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THE RATIONALE OF NINETEENTH-CENTURY PACIFISM: RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL ARGUMENTS IN THE EARLY BRITISH PEACE MOVEMENT By James R. Andrews* In 1849 when the great nineteenth-century radical Richard Cobden introduced his arbitration motion to the House of Commons, he engaged the members in the first serious debate on that matter. In his opening speech Cobden presented himself as "the humble representative of two distinct bodies," and described the two principal groups who made up the major streams of anti-war argument: In the first place, I represent on this occasion, and for this specific motion alone, that influential body of Christians who repudiate war in any case, whether offensive or defensive; I also represent that numerous portion of middle classes, who have an abhorrence of war, greater than any former period in our history, and who desire that we should take some new precautions, and, if possible, obtain some guarantees, against the recurrence of war in the future. Those two classes have found in the motion which I am about to submit a common ground —and I rejoice at it—on which they can unite without compromising their principles, on the one side or the other.1 The two groups were, indeed, distinct. As Cobden pointed out, there was on the one hand the "Christian" pacifists whose arguments reflected a religious orientation, and on the other hand the "political" pacifists who, while joining with their religious friends in an abhorrence of war, preferred to stress the more practical methods of achieving peace. To the religious pacifists, composed in the main of Friends, the objection to war on religious grounds was a clear, straightforward matter. Their viewpoint was expressed by the Quaker preacher Joseph John Gurney when he said, "There is nothing mystical in the * James R. Andrews is Assistant Professor of Speech, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City. His Ph.D. dissertation (The Pennsylvania State University, 1966) dealt with the rhetorical strategy of the early British peace movement. 1 Richard Cobden, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy (London, 1878), p. 390. 17 18Quaker History holy religion which we profess. It is simple food, for simple minds."2 The true Christian approach to war was unequivocal, according to these pacifists. "It is well known," Joseph Sturge maintained, "that, apart from all practical considerations, we have, as a Christian Church, uniformly upheld a testimony against war, on the simple ground that it is utterly condemned by the precepts of Christianity, as well as altogether incompatible with the Spirit of its Divine Founder, who is emphatically styled the 'Prince of Peace.' "3 The religious speakers based their arguments on two premises: first, that pacifism was a part of the historic Christian tradition, and, second, that pacifism was justified on the basis of Scriptural authority. In other words, religious pacifists attempted to give their position historical and doctrinal validity. An example of the historical approach is found in the arguments of Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson reviewed the stand of "The Early Christians on War," and examined in detail the evidence of pacifism in the primitive Church.4 He submitted that to oppose war was true to the original practices of Christianity on the basis of the following arguments: 1.The early Fathers generally use language which obviously condemns all war, and not a few of them denounce it as utterly unchristian; 2.They all speak of the ancient prophecies concerning the prevalence of peace under the gospel, as actually fulfilled in the Christians of that age; 3.Christians then abstained from war as unlawful for them, and suffered martyrdom for their refusal to bear arms; 4.Ancient and modern infidels unite in ascribing to them these peculiar views; 5.Celsus, near to the close of the second century, charged them with refusing to bear arms under any circumstances, and Origen, in his reply fifty years later, did not deny the charge, but justified it on the ground that Christianity forbids war; 6.The war-degeneracy of the Church began very early in the third century, and went so far in the fourth, that under and after Constantine the Great, Christians engaged in war, as they generally have ever since, with as little scruple...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 17-27
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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