Penn as a Peacemaker

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Note: Margaret Bacon delivered this talk on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, in 1999.

Friends tend to think that what we believe now is what we believed then, but in fact all of our testimonies have evolved. And the original concept of peace was less one of making peace in the world than preserving our own early Quaker testimony that Friends ought to stay out of war for the sake of their own souls, not because they needed to bring the message to the world. Penn was the first person really to turn this around by establishing Pennsylvania as an experiment, as a Holy Experiment, by going to extraordinary lengths to live peaceably with the Native Americans of his day and by his own commitment to nonviolence, I think the first person who mentioned the concept. As you all know Penn said, "Force subdues, but love gains, and he who forgives first wins the laurel." If you need a better statement of nonviolence, I don't know what it is.

And I thought I'd mention his essays, "The Future Peace of Europe," written in 1693, probably the first well thought-out suggestion that nations give up a bit of their sovereignty for the sake of peace. He suggests that the parliament be held in a totally round room, at a round table, so there could be no question of preference. He points out that were this European Diet to be accepted, that princes would no longer have to marry in order to achieve allies. They could marry for love, which Penn certainly once did, and that would be a great advantage to the princes of the world. And he said, "He must not be a man but a statue of brass or stone whose bowels do not melt when they behold the bloody tragedies of war." So I think we can happily claim William Penn as the first peacemaker.

As you know, beginning as early as 1660 Friends declared against war, and were consistent in that testimony. In Pennsylvania they left the government at the time of the French and Indian War, 1756, rather than be forced to support a militia for the frontier. They refused to fight in the American Revolution. They refused to use the new American currency. A number of them were exiled to Virginia because they were regarded as questionable citizens. So there was a strong anti-Quaker feeling during the Revolution, and it didn't entirely die. People had a tendency to think that the Quakers thought that they were a bit better than other people. Therefore, what a shock and what a delight to their critics when they began fighting with each other!

The separation of 1827 is something that doesn't need to bother us today, but in a sense it does, because I think we can learn something from the history. A very fine book on it, which I commend to you all, is Larry Ingle's "Quakers in Conflict." It's really, so far, the decisive book on that separation.

What caused the separation? It was put very well by the people who wrote this history. "One branch insisted on a mystical revelation through spiritual experience. The other insisted on the confirmation and evangelism of certain aspects of theology similar to other Protestant beliefs at the time."

There was a wave of evangelical theology, and it hit the British Friends first and very forcibly, and the wealthier Philadelphia Quakers were very closely allied with the British. So that the feeling that people really ought to subscribe to the concept that you could only be saved by the blood of the Lamb, specifically spelling out some of those beliefs, became very important to a branch -- to a group within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. This was partly also a economic and sociological split between the country Friends--the perhaps less well-educated Friends, the simpler Friends, who were sort of holding on to the old way--and the up-and-coming wealthy city Friends who had these international ties and who saw these evangelical points of view as very important.

Interweaving through this was the concept of anti-slavery. The country Friends were very opposed to slavery. Many of them had ex-slaves who had escaped and were living on their farms, so they had some experience with black people and some sense of why they were running away. The city Friends tended to have business connections in the South. There was quite a trade up and down the Atlantic. They had less experience with blacks in their immediate home environment. There was an area where blacks lived in Philadelphia, but there wasn't much back and forth.

Then there was what I've come to think of as the right brain and left brain approach. I think there are always going to be people for whom the experience is enough, and there are going to be other people for whom this has to be spelled out so that you can convince somebody of the truth of what you believe. In one case, it is sufficient to experience the living Christ, in the other, one must subscribe to the impact of Jesus on history.

The British Friends--I should say the majority of British Friends--were taken up with the evangelical concept. There was also a split there, but it happened in only a few meetings, and it was kind of wallpapered over. And interestingly enough, that wallpapering may have led to the decline of Quakerism in Great Britain. It may be historically that the fact we split kept us going. I'll come to that later. But, anyway, British Friends felt strongly enough about this that they sent ministers, waves of ministers over here to refute Elias Hicks and John Comly and other Hicksites, and Larry Ingle goes into this in some detail. It's quite interesting. If a Hicksite came to preach at this meeting, a British Friend might get up and refute that person. So that was bitterly resented by the Hicksites.

The final question that caused the split was the question of who had the authority to say what was to be said in meeting. The British continued, Quaker or non-Quaker, to live in a society where there was a lot of centralized authority, the King and so forth. The Americans had become much more independent. The concept that certain people because of their stature had the right to say what other people believed, which would be totally anathema in our meetings today, was hotly debated. It was the question of whether or not Elias Hicks and his followers were to be allowed to speak in Radnor Meeting, or various meetings in the area, that finally brought on the split of 1827.

Reading about the years immediately after the split, you could cry. Families were divided. There were suits over property. If you go to Moorestown, New Jersey, you'll see where a Hicksite meeting and the Orthodox meeting were built almost on the same property, a Hicksite school, an Orthodox school. These splits happened in families. And some of the journals and the letters tell us about the kind of unhappiness families experienced because one member would be on the opposite side.

The Hicksite Friends were in the majority and they wrote a letter to London Yearly Meeting to exchange epistles, which was what all the meetings did at that point. London sent back the Hicksite epistle, and the Hicksites tried again in 1828 and 1829 and finally in 1830, pointing out that they were in the vast majority, that they had enjoyed their fellowship with London, and Lucretia Mott worked hard on that epistle and edited the copy that John Comly wrote. Well, that was sent back with the word "mendacity" written across the envelope and not opened.

The feeling continued to be very deep. I'll talk about Lucetia Mott because I know her well. She had been a minister for the Orthodox. And it was very hard for her to leave, but she finally did, and joined the Hicksites.

In 1840 she and her husband, James Mott, were sent to London by the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society to represent them, and a member of what is now Arch Street Meeting, who shall be nameless, wrote a letter to the Brits to warn them that this woman was coming so be careful, because she might pass herself off as a Quaker. So London Yearly Meeting appointed a small committee to follow Lucretia Mott and James Mott around. Lucretia would get up to speak--this would not be at a Quaker meeting because they wouldn't allow it, but at a Unitarian Church or some anti-slavery meeting--and she would say, "I am a member of the Society of Friends in Philadelphia, not in correspondence with the Friends in London." This suggests that she knew there was a problem. It didn't matter. The committee representative got up and told everybody in the meeting that this woman was passing herself off as a Quaker, but she really wasn't a Quaker. So that's one aspect of how bitter the situation was.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of the quarreling. Having separated once, the same pattern began all over again. And within the Hicksite movement there came to be a very orthodox wing, who felt that if only the Hicksites would behave themselves they would be recognized by London and everything would be fine again. So they had to discipline those of their members who they thought were not orthodox enough in their theology or were too active in the anti-slavery movement. There is a famous case that happened in New York in 1842 when three members of the Society of Friends were disowned because they had been too active in the anti-slavery movement. At that point you were not supposed to mingle with the world in the anti-slavery movement, but stay within the bounds of the Society of Friends. I won't go on with that, but I do have a book coming out about the life of Abby Hopper Gibbons, and it was her father, Isaac Hopper, who was disowned in 1842. Abby got up in Meeting and disowned the Meeting for disowning her father. She was a fighter.

The Orthodox also began to polarize, again over issues of theology, really, and who had the authority. There became a Gurneyite branch named for John Joseph Gurney, an evangelical minister from London, and the Wilburites, named for John Wilbur, a very quietist minister from Rhode Island. Once you began to split on these issues, it continued and continued and continued.

Then, of course--I'm not even going to go into it--a wave of discontent happened out in the Midwest and we gradually got our pastoral meetings, which finally split into the evangelical versus the pastoral group. So the peacemakers did not know how to make peace for many, many years. One of the things we're celebrating at Chestnut Hill Meeting is the beginning of healing, of being a united meeting. I would say, looking back over the history, that this began in about 1895 in Manchester, England. As I said, the Quakers in England did not split. There was one meeting, Fritehley, and a couple of other smaller meetings that did split off to be Quietists. But the majority simply wallpapered over their differences, and the whole Society shrank and shrank until I think they were down to 5,000 Friends in the British Isles. They knew they simply had to do something.

I don't have my dates quite right here, but at a certain point, 1870, 1880, Friends were finally allowed to go to Oxford and Cambridge. They had not been permitted to go into higher education because of their dissent. We began to have a new generation of young, educated Friends who began to look into the situation and wonder what the problem was. And in 1895 they called a conference in Manchester, England, called the Manchester Conference, and began to look back on some of the things that had led to this situation and also to inquire why were they not in touch with the American Friends, because by this time there were far more American Friends than British Friends, and the American Friends were quite active. Some of these new, young, educated British Friends were traveling and meeting the American Friends.

Following the Manchester Conference they decided that they would like to get further education in Quakerism, and this led to the establishment of Woodbrooke, which is the predecessor of Pendle Hill. No sooner did they have Woodbrooke then they began to invite Hicksite Friends to Woodbrooke, and they did that so much that they finally had to write to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and say, can't you send Orthodox Friends? Well, this was unheard of in that British Friends had been so active against the Hicksite Friends.

Alice Paul, the woman who wrote the Equal Rights Amendment, was at Woodbrooke at about this time and had her first experience of meeting an Orthodox Friend on British soil. And the Orthodox Friend had his first experience of meeting a Hicksite. Some of these young British Friends began to travel in the United States and began to discover that actually the separation might be the fault of British Friends, or partly the fault of British Friends, so there was an interplay between the young people, the young church of that age on both sides.

In the summer of 1911 a Whittier guest house was opened in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, and this was the beginning of a Whittier Fellowship Movement, to which both Hicksite and Orthodox were invited. In 1912 Samuel Bunting, a Hicksite, and Henry Cadbury, a hero of mine, Orthodox, organized a party of 12 young people--six Hicksites and six Orthodox--to begin meeting. And I believe Elizabeth Biddle, who became Elizabeth Biddle Yarnall, was part of that early group. They met weekly, first in an Orthodox Meeting and then in a Hicksite Meeting, to study the separation. Henry Cadbury prepared a report , which was delivered in 1914, saying it was not a matter of belief and doctrine, but the assumption of authority on the part of some Philadelphia families in the operation of the Yearly Meeting that had caused the split.

From then on the young Friends were a movement for renewal. In 1914 young Friends helped with the opening of Woolman school, which was originally, I believe, near Swarthmore College and was the beginning of Pendle Hill, which was opened in 1930.

In 1915 there was a peace conference held in Winona, Illinois, in which the Five Years Meeting, the Philadelphia Orthodox, and the Philadelphia Hicksites participated. They organized something there called the Friends National Peace Conference, of which, I believe, Vincent Nicholson and Henry Cadbury were the most active members. So they were beginning to build up toward speaking to each other, with the young people pushing them pretty hard.

In 1916 Joseph Elkington of Arch Street went to visit Race Street, and said he was coming in love to speak to the Race Street Friends. New York Yearly Meeting had exactly the same development, I think a year earlier. From then, on they began very slowly to work together.

On April 30th, 1917, Henry Cadbury, who was chair of the Friends National Peace Committee, called representatives of all the yearly meetings together to see what they could do about peace. That group met on April 30th and then again a month later. The second time they met they called themselves the American Friends Service Committee, and Vincent Nicholson became the first executive secretary. Henry Cadbury was, of course, on the board.

This development was going on both in Philadelphia and worldwide. In 1920 the first Friends World Conference, or the predecessor of the Friends World Conference, was held in London. Again the Hicksites and the Orthodox were present.

In 1923 the Friends Historical Society and the Friends Historical Association were united. If that sounds odd to you, we actually had separation of the historical groups.

In 1924 something called the Friends Social Union was established. And I call that the peace of the roses. I don't know if anybody here has been to a meeting, but it was men only at first. It was Philadelphia businessmen who would put on either a white rose or a red rose. If you were Orthodox it was white, maybe. If you were Hicksite, it was red. And then you went in and you had to sit red, white, red, white. You had to meet your opposites in business in Philadelphia.

In 1929 there was a joint Race Relations Committee established. In 1930 the two branches of young Friends who had been meeting continually together, finally merged. In 1932 the Friends Temperance Committee was formed. In 1933 the Friends Council on Education was formed. In 1933 the Peace Committee became one. In 1944 we had a common Marriage Council. I didn't know we used to have two separate marriage councils, but evidently we did. And, of course, we had the Friends Intelligencer and The Friend up until this. This was all going on at the Yearly Meeting level, all these joint committees, memos back and forth, very slow but careful peacemaking.

But on the grass roots level a lot of action was going on. As you know, your group started meeting in 1924, on November 16.

Evidently, there was one meeting that preceded you, I discovered, and that was the meeting up at State College, which was an outreach meeting, a meeting for students, an indulged meeting, and they began meeting -- I have one date for 1909 and another for 1913. But they were finally recognized by both the Yearly Meetings in 1925 as an outreach meeting or an indulged meeting.

Then came Chestnut Hill, which began meeting in 1924, but was not officially recognized until 1933. And then came Concord United Meeting, which began in 1932 and was recognized in 1937, followed by Providence Meeting out in Delaware County, followed by Radnor Meeting, also in Delaware County, et cetera, et cetera. So by 1955 there were 29 united meetings within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. And, of course, once people began to meet together, they began to find all sorts of common threads, and they began to be a force pushing the whole Yearly Meeting toward reunion. And this same movement was going on elsewhere among other yearly meetings. The American Friends Service Committee had a committee on New and United Meetings, which then transferred after a while to the Friends World Committee.

So, finally, the Yearly Meeting was ready to begin to have joint sessions. And in 1935, two years after your recognition, the two Yearly Meetings began to meet at the same time in the spring so that if people wanted to go from Arch Street to Race Street with a proposition about something, they could consult that way. In 1940 they had their first joint meeting in the afternoon, in response to the world crisis. And following this they began to have joint meetings to hear the report of the American Friends Service Committee or the Friends World Committee or Young Friends. In 1943 they began to revise the discipline of each of the two meetings to have a joint discipline. In 1945 a pamphlet was published by the Joint Committee of Friends of Montgomery and Bucks County called a Plea for Unity, and they argued, rather obviously, "Friends might carry more weight in their testimonies if they made peace among themselves by abandoning the feud of over a century." Well, how true.

In 1946 there was the first general meeting held in the fall. George Walton was the first clerk, followed by Anna Brinton, Clarence Pickett, Caroline Nicholson Jacob, and in 1954 Charles Darlington and James Walker were co-clerks. In 1950 we had the appointment of a committee to prepare a common book of discipline and another committee on organic union.

The reason I think that Bucks and Montgomery County were working so hard for unity was that Thomas and Eliza Foulke had gone to Japan as missionaries, and had discovered how hard it was for the Japanese Friends to comprehend that there were these two different, warring--maybe not warring, but certainly not together--groups and they had to try to write to each one of them, and it just did not make any sense. So the Foulkes who were, I believe, Hicksites, returned and urged Race Street to try to do something about this.

Arch Street's first response was that it was going to be problematic, that this was a problem of property, which was quite true. They had divided up all this property and now they had to share it again somehow.

In 1955, finally, the two yearly meetings met together and first approved union. And then for the rest of that historic meeting, which we took our little children to see, that long ago, 128 years of separation had finally ended, and they passed a minute, which is touching. "We are born again a new yearly meeting. We ask to be sustained by the bread of life and the water of life. We ask to be guided by our Heavenly Father's counsel, not only in this week, but in the many adjustments that lie ahead."

Well, that's a long story of peacemaking. When you read Clarence Yarrow's book on International Conciliation and how Quakers went from East Berlin to West Berlin or to Nigeria or Biafra, you begin to think that peacemaking is a slow process, but probably never as slow as Philadelphia Friends made it.

So, what do we learn from this history? Well, for me, it's a great lesson in the importance of trying to understand that other people may need to express their religious feelings very differently. I belong to a monthly meeting, Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, which has on one hand people who are really Buddhists, and on the other hand, we have some really very Christo-centric members. Somehow we've learned to listen to each other and to enjoy each other without feeling that we have to come to unity on our beliefs. I don't see how with the variety of beliefs among Quakers today we can do other than let a hundred flowers bloom.

I think we have to be watchful of conflict as it begins to emerge. This conflict that produced the original separation came on rather quickly. The roots were far back, but the actual conflict itself came on within about 10 years, I guess. Lucretia Mott was a recognized minister at 12th Street Meeting only three years before she was disowned for being a Hicksite. I am reminded of the McCarthy period, which some of my confreres will remember. That really came on pretty quickly and pretty strong, and we weren't expecting it. I hate to say it, but as an historian I have to acknowledge that some of our peace organizations were affected by that and did some purging of members who might have been a little too far to the left. It's extraordinary how that kind of hysteria can affect us. So we do have to be very watchful that we are not polarizing, and if we are, we have to face that fact early and begin to see what we can do to get rid of the conflicts.

Finally, I don't see how we can feel anything but humility. Peacemaking is not easy. We think we know just what to do about Kosovo, but we didn't know what to do about ourselves for a long time. We in the East are still not reconciled or not working with the Friends United Meeting as closely as we might, or with the Evangelical Friends Alliance, but they all have a right to call themselves Friends. And we do need to find ways to find common ground. I think we need to stay with our peace testimony and be emphatic, but I don't think we can afford to feel morally superior to those who resort to other means of solving problems. "Force subdues, but love gains, and he who forgives first wins the laurel."

Thank you very much.

QUESTIONER: I was interested in your comment that by papering over the differences that the membership declined in London. Do you see any parallel with the decline in membership in Philadelphia since 1955 when we rejoined the meetings, possibly papering over our differences?

MARGARET BACON: Well, that's a good point, and I realize I made both points, didn't I? Our meetings are great paperer overers. I guess maybe I think that there is a difference between just sort of hiding it, putting it under the rug, and acknowledging those differences and learning to live with them. Hopefully, that's what we are doing in our meeting and to a certain extent in Philadelphia. The decline in membership is certainly troublesome. I don't think it's nearly as drastic as it was in Great Britain, but that's a whole big story.

QUESTIONER: Could you say something more about the influence of London Yearly Meeting upon Philadelphia Yearly Meetings in this split. My impression is that they anointed one group over another.

MARGARET BACON: They did -- and they sent a whole bevy of ministers over to try to straighten out what was happening here, and they were very much concerned about Elias Hicks and his followers. Not all the Hicksites, I should say, totally agreed with Hicks and his ideas. They believed in his right to express his ideas. And I want to be careful what I say here, but because of the monarchy and so forth, Britain has remained a much more top down society, so London Yearly Meeting really did have the authority to say what should happen, and in a sense it still does. So they just saw this as rampant egalitarianism, I guess, and they really tried to stop it, and when they couldn't stop it, they just had nothing to do with the Hicksites until 1895.

QUESTIONER: I'm interested in what you said about the rural/urban, rich man/farmer basis of the split. Is there any way of accounting in general for the appearance of Hicksite meetings in the city of Philadelphia? There were many Hicksite meetings in Philadelphia, and I wonder -- is there a line that you can generalize at all?

MARGARET BACON: The majority in the city were Orthodox. There were five Orthodox meetings and only one Hicksite meeting, Green Street. Right after separation, another Hicksite meeting was formed. It was Cherry Street, which became Race Street. And later a meeting was established at Spruce Street.


MARGARET BACON: Abington, yes. Abington was, of course, not in the city. It's the reverse of now. When we live in the city we have more relations with black people and are probably are much more sympathetic than our big suburban -- and exurbias, are the least interested in that, but it was exactly the opposite and partly because of -- the experience of the underground railroad was beginning at that point. It's just the way people live.

QUESTIONER: I got the implication that the Orthodox were not anti-slavery?

MARGARET BACON: They were but -- they were worried about participating in a really public struggle, such as joining William Lloyd Garrison. They weren't as apt to get involved in the underground railroad. They were more apt to send petitions to Washington. Elias Hicks was very strongly anti-slavery, and he and several other people--well, John Woolman started it--wouldn't use any slave products. Elias Hicks was kind of an old prophet, and he would come to meeting and inveigh against people who used slave products. He really upset some of the Quakers who didn't quite see it that way.