Westfield State College
History & Education
Mentor: Dr. J. William Harris, Professor of History
Scruples Against War: Pacifism During the American Revolution
This essay examines the role of pacifists during the American Revolution, emphasizing methods of civil disobedience including draft resistance and refusal to pay taxes for the support of warfare. The persecution endured by pacifists explodes the myth that pacifists are cowardly and selfish individuals who do not care for national welfare. As a penalty for following their conscience, they faced violence and property damage from mobs, as well as government sanctions of fines and imprisonment.
Leaders of peace sects such as the Quaker Pembertons pledged allegiance to the crown, but their congregations often refused to conform to the precedent set by their theological leaders and answered the call to serve the country. Quakers such as Moses Brown attempted to established a method for the overthrow of the King through nonviolence while Anthony Benezet argued for neutrality in times of warfare because he was opposed to the use of carnal warfare regardless of how just the cause is. As a reaction to this climate the Free Quakers, a small reactionary sect that followed the strict behavioral codes of the Quaker tradition whose primary loyalty was to the fledgling nation, formed. The men who comprised this small Quaker faction had been disowned by their home churches for supporting the patriot cause.
Sources utilized for this essay include diaries, autobiographies, pamphlets, transcripts of religious meetings, and official government documents. Sources were obtained through the American Antiquarian Society, Boston Public Library, the Bolton Historical Society, and Gordon College.