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describes how in the Revolution, Dickinson acted as the Quakers™ spokesman
and advocated resistance to Britain through distinctively Quaker means. As the
tensions increased, however, Friends shifted their considerable weight to pro-
tect the constitutional unity with Britain and their unique Charter, ¬rst advo-
cating reform over revolution and then retreating into neutrality. This shift
was a move away from their traditional activism and caused their temporary
alienation from American society and their permanent self-exile as a body from
participation in government at the highest levels; however, in the short term,
their resistance to independence constituted a signi¬cant threat to the Ameri-
can cause. Throughout the contest, Dickinson™s aim, in keeping with traditional
Quaker political theory, was not only to preserve the constitutional relation-
ship with Britain but also to support the American cause. This interpretation
of Dickinson™s thought and action up to the point of independence situates him
in the tradition of Gandhi and King as the ¬rst advocate and, to the extent
Americans heeded his advice, leader of a national peaceful protest movement.
The seventh chapter continues the discussion of the Revolution with an
examination of the Critical Period in Pennsylvania. During this chaotic time,
the radical Quaker element that was budding during the campaign for royal
government blossomed and joined with the radical revolutionary movement,
headed largely by Presbyterians disgruntled by the Quaker government. With
the climate in Pennsylvania hostile to dissent of any sort from the American
cause (as de¬ned by the radicals), and especially Quaker paci¬sm, Dickinson
worked to created both national and state constitutions that would protect
the rights of dissenters. This chapter chronicles his efforts from his drafting
Introduction 21

of the ¬rst version of the Articles of Confederation through his presidency of
Pennsylvania and the Annapolis Convention, and it describes the troubles he
and Quakers confronted as they fell through the constitutional gaps at the state
and national levels.
In Chapter 8, we see Dickinson™s constitutional thought in its maturity. It
revisits the creation myth used in the ¬rst two chapters to demonstrate how
his perspective on the creation of the U.S. Constitution was an expression of
Quaker constitutionalism. He saw the Constitution as a sacred and perpetual,
yet ¬‚exible and amendable document that was perfectible through a process
of peaceful dissent and cooperative negotiations among the members of the
polity. The chapter also discusses how Dickinson™s conceptions of federalism
and democratic process were largely a product both of his Quaker beliefs
and his experiences in the Pennsylvania government. His contributions at the
Constitutional Convention modeled Quaker concerns for moderation, recon-
ciliation, and unity and dissent, while balancing between extremes that could
lead to anarchy or tyranny. Dickinson™s thought gives us a new interpretation
of the Constitution “ one that is religious, but neither reformed Calvinist nor
Unitarian; one that allows for negotiation, but is not based on contract theory;
one that advocates factions, but not Madisonian-style competition; one that
encourages individual liberties, but not individualism; and one that values the
intent of the framers, but also assumes and encourages change.
Finally, an epilogue surveys expressions of traditional Quaker constitution-
alism since Dickinson. With the Hicksite Separation of the Society of Friends
in 1827“29, Quaker theologico-politics also splintered. In the Antebellum
reform movements, the best-known Quaker activists and those who followed
their teachings abandoned the balance earlier Quaker rights advocates struck
between unity and dissent. On the extremes they approached tyranny or anar-
chy in their constitutional thought. Few advocated or practiced civil disobedi-
ence as the term has been de¬ned in this study. The epilogue notes the variations
of the theologico-political thought and also discusses a few thinkers who did
adhere to traditional Quaker theologico-politics, such as Jonathan Dymond in
the early nineteenth century and Alice Paul and Bayard Rustin in the twentieth
century. It also discusses the dramatic shift in the public perception of Quak-
erism during this period to overwhelmingly positive. The study concludes with
a discussion of the Quaker in¬‚uences on the thought and practice of Martin
Luther King, Jr., whose theories of paci¬sm and civil disobedience were shaped
and encouraged by individual Quakers and Quaker organizations.

Quakerism was an important force in the formation of American political cul-
ture, but it is indeed true that the winners write the history. By concentrating
on the strain of thought that led to the Revolution, historians have underval-
ued a competing strain that prevailed after it. That since the rati¬cation of the
Constitution, revolution has been little more than a theory, and civil disobe-
dience has become a widely, if not universally accepted means of protest is
evidence that something more or other than a Lockean or secularized Puritan
22 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

understanding of government and citizenship has become a signi¬cant part
of American political culture. This is not to say that after the Revolution all
Americans became Quaker anymore than one might argue that all Americans
who advocated revolution were Puritans. The point is that there was a cur-
rent of thought that was so widely promulgated that it lost its sectarian color
and became a feature of the American political consciousness. This particular
divergent political current, which became mainstream, deserves closer analysis.

AND PRACTICE, c. 1652“1763

Bureaucratic Libertines
The Origins of Quaker Constitutionalism
and Civil Dissent

The Quakers™ conception of a political constitution and their understanding
of acceptable forms of civil dissent were based on their theology, ecclesiology,
and experiences with the English and Massachusetts governments during the
Interregnum and Restoration. This chapter gives an overview of the religious
structures and processes that were evolving in Quaker society in the mid-1650s
through the 1670s and that informed their political thought.
The Quaker ecclesiastical polity was animated by a bureaucratic process
that determined how the members of the meeting related to each other and to
the world outside their Society. If we think of their authority and their modus
operandi in Weberian terms “ legal-rational, traditional, or charismatic “ it
does not ¬t into any one of these categories; rather it rejected the second and is
an amalgam of the ¬rst and the third.1 It was not a category Weber envisioned,
and it can be described most simply as a “legal-charismatic” model.2 It was
based on the “rule of law,” but instead of being rooted in rationality, as Weber™s
model is, it was based on charisma. Further, rather than this charisma being
unique to one individual, it was found in each member of the group.3 There
was a paradox in Quaker theologico-political thought and expression that is
captured in the name “bureaucratic libertines.” Their bureaucratic process was
designed to produce charismatically based unity and dissent in the ecclesiastical

1 Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, G. Roth and C.
Wittich, eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978). See Chapter 3, “The Types of
Legitimate Domination,” 1: 212“301.
2 Weber ¬nds that the legal model has a charismatic element only “in the negative sense” that the
lack of it could pave the way for a “charismatic revolution” (Economy and Society, 1: 263).
3 There is, however, a similarity between the Quaker structure and one of Weber™s models, dis-
cussed in “The Transformation of Charisma in a Democratic Direction,” Economy and Society,
1: 266“71.

26 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

and civil polities, and with both of these things aimed at the same purpose “
discovering God™s law.4
What follows is a sketch of the rise and settlement of the Quaker church,
or “meeting,” and an analysis of the theological foundations and assumptions
underlying the decisions Friends made in trying to realize their priorities and
stabilize their polity.5 The narrative structure follows the creation mythology
of political society that Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and others used to discuss
the origins of government. In other words, it describes the origins of the Quaker
religious society, the process by which the members related to one another to
discern the fundamental law, the purpose for the establishment of the eccle-
siastical polity, and the creation of the ecclesiastical constitution. Finally, the
discussion turns to show how Quakers related to the civil governments of
Britain and Massachusetts. The theology and practice they developed and the
ecclesiastical government they founded would serve as a blueprint for their civil

The Origins of the Meeting for Worship
The Religious Society of Friends constituted itself before it established a “for-
mal” church government.6 Unlike other religious groups of the time, its mem-
bers did not leave as one from an already established church. It was rather
a movement that grew organically and spontaneously out of the chaos of the
Interregnum “ a state of nature of sorts. Although George Fox is generally
acknowledged to be the founder of Quakerism, he was only the most promi-
nent of several early ministers, known as the Valiant Sixty, who proselytized
on behalf of what would become the Religious Society of Friends. Fox took
the lead early on, and in later years served as the unifying force of the meeting.
The movement developed in several areas of England “ although mostly in the
north “ and absorbed many people who had belonged to earlier radical groups
that were now dying out, such as the Ranters, Levellers, and others who were

4 In Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence among Seventeenth-Century
Quakers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), Richard Bauman gives a much
fuller analysis of Quaker charismatic authority in Weberian terms than appears here. He also
approaches it through their linguistic and performative process, and goes further to discuss the
routinization of the charisma (Weber, Economy and Society, 246“54; and fn. 25 in this chapter)
in this process. My argument agrees with his in its fundamental elements.
5 For simplicity™s sake, throughout this study I will frequently use the word church to refer to the
ecclesiastical structure of the Society of Friends. Early Friends used church much more broadly
than this to mean the universal body of people who followed the Light Within, regardless of
whether they had heard of Christ or belonged to a speci¬c denomination. See Thomas D. Hamm,
The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800“1907 (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1988), 9.
6 I use the word formal advisedly because Quakers considered themselves opponents of religious
“formality” and believed that the true Church of Christ did not consist of man-made structures
and rituals, which only detracted from worship and obedience. As we shall see, however, structure
of a sort became an integral element of Quakerism.
Origins of Quaker Constitutionalism and Civil Dissent 27

generally seeking an alternative to the existing systems of faith and politics.7 As
Fox and others traveled and missionized, a growing number of people began
to cohere loosely and call themselves by the same name.8 By 1660, there were
around 60,000 Quakers in England.9 It is not quite accurate to say, however,
that they were organized.
In its ¬rst few years, Quakerism existed without formal processes or struc-
tures “ no instituted church government. The meeting, Quakers held, was
originally constituted and governed by God directly through the individual
believers. Quakers modeled themselves on the ancient or primitive Church,10
in which man needed no human contrivances to know and obey God; law
and order were known inwardly by the believer. William Penn described this
informal community as a “Scripture-Church,” that is, “A Company or Society
of People, believing, professing, and practicing according to the Doctrine and
Example of Christ Jesus and his Apostles, and not according to the Scribes and
Pharisies, that taught for Doctrine the Tracitisms of Men.”11 The meetings
for worship occurred spontaneously, whenever and wherever individuals felt
moved by the spirit to come together. Because of this organic development, it
is dif¬cult to date the exact beginning of Quakerism. Scholars have generally
settled on the year 1652 as when the Society coalesced.
As contradictory as it may appear on the surface, this lack of formal struc-
ture was a key element in the Quaker understanding of ecclesiastical order.
Unplanned and “unprogrammed” meetings were, they believed, an expression
of God™s law and order known intuitively by man.12 Friends rejected formal
religious arrangements because they were seen as representing only the “dead
letter” of God™s law in the form of man-made sacraments, rituals, and dogma.
With only informal, inward processes and structures to guide them, Friends
believed they were following the living spirit of God.
This divine law and order, what Friends now call “Quaker process,” regu-
lated the posture of the individual toward God in his internal communion with
him and externally in his interactions with the outside world. Correct process

7 See Hill, The World Turned Upside Down; David R. Como™s Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism
and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil War England (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 2004) details the emergence of competing factions of religious radicals
in the Puritan Revolution. Unfortunately, he has little to say about Quakers in particular. Rather
he categorizes them as “antinomians,” something, as we shall presently see, they were not in
the usual sense of the word.
8 At ¬rst, they called themselves “The Children of Light” or “The Children of God.” They later
settled on The Religious Society of Friends. The importance of the name Quaker is discussed
9 Phyllis Mack, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophesy in Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1992), 1.
10 This period spans from the death of Jesus in 29 a.d. to the conversion of Constantine to
Christianity in 313. During this period, Jesus™ followers held closely to the teachings of the New
11 William Penn, The Continued Cry of the Oppressed for Justice (London, 1675), 23.
12 An unprogrammed meeting has no minister or liturgy.
28 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

was conducted through perlocutionary speech-acts.13 Quakers described it as
“conversation” and “walking” “ words and deeds that were simultaneously a
means of engaging on appropriate terms with God in oneself and with other
men, and a signi¬er of the spiritual status of the Walker, who should serve
as an example to the unconvinced. The process was enacted on three levels,
which will be dealt with in turn: the individual and his relationship with God;
the decision-making process within the ecclesiastical polity; and the relation of
the meeting to the larger society.

Individual Communion
The ¬rst step in Quaker process was an inward one. The foundational premise
of Quaker theology was that all individuals had the capacity to experience
a direct relationship with God and that the individual must freely abandon
himself to God™s law. He must voluntarily consent to be governed by nothing
but that higher law. This began the process of internal communion. He must
purify himself of all man-made traditions and ordinances, including his own
reason and will. Liberty of conscience was thus a necessary precondition for
the would-be Quaker. It was impossible, they believed, to come to and accept
God if one was being coerced by outside forces or otherwise inhibited from
discovering and following divine injunction. Once he had liberated himself
from these obstacles and waited in patient and submissive silence, man would
¬nd God™s Light in his conscience. This Light in the conscience “ not the
conscience itself, which is of man and but a vehicle for the Light “ was his direct
knowledge of divine will. This was the primary way of knowing. All other ways
were creations of man, and thus secondary. These included Scripture, history,
tradition and custom, and reason. Ideally, these things should comport with
the Light “ they should be based on it “ but because they were of man, they
could be fallible, corrupted, and contradictory. In other words, the spirit was
never contradictory, but man™s interpretation of it could be.14 Thus, secondary
guides should be tested against the Light, and if a discrepancy existed between
them, the Light was to be obeyed.15
For the same reasons “ informality, purity, and accurate discernment “
Quakers did not believe in adhering to a written theology or creed. They even
denied that they had a theology at all. Faith was rather a living thing that should
grow and be ¬‚exible as man moved closer to God.16 Importantly, however,

13 Austin, How to Do Things with Words.
14 See Robert Barclay, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity [1676] (New York: Samuel
Woods and Sons, 1827), 18“19; and William Penn, A Discourse of the General Rule of Faith
and Practice (London, 1699).
15 This formula varied among different groups of Quakers and over time. Although most Friends
agreed they should not contradict one another, sometimes the Light was privileged over Scrip-
ture, and sometimes the other way around. This caused a great deal of tension at various points
in Quaker history and ultimately led to the Hicksite Separation of 1827“29.
16 Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism, 515.
Origins of Quaker Constitutionalism and Civil Dissent 29

God did not reveal his will to man all at once; revelation was progressive.17
Thus man must be prepared to receive new information that might change his
understanding of the world and command of him different behavior. A written
theology followed too closely would encourage dependence on empty rituals
and man-made forms that would restrict his understanding of God.18 The
closest thing Quakers have to a written theology is Robert Barclay™s Apology
for the True Christian Divinity (1675), which was composed not primarily
as a guide for Quakers (although it was certainly used as such), but as an
explanation and justi¬cation of their faith to their persecutors, as well as a
vehicle to convince non-Quakers of the Truth. When man had purged himself
of all inward and outward earthly guides, he cast himself into a posture of
humility, submissiveness, and receptiveness to God™s will. He would then be in
a state to understand God within and follow his directives.
Quakers believed that when man followed this inward process and adhered
faithfully to God™s law, he would achieve perfection. He could become “free
from actual Sinning, and transgressing of the Law of God.”19 But despite this
potential perfection, they also believed that “after having tasted of the Heav-
enly Gift [of grace], and been made Partakers of the Holy Ghost,” man might
still “again fall away.”20 The dual possibility of sin and salvation in the indi-
vidual™s life meant that there were no certain outcomes, no predestined fate of
salvation or damnation. Achieving grace was a process that sometimes included
regression. Barclay wrote, even “doth Perfection still admit of a Growth” in
that there “remaineth a Possibility of Sinning.”21 Man™s relationship with God
was in a continual state of ¬‚ux that, they hoped, was progressing toward
Because of the emphasis on the individual™s connection with God, many peo-
ple, Quakers and some scholars of Quakerism, have misunderstood Quakerism
as a predominantly individualistic and quietistic faith.22 But the relationship of

17 Rufus M. Jones, The Quakers in the American Colonies (New York: W.W. Norton and Co.,
1966), xxi“xxii. See also Hill on “continuous revelation” (The World Turned Upside Down,
366“7). On this point, there are both striking similarities and differences between Quaker and
Puritan theology. For the Puritan side, see Perry Miller, “The Marrow of Puritan Divinity,” in
Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge: Belknap Press, Harvard University, 1956), 48“98.
18 It is one of the apparent contradictions of Quakerism that, although Quakers scorned a written
theology as a guide for belief, they placed extraordinary emphasis on the written word for more
worldly, utilitarian purposes, and in ways that were different from most of their contemporaries.
In Print Culture and the Early Quakers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), Kate
Peters shows how Friends developed a complex and unique print culture that served to cultivate
a uni¬ed Quaker identity, solidify the authority structure within the meeting, proselytize, and
combat their opponents. As I will argue in the following chapters, they used the written word
for unique legal-political purposes as well.
19 Barclay, Apology, 9.
20 Ibid., 10.
21 Ibid., 9.
22 For example, Patricia Bonomi calls the Light within “a private source of law” in Under the Cope
of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1986), 25. Likewise, Sally Schwartz writes that among Quakers, “[k]nowledge of God
30 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

the individual to God “ the inward posture of silent and submissive waiting “
was only the ¬rst step in the process of legal discernment. There were also
powerful communal components.23
The next phase in the process was collective. The individual received only
a “measure of the spirit,” not a complete understanding of it. Like a jigsaw
puzzle, each individual piece must be combined properly with the others to
form a coherent picture. Quakers were thus compelled to seek each other out
and worship as a uni¬ed group. This unity in the Light was a sacred bond that
constituted the meeting. Knowing God in one™s conscience changed individuals
and how they related to one another. The same spirit working in all members
created a whole that was more than merely the aggregate sum of the individual
parts.24 The body of the meeting was an entity unto itself. The communal
aspect of Quakerism was thus as important, if not more so, as the individual

The Foundations and Purposes of the Ecclesiastical Polity
Just as there was a process for internal communion, there was also a distinct
process to be followed in the context of the meeting for worship. In the early
days of Quakerism, however, Friends had yet to come to consensus on exactly
how that process should function. It took a degree of formality or, as Weber
would put it, of routinization, to bring most Friends into agreement.25
There were several purposes for which God constituted the informal meet-
ing. It was ¬rst for worship and the discernment of his law, but also to facilitate
charity “ so that man could express “Love and Compassion” for the unfortu-
nate, for “the Care of the Poor, of Widows, and Orphans.” This, said Barclay,
is “one main End, do we meet together.”26 It was this same duty of benevo-
lence that “gave the ¬rst Rise for this Order among the Apostles” and it “might
have been among the ¬rst Occasions that gave the like among us.” However,
when Barclay composed his treatise on church government, The Anarchy of
the Ranters and other Libertines (1676), he and other leading Quakers found

was individual and could not be judged by another” (“A Mixed Multitude”: The Struggle for
Toleration in Colonial Pennsylvania [New York: New York University Press, 1987], 13).
23 Hill also notes the importance of corporate decision making among radical sectarians (The
World Turned Upside Down, 368).
24 Emerson Shideler, “The Concept of the Church in Seventeenth-Century Quakerism (Part I),”
The Bulletin of Friends Historical Association vol. 45, no. 2 (1965), 67“81, 69.
25 Weber, “The Genesis and Transformation of Charismatic Authority,” in Economy and Society
2: 1121“57. For a succinct overview of the foundations of the Quaker polity, see Michael J.
Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in the Religious Society of Friends (Philadel-
phia: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1996), 30“35. For a more
detailed discussion, see W. C. Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism. There are subtle
distinctions between the ways different Quaker leaders envisioned the ecclesiastical polity. Fox™s
was more experiential, while Barclay™s was more institutional. See Shideler, “The Concept of
the Church,” 73“74.
26 Barclay, The Anarchy of the Ranters and other Libertines (London, 1676), 37.
Origins of Quaker Constitutionalism and Civil Dissent 31

that though “they were [earlier] all ¬lled with the Spirit, yet there was some-
thing wanting.”27 Therefore, “Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church,
did appoint and ordain, that there should be Order and Government in it.”28
There should be a man-made church government that would organize, direct,
and discipline the meeting in its charity work. This should not necessarily be
seen as a failure on the part of man to ful¬ll God™s will, but rather as part
of a providential process. Government was not merely for the sinful “ even
“the Apostles and Primitive Christians, when they were ¬lled with the Holy
Ghost, and immediately led by the Spirit of God, did practice and commend
it.”29 Just as there was an inward process of perfection, so was the creation
of government an on-going process toward perfection of the meeting. Barclay
explains that God “hath also gathered and is gathering us into the good Order,
Discipline, and Government” of Christ.30 The fundamental constitution and
government are formed ¬rst by God and then, as the need inevitably arises,
they are solidi¬ed in divinely ordained but man-made structures. Accordingly,
in the late 1650s, Fox, along with other leaders, began to organize local meet-
ings around England whose main purpose was to maintain unity and discipline
among Friends.
The organization of charity and worship was one reason for which the
Quaker leaders wanted a more formally constituted meeting structure, but
Barclay hinted that there were others. There was, in fact, an urgent need for
it. While Quakers were still functioning under the direct governance of God,
without a formal church government, they soon encountered the problem of
where authority lay. When all individuals had access to divine law through the
Light within, was it primarily in the individual as such? Or was it in the group
as a whole? In the early days, many Friends believed it was in the individuals.
This was problematic because the ¬rst members of the Society of Friends were a
zealous lot. They were convinced of the Truth and were ardent soldiers in what
they called “the Lamb™s War” “ Christ™s war against sin.31 This enthusiasm led
some early Friends to extreme behavior and divergent interpretations of the
Light that threatened to disunite the meeting. They seemed unaware that the
Light was “ or was becoming “ both a positive and a negative law; that is, both
liberating and restrictive. As Friends grew in number, the problem increased.
Individuals challenged what was becoming the standard interpretation of how
the meeting should function and how Quakers should behave.32

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