Slavery: If This be done well, What is done evil?
The Quakers of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting can rightly claim credit for successfully starting the movement to eliminate slavery in America. bJohn Woolman of Mount Holly, New Jersey is the member given credit for determinedly agitating to eliminate a social institution which was then thousands of years old, and still persists today to some extent in certain parts of Africa and Asia.
Nevertheless, even Quakers were slow to endorse emancipation when first confronting the idea. The German-speaking Quakers of Germantown were urged in 1688 to adopt the concern of four members -- Garret Henderich, Derek and Abram Op De Graeff, and Francis Daniel Pastorius -- which follows. The Germantown meeting referred it to the Quarterly Meeting, which referred it to the Yearly meeting. All of these ultimately declined to act, stating "It being a thing of too great a weight for this meeting to determine." Nevertheless, it percolated for eighty years, until Woolman was eventually able to bring the Yearly Meeting to adopt a favorable "minute". A full century after that, the rest of the nation came around to the same position, but only after fighting the bloodiest war in our history. Things change slowly, but without someone pushing them, they may never change at all. Nothing in their history better illustrates the central Quaker approach of "steely meekness", that quiet, patient, polite -- sometime brave -- persistence in the practical advancement of what is reasonable and just.
|Francis Daniel Pastorius|
These are the reasons why we are against the traffic of men's body, as followeth:
Is there any that would be done or handled at this manner? viz.: to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life? How fearful and faint-hearted are many at sea, when they see a stranger vessel, being afraid it should be a Turk, and they should be taken, and sold for slaves in Turkey. Now what is this better done, than Turks do? Yea, rather it is worse for them, which say they are Christians; for we hear that the most part of such negers are brought hither against their will and consent, and that many of them are stolen . Now though they are black, we cannot conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as [than] it is to have other white ones. There is a saying , that we shall do to all men like as we will be done [to] ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent, or color they are. And those who steal or rob men, and those who purchase them, are they not all alike? Here is liberty of conscience, which is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of the body, except of evil-doers, which is another case. But to bring men hither, or to rob, [steal] and sell them against their will, we stand against. In Europe, there are many oppressed for conscience sake; and here there are those oppressed which are of a black color. And we who know others, separating wives from their husbands , and giving them to others:and some sell the children of these poor creatures to other men. Ah! do consider well this thing, you who do it, if you would be done in this manner--and if it is done according to Christianity! You surpass Holland and Germany in this thing. This makes an ill report in all those countries of Europe, when they hear of [it,] that the Quakers do here handler men as they handel there the cattle. And for that reason some have no mind or inclination to come hither. And who shall maintain this your cause, or plead for it? Truly, we cannot do so, except you shall inform us better hereof, viz,: That Christians have liberty to practice these things, Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse, towards us, than if men should rob or steal us away, and sell us for slaves to stranger countries; separating husbands from their wives and children. Being now this is not done in the manner we would be done at, [by]; therefore, we contradict [oppose], and are against this traffic of men's body. And we who profess that it is not lawful to steal, must , likewise, avoid to purchase such things as are stolen, but rather help to stop this robbing and stealing, if possible. And such men ought to be delivered out of the hands of the robbers, and set free as in Europe. Then is Pennsylvania to have a good report, instead it hath now a bad one, for this sake, in other countries. Especially whereas the Europeans are desirous to know in what manner the Quakers do rule in their province; and most of them do look upon us with an envious eye. But if this is done well, what shall we say is done evil?
If once these slaves ( which they say are so wicked and stubborn men,) should join themselves--fight for their freedom, and handel their masters and mistresses, as they did handel them before; will these masters and mistresses take the sword at hand and war against these poor slaves, like, as we are able to believe, some will not refuse to do? Or, have these poor negers not as much right to fight for their freedom, as you have to keep them slaves?
Now consider well this thing, if it is good or bad. And in case you find it to be good to handel these blacks in that manner, we desire and require you hereby lovingly, that may inform us herein, which at this time never was done, viz., that Christians have such a liberty to do so. To this end we shall be satisfied on this point, and satisfy likewise our good friends and acquaintances in our native country, to whom it is a terror, or fearful thing, that men should be handelled so in Pennsylvania.
This is from our meeting at Germantown, held ye 18th of the 2nd month, 1668, to be delivered to the monthly meeting at Richard Worrell's.
Derick op de Graeff
Francis Daniel Pastorius
Abram op de Graeff.
At our Monthly meeting, at Dublin, ye 30th 2d mo., 1688, we having inspected ye matter, above mentioned, and considered of it, we find it so weighty that we think it not expedient for us to meddle with it here, but do rather commit it to ye consideration of ye quarterly meeting; ye tenor of it being related to ye truth.
On behalf of ye monthly meeting,
This above mentioned was read in our quarterly meeting, at Philadelphia, the 4th of ye 4th mo., '88, and was from thence recommended to the yearly meeting, and the above said Derick, and the other two mentioned therein, to present the same to ye above said meetings, it being a thing of too great a weight for this meeting to determine.
Signed by order of ye meeting.