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:
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.
Ending Slavery -- Striving for Civil Rights
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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