My personal impression is that Quakers, like all abolitionists, enthusiastically took part in the mental preparation of the Civil War. But when the War came they were perplexed and most of them opted out of it. But this abrupt change of  view couldn't work well, indeed a third of the young men joined Lincoln's army. On the other hand, Quakers were rigorous enough to disown those young men and thus lost a lot of their followers.

Is this historically correct?

What would it mean for actual politics - the tendencies to get a new civil war after the election?

Views: 412

Comment by Rainer Möller on 11th mo. 29, 2020 at 6:33am

Adding up.

My first irritation with Quakerism came at a European meeting, American Friends included, who then induced the whole meeting to sing "John Brown's body" fullheartedly. I was perhaps the only one who knew that this was an army song, the most popular song of the Yankee army. Also, John Brown was hardly a  witness of the Peace testimony.

My general impression is that Quakers tend to head for a big conflict which can easily go violent (as if they don't see it coming, but do they?) - but then they veer away, when violence is obvious.

Or even somewhat later? Here I think about Whittier's poem "Barbara Fritchie". Whittier, the proverbial Quaker poet, glorifies the starting war not even as a war against slavery, but as a war for the "union" (hardly a Christian concern). On the other hand, he depicts the Southern army as decent - perhaps a step away from warmongering to reconciliation. Does someone know how Whittier developed from that point onwards? I cannot think that he supported the war atrocities of the next years.

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 29, 2020 at 10:32am

"Does someone know how Whittier developed from that point onwards? I cannot think that he supported the war atrocities of the next years." Rainer Moller

Comment by Rainer Möller on 11th mo. 29, 2020 at 6:57pm

As Wikipedia tells us, Whittier wrote a book "In War Time" 1864. Has anyone here read it? It ought to be interesting.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 29, 2020 at 8:08pm

As I understand it, a lot of young men -- being young men -- went off eagerly to join in a battle against evil.  They were, of course, disowned by their Meetings.

After finding out what battles-against-evil are all about, and eventually extricating themselves from military life, they generally returned to their home Meetings and were readmitted with considerable sympathy.


Comment by Rainer Möller on 12th mo. 22, 2020 at 7:53pm

Hello Forrest,

technically it is of course possible to disown people as long as they take part in a war and then readmit them afterwards. On the other hand: Was this a singular practice w.r.t. the civil war or has it been a more general practice in Quakerism? I suppose that, if you do this too often and it can be expected by the people concerned, it would lead to a certain amount of cynicism.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 22, 2020 at 9:30pm

Basically we tend to be as evil in what we think to be a good cause as other churches. It isn't as easy a decision as you seem to imagine. "Are they going to read me out of Meeting? -- Will they let me back in later?" aren't likely to be the first questions on an idealistic young fool's mind at the time. They know that people get killed in that kind of nonsense, but they imagine they're needed and so they're willing to take that risk. It's not something most people do for fun.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 12th mo. 26, 2020 at 2:57pm

Hello Rainer,

Thank you for pointing to In War Time. I've read it a couple times now. Need to read more. Here is a sample for those interested

Anniversary Poem

[Read before the Alumni of the Friends' Yearly Meeting School, at the Annual Meeting at Newport, R. I., 15th 6th Mo., 1863.]

ONCE more, Dear Friends, you meet beneath
A clouded sky:
Not yet the sword has found its sheath,
And on the sweet spring airs the breath
Of war floats by.

Yet trouble springs not from the ground,

Nor pain from chance ;
The Eternal order circles round,
And wave and storm find mete and bound
In Providence.

Full long our feet the flowery ways
Of peace have trod,
Content with creed and garb and phrase :
A harder path in earlier days
Led up to God.

Too cheaply truths, once purchased dear,
Are made our own
Too long the world has smiled to hear
Our boast of full corn in the ear
By others sown;

To see us stir the martyr fires
Of long ago,
And wrap our satisfied desires
In the singed mantles that our sires
Have dropped below.

But now the cross our worthies bore
On us is laid;
Profession's quiet sleep is o'er,
And in the scale of truth on
Our faith is weighed

The cry of innocent blood at last
Is calling down
An answer in the whirlwind-blast,
The thunder and the shadow cast
From Heaven's dark frown.

The land is red with judgments. Who
Stands guiltless forth ?
Have we been faithful as we knew,
To God and to our brother true,
To Heaven and Earth ?

How faint, through din of merchandise
And count of gain,
Have seemed to us the captive's cries!
How far away the tears and sighs
Of souls in pain!

This day the fearful reckoning comes
To each and all ;
We hear amidst our peaceful homes
The summons of the conscript drums,
The bugle's call.

Our path is plain ; the war-net draws
Round us in vain,
While, faithful to the Higher Cause,
We keep our fealty to the laws
Through patient pain.

The levelled gun, the battle brand,
We may not take;
But, calmly loyal, we can stand
And suffer with our suffering land
For conscience' sake.

Why ask for ease where all is pain ?
Shall we alone
Be left to add our gain to gain,
When over Armageddon's plain
The trump is blown ?

To suffer well is well to serve ;
Safe in our Lord
The rigid lines of law shall curve
To spare us ; from our heads shall swerve
Its smiting sword.

And light is mingled with the gloom,
And joy with grief;
Divinest compensations come,
Through thorns of judgment mercies bloom
In sweet relief.

Thanks for our privilege to bless,
By word and deed,
The widow in her keen distress,
The childless and the fatherless,
The hearts that bleed!

For fields of duty, opening wide,
Where all our powers
Are tasked the eager steps to guide
Of millions on a path untried :

Ours by traditions dear and old,
Which make the race
Our wards to cherish and uphold,
And cast their freedom in the mould
Of Christian grace.

And we may tread the sick-bed floors
Where strong men pine,
And, down the groaning corridors,
Pour freely from our liberal stores
The oil and wine.

Who murmurs that in these dark days
His lot is cast?
God's hand within the shadow lays
The stones whereon His gates of praise
Shall rise at last.

Turn and o'erturn, outstretched Hand !
Nor stint, nor stay ;
The years have never dropped their sand
On mortal issue vast and grand
As ours to-day.

Already, on the sable ground
Of man's despair
Is Freedom's glorious picture found
With all its dusky hands unbound
Upraised in prayer.

O, small shall seem all sacrifice
And pain and loss,
When God shall wipe the weeping eyes,
For suffering give the victor's prize,
The crown for cross!

Source: In War Time, 1864 pgs. 44-50

Comment by Rainer Möller on 12th mo. 28, 2020 at 6:43pm

Many thanks to you, Keith Saylor

As for the poem, it poses a lot of questions: Was "Newport" the town in Rhode Island? Then what exactly is meant with the "pain" and "suffer" announced here? No pain of persecution, I suppose, as Quaker conscient objectors in the Northern States were not persecuted (afaik) - on the other hand, pain if Rhode Island might become a war theatre (?)

And what is meant with "The slave is ours" in 1863? Anticipation of a Lincoln victory even if that was yet years away?

There are some ideas I can accept: the wish to be loyal, but at the same to not take a gun; or the concentration on the joy and "privilege to bless".

I don't support the general tenor of fatalism elevated to higher theology: the war as described here is not only inevitable, but also God's will - partly to make the world better, partly to punish mankind for their sins or shortcomings. It is not a mundane war, but God's war. The individual Christian may opt out  but should not intrude into God's plans and only be faithful, hope and pray that God's party gets the victory. That reminds to me a general tendency during WW2 - I personally side with the people who (like Corder Catchpool) said that war is never necessary and there is always something which can be done to avoid at least some war atrocities,  even if they are useful for God's party.

Even at that time, there were people who found the abolitionsts  co-responsible for the war (as Lincoln said about H. Beecher Stowe "the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war"),  and  in theory Whittier might have had misgivings about the belligerent tone of his former publications. But as normal in these situations he is dead sure that it's the other way round: the war started because other people were not belligerent enough.

To be clear, I am not so much interested in mere history, but in systematic thinking. Can we make a difference between mundane wars and God's wars? And can we say that under some conditions more belligerence is needed and in other times less?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 29, 2020 at 12:17pm

We don't get wars because God wants to harm us, but because the way we are still leads to harm of some kind, and war is sometimes the harm that results. William Stringfellow said that the end of the US war against Vietnam would not diminish the "presence of death" in the nation that had made us start it. We're talking about a subtle condition that might not be easily described via 'systematic thinking.'

Can God produce 'secondary gains' from wars? That can happen; but it looks to be overrated. Reasonableness is seldom a byproduct; rationalization is more typical. "We didn't want this; but we had to do it!" There are causes, but more responses possible than we know.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 12th mo. 29, 2020 at 1:49pm

Whittier, in his 1833 Justice and Prejudice, writes:

"Far be it from me to cast new bitterness into the gall and wormwood waters of sectional prejudice. No; I desire peace, the peace of universal love, of catholic sympathy, the peace of a common interest, a common feeling, a common humanity. But so long as slavery is tolerated, no such peace can exist. Liberty and slavery cannot dwell in harmony together. There will be a perpetual "war in the members" of the political Mezentius between the living and the dead. God and man have placed between them an everlasting barrier, an eternal separation. No matter under what name or law or compact their union is attempted, the ordination of Providence has forbidden it, and it cannot stand. Peace! there can be no peace between justice and oppression, between robbery and righteousness, truth and falsehood, freedom and slavery."

Here Whittier professes Peace is not possible in a society that tolerates slavery. That is, conflict is the nature outgrowth in a society wherein some people engage in ownership of other human beings and other people in the society deny ownership of human beings. So even in 1833, years before armed conflict, his words signal conflict from his perspective. For, Liberty and slavery cannot dwell in harmony together. Whittier is here the personification of belligerence, Rainer. This is Whittier's starting point. Add to that the belligerence of the anti-abolitionists and it is hard to see anything but conflict and the destruction of one or the other through armed conflict or physical coercion. 

What do you think?


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