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THE HICKSITE DIE IS CAST: A LETTER OF THOMAS McCLINTOCK, FEBRUARY 1827 H. Larry Ingle* It is not always quite clear later when some dramatic event has its exact origins. We have known, for example, since 1827 that the sessions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in April that year marked the climax of a controversy between Hicksite reformers and their Orthodox evangelical opponents in the Religious Society of Friends which finally produced a formal split in the Society. But it has never been clear when the actual decisions leading to a separation were made and even who made them. Recent research has now offered an answer to these intriguing and important questions. In the George Burr manuscripts at the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College there has rested for years a letter from Thomas McClintock, one of the relatively few Philadelphia reformers, to a cohort, William Poole of Wilmington, Delaware . When put into its context the letter lifts the curtain that has hidden a set ofdecisions reached by a conclave ofHicksite leaders in February 1827, nearly three months before the Yearly Meeting was set to convene. It indicates that the point of no return had been reached, that the reformers' hopes of winning support of enough Friends to allow them to control the machinery ofthe Yearly Meeting would probably be dashed against that very machinery. They then began to move toward a separation as they speculated on the possibility ofnot two but three yearly meetings emerging. Their long hopedfor reformation became a less and less viable goal once the reformers saw they had little chance of controlling the yearly meeting.1 The occasion for this get-together was the meeting of Philadelphia Quarter the first Monday and Tuesday of February 1827. John Comly (1773-1850) from Byberry, the yearly meeting's assistant *H. Larry Ingle is a member of the department of history, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A grant from the Faculty Research Committee made possible the research on which this article is based, for which the author expresses his gratitude. 1 . On the background of the reformation cause see the author's just published Quakers in Conflict, the Hicksite Reformation (Knowville, University of Tennessee Press, 1986). 115 116Quaker History clerk who had bit by bit been gravitating to the side ofthe reformers, had visited both monthly and quarterly meetings in the nine months since the last yearly meeting.2 Although intended to enable him both to judge the sentiment across the yearly meeting and to counsel with his acquaintances, Comly's tour later drew the fire of evangelicals who charged him with actively fomenting dissent.3 Not only was such a purpose contrary to Comly's prudent nature but also the allegations rested on no hard evidence, something that would have been easy to acquire had it existed. Comly's observations during Philadelphia Quarter's select meeting of ministers and elders on Saturday, February 3, made his heart sink. So divided were Friends there that the leaders of the Society "could not understand one another's speech." No wonder the usually well-controlled assistant clerk blurted out: "Painful indeed the Spectacle!"4 On Sunday evening before the opening ofthe quarterly meeting on Monday the fifth, Comly met with the active group of city reformers . Just exactly who was there or what specifically was said is unclear, for no detailed record survived. Pieced together from various sources it is clear that, after sharing their gloom, the group moved toward making major decisions about their future within the Society. Comly related news of his travels and the others told once more of their trying experiences with the evangelicals who dominated all the city meetings except Green Street. The sense of despair deepened as they went over the details of their stories. At one point Comly asked straight out ifthere were any way the divisions could be healed, perhaps by mediation, perhaps by a more complete reliance upon the divine spirit, perhaps by something he had not even considered . The assembled reformers could suggest nothing and Comly, up to this point hopeful but hardly optimistic, felt his spirits sag. Venturing a possible solution he found the others unable yet to unite around...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 115-122
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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