Hope is a Gentle Persuasion: quiet rebels, famous Quakers in history, unity and conflict.


. Friends and foibles

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Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Seek Silence
pythagoras


Quakerism and the Peace Witness

Hope is a Gentle Persuasion


The Peaceable Kingdom
Famous Friends - Past and Present

by Robert Shepherd
Robert ShepherdGiven my considerable Quaker ancestry on my mother's side, I have long been interested in the "friendly" persuasion. Alas, their convictions at times got the better of them, driving others to exasperation by their insistence on commitment to principle, their unswerving devotion to the truth, at all costs. Quakers were hounded in England, immolated in Puritan Massachusetts, and almost everywhere subject to floggings, scourgings, beatings. [See the Dover instance.] What they also sacrificed, at times, were other human virtues such as compromise and simply accommodation. Nevertheless, William James stated about the Quakers that they are a sect "impossible to over-praise. In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness, and a return to something more like the original gospel truth." For more.

In fact, from America's earliest origins, the "Friendly" contributions of Quaker influence have been enormous. They downplayed theology, doctrine, dogma as being secondary to life itself, the quality of the life we live, our actions -- how we treat our fellow humans here on earth. Ethics was somehow of the highest importance. Jesus said simply to keep your word, let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. So Quakers refused to swear. Voltaire remarked concerning Penn's treaty with the (Delaware) Indians at Shackamaxon, that it was the only treaty never sworn to -- and never broken.

The story of Betsy Ross, who made the first American flag for George Washington, is a story of triumph through adversity. She was disowned by her own meeting of Quakers. She lost one husband to an explosion at a munitions depot that he was guarding. Her second husband died in a British prison. She survived her third husband, who was sick for many years. She had seven daughters, two of whom died in infancy. She eventually joined the Free Quakers, or "Fighting Quakers" because they did not adhere strictly to the historic pacifism of the sect. (For more on Betsy Ross).

Another fighting Quaker was Thomas Mifflin. He was a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, a member of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania, fifth President of the U.S. Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Early in the Revolutionary War, Mifflin left the Continental Congress to serve in the Continental Army. Although his family had been Quakers for four generations, he was expelled for going against the Quaker peace testimony.

Perhaps the most famous of the fighting Quakers, socalled, was Tom Paine, who in Common Sense bitterly excoriated his own heritage of Quakerism for its strict neutrality during the American Revolution, even bringing up King George's beautiful Quaker mistress (Hannah Lightfoot), castigating her cowardly husband for his cuckoldry. His life story truly bridged a divide. Tom Paine was raised a Quaker in old England, brought to the United States by Ben Franklin, and in short order wrote his incendiary (and intensely hostile to Quakerism) Common Sense. It is said that this little book, more than anything else, led to transforming public sentiment in favor of Independence. John Adams declared that "History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine." Adams had much that he objected to in Paine's thinking, but he asserted nonetheless that "Without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain." Paine's earlier damnation of Quaker pacifism marks a contrast with eventual praise.

In later works, he showed a much more appreciative attitude toward the Friends. At that time, facing the guillotine in Paris, Paine wrote Age of Reason, in which he tempered much of his earlier virulence against the faith of his upbringing. But while finding elements of Quakerism to praise, he turned his animosity now to the rest of historic Christianity for its suppression of science, its bondage to ancient tongues, its persecution of minority faiths, its fanaticism and narrow mindedness, its fear of the common man. At the end of his life, Tom Paine asked for permission to be buried next to his father in the Friends Burying Ground, but was turned down, apparently due to his extremely widespread fame and notoriety. Lincoln said of him, "You know Billy (Herndon), I never tire of reading Tom Paine." (For more on Tom Paine's life and thought.)

See Persistence the heart of science.

Another "fighting Quaker" was Nathaniel Greene, the American commander in the Revolution ranked second only to Washington in importance and accomplishment. His biographer (Cheany) says of him, "If all the generals on both sides of the Revolutionary conflict were piled up and evaluated, Nathanael Greene should probably emerge at the very top for all-around generalship." Although many Quakers abstained from fighting or even taking sides in the Revolution, one who did not was Nathanael Greene from Rhode Island. He broke away from the strict Quaker upbringing he himself had called "of the most supersticious kind," who believed true piety to be incompatible with worldly learning. All his lessons were self-taught, and chief among them must have been how to find out anything he wanted to know. After the death of his father in 1770, Nathanael was seen less and less at Quaker meetings, and three years later he and a cousin were "read out" of the local meeting for attending a place they shouldn't have been. Tradition identifies this as a militia muster, but the official church resolution called it a "place of Publick Resort," which at that time could have meant anything from a tavern to a bawdy house. We may never know, but there is no indication that Nathanael turned his back on the Quakers with any regret; he was already developing an interest in military matters that would have appalled the pacifist Friends. (For a general life of Nathaniel Greene.)

Another "fighting Quaker" was Samuel Nicholas, first Commandant of the USMC, born in Philadelphia. The son of Mary (Shute) and Andrew Nicholas, a prosperous Quaker blacksmith. His adult associations included non-Friends as well as Friends, and he became involved with some of the leaders of the Second Continental Congress, then meeting in Philadelphia. On 5 November 1775, Congress commissioned Nicholas as Captain of Marines, and later, at Tun Tavern, he became the first Commandant of the Marine Corps. Retiring from service after Yorktown, Nicholas was eventually allowed back into the Quaker fold, despite his un-Quakerly service in the military, and when he died in Philadelphia on 27 August 1790, he was buried in the Friends Burying Ground. (For Birth of the Marines: USMC)

Most beautiful first lady
America's "FIRST" First Lady

Dolley Madison

The man responsible for the first amendment protection of Religious Freedom was James Madison, a brilliant patriot of scholarly and bookish disposition who wisely married a woman of opposite temperament. Madison, hailed as Father of the Constitution, was intensely withdrawn in social surroundings and almost petrified around women, But his outgoing wife was perfect for him, gently easing him to more comfortable acceptance. Dolley, though raised a Quaker, compensated for her shy husband's social stand-offishness with her unquakerly warmth and gaiety. So surprising for someone from a Quaker background, Dolley transformed the White House into a most delightful place to visit. Beautiful gregarious, buoyant, and cheerful, the regular social gatherings she hosted were lively events at which anyone would feel welcome. She brushed off the abundant flattery of worldly diplomats and statesmen, but the fact is, she became America's first superstar fashion celebrity, and in social settings gracefully outshone her contented husband, and practically everyone else as well.

Dolley's attitude was inclusive, caring, and overflowing with kindly interest and acceptance. It is said of her that her influence on fashion was so powerful that a half dozen trends were either started or ended because of her. She refused to wear powdered wigs, and soon no other fashionable women did either, and ultimately men ceased wearing them, too. But some Europeans grumbled, calling America an upstart country "under petticoat government," -- ruled by women. She was literally the first to be called "First Lady" and her tenure actually began under Jefferson's presidency. It was Dolley's adamant insistence, after the burning of the White House, that the American Capital remained at Washington DC (instead of removing to either Philadelphia or New York.) She was a grand and gentle peacemaker. Jefferson had envisioned a non-partisan Republic, but Dolley came close to bringing it to pass. Through her special inviting manner the often tense political, as well as social, atmosphere of Washington could become wonderfully calm, helping usher in Monroe's era of non-partisan "good feelings."

Like all of us, Dolley had her human foibles. For one, she was addicted to snuff. Ironically this vice endeared her to another snuff addict, the great mediator Henry Clay. Though a fashion plate and trend-setter in her social persona, when she did her morning chores, rather than delegating them to the servants (slaves), she often wore the simple gray Quaker garb of life before marrying Madison. Another quirk was her doting care for her fragile husband. In many ways, for all his brilliance in philosophy and learning, James seems to have needed and depended on Dolley's strength. It would appear that the greatest tragedy of her later years was her dearly loved son Payne. He was movie-star handsome, but his morals and judgment were non-existent. Dolley had always spoiled him, adored him, indulged him, and made excuses for his errors, and husband James abetted her. She had never restrained Payne, and alas, he turned into a playboy, an alcoholic, and caused her unending grief with his extravagance and profligacy. (For more, Dolley Payne Todd Madison)

Our 'Quaker' Presidents
Of all our presidents, the two with closest ties to their Quaker roots were Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon. Perhaps even more intriguing is our log cabin president, the first Republican (and first president born west of the Appalachians), Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln may have had more Quaker roots than Hoover or Nixon, but his family no longer practiced it, and Lincoln himself seemed to reject formal religion, particularly the doctrinal fundamentalist rigidity he was acquainted with. He was named after his Quaker grandfather, Abraham Lincoln of Exeter PA, youngest son of Mordecai and Mary (Robeson) Lincoln, who married the Quaker Anne Boone, first cousin of Daniel Boone, also a Quaker. Yet for much of his life the future president appears to have wanted to distance himself from not just his Quaker roots, but in fact Christianity itself. He was embarrassed by his given (Quaker) name Abraham, and normally signed official documents, simply, A. Lincoln. In his young manhood he gained a reputation as a scoffer, though part of this may have been due to his skill at doing impressions of local preachers and evangelical barnstormers. (See Lincoln's autobiographies 1858-1860.)

Ironically, despite Lincoln's rebellion against (and rejection of) the fundamentalism of the hard-shells and Calvinists of his youth, he had an inner impulse drawing him, it seems, to a very Quakerly outlook in his maturity. Susan B. Martinez charts how Lincoln was to become perhaps our most spiritualist (and Quakerly) president, in terms of his inner mysticism. This was Lincoln's religion -- the Voiced of Conscience, very much like the 'Inner Light' of his Quaker forbears; the search for Truth, and the embrace of it once found. (p251. For more, see The Psychic Life of Abraham Lincoln by Susan B Martinez, Ph.D

Hanks side. Like Jefferson, Lincoln had Welsh ancestry. But Lincoln apparently had a great deal of Quaker roots as well. Jan Morris notes that his Evanses, on his mother's Hanks' side (of Bryn Gwyn) had gravitated to Quakerism when they came to America (if not before), and Lincoln used to talk about Quaker roots: he sometimes addressed correspondents as "Friend" --Friend Johnson, or Friend Mary -- in the old Quaker manner. (p 43)

Carl Sandburg wrote about Lincoln: "An old Quaker strain had lasted in him; he inherited some natural habit of living plainly." [Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, II, 294] Gale Cengage Learning notes that "the ancestors of Abraham Lincoln were English, and of Quaker stock, -- although the characteristic traits of that sect seem gradually have disappeared under the stern discipline of the frontier life whicch fell to the lot of the earlier generations in this new country. "(Gale Cengage Learning. The life and times of Abraham Lincoln)

See Elton Trueblood's Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish

Also see "The Quakerism of Abraham Lincoln" by George B. Johnson

Other Great Americans

Ben Franklin was not a Quaker, nor was he raised a Quaker. But thanks to his extensive association with the Quakerly city of Philadelphia, he often was thought to be Quaker. He appears to have almost encouraged the misperception at times. It is certain that Ben Franklin, no less than Lincoln or Tom Paine, was hardly an orthodox Christian adherent. His expressed beliefs make him more a Deist or Unitarian than anything else. But he maintained cordial relations with more orthodox and biblical Christians, extended respect and interest in the doctrinal beliefs of more mainstream believers, and diffused potential conflict as much through humor and wit, than otherwise. (For a discussion of Franklin's many-sided faith or lack thereof.)

Thomas Jefferson was a nominal Anglican but was a passionate philosopher and an individualistic thinker and questioner in the realm of spiritual matters. He highly praised the philosophy of Jesus, but seemed to reject almost out of hand the historic theological dogmas of official Christendom. He told a story about a Quaker preacher, who was "said to have exclaimed aloud to his congregation that he did not believe there was a Quaker, Methodist, or Baptist in heaven .... He added, that in heaven, God knew no distinctions, but considered all good men as his children, and as brethren of the same family. I believe, with the Quaker preacher, that he who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven, as to the dogmas in which they all differ.

Called the "Father of American Surgery," Philip Syng Physick was responsible for many advances in his field, ranging from orthopedic to ophthalmic surgery. Margaret Hope Bacon, author of The Quiet Rebels, notes the surprising number of all kinds of scientists who emerged from the ranks of the Quakers. For example, long before Charles Patten and Luther Burbank, the Quaker James Bartram was trailblazing in the scientific fields of botany and horticulture.

In literature, the great Walt Whitman has been noted for his Quaker-gray clothing, his Quaker friends, and the Quaker values and speech patterns embodied in his poems, though he often declared that he was outside the fence of his father's Quaker faith. Historians Gaustad and Schmidt simply call him, "A Quaker by background, who drank deeply at the wells of Emerson's Transcendentalism and Emanuel Swedenborg's mysticism." [p 161 Religious History of America]. For more Walt Whitman and the Quakers

Incidentally, the Bible says in 3 places that Abraham was "the friend of God." In Arabic, Ibrihim was known as al Khalil - the friend (of God). There is something about the word friend, it implies intimacy, companionship, a relationship, an unspoken bond, perhaps. The Christian West made contact with the Arabic tradition largely via old Spain.


Henceforth I call you not servants; but I have called you friends.
John 15:15


background

Background and evolution of Quakerism

"The Quakers, of all Christian bodies, have remained nearest to the teaching and example of Christ." So spoke the Anglican prelate Dean William Ralph Inge. So what is it about the Quakers -- that much persecuted, often ostracized, fiercely misunderstood Religious Society, as they called themselves?

George Fox related his deep despair over searching so long among the many Christian groups for the answer to his spiritual quest. Finally, in frustration and apparently a profound depression, Fox recalled: "Then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, 'There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.' And when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.

The Quakerism of George Fox arose within the ferment of the Puritan century in England. English Puritanism was never a single unitary denomination as it later became in Boston. Rather it was a movement, perhaps like the so-called counter-culture or hippie movement of the sixties. It consisted of scores of variations, divisions, and groupings, including the earliest (very liberal) Baptists and Re-Baptists, the Pilgrims (Brownists), the Quakers, the Levelers, the Ranters, the Diggers, the Westmorland Seekers, Familists "Family of Love," Fifth Monarchy men, the Sabbatarians, the Antinominians, the Adamites, the Robinsonians (of Scrooby and Gainsborough), the "Jumpers" of Wales, the Millenarians, the Soul Sleepers, etc. The Presbyterians, while related to the others, lacked the anti-authoritarianism and individualistic spirit that many of the separatist groupings promoted.

Much of the Puritan movement, obviously, had what might be called a Leftist or liberal bent (note). But the range is still extremely broad. King James vowed, on assuming the English throne, to harry the Puritans out of his kingdom. James hated the Puritan trust of the common folk, hated their anti-authoritarianism and independent streak, hated their emphasis on the individual's direct relationship to God. But, perhaps because of his own scholarship and intellectual giftedness, James did not feel threatened by the low-church and non-conformist stress on biblical authority. King James seems to have felt comfortable that Scripture, if properly interpreted, confirmed his own view of authoritarianism, and the Divine Right of Kings. Few Puritans of any stripe would countenance such a "Catholic" doctrine as the Divine Right of Kings.

The English Civil War
The state church in Canterbury "fought dirty," claimed the bourgeois followers and allies of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell cared little about hair-splitting theology of the several Puritan divisions. But he defeated the Cavaliers, removed the (supposedly Catholic) king, and tried to unify England. But England, remorseful over their excesses, repented of their sins, and brought back the king (son of the one they had executed.)

Eventually, a measure of peace did come. A peace of sorts, anyway. Voltaire probably put his finger on it as well as anyone. He commented: "If one religion alone were allowed in England, the Government would possibly become arbitrary; if there were two, they would be at each others' throats; but as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace."

Voltaire was surely right -- up to a point. During the English Civil War, the many Puritan groupings coalesced in support of Cromwell, while the Catholic liturgical "Royalists" supported King Charles and the Cavaliers. They were certainly at each others' throats until Cromwell and Parliament won. But after the Restoration brought the Stuart king back to the throne, Quakers were suddenly singled out for persecution that went on, almost without relent, till 1688. Quaker narratives often make the error of conflating Anglican and Roman Catholic power into one. They confuse the two. To Quakers, the Catholics (Cavaliers) were bullies and tyrants, and it was to escape their cruelty, Friends sought refuge in the asylum of Philadelphia.

There was an element of truth to the Quaker tendency to confuse Anglicans with Roman Catholics. Consider the Anglican sanctioned Bible of King James I (Stuart). It was close to a hundred years before low-church and evangelical denominations began to fully embrace the King James Bible, which was considered establishmentarian, authoritarian, Anglican, and probably Catholic leaning. Indeed, place a King James New Testament side by side with a Rheims (Roman Catholic) New Testament, and compare them. One cannot help but be struck by the astonishing correspondence between the two.

Along with other groupings that came into being during this Puritan movement, Quakers were essentially of middle class, strongly separatist, somewhat anti-authoritarian, and radically intent on a return to the basics of the Christian faith. Like other Puritan groups, Quakers demanded simplification. There arose an emphasis on deeds, on obedience to the Spirit within, on ethics. For subsequent generations of Quakers, ethics came to trump dogma to a degree unlike most any other denomination in Christian history. In this sense (as Dean Ingle alluded to), Quakers probably come close to the revolutionary purity (and extremism) of the Sermon on the Mount, which likewise is almost totally devoid of theology.

Over time, there developed a deep schizophrenia within Quakerism over the source of authority. Essentially, the issue is one of Revelation (the Bible) versus the immediacy of the Spirit, the Inner Light, the subjective and existential, empirical validity of God's voice to the individual believer himself. The conflict has arisen time and again, as in the Hicksite vs Orthodox split, the Wilburite vs Gurneyite controversy.

Elias Hicks stressed Inner Light, the Christ Within, and downplayed the atonement, the redemption, and the Sacrifice of Christ the Lamb of God. A generation later, John Wilbur advocated similar views, alienating the more biblical or evangelical wing of Quakerism (the Gurneyites), who melded, to a greater degree, into the frontier revivalism so characteristic of American religious evolution.

Why must the two be in conflict? George Fox, the charismatic and powerful speaker who founded Quakerism, said his relatives chided him for not going with them to hear the priest on Sundays, but he preferred to seek God on his own, taking his Bible into the orchards and fields to hear the voice of God independently of man, a creature like himself, whose breath is in his nostrils. (Isaiah 2:22)


Hope truly is a gentle persuasion


baggage of history


(Active or passive: The liturgy that listens) Quaker worship is traditionally called expectant waiting. Thomas Merton says that Quaker "expectant waiting" might be called apophatic mysticism. See more

To a mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.
Lao Tzu

Some Links of related Quaker reference

Negro membership in the Society of Friends
Quaker hypocrisy? discrimination and prejudice
An unfinished work: Quakerism and the racial issue
Discover God WITH you - more than a dead letter
Quakerism and the Inner Light: Stephen Grellet
Friends, witnesses for peace since 1660
War is a racket - by Gen. Smedley Butler
Dona nobis pacem ~ Willie Nelson page
Fractious Friends - tension and conflict
Fritz Eichenberg - Quaker artist
Hannah Whitall Smith (suffragist)
Famous Quakers - extensive list
Paul Cuffe (Kofi) Black Quaker
Friends of African Descent
Bayard Rustin's strategic role
Philadelphia Reflections
Lost Prophet: Bayard Rustin
James Farmer: Black Pacifist
Howard Thurman: mystic prophet
James Daly, prisoner of conscience
Joan Baez: Mexican & Quaker roots
Quaker hypocrisy? Quakers and Blacks
Traditional Quakers and the Godly Silence
God Within : Thomas Merton and the inner light
My Quaker Ancestry - Jean Maris Shepherd
WTBS, Penn'a - authoritarian derivative of Friends


Robert Shepherd
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Jesus is a liberal