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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

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Quaker Presidents

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Two Presidents, both Republicans, were lifelong members of the Religious Society of Friends. Their Quakerism clearly influenced some of their policies and actions, tying in with the principles of peace, religious freedom and true justice for all.

Herbert Clark Hoover(1874-1964)
31st President of the United States (1929-1933)

BOTH Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, came from strong Iowa Quaker roots. His father was a blacksmith and sold farm machinery. Hoover was an orphan by the age of ten and was sent to live with a Quaker uncle in Oregon, where he attended Friends schools. He met Lou while they were both working towards geology degrees from Stanford University. Hoover became an expert on mining and engineering and traveled extensively around the world while working for a British firm. These assignments resulted in his being present during the Australian Gold Rush and the Chinese Boxer Rebellion where he learned to deal with crisis situations as well as with scientific problems.

As an Iowan Quaker, he had been, one might say, born a Republican. And it was only the Republicanism of Iowa Quakers - at bottom populist, liberal, grass-roots in quality - that meant anything to him. He enrolled as a Republican the first time he was old enough to do so, in Berkeley, though he was off on his life's work before he could vote.

  - Eugene Lyons, Hoover Biographer

While organizing food relief for Belgians at the outbreak of the war, Hoover decided to give up his engineering career and devote the rest of his life to public service. In 1918, based on Hoover's demonstration of compassion and efficiency, President Woodrow Wilson asked him to head the American Relief Administration - a privately run organization which fed more than 350 million starving people in 21 nations in Europe and the Middle East from 1919 to 1921.

Herbert Hoover is certainly a wonder and I wish we could make him President of the United States. There could not be a better one.

  - Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served with Hoover in the Wilson administration, writing to Josephus Daniels, 1920

Germany, 1920 - AFSC

As Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Hoover created the Child Health Association (1923), organized the Street and Highway Safety Commission (1924), developed new foreign markets for American goods, and advocated bureaucratic efficiency. He aided manufacturing by pioneering standardization of parts and materials for paper, automobiles, plumbing, carpentry and other industries. His engineering background helped him become a brilliant organizer, but his shyness and squeaky voice hampered him in public life.

Hoover had barely launched his presidency when the stock market crashed in 1929; both the nation and the world faced a depression of unprecedented severity. Although he was bitterly criticized for inaction, Hoover started many of the programs which put America on the road to recovery: the Reconstruction Finance Corp., the Federal Farm Board, the Agricultural Marketing Act (stabilized prices) and the Federal Home Loan Bank. Hoover also initiated massive public works projects such as the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Boulder (Hoover) and Grand Coulee Dams, and Mississippi flood control projects. It was not Roosevelt but Hoover who first accepted defeating the depression as a governmental responsibility. But it took time before these initiatives could affect the economic situation.

The Presidency is a supreme obligation. I conceived of the Presidency as more than an administrative office: it is a power for leadership bringing coordination of the forces of business and cultural life in every city, town and countryside. The Presidency is more than executive responsibility. It is the symbol of America's highest purpose. The President must represent the nation's ideals and he must also represent them to the nations of the world.

  - Herbert Hoover, 1932

From that day forward [1914] Hoover never accepted for his private use a dollar in payment for any of his manifold public services. He paid his own travel and out-of-pocket expenses. His salaries as Secretary of Commerce, and then as President, went into a special fund for disbursement in full for charitable causes, to raise wages of aides who needed it, or to pay for expert personnel not provided by official budgets. Money that came to him for writing or speaking went likewise to private charity and public causes.

Eugene Lyons, Hoover Biographer

The [Federal Reserve] Board knew that Mr. Hoover, from 1926 on, had been protesting that the money policy of the Reserve System was certain to bring about disaster and calamity. Mr. Hoover before and after he took office was struggling desperately to curb credit extravagance. ... The record will show that he became the victim of a policy that was anathema to him the whole time it was in operation.

  - Adolph C. Miller, member of the Federal Reserve Board, 1935

Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Hoover's bid for a second term, and the Iowa Quaker returned to working on world-wide hunger relief. In 1945, President Truman asked him to help plan post World War II recovery abroad and later appointed Hoover to chair a task force (later known as "The Hoover Commission") on governmental efficiency. He continued this task under President Eisenhower, ending his public service in 1958. Herbert Hoover died six years later, at the age 90.

"If the law is upheld only by government officials, then all law is at an end."

  - Herbert Hoover, message to Congress, 1929

Richard Milhous Nixon(1913-1994)
37th President of the United States (1969-1974) *

BORN to Quaker parents who ran a gas station and family grocery store, Richard Nixon was descended from colonial Quaker stock who had moved from the Midwest to the California farming town of Whittier (named for the Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier). His parents raised their children in an atmosphere of piety and politics. "I sold gas and delivered groceries and met a lot of people. I think this was invaluable as a start of a public career," Nixon would later say. He graduated from Whittier College and from Duke University's Law School with high grades and returned to Whittier to become a lawyer.

The one recurrent motif in his childhood, obscured by biographers and critics alike, is his religion. And it is too persistent a factor in his life to be ignored. Much of Nixon's childhood was spent at the East Whittier Meeting House where a small Quaker congregation prayed and sang hymns, and heard sermons, four times on Sundays and on week nights as well. This was a California Quaker church, more akin to free-church fundamentalists than to the quiet pacifists of the East. As Richard Nixon recalls it: 'Our little community church was the center of our lives. On Sundays we went to Sunday School and church in the morning and to Christian Endeavor and church at night. On Wednesdays there was prayer meeting, on Thursdays there was choir practice. The annual Sunday School picnic was an event we always looked forward to.' Nixon's first successful campaign resulted in his election as president of Christian Endeavor, the interdenominational youth group at the time. When he returned home from law school, he taught a Sunday School class at the East Whittier church. He has since spoken at Christian Endeavor meetings and maintained his membership with his home congregation even during the presidency. The church was the center of his life, and yet his family religion was sharply split between his mother's humble piety and his father's ... evangelism.

  - Charles P. Henderson, The Nixon Theology, 1972

There is a story that I tried to influence Richard to become a Quaker minister. This story is inaccurate. We Quakers don't believe in exerting influence, or pressure on people. We believe in counseling and discussing the issues, but the actual decision must rest with the individual. I remember one time I said to Richard, 'Would you like to study for the ministry?' I felt that he seemed to carry quite a weight for a boy his age. But he didn't respond with enthusiasm to my suggestion and so I let it drop.

  - Attributed to Hannah Milhous Nixon, 1977

Most of Richard Nixon's political life was a long chain of successes and accomplishments: elected to Congress in 1946, he was the youngest member of the U. S. Senate when he started his term there in 1951. Two years later at the age of 39, he became the nation's second youngest Vice President and reached this post after only six years in politics. In an unprecedented political comeback from national and state level defeats which forced him to return to private law practice, Nixon was elected in 1968 as a minority president dealing with an opposing Congress for the first time in the 20th century. When he was re-elected in 1972, Nixon received a record number of popular votes and carried 49 states.

Richard Nixon demonstrated a willingness to reach out in international affairs, whether openly as in the detente with China and Russia or secretly when Cold War stereotypes made it politically risky. A Navy veteran, he worked to reduce the possibility of world war through the first Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (1970), and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (1972); he also laid the groundwork for SALT II.

It is not easy for me to take this position. It happens that I am a Quaker; all my training has been against displays of strength and recourse to arms. But I have learned through hard experience that, when you are confronted with a ruthless, dictatorial force that will stop at nothing to destroy you, it is necessary to defend yourself by building your own strength.

  - Richard Nixon, 1950

When vice president, Nixon headed the presidential commission on government contracts, where he assured the first minority firms' approvals; when president, he tripled them. Even as he phased down American participation in the Vietnam War and ended the draft, he completed the integration of the armed forces which had begun more than 25 years before.

Native Americans consider Nixon to be one of America's finest Presidents because he designed measures that supported tribal preservation rather than acculturation and implemented complete religious freedom for Indians, many of whose rituals had been banned and whose sacred sites had been abused.

Nixon understood poverty, having experienced it when young, and was supportive of many anti-poverty measures such as indexing Social Security to inflation (1972) and creating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (1970). He created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and personally oversaw successful clean air, clean water, cancer research, drug research and education bills.

There are some historians who believe that by resigning rather than putting the nation through the trauma of an impeachment trial, Nixon followed the Quaker practice of standing aside rather than resisting the obvious will of the group. After his resignation in 1974, Richard Nixon retired to private life, but his advice was frequently sought by government officials and presidents.

Oh, I suppose it is the stress on privacy. Friends believe in doing their own thing, not making a display of religion. That's why I never use God's name in speeches, or quote the Bible. I suppose Quakerism just strengthened my own temperament here. I'm an introvert in an extrovert profession.

  - Richard Nixon, 1972, when asked by Garry Wills what effect his Quaker background had upon him.

* — Some of Nixon's political policies and practices greatly disturbed many Friends (Quakers). To this day, there is disagreement among Quakers as to how much of a practicing Friend was Richard Nixon.

Acting on the Quaker principle of honoring that of God in every person, the working group that produced these panels endeavored to emphasize the ways his career reflected Quaker Testimonies. In addition, in this and all panels, the working group has strived to represent views from the broad spectrum of the branches of Friends.


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