SPEAKING PEACE, LIVING PEACE
American Quakers Face the Civil War
Edited by Chuck Fager
Introduction: How have Quakers lived out their peace testimony in time of war? And in particular, what about wars in which they were directly caught up in the hostilities?
The Hicksite Baltimore Yearly Meeting was one such body. Its territory included many places which were to become some of the most bitterly contested battlefields of the U.S. Civil War. The following excerpts from the Baltimore minute books of 1861 to 1865 record their testimony and their trials in these years of trouble. They are presented here for purposes of remembrance and reflection in our time.
Through out this period, the yearly meetings Discipline called upon monthly meetings to prepare answers annually to a specified set of Queries, and submit them to their superior Quarterly Meetings, which passed them on to the Yearly Meeting.
At the yearly meeting sessions these responses were brought together and summarized, The state of the Society indicated by the responses was then carefully considered. This discussion was reviewed in a Minute of Exercise. Among these Queries was the following:
"Sixth Query. Do you maintain a faithful testimony against oaths; an hireling ministry; bearing arms, training, or other military services; being concerned in any fraudulent or clandestine trade; buying or vending goods so imported, or prize goods; and against encouraging lotteries of any kinds?"
As late as 1858, the responses by Baltimores monthly Meetings on this topic were summed up thus:
"Our testimony against a hireling ministry, oaths, military services, clandestine trade, prize goods and lotteries, appear to be generally maintained."
But a cautionary note can be found in a letter to The Friend of London, in 11th Month, 1859, signed "Pacificus," and which said of Friends on the eve of this contest:
"We live in a well-ordered state, where persons and property are, with rare exceptions, amply secure from the hand of violence, and in a country where the presence of a foreign enemy has not been felt for centuries. It is no trial of faith for us to abstain from the use of arms for our protection, and to refuse to engage in military service. We can scarcely, by any effort of the imagination, place ourselves in the position of those, who, in the midst of anarchy and lawlessness, feel the necessity of being always on their guard against violence, or who experience the misery of seeing their homes desolated by the invasion of a hostile army. It therefore becomes us, at the present day, while stedfastly supporting the Christian doctrines which we believe to be right, to speak with diffidence, as never having really had our principles put to the test."
Such a test was soon to come for Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends. The minutes that follow describe, in their own words, how they grappled with the shock and the impact of this "desolating evil."