Charles Wetherill

Wetherill, Charles. History of The Religious Society of Friends Called by Some The Free Quakers, in the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Printed for the Society, 1894, Number 3 of an edition limited to 800 copies, signed by Charles Wetherill.]

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Philadelphia, Ninth Month, 7th, 1782. The following Memorial and Address was presented to the Assembly soon after the date of it, and is entered on the Journals of the House in the Second Month last; a recent attack of Isaac Howell and White Matlack in a remonstrance to the House now sitting, of a like nature with the petition to which this Memorial is an answer, makes it necessary to be more extensively published.


An Address and Memorial on Behalf of the People Called Quakers.

Being informed that a petition was presented to you at your last sitting, signed by some persons residing in Philadelphia and parts adjacent, which affected the reputation and interest of our religious society, and, on our application, being indulged with a copy thereof, we find it is intended to arraign the discipline established among us, and artfully designed to impress your minds with unfavorable sentiments, by misrepresentations and injurious charges against us which we hope we are able to confute to your satisfaction, so as to obviate the evil intentions of this attack upon our religious and civil rights and liberties; and therefore, apprehend it not improper to offer to your consideration, a few remarks as briefly as the nature of the subject will admit.
The doctrine and order deliberately and conscientiously received and settled, by the united concurrence of our religious society, we have at all times held it our indispensable duty to maintain by the gospel methods of instruction, advice and admonition, and in cases of disorderly walking, which have a tendency to infringe upon the peace and unity of the church, we proceed no further than to a suspension of a close communion with the parties offending, or as occasion might call for it, to declare that they being departed from the unity of the body, are no longer of it.
We apprehend, that when any religiously united body hath in its collective capacity, according to the understanding received from the holy spirit, and agreeable to the holy scriptures, fixed the terms of its communion, it has a right in all points it deems material, to see that they are preserved inviolate by its members, and to acknowledge or reject any according to their faithfulness or unfaithfulness thereunto, and where it judges any have justly forfeited their membership, to declare so; otherwise, litigious and refractory members might render the church a stage of perpetual contention and confusion; or, as a kingdom divided against itself, which cannot stand. For its own peace and preservation, therefore, it can do no less than to "withdraw itself from every brother that walketh disorderly," 2 Thess., iii and 3, which can be done by no means more proper than by declaring its disunion with them.
This is the ultimate process of the people called Quakers, which is not intended by them for the punishment of any, but for keeping the church clear from disorder.
Rules are necessary to the support of order in religious as well as civil societies. There must be some power in the collective body, which is not in every particular singly to answer the end of order. This cannot be less than a power to accept or reject particular members according to the suitableness or unsuitableness of their conduct with its doctrines and rules. The nature of society and the fitness of things require thus much and our discipline extends no further. It intrudes not upon the civil rights of its members, affects no secular authority over their persons or property; but leaves them in a reasonable freedom either to continue in membership by a conduct agreeable to our principles and rules, or to separate from us if they think fit; nor are any prohibited from assembling with us in our meetings for public worship, which it is well known, are held openly, and free to all sober people.
The nature of society requires unity and harmony. A continued infraction of the terms of its communion, is not only a continual interruption to the peace of it, but has a tendency to its dissolution; hence it behooves every regular united body, to support the observance of its rules among its members, for its own peace and preservation; sensible of this, the apostle in his epistle to the Romans writes thus: "I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have "learned, and avoid them."--This a church cannot do but by clearing itself of them, which is a necessary exertion of gospel discipline, towards those who might give disturbance to it, or "by fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple."
Besides God's exterior dispensation of his written law, he still condescends according to his gracious promise, to teach his people immediately by his spirit in their hearts; this is the true basis of the right of private judgment, and as this is a privilege sacred to every man, so it is to every religious society, no one of which is entitled to impose upon another, in matters of doctrine or order; neither has any individual a right to impose himself upon it, contrary to its established rules.
The respectable John Locke saith, "No man by nature is bound unto any particular church or sect, but every one "joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly "acceptable to God. As no man is bound to any church against his particular conscience, neither is any church bound to any man against that rule and order established therein, according to its collective conscience. I hold that no church is bound by the duty of toleration, to retain any such person in her bosom, as after admonition, continues to offend against the laws of the society. For these being the condition of communion, and the bond of the society, if the breach of them were permitted without animadversion, the society would immediately be thereby "dissolved. Let. on Toleration, 4 ed. Pa. 10 and 13. Liberty of consciences is every man's undoubted right, and no less the right of every religions society, and as no man ought to be forcibly imposed upon in that respect, neither should any religious society suffer itself to be imposed upon against its judgment by any man, whatever his pretence may be; nor is that man who attempts it, doing as he would be done by in such attempt; or shewing that regard to the conscience of the body that he claims to his own. The religious liberty of a person consists not in a power to impose himself upon any religious society, against the rules of its communion, but in a freedom to join himself to one whose rules, doctrine and worship are conformable to his conscience, or to disjoin himself from one where all or any of them are not so
Every one who hath espoused opinions different from those of the people called quakers is at liberty to leave them, and join himself to any other people; this cannot be stiled a hard or unjust measure; freedom of enquiry is allowed, and liberty of action is allowed so far as can be consistent with the nature and peace of society, which cannot be properly supported, if its members are suffered to live in the breach of its rules and orders without any animadversion.
The intention of our discipline is not a dominion over the faith, or an abridgment of the just liberty of any; it seeks not the hurt of any, but the good of all; and that purity of manners, love, peace, and harmony may be preserved throughout the whole body on the basis of truth. The society proceeds no further in any case than it believes itself necessarily obliged to do, as a Christian body. And in showing its disunity with such of its members as violate its rules and orders, it is warranted by the laws of the land; it having as we have understood, been also publicly declared by learned judges in courts of judicature in Great Britain, to be the common privilege of all societies of tolerated dissenters; and we hope the same reason will equally avail in America.
Now we do not deny that many of the petitioners stand disunited from religious membership with us, and divers of them have been so from ten to twenty years past and upwards, which separation on our part has proceeded from necessity, and not of choice, nor on mere "pretences" as they suggest; the causes which produced it, for their sakes we do not care to revive, unless they should make it unavoidable; there are also in the number, such who were never acknowledged among us, if not some who have had no claim to such right.
We presume not to cut off any "from the Church of Christ"; for if a member of the natural body be cut off, it is impossible to unite it again, so as sensibly to communicate with, and be restored to its proper use in the body. The case of one disowned by us should rather be considered as a member who may be restored having instances of many, who through divine mercy, becoming sensible of their deviation in conduct and the propriety of our proceedings towards them, have returned into christian fellowship with us, to their satisfaction and ours.
Nor are any persons disowned by "leading men," among us; but if a member thinks himself aggrieved by the united judgment of a monthly meeting, he has the right of appealing to the quarterly meeting, as also to our yearly meeting, and it is our practice to notify the party concerned, of his having this privilege, that he may embrace it, if he thinks proper; and in these several meetings, that every acknowledged member has liberty to judge and speak.
Having heretofore expressed our sentiments and principles on the subject of war, and relating to tests, particularly in our memorial to the late assembly on the 4th of the 11th month, 1779, which is entered on their minutes; we are unwilling now to detain your attention on these points, prefering to manifest that a peaceable demeanour, and passive submission to the laws, where our conscience to God restrains us from active compliance, are a greater security to government than verbal declarations; the solemnity of which, is found in too many instances to be no longer regarded than it suits the convenience of those who make them.
We know not of any of our members being disowned, for the payment of taxes, for the support of government, nor is there any rule of our discipline that requires it.
Had the promoters of the petition shewn that regard to candour, which becomes men professing a concern for the cause of religion, they would have given a different relation of the "contrasted instances," (as they term them) of the interment of two dead bodies; the first which we suppose they allude to, had been a person who made no profession with us, he resided and died several miles distant from the city, and was little known to the persons to whom application was first made for an order to the grave-digger, which occasioned some enquiry to be necessary, and tho' the appliers were answered by them, that their application was judged improper to be complied with, yet three of the relations of the deceased were timely told, that the request would be allowed: which as they did not accept, it was supposed that his family found it more convenient to bury him in a graveyard in the neighborhood of their residence.
There was an application made for the interment of the other, at the time of his execution, but as he made no profession with us, as well as in consideration of the occasion of his death, it was disallowed. The body being afterwards taken up and removed to our ground, was known to very few at that time, but as soon as it was heard of, caused great uneasiness to our brethren in the city, who manifested their disapprobation of the unadvised measure; so that their misrepresentation of these occurrences must proceed from wrong information, or a view to prejudice us, and increase the number of subscribers to their petition; while they are silent on the methods they took by threats of forcibly entering the grave-yard, for the interment of two children, to which they had no reason to suspect any hesitation would be made.
The care of our burying-ground in the city is committed to persons appointed by our monthly meetings, to consider the propriety of applications, and give permissions to the gravedigger for interments within their respective limits. An assertion therefore, that any individuals among us "have assumed a right to grant, as matter of favour, the liberty of burial," is far from being true.
The lot of ground which is now our grave-yard in Philadelphia, was a donation of a worthy member of our religious society, at the very early settlement of the city, for the use of the people called quakers; who are and shall be in union and fellowship with the yearly meeting of the said people, for a burying place, and granted to certain persons in trust for that purpose; nevertheless, it hath been the general practice not to refuse those who have, near the close of life, desired to be interred there, whether in profession with us or not; and the records of our burials will sufficiently evidence, that the number interred of such, who were not members, is nearly equal to, if not greater than, those in membership with us: cavilling on this account can therefore have no just foundation.
That we possess some estate, on which houses for public worship, and other necessary buildings, are erected, we acknowledge, and that they have been justly acquired, and are legally held we must likewise assert, as also that the income arising, tho' far short of what some would make out, is carefully applied for the relief and maintenance of the poor, the instruction of their children, and other benevolent purposes, for which they were originally given or purchased, which, with the frequent contributions among ourselves, for the like uses, must be allowed to be a public benefit, and
saving to the community at large in which we dwell, as we also contribute our full proportion to the support of the public poor.
The papers, by the petitioners termed, decent representations, which they suggest were treated with slight and neglect, were committed to the inspection of a number of friends (in the same manner as all other papers, so offered, are) and reported to be improper to be read in our meetings, of which, on their enquiry they were duly informed.
Whenever application has been made for transcripts from our records for the ascertaining descents, proving of births, marriages or burials, and other purposes, for securing the rights of individuals, they have always been readily allowed, and certified copies given without fee or reward, or the originals produced, when necessary, sot that a law to recognize what has never been denied, appears to be entirely needless.
The petitioners by their several publications, their present petition as well as their general conduct, openly declare that they do not agree with us in the fundamentals of our faith, and what has been the uniform practice from our first becoming a united society; but if they really mean by their new association, the promotion of piety and virtue and the edification of each other in love and good works, it would be commendable not to attempt to establish themselves on a violation of the commandment which enjoins, "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, or anything that is thy neighbor's." And is equally forcible against coveting to obtain that from a religious body, to which they have no right in law or justice, and at the same time profess "they have no desire to injure them," which contradictions, had they duly considered, would have occasioned more caution and modesty in their solemn appeal "to the great arbiter of heaven and earth," when their designs, however disguised by plausible "pretences," are so easily discoverable to men.
The prayer of the petitioners will we think not only appear unprecedented and unreasonable, but, if granted, may establish a precedent injurious to every religious society, by restraining the right of disowning any of their members even for the most flagrent immoralities and other offences. And therefore we hope and trust that on mature and deliberate consideration of the nature and tendency of so singular a petition, you will judge it most just and expedient to answer the petitioners as Gallio answered the Jews, when they accused the apostle Paul before him. Acts xviii, 12-16.

We are your respectful Friends,
Signed on behalf and by direction of a Meeting of the Representatives of the said People called Quakers held at Philadelphia, the 18th 1st month, 1782 John Drinker, Clerk.

Next: Appendix 6, "The Memorial and Remostrance of Isaac Howell and White Matlack, etc.