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but neither can it be described using only these traditions.
Quaker theory comes into partial focus with the writings of a few leading
seventeenth-century Quakers.5 Their political treatises as well as the constitu-
tions they drafted for West Jersey and Pennsylvania in the latter decades of
the seventeenth century give a political form to the faith and practice estab-
lished by their religious Society. The following is not an examination of all
the sources that combined to make up Quaker political thought.6 Rather it
undertakes to show how their political theory was informed by their theology
and ecclesiology. In the ¬rst instance, it will explain the Quakers™ epistemol-
ogy of fundamental law, which is the basis for their political theory. Their

5 The analysis concentrates on the works of Isaac Penington and William Penn, two Quakers who
can rightly be called political philosophers. It is safe to assume, however, that their views in
this early stage of the formation of their theory were representative of the body of the Society
of Friends. When the Quaker church government was established in the 1660s and 1670s,
everything that was published by Quakers had to be critiqued and approved by the church to
ensure that Friends were in unity with it before it was released to the public.
An argument might be made for considering Gerrard Winstanley a Quaker political theorist.
Many tenets of his philosophy are the same or strikingly similar to the articulations of Penn
and Penington. Moreover, there is circumstantial evidence that Winstanley became a Quaker
later in life. But I have chosen to leave him aside in this discussion because, although many of
his ideas during his Digger phase were the same as Quakers™, there were others that differed
signi¬cantly. And although the evidence of his later Quakerism is convincing, it is ultimately not
fully conclusive. Finally, unlike Penington, who also wrote many of his treatises before he turned
Quaker, Quakers never claimed Winstanley and his writings the way they did Penington and
his work. On Winstanley and his thought, see mainly the work of Christopher Hill; also James
Alsop, “Gerrard Winstanley™s Later Life,” Past and Present no. 82 (1979), 73“81. John Lilburne
was another radical theorist who ended his life a Quaker, but whose thinking before then was
more Calvinist. See Diane Parkin-Speer, “John Lilburne: A Revolutionary Interprets Statute and
Common Law Due Process,” Law and History Review vol. 1, no. 2 (1983), 276“96.
6 I am referring here to the secular in¬‚uences on Quaker constitutionalism. There is strong evi-
dence that they drew on the ideas of Bacon, Harrington, and Milton, among many others whose
ideas were compatible with their theology and practice. The works cited earlier on the thought
of Penn cover some of this.
The following discussion has much in common with Larry D. Kramer™s The People Them-
selves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review (New York: Oxford University Press,
2004). Kramer traces the early modern understanding of a constitution as something shaped,
reviewed, and amended by the people. Yet, though his topic is the same, his focus is on the
American Founding and adheres to Whig thought. It does not deal with the question of civil
disobedience.
68 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

unconventional mode of legal discernment and decision making conditioned
their understanding of what was contained in a constitution, how political
arrangements should be constructed, and, most importantly, what should be
done if the government overstepped its limits or ¬‚aws were perceived in the
constitution. These theories were political versions of their religious under-
standings and arrangements. Thus, although they shared many political goals
with their contemporaries, their ideology and their methods for achieving these
ends were as peculiar as their religious doctrines and institutions.


Discernment of Fundamental Law
The singularity of Quaker constitutionalism lies in its casuistic epistemology
of fundamental law. As many other Englishmen, Quakers believed that there
was a fundamental, higher law that came from God. For most, God planted
the law of nature in man, and man accessed it through his own reason.7
Quakers, by contrast, believed that the fundamental law came directly to man
through God and was immediately discernable through what William Penn
called “Synteresis.”8 The concept of synteresis is an old and confusing one,
and there does not appear to have been any more agreement on the de¬nition
of the term over the centuries than there was on the meaning of fundamental
law. It can, however, be understood loosely as using one™s conscience as a guide
to follow the divine will. Before Penn, philosophers and theologians from Plato
to Aquinas to William Ames debated the subtleties of the term. Many cited
Scripture and described it as “the Lord™s Candle” in the conscience. Penn
described it as “That Great Synteresis, so much renowned by Phylosophers
and Civilians, learns Mankind, to do as they would be done to.”9 But as often,

7 On the origins of and interpretation fundamental law, see, in addition to Kramer, J. W. Gough,
Fundamental Law in English Constitutional History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955);
Charles Howard McIlwain, The High Court of Parliament and Its Supremacy (New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press, 1910); Edward S. Corwin, “˜Higher Law™ Background of American
Constitutional Law,” in Corwin on the Constitution: Volume One: The Foundations of American
Constitutional Political Thought, the Powers of Congress, and the President™s Power of Removal
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), 79“139; B. Behrens, “The Whig Theory of the
Constitution in the Reign of Charles II,” Cambridge Historical Journal vol. 7, no. 1 (1941),
42“71; Martyn P. Thompson, “The History of Fundamental Law in Political Thought from
the French Wars of Religion to the American Revolution,” The American Historical Review
vol. 91, no. 5 (1986), 1103“28; Michael Zuckert, Natural Rights and the New Republicanism
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).
8 Penn, England™s Present Interest Discovered, 1.
9 William Penn, The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience (London, 1670), 23. It is unclear exactly
what part of speech Penn and others considered “synteresis” to be “ whether it was a thing
or a process. Earlier theologians seemed to use it as a noun such as “light,” “conscience,” or
“reason.” Penn used it this way as well, but the suf¬x -sis indicates that it was a process as well “
a process of looking inward to ¬nd the light or reason. The Oxford English Dictionary de¬nes it
as “A name for that function or department of conscience which serves as a guide for conduct;
conscience as directive of one™s actions.” In this context, it makes sense to consider it more of a
“function” than a thing; more a way of discerning the Light than the Light itself.
Quaker Theory of a Civil Government 69

earlier thinkers equated this Light with the light of reason. Although aspects
of the idea of synteresis had become an accepted part of English thought,
the word synteresis itself had become obsolete by Penn™s time. Some of its
meaning, however, was transferred into the terms “instinct” and the “spark of
knowledge” that man knows through nature.10
While on the surface, the distinction between the natural law “promulgated
and made known by reason only”11 and synteresis may seem negligible “ and
may in fact have been for some thinkers “ it was signi¬cant for Quakers.12
Reason and Light for Quakers were distinctly separate things. Reason, which
was of man, was corrupt and unreliable.13 In his Apology, Robert Barclay
asserted that when man is fallen, he is “deprived the Sensation (or feeling) of
this Inward Testimony, or Seed of God and is subject unto the Power, Nature,
and Seed of the Serpent, which he sows in Men™s Hearts, while they abide in
this Natural and Corrupted State.” “Man therefore, as he is in this State, can
know nothing aright,” explained Barclay, “until he be . . . united to the Divine
Light . . . Hence are rejected the Socinian and Pelagian Errors, in exalting a
Natural Light.”14 Reason could interfere with an accurate understanding of
the divine will and direct man to act in his own self-interest. Thus the Light
and reason as ways of knowing were not interchangeable for Quakers and,
when in con¬‚ict, the former superseded the latter. It is important to note,
however, that Penn af¬rms that the “Eternal Principle of Truth and Sapience”
which are the “Corner-Stones of Human Structure, the Basis of reasonable
Societies,” and which are discovered through synteresis, should be “agreeable

10 Good brief discussions on the origins and use of the word are in Robert A. Greene, “Synderesis,
the Spark of Conscience, in the English Renaissance,” Journal of the History of Ideas vol.
52, no. 2 (1991), 195“219 and “Instinct of Nature: Natural Law, Synderesis, and the Moral
Sense,” Journal of the History of Ideas vol. 58, no. 2 (1997), 173“98. A more detailed analysis
is Timothy C. Potts, Conscience in Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1980). Potts notes that Philip, Bonaventure, and Aquinas understood the conscience and
light to be two distinct things, which was also how Quakers understood it. An analysis of
casuistry that explains synteresis as a subversive force is in Lowell Gallagher™s Medusa™s Gaze:
Casuistry and Conscience in the Renaissance (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991).
See also Michael C. Baylor, Action and Person: Conscience in Late Scholasticism and the Young
Luther (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977); and Lynne Courter Boughton, “Choice and Action: William
Ames™s Conception of the Mind™s Operation in Moral Decisions,” Church History vol. 56, no.
2 (1987), 188“203.
11 John Locke, The Second Treatise of Civil Government, sect. 57.
12 Melvin Endy is the only author of whom I am aware who discusses Penn™s use of the word
“synteresis.” He equates this in Penn™s mind with the phrase “Universal Reason,” describing it as
the combined “divine-natural law” (William Penn and Early Quakerism, 339). The description
is useful, and I agree with this equation where Penn is concerned; but, for reasons stated here,
I believe this formulation would not necessarily have been the general understanding among
Friends.
13 Perry Miller notes that Puritans “also held that these remains [of the divine image in man], in
the form of natural reason or ˜the light of nature,™ were exceedingly unreliable, but they had
rescued them from the rubbish heap where Calvin had cast them” (“The Marrow of Puritan
Divinity,” 74).
14 Barclay, Apology, 5“6.
70 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

with right reason.”15 There were also other guides for knowing the law. These
were the same sort that Quakers used in their worship and religious business “
Scripture, learned thinkers, and historic and apostolic precedent. In the civil
realm, however, they also used the precedent of statute law, as long as it was in
keeping with divine fundamental law.16 Custom, on the other hand, which was
also of man, was suspect because it was often not strictly based on divine law,
but on human habits much like the rituals of the Roman Church. Moreover, it
was unwritten, and thus arbitrary.
The Quaker process of understanding God™s law, then, was not the delibera-
tive, discursive process we imagine when we think of a body meeting to establish
government or decide on laws. Rather, it was something akin to intuition, a
nondeliberative process “ the same process they used in religious worship to
know God.17 Penn™s use of the word “synteresis” must have been an inten-
tional evocation of an earlier understanding of the term, and one related more
directly to immediate revelation, that would thus distinguish their thought from
a range of other contemporary ideas. Advocates of natural law theory objected
to the irrationality of the process and the wrong use of religion in politics18 ;
and those of less enthusiastic religious convictions were uncomfortable with
the antinomian implications of it. Penn™s principle of synteresis is clearly the
political equivalent of the religious doctrine of the Inward Light “ in both reli-
gious and political terminology, the conscience is the medium through which
God reveals his law to men. “[T]he Light of [God™s] Son,” said Penn, “shines in
Man™s Conscience; Therefore the Light of Christ in the Conscience must needs
have been the General Rule”; and “That no Man can know what is agreeable
to God, except a Man hear God himself, and that must be within.”19
The Quaker way was thus not a process of “reasoning” or noetic intelligence
but spiritual discernment.20 In his Essays on the Law of Nature (c. 1663“64),
Locke derided the Quaker way of knowing the law. “We do not maintain,”
he said, “that this law of nature . . . lies open in our hearts, and that as soon
as some inward light comes near it . . . it is read, perceived, and noted by the
rays of that light.”21 Likewise, Cato wrote that “There is no government now

15 Penn, England™s Present Interest Discovered, 6; and Penn, “Fundamentall Constitution of Penn-
sylvania,” in Mary Maples Dunn and Richard Dunn, eds., The Papers of William Penn (Philadel-
phia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981“87), 2: 142.
16 Penn, England™s Present Interest Discovered, 6.
17 Greene, “Synderesis,” 198.
18 See Ellis Sandoz on Locke™s distinction between intuition or “inward” knowledge and reason
(65); and his rejection of enthusiasm (73). Ellis Sandoz, A Government of Laws: Political
Theory, Religion, and the American Founding (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
1990).
19 Penn, Discourse of the General Rule, 4“5.
20 Sandoz, A Government of Laws, 63. Sandoz makes a distinction between Aristotle™s under-
standing of noetic, as “the divine something in man,” and Locke™s, which is removed from God
who is not knowable through “direct intuitive evidence” (66“67).
21 John Locke, Essays on the Law of Nature, in Paul E. Sigmund, ed., The Selected Political
Writings of John Locke (New York: W. W. Norton & Co.), 173. He reiterates this assertion
Quaker Theory of a Civil Government 71

upon earth, which owes its formation or beginning to the immediate revelation
of God.”22 Quakers were undoubtedly foremost among the sectarian radicals
from whom Locke and Hobbes were trying to preserve the English polity.23
Despite their advocacy of synteresis or the Light, as we have seen in Chapter
1, Quakers were not hostile to reason, but they were highly suspicious of it when
it was divorced from the Light. The earliest and most devout Quakers distrusted
it most, but there were always some, such as Penn, who placed signi¬cant
emphasis on it and did not shy away from using the language of natural rights.24
As Quakerism evolved through the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth,
the ideas of Light and reason gradually merged to become synonymous for
some Quakers.25 But before this, the way in which Quakers balanced the
two allowed them to embrace the scienti¬c rationalism of the Enlightenment
without the paganism, and made them, without contradiction, among the most
serious Christians as well as the greatest scientists and supporters of science in
the eighteenth century.26 Their approach to scienti¬c inquiry was very much
like that of Newton, who believed that it was done for the glory of God,
and with his help. There was a revelatory quality of Newtonianism that was
similar to Quaker “seeking” in that God revealed the secrets of nature to the
scientist in his own time. The laws of nature, Newton said, “will be discovered
to us” and we will then be “allowed to penetrate to the ¬rst cause [i.e., God]
himself, and see the whole scheme of his works as they are really derived from

in Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) and in the Two Treatises of Government
(1689). Interestingly, however, John Dunn argues that in The Reasonableness of Christianity
(1695), Locke comes to “a sort of fedeist voluntarism” in his religious thought (The Political
Thought of John Locke: An Historical Account of the Argument of “The Two Treatises of
Government” [Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969; rpt. 1995], 188“98).
22 John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Letter No. 60, in Ronald Hamowy, ed., Cato™s Letters,
or Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important Subjects (Indianapolis: Liberty
Fund, 1995), 1: 413“20. 413.
23 See also Thomas Pangle™s discussion of reason versus revelation in Chapter 17, “The Divine
and Human Supports for Justice,” in The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of
the Founding Fathers and the Philosophy of John Locke (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1988), 198“229; Paul A. Rahe, Republics Ancient and Modern: Volume Two: New Modes &
Orders in Early Modern Political Thought (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1994), 266“67; as well as Rahe on Locke™s distinction between “the God of revelation” and
“nature™s God” (252“63).
24 Indeed, as Hugh Barbour notes in The Quakers in Puritan England, Penn was unusual among
Quakers in that he did not make stark a distinction between Light and reason (244“45). But,
as we shall see, this was not the only area in which Penn™s political philosophy departed from
that of the majority of Quakers.
25 Thomas D. Hamm, “The Problem of the Inner Light in Nineteenth-Century Quakerism,” in
M. L. Birkel and J. W. Newman, eds., The Lamb™s War: Quaker Essays to Honor of Hugh
Barbour (Richmond, IN: Earlham College Press, 1992), 101“17.
26 Tolles, Meeting House and Counting House, esp. 205“29. Brooke Hindle, “The Quaker Back-
ground and Science in Colonial Philadelphia,” Isis vol. 46, no. 3 (1955), 243“50. Geoffrey
Cantor, Quakers, Jews, and Science: Religious Responses to Modernity and the Sciences, 1650“
1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Matthew Stanley, Practical Mystic: Religion,
Science, and A.S. Eddington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
72 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

him, when our imperfect philosophy shall be completed.”27 This was also the
Quaker view of how man would come to understand the fundamental laws of
the polity.


The Civil Constitution and Its Components: The Basis
for Political Obligation
The Quaker belief that the fundamental law was discerned through syntere-
sis conditioned their understanding of the origin of the civil constitution, the
structure of the government and the positive laws, and the process by which
man governed. Because their epistemology of law was different from most,
their constitutional theory does not conform entirely to the usual understand-
ing of the “ancient constitution” or a “modern” idea of it.28 Very generally,
the notion of the ancient constitution is that a civil constitution is comprised of
all aspects of government and laws “ the fundamental law; positive laws (both
written and jus non scriptum); and the institutions, customs, and structure of
government.29 Conversely, the principles of the constitution are embodied in
all these things. In contrast to this ancient notion was a modern view that sep-
arated the constitution from the government: The people were ¬rst constituted
as a body. They then created a written constitution that embodied fundamental
law and limited the government.30 A nation™s government is, by extension, only
a creation of the constitution and any acts of government to which the peo-
ple consent are subordinate to that constitution. Consequently, in the modern
view there is a disjuncture between the constitution, on the one hand, and the
governmental structures, institutions, and laws on the other. The important dif-
ference between these two models for our purposes, and what will be explored
subsequently, is in the notion of change “ whether change is acceptable, under
what circumstances, and to what degree.

27 Colin Maclaurin, An Account of Sir Isaac Newton™s Philosophical Discoveries (1748), 23,
quoted in Robbins, The Eighteenth Century Commonwealthman, 71.
28 This brief de¬nition draws on Charles McIlwain, Constitutionalism Ancient and Modern
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1947), 1“22.
29 These words “ constitution, government, law, polity, etc. “ are problematic because of their
various and overlapping meanings in different time periods. In this study, I often use the
words constitution and government interchangeably, as did thinkers in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. These words also had broader meanings than they do today. For example,
constitution meant a written document, but also “ and more usually “ the composition of a
polity. I try to distinguish between these two meanings as I use them. Similarly, government
meant, among other things, constitution, but also a geographic area controlled by a particular
regime, such as a colony. For a discussion of their meaning in historical context, see Gerald
Stourzh, “Constitution: Changing Meaning of the Term,” in Terrence Ball and J. G. A. Pocock,
eds., Conceptual Change and the Constitution (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988),
35“54.
30 Endy makes brief note of the priority that William Penn placed on fundamental law and the
primary role it should play in limiting both kings and magistrates (William Penn and Early
Quakerism, 338“39).
Quaker Theory of a Civil Government 73

Quaker constitutional thought was an amalgam of both of these understand-
ings of a constitution with some differences from each. According to Quaker
thought and practice, man originally lived without formal government. This
time was man™s state before the fall, similar, but not quite identical to what
Lockeans would have identi¬ed as the state of nature. It was, as Penn wrote
in his First Frame of Government for Pennsylvania (1682), a time in which
“[t]here was no need of Coercive or Compulsive means; the Precept of Divine
Love and Truth, in his own Bosom was the Guide and Keeper of his Inno-
cency.”31 In this pure condition, man was governed by the “general rule” of
God™s Light.32 But according to God™s plan, for a number of reasons, prelap-
sarian man had need of civil government as well. The rest of the political
arrangements then followed “ written constitution, government, positive law.
In this sense, Quaker constitutionalism was like the modern. But unlike the
modern understanding and more like the ancient, not only was the fundamen-
tal law embodied in the constitution, so too was the civil government and
the laws it created and implemented. Quakers™ was a variation of divine right
theory.33
Similar to most Englishmen, Quakers held that man was obliged to obey and
maintain government because it was ordained by God. In his First Frame, Penn
quoted Romans 13 that “The Powers that be are ordained by God: Whosoever
resisteth the Power, resisteth the Ordinance of God.” But more than this,
even, Penn wrote that “Government seems to me a part of Religion itself, a
thing Sacred in its Institution and End.”34 According to Friends, there were
several reasons for this sacred institution. These are, in the main, similar to the
reasons given by Whigs for why man created government “ to maintain peace
and punish the wicked. But there were some signi¬cantly different emphases
on these things for Quakers that in turn reveal other purposes and priorities
for government. Quaker political theory embodied an optimism about man™s
potential for good that is absent from most other thought at the time. As with
the ecclesiastical polity, the main reason for the ordination of the civil polity
was to facilitate charity and free worship. While charity was an important
aspect in the thought of many seventeenth-century philosophers, most also
held that government was instituted mainly for the purpose of controlling man™s
baser impulses and punishing his transgressions. Hobbes is the most extreme
example of this, but even Locke, for whom peace with minimal interference
from government was paramount, was most concerned with man™s propensity
for bad. Locke™s optimism (expressed in the idea of the consent of the governed)
notwithstanding, most early modern political thought held that government is


31 William Penn, First Frame of Government, PWP, 2: 212.
32 Penn, Discourse of the General Rule.
33 To be clear, it was a theory of the divine right of government “ the belief that government was
created by God “ as opposed to the divine right of kings.
34 Penn, First Frame, 212.
74 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

founded on force and, often, violence.35 Paine summarized the idea when he
said that “government is but a necessary evil.”36 But Quakers held that there
was more possibility for the good in man to prevail. They did not believe that
man™s purity was ultimately lost. They did not believe in original sin. Barclay
wrote that “the Seed [of evil] is not imputed to Infants, until by Transgression
they actually join themselves therewith.” Man will inevitably sin, they believed,
but because of the availability of the Light to all people, there was the possibility
of attaining perfection in spite of inevitable transgressions.37 Their theology
thus tempered and amended the more pessimistic understanding of man™s sinful
nature, and their institutions were organized accordingly.
Thus Quaker civil government, like their ecclesiastical government, was not
instituted by God primarily for coercing and punishing man. On the contrary,
civil government was “as capable of Kindness, Goodness, and Charity as a
more private Society.” And though one of the purposes was certainly “To
Terri¬e Evil-doers,” Penn asserted, “They weakly Err, that think there is no
other use for Government, than Correction, which is the coarsest part of it:
Daily experience tells us, that the Care and Regulation of many other Affairs,
more soft and daily necessary make up the greatest part of Government.”38
While there were others with ideas such as this, they never put them into effect
in English politics.39 The Quakers, on the other hand, did in their utopian
“holy experiment” in Pennsylvania.40
Of course, even Quakers knew that most men had not puri¬ed themselves
enough to follow God™s law and were far from perfect. Therefore, Penn said,
“we must recur to some lower but true Principle” “ “Civil Interest.”41 The

35 See Paul A. Rahe, Republics Ancient and Modern: Volume Three: Inventions of Prudence:
Constituting the American Regime (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994),
32“33.
36 Thomas Paine, Common Sense (Philadelphia, 1776), 1.
37 Beatty notes that, among other inconsistencies in Penn™s thought, his sense of man™s goodness
seems to have changed in later years, as exempli¬ed in his tract An Essay towards the Present
and Future Peace of Europe (London, 1693), which depicts a state of nature resembling that
of Hobbes more than Locke or Rousseau. By 1693, Penn was already embittered by dif¬culties
with Pennsylvania. His Quaker brethren in the Pennsylvania Assembly had given him trouble
from the beginning, and at the time, he had been deprived of his government by the crown. It
would not be surprising if his faith in mankind failed. To understand the general Quaker view
of the purpose of government, therefore, we can safely refer to their theology.
38 Penn, First Frame, 212. See also John Crook, An Apology for the Quakers Wherein is shewed
How they Answer the Chief Principles of the Law, and the Main Ends of Government [1662],
in Quaker Tracts, vol. 5 (London, 1662).
39 Robbins notes that “[t]hough Cumberland propounded no political plan for an egalitarian
utopia, he provided almost as an essential part of the philosophical presuppositions of the
reformers as his contemporaries, John Locke and Isaac Newton” (The Eighteenth-Century
Commonwealthman, 78).
40 For more on Penn™s optimism about the ends government and its consensual functioning, see
Endy, William Penn and Early Quakerism, 354.
41 William Penn, One Project for the Good of England: That is, Our Civil Union is Our Civil
Safety (London, 1679), 1.
Quaker Theory of a Civil Government 75

nation™s survival would be secured by a civil government that protects the
people™s most basic civil right, the “free Exercise of their Worship to Almighty
God.”42 Government, he explained, “was an “Emanation of the same Divine
Power that is both the Author and Object of Pure Religion,” and as such, it
was also a coercive power to restrain and punish.43 But still Penn believed that
this lower order was ultimately benevolent and, most signi¬cantly, for divine
ends. It existed to protect all individuals so that they would be free of earthly
coercion and free to ¬nd God for themselves.44 The worst civil injustice as
far as seventeenth-century Quakers were concerned was religious persecution.
With Penn in the lead, their crusade was to assert liberty of conscience as a
part of the fundamental law, the ancient constitution, and to secure it as part
of current legal practice. In this, Quakers faced two main challenges: jurists
who could easily deny the existence of this liberty in the common law; and
the great diversity of religious groups in England, each seeking to impose its
faith on others. “No sooner one Opinion prevails upon another,” said Penn,
“(though all hold the Text to be sacred) but Human Society is shaken, and the
Civil Government must receive and suffer a Revolution.”45
The one recourse of a people was to unite on the basis of this “lower
principle” rather than a common understanding of God. “Our Civil Union
is our Civil Safety,” he said. Unity in the civil polity was for Quakers as
important as in the ecclesiastical polity and for similar reasons “ to protect

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