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  • Holy Nation: The Transatlantic Quaker Ministry in an Age of Revolution by Sarah Crabtree
  • Neva Jean Specht
Holy Nation: The Transatlantic Quaker Ministry in an Age of Revolution. By SARAH CRABTREE. ( Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015. 276 pp. Illustrations, notes, index. $45.)

In Holy Nation, Sarah Crabtree charts the beliefs and values of the Religious Society of Friends during the age of revolution. She focuses particularly on the intersection of religion with the politics of nation and empire throughout the Atlantic world. Crabtree argues that Quakers embraced and appropriated the [End Page 200] Zion tradition to ensure consistent belief, attitudes, and common purpose during the years of the war for independence, the French Revolution, and Napoleonic Wars. She posits that, by comparing themselves to the "Israel of old," Quakers likened their suffering and devout belief to that of the Israelites. The Society of Friends saw themselves as a distinct and chosen people. As the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries unfolded, Quakers argued that their beliefs fell under God's law, not the laws of empires or nation-states. The Friends' pacifist beliefs and "guarded education" of young members placed them at odds with growing states. However, Crabtree explains, Quakers found themselves unable to remain united in agreement about Friends' place in the world.

Crabtree draws on the journals, sermons, notes, and correspondence of the Society of Friends' traveling ministers to make her case for the Friends' creation of a holy nation and its eventual dismantlement by a nineteenth-century schism. Her arguments draw from the society's spiritual elite and the messages of the yearly meetings rather than the monthly meetings of average Friends. While it is not clear how monthly meetings interpreted these messages, Crabtree does present the reaction of new governments to the greater Society of Friends.

Her argument deftly unfolds over five chapters, taking the reader through an evolution of the society during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Early chapters explore the rise of the Zion tradition and its use by traveling ministers to instill common values and language among society members. She explores the ironic way that Quaker ministers coopted the language of militarism to make a case for "lamb-like warriors" fighting against violence and war. Quakers' rhetoric not only confounded those in government but also struck blows against traditional masculinity.

Crabtree breaks fertile ground with her look at the Quaker-only schools that placed young Friends behind "walled gardens" to provide an education that would promote Quaker values. Using students' commonplace books and other school records, she reconstructs a curriculum that taught students to question authority and embrace their ability to change the world, an education that fledging republics were unlikely to embrace. As Crabtree discovers, those same students went on to be active in significant reform movements of the early nineteenth century. As the new century began, the Society of Friends moved toward a new use of the Zion tradition, emphasizing charity as an integral part of God's work.

Cosmopolitism threads its way through the last part of the book, as Crabtree explores how the Society of Friends served French and British thinkers as a model for good government, rational religion, and moral economy, even when the reality of the society did not reflect those ideals. Quakers briefly offered an alternative to the inevitable march towards fixed national citizenry. Holy Nation offers a glimpse of what might have been had the Hicksite schism not divided the Society of Friends. [End Page 201]

Neva Jean Specht
Appalachian State University
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