Eduard Bernstein

Cromwell and Communism

Chapter XVI
The Quakers in the Seventeenth Century


I. The Rise and Principles of Quakerism

Johannes Becoldus redivivus; or, the English Quakers the German Enthusiasts Revived, is the title of a publication which appeared in 1659 in Boston. [1] It was naturally hostile to the Quakers. At a time when the worst calumnies concerning the vanquished of Munster found ready credence, the worst that could be said about any movement was that it was a revival of the Munster movement. However, the comparison was not altogether unwarranted. What was then suggested merely to prejudice men’s minds against the new sect is now generally admitted as far as regards the spiritual descent of Quakerism from or its spiritual connection with the Continental Anabaptist movement. [2]

In fact, the Quaker movement at the outset was really a revival of the original tendencies of the Anabaptist movement, of which the representatives of the new movement were unconscious, clothed in a new garb suited to the altered circumstances. The Lollard movement in England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had been a primitive reaction against the rapacity and ostentation of Rome and of the Roman clergy, rather than a profound spiritual movement; while Puritanism, which was a genuine spiritual manifestation in the sixteenth and even in the first half of the seventeenth century, had through its conflict with monarchic absolutism become increasingly formal and shallow from a religious point of view, especially in the degree that it had been espoused by the proprietary classes. This was clearly apparent from the moment when Puritanism triumphed over Charles I. The Presbyterians, on the one hand, repelled many people by their want of toleration and their pedantic insistence on formal church discipline, while, on the other hand, the Independent Ministers, after 1649, and after the rigorous measures adopted against the Royalist priests, had fallen into ill-repute on account of their sycophancy towards the new rulers. The Independents and Baptists now set up as recognized, regular churches and began to dogmatize, and in some cases to excommunicate. The Baptists had meanwhile split up into two sects, viz., the “General Baptists”, who allowed a certain freedom to the human will, and the “Particular Baptists”, who held fast to the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination. Both sections insisted on baptism by immersion. But many people who had been stirred by the religious conflicts failed to find satisfaction in any sect. All dogmas had been shaken, one faction in the Church decried the other, and these disputes were carried on in the streets and open places, the public joining in, as in the case of modern political meetings. The result was that scepticism spread among the people, many of whom turned their backs on religion altogether. Judging from the reports of Quaker missionaries, there were in England at that time a considerable number of people who denied the truth of the Biblical story of the creation, and declared that “all comes by nature”. [3] But such sceptics were lost in the great bulk of the nation. Others attached themselves to obscure sects, brooding on the mysteries of creation (the so-called “seekers”), or waiting for a sign from heaven which was to solve their doubts (the so-called “waiters”).

One of these “seekers” was George Fox, son of a Leicestershire silk-weaver. Born in 1624, and bred during the period of Puritan persecutions, he developed at a very early age a strong religious bent. He was apprenticed by his father, who was in comfortable circumstances, to a shoemaker, who was also a sheep-breeder; but he abandoned his apprenticeship at the age of nineteen, and driven by a restless, roving spirit, he went from place to place, from county to county, preaching and arguing. None of the existing Churches satisfied him; they were all too worldly to his mind, they did not correspond with primitive Christianity, and obeyed the letter rather than the spirit. Through debating, reading, and the influence of environment, he eventually reached a state of mind which was a compound of rationalism and mysticism, of democracy and political abstention. Strange as it may appear at first sight, it will nevertheless become intelligible in the light of contemporary events as set forth in the preceding chapters. The civil war had claimed untold sacrifices, without any satisfactory result; political struggles had succeeded each other without bringing a solution of social difficulties any nearer; men who had been hailed as deliverers, when once raised to power, assumed the mien of oppressors, and thus the conclusion seemed inescapable that the chief evil lay in man himself, in the weakness of human nature, which the existing Churches had proved powerless to overcome. Enthusiastic natures were likely to incline to this view, and thus we see George Fox, who up to the proclamation of the Commonwealth had been like the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”, after 1650 making converts in increasing numbers. They flocked to him from all parts, a large contingent coming from the former soldiers of Cromwell’s Army, who, owing to their discontent with the course of events, had either obtained a discharge or been dismissed from the Army. This element was, at first, so strongly represented in the communities established by Fox that in many of them a different spirit from his own prevailed. The Ironsides concurred with Fox in rejecting the formal element in Church matters, having been trained to this in Cromwell’s Army, where, after the withdrawal in 1644 of the official ministers of religion, anyone would preach whom the spirit moved. [4] After this we can understand the following passage from John Evelyn’s Diary: “On Sunday afternoon I frequently staid at home to catechize and instruct my family, those exercises universally ceasing in the parish churches, so as people had no principles, and grew very ignorant of even the common points of Christianity; all devotion being now placed in hearing sermons and discourses of speculative and notional things.” But their objection to war and politics was not the same as Fox’s. His objection was based on principle, after the manner of the Mennonites, from whom on the whole Fox differed little in doctrine. [5] while their objection was largely one of expediency. They stood aloof from war and party contentions, but did not abandon the hope of eventually realizing their social ideals by political methods.

It was not until after the Restoration that Fox’s doctrine of abstention from politics was generally adopted by the Quakers. During the Commonwealth this was so little the case, that when representatives of the Army (in April 1659) presented a petition to Parliament in favour of a resumption of the “good old cause” of liberty and of the republic, Quakers supported it by a memorial which added a few further demands to those of the petition. During the first years of the Commonwealth Fox was generally overshadowed by the republican Quakers who headed the religious-revolutionary opposition to Cromwell. They “marched through the streets of London, denouncing with uplifted voice Cromwell’s Government, and predicting its downfall”. Publicly they were better known than Fox. The best-known person among the Quakers, against whom the pamphlet referred to at the commencement of this chapter is directed, was James Naylor, an ex-quartermaster of the Army.

But before dealing further with this man, and the incident which made him notorious, and which throws much light on the first period of Quakerism, it will be expedient to discuss the ideas chiefly propagated by the Quakers.

The Quakers believe in God and are Christians, adhering as strictly as possible to primitive Christianity; but what they mainly rely upon is not the traditional “Word of God”, the Bible, but the living word, the inward light. Consequently they call themselves the “Professors”, or else the “Children of Light”. The name of Quakers was first given to them by opponents in derision, and then came into general vogue. [6] This cult of the inward light down to the very name “Children of Light”, forms a connecting-link between the Quakers and many German Anabaptists, as also the German Mystics, and it is a suggestive fact that the first English edition of writings of the German theosophic mystic, Jacob Böhme, was issued in 1649 by the bookseller who issued the Quaker publications of the period, viz., Giles Culvert of London, who, as we know, was also the publisher and in some cases even co-signatory of the pamphlets of the “Levellers”. [7]

According to Quaker doctrine, this “inner illumination” can only come as a result of concentration of the thoughts on God, for which purpose neither a learned sermon nor a liturgy is necessary. On the contrary, a professional learned priesthood, appointed and paid by the State, is an evil; everyone shall preach, or rather he shall say what he has to say, whom the inner voice prompts to do so and whenever it prompts him to, whether he be a man of education or not. Fox and the first Quakers inveighed with real fanaticism against a priesthood paid out of public funds. Repeated instances occurred when Quakers entered churches and shouted at the preacher in the pulpit: “Come down, thou false prophet, thou impostor, thou blind leader of the blind, thou hireling!” We read in Fox’s diary that the priests “trade”, that they “sell” their Gospel, that the bells of their “steeple-houses” (the Quakers will not allow the name of “church” for any building) resemble market-bells, which call the people together in order that the priest may “spread out his wares for sale”; and “the enormous sums which are obtained by this traffic, what other traffic in the world can be compared to it?” [8] But even without using such invectives, the Quakers frequently interrupted preachers, or took the Word after the regular service was finished and preached to the assembled multitude their own doctrine. But they did not always get a quiet hearing; sometimes the whole community, and in the majority of other cases the bulk of the inhabitants, showed themselves hostile to the passionate apostles and vented their indignation on them by ill-treatment of the most brutal kind. Again and again we read that the Quaker apostles were beaten, stoned, kicked, and often the apostles of the new doctrine, after such an attempt to win the people, would be lying unconscious on the ground, bruised and bleeding, for hours, until some charitable soul took pity on them. The sequel was in most cases an inquiry before a Justice of the Peace, ending with the Quakers being sentenced to fines, imprisonment, and whipping. All other sects taken together did not at that time supply half as many inmates to the prisons as the “Professors of Light”. [9]

The rejection of the letter led the Quakers, among other things, to reject the strictly literal conception of the Sabbath rest, which was observed by the other Puritans, whom they often reproved on account of their “Judaizing tendencies”. As regards asceticism in their mode of life, they outstripped all other sects; they strictly prohibited all boisterous amusements and every luxury, and the peculiar and severely plain dress retained by them for a long time is well known. They interpreted the Sermon on the Mount literally. They would suffer the severest penalties rather than take an oath. They likewise rejected the Church sacraments of Baptism, Communion, and Holy Matrimony. Their cult, in some of its forms, was extremely rationalistic; they assembled in plain meeting-houses, where they gave themselves up to religious meditation. [10] Following the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, they repudiated war and forcible resistance, and however impracticable their ideas may sound, it cannot be denied that when endeavouring to carry them out the early Quakers frequently displayed heroic strength of character. Men who had helped to fight Cromwell’s battles bore quietly the worst brutalities from excited ruffians, and risked death rather than defend themselves. A training of character was further supplied by their rule to address everyone as “thou”, and not to doff their hats to anyone; the first because they considered it tantamount to a lie to address an individual as if he represented a plural number, and the second because equal respect was due to all men, whether poor or rich, high or low, and that it was therefore an unworthy act to bow to any man. [11] The judges and other authorities, of course, took a different view from that of the Quakers, and in most cases cast them into prison for “contempt of court”, and frequently had them whipped into the bargain. And prison, where the bulk of the inmates were vagrants covered with vermin and criminals, generally proved to the Quakers veritable hells on earth. [12] Nevertheless, they stuck to this rule with iron tenacity; it was not relaxed under the pressure of persecutions, but only after the Quakers had succeeded in gaining for themselves political toleration and social acknowledgment. “And albeit no Reason can be given why we should be Persecuted upon this account, especially by Christians, who profess to follow the Rule of Scripture, whose Dialect this is; yet it would perhaps seem incredible, if I should relate how much we have suffered for this thing, and how these Proud Ones have fumed, fretted, and gnashed their Teeth, frequently beating and striking us, when we have spoken to them in the Singular Number: Whereby we are the more confirmed in our Judgment, as seeing that this Testimony of Truth, which God hath given us to bear in all things, doth so vex the Serpentine Nature in the Children of Darkness.” Thus wrote the most prominent exponent of Quakerism, Robert Barelay senior, in his principal work, published in 1675, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, as the Same is Held Forth and Preached, by the People, called in Scorn, Quakers (4th Edition, pp. 528, 529).

A further source of persecution was the Quakers’ persistent refusal to pay tithes. Among all the more important sects they upheld most consistently the principle that religion was a private matter. And certainly greater moral courage was required for a member of a moderately numerous sect, mainly composed of members of the poorer classes, of the “vulgar” (Hume), to refuse to pay taxes, than for John Hampden, when supported by more than half the nation, to refuse to pay ship-money.

The constitution of the Quaker communities was thoroughly democratic; it was modelled, in its cardinal features, upon that of the early Christian communities, and presents all the essential characteristics to be found in the communities of the more consistent among the Anabaptists, viz., regular meetings for exercising discipline and moral censorship, settling disputes, and regulating financial affairs. From these local meetings the organization (which grew but gradually) extends to the quarterly district meetings and the annual general meetings of the whole community.

The writings of Fox and of the better-known advocates of early Quakerism reveal no distinct social or economic tendencies; they are of a purely religious and ethical character. Whether and to what extent communistic tendencies were propagated among the early Quakers, or certain sections of them, by clandestine teaching, is difficult to ascertain. [13] The only thing certain is that at a very early date they established among themselves an organized system of charitable relief, and the more prosperous among their members exhibited in this respect a noteworthy spirit of sacrifice. Significantly enough, a beginning was made with the relief of the victims of coercion and persecution, but soon this was followed by arrangements for the relief of poor and sick members of the community. [14] anything beyond this was utterly impracticable during the period of propaganda; even avowedly communistic sects were obliged, unless special circumstances favoured a fuller community of goods or incomes, to limit the realization of their ideal in practice to the relief of the poor.

On the other hand, it was possible to apply communism to education, and we may observe in the case of the Quakers a feature that is peculiar to all the communistic sects of the period, namely, a contempt for academic learning combined with a great interest in education. Barclay the elder, for instance, in the book already quoted, after condemning theatres, dancing, sports, and other diversions as detracting from true Christianity, mentions as permissible amusements the following: to visit friends, to read or hear history, to converse soberly on the events of the present or of the past, to engage in gardening, to make geometrical and mathematical experiments and the like. [15] Fox, in his letters, never tires of impressing upon his friends the importance of educating the young. The first years of their propaganda, however, were not a favourable time for the promotion of this purpose. The numerous persecutions exhausted all the resources of the “friends”; their most capable members were alternately in prison; and many of their followers were inclined to believe that the “inner light” compensated for all knowledge except that required for daily pursuits.

It was only gradually that much of what we have been describing took definite shape as the Quaker movement, and came to be generally recognized as such. Originally, in this as in similar movements, the negative side, the protest – in this case protest against the establishment of new hierarchies – was uppermost. It was during this early period of fermentation and persecution, in some respects marking its very climax, that the James Naylor episode occurred.



2. James Naylor, the King of Israel

James Naylor was the son of a comfortable farmer in Ardsley, a village near Wakefield. He received a good education, and in 1642, when aged about twenty-five (and already a family man), his enthusiasm prompted him to join the Parliamentary Army. His conduct as a soldier was blameless, and his superior, who included Major-General Lambert, subsequently gave him the best of characters. While in the Army he went over to the Independents, and gave religious addresses which, like his subsequent speeches, were full of eloquence, depth, and power. An officer who heard him preach after the bloody battle of Dunbar on September 3, 1650, subsequently wrote that “he had been inspired with greater fear by Naylor’s sermon than he had felt in the battle of Dunbar”. Soon after the battle of Dunbar Naylor obtained his discharge on account of illness, and returned home in order to attend to his farm. In 1651 he heard George Fox preach, and quickly embraced his ideas, which, as we have shown, expressed what thousands of disappointed enthusiasts were feeling at the time. In the spring of 1652, while following the plough, he suddenly felt within himself the “call” to work, like Fox, as an itinerant preacher, for the propagation of the new doctrine, and he at once started on his journeyings. He met Fox in Lancashire, where an ardent adherent had been gained to their cause at Swarthmore, near Ulverstone, in the person of the wife of Judge Fell, a granddaughter of Ann Askew, the martyr, and her house became the centre of the Quaker organization. [16]

As early as in the late autumn in the same year Naylor was called to account at Orton, Westmoreland, for having preached a “blasphemous” sermon. He had said, among other things, that the body of Christ after the resurrection was to be taken as being “not carnal but spiritual”, and refusing to recant, he was kept in prison for nearly six months. Out of a sum of five pounds which Margaret Fell sent for his sustenance, he accepted the twentieth part and refused the rest. Like many other Quakers, he imposed on himself an ascetic mode of life.

A sample of the opinions then held by Naylor, and an illustration of the general political disillusionment, is to be found in one of Naylor’s pamphlets, dated from 1652, and entitled, “A Lamentacion (By one of England’s Prophets) Over the Ruines of this oppressed Nacion, To be deeply layd to heartby Parliament and Army, and all sorts of People, lest they be swept away with the Broom of Destruction, in the Day of Lord’s fierce wrath and Indignation, which is near at hand. Written by the Movings of the Lord in James Naylor.” It begins with the words: “Oh England! how is thy expectation failed now after all thy travails! The people to whom Oppression and Unrighteousness hath been a Burden, have long waited Deliverance, from one year to another, but none comes, from one sort of men to another ... For as power hath come into the hands of men, it hath been turned into violence, and the will of men is brought forth instead of Equity ... He that turns from iniquity is made a prey to the wicked, and none lays it to heart through the nation, for all hearts are full of oppression, and all hands are full of violence, their houses are filled with oppression, their streets and markets abound with it, their Courts which shd afford remedy against it are wholly made up of iniquity and injustice ... Oh! Foolish People ... are not these the choicest of thy Worthies, who are now in power? Hath it not been the top of thy desires and labors to see it in their hands, and are not they now become weak as other men, and the Land still in travail but nothing brought forth but wind?” No reliance could therefore be placed on men, nor could any hope beset upon an alteration in the government, but improvement could only follow the cultivation of the right spirit. This attitude of mind maybe observed after all great political reactions. The most striking modern example of it may be found in the works of Tolstoy, who may be described as a Russian Quaker of the late nineteenth century.

After finishing his term of imprisonment Naylor at once resumed his missionary activity, and early in 1655 came to London, where a fairly strong Quakers’ community already existed. His fervent, stirring speech soon made him their favourite speaker, and even outside the narrower circle of Quakerism he attained to a certain degree of fame. He moved in circles where he met prominent representatives of the Republicans who were then opposing Cromwell, such as Bradshaw, Sir Henry Vane, and others, and on the other hand many of these, and even members of Cromwell’s “Court”, visited the Quaker meetings where Naylor spoke. Eventually a Naylor cult grew up, especially among the female members of the Quaker community. People would hear no one but him, and would interrupt the addresses of those who had hitherto been leaders of the community. Naylor had to be the chief speaker, the principal representative. He himself resisted for some time, but in the end this adulation proved too much for him. In the summer of 1656 Naylor set out for Launceston, where Fox was then imprisoned, in order to discuss with him more fully the differences which had arisen in London, and which probably had reference to the attitude to be adopted towards contemporary politics. Several of his admirers insisted on accompanying him, and thus his journey tended to assume a Messianic aspect. The Quaker gospel, with its mystical idea of the inner light, did not preclude this. The inner light, the divine illumination, varied in the strength of its manifestations. Why should not James Naylor with his enthralling eloquence be called to perform a special work? Why should not the Spirit manifest itself in him with the same power as in the Son of Mary? The Quakers were Christians in the sense of the teachings of primitive Christianity, but during the earliest days very heretical views obtained among them concerning the Godhead of the person of Christ.

In the West of England, in the centres of the cloth-industry, the new doctrine had made rapid strides. It was reported, as early as in 1654, that the Quaker meetings in Bristol were always attended by three to four thousand persons. The actual number of members of course was much smaller than this, but neverthless very considerable in proportion. In a town of a little over thirty thousand inhabitants they had, in 1658, over seven hundred members, most of whom were mechanics. Among the soldiers of the garrison also they had many adherents, and even some of the officers were favourably disposed towards them.

When Naylor, on his journey to Launceston, passed through Bristol, demonstrations naturally took place, and it even came to disturbances from which, however, nothing followed. Yet in Exeter Naylor was arrested and cast into prison as a disturber of the peace and agitator. But this only increased his authority among his admirers. Women praised him in their letters as the incomparable champion and “only son” of God, and their husbands improved upon this in their postscripts. The husband of Hannah Stranger wrote: “Thy name shall no longer be James but Jesus”, while Thomas Simmonds called Naylor “Thou Lamb of God”. They visited him in prison, and the women fell down before him and kissed his feet. A certain Dorcas Ebury loudly proclaimed that she had been lying dead for two days, and Naylor had called her to life again. Towards the end of October he was liberated, and Fox too having meanwhile been set free (he had visited Naylor in prison, but no understanding had been arrived at), the return journey was entered upon. First they made for Bristol, Naylor being on horseback, and his companions either mounted or on foot. Already at Glastonbury and Wells garments had been spread on the road and shawls waved, but when they arrived outside Bristol the procession became an imitation of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Naylor was quiet, but his companions sang hymns, “Hosannah in the highest”, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, etc. Unfortunately for them, England was not Palestine. The rain poured down in torrents, and Naylor’s companions had to wade knee-deep along the quagmire-like roads. Rain acts as a deterrent to all manifestations, even “Messianic” ones, and this is probably why, when the procession had entered Bristol, its heroes could be arrested without any trouble. Even as it was, large crowds had assembled in spite of the rain. The local authorities appear to have been reluctant to keep Naylor long in Bristol or to bring him to trial there. After a first hearing, he with six others were sent to London on November 10th in order to be finally heard and judged by the House of Commons as an extraordinary malefactor. His case occupied for weeks almost the whole time and attention of the Second Parliament of the Protectorate, which had only just assembled. The matter was first inquired into by a Committee of fifty-five members, who, after meeting four times, reported to Parliament; thereupon, on December 6th, Naylor was tried at the bar of the House, and two days afterwards was found guilty of “abominable blasphemy”, whereupon the House debated for seven days as to whether sentence of death should be passed. [17]

On December 16th the more lenient view prevailed by 96 against 82 votes. But the punishment still proved severe enough – so severe, in fact, that its execution had to be interrupted. On November 18th Naylor was to be exposed in the pillory for two hours, whipped through the streets of London by the hangman, then pilloried again, his tongue was then to be perforated with a hot iron, and the letter B (Blasphemer) and branded on his forehead. He was then to be taken to Bristol conducted through the town seated backwards on a horse, and whipped back through the town. Finally, he was to be sent to penitentiary, and being prohibited altogether from any use of the pen, and dependent for his sustenance on the proceeds of his own work – of picking oakum – he was to be kept in met solitary confinement as long as Parliament pleased.

Naylor had not uttered anything during his examination beyond what he and other Quakers had said on previous occasions as to the power of the “inner light”, and as regards the homage done to him he declared it was not meant to apply to his mortal being, but to God speaking through him. He suffered the punishments inflicted on him with the stoicism of a fanatic. But his friends did not look on idly. When, after the first whipping, Naylor was so lacerated that the further execution of the sentence had to be postponed, petitions in his favour literally poured in – among the number, some from people of influence such as Colonel Scroope – so that Cromwell himself was prompted to ask Parliament for the grounds of the verdict. This question led to a further day’s debate by the House, before the termination of which, however, a further part of the sentence was executed upon Naylor, viz., perforation of the tongue and branding. His adherents stood round the scaffold in great numbers, while one of them, Robert Rich, a merchant, stood beside him, and held a placard over Naylor’s head, bearing the words: “This is the King of the Jews”, which was, of course, torn up by the hangman’s assistants. After the completed branding Rich threw himself over Naylor, stroked his hair, kissed his hands, and endeavoured to suck the fire from the burnt wound; others pushed forward in order to kiss his hands or feet – in short, he was still the divine messenger. Moreover, during the mocking ride through Bristol Rich and other Quakers rode in front of Naylor and sang hymns which had reference to Christ.

There is no need to deny the religious character of this ecstatic outbreak – religion, and above all, this religion, provided an outlet for the tension caused by the proceedings on the political stage. We are dealing with the period when Cromwell’s despotic power was at its zenith. Monarchical risings had been suppressed, and had afforded an occasion for having the country administered by military Deputies, viz., the Major-Generals. Shortly after their appointment Naylor’s procession to Bristol took place. Was it meant to be the prelude to a revolt, or was it intended as a counter-demonstration? We can scarcely imagine that Naylor and his friends, nearly all of whom were recruited from among the most advanced elements of the political world, were indifferent to passing events, and it is still more difficult to conceive that Parliament should have devoted weeks and months to this affair unless they suspected that some movement hostile to the existing order of things was hidden beneath the religious cloak. In this respect the express prohibition in the sentence of the use of the pen by Naylor during his imprisonment is very significant. [18]

Such a prohibition, and so appalling a punishment, would not be pronounced against a man who is considered insane. We may mention that Quakers subsequently endeavoured to explain Naylor’s ride to Bristol as being an act of temporary mental derangement, and other authors also speak of him simply as a madman. But Naylor’s writings and letters show no trace of mental aberration. Moreover, Ellwood states that Naylor, even after his discharge from solitary confinement (which certainly was not calculated to cure mental aberration), showed himself a debater of the first order. “James Naylor interposing”, he writes of a debate which took place in 1659, “handled the subject with so much perspicuity and clear demonstration that his reasoning seemed to be irresistible.” Contemporary Quakers treated Naylor’s case as one of passing spiritual intoxication, and in fact his madness did not amount to more than this. How many of the followers shared this infatuation we will not stop to examine.

A further circumstance typical of the general situation is that even before Naylor’s affair had quite disappeared from the orders of the day this Parliament addressed itself to the second question which dominated the session, that is, the constitutional change which aimed at creating a new Peers’ Chamber and conferring the regal dignity on Cromwell. It is true that in the meantime Sindercomb’s plot had been discovered. It was only in deference to the Army, in which republican, or perhaps the anti-monarchical, spirit still predominated, that Cromwell was constrained to decline the crown. Otherwise he might have safely accepted it. The great majority of citizens were apathetic, and longed for peace. A firmly established government, which could promise to satisfy this longing, was certain of the approval of these classes. Many of the aristocrats and gentry and municipal corporations, formerly hostile to Cromwell, now went over to his side in ever increasing numbers, as he represented the cause of order, while the bulk of peasants and petty citizens were indifferent about the form of government. No one cared any longer to risk his skin for the cause of Charles Stuart, nor would anyone have cared to risk it for the preservation of the republic save a handful of enthusiasts. These were not dangerous in civil life, but in the Army they, and the schemers who relied on their support, could not be ignored. [19]

In the person of Naylor, who was discharged from prison in 1659, and died soon after, in 1660, the extreme political section among the Quakers lost its principal representative. There is evidence that this section did not disappear all at once, but that it continued to exist for a considerable time. It tended more and more to be supplanted by Fox’s supporters. While Naylor’s resistance was broken in prison, the spirit of rebellion among the “friends” outside was likewise crushed. From 1656 to 1658 no less than three thousand Quakers were imprisoned for longer or shorter periods – let us pause a moment to consider what this meant to so young a movement. It was bound to divert all its energy in one distinct direction, and in view of the apparent futility of all political endeavours, this could only be the ethic-religious direction. In 1659 the political tendency flared up for the last time in the petition already referred to “for the good old cause of the Commonwealth”, but after the Restoration the Quakers became so non-political as to be the only non-Catholic sect which approved of the toleration manifesto issued by James II in favour of the Catholics.

But they still had to suffer many persecutions under Charles II. The insurrection of the adherents of the “Fifth Monarchy” in January 1661 (Venner and his associates) once more caused all extreme sectarians to be suspected of political intrigues. All subjects were ordered to take an oath of loyalty, and as Quakers refused to take any oath, they also declined to take this, and thereby incurred one punishment after the other.

Notwithstanding all this, they continued to increase. At the time of the Great Plague (1665) their number, in London alone, must have amounted to at least ten thousand, and although, being chiefly recruited from the lower classes, they would probably have had the very highest death-rate, besides having at all times a large percentage of emigrants to record, their number went on steadily increasing up to about the year 1680. But from the moment when they enjoyed full official recognition as a religious community, their numbers began to decline, at first slowly, but later on at an ever increasing rate. At the present moment, at least in Europe, they may be said to be dying out. Among all the more important religious communities of the epoch of the Revolution, none has so bravely borne persecutions as the Quakers. While Baptists and Independents temporized, the Quakers practised passive resistance in such a manner as to have, we may well say, tired and worn out their persecutors. But to none of those Churches of the Revolution has the toleration obtained, and the equality of rights subsequently gained, proved so fatal as to the Quakers.



3. The Economic and Social Aspects of Quakerism

We have already mentioned that the Quakers proceeded at a very early date to organize a system for the relief of the persecuted among them. But as their communities became more compact, this form of relief tended to be supplemented by the relief of poor and incapacitated members. We need scarcely add that this institution became a source of great anxiety and much unpleasantness to the community, but no doubt many will be surprised, at first, to hear that it was just on this account that the number of their poorer members decreased most. Nevertheless, on closer examination this seems feasible enough.

Even during the period of persecutions people were tempted to enrol as “friends” simply in order to obtain relief fraudulently, that is to say, to live at the expense of the enthusiasm and devotion of others. But these were isolated instances which could be easily controlled. But as persecution slackened and it became less dangerous to be a Quaker, there was greater temptation to obtain, as a Friend, assistance, which was far more liberal than the public poor relief. In this way the Quaker communities were at a very early date confronted with an actual problem of the poor, and it is interesting to read in Barclay the younger what was done in order to cope with the difficulties encountered in this respect. The problem was not solved with the raising and distribution of relief funds, but involved settling principles of distribution, exercising some control as to the merits of the recipient, and providing a check against lazy and false brethren. What had been gladly offered, under the pressure of persecutions, as an act of charity, now that the pressure had ceased, was in many cases simply felt as an imposed duty, or else a less lenient view was taken of the matter because it was seen that the relief frequently demoralized rather than afforded actual help. In addition to this, questions of jurisdiction arose, as to whether a community should immediately be liable to relieve a newly arrived member, or whether this duty should not devolve upon the community to which he had hitherto belonged. As early as in 1693 we find mentioned, in the report of the national annual meeting, how many poor “friends” had migrated from the country to London and became there a burden to the community. In 1710 a complete poor law system was created for the members of the association of “friends”. Regulations were made as to domicile for purposes of relief, and new arrivals were scrutinized with somewhat more critical eyes. Meanwhile, however, the society itself became more respectable. Its austere manners and sobriety, the still close cohesion of its members, explained why the Quakers developed into very successful men of business. This was observed to be a characteristic feature of the Lollards. Asceticism is a commercial virtue, and was particularly so before the rise of the wholesale industry, in social conditions, where new fortunes were in fact very frequently made by saving.

In a polemical pamphlet published about the end of the seventeenth century against Quakerism, entitled The Snake in the Grass, we read: “For tho’ the Quakers, at first left their houses and Families, to run about and Preach: and cry’d down Riches when they had none; yet since that time, they have Grip’d Mammon, as hard as any of their neighbours, and now call Riches a Gift and Blessing from God.” [20]

The same thing is enunciated in other words in a letter published in 1699 from the pen of William Edmundson, the Quaker. “And as our number increased it happened that such a spirit came in amongst us as was amongst the Jews when they came out of Egypt, and this began to look back into the world, and traded with the credit which was not of its own purchasing, and striving to be great in the riches and possessions of this world.” Luxury had developed, people had built themselves fine houses, were wearing fine clothes, had begun to enjoy luscious and abundant meals, and were most “uncomely” smoking tobacco [21] But even in other respects the comparison with the Jews is by no means inapposite, and is a pretty example of how, in the course of history, movements will always develop differently, and often in a diametrically opposite way, to what their originators had planned. Even Barclay the elder still represents Quakerism as being primarily a reaction against the “Judaizing” spirit of the Puritans then in power. But their principles, copied from primitive Christianity, forbade them the cultivation of fine arts, and their early traditions even caused the great bulk of them to be indifferent to sciences. They were precluded from occupying public offices by their objection to taking oaths; they were obliged to forgo all chance of lucrative Government offices, livings, etc., while drinking and sports were strictly prohibited to them; hence it was almost unavoidable that they should direct their whole energy towards money-making pursuits, and notwithstanding their ethical principles [22] become as dangerous commercial rivals as were the Jews. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Quakers played a role in agriculture too, some being pioneers of modern agriculture [23], but after 1760 the refusal to pay tithes was made obligatory among the Friends, and hence there remained for the farmers and yeomen among them no alternative but to emigrate, to move to town and engage in trade, or else to leave the community of Friends. Some did the first and some the latter, and then the agricultural Quaker disappeared in England. On the other hand, the list of famous English Quakers includes many eminent bankers, one of the greatest of whom was Gurney, whose bankruptcy in 1866 made a world-wide stir.

With their increasing commercial success the Quakers acquired another Jewish characteristic, the incapacity or loss of inclination to make proselytes.

These developments were of course only in germ during me period with which we are dealing, but the movement had already begun to lose its proletarian character. More caution was observed in admitting working men, and the working men received into the community, or at least the children of such working men, would generally soon cease to be proletarians.

The children received in the Quakers’ schools, or through the school funds of the Quakers, a better education than the average of working men’s children, as well as better advancement afterwards, and would then attain to a good “bourgeois” position. Early in the eighteenth century the peasant and wage-earning element still predominated, to such an extent that the Friends made an attempt to establish employment registries. But although working-class members of the Quaker sect might improve their economic situation, and were enabled to bring up their children to a social position superior to their own, Quakerism, by virtue of its asceticism, its political passiveness, and its general quietism, lost its attraction for those working men in whom the commercial spirit had not taken sufficient root. Moreover, as Rowntree points out, the generous relief system of the Quakers prevented the spread of Quakerism among working men, who were reluctant to join, lest they might be suspected of being animated by mercenary motives. [24]

In short, the proletarian Quaker was overtaken by almost the same fate as the agrarian Quaker. He has not yet quite disappeared, but has become a rara avis. According to Rowntree’s calculation, the Friends, during the first half of last century, had not a third of the average number of poor and indigent members which, according to the ratio of their total number to the entire population, they should have had. The number of their rich members, on the other hand, would be considerably more than three times in excess of the average.

Why Quakerism was subsequently unable to make any more proselytes among the prosperous classes scarcely requires explanation. It required an enthusiasm, such as Quakerism of itself was no longer able to evoke, in order to induce a member of the bourgeois classes to join a community with such peculiar customs as were maintained by the Quakers as late as the present century. Its religious principles had lost their significance above all to the modern bourgeois. What is the use, to him, of a religion which is neither the established one of the State, nor a creed which has any influence on the masses, which has neither fine churches nor any distinguished or highly gifted preachers, which is not rationalistic enough for the “cultured” spirit of our times nor symbolic enough to fascinate the surfeited mind? In short, Quakerism to-day vegetates simply as a survival from former days. But although Quakerism since the end of the seventeenth century has been steadily decreasing in membership, it still exerted a great influence in the eighteenth and in the early part of the nineteenth century – not as a political, but as a philanthropic movement, and the philanthropic movement was certainly useful at a time when industrial capitalism, then in its youthful vigour, was ruthlessly exploiting a working class not yet strong enough to offer an organized resistance. We find Quakers taking a prominent part in all great reform movements of the eighteenth century. Both in England and America they were the pioneers and the most indefatigable champions of the anti-slavery movement; they were in the forefront of the movements for the reform of the penal code and prison reform. Eminent protagonists of science and education, and subsequently also of political reform, issued from their ranks. We meet with Quakers in the Chartist movement, belonging, conformably to their doctrines, to the “moral force” section, yet labouring assiduously for the cause, and we also find Quakers among the Owenites.

When in 1809 Robert Owen was in danger of having to abandon his scheme for the benefit of the working people of New Lanark because his partners demanded this sacrifice in the interest of their profit, it was (apart from Jeremy Bentham) none but Quakers and sons of Quakers who provided the capital for the continuation of his reforms. One of them, William Allen, caused Owen much trouble, mainly, however, on account of religious differences. Of his other associates from the ranks of the Friends, and more especially of a certain John Walker, who had invested £30,000 in the concern, Owen speaks in his autobiography in terms of highest acknowledgment. And a circumstance which is worth mentioning is the fact that before Owen went to New Lanark, two young Quakers with whom he was intimate in Manchester greatly influenced his intellectual development. One of these, who subsequently achieved great fame in the scientific world, was the chemist, John Dalton. It is a peculiar coincidence that Owen’s other fellow-student (who was then twenty-one years of age) at Manchester College, described by Owen himself as “his intimate friend” [25], was a Quaker, and bore the name of Winstanley – the same name as that of the most pronounced communist of the Cromwellian era. It is not altogether unlikely that he may have been a descendant of the “True Leveller” Winstanley, who was, as we know, a Lancashire man.

But between Gerrard Winstanley and Owen there is, as we have already mentioned, another Quaker, John Bellers.




1. It is an extract, published for party purposes, from a French work (by Guy du Brez) on the Anabaptists of Munster, “translated into English for the benefit of his countrymen by J.S.” (Joshua Scotton).

2. See, for instance, the excellent work already cited of H. Weingarten, Die Revolutionskirchen Englands, where both the spiritual relation of the Quakers to the German Anabaptists and the original revolutionary character of Quakerism are treated with keen perception. Most of the English essays on the history of Quakerism neglect the latter point, while the writings of the Quakers themselves and their friends studiously endeavour to efface all that might serve to throw doubts on the purely religious-ethical character of the original movement, or else they treat any such symptoms as mere vagaries of single individuals. But even they point out the relation existing between the Quakers’ ideas and those of the Anabaptists, or, going still farther back, of the Waldenses and their predecessors. Thus, among others, Robert Barclay in The Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth (London, 1876); William Tallack in George Fox, the Friends and the Early Baptists (London, 1868); further, W. Beck in The Friends, Who They Are and What They Have Done (London, 1893). Tallack, in fact, does not hesitate to write; “And no friend need be ashamed of tracing his spiritual ancestry to Baptists and Anabaptists ... Even those Munster men were rebels against the cruelty of German tyrants, whose oppressions over the souls and bodies of the commonalty ... were often, without exaggeration, diabolical. They failed and were rebels. Had they conquered men would have styled them heroes and patriots. Their rebellion was ferocious because their oppressors had been far more ferocious” (TalIack, pp.84, 85),

3. A letter, reprinted in the Harleian Miscellany, from a Frenchman who came to London in 1659, expresses the greatest horror at the great spread of atheism in the capital of the insular realm.

4. “Thus, during the war, a peaceful village church was often startled by the violent entrance of a band of these military reformers, who ordered the priest to close his prayer-book and come down from the reading-desk, with terrible threats if he disobeyed. If he complied, their errand was done ... One other occasion, after discharging the preacher from the pulpit, a gifted brother would assume his place, and hold forth to the astonished auditories such wondrous revelations as had never entered their hearts to imagine ... Occasionally, also the doctrines of these teachers were illustrated by practical examples which were not always convenient to the taught. To show that the birds of the air were given as a common property to the dominion of the saints, they sometimes demolished a harmless dovecot. To enforce the duty of even modern Christians to abstain from eating things strangled’, they would, in a march, reject the fowls which had been got ready for their dinner in the houses upon which they were quartered, because their hosts had killed the poultry in the usual fashion by twisting their necks; and would themselves go to the barn-yard and prepare materials for an orthodox meal by chopping off the heads arid pouring out the blood of all the hens, geese, and turkeys that remained. To burn the Bible itself, also, before the eyes of a horror-struck assembly was sometimes the daring act of the wildest of these sectarians, to show that their inward light was superior to all written revelation” (Macfarlane and Thomson, The Comprehensive History of England, vol. vi. p.749).

5. “There is no feature of Fox’s character more striking than his absolute separation from all the political aims and objects of the men of his time” (Barclay, loc. cit., p.193). “Keep out of the powers of the earth” Fox repeatedly exhorted his followers.

6. This name, according to some is derived from the fact that Fox in his itinerant preaching called upon his hearers to hear the word of the Lord with “quaking’ , while others derived it from the fact that the professors of the new doctrine in their prayer meetings frequently fell into religious ecstasies with trembling and convulsions. According to an anecdote, a judge whom Fox addressed with the above-mentioned words replied: “Then you are Quakers?” and the name is supposed to be derived from this episode. Fox first appeared in the character of an agitator in 1649, In the church at Nottingham he interrupted the preacher, who admonished the congregation to test all doctrine by the Bible, with the words, “Oh no, it is not the Scripture by which opinions and religions should be tested, but the Holy Ghost, for it was the Spirit that led people to truth and revealed it to them.”

7. Böhme or Behmen (1575-1624) was, like Fox, a shoemaker by trade, and undoubtedly was under the influence of the sect of Schwenkfeldians, whose doctrine resembles that of the Quakers. Many of his followers had fled to Holland and England during the Thirty Years War.

8. Journal of Fox, edition of 1891, vol. i. p.11’7.

9. A memorial addressed to Parliament in 1657 showed that between 1651 and 1656 no less than 1,900 Quakers were sent to prison, and twenty-one died in prison. This was the time when John Lilburne joined the Quakers; certainly a sign that this step did not constitute a humble submission to the authorities.

Between 1661 and 1697 no less than 13,562 Quakers were imprisoned, 338 died, either in prison or from the effects of ill-treatment, 198 were transported (Barclay, The Inner light, etc., p.475).

10. But during the time of the first enthusiasm it seldom happened that no one was “moved by the Spirit” to speak. Subsequently members who obviously had a “call”, that is, who had proved efficient apostles, were specially appointed and paid for proclaiming the true doctrine. But anything like a hierarchy or any monopoly of preaching was strictly avoided.

11. The reader will remember, in this connection, the behaviour of Winstanley and Everard in April 1649, i.e. before Fox’s public appearance.

12. In the everyday private intercourse also the persistent use of “thou,” and the refusal to doff the hat to anyone, for a long time brought the Quakers continually into much and serious trouble. Apart from Fox, we may find significant instances of this in the autobiography of Thomas Ellwood his contemporary, which, in many respects, affords us much insight into the social life and the internal condition of Quakerism of the period. “The countless autobiographies and pamphlets of the early Quakers, from the time of Barebone’s Parliament to the Restoration, contain a superabundant quantity of unused materials for the social history of England, the history of the common man and the common people” (Early Quaker Politics, by the Rev. Thos. Hancock, in Weekly Times and Echo of February 1896). Mr. Hancock rightly says that as a religious movement early Quakerism was both ultra-Puritan and anti-Puritan. “They (the Quakers) said the last word of Puritanism; they were its Extreme Left.” But by their proclamation of the Light of Christ within every man, simply because he was man, the Quakers “gave a theological basis and impulse to the principle of social equality, freedom and brotherhood”.

13. On the other hand, as Mr. Hancock states, there exist a number of the earliest Quaker pamphlets which “show a distinctly socialistic tone of thinking”, and numerous proofs are extant that Quakers declaimed in their meetings against private property – in England as well as elsewhere. For at a very early period they sent out apostles of the new doctrine to the Continent and America. How these fared in Holland, for instance, we find recorded, among others, in Otto Pringsheim’s Beiträge zur wirthschaftlichen Entwicklungsgeschichte der Vereingten Nederlande im 17. u. 18. Jahrhundert, Leipzig, 1890, pp.65 ff. Pringsheim relates that in 1657 some Quakers caused great excitement in Zeeland and Rotterdam by preaching that all goods ought to be held in common. He quotes a bourgeois paper, the Hollandse Mercurius, of 1657, where the communistic preaching of the Quakers is ascribed to the fact that they were themselves mostly “loafers and paupers”. There is nothing new under the sun. In Hamburg, where the Quakers had also sent emissaries, there appeared in 1661 a book entitled The Quaker Abomination – that is, Detestable, Seditious, Damnable Error of the New Enthusiasts Called Quakers. At Dantzic the trade guilds demanded the expulsion of the Quakers.

14. “But an excellent order, even in those early days, was practised among the Friends of that city (London) by which there were certain Friends of either sex appointed to have the oversight of the prisons in every quarter, and to take care of all Friends, the poor especially, that should be committed thither”, is what Th. Ellwood wrote in 1662, at the same time describing in what manner this was done. “Friends” is the designation adopted by the Quakers among each other, which subsequently became the official denomination.

15. Apology, 4th edition, pp.540, 541.

16. After her husband (who had always adopted a benevolent attitude towards the movement) died in 1670, Margaret Fell married George Fox.

17. “Interminable debates about James Naylor – excelling in stupor all the Human Speech – even in English Parliaments, this Editor has ever been exposed to ... To Posterity they sit there as the James-Naylor-Parliament” Carlyle, loc. cit., Vol.x.).

18. In a speech made by Cromwell in the spring of 1657 on a constitutional reform under discussion, we find a passage which, if not exclusively aimed at the Quaker doctrines as being, both politically and religiously, hostile to the State, at any rate includes them in this category. The passage (which is contained in the address described by Carlyle as Speech 13) speaks ironically of some hundreds of “friends”, who with their friends – the “Fifth Monarchy” men – proposed to override all legitimate powers and threatened all civil and religious interests. Cromwell intended to expose both sides of this movement, but got entangled at once, speaking of the religious when he proposed to speak of the temporal aspect, and vice versa. It is just because the two sides of the question cannot be kept apart because the movements themselves sometimes present one and sometimes the other phase. But in the constitutional reform project the number of those declared to be ineligible includes, in addition to atheists, revilers of religion, etc., all who deny the divine institution of sacraments and priesthood.

19. Hence the great disappointment of Sexby, the Leveller, when Cromwell declined the crown. Colonel Titus wrote to Ed. Hyde, on May 23, 057, that Sexby was quite altered and melancholy thereat. (Cf. Calendar of Clarendon State Papers, vol.iii.) Sexby knew that the only power which might possibly have been capable of supplying the elements required for Cromwell’s removal was the Army.

20. The Snake in the Grass, 2nd Edition, 1697, pref., p.16, by J. Leslie. In the Anti Jacobin of September 1798 is a vehement onslaught on the Quakers based on Leslie’s book. Both the book and the article are full of misrepresentations, but some of the facts they adduce in order to prove the inconsistencies of Quaker theories and Quaker practices are undeniable, except that these inconsistencies were the natural result of the contradiction between the actual conditions of society and the type of society the Quaker doctrine presupposes, and not of a particular hypocritical turn of mind in the Quaker.

21. From J.S. Rowntree, Quakerism, Past and Present: an Inquiry into the Causes of its Decline, London 1859.

22. Thus the Quakers are credited with having been mainly instrumental in bringing about the system of fixed prices in trade. Early in the eighteenth century the Friends in their annual meetings were exhorted to ensure genuineness and fair quality of manufactures and to discountenance adulteration of goods. As at that time they were very strong in Ireland, this injunction is said to have greatly benefited the Irish linen industry. Many subsequent State enactments had been anticipated by the Quakers. Thus as early as in 1705 a resolution of the annual conference of the Friends prohibited them from catching salmon or trout during the spawning season.

23. Thorold Rogers, loc. cit., p.85.

24. Concerning the Quakers’ relief system, Sir Fr. Eden wrote about the end of the eighteenth century: “The particular economy and good organization to be found with the Quakers deserves general imitation” (The State of the Poor, Vol.i, p.588). A very sympathetic but not uncritical description of the features of Quakerism is given in the book, A Portraiture of the Christian Profusion and Practice of the Society of Friends, by Thomas Clarkson, the famous crusader against negro slavery. One chapter (the thirteenth) of the book deals very judiciously with the question how far the Quakers are really to be blamed for their “money-getting spirit”.

25. See Life, etc., p.36. Owen tells us there that he had with Dalton and Winstanley, “much and frequent interesting discussion upon religion, morals, other similar subjects”, and that “occasionally we admitted a friend or two to join our circle, but this was considered a favour”.


Last updated on 21.11.2002