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

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Philadelphia, PA 19102-1479
URL: http://www.pym.org/
tel: 215-241-7000
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Quaker Political Contribution:
From Governance to Advocacy

Printable copy

Friends held office in other colonies, although they were never as involved with the creation of colonial government as in West New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Ten Quakers served as governors for 35 terms during the first 100 years in Rhode Island, a period when half the colony's population were Friends. Quakers served as governors in Virginia and the Carolinas as well. Virtually every colonial assembly had Friends as elected members from the 1670s onwards.

QUAKER Stephen Hopkins (1707-1779) served as Governor of Rhode Island and as commissioner to the Colonial Congresses of 1754 to 1758. He wrote a series of articles, published and presented to the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1764, which explored the real basis and safeguards of self-government. This was considered by his contemporaries to be the most thoughtful analysis then yet produced in the colonies. He later signed the Declaration of Independence.

Quaker dominance in Pennsylvania government ended in 1754-56 (during the French and Indian War). At that time Friends in political office were forced to choose between voting to create a militia or resigning from their posts in protest to war and as a reaffirmation of Native American rights. Most Friends opted to resign, many feeling that holding office forced too great a compromise on issues of conscience on both the person and the congregation. This view was further cemented by the persecution Quakers suffered for their neutral stand during the American Revolution.

Despite a long period of withdrawal from politics, a number of Quakers in the 20th century stood for elected office and accepted appointment to high national office. They continue to do so.

THE Religious Society of Friends as a whole has sought new, creative ways to carry forward their concerns. Public forums, petitions, social and political lobbying and reform movements became the chosen methods for Quakers to continue their political ideals. Throughout the 19th century, these had coalesced around five main concerns which moved Friends to effect reforms first within their religion and then in the wider arena of American politics:

  • Ending Slavery

  • Fair Treatment of Native Americans

  • Women's Rights

  • Conflict Resolution

  • Relief for All Who Suffer

Friends expanded their efforts in the 20th century to include Civil Rights and Environmental Concerns. Work on these issues continues into the 21st century. Many of these efforts are being coordinated by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker United Nations Office, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the earliest religious lobbying organization in Washington, DC.

In the long run, lobbying for Friends was a more congenial method of influencing politics than electioneering.

  - Frederick Tolles, Quaker historian

Ending Slavery -- Striving for Civil Rights

Germantown Friends' Protest against Slavery, 1688 (Excerpted)

These are the reasons why we are against the traffick of men-body, as followeth. ... There is a saying, that we shall doe to all men like as will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are. And those who steal or robb men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alike? Here is liberty of conscience, wch is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of ye body... . But to bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against. ... Ah! doe consider well this thing, you who doe it, if you would be done at this manner? and if it is done according to Christianity?... Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, than if men should rob or steal us away, and sell us for slaves to strange countries; separating housbands from their wives and children. Being now this is not done in the manner we would be done at therefore we contradict and are against this traffic of men-body. And we who profess that it is not lawful to steal, must, likewise, avoid to purchase such things as are stolen, but rather help to stop this robbing and stealing if possible.

Signed by:
    Garret henderich
    derick u de graeff
    Francis daniell Pastorius
    Abraham up Den graef

Beginning with the Germantown, Pennsylvania Meeting in 1688 and culminating in 1776 with all Quakers in the Philadelphia region, Friends gradually refused to own slaves. Quakers then worked to abolish all slavery and support equal rights for African Americans. Quakers played a significant role in founding the infant Republican Party because of its strong anti-slavery stand, were staunch supporters of Abraham Lincoln, and generally remained faithful to the Republican Party until at least the 1930s. During the 1950s, Quakers became increasingly active in the Civil Rights Movement and currently continue to work with and on behalf of disenfranchised populations both within the U.S. and abroad.

Executive Committee of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, 1851. Standing left to right: Mary Crew, Edward M. Davis, Haworth Wetherald, Abigail Kimber, Miller McKim, Sarah Pugh. Seated left to right: Oliver Johnson, Margaret Jones Burleigh, Benjamin C. Bacon, Robert Purvis, Lucretia Mott, James Mott.

Quaker Bayard Rustin, a key player in every major civil rights initiative in the United States from the 1930s through the 1960s, with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bayard Rustin: Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement

Environmental Concerns

View at Pendle Hill, a Quaker Center for Study and Contemplation, near Philadelphia.

We are spiritually led in our efforts to mend the damage to our environment and all of life on this planet. Our major concerns include world population, ecological public policy, sustainable development, and the Friends' Testimony on simplicity as it relates to over-consumption and the welfare of the inhabitants of the earth.

  - Ruah Swennerfelt, General Secretary, Friends Committee on Unity with Nature, 2000.

Relief for All Who Suffer

Quakers have been active in providing practical assistance to those suffering from poverty, discrimination, mental illness, incarceration, and the effects of war and natural disaster. They have also striven to effect improvement of institutions which service these populations. Particular care has been taken to offer humanitarian aid without regard to the politics of the participants.

AFSC Rehabilitation Clinic, Quang Ngai, Vietnam, late 1960s - AFSC


True godliness don't turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.

  - William Penn, No Cross, No Crown

Conflict Resolution

From non-coercive actions abroad to the stemming of individual violence in families and communities, Quakers continue to press for peaceful measures to accomplish common goals.

We have to take responsibility in our own countries for the trade in weapons, which will continue unless we intensify our actions against it. ... Quakers have often taken a prophetic role in the past. We should be glad of the example of the slave abolitionists and remember their strength, their courage, their witness, and do likewise now.

  - Jo Vallentine, Quaker Australian Senator, 1991

The Alternatives to Violence Program, developed by Quakers, is currently being practiced at sites within the U.S. and abroad, ranging from schools to prisons to war zones.

HIP (Help Increase the Peace) Training, a version of the Alternatives to Violence Program for youth. - Terry Foss, AFSC

Quaker House, New York. Off the record discussions between Quaker United Nations / American Friends Service Committee staff and international diplomats - AFSC

Women's Rights


Ever Called to Discuss the

Civil and Political Rights of Women,

Seneca Falls, N.Y., July 19, 20, 1848.

Woman's Rights Convention.

A Convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, N.Y., on Wednesday and Thursday, the 19th and 20th of July current; convening at 10 o'clock A.M. During the first day the meeting will be exclusively for women, who are earnestly invited to attend. The public generally are invited to be present on the second day, when Lucretia Mott, of Philadelphia, and other ladies and gentlemen, will address the Convention.

Announcement of the first women's rights convention, featuring Lucretia Mott as one of the speakers.
Lucretia Mott: A Guiding Light, Jennifer Fisher Bryant

Quaker women held equal rights within the Religious Society of Friends from its founding. Quaker lawmakers had granted some equity in property and personal rights. The long campaign for women's rights in America is highlighted by the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration (written by 5 women, 4 of whom were Quakers: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, Martha C. Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, and Jane C. Hunt, respectively). It continued through the campaign to vote led by Rochester Friend, Susan B. Anthony, and to the ERA Amendment written by New Jersey Quaker, Alice Paul.

Fair Treatment of Native Americans

The long testimony of Quakers on this subject was acknowledged when both President Washington and six Indian tribes asked Friends to send a delegation to be impartial and honest arbitrators at the first Indian treaty made by the fledgling US, the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty with the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora nations. Many Friends and Quaker organizations throughout the United States continue to work with and on behalf of Native Americans.

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