If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants. (attributed to William Penn)
The term Holy Experiment comes from this quote from Penn:
"For my country, I eyed the Lord, in obtaining it;
And more was I drawn inward to look to him;
And to owe it to his hand and power, than to any other way;
I have so obtained it, and desire to keep it;
That I may not be unworthy of his love;
But do that, which may answer his kind
And serve his truth and people;
That an example may be set up to the nations;
There may be room there, though not here,
For such an holy experiment."
Penn's pledge to the Leni-Lenape:
Penn's first meeting with the Lenni-Lenape in 1682
Text of Penn's address to the Leni-Lenape led by the head man Taminend, 1682 (source: Quaker Biographies, Volume I, William Penn by Lucy B. Roberts, 1909, published by the forerunner of PYM)
"The Great Spirit rules in the Heavens and the Earth. He knows the innermost thoughts of men. He knows that we have come here with a hearty desire to live with you in peace. We use no hostile weapons against our enemies, good faith and good will towards men are our defenses. We believe you will deal kindly and justly by us, as we will deal kindly and justly by you. We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love. I will not call you children, for parents sometimes chide their children too severely; nor brothers only, for brothers differ. The friendship between me and you I will not compare to a chain, for that the rains might rust, or the falling tree might break. We are the same as if one man's body were to be divided into two parts; we are all one flesh and blood.
We will be brethren, my people and your people, as the children of one father. All the paths shall be open to the Christian and the Indian. The doors of the Christian shall be open to the Indian, and the wigwam of the Indian shall be open to the Christian. The Christians shall believe no false stories; they shall first come together as brethren and inquire of each other; when they hear such false stories they shall bury them in the bottomless pit. The Christian hearing news that may hurt the Indian, or the Indian hearing news that may hurt the Christian, shall make it known the one to the other, as speedily as possible, as true friends and brethren. The Indian shall not hurt the Christian nor his friend; the Christian shall not harm the Indian nor his friend, but they shall live together as brethren. As there are wicked people in all Nations, if the Indian or the Christian shall harm the one or the other, complaint shall be made by the sufferer, that right may be done; and when right is done, the wrong shall be forgotten and buried in the bottomless pit. The Indian shall help the Christian and the Christian shall help the Indian against all men, who would molest them.
We will transmit this league between us to our children. It shall be made stronger and stronger, and be kept bright and clean, without rust or spot, between our children and our children's children, while the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon and stars endure."
The Indians evidently felt the sincerity of Penn's speech and heartily gave the belt of wampum as a pledge of friendship. "We will live," they said, "in love with William Penn and his children as long as the moon and the stars shall endure." The wampum belt exists still and is the property now of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
The pledge was not bound by any oath, nor by signatures or seals and the terms seem to be written no where but on the heart. It was the treaty that Voltaire said that was "the only treaty between those people and the Christians that was not ratified by an oath and was never infringed." A description of the Lenni-Lenape in Penn's own words from 1683 can be found by clicking HERE.
Early Relationship between Europeans and Indians in
A 20th century Quaker view of Quaker-Indian relations can be found in the following excerpts from Quaker Roots, a history of Western Quarter of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting published in 1980:
"The Indians who lived in the part of
Penn's famous letter to the Indians, translated and delivered to them by his
commissioners before he himself reached the New World: "The great God that
made thee and me, and all the world, incline our hearts to love peace and justice,
that we may live friendly together as becomes the workmanship of the great God.
The King of England, who is a great prince, hath, for divers reasons, granted
me a large country in America, which, however, I am willing to enjoy upon
friendly terms with thee; and this I will say, that the people who come with me
are a just, plain and honest people, that neither make war upon others nor fear
war from others, because they will be just. I have set up a society of traders
in my province, to traffic with thee and thy people for your commodities, that
you may be furnished with that which is good at reasonable rates; andthat society hath orderedtheir
president to treat with thee about a future trade, and have joined with me to
send this messenger to thee, with certain presents from us to testify to our
willingness to have a fair correspondence with thee,and what this agent shall do in our names, we will
agree unto. I hope thou wilt kindly receive him, and comply with his desires on
our behalf, both with respect
to land and trade. The great God be with thee. Amen. WILLIAM
Nobody before Penn - Dutch, Swedish or English - had seen the Indian
inhabitants of the new territories as having any rights in the land needing to
be formally extinguished. In taking this position, Penn went against the
concept held by the English monarchy; he insisted on purchase of land from the
Indians before his settlers might occupy it. His treaties with them promised
them the permanent use of some areas alongside the streams...William Penn's
heirs did not share his belief in the sacredness of Indian rights, and in
addition they favored the Five Nations. Since Iroquois and
...Joseph Pennock, who built Primitive Hall in
what was then the wilderness (now
It should never be forgotten how much William Penn's first Quaker settlers owed to the Lenni-Lenape. Their first winter in the new country was spent by many of them living in caves, and depending on the Indians for food and fire..."
The End of the Holy Experiment - The French and Indian War:
The French and Indian War ended the Holy Experiment and is the main cause of
the numerical decline of the Quaker denomination in
Quakers were in the majority in the Pennsylvania Assembly at the time of the outbreak of the French and Indian War and were divided in what to do. Some, like John Woolman were sympathetic to the Indians10 and refused to support or participate in the war. Others were in favor of supporting the settlements. The division led to the withdrawal of the Quakers from the Assembly in April of 1756 and their gradual removal from public affairs (they were defeated in the election of October 1756). In the period 1756-1763 the Quakers formed the "Friendly Association" partly to promote justice for treatment of Indians. This association acted as a mediator in Pennsylvania to end the French and Indian war in 1757 and 1758. But to non-Quakers, it appeared that they were completely incapable of leading in times of war and their government a failure in providing the most basic forms of security. After Pontiac's rebellion (1763) the influence of Quakers in Indian affairs in Pennsylvania was mostly over - at least until the final defeat of the Indians at Fallen Timbers in 1794.
As in most wars there were only losers. The effect upon the Quaker's Holy Experiment was catastrophic.
The idealized vision of liberty that Americans hold to this day is the enduring consequence of the Holy Experiment7. Those Americans who still believe in the utopian vision of a democratic and peaceful world are the heirs of the Holy Experiment. In the aftermath of September 11, these echoes of our past hold important lessons for us all.
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear." (1 John 4: 17-18).
"Force may make hypocrites, but it can make no converts." (William Penn, imprisoned in the
As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. (Martin Luther King, 1956)
1) Disclaimer: The views expressed in this essay are the views of the author and are not the views of Gwynedd Friends Meeting or of Quakers in general. The author solicits improvements to this text. Contact me by e-mail here. William Penn: "Refuse not to be informed: For that shows Pride or Stupidity. Humility and Knowledge in poor clothes, excel Pride and Ignorance in costly attire. Neither despise, nor oppose, what thou dost not understand." In this spirit the author solicits advice and new learnings not disputes.
3a) American fundamental views of liberty are largely consequences of the religious views of the Quakers, Baptists and the German peace churches. True, they built on a British tradition that included trial by jury and prohibition of arbitrary seizure of property, but the
In the 20th century, Quakers in southeast
Bancroft's 19th century history "
This is not to say that all of Penn's frame of government comes out of his religious beliefs. Penn was trained as a lawyer and was familiar with the concepts of English liberty passed down from the Magna Carta on. He also was friends with John Locke and Algernon Sidney who were leading thinkers in Whig politics in England. In particular, Sidney's name is associated with radical democratic reform and Penn campaigned for his election to parliament.
Thomas Jefferson called Penn "the greatest law-giver the world has produced."
3b) After having written the above section, I have found that Quaker and Baptist views of liberty, radical for their time, were shared by the faction of Cromwell's New Model Army that were called the Levellers. The Levellers in 1647-9 proposed an English Constitution (Agreement of the People) that gave freedom of religion, freedom of speech, free trade, and one man one vote with regular elections. 1647, not conicidentally is also the start of the Quaker movement, and Penn and the Pennsylvania Assembly implemented almost the entire Leveller agenda in Pennsylvania in1683-1707. The Levellers were middle class (some education, were landed farmers, merchants, craftsmen or lawyers) - the same class of people who in Wales joined the Friends. It is also not a coincidence that Merioneth in Wales, the county that most converted to the Friends, was the one area of Wales where Parliament found its most support against the King. It also appears that some of the leadership of the Levellers joined the Quakers. Knowing this, explains why with the Restoration of the King in 1660, an act was almost immediately passed to ban and punish Quakers, and why they were persecuted so much. It also puts a different light on not removing one's hat or not saying the Oath of Allegience to the King. It is curious that this connection with the English Civil War is ignored by most Quaker Historians. The program of the Levellers was not implemented by Parliament, and they were to some degree suppressed when Cromwell took near dictatorial authority after the execution of King Charles I. Algernon Sydney, Penn's political mentor, served in the New Model Army, was a supporter of the Levellers, and went into exile during the administration of Cromwell and stayed away from England during the first part of the Restoration.
4) Many famous frontiersmen have Quaker roots like Daniel Boone (Berks Co., PA) and Ebenezer Zane (
Many descendants of the signers of the 1682-3 Pennsylvania Frame of Government can be found on the frontier of
5) Penn believed that freedom of religion was the foundation of all other freedoms. "No people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyments of civil liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Conscience as to their Religious Profession and Worship" (Pennsylvania Charter of Liberties, 1701). Both the original frames of government of
6) Today, I don't believe most Quakers and Baptists realize how closely connected the two denominations were in colonial times. Most of the surviving discourse from colonial times are complaints about each other's religious views. However, the Quakers and Baptists co-migrated with each other to the south,
7) In a democracy, the frame of government and its laws flow from the religious and moral principles of the people. In a tyrannical government, religion flows from the political designs of tyrants. Religion in an authoritarian government is usually a tool used to enslave the people. There have been many forms of Christianity, Islam and other religions over the ages. All have evolved with and been molded by political power. The worldwide struggle to free religion of the influence of those who would use it to rule is part of the struggle of the people to free themselves and find God in their own way.
Consider these beliefs of the medieval Christian church:
These beliefs were still being used to command obedience to civil authorities in the eighteenth century outside of Pennsylvania. Here is an example on the web from 1771 in North Carolina (http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/acrobat/uploaded/assetts/449a984005b30.pdf ) that neatly contrasts a Quaker leader's use of religion to promote Pennsylvania style freedom and a response from an Anglican minister claiming God demands obedience to authority (in this case to the provincial Governor Tryon).
Today, none of these beliefs are those of mainstream Christians, although vestiges of these beliefs remain in some of the older denominations. This change in views is both the cause and effect of the emergence of western civilization from the dark ages. The technological advance that set the process of change in motion was the invention of the printing press. Coupled with the translation and printing of the Bibles into the languages used by everyday people, the people began to read the word of God for themselves and make up their own mind about what it is. The falling away of repressive religion was a necessary precondition for two other things which require free inquiry: democracy and experimental science, suppressed for a thousand years. Societies today which repress free inquiry are not only oppressive to the spirit, but also are breeding grounds for poverty and revolution. A lesson of this in the aftermath of 9/11 is that the challenge for the West is not to suppress people in Islamic countries but to help them free themselves. There will be no winners in violent conflict, the weaker side will just suffer more than the stronger side.
See Friends Early Use of the Bible for some further discussion of the evolution of Christian thought.
8) An interesting side note to history is the North Carolina Regulation of 1767-1771 which ended with the so-called Battle of Alamance (fought between two armies which probably did not want to fight each other). This movement, which was a fight for democracy, was largely Quaker-led (Herman Husbands, Rednap Howell were Quakers). On the eve of the Battle of Alamance, Husband refused to fight (he was a pacifist). Looking for a leader, the man chosen said, "Each man should be led according his own conscience." Although the man was not a Quaker, it sounds like the Quaker battle cry. Leaderless, the movement was crushed. Today, Americans often turn to strong leadership in the executive branch of government, rather than to their own conscience for leadership in insecure times. Insecurity is the enemy of democracy and the friend of tyrants. Husbands, who was an admirer of Benjamin Franklin, wrote essays favoring the American side in the Revolution from his hide-out in western
Probably the best known Quaker leader in southeast
For the Quakers in colonial
9) The Indians making the threats against the Leni-Lenape and
10) John Woolman, the famous Quaker minister, visited the Leni-Lenape in 1763 at the outbreak of
11. One of the earliest violent incidents between the colonists and Indians in
The above may have been connected to the first major incident of "squatting" on Indian land in Pennsylvania. This had occurred just to the west of Exeter/Olney in the spring of 1723 when 15 families from Schoharie, New York moved their families to Tulpehocken, in the heart of the area inhabited by the Delaware and Shawnee (today the area between Reading and Harrisburg). They took lands without permission of the authorities and against the will of the Indians for the land had not yet been bought from them. The authorities in Philadelphia faced a serious problem because if they turned away the German settlers they would do an injustice to a people who had been invited there by Governor William Keith. The easiest thing to do was to exert strong pressure on the Indians to sell the lands. The aging "chief" Sassanoon, any diplomatic skill he had possessed befogged by rum, was ever willing to exchange lands for goods and drink, and did so by treaty on 7 September, 1732. (from The Delaware Indians: A History, by C. A. Weslager, 1972, Rutgers Univ. Press).
12. At http://www.tolatsga.org/dela.html there is a history of the Lenni-Lenape on-line. The pamphlet "William Penn and the Lenape Indians" by Willis M. Rivinus, self-published in 1995 at New Hope, PA was also consulted in making this page as was Weslager's history cited above.
13. The author believes that although the French and Indian War is the cause of the end of the "Holy Experiment", there is a second cause equally important in the decline in number of Friends in North America and perhaps elsewhere from the middle of the eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century. Starting in the 1730s largely due to the preaching of men like George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, a religious movement called the Great Awakening swept all of America. The Great Awakening was much in accord with the teaching of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, in one very important way: it stressed direct, joyful communion with God. Many Quakers were swept up in this movement which invigorated the Friends with a revitalized spirit. Non-Quakers, with no where else to turn chose the Quakers or Baptists, both which stressed the direct experience of the divine without need of intercession by priests or learned men. Later, about 1750, a reaction against "the ranting spirit" set in amongst Quakers to this movement and the Book of Discipline was introduced amongst Friends. This led to what has been termed a Quietist period among the Quakers who perhaps were less tolerant of people boisterously led by the Holy Spirit than previously. Perhaps Fox himself would have been disowned by some of these Friends. In Philadelphia Yearly Meeting between 1760 and 1776 about 4000 of the 13000 members of the Religious Society of Friends were disowned for various offenses against Quaker Discipline. This of course does not count the thousands who publicly repented and were not disowned. The joy, in short, was replaced with a type of asceticism enforced by a rigid code of behaviour. When the Methodists turned away from the Church of England after the Revolution, the "New Light" Friends had another path to choose, besides the Calvinist Baptists. The Quaker movement began to revive in the twentieth century when the "mysticism" - the direct communion of the spirit of man and woman with the spirit of God once again was emphasized. Today, although Quakers in northeast America are often considered a "liberal" sect, it is common for most people in a meeting to have had some amazing, direct experience with God very similar to the born again experience of evangelical Christians. In response to a question the author asked in a Sunday School class on how many had experienced the direct, joyful presence of God, 80% raised their hands.