BECK index

Quakers: Fox and Penn's Holy Experiment

George Fox
William Penn
Holy Experiment in Pennsylvania
Penn's Peace Plan

This is a chapter in Guides to Peace and Justice from Ancient Sages to the Suffragettes, which is published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

Click below to watch and listen to Sanderson Beck's audio recording of Quakers: Fox and Penn's Holy Experiment.

All Friends everywhere, this I charge you,
which is the word of the Lord God unto you all,
Live in peace, in Christ, the way of peace,
and therein seek the peace of all men, and no man's hurt.
George Fox

We have suffered all along
because we would not take up carnal weapons
to fight withal against any,
and are thus made a prey upon
because we are the innocent lambs of Christ
and cannot avenge ourselves.
These things are left upon your hearts to consider.
George Fox

I deplore two principles in religion,
obedience upon authority without conviction
and destroying them that differ with me for Christ's sake.
William Penn, "Letter to Tillotson"

Peace is maintained by justice,
which is a fruit of government,
as government of laws from society,
and society from consent.
William Penn, "Essay Towards the Peace of Europe" 1

George Fox

George Fox was born in a small hamlet in Leicestershire, England in July 1624. His father was a weaver and a pious warden of the church. George had little education other than learning to read and write and study the Bible. He was apprenticed to a shoemaker, for whom he also tended sheep. In an incident at the age of 19 George was disgusted by tavern companions, who tried to get him into a drinking match. That night he had a vision from God, and the next day, November 9, 1643, he left his family and trade to wander in search of true religion. Carrying his Bible, he slept in fields or stayed with hospitable families. He questioned priests and argued with them. George searched for people he called "tender," who were loving and spiritually open. He discovered that most of the priests were not as open as those in the new sect of Seekers.

George Fox experienced "openings" or revelations, which told him that both Catholics and Protestants could be sincere Christians, that universities like Oxford and Cambridge bred vain and deceitful priests, and that God did not dwell in church buildings as much as in people's hearts. Fox called the man-made temples "steeple houses" and considered the church to be the community of believers in its original sense. Although he considered the Bible a valuable reference point, he believed the inner Light takes precedence as the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. Fox declared that revelation has not ended, but the insights from within must be checked to see that they are in harmony with the teachings of the Bible. There was the danger that some would be led astray by spirits of darkness or the devil; therefore someone attuned to the inner Light must discern the difference, and George Fox apparently felt that he could.

Fox had a powerful personality and an inner conviction, which he would not compromise. Confident that the word of God was speaking through him, he challenged priests and interrupted their sermons. He would speak for hours at a time, and sometimes he would just glare at people for as long as two or three hours. He could outshout just about anybody. He criticized social injustices, such as the hiring fair in 1648 at Mansfield, where local justices had fixed a maximum wage for farm labor. He believed in human equality and was firm in practicing it, even in seemingly trivial ways. He would refuse to remove his hat before a judge or a king. Following the admonition of Jesus in the sermon on the mount, he refused to take oaths. Because of these behaviors and his frank speech he was arrested many times. Fox was first arrested at Nottingham in 1649 for speaking out during a sermon. Altogether in his life he spent seven years in jail, often in filthy conditions, which he sought to reform.

As Jesus called his disciples friends, so Fox referred to those who followed the inner Light as Friends of Truth; but in 1650 he told Justice Bennet to "quake in the presence of the Lord," and the world gave them the name Quakers. Critical of professional priests, Fox believed that each person could relate to God directly and thus minister. He defended the rights of women to equal spirituality even against the views of other Friends. Fox and his followers were continually persecuted and often arrested for refusing to take oaths or for holding unauthorized religious meetings.

Following the teachings of the Christ closely, Fox was a pacifist, and the Society of Friends to this day has remained perhaps the most important pacifist religion. In 1651 during the civil war when Fox was in jail, some commissioners and soldiers offered to make him a captain over the soldiers, who were eager to be led by such a courageous man. However, Fox told them that he "lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars,"1 and he explained that all wars come from lust, as James pointed out in the Bible. When they realized that his refusal was serious, they threw him into a dungeon for six months "into a lousy, stinking place without any bed amongst thirty felons."2 Fox took to writing letters to judges against the death penalty for stealing and minor offenses. He also urged speedier trials, because many were being corrupted by criminals in jails while they were waiting for their trials to begin. After his six months Justice Bennet offered him press-money if he would be a soldier; but again Fox declined and spent nearly six more months in jail. The next year Fox was tried for blasphemy in Lancaster; but the witnesses did not agree, and he was cleared.

While preaching he warned soldiers not to do violence to any man. In 1655 Fox wrote a letter to Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, explaining,

I was sent of God to stand a witness against all violence,
and against the works of darkness;
and to turn people from darkness to light;
and to bring them from the causes of war and fighting,
to the peaceable gospel.3

Fox was brought before the Protector Cromwell, and he later described their conversation in his Journal. Cromwell asked why he quarreled with ministers, and Fox said they quarreled with him and would not allow him to preach in the same way as the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, while they were greedy and covetous, preaching only for filthy lucre. Fox warned Cromwell not to harden his heart; Cromwell wished they could talk every day and set him free. Fox wrote to Cromwell several times complaining that he was persecuting God's people. Many Friends were losing their lands because they refused to swear in court; Cromwell would not believe that they were suffering in jails. After they brought documents to him, Cromwell still refused to order them released. Then Thomas Aldam took off his cap and tore it in pieces, prophesying that his government would be torn from Cromwell, as it soon was. During the twelve years of the Commonwealth three thousand Quakers had been imprisoned, and 32 died in jail.

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 George Fox was again arrested without good reason. He wrote a letter to Charles II telling the King that he was the very opposite of a disturber of the peace. The suspicion that he would plot an armed rebellion was ridiculous. He denied drawing any carnal weapon against the King or the Parliament or any man on Earth; but rather he said he was a witness against all murderers and had it not in his heart to have any man destroyed. He asserted that he loved everyone including his enemies and attempted to awaken the love of the King for the truth. While in custody of soldiers at Whitehall he preached the gospel of loving one another and asked them why they wore swords and when they would break them and come to the gospel of peace. He also referred to the light in consciences that makes no covenant with death, to which light he spoke, and in which he was clear. Fox exhorted all Friends to live in peace; he declared that those who use carnal weapons throw away spiritual weapons, and those who do not love one another and love enemies are out of Christ's doctrine.

In 1660 Fox and eleven others signed "A Declaration from the harmless and innocent people of God, called Quakers, against all plotters and fighters in the world." They stated that their principle is, and their practices always have been, to seek peace and follow justice and the knowledge of God for the welfare of all. Warfare results from the lust and desire to have men's lives and estates. Pertinent passages from the Bible were quoted, but more importantly they honestly could declare that they practiced the ways of peace and suffered persecution for the sake of justice and had not done violence against anyone. They suffered in obedience to God, having been "despised, beaten, stoned, wounded, stocked, whipped, imprisoned, haled out of synagogues, cast into dungeons and noisome vaults where many have died in bonds, shut up from our friends, denied needful sustenance for many days together, with other the like cruelties." Hundreds of Friends had suffered these things, few more than George Fox. Yet they refused to swear or to fight; often they remained in jail after their sentence; for they refused to pay the jail keeper since they did not recognize that they had committed a crime. They pleaded to the King so that he would end this useless suffering. In his Journal Fox described how this declaration cleared away the darkness so that the King proclaimed that no soldiers should search a house without a constable and that Friends in jail should be set at liberty without having to pay the fees.

During the reign of Charles II (1660-85) 13,562 Quakers were imprisoned in England; 338 died in prison or were killed in the assaults on their meetings; and 198 were exported as slaves. In 1667 Fox traveled to set up monthly and quarterly meetings, and in 1669 he went to Ireland. Fox and other missionaries went to the West Indies and America in 1671 to convince others of the truth of the inner Light. Fox preached to the Indians, whom he treated as equals, and he urged humane treatment of Negroes and their eventual release from enslavement. He returned to England in 1673 and was imprisoned for the eighth time. He traveled to Europe in 1677 and returned to Holland seven years later. Fox continued to preach and clarify the doctrines of the inner Light until he died in 1691; during all this time he was the generally acknowledged leader of the Quakers.

William Penn

The second great Quaker leader, William Penn, was born in London on October 14, 1644. His father William was an admiral, fought for Parliament in the Civil War, and retired to estates in Ireland that had been granted him in the Cromwellian Settlement of 1652. Suspected of communicating with Charles II, Penn led the conquest of Jamaica for Cromwell in 1655. He was knighted by Charles II and made a commissioner for the navy. After showing courage in battle against the Dutch in 1665, he was bequeathed a claim on the government for 16,000 pounds. He was hopeful that his son would become prominent in the court and provided him with a fine education. Young William studied at Christ's Church College in Oxford, where John Locke was teaching; but he was fined and expelled for refusing to attend church and for religious nonconformity. William may have first heard a Quaker sermon by Thomas Loe as early as 1660. Disgruntled by his son's pious seriousness, the Admiral sent him off to France in 1663, and the father was glad when William returned the next year a good French scholar with the bearing of the courtly life. He advised his son then to study law at Lincoln's Inn, but after a year a great plague hit London in 1665.

While in Ireland managing his father's estates, young Penn turned toward religion again; he was convinced by Thomas Loe when he spoke about "a faith that overcomes the world." Penn recalled how the Lord had appeared to him since the age of twelve, the debauchery of Oxford and his persecution there, and the "irreligiousness" of the world's religions. At the Quaker meeting the Lord visited him again, and he testified about the mocking and scorn he had experienced, the displeasure of his parents, the invective from priests, but most of all his resisting and watching his own vain affections and thoughts. Uncertain about whether to give up his fine clothes, it is said that Penn asked George Fox if he must stop wearing a sword. Fox replied, "Wear it as long as thou canst."

In September 1667 Penn was arrested at a meeting of Friends. The mayor, noticing his aristocratic dress, offered to free him on his promise to behave; but the 23-year-old refused and was sent to prison with eighteen others. As he went to prison, Penn gave up his sword and never wore it again. Penn wrote that religion was his crime and made him a prisoner to a mayor's malice at the same time it made him a free man. In this letter to the Earl of Orrery he pleaded for religious toleration. The arrest brought the conflict between William and his father to a head. His father wanted him to conform to the ways of the world and attain a position of honor, but the son pleaded that he must listen to his conscience. Finally his father threatened to disinherit him; he asked that his son only uncover his head before the king, the duke, and himself. William prayed and fasted to know the heavenly will; but this only strengthened his resolution, and he was thrown out of the house.

Penn became an active promoter of Quaker ideas by writing numerous pamphlets. After he wrote "The Sandy Foundation Shaken" to refute the doctrines of the trinity and the eternal damnation of souls, he was put in prison, not for his ideas but because he had no license from the bishop of London. He was given pen and paper and was told to recant; but he wrote his father he would die in prison before he would budge. A royal chaplain was sent to mediate, and he persuaded Penn to write another pamphlet explaining his views. Penn wrote "Innocency with her Open Face" and was released. Also while in the Tower of London he wrote his most famous book, No Cross, No Crown.

In 1670 Penn and William Meade were arrested for preaching in the street on a warrant signed by Mayor Samuel Starling, who told Penn he would have his hat pulled off, and he berated his father. In the trial the prisoners appeared before twelve judges and twelve jurors. Penn challenged the legality of the indictment and would not plead without seeing a written copy; since this was not given, he pleaded not guilty. The next day the prisoners were fined forty marks for failing to remove their hats. Penn cited Coke on common law and the rights in the Great Charter (Magna Carta). The recorder charged the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty. Four jurors dissented, and they were sent back. After the jury found them guilty of speaking in the street but refused to add the words "in an unlawful assembly," the magistrates ordered them "locked up without meat, drink, fire, and tobacco" as Penn called to them not to give up their rights as Englishmen. The charge that unarmed worshipers had riotously broken the peace was absurd. Yet the result was that Penn and all twelve of the jury were sent to prison. Someone, probably Penn's father, paid the fines, and they were discharged.

Penn recently had been reconciled with his dying father, who passed away nine days later. The jurors, released on a writ of habeas corpus, sued the mayor and recorder, winning their case before the Court of Common Pleas in a historic decision that conceded judges "may try to open the eyes of the jurors, but not to lead them by the nose." Penn wrote a pamphlet with an appendix citing numerous precedents since the Magna Carta of 1215. This trial became famous and showed that the arbitrary and oppressive proceedings of the courts badly needed reform. Again the next year Mayor Starling had Penn arrested for preaching without taking an oath, even though the Conventicle Law was only for those in holy orders, which Penn was not. He was sent to Newgate prison for six months and occupied his time writing pamphlets. He also sent a protest to the sheriffs of London about prison conditions and an address to Parliament against the Conventicle Act. Later in 1671 Penn went with Fox to see him and his companions off to America from Gravesend. This stimulated Penn to undertake a missionary trip to Holland and Germany. In the Netherlands his communications foreboded the miseries of the wars brought about by Louis XIV.

In 1673 Penn went to court to secure a writ of habeas corpus to release George Fox from Worcester prison. Fox had been in prison for more than a year; but Judge Matthew Hale found so many errors in the indictment that he discharged Fox. Probably because of Penn's influence with the last two Stuart kings, Fox was never arrested again. Penn wrote "A Treatise of Oaths" in 1675 so that Quakers would not be imprisoned for refusing to take an oath of allegiance or to swear in court. He cited 122 authorities from Pythagoras to William of Orange on the folly of exacting oaths. Penn's many pamphlets arguing for religious tolerance such as "The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience Debated," "Examination of Liberty Spiritual," and "A Persuasive to Moderation" finally bore fruit in 1689 when the Toleration Act was passed. Many believed that his writings brought about the release of 1300 Quakers from jail.

In 1677 Penn wrote the "Concessions and Agreements" for West New Jersey proprietors of the first Quaker colony in America, calling for annual elections by ballot for the assembly, which shall have power to make, alter, and repeal laws, including taxation; every adult male free of crime was eligible to vote and hold office; the legislature should choose ten commissioners for executive power; judges and constables were elected by the people; trial by jury was unrestricted; and freedom of conscience and religious worship were protected.

Holy Experiment in Pennsylvania

Before Penn's father died, he gave his son his blessing. The crown of England owed 16,000 pounds, interest, and back salary to the late Admiral Penn, and in 1680 his son asked for a grant of American land west of the Delaware. The land he received in a charter on February 24, 1681 may be the largest piece of property ever owned by a commoner. Penn wanted to call it Sylvania for its forests, but Charles II insisted that Penn be added, making it Pennsylvania. Although Penn was sole proprietor and therefore governor, he wanted this holy experiment as a pacifist society to be a haven for religious toleration and representative government. Of course it was to be a home for the Quakers, but others were welcome also.

Instead of referring to the divine right of kings, Penn in the preface to the "First Frame of Government" argued for the divine right of government to "terrify evildoers" and "cherish those that do well; which gives government a life beyond corruption and makes it as durable in the world as good men shall be."4 He argued that governments depend on men rather than men upon governments, because if the men are good, the government cannot be bad; or if it is, they will cure it; but if men are bad, government will never be good. Penn made religious liberty the first fundamental, although unlike the New Jersey Concessions, a law excluded atheists, malefactors, and non-Christians from voting and holding office. All prisons were to be workhouses for felons and vagrants as the usual cruel punishments of branding and ear-cropping were not used, and capital punishment was only allowed for treason and murder. However, in 1700 mutilation and branding were added, and in 1718 the provincial assembly extended the death penalty to twelve more felonies. Civil disputes between Quakers were settled within the Society of Friends by means of arbitration.

Penn was sensitive to being friendly and peaceful toward the Indians and required that all land bought from him must also be purchased from the local tribes. He began by sending an eloquent letter to the "kings of the Indians in America" in which he acknowledged one great God who teaches us to love and help one another. He indicated that he wants to enjoy the province given him with their love and consent so that they can live together as neighbors and friends. He realized that they had suffered unkindness and injustice from Europeans who have tried to take advantage of them, causing great animosities and violence. Penn promised them "full and speedy satisfaction" for any offenses "by an equal number of honest men on both sides." He sent commissioners with presents as tokens of his good will to negotiate about land and to make a league of peace. In 1682 he gave to the Indians at Schackamaxon the following address, which was translated for them by Lasse Cock:

The Great Spirit who made me and you,
who rules the heavens and the earth,
and who knows the innermost thoughts of man,
knows that I and my friends have a hearty desire
to live in peace and friendship with you,
and to serve you to the utmost of our power.
It is not our custom to use hostile weapons
against our fellow creatures,
for which reason we have come unarmed.
Our object is not to do injury,
and thus provoke the Great Spirit,
but to do good.

We are met on the broad pathway of good faith and goodwill,
so that no advantage is to be taken on either side,
but all is to be openness, brotherhood, and love.5

Penn turned down 6,000 pounds and 2.5% of the profits from a company that wanted a monopoly on the fur trade between the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers. He stayed in America for two years, overseeing the founding of the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. His proposal to legalize slave marriages was defeated in the assembly. Four years later they put a duty on importation of slaves, and before Penn's death importation was prohibited. When he returned to England in 1684 to negotiate with Lord Baltimore over the disputed boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, he was pleased to report that there was not one soldier nor militia man seen in Pennsylvania. He had to spend most of his time in England trying to protect the colony from intrusions by the British government; he was only to make one more two-year trip to Pennsylvania. He appointed deputies and encouraged the province to be self-governing.

During the revolution of 1688 Penn was interned on charges he had given aid to the deposed Stuart king James II; but one month after William of Orange landed, he was cleared in open court. Additional treason charges prevented him from going to Pennsylvania. King William compelled Penn to retire from public life, and in the next three years he wrote "An Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe" and Some Fruits of Solitude, which is often quoted for its moral and proverbial insights. The Pennsylvania assembly refused to organize a militia or soldiers, and in 1692 King William ordered the province annexed to New York as all the colonies from New England to Maryland were put under a royal governor during the war against the French and Indians. Another royal order on August 20, 1694 restored Pennsylvania to its founder. Penn's wife Gulielma died in 1694, and he married Hannah two years later.

Penn went to America again in 1699, but two years later he returned to England to oppose a proposal to turn Pennsylvania into a crown colony. In 1708 he was arrested attending a Quaker meeting in London and spent eleven months in debtors' prison, where his health declined even though conditions were more comfortable than jail. He was released after English Quakers raised 6,600 pounds to pay his debt to the heirs of Philip Ford. Penn was paralyzed by a stroke in 1712, but he did not die until 1718. The proprietorship passed to Penn's sons, who had converted to the Anglican Church.

In 1694 Penn published "The Rise and Progress of the People Called Quakers," which began as a preface to George Fox's Journal. Penn described the examples of Quaker testimonies. First, he noted their communion in loving and caring for one another. Second, they teach and practice loving their enemies. Third, they find that telling the truth is sufficient without taking oaths or swearing. Fourth, they do not fight and are willing to suffer instead. Fifth, they refuse to pay tithes to support a national ministry. Sixth, they do not respect authorities more than other persons. Seventh, they use the plain language of thou and thee to every person. Eighth, they practice silence and use few words. Ninth, they do not drink to people nor make pledges (toasts). Tenth, they marry without a priest or a magistrate as the man and woman before witnesses promise to love each other. Eleventh, they avoid ceremonies and festivals regarding birth. Twelfth, they perform burials with simplicity.

In their ministry Quakers change themselves before they try to change others. In preaching they let the Spirit of God move them rather than speak their own studied material. They emphasize being holy, not doctrines, verbal creeds, and ceremonies of worship. They direct people to look within themselves and to their own experience to find the truth. They find that even people in mean professions can understand divine things and express them. They are humble and despised like the primitive Christians. They are known for their constancy and patience in suffering for their testimony. They do not revenge but forgive their cruel enemies. They speak plain prophecies to those in authority who commit public and private sins. Then Penn described the life, character, and teachings of George Fox.

In 1696 while England was still at war with France, the Board of Trade was appointed to supervise all colonial affairs and was discussing ways of organizing a unified command in America to defend New York's frontier. Penn testified before the Board, suggesting that if quotas are imposed on the colonies, it is only just that they should be decided by representatives meeting in one assembly. The Lords of Trade invited him to present his scheme in writing, and Penn put forth "A Plan of Union for the American Colonies." This brief document recommended they meet at least once a year during war or once in two years in times of peace with appointed deputies to resolve measures needed for public tranquility and safety. He suggested two persons from each of the ten provinces and accepted the King's Commissioner to preside. They should hear and adjust all matters of complaint such as persons leaving a province to avoid paying just debts, offenders fleeing justice, preventing and curing injuries in commerce, and finding ways and means to support their union and safety against public enemies. Penn also accepted the King's Commissioner as chief commander against the enemy for the benefit of the whole.

Penn found that his Quaker deputies had difficulty handling the government, and so in 1688 he appointed the Civil War veteran Captain John Blackwell as his deputy, hoping that he would be stiffer with neighbors than the Friends. "King William's War" with Louis XIV lasted from 1689 to 1697 and challenged the pacifist colony. The Quaker councilors refused to support war measures but allowed Blackwell to act on his own for defense. In 1690 a private militia was allowed. The next year Babbitt and his accomplices stole a vessel from Philadelphia's harbor and began robbing; but some young Quakers managed to bring them to justice. Quaker George Keith considered the Bible and Jesus more important than the inner Light, opposed slaveholding, and took the Anabaptist position that pacifists should not participate in government; but his following was a minority.

Penn set the principle that all land should be purchased at a fair price from the Indians; but those who were not Quakers did not always adhere to this policy, and relations with the natives began to deteriorate. While Pennsylvania was taken over by New York, in 1693 the assembly granted the governor 760 pounds, which was used for officer's salaries. David Lloyd suggested that money could be voted to purchase food and clothing for the Iroquois so that they would not join the French. In the last two years of the war after Penn again was made proprietor, grants were passed for the king to use as he pleased, though in 1697 they denied a request for 2,000 pounds as Pennsylvania's quota for colonial defense.

While Penn was in Pennsylvania, in 1701 the assembly refused to grant King William 350 pounds to support New York fortifications on the frontier. Penn refused to establish a militia, but he did approve an armed watch against pirates invading Delaware Bay. In 1709 the Pennsylvania assembly refused to give the governor 4,000 pounds he requested for an expedition against Canada; but in the elections the next year David Lloyd and the conservative Quakers gained control of the assembly, and in 1711 they appropriated 2,000 pounds for such an expedition against the French. Some Quakers refused to pay the tax, and several Friends were imprisoned. In England, Penn negotiated an agreement to maintain the freedom from taking oaths and from serving in the military; but before he could sign it, he suffered a debilitating stroke in 1712. The following year the Treaty of Utrecht led to a quarter century of peace.

Indians suffered from the notorious "Walking Purchase" land deal of 1737 as more colonists of other religions arrived. England's war with Spain and France in 1739 led to renewed requests for war taxes and a militia. Deputy-Governor George Thomas argued that fighting a war against a public enemy was like punishing criminals; but Quakers in the assembly said that killing a soldier, whose sole crime was obeying his sovereign, was vastly different from executing a murderer or a burglar for violating laws. In the summer of 1740 when indentured servants were recruited for the military, Quakers objected and offered 3,000 pounds for the king if he would stop this; but the governor declined their offer. Benjamin Franklin promoted defense, and in 1741 the assembly voted 3,000 pounds to the king. When the assembly passed 4,000 pounds in 1745 for "bread, beef, pork, flour, wheat or other grain," Franklin quipped that by "other grain" they meant gunpowder. The next year 5,000 pounds went to equip four companies to fight against Canada. Fear of an invasion led to the forming of a voluntary militia in 1747; but the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle brought peace the next year.

After General Braddock's disastrous defeat by the Indians near Fort Duquesne in 1755, the Pennsylvania assembly appropriated 50,000 pounds for the king's use. By then Quakers were only about one-fifth of the population though they still held two-thirds of the legislature. Four months later they passed another 60,000 pounds, and only seven peaceful Quakers voted against it. John Woolman led a protest against the tax and wrote "An Epistle of Tender Love and Caution to Friends in Pennsylvania" in which he said they would refuse to pay the war tax on grounds of conscience and were ready to suffer the consequences. A test oath was proposed to remove conscientious Quakers from the assembly, and in England it was supported by the proprietor Thomas Penn; but English Quakers worked out a compromise that Pennsylvania Friends would withdraw from politics for the duration of the war. In April 1756 the governor and his council declared war on the Delawares and Shawnees, and the assembly cooperated with the garrisoning of forts with militia.

On June 7, 1756 six conscientious Friends resigned from the assembly, ending the 74 years of pacifist government known as the Holy Experiment. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting organized the Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Means, and their private efforts led the governor to make a peace treaty with the Delawares in August 1757 that was extended to other tribes the following year. Some Friends refused to pay the tax or serve in the militia and were fined. Although the Holy Experiment was not permanently successful, it did demonstrate that a pacifist government could sustain itself even on a frontier with a vastly different type of people (Indians).

John Woolman was born in Northampton, New Jersey in 1720 in a Quaker family. His autobiographical Journal is a literary classic. He is best known for his opposition to slavery, which was still practiced in Pennsylvania by some Quakers and others. His conscience was awakened to this evil when he was a clerk at a New Jersey store in 1742 and was asked to make out a bill of sale for a Negro woman. He worked for emancipation at Yearly Meetings until his death in 1772. Within twenty years the Society of Friends had ceased to practice slavery.

Penn's Peace Plan

In 1693 while Europe was suffering from the War of the League of Augsburg that embroiled in war England, France, Sweden, Spain, Savoy, Holland, and several German states, William Penn published one of the world's excellent plans for international peace entitled "An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe By the Establishment of an European Diet, Parliament, or Estates." Penn's was the first peace plan that envisioned disarmament as the most effective guarantee for international peace. His points are relatively simple and well argued. First, the value of peace is obvious when we look at the terrible ravages of wars, which cause so much suffering and destruction. Second, war and strife are prevented by means of justice, both for individuals and groups, resolving conflicts in a fair way. Third, justice depends on government to enforce laws impartially, and government gains its sovereign authority to do so from the consent of the people.

Fourth, peace in Europe may be maintained by forming a Sovereign Parliament of the European states to decide disputes collectively and unite as one strength in enforcing the decisions. Fifth, there are three ways the peace is broken: defending one's own territory, trying to recover territory previously claimed, and trying to increase one's dominion by invading another country. Sixth, governments claim sovereignty by succession, election, marriage, purchase, or conquest. Seventh, all of the European states, including Russia and Turkey, should be included in the Diet with votes equivalent to the value of their territory. Eighth, among regulations a secret ballot is recommended to prevent the corruption of bribes with the idea that the one bribing would have no guarantee whether his money was effective.

In the ninth section Penn answered objections. Even if the strongest nation refused to join, the others together could compel it. Small forces within each country could prevent a large army from forming. Youth not trained for war would not become effeminate if they were disciplined for some other type of work. States would still maintain their sovereignty over their own internal affairs.

In the tenth section Penn listed the many benefits of his plan. Bloodshed would be prevented, and towns and property would not be destroyed. The Christian countries would be more in harmony with the true teachings of Christ. Every country would save money, which could be used in more constructive ways. It would give the Christian countries security against the Turks. Travel between states would be free and easy, and personal friendships could develop between the peoples of different countries. Princes would not have to marry for political and diplomatic reasons but could establish unions based on sincere love. In his conclusion Penn reiterated the important principle that there must be a sovereign authority to settle disputes which is greater than the parties in conflict. Just as individuals have difficulty settling their own disagreements, so also nations often require an impartial authority to decide between them. As an actual example of a working federal system he cited the United Provinces which met at The Hague. The value of the principles in Penn's plan can be seen in the success of the European Union three centuries after he suggested the idea.

A Quaker friend of Penn's, John Bellers, submitted a similar peace plan to the British Parliament in 1710 with a very long title that begins Some Reasons for an European State. Bellers noted that the Council of State in Holland had declared in the preamble to their current war with Louis XIV that nations could not protect themselves from French power without a mutual union such as that which the Empire and the Republic of Venice had formed to defend against the Turks. Bellers suggested that the next general peace treaty could include a provision for an annual parliament of all nations to guarantee peace as all claims of states against each other could be settled and preserved by European law. Bellers proposed dividing Europe into one hundred equal provinces with each having one representative in the parliament and supplying one thousand soldiers or an equal value in ships or money. The Parliament would hear disputes, debate them, and settle them according to reason. This would enable states to disarm themselves, for Bellers asserted that peace without disarmament was little better than a truce. He hoped that all the Christian nations could put aside their differences in order to agree on general principles out of charity in order to prevent foreign wars.


1. The Journal by George Fox, p. 128.
2. Ibid., p. 129.
3. Ibid., p. 212.
4. "First Frame of Government for Pennsylvania," preface by William Penn in The Witness of William Penn, p. 110.
5. "Address to Lenni-Lenape tribes" by William Penn, November 30, 1682 at Schackamaxon.

Copyright © 2003-2005 by Sanderson Beck

This is a chapter in Guides to Peace and Justice from Ancient Sages to the Suffragettes, which is published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

Prophets of Israel
Chinese Sages
Upanishads and Yoga
Mahavira and Buddha
Greek Philosophers and Aristophanes
Stoic Philosophers
Jesus and the Early Christians
Zarathushtra, Mani, and the Cathars
Sufis, Philosophers, and Nanak
Francesco and Bonaventure
Dante, Marsilius, and Petrarch
Magna Carta to Wyclif
Erasmus, Anabaptists, and Mennonites
International Law Pioneers
Quakers: Fox and Penn's Holy Experiment
Peace Plans of Rousseau, Bentham, and Kant
Abolitionists, Emerson, and Thoreau
Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá on World Peace
Tolstoy on the Law of Love
Suffragettes and Women's Rights


Chronology of Peacemaking

BECK index