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AMERICAN QUAKER PACIFISM AND THE PEACE SETTLEMENT OF WORLD WAR I By William D. S. Witte* Of all the testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends, that for peace is probably the one which most non-Quakers associate with the Society. Within the Quaker community itself, there are and always have been individual Friends who have denied the centrality of pacifism among the testimonies, Friends also who have renounced conscientious objection as a dereliction of duty. While such individual defections have at times been serious and numerically large, it is, nevertheless, clear that Quakers in their official capacity (Meetings, committees, etc.) have remained firm in their support of pacifism as they have understood it and its "necessary" implications. Prior to World War I, some of the problems implicit in the position of the pacifist who attempts to apply his convictions to the political world around him had become apparent in Quaker experience. The dilemma which plagued Friends who held posts of political responsibility in colonial America proved to be insuperable : neither Quaker governors in Rhode Island nor Quaker legislators in Pennsylvania could both perform and not perform their official duties providing defense for their colonies. The governors resolved the problem in favor of defending Rhode Island against the Indians; the lawmakers by withdrawing from politics.1 By the end of the Revolutionary War, the Society of Friends had decided that it should look inward, giving attention, as far as its outward work was concerned, chiefly to humanitarian endeavors .2 During the ensuing years, its position was not primarily one of attempting to influence governmental policy. However, * Assistant Professor of Political Science, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois, and member of Peoria (Illinois) Meeting. 1 Rufus M. Jones, Isaac Sharpless, and Amelia M. Gummere, The Quakers in the American Colonies (London, 1911), pp. 204, 488-93. 2 Ibid., p. 571. 84 American Quaker Pacifism and Peace Settlement85 new times, altered circumstances, and a rethinking of practices which had developed in those quiescent years led many Friends to feel that mere non-participation in war fell short of the demands of pacifism. Moreover, personal pacifism was inadequate—what was necessary was some positive contribution, at the policy level, to the creation of conditions which would lend themselves to the development of a stabilized, orderly, co-operative world. About a month following the outbreak of the first World War, Friends General Conference sent to President Woodrow Wilson a statement of the views of that group of Quakers. Significantly , these Friends urged Wilson and the United States to seek the establishment of "a Parliament of Nations." "A World Parliament with a World Court and a World Police to enforce its decisions," they said, "can maintain peace."3 Following this declaration made in September 1914, Quakers began a concerted effort to acquaint themselves with the factors involved in this particular conflict and in war generally. For this purpose, "peace" meetings were held in great numbers; areas of conflict in American foreign relations were the subjects of articles in Quaker literature; "outline study courses" on "internationalism" were prepared, in some cases, by Quakers and used, in many, by them; and, sometimes, Friends joined those organizations which were investigating the problems of war and peace. Nor should the labors of the various Friends Peace Committees be disregarded. Through their participation in these activities, many Quakers became aware of and conversant with the issues which were to form the principal arguments in the two years following the Armistice. Questions of international organization, the pacific settlement of disputes, disarmament, and related matters received the attention of Friends, and it was chiefly through their discussion of the League of Nations that their opinions became manifest. During the war and in the days preceding the release of the text of the Covenant of the League of Nations, there were indications that many Friends were profoundly sympathetic to the formation of a league of states, but often these expressions of support were accompanied by words of concern regarding the use of coercive sanctions as instruments for enforcing international 3 Proceedings of Friends' General Conference (1914), p. 130. 86Bulletin of Friends Historical Association order. When the League to Enforce Peace was founded in June 1915...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 84-98
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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