We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
Thomas Crowley's Proposal to Seat Americans in Parliament, 1765-1775

From: Quaker History
Volume 91, Number 1, Spring 2002
pp. 1-19 | 10.1353/qkh.2002.0006

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Thomas Crowley's Proposal to Seat Americans in Parliament, 1765-1775 Neil L. York* Imperial crises spawnedproposals for imperial reform. Not surprisingly, the disputes triggered by George Grenville's Stamp Act in 1765, which led, ultimately, to the American revolt ten years later, brought with them numerous plans to restructure and thereby save the empire. One ofthe more ambitious and consequently more notable came from Thomas Crowley, a wealthy London merchant and unorthodox Quaker.1 Only by seating colonists in both the House of Commons and House of Lords, Crowley contended, could the American right to representation be coupled with the American duty to pay taxes in support ofthe empire. Others had suggested that Americans be represented in Parliament but Crowley was possibly the most insistent, most persistent of them all, so persistent that Benjamin Franklin ultimately dismissed him as "a little cracked upon the subject."2 IfFranklin found Crowley trying, Crowley's Quaker brethren had even more cause for exasperation. Crowley showed the same tenacity, even pugnacity, when debating theological and ecclesiastical points as he did in pressing for imperial reform. Indeed, his zest for the one probably fed his vigor in the other. In both instances, whatever merits his arguments may have had were overshadowed by his difficult personality. And yet, even if he had been less emphatic and more accommodating, he had little hope of changing Quaker ways or reshaping the empire. Crowley turned his attention to the empire in the mid-1760s, at the same momentthathebecame strident inhis oppositionto various Quakerpolicies, especially the disowning ofSociety members who paid tithes to the Church ofEngland. Accordingto aresolutionpassedbythe London YearlyMeeting in 1706, those who continued the practice, even after being counseled to desist, should be considered "unworthy to be admitted to the Meetings for Business among Friends, or to be received to join in the Collections, made by Friends, for the Service ofthe Church ofChrist."3 Tithes, these Quakers felt, were unjustified throwbacks to a Mosaic code that hadbeen superseded by Christ's higher law. To paythem violatedthe Savior's creed and insulted the memory of early Quakers who died as martyrs in God's name. Crowley disagreed and tried to convert others to his cause. He launched a letter-writing campaign that began privately but soon enough became public, as Crowley took his case to the press and laid out his position in newspaper pieces and pamphlets. Hoping to demonstrate his prowess as a scriptorian, he sometimes turned to the Old Testament, sometimes to the Neil L. York is Professor of History and Karl G. Maeser Professor of General Education at Brigham Young University. Quaker History New—particularly the Pauline epistles. It was notjust an issue oftithes or the question oftaxes ingeneral; itwas, he emphasized, amatter ofcivic duty, of whether Quakers were good subjects of their king. Crowley, who completed his apprenticeship to a linen draper in the 1730s and went on to make a sizeable fortune, had paid taxes gladly and proudly ever since. He did not mince words: My Doctrine is this, "neither Government, nor Society, have any Right over my Conscience inReligion,"butthe supreme Legislature ofeveryNationhath ajust Right to assess the Property ofthe Subject in all Cases which theyjudge for the Public Good, and the same is very clearly held forth in the Doctrine of Christ, and the Apostle Paul and Peter.4 In March 1771 Crowley finally elicited a formal reaction. A letter from the London quarterly meeting for suffering advised local Quakers that the dissident merchant's writings "contain Opinions inconsistent with our Christian testimony." Still, Society members were urged to treat Crowley kindly even if his ideas were erroneous and behavior disruptive. "Much tenderness hath been exercised towards the author on various considerations , and the same considerations may perhaps induce Friends still to use all possible Lenity & forbearance" in dealing with him.5 All ofthat came to an end in February 1 774 when the Devonshire House monthly meeting, which Crowley had attended for many years, voted to disown him because of "His inflexible Continuance in Opposition, and refractory Behaviour." Despite every effort to deterhim he insisted on his right to pay tithes andhe admonished other Quakers to do the same. Crowley...