. 1
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Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought
of John Dickinson

In the late seventeenth century, Quakers originated a unique strain of con-
stitutionalism, based on their theology and ecclesiology, that emphasized
constitutional perpetuity and radical change through popular peaceful pro-
test. While Whigs could imagine no other means of drastic constitutional
reform except revolution, Quakers denied this as a legitimate option to halt
governmental abuse of authority and advocated instead civil disobedience.
This theory of a perpetual yet amendable constitution and its concomitant
idea of popular sovereignty are things that most scholars believe did not
exist until the American Founding. The most notable advocate of this the-
ory was Founding Father John Dickinson, champion of American rights,
but not revolution. His thought and action have been misunderstood
until now, when they are placed within the Quaker tradition. This theory
of Quaker constitutionalism can be traced in a clear and direct line from
early Quakers through Dickinson to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jane E. Calvert received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2003
and is currently assistant professor of history at the University of Ken-
tucky. Her articles and reviews have been published in History of Politi-
cal Thought, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, History
Compass, Annali di storia dell™ esegesi, Quaker Religious Thought, Jour-
nal of Religion, Quaker History, and Pennsylvania History. She has also
received fellowships and grants from the University of Chicago (1996“
99, 1999, 2001, 2002); Haverford College (2000); the Library Company
of Philadelphia/Historical Society of Pennsylvania (2002); the Newberry
Library (2005); the National Endowment for the Humanities (2005); the
American Philosophical Society (2006); the Huntington Library (2006);
and the David Library of the American Revolution (2007). She is currently
working on an edited volume of John Dickinson™s political writings.
Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political
Thought of John Dickinson

University of Kentucky
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York

Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521884365
© Jane E. Calvert 2009

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the
provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part
may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format 2008

ISBN-13 978-0-511-46393-8 eBook (EBL)

ISBN-13 978-0-521-88436-5 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy
of urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication,
and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain,
accurate or appropriate.
For Eric

Acknowledgments page ix
Abbreviations xiii

Introduction 1

i. quaker constitutionalism in theory and practice,
1. Bureaucratic Libertines: The Origins of Quaker
Constitutionalism and Civil Dissent 25
2. A Sacred Institution: The Quaker Theory of a Civil
Constitution 65
3. “Dissenters in Our Own Country”: Constituting a Quaker
Government in Pennsylvania 100
4. Civil Unity and “Seeds of Dissention” in the Golden Age of
Quaker Theocracy 136
5. The Fruits of Quaker Dissent: Political Schism and the Rise of
John Dickinson 177

ii. the political quakerism of john dickinson, 1763“1789
6. Turbulent but Paci¬c: “Dickinsonian Politics” in the
American Revolution 207
7. “The Worthy Against the Licentious”: The Critical Period
in Pennsylvania 247

viii Contents

8. “The Political Rock of Our Salvation”: The U.S. Constitution
According to John Dickinson 279
Epilogue: The Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism,
1789“1963 312

Bibliography 335
Index 365

Looking back, I imagine I can see the beginnings of this book in my ¬rst year
of college “ at a Quaker school, reading Aristotle™s Nichomachean Ethics, and
being entranced with his description of moderated political participation as
the highest good. By graduation I had a growing collection of questions that
needed answering “ about Americans and how they relate to one another and
their government and about Quakerism. Beginning this project as my master™s
thesis at the University of Chicago was a ¬rst attempt to ¬nd answers.
As the study progressed through the dissertation and into this ¬nal form,
teachers, mentors, colleagues, and friends shaped it and helped bring it forth
with their own questions and observations. I can trace the birth of speci¬c
themes back to their words. Tom Hamm asked me what I thought of Quaker
quietism. Martin Marty talked with me about the “leaky Quakers,” with their
porous and ¬‚uid community. Catherine Brekus pushed me to think about
whether Quakers were simply radical Puritans. Pauline Maier and Ethan Sha-
gan thought with me about whether Quakers, as paci¬sts, could be considered
Whigs. And, in a question that turned the dissertation toward a book, Cass
Sunstein asked whether Quakers considered the constitution sacrosanct. While
these snippets are hardly the only guidance I received, they are the moments
that stand out in my mind as turning points in the development of my thesis. I
hope my responses do justice to their queries.
Many others were helpful in equally important ways. Mark Noll served as
my constant optimistic skeptic, always challenging, rarely convinced in the early
stages, but always encouraging. Matt Cohen described, in terms that are still
beyond me, why my project was worthwhile. Paul Rahe and Kenneth Bowling
had, among much sage advice, the foresight to know that I was writing a book
about John Dickinson years before I did. It was my good fortune that Jim
Green at the Library Company of Philadelphia directed me their way. The kind
folks at the Friends Library of Swarthmore College were always ready with
bountiful resources, reliable assistance, and donations to the Calvert library.
Georg Mauerhoff at Readex gave me access to Archive of Americana, without
x Acknowledgments

which I would have been at a loss. Lisa Clark Diller provided me with among
the most thoughtful comments on an early draft. My student assistants, Peter
Regan and Karl Alexander, worked long hours with messy early footnotes.
The RHCP were ever present with their spicy soul food for the heart and mind,
which sustained me in ways nothing else could. Lew Bateman, my editor at
Cambridge, was as patient as he could be with this simultaneously picky and
ignorant ¬rst-time author. And the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion have
been as enthusiastic an audience as a scholar can hope to have. My heartfelt
appreciation to each and all.
Fellowships and grants from a number of institutions were also crucial for
the completion of the project. Most important was the Newberry Library (Mon-
ticello College Foundation Fellowship), where, with the gifts of six months
without teaching and a lively and supportive intellectual community, the dis-
sertation transformed, seemingly on its own, into a book. Those were, without
a doubt, the most ful¬lling months of my professional life. An NEH “We
the People” Summer Stipend and the administration of St. Mary™s College of
Maryland contributed to this scholarly getaway. The support of the Library
Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Andrew
W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship), often embodied in the person of librar-
ian Connie King, allowed me access to the seminal resources on Dickinson.
The American Philosophical Society (Library Residence Research Fellowship),
the Haverford College Quaker Collection (Gest Fellowship), and the Hunt-
ington Library (Robert L. Middlekauff Fellowship) offered unique and indis-
pensable resources and support in spectacular environs. The bucolic, if not
rabbit-friendly, environment of the David Library of the American Revolution
(Library Fellowship) was the ful¬llment of a dream “ twenty-four-hour library
access to everything a girl could desire on the War of Independence. Conver-
sations with the staffs and scholars I have met at these places enriched and
complicated my ideas. I am grateful to all of them.
Acknowledgment is also due to several journals for allowing me to reprint
portions of articles in this study: “The Quaker Theory of a Civil Constitution,”
History of Political Thought vol. 27, no. 4 (2006), 586“619; “America™s For-
gotten Founder: John Dickinson and the American Revolution,” History Com-
pass, 5/3 (May 2007), 1001“11, DOI 10.1111/j.1478“0542.2007.00424.x;
and “Liberty without Tumult: Understanding the Politics of John Dickinson,”
Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography vol. 132, no. 3 (2007), 233“
62. The readers at these journals, as well as those at Cambridge University
Press, offered wonderful encouragement and suggestions.
My deepest appreciation goes to my family. My mother, Jenifer Patterson,
was a constant, without whom I would not have even made it through graduate
school. I am sure the political theory genes I inherited from my father-professor,
Robert Calvert, as well as the decades of ideas he exposed me to, are the reason I
had any questions to begin with. And my brother, Edward Calvert, was always
interested in and appreciative of my progress.
Acknowledgments xi

Above all, however, this project would not have emerged from the dark
recesses without my husband, Eric Kiltinen. The questions he asked, drawing
it out, and the hours he spent (often trapped in a moving car) listening to my
inchoate musings cannot be enumerated. He has been an invaluable sounding-
board, a learned theologian, a meticulous editor and index-helper, a competent
computer-¬xer, a reliable and loving cat- and horse-sitter, a steady Baconbring-
enhomer, cook, carpenter, and all-around Hausmann, and my friend. If there
is anything worthy about this book, I owe it to him, because it could not have
been written without him.

Lexington, Kentucky
June 2008

APS American Philosophical Society
Delegates Letters from the Delegates to Congress,
1774“1789. Paul Hubert Smith, ed. 25 vols.
Summer¬eld, FL: Historical Database, 1995.
DPA Delaware Public Archives
FHL Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College
HSP Historical Society of Pennsylvania
HQC Haverford College Quaker Collection
Friends™ Library The Friends™ Library: comprises journals, doctrinal
treatises, and other writings of the Religious
Society of Friends. William Evans and Thomas
Evans, eds. 14 vols. Philadelphia: J. Rakestraw,
JCC Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774“1789.
Worthington C. Ford et al., eds. Washington,
DC, 1904“37.
JDP/LCP John Dickinson Papers, Library Company of
LL Lawmaking and Legislators in Pennsylvania: A
Biographical Dictionary, 1682“1709. Craig
Horle et al., eds. 3 vols. Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 1991“2005.
LCP Library Company of Philadelphia
Letters John Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in
Pennsylvania, To the Inhabitants of the British
Colonies (1767“68) in Forrest McDonald, ed.,
Empire and Nation: Letters from a Farmer in
Pennsylvania (John Dickinson); Letters from a
Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee), 2nd ed.
(Indianapolis: The Liberty Fund, 1999).
xiv Abbreviations

“Notes” John Dickinson, handwritten notes on his copy of
The Constitution of the Common-Wealth of
Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1776), 5“9, located
in the Library Company of Philadelphia.
Resolutions Resolutions from the “Meeting in the State-House
Yard” in Peter Force, ed., American Archives.
ser. 5 (Washington, DC, 1837“53), 1149“52.
Published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Oct. 23,
RRL/HSP R. R. Logan Collection, Historical Society of
PA Pennsylvania Archives, Eighth Series: Votes and
Proceedings of the House of Representatives of
the Province of Pennsylvania. Gertrude
MacKinney, ed. 7 vols. Philadelphia: Franklin
and Hall, 1931.
Penn-Logan Corresp. Correspondence between William Penn and James
Logan, Secretary of the Province and Others.
Edward Armstrong, ed. 2 vols. Philadelphia:
Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1870“72.
PMHB Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
PWP The Papers of William Penn. Richards. Dunn and
Mary Maples Dunn, eds. 5 vols. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981“86.
PYM Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Statutes Statutes-at-Large of Pennsylvania from 1682“1801.
James T. Mitchell and Henry Flanders, eds. 15
vols. Harrisburg, PA: Clarence M. Busch, State
Printer of Pennsylvania, 1896“1911.
WMQ The William and Mary Quarterly

Few religious groups in America have provoked such mixed and extreme reac-
tions as the Religious Society of Friends. Commonly known as Quakers, since
their inception in the 1650s and their energetic pursuit of dissenters™ rights,
they have been scorned and celebrated by popular and scholarly observers
alike. While some commentators have derided them for arrogance, hypocrisy,
and the subversion of social and political institutions, others go as far as to say
that the Quakers “invented” America and credit them with originating much of
what is right and just in this country.1 Interestingly, others still have dismissed
them as irrelevant to the larger questions of American political life or simply
taken no notice.
Yet as anyone with a passing familiarity with American history might
observe, in one way or another, for better or worse, Quakers have been an
important force. They were ubiquitous and “peculiar,” as they described them-
selves, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; it is well-known that Quak-
ers caused signi¬cant dif¬culties for Massachusetts Puritans and that Pennsyl-
vania was a Quaker colony. Although they blended into American culture more
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, very little probing of the more recent
past reveals them to be equally present; many, for example, are aware that
Friends had a prominent role in the social reform movements of the Antebel-
lum period. Beyond that, at the very least, it would be hard to ¬nd an American
today unfamiliar with the Quaker Oats man, contrived image though it is.
But even with this signi¬cant presence, few scholarly works have undertaken
to show precisely what Quakers have contributed to American political culture
and how they accomplished it. Despite the grandiose claims, both negative and

1 See, for example, Joseph Smith, Bibliotheca Anti-Quakeriana: A Catalogue of Books Adverse to
the Society of Friends (London, 1873; rpt. New York: Kraus, 1963). In the twentieth century,
commentary has tended toward the other direction. See, most recently, David Yount, How
Quakers Invented America (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Little¬eld Publishers, 2007). A fuller
discussion of the popular reception of Quakerism appears in the following chapters.

2 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

positive, there has been at the same time a curious neglect of the intricacies
of Quaker theologico-political thought that has kept many of the arguments
super¬cial, implausible, or merely limited.
That Quaker constitutionalism is the subject of a formal analysis challenges
conventional approaches to the study of Quakerism and Anglo-American polit-
ical history. In the ¬rst instance, a common anachronism committed by con-
temporary scholars, and what has undoubtedly contributed to the absence of
Quakerism from the political historiography, is to consider religion and pol-
itics as though they were separate and distinct realms of thought and action.
In discussing Quaker thought, I borrow the term “theologico-political” from
Spinoza. This term signi¬es the interrelatedness of the religious and the political
that has shaped Anglo-American thinking even beyond the First Amendment.
When Spinoza wrote his Theologico-Political Treatise (1670), he did so as an
objection to this relationship. This has led some scholars to argue that he was
the ¬rst liberal democrat.2 Whatever Spinoza might have been, his treatise is
not best viewed whiggishly as a harbinger of things to come, but rather for
what it was, a commentary on his present, in which few could conceive of a
secular political world. It is only in this context that we can understand how
Quakers and other men of their time understood theology and ecclesiology
as largely indistinguishable from political theory and civil structures. While at
times throughout this study I speak of them separately, this is an arti¬cial device
used for the sake of a comprehendible discussion and does not re¬‚ect the actual
way people of the time thought. Quaker theories on church and state emerged
simultaneously. The only sense in which religion preceded politics occurred
when they looked for the ultimate justi¬cation for their political theory; then
they turned to God.
Among scholars sensitive to the historical relationship between religion and
politics, the neglect of Quakerism stems from another source “ confusion about
the genealogy of Quakerism. There has been a largely unarticulated tension in
the literature about whether they were Anabaptists or reformed Calvinists;
or, rather, toward which side of their family tree they tended.3 For different
reasons, placing them too ¬rmly on one branch or the other has had the
consequence of making them appear irrelevant to political history.
When scholars have considered Quakerism as a variation of Anabaptism,
they have cultivated a myth that that they were quietists. Some claim that, after a
period of enthusiastic proselytizing in their founding years, the Society retreated
inward and disengaged from the world. Quaker historians, such as W. C.
Braithwaite, have argued that, after their initial intensity, there was eventu-
ally an “indifference to public life which persecution and nonconformity with

2 Hillel G. Fradkin, “The ˜Separation™ of Religion and Politics: The Paradoxes of Spinoza,” The
Review of Politics vol. 50, no. 4, Fiftieth Anniversary Issue: Religion and Politics (1988), 603“27.
3 The only work that confronts this problem head on is Melvin B. Endy™s “Puritanism, Spiritualism,
and Quakerism,” in Mary Maples Dunn and Richard Dunn, eds., The World of William Penn
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), 281“301.
Introduction 3

the practices of the world gradually fostered.”4 Following them, others such
as Christopher Hill maintain that after 1660, “[t]he Quakers turned paci¬st
and abandoned any attempt to bring about by political means a better world
on earth.”5 This alleged quietism has not been seriously examined since by
most political historians who usually consider Quakers as a whole to be, as
Garry Wills has categorized them, “withdrawers” from government and civil
society “ a corporately exclusive sectarian group that shuns engagement with
the world to preserve its own purity.6 Until relatively recently, the perception
of Quakers as apolitical has discouraged attempts to investigate their political
theory. Naturally, a quietist group would have no need to formulate a theory
of a civil constitution or civic engagement. In her seminal work on Anglo-
American political thought, therefore, Caroline Robbins writes that Quakers
can be “safely neglected” in the study of constitutionalism. “Their continued
existence,” she says, “was a reminder of a demand for greater liberty, but
they took no great part in political agitations of any kind.”7 Most subsequent

4 William C. Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1955), 314; Hugh Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England (New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press, 1964), 251; W. C. Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism (London: Macmillan
and Co., 1919), 179; H. Larry Ingle, “Richard Hubberthorne and History: The Crisis of 1659,”
Journal of the Friends™ Historical Society vol. 56, no. 3 (1992), 189“200, 197.
5 Christopher Hill, The Religion of Gerrard Winstanley (Oxford: The Past and Present Society,
1978), 55; also see Christopher Hill, Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries
(New York: Viking, 1984), 130. Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The Colonial Experience
(New York: Vintage Books, 1958), 68; Blanche Weisen Cook, et al., eds., Peace Projects of
the Seventeenth Century (New York: Garland Publishing, 1972), 15. A sort of quietism was
certainly an important aspect of Quaker thinking, but explaining it simply as withdrawal does
not take into account the political expressions of this stance. Nor was this stance ubiquitous
throughout the Society of Friends in the eighteenth century. Richard Bauman describes three main
modes of Quaker political behavior that existed “ sometimes in tension with one another “ in
mid-eighteenth century Pennsylvania: religious reformers, worldly politicians, and “politiques,”
those who were a mixture of both. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the so-
called quietists as political leaders on their own terms. Although Quakers participated in politics
in diverse ways, Bauman™s analysis presupposes an underlying unity that is important for the
purposes here “ the idea of a government and society based on Quaker principles. They simply
took different approaches to reforming civil society in different periods. See Richard Bauman,
For the Reputation of Truth: Politics, Religion, and Con¬‚ict among the Pennsylvania Quakers,
1750“1800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971).
6 For more on the category of “withdrawer,” see Garry Wills, A Necessary Evil: A History of the
American Distrust of Government (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999). There was a point
at which some Quakers did indeed withdraw from of¬ce holding; however, this fact does not
de¬ne all Quakers or their entire relationship to government and politics.
7 Caroline Robbins, The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman: Studies in the Transmission,
Development and Circumstance of English Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II
until the War with the Thirteen Colonies (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 222.
This statement may not be representative of her later thought. In 1979 she contributed a brief
essay to discussion on the West Jersey Concessions and Agreements of 1676/77, the ¬rst Quaker
constitution, in which she wrote that the Concessions “naturally re¬‚ected Quaker ideology”
and remains “the clearest expression of the liberal aspirations of mid-century revolutionaries”
(Caroline Robbins, “William Penn, Edward Byllynge and the Concessions of 1677,” in The
4 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

work on early modern politics has followed this assumption. Although there
are many studies of the in¬‚uence of the political world on Quakerism and their
practical politics in Pennsylvania,8 there are few studies on the relationship
of Quaker theology to their political thought,9 fewer still on the signi¬cance
of their thought and practice for the American polity,10 and none on their
collective understanding of a constitution.11

West Jersey Concessions and Agreements of 1676/77: A Roundtable of Historians, Occasional
Papers No. 1 [Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1979], 17“23. 19, 23). Those
following her earlier thought include Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down:
Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (New York: The Viking Press, 1972), 327; Boorstin,
The Americans, 68; J. G. A Pocock, “Interregnum and Restoration,” in The Varieties of British
Political Thought, 1500“1800 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 155; Wills, A
Necessary Evil.
8 Frederick B. Tolles, Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants of Colonial
Pennsylvania, 1682“1763 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1948); Gary B. Nash, Quakers and Pol-
itics: Pennsylvania, 1681“1726 (Princeton, 1968; rpt. Boston: Northeastern University Press,
1993); James H. Hutson, Pennsylvania Politics, 1740“1770: The Movement for Royal Gov-
ernment and Its Consequences (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972); Alan Tully,
Forming American Politics: Ideals, Interests, and Institutions in Colonial New York and Penn-
sylvania (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994); and Tully, William Penn™s Legacy:
Politics and Social Structure in Provincial Pennsylvania, 1726“1755 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1977).
9 A useful work by Herman Wellenreuther discusses of the in¬‚uence of Quaker theology and
ecclesiology in Pennsylvania government: Glaube und Politik in Pennsylvania, 1681“1776:
Die Wandlungen der Obrigkeitsdoktrin und des Peace Testimony der Quaker (Koln: Bohlau,
¨ ¨
1972). This study presents in impressive detail the dif¬culties Quakers confronted in reconciling
their political authority with their peace testimony. Richard Bauman gives an analysis of various
forms of Quaker political engagement in Pennsylvania as based on their different understandings
and expressions of Quaker principles in For the Reputation of Truth. Other studies examine
the political thought of William Penn, but with little or no attention to his Quakerism. See
Edwin Corbyn Obert Beatty, William Penn as Social Philosopher (New York: Columbia Uni-
versity Press, 1939); Mary Maples Dunn, “William Penn, Classical Republican,” PMHB vol. 81
(1957), 138“56 and William Penn: Politics and Conscience (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1967). A work that begins to address the religious aspects of Penn™s political thought is
Melvin B. Endy, William Penn and Early Quakerism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
10 The only work on this is Tully™s Forming American Politics: Ideals, Interests, and Institutions
in Colonial New York and Pennsylvania (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977).
A work that seems as though it will engage a discussion of Quaker political theory and its
implications for America is E. Digby Baltzell™s Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia: Two
Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Class Authority and Leadership (New York: The Free Press,
1979). However, he purports to analyze Quaker conceptions of government by saying that theirs
were purely negative and therefore made no substantive contribution to American political
culture. A brief but important corrective to this thesis is put forth by Stephen A. Kent and
James V. Spickerd, “The ˜Other™ Civil Religion and the Tradition of Radical Quaker Politics,”
Journal of Church and State vol. 36, no. 2 (1994), 374“87. This piece addresses a few of the
constitutional innovations of Quakers and the importance of Quaker antiauthoritarianism for
American political culture.
11 Richard Alan Ryerson gives us a glimpse into William Penn™s constitutional thought, but he
not does extend his analysis to the rest of the Society, nor does he address the theological
Introduction 5

Robbins™s assertion that Quakers can be neglected depends, of course, on
how one de¬nes “political agitations.” If they are understood exclusively as
armed revolts or violent riots, then she is correct. For most of their existence,
Quakers have been paci¬sts, refusing to engage in armed warfare even to
defend their own colony of Pennsylvania. It is likely that one of the main
reasons for their exclusion from American political historiography is their
stance as conscientious objectors in the Revolution and the specter of Loyalism
this conjured up in the minds of their critics then and since. But, as we shall
see, although revolution, mob action, and other sorts of violent behavior were
an important part of early modern political culture, they were not the only
extra-legal mode of redressing grievances.12
Ironically, despite the assumption of Quaker quietism, another common mis-
understanding of Quakerism is that it is simply a radical form of Puritanism.13
Among early modern religions, Puritanism has received the most attention
from political historians. To be sure, Quakerism arose during the Puritan
Revolution, and there are some important theological and temperamental
characteristics that Quakers shared with Puritans. The most important trait for
this study is political aggression, a quality wholly lacking in most expressions of
Anabaptism. Because so much attention has gone to the political in¬‚uences of
reformed Calvinism on Western political thought, it then seems that, by exten-
sion, Quakerism has also been treated. But when scholars de¬ne Quakerism in
this way, they obscure any separate contribution. Although this study does not

underpinnings. See Ryerson, “William Penn™s Gentry Commonwealth: An Interpretation of the
Constitutional History of Early Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania History vol. 61, no. 4 (1994), 393“
428. Only once have I come across the term Quaker constitutionalism outside of my own work.
In less than three pages on the theological foundations of Pennsylvania, Barbara Allen describes
with remarkable accuracy “ although perhaps attributing too much to Penn “ several of the
fundamental premises of Quaker theologico-political thought. See Barbara Allen, Tocqueville,
Covenant, and the Democratic Revolution: Harmonizing Earth with Heaven (Lanham, MD:
Lexington Books of Rowman & Little¬eld Publishers, 2005), 51“53.
12 Most studies of dissent and protest in America, especially early America, focus on the violent
expressions of mobbing and rioting. See, for example, William Pencak, Matthew Dennis, and
Simon P. Newman, eds., Riot and Revelry in Early America (University Park: Penn State
University Press, 2003); Wayne E. Lee, Crowds and Soldiers in Revolutionary North Carolina:
The Culture of Violence in Riot and War (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001); Paul A.
Gilje, Rioting in America, Interdisciplinary Studies in History (Bloomington and Indianapolis:
Indiana University Press, 1996); John Phillip Reid, In a Rebellious Spirit: The Argument of
Facts, the Liberty Riot, and the Coming of the American Revolution (University Park: Penn
State University Press, 1979); Pauline Maier, From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals
and the Development of the American Opposition to Britain, 1765“1776 (New York: W. W.
Norton & Co., 1991).
13 Many major works, both by Quakers and non-Quakers, have put forth this interpretation. See,
for example, Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press, 1972), 130, 134, 177“78, 208“09; and, among others, the most in¬‚uential
study of early Quakerism, Barbour™s The Quakers in Puritan England, 2, passim. See also James
F. Maclear, “Quakerism and the End of the Interregnum: A Chapter in the Domestication of
Radical Puritanism,” Church History vol. 19 (1950), 240“70. For a detailed refutation of this
interpretation, see Melvin B. Endy, “Puritanism, Spiritualism, and Quakerism.”
6 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

undertake a detailed comparison of Quakerism and Puritanism, it demonstrates
that on several key points, Quaker theology and practice were importantly
different from reformed Calvinism. Insofar as these two religious systems
differed, so did the political theories and institutions that grew from them.
Quakers were therefore neither Anabaptists nor reformed Calvinists. They
were torn between their Anabaptist roots, which inclined them to reject gov-
ernment, of¬ce holding, civic engagement, and war, and the Calvinism at their
nascence that drove them into the political arena. This dualism in Quakerism is
something that Friends have always tried with varied success to balance. Con-
sequently, there is a certain schizophrenia about Quakerism “ a people militant
at times in their insistence on peace and extreme in their moderation. Through-
out this study we see Quakers both as individuals and as a body struggling
to reconcile this and other competing and sometimes-contradictory aspects of
their identity.
This study has three overarching purposes “ to describe Quaker constitu-
tional theory; to identify the practical expressions of this theory; and to explain
the thought and action of Founding Father John Dickinson within this tradi-
tion, using him as the best, though imperfect exemplar of it in early America.

In the late-seventeenth century, the Religious Society of Friends originated a
unique theory of a civil constitution and a philosophy of civic engagement that
they practiced and actively disseminated beyond their Society for the next three
hundred years. Their political thought and action was inextricably connected
to their theology, the form and function of their ecclesiastical constitution,
and appropriate behavior within their faith community, all of which this study
will engage in detail. The most important practical expression of this theory
was peaceful resistance to government to effect constitutional change. Of the
possible methods of peaceful protest, civil disobedience was the most extreme.
It is thus a main theme of this work. The study follows the development and
use of this method and others by Quakers in Interregnum and Restoration
England, through the American Revolution with Dickinson as its foremost
advocate, and, in an epilogue, up to its articulation by Martin Luther King,
Jr., in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In doing so, it offers the ¬rst
exposition of Quaker constitutional thought, the ¬rst discussion of the Quaker
foundations of American civil disobedience, and the ¬rst coherent analysis of
John Dickinson™s political thought.
The most familiar concept in this study, civil disobedience, warrants some
attention at the outset. Although since the 1960s it has become a widely
accepted form of civic engagement, it is often misunderstood. Scholars and
the public alike confuse it with other modes of dissent, both violent and non-
violent, which is not surprising, since the various forms of resistance overlap.
Thus a few words by way of de¬nition of civil disobedience and a brief overview
of its relationship to Quaker constitutional theory are in order.
Although the de¬nition of civil disobedience has been in contention over
the years, it is most generally accepted to be a public, nonviolent, submissive
transgression of law. This is to say, it is an act performed out in the open; it
Introduction 7

does neither physical nor mental harm to people or property; and the actor
accepts the punishment for the act. Breaking the law in this case must also be
intentional, not inadvertent. Finally, it must be committed with the intent to
educate and persuade the general public to the position of the disobedient. The
¬gures whom scholars consider to be the major thinkers on the matter and who
have received almost exclusive attention, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.,
concurred with this de¬nition.14 Civil disobedience also presumes a number of
other political requisites. There must be a democratic element of the system
that assumes the people have a say in the laws. The act must be for the public
good rather than private or sectarian interests. There also must be a substantial
degree of stability in the polity. And, most importantly, for it to be legitimate,
there must be a sense of moral obligation to the constitution and government.
There is, in other words, no basis for dissent in anarchy.
There are also other forms of political resistance that are similar to, but not
the same as, civil disobedience. Many of these have aspects in common with
civil disobedience, but they leave out some elements. They include actions or
nonactions that range from legal and peaceful to overtly violent and illegal,
such as obstructionism, evasion, nonresistance, and revolution. Some speci¬c
examples are voting, disseminating political literature, boycotts, sit-ins and
marches, rioting, tax evasion, manipulation of the legal system, withdrawal of
¬nancial or other assistance, bombing of public buildings, and overthrow of
the government. For reasons that are fairly clear, these actions usually do not
meet the criteria for civil disobedience “ some of them break no laws,15 some
are violent and destructive, some are clandestine, and some show no sense of
political obligation.
Civil disobedience can also be exercised by various means. It can be direct
or nondirect action, persuasive or coercive. In direct action, the disobedient
breaks the speci¬c law he believes to be unjust. In nondirect action, he breaks
laws that are not directly related to the speci¬c injustice he is protesting, except
perhaps symbolically, in order to disrupt the system and bring attention to his
cause. Also, civil disobedience is a form of pressure, but that pressure can be
manifested in different ways. It can be gently educative or persuasive when it
seeks to convert the community to the position of the disobedient; or it can be
coercive when it uses the body of the disobedient as a means to make people
behave contrary to their inclinations. It cannot be violent. But, as will become
clear, violence is a concept that can be broadly construed.16

14 This de¬nition describes the theory and action of King and Gandhi, but not, for reasons I explain
in the epilogue, Henry David Thoreau. The classic statement is from Martin Luther King,
Jr., Letter from a Birmingham City Jail (Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee,
15 This is to say that they do not break contemporary American laws. In seventeenth-century
England or other countries today with fewer civil liberties, many of these nonviolent forms of
protest might have been or may be illegal, which would then allow them to ¬t into the category
of civil disobedience.
16 James F. Childress, Civil Disobedience and Political Obligation: A Study in Christian Social
Ethics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1971), 27“32.
8 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

The scholarship on civil disobedience, most of which was produced in the
late 1960s and early 1970s in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, usually
begins with Thoreau and ends with King.17 Much of it takes little account of
religion in general or, if so, demonstrates a serious ignorance of the history of
peace churches and the origins of paci¬sm in America; and the scholarship is
decidedly anemic without Quakerism.18 It was Quakers who were the ¬rst prac-
titioners of this technique. Rather than follow the lead of their Puritan cousins
in challenging the government, Quakers took another tack and became more
than just the mild-mannered advocates of religious liberty that they have been
portrayed to be, but something other than revolutionaries. Since their begin-
ning, they were among the most radical and best organized political groups in
Interregnum and Restoration England. Not only did they take part in political
agitations, but they were, as far as their contemporaries were concerned, a
menace to civil government to rival any “ even Ranters and Catholics. They are
proof against J. G. A. Pocock™s claim that there was a “disappearance of sectar-
ian radical culture” after the Interregnum.19 Moreover, they were among the

17 For a fuller analysis of the tenets of civil disobedience, as well as the debate over the de¬nition,
see Harry Prosch, “Toward an Ethic of Civil Disobedience,” Ethics vol. 77, no. 3. (1967),
176“192; Wilson Carey McWilliams, “Civil Disobedience and Contemporary Constitutional-
ism: The American Case,” Comparative Politics vol. 1, no. 2 (1969), 211“27; Hugo Adam
Bedau, ed., Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice (New York: Pegasus, 1968); Howard
Zinn, Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order (New York: Vintage
Books, 1968); Childress, Civil Disobedience; Marshall Cohen, “Liberalism and Civil Disobe-
dience,” Philosophy and Public Affairs vol. 1, no. 3 (1972), 283“314; John Rawls, A Theory
of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 322; Hugo Adam Bedau, Civil
Disobedience in Focus (New York: Routledge, 1991). See also the American Philosophical
Association Eastern Division Symposium on Political Obligation and Civil Disobedience, Fifty-
Eighth Annual Meeting, Atlantic City, NJ, December 27“29, 1961, the papers from which are:
Richard A. Wasserstrom, “Disobeying the Law,” The Journal of Philosophy vol. 58, no. 21(Oct.
12, 1961), 641“53; Hugo A. Bedau, “On Civil Disobedience,” The Journal of Philosophy
vol. 58, no. 21 (Oct. 12, 1961), 653“65; Stuart M. Brown, Jr., “Civil Disobedience,” The
Journal of Philosophy vol. 58, no. 22 (Oct. 26, 1961), 669“81. Many other works purportedly
on the topic take an uncomplicated approach and, without setting forth a de¬nition, mistakenly
treat any sort of resistance to government as civil disobedience. One example is Mary K. Bonsteel
Tachau, “The Whiskey Rebellion in Kentucky: A Forgotten Episode of Civil Disobedience,”
Journal of the Early Republic vol. 2, no. 3 (1982), 239“59.
18 In Advocates of Peace in Antebellum America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992),
Valeri Zigler explores the paci¬st movement in Antebellum America, but without attention to
its Quaker roots. Maurice Isserman ¬nds that “American paci¬sm was largely an offshoot of
evangelical Protestantism.” If I Had a Hammer . . . The Death of the Old Left and the Birth
of the New Left (New York: Basic Books, 1987), 127. Although he is right to argue that
the peace movement of the early nineteenth century had a signi¬cant evangelical component,
its progenitors acknowledged their debt to the two-hundred years of Quaker paci¬sm that had
come before. See Peter Brock, Radical Paci¬sts in Antebellum America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1968). Of the few works that recognize Quakers, two are by Straughton
Lynd, including Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill,
1966); and Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1968).
19 J. G. A. Pocock, “Radical Criticisms of the Whig Order in the Age between Revolutions,” in
Margaret Jacobs and James Jacobs, eds., The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism (London:
George Allen & Unwin, 1984), 33“57, 33.
Introduction 9

leaders in the early resistance movement against Britain in the Revolution. But
they agitated without violence. They were paci¬sts, but by no means passive;
as John Dickinson put it, they were turbulent, but paci¬c. In their own peculiar
way, they instigated a most signi¬cant and effective kind of political agitation
and were the ¬rst contributors to a distinctive mode of thought and behavior
within the Anglo-American dissenting tradition. A Milton scholar writing in
1896 also noted this Quaker contribution and found that it “has never been
suf¬ciently acknowledged.”20 His observation holds true still.
If Quakers were quietists or self-interested sectarians, their exclusion from
this historiography on this subject would be warranted. But their protest always
had a political purpose. The main form of protest with which Quakers are asso-
ciated is conscientious objection, a form of dissent that is usually distinguished
from civil disobedience. Scholars rightly argue that in order for protest to be
properly de¬ned as civil disobedience, the goal of the disobedient must be not
only for the protection and salvation of his own soul but also for the well-being
and reform of the political society in which he lives. They make a distinction
between civil disobedience as a political protest and conscientious objection, or
resistance required by faith.21 About religious conscientious objectors, writes
James Childress, “the agent is not trying to effect general social change, but
rather to ˜witness™ to his personal values and perhaps to secure a personal
exemption for himself. There is no effort at persuasion or coercion.”22 But
of course, “witnessing” requires an audience “ or a jury. In all their protests,
Quakers witnessed before the court of public opinion with the intent to per-
suade non-Quakers to their position. It was a form of proselytizing. To be sure,
they wanted to absolve themselves from any implication in ungodly activity;
but at the same time their goal was to set an example for others to follow, to
testify for God™s law through social and political reform. This study will show
that the Quakers™ intentions were far from merely self-interested, either person-
ally or for their Society “ they were for the public welfare. Indeed, throughout
much of American history, most outsiders were fully aware of the Quakers™
intentions and bristled at them.23
In each phase of their incarnation “ from “grassroots” activists in England,
to politicians in colonial Pennsylvania, and back to activists after the American
Revolution “ Quakers expressed all forms of nonviolent resistance with varying

20 David Masson, The Life of John Milton: Narrated in Connexion with the Political, Ecclesiasti-
cal, and Literary History of His Time (1896; rpt. New York: Peter Smith, 1945), 6: 587“88.
21 See, for example, Rawls, A Theory of Justice, in his de¬nition of civil disobedience and consci-
entious refusal, 319“26.
22 Childress, Civil Disobedience, 24.
23 Indeed, Childress™s statement should be quali¬ed in a signi¬cant way. There are certainly some
religious sects, including many of those who are in the Anabaptist tradition such as the Amish
and Mennonites who ¬t this description. Like the Quakers, most conscientious objectors from
the early Christians onward have used their position as a means of publicizing their convictions
and converting others to their stance. Such is the fundamental proselytizing impulse in paci¬sm
itself. See Devere Allen, ed., Paci¬sm in the Modern World (New York: Garland Publishing,
1972) and Peter Brock, Paci¬sm in Europe to 1914 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
10 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

emphasis on each tactic depending on the tenor of the situation. Sometimes the
lines between their tactics blurred. It was not unusual that they used various
techniques simultaneously, and it is sometimes dif¬cult to distinguish one form
from another. Their spheres of action “ social, religious, economic, and polit-
ical “ were also con¬‚ated. This is especially true where civil laws were either
unclearly de¬ned or undistinguished from social norms and customs. Beyond
their political resistance, then, Quakers engaged in social resistance in which
they did not necessarily break any laws but rather challenged entrenched behav-
iors and institutions. The punishments for these actions were often as bloody
as those meted out by the state for civil disobedience, and Quakers embraced
their martyrdom enthusiastically.
Thus, far from being “withdrawers” from political society, Quakers tradi-
tionally sought to make their religious convictions public in order to convince,
or coerce when necessary and possible, non-Quakers to share their vision of
the world and their mode of engagement with it.24 Because of this concern for
missionizing, Friends were also very savvy about how to use various media
at their disposal to shape their perception by non-Friends. Accordingly, an
important subtheme of this study is the Quakers™ public image. We will see
how Quakers manipulated their image and how, with the changing sociopo-
litical climate, the public perception of them evolved “ albeit unevenly “ from
extremely negative to very positive. I argue that the shift in the public image of
Quakerism indicates a degree of success in their missionizing.
Because political obligation, a commitment to preserving the constituted
polity, is the foundation on which civil disobedience rests, the analysis here
necessarily focuses on the Quaker understanding of a civil constitution.25 The
Quaker theory of a civil constitution demands respect for the constituted polity
and its founding principles. The respect is premised on a belief that the power
in the polity resides with the people “ all the people “ and that they are bound
to participate in it according to the rule of law; that is to say, individuals should
be governed by a process that is internalized in the individual, but might be
enforced from without if necessary. They must contribute to the welfare of
the polity through word and deed, and do so in a way that will preserve the
harmony in the polity while furthering its ends. The Quaker theory is a mode
of constitutional interpretation that values original intent and requires written
codi¬cation of them, but recognizes that a paper constitution is merely an

24 Throughout I will make a distinction between what I call traditional Quaker thought and
activism and newer modes that did not comport with Quakers™ historical behavior and theology
as it arose in the mid-seventeenth century.
25 A good deal of the work on political obligation was produced alongside the literature on civil dis-
obedience. A few of these are Michael Walzer, Obligations: Essays on Disobedience, War, and
Citizenship (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971); Rawls, A Theory of Justice; Bently LeBaron,
“Three Components of Political Obligation,” Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue
canadienne de science politique vol. 6, no. 3 (1973), 478“93; Karen Johnson, “Perspectives
on Political Obligation: A Critique and a Proposal,” The Western Political Quarterly vol. 27,
no. 3 (1974), 520“35.
Introduction 11

expression of the founding ideals of liberty, unity, and peace. The constitution is
a representation of the polity itself, which is a living entity. The theory therefore
presumes the need for evolution in a constant process of realizing the founding
ideals. The people individually and collectively assume their imperfection while
striving for perfection.
Not surprisingly considering the peculiarity of religious Quakerism, the
action that grew from this theologico-political theory was something strange
in the early modern period. Though many “Quaker” political goals were the
same as those of other Englishmen of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries “
security of civil liberties, a limited, constitutional government, a measure of
popular participation, and a peaceful and moral society “ Quakers™ means to
these ends differed markedly from others and signi¬ed priorities not shared by
most Englishmen. Moreover, the means were often more important than the
ends. If incorrect means “ such as violence, which could mean even excessively
disruptive words “ were used, not only would the results be illegitimate, the
polity might be fatally destabilized by them.
The hallmark of Quaker constitutionalism that gave rise to civil disobedience
was a twin emphasis on constitutional unity and perpetuity and a peaceful
process of rights advocacy and reform. Such was the Quaker sense of political
obligation that their dissent was carefully undertaken with meticulous attention
to the stability of the polity. For Quakers, the unity of a constituted polity,
ecclesiastical or civil, was sacred; but so was dissent. How they balanced these
two seemingly irreconcilable imperatives forms a main theme of this study.
Quakers were cautious in their advocacy even of peaceful dissent. They knew
that civil disobedience itself was a powerful tool that could lead to violent
action by those uncommitted to paci¬sm and could threaten the stability of the
government. Quaker action was situated on a continuum of nonviolent protest,
and their mantra was moderation.26 Their protest techniques ranged from less
to more disruptive depending on how stable the state was and the extent of their
own power in relation to it. They tempered their civil disobedience accordingly
with other modes of nonviolent resistance to remain moderate in action even
as they made radical demands for individual liberties. In no case was violent
disruption of the existing system through rioting, rebellion, or regicide ever
acceptable. Unlike their Puritan counterparts, Quakers denied the legitimacy
of any theory of revolution. Conversion (or “convincement,” as Quakers would
say) and persuasion were always the way, although the exact meaning of
these terms in the Quaker application of them is relative, and sometimes they
crossed the line into coercion. Theoretically, at least, they desired to apply the

26 Political moderation has a long history with many sources. Robert M. Calhoon™s broad discus-
sion in Political Moderation in America™s First Two Centuries (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2008) investigates many of them. As perhaps the most thorough work on Anglo-American
moderation, it serves well as a companion to the present study, which highlights only one strain.
Calhoon identi¬es this particular brand of moderation as based on the concept of love in the
late-seventeenth century.
12 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

minimum amount of pressure with the end goal always to effect a voluntary
and permanent change in the worldview of non-Quakers. This way they would
achieve both reform and the preservation of the constitutional government.
In this “Quaker process,” as Friends call it today, they had a distinct use and
understanding of language and speech. They self-consciously used particular
words and the very act of speaking (or not speaking) itself to order their polity,
de¬ne their political procedures, and effect change in the world around them.
For Quakers, theory and practice were not separate; theirs was a theory of
action. And in this theory, practice, process, language, and the act of speaking
were the same.27 Their theory was about a constant process of creating and
recreating the constitution “ both the composition of the body politic and the
written document “ of a polity through what they termed “conversation” and
“walking” “ words and deeds that were “peaceable,” “holy,” and “orderly.”
Speech-acts in effect created the polity. Because of the Quaker emphasis on
action, it is crucial to note at the outset of this study that the theory being
explored here is not found exclusively in written texts.
With their emphasis on process, it is useful to consider Quakers as very
effective bureaucrats in their religious meetings and civil government. Drawing
on Weberian theories of political authority “ particularly the legal-rational and
charismatic models “ the analysis deals with how they used their process for
balancing both their ecclesiastical and civil polities. It was a form of authority
used to contain the libertine, dissenting elements in the meeting and keep it
uni¬ed, and also a means for manipulating the legal and political systems
of the state to secure more liberties for themselves and others. They became
experts at exploiting the very mechanisms of state oppression to achieve their
By engaging with the polity in this manner with the intent to effect drastic
systemic change, Friends thus challenged conventional understandings of a
constitution that held it to be either static or dispensable. And they pioneered
a mode of political engagement unlike anything their contemporaries had seen.
They gave the people a role in the legal process that preserved the sanctity
of the government while effectively limiting its reach. But there is a distinctly
problematic aspect of this theory as it was translated into practice. Once such a
dissenting theory has been disseminated and implemented, how can radicalism
or anarchy be prevented? What if those who adopted the dissenting aspects of
Quaker theory did not also employ the process that demanded a conciliatory
posture toward government? This was a perennial problem Quakers faced both
in- and outside of their Society, and Martin Luther King and Gandhi had their
own dif¬culties as well in this regard. On the other hand, in containing the
dangers of a dissenting theology, how is tyranny prevented? Exploration of the
question of political balance in the context of Quaker theologico-politics is
thus another important theme of this study.

27 See J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1975).
Introduction 13

In the following pages, I use the early modern nautical metaphor of the
“trimmer” to describe Quakers™ relation to the polity. Two opposing meanings
of the term were employed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to
describe political actors. The ¬rst and more common was derogatory and
referred to trimming the sails to steer the course of the ship with the prevailing
winds. In other words, these trimmers allied themselves opportunistically with
one faction or another, privileging self-preservation over principle. Today we
call them “centrists” and “¬‚ip-¬‚oppers.” But the second meaning, used most
notably by George Savile in 1688, was laudatory.28 It referred to one whose
duty it is to strategically place the cargo or ballast on a ship to keep it stable
and a¬‚oat.29 Trimmers such as these acted on principle, espousing moderation
and eschewing self-interest. The story of a principled trimmer “ as opposed
to an opportunistic one “ is complicated. This sort of trimmer functions both
relative to his immediate environment and apart from it. His job is to keep
the ship of state from listing right or left on a straight and true course to the
desired destination. Because of this, something of an optical illusion occurs: The
trimmer is ¬xed in relation to the destination, which gives him the appearance
of sometimes-drastic movement in relation to his immediate surroundings. It
is true that he adjusts his position slightly, but only for the sake of staying
straight and balanced. He is not static; but neither is he changeable. He does
not ally himself too closely with one side or another to protect his own interests
as an opportunistic trimmer would. Rather, he remains independently in the
middle with a view to the object beyond himself. Those short-sighted people
on either extreme who do not understand the trimmer accuse him of cowardice
or rashness, indecision or haste, and, invariably, duplicity and self-interest. If
he is weighty, they resent the fact he does not side with them, and they label
him “trimmer” in the ¬rst sense of the term.
One of the consequences of the historic misunderstanding of Quaker
theologico-politics has been the omission of Quakerism from the study of
political history. A second is the corresponding neglect of an important ¬g-
ure at the American Founding, John Dickinson. Of the Founders, none has
confounded scholars more. Because of his simultaneous call for colonial rights
and opposition to the Declaration of Independence, historians have labeled his

28 See George Savile, The Character of a Trimmer (1688).
29 In “On Political Moderation,” The Journal of the Historical Society vol. 6, no. 2 (June 2006),
275“95, Robert M. Calhoon adheres to the negative sense of the term trimmer (275). He makes
a distinction between trimming and moderation and mediation, de¬ned as “civic action inten-
tionally undertaken at some signi¬cant risk or cost to mediate con¬‚icts, conciliate antagonisms,
or ¬nd middle ground” (276). Yet the second sense of the term trimmer expresses his meaning
perfectly. This sort of trimming, I argue, is precisely what Quakers and their followers practiced
in pursuit of religious and civil rights and preservation of the civil constitution. An excellent
work to pair with the present study is Andrew R. Murphy, Conscience and Community: Revis-
iting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America (University Park:
Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001). He discusses early modern advocates of religious
toleration, including Quakers, as seeking a modus vivendi, “a way of living together without
descending into the bloodshed that had traditionally settled religious differences” (4).
14 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

political stance a “perplexing conservatism,” and he himself “a conservative
sort of rebel” and a “negative-minded agrarian.”30 Because of this confusion,
Dickinson has received relatively little attention when compared to the volumes
of work on the other Founders. Edwin Wolf 2nd rightly called him the “for-
gotten patriot,” “doomed to limbo in the popular mind.”31 Most ironically,
however, many historians have also labeled him “the Penman of the Revolu-
tion”32 “ he who opposed the Revolution. Dickinson™s contemporaries, says
Milton E. Flower, “were unable to comprehend the direction and rationale
of the straight course Dickinson pursued, as he fearlessly continued to protest
against every action of Britain that infringed on the liberties of the colonists
and joined with military preparedness in case of armed struggle, yet remained
loath to face the question of independence.”33 It would seem that this lack of
understanding has been on our part as well.
Considering his achievements, Dickinson™s absence from the historiography
on the Revolution is striking. Throughout the creation of the Republic, he was
among the most active and proli¬c leaders from the onset of the tensions to
the solidi¬cation of the Union. Before and during the Revolution, he was an
important ¬gure in the Stamp Act Congress; member of the First and Second
Continental Congresses, and the Confederation Congress, as well as many
of the committees within those bodies; author of, in addition to many other
public and of¬cial documents, the Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress
(1765), Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767“68), the First Petition
to the King (1774), An Address from Congress to the Inhabitants of Quebec
(1774), the Olive Branch Petition (1775), the Declaration for Taking Up Arms
(1775), and the ¬rst draft of the Articles of Confederation (1776).34 He was
also a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia and ¬rst a private soldier and then
a brigadier general in the Delaware militia. After the War he was president of
Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the Annapolis Convention. He was an important
presence at the Constitutional Convention and author of the Fabius Letters

30 H. Trevor Colbourn, “John Dickinson, Historical Revolutionary,” PMHB vol. 83 (1959), 271,
272; and Forrest McDonald, “Introduction,” in Forrest McDonald, ed., Empire and Nation:
Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (John Dickinson); Letters from a Federal Farmer (Richard
Henry Lee), 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: The Liberty Fund, 1999), ix.
31 Edwin Wolf 2nd, John Dickinson: Forgotten Patriot (Wilmington: n.p., 1967), 6.
32 Dickinson is most generally known by this designation. It was probably used for the ¬rst time
in Charles J. Still´ and Paul Leicester Ford, eds., The Life and Writings of John Dickinson, 2
vols. (Philadelphia, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1891“95), 2: ix; and the label, as well
as the misconception behind it, has been perpetuated by almost all of the few scholars who
have dealt with Dickinson since. The confusion on this point reaches far back. As early as 1787,
Thomas Jefferson felt compelled to correct the editor of the Journal de Paris, which published an
article crediting Dickinson with effecting American independence. See Pauline Maier, American
Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 169.
33 Milton E. Flower, John Dickinson, Conservative Revolutionary (Charlottesville: University
Press of Virginia, 1976), 146.
34 Although earlier versions of the Articles had been written, because Dickinson™s was the one
debated in Congress, his is considered the ¬rst draft.
Introduction 15

(1788) to advocate rati¬cation. In retirement, he was a generous philanthropist,
supporting causes such as education, prison reform, and abolitionism. In short,
he was the “man of preeminence” who E. Digby Baltzell denies Pennsylvania
ever produced.35
The confusion over Dickinson™s politics hinges on two seminal and appar-
ently contradictory moments “ the publication of the Farmer™s Letters and his
absence from the vote on the Declaration of Independence. It is clear that the
Letters had the result scholars have claimed “ they certainly helped prepare the
colonists for revolt. But after painting him as the “Penman of the Revolution,”
scholars then ¬nd themselves at a loss to explain Dickinson™s stance on the
Declaration. If one takes their interpretation of the Farmer™s Letters as accu-
rate, Dickinson™s behavior does indeed seem erratic and contradictory “ ¬‚ip-
¬‚opping even. David L. Jacobson, the author of the only scholarly monograph
on Dickinson™s politics, writes that in 1776 his opinions were “a hodgepodge
of contradictory ideas.”36 For centuries, historians have been trying to make
sense of his seemingly inscrutable opposition to the Declaration, but they have
given only vague, speculative, and unsatisfactory explanations for it, many of
which paint him in an unfavorable light.37
Yet Dickinson was hardly a “timorous rebel,” “irresolute,” a mere pedant,
or an idealist with no practical sense of how the colonists should achieve their
ends. Indeed, he counseled the colonies in their most effective resistance and
negotiations until the day before the vote on independence and then was one
of a minority of congressional delegates to take up arms for the cause, serving,
among other campaigns, at the Battle of Brandywine. His continued press for
reconciliation even as he joined the militia and hostilities with Britain turned
violent in 1775 undoubtedly seems a species of na¨vet´ or hypocrisy; however,
as we shall see, he had a theory and precedents for success on his side. His
position, as will be argued here, was largely an ideological one, a principled
stance for reconciliation. There is, however, certainly more than a grain of truth
in the argument that Dickinson had pragmatic concerns about independence
as well. As a lawyer, he would have been distinctly aware of the legal and
political bene¬ts of pursuing reconciliation as far as possible as a protection
against charges of treason from the British government. Dickinson himself

35 E. Digby Baltzell, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, 38. Dickinson was not originally
from Pennsylvania “ he was born in Maryland and raised in Delaware “ but he spent much of
his life in Pennsylvania and the preponderance of his career there.
36 David L. Jacobson, John Dickinson and the Revolution in Pennsylvania, 1764“1776 (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1965), 115. An article that offers brief analysis that begins to
approach some of the ¬ndings here, though without the religious emphasis, is M. E. Bradford,
“A Better Guide Than Reason: The Politics of John Dickinson,” Modern Age vol. 21, no. 1
(1977), 39“49. A brief study that presents a “scienti¬c theory” of Dickinson™s political ideas is
M. Susan Power, “John Dickinson: Freedom, Protest, and Change,” Susquehanna Studies vol. 9,
no. 2 (1972), 99“121.
37 The negative histories began with David Ramsay in The History of the American Revolution
(Philadelphia, 1789) and reached their apex with George Bancroft in History of the United
States, from the Discovery of the Continent (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1912).
16 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

claimed that timing was his reason38 “ America had no central government
yet and, he believed, too little foreign support, and Pennsylvania, itself on the
verge of a revolution, had no settled government. But this still does not explain
completely the tenor of Dickinson™s career or this particular conundrum.
Milton Flower, his only modern biographer, explains Dickinson™s seemingly
contradictory political positions in terms of “radical,” “moderate,” and “con-
servative.” Others have similarly observed that he “was always an intense
conservative, and that he had a horror of any changes brought about by
revolutionary means.”39 But Dickinson™s aversion to riots and tumults was
more than merely a reactionary conservatism or a “temperamental revulsion
to mass violence.”40 Moreover, situating his views along the continuum of
conventional political ideology neither does justice to their complexity nor
explains how these apparently disparate views and actions harmonized in
one man™s thought. In what is perhaps the most intellectually honest com-
ment on the enigma, J. H. Powell wrote in frustration, “Where in hell did
Dickinson learn the complicated wway [sic] of politics he tried to put into
Scholars have been confused about Dickinson™s position because they have
not placed his thinking in what Sheldon Wolin calls its “connotative con-
text.”42 In other words, what most analyses fail to take seriously is the reli-
gious climate in which Dickinson lived and worked as well as his personal
religious belief.43 Although Dickinson rejected formal af¬liation with any reli-
gious group, his sociopolitical environment and his faith were predominantly
Quaker. Interestingly, many scholars have noted the Quaker in¬‚uence in his
life, often mistaking him for a member of the Religious Society of Friends.44
Bernhard Knollenberg posits that Dickinson “may have been in¬‚uenced by his
family and other Quaker connections.”45 Forrest McDonald and Ellen Shapiro

38 See John Dickinson, Defense of Actions before the Council of Safety, 1777, Ser. I. b. Political,
1774“1807, n.d., RRL/HSP.
39 Still´ and Ford, Life and Writings, 1: 43.
40 Flower, John Dickinson, Conservative Revolutionary, ix.
41 J. H. Powell, notes for Dickinson biography, May 26, 1955, John Dickinson Materials, John
Harvey Powell Papers, APS.
42 Sheldon Wolin, “Political Theory as a Vocation,” The American Political Science Review vol.
63, no. 4. (1969), 1062“82, 1070“71.
43 Those who do seriously consider his religion muddle the conversation further by con¬‚ating
Quakerism with Puritanism. See M. Susan Power, “John Dickinson After 1776: The Fabius
Letters,” Modern Age vol. 16, no. 4 (1972), 387“97, 391. The same is true for J. H. Powell
in “John Dickinson and the Constitution,” PMHB vol. 60, no. 1 (1936), 1“14. He ¬nds
Dickinson™s politics to be the “most vigorous expression” of Puritanism of his generation (13).
44 One of the earliest incidents of this mistake appearing in the historiography is in William
Wade Hinshaw, The Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy (Ann Arbor, MI: Edward
Brothers, 1938), 505. Bernhard Knollenberg corrects this misperception in “John Dickinson
vs. John Adams: 1774“1776,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia
(1963), 142.
45 Knollenberg, “John Dickinson vs. John Adams,” 142.
Introduction 17

McDonald note that his “orientation was toward Quakerism.”46 Despite this,
Frederick Tolles explains that “no one has ever tried to say with exactness just
what that Quaker in¬‚uence was or just how it expressed itself in his thought
and action.”47 In political history, a ¬eld that has not always been receptive to
religious interpretations, some would likely agree with the McDonalds that his
reliance on Christian language was little more than a “rhetorical strategy.”48
Although strategy may have played a role, it does not preclude sincere belief
on Dickinson™s part, nor does it take seriously the power and uniqueness of
this tradition. As this study describes, his theory and the actions they prompted
were predominantly Quaker. It is no coincidence that most of his political
expressions had, as Powell writes, “the reinforcing agreement of the Society of
Friends.”49 Without an understanding of Quaker political and constitutional
theory, however, scholars have attempted to force Dickinson into the limited
and ill-¬tting traditions that they have previously identi¬ed, most signi¬cantly,

This work is intended neither as a comprehensive analysis of Quaker thought
nor an enumeration of all of its contributions to American political culture.
It concentrates on a few seminal ideas and traces them with broad strokes
over the period in question. It therefore omits detailed discussion of many
particulars of Quaker history and thought that have been treated in depth
elsewhere or that may be the subject of future studies. For example, there
is little mention of the economic factors that in¬‚uenced or arose from their
thought, although it is a rich vein to mine. Similarly, it focuses on the thought
of individuals as they represent the Society and does not deal with the myriad
Quaker voluntary organizations that have existed in each century. Further, this
study assumes that there was a measure of consensus and continuity on some
fundamental points of Quaker thought, even if sometimes this continuity only
persisted in a few individuals. While neither religious nor political Quakerism
was static over time or uniform among members of the Society, there are
nonetheless signi¬cant aspects on which there was enough agreement among
most members so that no great or permanent schism occurred until the early
nineteenth century. Even then, there were still Quakers who adhered to what
I will de¬ne as the traditional thought. It is these most important aspects of
Quaker constitutionalism that this study addresses, with due attention to the
most signi¬cant divergences.

46 Forrest McDonald and Ellen Shapiro McDonald, “John Dickinson, Founding Father,”
Delaware History vol. 23, no. 1 (1988), 24“38, 28.
47 Frederick B. Tolles, “John Dickinson and the Quakers,” “John and Mary™s College”: The Boyd
Lee Spahr Lectures in Americana (Carlisle, PA: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1951“56), 67.
48 McDonald and McDonald, “John Dickinson, Founding Father,” 38. For example, Thomas
Pangle betrays a presentist cynicism about religion when he asks, “Was Christianity the dom-
inant or de¬ning element in [the Founders™] thinking? Or were they not rather engaged in an
attempt to exploit and transform Christianity in the direction of a liberal rationalism?” (21).
49 Powell, “John Dickinson and the Constitution,” 11.
18 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

Moreover, there are, to be sure, many areas of overlap between Quaker
thought and other sources, most notably reformed Calvinism, but also secular
thought such as classical liberalism and republicanism and Scottish common
sense philosophy. Any claims to uniqueness of Quaker theologico-politics are
therefore limited and based exclusively on their distinctive theology and ecclesi-
ology. There is likewise no claim that Dickinson was animated by only Quaker
theory; rather, his thought is representative of the ecumenicism possible in
political Quakerism. What we ¬nd in Quakerism and Dickinson is a strain of
thought that de¬es categorization in any previously identi¬ed tradition or lan-
guage.50 It is neither Whig nor Tory, liberal nor republican; it is a bit of all with
something other. The main intent of the study is to bring Quaker history into
dialogue with American political history, to situate Quaker thought and prac-
tice in the broader stream of the Anglo-American dissenting tradition, while at
the same time differentiating it from other ideologies. As will become clear, just
as religious Quakerism was an anomaly among early modern religious groups,
so was political Quakerism rife with seeming paradoxes that they reconciled
in their thought “ antiauthoritarianism without antigovernmentalism; a per-
manent yet changeable constitution; government that was neither absolute nor
limited; divine right that was not of kings; liberty of conscience in a theocracy;
the centrality of a written constitution without it being the foundation of gov-
ernment; political radicalism that was peaceful; paci¬sm that was not passive;
bureaucracy in the service of liberty.
The study takes a dual theoretical and historical approach. Part I discusses
Quaker constitutional theory and practice in England and Pennsylvania, and
Part II describes how the theory was expressed in word and deed by John
Dickinson during the Founding. In the ¬rst part, Chapters 1 and 2 describe the
foundations of Quaker theologico-political thought in England. They deal with
a thirty-year period of intense creativity from roughly 1652 to 1682. During
this era, Quakers were absorbed in the business of formulating their theology
and political theory, as well as creating both ecclesiastical and civil govern-
ments. These chapters present a view of Quaker constitutionalism from two
angles “ the religious and the civil, respectively. They follow the creation myth
of government to consider Quaker theories of government and the “Quaker
process” that animated their polities: how the governments were originally

50 It is debatable whether Quaker constitutionalism is best considered a tradition or a language.
Following Glenn Burgess™s discussion of these descriptors in The Politics of the Ancient Constitu-
tion: An Introduction to English Political Thought, 1603“1642 (University Park: Pennsylvania
State University Press, 1993, 116“17), it seems reasonable to suggest that it might have been
both at various times. As the present study will show, early on, political Quakerism was very
much a mentalit´ transmitted through speech to the outside world; but, as it became more
respectable, it was also a tradition that was self-consciously handed down, accepted, and fur-
ther transmitted by non-Quakers. And even at later dates, the unique linguistic element has
persisted among practitioners of civil disobedience. I perhaps use the term tradition more often;
however, the linguistic component of their theologico-politics will be clear.
Introduction 19

constituted, how fundamental law is discerned, what a constitution is, the pur-
pose of government, how government should be structured (i.e., where power
should lie), how decisions are made, and what remedies exist if the constitu-
tion or government are ¬‚awed in some way. They draw mainly on religious and
political treatises, but also on the Quakers™ con¬‚ict with the English and Mas-
sachusetts governments over liberty of conscience, and identify the origins of
both the persuasive and coercive techniques Friends used to mold their Society
and shape public opinion, which in these early days was deeply negative. These
chapters lay the theoretical foundations for Quakers™ subsequent experiments
in civil government.
Chapters 3 through 5 cover the familiar ground of Pennsylvania Quakerism
cast in the new light of the preceding discussion on their theologico-politics.
They treat the practical expressions of Quaker theory in West Jersey and Penn-
sylvania, but mainly the latter, from the late-seventeenth century to just before
the American Revolution. They show how Quakers de¬ned the legitimacy of
their own civil government and moved from persuasion to coercion in their
efforts to promote this de¬nition. Chapter 3 describes how Quakers dealt with
the ideological differences amongst themselves during the establishment of
their civil governments in America. In the main, they agreed on the fundamen-
tal points of their theory except how the government should be structured to
situate authority in the proper place. The West Jersey experiment failed when
two competing versions of Quaker thought struggled for dominance and in
short order cost Friends control of the government. It is an informative pro-
logue to the same problem in Pennsylvania. A similar contest over structure and
power ensued there, but in this instance, Quakers™ consensus on the process
of constitutional change allowed them to pursue drastic reform without losing
their colony or having to resort to violence or threat of violence. The result was
one of the seminal moments in Quaker constitutional history, the creation of
the 1701 Charter of Privileges. Not only did the colony remain united under
Quaker control with this Charter, but once the internal problems were resolved,
it allowed Friends to conduct their “holy experiment” without reserve.
The fourth chapter then describes Quaker rule in mid-eighteenth century
Pennsylvania, the political culture it engendered, and the polarized reception
of political Quakerism by inhabitants and observers of the colony. It argues
that they created a theocracy with a coercive bent in which they attempted to
disseminate their twin constitutional tenets of unity and dissent. The discus-
sion centers on an examination of the formal and informal techniques they
used to proselytize to the non-Quaker inhabitants and challenges the scholar-
ship that has interpreted Quaker laws such as liberty of conscience as “liberal”
or “negative liberties.” It argues, rather, that their laws and policies are rightly
understood as positive liberties, designed to guide Pennsylvanians to the “civil
Quakerism,” as Alan Tully terms it, that would sustain their theocracy. Friends
were only partially successful in that some Pennsylvanians adopted their whole
outlook, while others chose what they liked and rejected the rest, with conse-
quences Quakers neither foresaw nor sanctioned.
20 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

Chapter 5 concentrates on a second important constitutional moment in
Pennsylvania history, the so-called campaign for royal government, and intro-
duces the primary ¬gure in the study, John Dickinson. Through this episode, it
describes how the unintended consequence of Quaker political proselytization
led to the evolution of three amorphous factions based on differing interpre-
tations and uses of their seminal theological tenet, the peace testimony. Here
we see the beginnings of divisions that would deepen during the Revolution:
Some Friends retreated from formal politics, some Friends and Quakerized non-
Friends disregarded the peace testimony and became radicalized, and still others
adhered to a traditional strain of thought that espoused peaceful engagement.
The radicalized politicians, led by Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Galloway,
attempted to abolish the Quaker constitution, while the more traditional fac-
tion of the Quaker Party, led by John Dickinson, a “Quaker” politician, though
not a Quaker, fought to preserve it. Out of this controversy Dickinson emerged
as the most important advocate of Quaker political thought and leading ¬gure
in Pennsylvania and American politics through and beyond the Revolution.
The remainder of the book explains Dickinson™s thought and behavior in light
of Quaker constitutionalism.
Part II, covering the years from 1763 to 1789, explores how Dickinson
actively and self-consciously offered Friendly theories and processes to Amer-
icans as a means of constitutional reform for rights and unity. Chapter 6
describes how in the Revolution, Dickinson acted as the Quakers™ spokesman
and advocated resistance to Britain through distinctively Quaker means. As the
tensions increased, however, Friends shifted their considerable weight to pro-
tect the constitutional unity with Britain and their unique Charter, ¬rst advo-
cating reform over revolution and then retreating into neutrality. This shift
was a move away from their traditional activism and caused their temporary
alienation from American society and their permanent self-exile as a body from
participation in government at the highest levels; however, in the short term,
their resistance to independence constituted a signi¬cant threat to the Ameri-
can cause. Throughout the contest, Dickinson™s aim, in keeping with traditional
Quaker political theory, was not only to preserve the constitutional relation-
ship with Britain but also to support the American cause. This interpretation
of Dickinson™s thought and action up to the point of independence situates him
in the tradition of Gandhi and King as the ¬rst advocate and, to the extent
Americans heeded his advice, leader of a national peaceful protest movement.
The seventh chapter continues the discussion of the Revolution with an
examination of the Critical Period in Pennsylvania. During this chaotic time,
the radical Quaker element that was budding during the campaign for royal
government blossomed and joined with the radical revolutionary movement,
headed largely by Presbyterians disgruntled by the Quaker government. With
the climate in Pennsylvania hostile to dissent of any sort from the American
cause (as de¬ned by the radicals), and especially Quaker paci¬sm, Dickinson
worked to created both national and state constitutions that would protect
the rights of dissenters. This chapter chronicles his efforts from his drafting
Introduction 21

of the ¬rst version of the Articles of Confederation through his presidency of
Pennsylvania and the Annapolis Convention, and it describes the troubles he
and Quakers confronted as they fell through the constitutional gaps at the state
and national levels.
In Chapter 8, we see Dickinson™s constitutional thought in its maturity. It
revisits the creation myth used in the ¬rst two chapters to demonstrate how
his perspective on the creation of the U.S. Constitution was an expression of
Quaker constitutionalism. He saw the Constitution as a sacred and perpetual,
yet ¬‚exible and amendable document that was perfectible through a process
of peaceful dissent and cooperative negotiations among the members of the
polity. The chapter also discusses how Dickinson™s conceptions of federalism
and democratic process were largely a product both of his Quaker beliefs
and his experiences in the Pennsylvania government. His contributions at the
Constitutional Convention modeled Quaker concerns for moderation, recon-
ciliation, and unity and dissent, while balancing between extremes that could
lead to anarchy or tyranny. Dickinson™s thought gives us a new interpretation
of the Constitution “ one that is religious, but neither reformed Calvinist nor
Unitarian; one that allows for negotiation, but is not based on contract theory;
one that advocates factions, but not Madisonian-style competition; one that
encourages individual liberties, but not individualism; and one that values the
intent of the framers, but also assumes and encourages change.
Finally, an epilogue surveys expressions of traditional Quaker constitution-
alism since Dickinson. With the Hicksite Separation of the Society of Friends
in 1827“29, Quaker theologico-politics also splintered. In the Antebellum
reform movements, the best-known Quaker activists and those who followed
their teachings abandoned the balance earlier Quaker rights advocates struck
between unity and dissent. On the extremes they approached tyranny or anar-
chy in their constitutional thought. Few advocated or practiced civil disobedi-
ence as the term has been de¬ned in this study. The epilogue notes the variations
of the theologico-political thought and also discusses a few thinkers who did
adhere to traditional Quaker theologico-politics, such as Jonathan Dymond in
the early nineteenth century and Alice Paul and Bayard Rustin in the twentieth
century. It also discusses the dramatic shift in the public perception of Quak-
erism during this period to overwhelmingly positive. The study concludes with
a discussion of the Quaker in¬‚uences on the thought and practice of Martin
Luther King, Jr., whose theories of paci¬sm and civil disobedience were shaped
and encouraged by individual Quakers and Quaker organizations.

Quakerism was an important force in the formation of American political cul-
ture, but it is indeed true that the winners write the history. By concentrating
on the strain of thought that led to the Revolution, historians have underval-
ued a competing strain that prevailed after it. That since the rati¬cation of the
Constitution, revolution has been little more than a theory, and civil disobe-
dience has become a widely, if not universally accepted means of protest is
evidence that something more or other than a Lockean or secularized Puritan
22 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

understanding of government and citizenship has become a signi¬cant part
of American political culture. This is not to say that after the Revolution all
Americans became Quaker anymore than one might argue that all Americans
who advocated revolution were Puritans. The point is that there was a cur-
rent of thought that was so widely promulgated that it lost its sectarian color
and became a feature of the American political consciousness. This particular
divergent political current, which became mainstream, deserves closer analysis.

AND PRACTICE, c. 1652“1763

Bureaucratic Libertines
The Origins of Quaker Constitutionalism
and Civil Dissent

The Quakers™ conception of a political constitution and their understanding
of acceptable forms of civil dissent were based on their theology, ecclesiology,
and experiences with the English and Massachusetts governments during the
Interregnum and Restoration. This chapter gives an overview of the religious
structures and processes that were evolving in Quaker society in the mid-1650s
through the 1670s and that informed their political thought.
The Quaker ecclesiastical polity was animated by a bureaucratic process
that determined how the members of the meeting related to each other and to
the world outside their Society. If we think of their authority and their modus
operandi in Weberian terms “ legal-rational, traditional, or charismatic “ it
does not ¬t into any one of these categories; rather it rejected the second and is
an amalgam of the ¬rst and the third.1 It was not a category Weber envisioned,
and it can be described most simply as a “legal-charismatic” model.2 It was
based on the “rule of law,” but instead of being rooted in rationality, as Weber™s
model is, it was based on charisma. Further, rather than this charisma being
unique to one individual, it was found in each member of the group.3 There
was a paradox in Quaker theologico-political thought and expression that is
captured in the name “bureaucratic libertines.” Their bureaucratic process was
designed to produce charismatically based unity and dissent in the ecclesiastical

1 Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, G. Roth and C.
Wittich, eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978). See Chapter 3, “The Types of
Legitimate Domination,” 1: 212“301.
2 Weber ¬nds that the legal model has a charismatic element only “in the negative sense” that the
lack of it could pave the way for a “charismatic revolution” (Economy and Society, 1: 263).
3 There is, however, a similarity between the Quaker structure and one of Weber™s models, dis-
cussed in “The Transformation of Charisma in a Democratic Direction,” Economy and Society,
1: 266“71.

26 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

and civil polities, and with both of these things aimed at the same purpose “
discovering God™s law.4
What follows is a sketch of the rise and settlement of the Quaker church,
or “meeting,” and an analysis of the theological foundations and assumptions
underlying the decisions Friends made in trying to realize their priorities and
stabilize their polity.5 The narrative structure follows the creation mythology
of political society that Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and others used to discuss
the origins of government. In other words, it describes the origins of the Quaker
religious society, the process by which the members related to one another to
discern the fundamental law, the purpose for the establishment of the eccle-
siastical polity, and the creation of the ecclesiastical constitution. Finally, the
discussion turns to show how Quakers related to the civil governments of
Britain and Massachusetts. The theology and practice they developed and the
ecclesiastical government they founded would serve as a blueprint for their civil

The Origins of the Meeting for Worship
The Religious Society of Friends constituted itself before it established a “for-
mal” church government.6 Unlike other religious groups of the time, its mem-
bers did not leave as one from an already established church. It was rather
a movement that grew organically and spontaneously out of the chaos of the
Interregnum “ a state of nature of sorts. Although George Fox is generally
acknowledged to be the founder of Quakerism, he was only the most promi-
nent of several early ministers, known as the Valiant Sixty, who proselytized
on behalf of what would become the Religious Society of Friends. Fox took
the lead early on, and in later years served as the unifying force of the meeting.
The movement developed in several areas of England “ although mostly in the
north “ and absorbed many people who had belonged to earlier radical groups
that were now dying out, such as the Ranters, Levellers, and others who were

4 In Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence among Seventeenth-Century
Quakers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), Richard Bauman gives a much
fuller analysis of Quaker charismatic authority in Weberian terms than appears here. He also
approaches it through their linguistic and performative process, and goes further to discuss the
routinization of the charisma (Weber, Economy and Society, 246“54; and fn. 25 in this chapter)
in this process. My argument agrees with his in its fundamental elements.
5 For simplicity™s sake, throughout this study I will frequently use the word church to refer to the
ecclesiastical structure of the Society of Friends. Early Friends used church much more broadly
than this to mean the universal body of people who followed the Light Within, regardless of
whether they had heard of Christ or belonged to a speci¬c denomination. See Thomas D. Hamm,
The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800“1907 (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1988), 9.
6 I use the word formal advisedly because Quakers considered themselves opponents of religious
“formality” and believed that the true Church of Christ did not consist of man-made structures
and rituals, which only detracted from worship and obedience. As we shall see, however, structure
of a sort became an integral element of Quakerism.
Origins of Quaker Constitutionalism and Civil Dissent 27

generally seeking an alternative to the existing systems of faith and politics.7 As
Fox and others traveled and missionized, a growing number of people began
to cohere loosely and call themselves by the same name.8 By 1660, there were
around 60,000 Quakers in England.9 It is not quite accurate to say, however,
that they were organized.
In its ¬rst few years, Quakerism existed without formal processes or struc-
tures “ no instituted church government. The meeting, Quakers held, was
originally constituted and governed by God directly through the individual
believers. Quakers modeled themselves on the ancient or primitive Church,10
in which man needed no human contrivances to know and obey God; law
and order were known inwardly by the believer. William Penn described this
informal community as a “Scripture-Church,” that is, “A Company or Society
of People, believing, professing, and practicing according to the Doctrine and
Example of Christ Jesus and his Apostles, and not according to the Scribes and
Pharisies, that taught for Doctrine the Tracitisms of Men.”11 The meetings
for worship occurred spontaneously, whenever and wherever individuals felt
moved by the spirit to come together. Because of this organic development, it
is dif¬cult to date the exact beginning of Quakerism. Scholars have generally
settled on the year 1652 as when the Society coalesced.
As contradictory as it may appear on the surface, this lack of formal struc-
ture was a key element in the Quaker understanding of ecclesiastical order.
Unplanned and “unprogrammed” meetings were, they believed, an expression
of God™s law and order known intuitively by man.12 Friends rejected formal
religious arrangements because they were seen as representing only the “dead
letter” of God™s law in the form of man-made sacraments, rituals, and dogma.
With only informal, inward processes and structures to guide them, Friends
believed they were following the living spirit of God.
This divine law and order, what Friends now call “Quaker process,” regu-
lated the posture of the individual toward God in his internal communion with
him and externally in his interactions with the outside world. Correct process

7 See Hill, The World Turned Upside Down; David R. Como™s Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism
and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil War England (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 2004) details the emergence of competing factions of religious radicals
in the Puritan Revolution. Unfortunately, he has little to say about Quakers in particular. Rather
he categorizes them as “antinomians,” something, as we shall presently see, they were not in
the usual sense of the word.
8 At ¬rst, they called themselves “The Children of Light” or “The Children of God.” They later
settled on The Religious Society of Friends. The importance of the name Quaker is discussed
9 Phyllis Mack, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophesy in Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1992), 1.
10 This period spans from the death of Jesus in 29 a.d. to the conversion of Constantine to
Christianity in 313. During this period, Jesus™ followers held closely to the teachings of the New
11 William Penn, The Continued Cry of the Oppressed for Justice (London, 1675), 23.
12 An unprogrammed meeting has no minister or liturgy.
28 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

was conducted through perlocutionary speech-acts.13 Quakers described it as
“conversation” and “walking” “ words and deeds that were simultaneously a
means of engaging on appropriate terms with God in oneself and with other
men, and a signi¬er of the spiritual status of the Walker, who should serve
as an example to the unconvinced. The process was enacted on three levels,
which will be dealt with in turn: the individual and his relationship with God;
the decision-making process within the ecclesiastical polity; and the relation of
the meeting to the larger society.

Individual Communion
The ¬rst step in Quaker process was an inward one. The foundational premise
of Quaker theology was that all individuals had the capacity to experience
a direct relationship with God and that the individual must freely abandon
himself to God™s law. He must voluntarily consent to be governed by nothing
but that higher law. This began the process of internal communion. He must
purify himself of all man-made traditions and ordinances, including his own
reason and will. Liberty of conscience was thus a necessary precondition for
the would-be Quaker. It was impossible, they believed, to come to and accept
God if one was being coerced by outside forces or otherwise inhibited from
discovering and following divine injunction. Once he had liberated himself
from these obstacles and waited in patient and submissive silence, man would
¬nd God™s Light in his conscience. This Light in the conscience “ not the
conscience itself, which is of man and but a vehicle for the Light “ was his direct
knowledge of divine will. This was the primary way of knowing. All other ways
were creations of man, and thus secondary. These included Scripture, history,
tradition and custom, and reason. Ideally, these things should comport with
the Light “ they should be based on it “ but because they were of man, they
could be fallible, corrupted, and contradictory. In other words, the spirit was
never contradictory, but man™s interpretation of it could be.14 Thus, secondary
guides should be tested against the Light, and if a discrepancy existed between
them, the Light was to be obeyed.15
For the same reasons “ informality, purity, and accurate discernment “
Quakers did not believe in adhering to a written theology or creed. They even
denied that they had a theology at all. Faith was rather a living thing that should
grow and be ¬‚exible as man moved closer to God.16 Importantly, however,

13 Austin, How to Do Things with Words.
14 See Robert Barclay, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity [1676] (New York: Samuel
Woods and Sons, 1827), 18“19; and William Penn, A Discourse of the General Rule of Faith
and Practice (London, 1699).
15 This formula varied among different groups of Quakers and over time. Although most Friends

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