Thursday, April 26, 2007

CWL ---- Righteous Violence: Quakers in the Slaveholding Republic

The Dilemma of Quaker Pacificism in a Slaveholding Republic, 1833-1865, Jordan, Ryan, Civil War History, 53:1 (2007), 5-28.

During the Antebellum Era, The Society of Friends numbered slightly over 200,000. Possessing a variety of theological views within their community of Meetings, Quakers all agreed upon two tenents. They rejected human government and they embraced pacificism. The potential of anarchy was balanced by the fact that they would not violently overthrow government. The Quaker church was the first to disallow slaveholding among its members. As an organization, it formed the spine of the abolition movement though slaveholding among Quakers did not disappear overnight. Southern Friends gradually emancipated their slaves over decades and well into the 19th century.

Would the Quakers disobey the state and participate in the Underground Railroad?
Would the Quakers obey the state and support the Union war effort?
Would the Quakers embrace those Quakers who joined the Union army before the Emancipation Proclamation? Afterward?

There were those among the Society of Friends who rejected abolitionism since the Friends should not overthrow a government even though they could not consciously support the government. There were others who, by the 1830s, accepted the proposition of immediate abolition, with the abolition movement in England providing an example. A few Quakers proposed colonization of freed slaves and other sreject colonization due to the possible imposition of the horrors of the Middle Passage upon those returning to Africa.

Slavery was recognized a great humnitarian wrong but what behavior constitutes pacifistic resistence to this particular institutionalized evil? Immediate abolition and colonization were poloarizing issues that threatened to break the communion of Quaker saints. Additionally, Quakers debated whether non-violent resistence could be implemented with violent consequences, particularly in the South. The solutions offered by Levi Coffin, Quaker and Underground Railroad activist, and the Indiana Friends were polar opposites. Coffin would in all circumstances assist runaway slaves; the Indiana Society of Quakers asserted that in all circumstances they would not assist runaway slaves.

Castner Hanaway, a Christiana, Pennsylvania Quaker was arrested and charged with treason for inciting runaway slaves to resist slave catchers. Generally, Quakers held to the notion that righteous ends should be sought through righteous means. Quaker settlers in Kansas were attacked and their missionary schools for Shawneees were burned. In Virginia, during a 1859 meeting, a Quaker minister spoke out against Abolitionists and was shout down by female who quoted scripture to the minister, likening him to the Scribes and Pharisees who acted hypocritically and who were confronted by Jesus.

Confronted by violent slaveholders backed by a violent government, some Quakers dispensed with pacificism and employed violence as a means of self-defense. An unknown number of Quakers supported John Brown while he lived in Kansas and when he moved back to New York.
Two men raised in the Quaker tradition, set pacificism aside and joined Brown for the Harper's Ferry Raid. Barclay Coppoc died during the October fight; Edwin Coppoc was executed by the state of Virginia for treason and insurrection. Levi Coffin believed that Providence would use the violence of John Brown for Providence's own end, emancipation.

Quakers in the Union army understood resistence to the rebellion of the South as being similiar to the resistence of the angels to Lucifer, who was an angel lead a revolt in Heaven. Recent detective work has revealed that 25% of the eligible Quaker men in Indiana served in Union armies; a second historian revealed that the number of Quaker soldiers from Indiana may have reached 66% during the war. Other studies show that most Quakers voters in the 1860 election cast Republican ballots.

The violent resistance of Southerners to moral suasion of the Friends created a dilemma. Understanding life and religion to be integrated, the Quakers allowed for freedom of conscience within their meetings. Some embraced the state sanctioned violence of war; others embraced the kingdom sanctioned mercy towards the freedmen. It appears that Quakers did not condemn Quakers for exercising individual consciences and walking the path the Providence had set before them, individually.

No comments: