. 1 (1974), 87“91; and
Daniel Walker Howe, Henry David Thoreau on the Duty of Civil Disobedience: An Inaugural
Lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 21 may 1990 (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1990).
328 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

Quaker Activism in the Twentieth Century
As in the nineteenth century, Quakers and Quaker organizations in the twen-
tieth century were among the seminal actors in the reform movements, most
notably women™s suffrage and civil rights. Yet most of the individuals are
unknown except to scholars in the ¬elds of civil rights or peace studies, or to
activists themselves.
Alice Paul (1885“1977), president of the National American Woman Suf-
frage Association, was the most important woman in the suffrage movement.
The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was a direct result of her orga-
nization of one of the largest protest campaigns in American history. Under
Paul™s direction, thousands of women calling themselves the “Silent Sentinels”
picketed the White House for eighteen months from January 1917 until June
1919 when the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” passed both houses. In spite
of the progressive reforms underway in other areas, the political climate was
not friendly to such disruption. With the country at war, to dissent from the
government on any issue was tantamount to treason in the eyes of many. Over
the months, dozens of women were arrested, imprisoned, and some of them
beaten and tortured psychologically. They demanded political prisoner status
to secure humane treatment. Paul herself went on a hunger strike and was force
fed.49 Though her tactics were extremely disruptive, they were submissive, and
never violent or destructive.
Paul™s Quaker credentials are impressive. A descendant of William Penn,
she explained that “I don™t know whether I had any [ancestor] who wasn™t
a Quaker.”50 She was raised by devout Quaker parents in “a little Quaker
village” in New Jersey and attended Quakers schools, including Swarthmore
College, which was “purely Quaker” at this time, and a school for training
Friends in social work in Woodbridge, England.51 As she was growing up, she
said that “I never met anybody who wasn™t a Quaker, and I never heard of
anybody who wasn™t a Quaker.”52 To be a suffragist was a natural (or rather,
a divine) step for Paul. In her community of Friends, the right of women to
vote was taken for granted; this was just one of the “many things in which the
world hadn™t yet come along.”53 She followed early Quaker women™s rights
activists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and was a colleague of
Jane Addams, herself raised by a Hicksite father. Paul™s biographer, Christine
A. Lunardini, describes her as “perhaps the single truly charismatic ¬gure in
the twentieth-century suffrage movement” and adds that “Max Weber might
have used Alice Paul as his model in developing the concept of the charismatic

49 Christine A. Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National
Women™s Party, 1910“1928 (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 123“49.
50 Conversations with Alice Paul: Woman Suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment. An inter-
view conducted by Amelia Fry (Regents of the University of California, 1976), 6.
51 Ibid., 5.
52 Ibid., 15.
53 Ibid., 33.
Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism 329

leader.”54 Her personality and ethic were quintessentially Quaker. She was
a polarizing ¬gure who elicited extreme comments from her followers and
detractors. By some she was considered charitable, patient, well-intentioned,
and conscientious.55 The response of her followers, suggests Lunardini, “can
be understood as a symbol of their search for balance and equality in a world
they perceived to be disorderly.”56 She was, according to her fellow suffragists,
“a genius for organization.”57 On the other hand, she was also perceived to be
abrasive, a “fanatic,” and a “martyr” for the women™s cause.58 Her efforts to
secure women™s rights continued into the 1970s as she fought for the passage
of the Equal Rights Amendment, a measure she helped create.
None would dispute the claim that Martin Luther King, Jr., was the pre-
eminent leader of civil rights reform in the nation™s history. Few, however,
know about his intellectual and spiritual mentors. Because of the disjuncture
between Quaker history and mainstream American history, most scholars have
assumed that King drew his inspiration primarily from Thoreau and Gandhi.
And, to be sure, these men were important teachers for him. Similarly, some
King scholars assume that his drive for reform came from his Baptist tradition.
Reasonable though these assumptions are, they are misguided if taken as the
main source of his thought. For reasons discussed previously, he could not have
gotten a full-¬‚edged theory of civil disobedience from Thoreau. Also, although
King had been exposed to the teachings of Gandhi in college, learning about
them theoretically had not caused him to internalize the ethic and strategy of
nonviolent resistance. Finally, the imperative for social activism was not strong
in the black ministers with whom King associated; they were more concerned
with bringing people to Jesus than effecting change.59 A little-documented fact
is that Quakers were a major impulsion behind the Civil Rights Movement.
Two Friends who were crucial to it were Richard Gregg (1885“1974) and
Bayard Rustin (1912“87). Although they were activists in their own right and
engaged in civil disobedience, they have been overshadowed by their more
famous successor and prot´ g´ .
ee
No doubt Gandhi was a powerful in¬‚uence on King, but this assertion should
be quali¬ed and amended in some important ways. First, it was Gregg who
brought Gandhian philosophy to America. In addition to publishing several
early works with a Quaker press, in 1934 he produced the ¬rst major work in
the United States on Gandhi™s peaceful resistance, The Power of Nonviolence,
with an introduction written by Rufus Jones, a foremost Quaker historian and
theologian. This work enumerates the same principles as those that appeared


54 Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights, xiv“xv.
55 Ibid., 9.
56 Ibid., xvi.
57 Lucy Berns quoted in ibid., 10.
58 Ibid., 9, 10.
59 John D™Emilio, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2003), 226.
330 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

later in An Introduction to the American Friends Service Committee (1962).60
Scholars agree that Gregg™s work “more than any source helped to popularize
Gandhi™s teachings in America.”61 As a group that believes in the universality
of the Light, Quakers were likewise ecumenical in their use of sources to sup-
port their teachings. Gregg™s use of Gandhian principles was hardly a stretch,
considering Gandhi™s own philosophy was shaped in large part by the Sermon
on the Mount.62 In his forward to a 1959 edition of The Power of Nonviolence,
King calls the book “a classic.”63
Second, Gregg did not merely popularize Gandhi; he also added his own
concepts to the theory of nonviolent resistance and made an original contribu-
tion to King™s thinking. In addition to Gandhi™s satyagraha, Gregg put forth
his own interpretation of peaceful resistance, calling it “moral jiu jitsu” “ the
method of knocking one™s opponent off balance with love. This is in the same
tradition as Dymond, who wrote, “He that resists by force, may be overcome
by greater force,” but “nothing can overcome a calm and ¬xed determination
not to obey.”64 Gregg™s aim and his method of disobedience ¬t the mold of
the Quaker bureaucratic libertine of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries;
it centered on Quaker process. “The process,” said Gregg, “is sure and, if the
method is faithfully adhered to, the result is certain.”65 His end, liberty and
unity through peaceful means, was explicit: “War also acts to unify nations
engaged in it. But the unity engendered by non-violent resistance is deeper,
more closely knit and more permanent than that produced by war.”66 Ignoring
even Thoreau, not to mention the centuries of Quakerism before Gregg, one
historian has called him “the ¬rst American to develop a substantial theory of
nonviolent resistance.”67
It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Bayard Rustin was the single most
important in¬‚uence on the thought and practice of King. Rustin was a birthright
Quaker, attended a Quaker-founded school for black children, and was a
member of a meeting in Manhattan. His biographer John D™Emilio writes that


60 Judith Hicks Stiehm, “Contemporary Theories of Nonviolent Resistance” (Ph.D. Diss.,
Columbia University, 1969), 64.
61 Maurice Isserman, If I Had a Hammer, 132. See also Richard G. Fox, “Passage from India,”
in R. Fox and O. Starn, eds., Between Resistance and Revolution: Cultural Politics and Social
Protest (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 65“82.
62 V. V. Ramana Murti, “In¬‚uence of the Western Tradition on Gandhian Doctrine,” Philosophy
East and West vol. 18, no. 1/2 (1968), 55“65; A. L. Herman, “Satyagraha: A New Indian Word
for Some Old Ways of Western Thinking,” Philosophy East and West vol. 19, no. 2 (1968),
123“42.
63 Martin Luther King, Jr., Forward to The Power of Nonviolence, Richard Gregg (Nyack, NY:
Fellowship Publications, 1959).
64 Dymond, Essays on the Principles of Morality, 110.
65 Richard Gregg, The Power of Nonviolence (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1934), 108.
66 Ibid.
67 Joseph Kip Kosek, “Richard Gregg, Mohandas Gandhi, and the Strategy of Nonviolent Resis-
tance,” The Journal of American History vol. 91, no. 4 (2005), 1318“48, 1318.
Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism 331

Rustin left a profound mark “ on the unfolding of the Montgomery bus boycott as a
national story, on the evolution of King™s role as a national leader, on the particular
association of nonviolence with Montgomery and King. Rustin was as responsible as
anyone else for the insinuation of nonviolence into the very heart of what became the
most powerful social movement in twentieth-century America.68

Like Gregg, Rustin drew on Gandhi. He also looked to Marx for his inspi-
ration, and Gregg™s The Power of Nonviolence was an “essential primer” for
him.69 Like other Quaker activists, the tradition in which he was raised pro-
vided the foundation for his principles, and he passed it self-consciously on to
King. D™Emilio explains that “the Quaker in¬‚ection to his faith, with its paci-
¬st tradition and nonconforming stance, made social activism his gospel.”70
Rustin handed these traditional principles down to King: universality of the
Light, peaceful process, and activism. It would not be dif¬cult to convince a
Baptist minister that “the spark of God is in each of us”; by this time, Quak-
ers were hardly the only people to reject predestination or retain hope for the
regeneration of man.71 But the other principles were not native to King™s tra-
dition, nor had he acquired them by 1955 when he met Rustin. He was not a
paci¬st. In fact, when Rustin visited King™s home for the ¬rst time, there were
guns lying about the house. Nor was he an activist.72 For Quakers, of course,
paci¬sm and activism were intimately connected.
In the ¬rst place, Rustin said in his schooling of King, “We cannot remain
honest unless we are opposed to injustice wherever it occurs.”73 This meant
that there was an imperative to enter the public sphere to challenge the dom-
inant culture. But it also meant that they must do so in a way that would
convince, not coerce. “We paci¬sts urge nonviolence,” he said, “because if
change toward justice is to take place, it must be in an atmosphere where cre-
ative con¬‚ict and debate are possible.”74 In an assertion of Quaker process,
he wrote, “We paci¬sts maintain that the law of ends and means does, in fact
operate.”75 As an indication of the nonexplicit way “ by example as opposed
to overt instruction “ in which Quakers generally transmit their tradition, it is
interesting to see that Rustin had to study Quaker process and apply the tradi-
tional principles himself to learn through experience. He learned that peaceful

68 D™Emilio, Lost Prophet, 237. The reason Rustin™s name is not more closely associated with
King™s would seem to be because of the former™s homosexuality. As D™Emilio explains it, Rustin
was reticent about being too public a ¬gure for this reason (237), and, for a period he and King
became estranged as an opponent of King™s threatened to levy charges against him of a sexual
affair with Rustin (298). On Rustin, see also Jervis Anderson, Bayard Rustin: The Troubles I™ve
Seen: A Biography (New York: Harper-Collins, 1997).
69 Ibid., 52.
70 Ibid., 236.
71 Rustin in ibid., 459.
72 Ibid., 230.
73 Rustin in ibid., 459.
74 Bayard Rustin, “Nonviolence on Trial,” in Staughton Lynd, ed., Nonviolence in America: A
Documentary History (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966), 496.
75 Ibid., 495.
332 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

dissent is not easy, and neither is balancing dissent and unity, while still mak-
ing progress toward the Truth. “As a Quaker,” he explained, “I started out
by saying that I thought we had to make all decisions by consensus.” But he
eventually realized that “[c]onsensus does not mean that everybody agrees. It
means that the person who disagrees must disagree so vigorously that he is
prepared to ¬ght with everybody else.”76 Of course, we must understand that
“to ¬ght” in this context means “creative con¬‚ict” or “positive confrontation”
rather than hostility. Robert Barclay wrote that it is “unlawful to do Evil, that
Good may come of it . . . it is far better to suffer Loss.”77 King again echoed
this fundamental Quaker process. “Constructive ends,” he said, “can never
give absolute moral justi¬cation to destructive means, because in the ¬nal anal-
ysis the end is pre¨ xistent in the mean.”78 Moreover, he recognized the same
e
imperative for balance between the individual and community that Quakers
had struggled with in their process for centuries. He wrote, “The Kingdom of
God is neither the thesis of individual enterprise not the antithesis of collective
enterprise, but a synthesis which reconciles the truths of both.”79
This “creative con¬‚ict” is the way in which Rustin counseled King toward
activism. For Quakers, looking for “God™s spark” inside and then peacefully,
but ¬rmly disagreeing with those who would sanction injustice was a duty.
Jonathan Dymond explained that “the business of man is to act as the Christian
citizen “ not merely to prepare himself for another world, but to do such good
as he may, political as well as social, in the present.”80 Rustin believed that this
was what he bequeathed to King. Rather than saving souls for the next world,
Rustin taught him “to save souls in this life by making it simpler for people to
be good.” He gave him “a socialist education” and taught him the importance
of modeling the process.81
Not just his teachings, but Rustin himself launched King into the public
sphere. He was not only the inspiration behind much of King™s work, but, at
¬rst, he was actually King™s voice. The ¬rst publication under King™s name was
Rustin™s work “ “Our Struggle,” published in 1956 in Liberation.82 Re¬‚ecting
on King™s relationship with Rustin, one contemporary asked: “How would it
have been possible for King not to have become a prot´ g´ of Bayard? Not how
ee
83
did he, but how could he not have been?”
We need not hunt through King™s papers or his more obscure publications
to ¬nd only a smattering of statements that prove Quaker in¬‚uence. He wrote
it all in one place as he sat in a jail cell in Birmingham. He presented himself
as one of the primitive Christian apostles who roamed the land proclaiming

76 Rustin quoted in D™Emilio, Lost Prophet, 342.

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