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DEATH OF THE QUAKER SLAVE TRADE By Manning Marable* Faith and economic prerogatives created the Quaker's response to the black man and to the slave trade in Pennsylvania in the early eighteenth century. Members of the Society of Friends developed specific modes of ethical behavior to govern commerce between themselves and fellow Englishmen. These Quaker business ethics and a religious belief in the concept of God within every man made Quaker servitude less harsh in England. These same concepts were ignored by many Quakers in Pennsylvania, anxious for profits from black slavery. Early Quaker anti-slavery protesters did not generally attack racism or the institution of slavery itself, but condemned the trade of blacks, as a blatant violation of traditional business ethics. When Quaker slaveholders did not make profits from slavery, they too attacked the slave trade. The tragedy for anti-slavery advocates was that racism and slavery still continued after the decline of the trade; the tragedy for blacks themselves was that they still languished in bondage. The Friends brought to America a humanistic religious philosophy and heritage of egalitarianism. These beliefs made the enslavement of Africans taken to the New World an impossibility, at least in theory. Quaker humanism was created by the cruel punishments inflicted upon the sect by various English and American rulers. Under Charles II, a brutal attack against the reign's Dissenters in the early 1680's sent 1400 Friends into English prisons. Quaker craftmen's tools were destroyed; Quaker farmhouses and stables were looted.1 In the middle of the seventeenth century the colony of Massachusetts ordered fines against any ship captain who brought any Quaker or his "erroneous and hellish pamphlets" into the province , and called for "imprisonment, flogging and branding" of the Friends themselves.2 *Manning Marable, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, has recently been appointed Lecturer in Afro-American History at Smith College, Northampton, Mass. 1.William C. Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism (London· 1919), passim; and Joseph Besse, Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, I (London: 1753), passim. 2.A. Neave Brayshaw, The Quakers, Their Story and Message (London 1921), 87-89. 17 18QUAKER HISTORY From their sufferings this first generation of Quakers believed with an evangelical certainty that man, although imperfect, was able to attain peace and perfection. The concept of the "divine principle" of "Inner Light" instructed Quakers that God was with every human soul. These beliefs led Quakers to the conclusion that all men were equal in principle, since they were all guided by that same Spirit.3 Religion was an integral part of each Quaker's daily existence. Friends believed that no other material gains or attitudes should persuade a man to act counter to his principles of faith. Friends placed community and social welfare ahead of personal gain. George Fox believed that businessmen should determine at first "that of God in themselves," and upon that basis should know how to conduct business. By all men following their "Inner Light," Fox was sure, and by keeping commercial ventures simple, all could realize God's will. Early Quaker merchants expanded their businesses by taking in family relations and community friends as partners. Since excessive competition between various firms could negate profit for some of the community and produce poor quality merchandise for the consumer , the well-established businessmen sought to limit the number of upstart merchants by controlling "training facilities" of newcomers . The community would suffer, Quakers reasoned, if trade went into "too many hands." Since all men, "Christian or pagan," possessed God's "Inner Light," all agents within the business world were brothers. All should be allowed to thrive and exist in the state of happiness which the Lord intended. To insure this happiness for all, various Meetings closely watched over their respective merchant classes, apprentices, and domestic servants. High moral principles for all businessmen were a corporate expectation for all. Like the Puritans, the Friends were not against making large sums of capital, as long as the modus operandi was well within humanistic moral guidelines. Quaker merchant William Smith's Universal Love, published in 1663, spoke to these principles. Sections from the book consider means of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 17-33
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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