Logo of the letter Q with a dove inside.

Quakers & the Political Process

An exhibit, July to Dec. 2000

Quakers & the Political Process
Overview & Introduction
Who are the Quakers?
History, Beliefs & Testimonies
Quaker West New Jersey
Democracy in 1677
Penn's Holy Experiment
Seed of a Nation
Quaker Political Contribution
From Governance to Advocacy
Quaker Presidents
Hoover & Nixon

Links Pages

Exhibit 2000 Working Group
Support and Outreach Committee

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
1515 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102-1479
URL: http://www.pym.org/
tel: 215-241-7000
fax: 215-567-2096

Quaker Information Center

Arch Street Friends Meeting
Maps and Directions

View Our Guestbook
Get your own FREE Guestbook from htmlGEAR
Sign Our Guestbook

Quakers & the Political Process:

Printable copy

... that if any be called to serve the commonwealth in any public service, which is for the public wealth and good, that with cheerfulness it be undertaken, and in faithfulness discharged unto God.

  - Meeting of Elders, Balby, Yorkshire, England, 1656

The Quakers have 350 years of consistent dedication to the concepts of freedom, justice, and peace which remain pivotal today. By both collective action and individual leadership, Friends have altered the character and concerns of United States politics. This exhibit explores some of those efforts.
Penn at a table writing, with legal and religious figures behind him, many holding their own books. Below, a passage that reads: The Spirit leading his deep thoughts the better to commune with Solitude ... his holy meditations thus pursued. Penn in solitude safe-hidden from his persecutors, composed his Fruits of Solitude, and in that sanctuary the voices of Men of Vision sang to him the praises of the Law and the Glory of the City of God. The celestial measure ... circling ... and singing Victory and Triumph to the Son of God now entering his great duel, not of arms, for in that Solitude he also wrote his Plans for a Parliament of Nations and International Court. Be frustrate all ye strategems of hell and devilish machinations come to caught - John Milton, Paradise Regained.
"William Penn as Law-Giver", - Violet Oakley
Mural, Supreme Court room, State Capitol, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
A young man, long haired and well dressed, seated at a small table in a sturdy prison cell. Captioned: Writing in Prison - The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience, Once More Briefly Debated and Defended.
"William Penn Writing in Prison" - Violet Oakley, Mural, Governor's Reception Room, State Capitol, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Government seems to me a part of religion itself, a thing sacred in its institution and ends. ... And government is free to the people under it, whatever be the frame, where the laws rule and the people are a party to those laws; and more than this is tyranny, oligarchy, or confusion. ... As governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad. If it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be ever so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.

  - William Penn, "First Frame of Government", 1682

The Religious Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers or Friends, has significantly influenced American politics and public policy. For example, the following statement inspired Jefferson's language in the Declaration of Independence:

All peace is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times, an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such a manner as they may think proper.

  - William Penn, "Declarations of Rights"

Quaker actions have provided strong foundations for the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, many state constitutions, and the United Nations Charter, including such key principles as: Religious Freedom, Separation of Church and State, Freedom of Individual Conscience, Justice for All, Peacemaking and Relief for All Who Suffer.

Separation of Church and State

No men or number of Men upon Earth hath power or Authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters.

  - West New Jersey Concessions and Agreements, 1676

During much of the 17th century in England, the Anglican faith was the official religion. Therefore, Friends and others who pursued a different belief were banned from holding public or private worship, taxed to support the official church and prevented from following many careers, attending universities or holding office. All of the American colonies also had established churches, with the exception of the Quaker colonies of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and of Rhode Island. The last established church in the U.S. was Congregationalism, the official religion of Massachusetts until 1833.

Metal statue of a woman seated on a Quaker-meeting style bench, dressed simply and with a bonnet, her hands laying lightly on her lap.
Mary Dyer statue located in front of Friends Center, Philadelphia - Sylvia Shaw Judson
Mary Dyer being led out from the town gates, her eyes toward the sky. Drummers are around her, presumably to drown out what she might say, and two soldiers in Parliamentary-style uniform, carry guns. On the right side of the picture, onlookers comfort one another and honor her passing.
"Mary Dyer on the Way to the Gallows", painting - Howard Pyle. The Massachusetts legislature enacted a law that every Quaker in its jurisdiction should be banished on pain of death. Mary Dyer was hanged in May, 1660, for re-entering that colony, rather than abandon the principles of freedom of speech and conscience.

Religious Freedom

On October 28, 1701, William Penn granted his Charter of Privileges for all Pennsylvania inhabitants, the earliest prototype for the U.S. Bill of Rights. Directly reflecting the 50 years of persecution Friends had suffered in Britain, the Charter included the following:

... no persons who shall confess and acknowledge One Almighty God ... ; and profess ... themselves, obliged to live quietly under the civil government, shall be in any case molested or prejudiced ... because of ... conscientious persuasion or practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship place or ministry contrary to ... their mind, or to do or suffer any other act or thing contrary to their religious persuasion.

The Liberty BellThe Liberty Bell was cast in 1751-1753, by order of the Pennsylvania Assembly, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Penn's Charter of Privileges, with an inscription adapted from the following Biblical passage: And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof ... - Leviticus 25:10

Freedom of Individual Conscience

A dark metal sign with raised white lettering, reads: During World War II, some 12,000 men who were classified as conscientious objectors to war - about fifteen percent of them from Pennsylvania - served in non-military occupations across the United States. Under the leadership of Mennonite, Quaker, and Church of the Brethren agencies, they were engaged in mental health care and medical experiments, in forestry and on dairy farms, and in other important civic projects.
"Civilian Public Service" marker commissioned by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and located in front of Friends Center, Philadelphia. - Terry Foss, AFSC

... no man by virtue of any power or principality, hath power over the consciences of men,... because the conscience of man is the seat and throne of God in him, ... who has reserved to himself the power of punishing the errors.

  - Robert Barclay, Quaker Theologian, 1648-1690

Quakers in Rhode Island obtained the passage of the earliest legislation protecting individual freedom of conscience with the following Act on August 13, 1673:

Be it therefore enacted...that no person, that is persuaded in his conscience that he cannot or ought not to train to fight, nor to war, nor kill any person, shall at any time be compelled against his judgment and conscience to train, arm or fight...nor shall he suffer any punishment, fine, penalty or imprisonment for refusing.

Photo of four individuals standing, two of them holding a banner that reads: Quakers oppose all war.
Demonstration, Philadelphia, 1983. - Terry Foss, AFSC

Three of the twelve cases in which Quakers have gone to the Supreme Court regarding freedom of conscience issues:

A clean-cut young Japanese-American man, with crisp white collar.Gordon Hirabayashi v. United States

Gordon Hirabayashi, a University of Washington senior in 1942, defied the military curfew and exclusion orders that forced Japanese Americans into wartime internment camps.

A couple, perhaps in their 30s, both wearing glasses, he clean shaven with open collar and perhaps a light vest.Barbara Elfbrandt v. Imogene Russell

Barbara and Vern Elfbrandt, junior-high teachers in Tucson, Arizona, refused in 1960 to sign "loyalty" oaths.

Mary Beth, sitting in a group, perhaps in a courtroom, and wearing the armband over a light sweater. In the picture with her is a woman, perhaps her mother, with pen in hand presumably taking notes.Mary Beth Tinker v. Des Moines

Mary Beth Tinker was 13 when she was suspended in 1965 from school in Des Moines, Iowa, for wearing a black armband to protest American bombing in Vietnam.

The Courage of Their Conviction, Peter Irons

Justice For All

There is no peace without justice, no justice without order, and no order without government.

  - William Penn

From an etching. About thirty men, many wearing Quaker-style broadbrimmed hats are seated around the sides of a room lit through a large window. A group of men stand, bare-headed, on the right side of the picture, behind a man holding a paper and presumably addressing Penn, who stands at a table on the side of those who are seated. In the foreground, two Indians sit, observing the proceedings.
"The First Visit of William Penn to America - A Conference with the Colonists" - Howard Pyle. Harper's Weekly, 1883.

When Penn first arrived in the lands granted to him by King Charles II, he told the Indians that they would be paid fairly for their lands and assured the earlier Swedish and Dutch settlers that they could retain their plots of land without any payment.

I propose that which is extraordinary, and leave myself and my successors no power of doing mischief, that the will of one may not hinder the good of a whole country.

  - William Penn, Letter to several Irish Quakers, 1681

Peacemaking at Home and Abroad

Hundreds standing in an auditorium, their faces lit by the candles they hold. Two women in the foreground hold candles in what appear to be paper cups.
Peace Vigil, 1990s - Terry Foss, AFSC

The founding document for Friends' Peace testimony was the following "Declaration", given to King Charles II by Quakers in 1661.

Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace ... and to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God, seeking the good and welfare and doing that which tends to the peace of all.... All bloody principles and practices, we do utterly deny, with all outward war and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world. ... and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.

  - The Journal of George Fox

Relief for All Who Suffer

It is a reproach to religion and government to suffer so much poverty and excess.

  - - William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude

From an etching. People amble about, well dressed, in the foreground, and in the background a 3 and 4-story building with wide wings.
Friends Hospital, 1880. The Asylum

In 1813 Friends founded the first private institution in the United States dedicated solely to the care of the mentally ill. Initially called "the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of their Reason," Friends Hospital in Philadelphia was a pioneer of humane "moral treatment" of those with "troubled minds." The extensive azalea gardens of Friends Hospital are only one part of the horticultural therapy which has been developed there.


The world would be a sorrier place without the quiet witness-bearing of the Quakers. Their humanitarian service, their practical dedication to the ideal of universal brotherhood, their conviction that love can move mountains stand as a challenge and an inspiration to their fellow men. Even in totalitarian countries Quaker influence has reached through iron resistance to bring minds in slavery and bodies in need a solace and a glimpse of a higher peace.

  - Christian Science Monitor, July 10, 1949

A decorative scroll, at the top the emblem of a lion on a rocky mountaintop holding a ceremonial axe. Below this reads: Det Norske Stortings Nobelkomite har i Henhold til Reglerne i det af Alfred Nobel den 27 de November 1893 oprettede Testamente tildelte American Friends Service Committee. Nobels Fredspris far 1947. Date, 10 de Desember 1947. Five signatures follow.
Facsimile, Nobel Peace Prize Scroll 1947.
© The Nobel Institute, courtesy of the AFSC

In 1947, the American Friends Service Committee and the British Friends Service Council received the Nobel Peace Prize, on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends, for humanitarian service, work for reconciliation, and the spirit in which these were carried out.

The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to carry into action something which is deeply rooted in the minds of many: sympathy with others; the desire to help others; that significant expression of sympathy between men, without regard to nationality or race; feelings which, when carried into deeds, must provide the foundation of a lasting peace. For this reason they are today worthy of receiving Nobel's Peace Prize.

  - Gunnar Jahn, chairman, Nobel Committee, at the presentation of the Nobel Peace Award, December 10, 1947


American Friends Service Committee relief abroad

One man with a long-handled shovel moves dirt, and standing near the camera facing him is a man in coat and hat. In the background what appears to be the ruins of a bombed church and other buildings.
Assistance with reconstruction in post-World War II Germany, late 1940's.
A young person stencils a shipping address on a large bag, with bales and boxes of materials around. On the picture is printed: Love that knows no boundaries, and the emblem of the AFSC.
1993 Emergency & Material Assistance (EMAP) program: preparing bales of relief materials to be sent abroad.
Standing by a large tent, facing the camera, plastic water containers in the foreground. A stove pipe sticks out from the tent, and the woman and a boy standing near are wearing multiple layers of clothing.
A Roma (Gypsy) woman in a refugee camp, Kosovo, 1999 - a recipient of some of the material aid sent by EMAP.

Next Section >>


Copyright © 2000-2001, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting