The people called Quakers in the United States.
The nobler instincts of humanity are the same in
every age and in every breast.
The exalted hopes, that have dignified former generations of men, will be renewed as long as the human heart shall throb.
The visions of Plato
are but revived in the dreams of Sir Thomas More.
A spiritual unity binds together every member of the human family; and every heart contains an incorruptible seed, capable of springing up and producing all that man can know of God, and duty, and the soul.
An inward voice, uncreated by schools, independent of refinement, opens to the unlettered hind, not less than to the polished scholar, a sure pathway into the enfranchisements of immortal truth.
This is the faith of the people called Quakers.
A moral principle is tested by the attempt to reduce it to practice.
The history of European
civilization is the history of the gradual enfranchisement of classes of society.
The feudal sovereign was limited by the power of the military chieftains, whose valor achieved his conquests.
The vast and increasing importance of commercial transactions gave new value to the municipal privileges of which the Roman
empire had bequeathed the precedents; while the intricate questions that were perpetually arising for adjudication, crowded the ignorant
from the bench, and reserved
the wearisome toil of deliberation for the learning of his clerk.
The emancipation of the country people followed.
In every European
code, the ages of feudal influence, of mercantile ambition, of the enfranchisement of the yeomanry, appear distinctly in succession.
It is the peculiar glory of England
, that her free people always had a share in the government.
From the first, her freeholders had legislative power as well as freedom; and the tribunals were subjected to popular influence by the institution of a jury.
The majority of her laborers were serfs; many husbandmen were bondmen, as the name implies; but the established liberties of freeholders quickened, in every part of England
, the instinct for popular advancement.
invasion could not uproot the ancient institutions; they lived in the heart of the nation, and rose superior to the Conquest
The history of England
is therefore marked by an original, constant and increasing political activity of the people.
In the fourteenth century, the peasantry, conducted by tilers, and carters, and ploughmen, demanded of their young king a deliverance from the bondage and burdens of feudal oppression; in the fifteenth century, the last traces of villenage were wiped away; in the sixteenth, the noblest ideas of human destiny, awakening in the common mind, became the central points round which plebeian sects were gathered; in the seventeenth century, the enfranchised yeomanry began to feel an instinct for dominion; and its kindling ambition, quickly fanned to a flame, would not rest till it had attempted a democratic revolution.
The best soldiers of the Long Parliament were country people; the men that turned the battle on Marston Moor
were farmers and farmers' sons, fighting, as they be-
lieved, for their own cause.
The progress from the rout of Wat Tyler
to the victories of Naseby
, and Worcester
, and Dunbar
, was made in less than three centuries. So rapid was the diffusion of ideas of freedom, so palpable was the advancement of popular intelligence, energy, and happiness, that to whole classes of enthusiasts the day of perfect enfranchisement seemed to have dawned; legislation, ceasing to be partial, was to be reformed and renewed on general principles, and the reign of justice and reason was about to begin.
In the language of that age, Christ
's kingdom on earth, his second coming, was at hand.
Under the excitement of hopes, created by the rapid progress of liberty, which, to the common mind, was an inexplicable mystery, the blissful centuries of the millennium promised to open upon a favored world.
Political enfranchisements had been followed by the emancipation of knowledge.
The powers of nature were freely examined; the merchants always tolerated or favored the pursuits of science.
Galileo had been safe at Venice
, and honored at Amsterdam
The method of free inquiry, applied to chemistry, had invented gunpowder and changed the manners of the feudal aristocracy; applied to geography, had discovered a hemisphere, and, circumnavigating the globe, made the theatre of commerce wide as the world; applied to the mechanical process of multiplying books, had brought the New Testament, in the vulgar tongue, within the reach of every class; applied to the rights of persons and property, had, for the English
, built up a system of common law, and given securities to liberty in the interpretation of contracts.
Under the guidance of Bacon
, the inductive method, in its freedom, was
about to investigate the laws of the outward world,
and reveal the wonders of divine Providence as displayed in the visible universe.
On the continent of Europe
applied the method of observation and free inquiry to the study of morals and the mind; in England
hardly proceeded beyond the province of natural philosophy.
He compared the subtile visions, in which the
contemplative soul indulges, to the spider's web, and sneered at them as frivolous and empty; but the spider's web is essential to the spider's well-being, and for his neglect of the inner voice, Bacon
paid the terrible penalty of a life disgraced by flattery, selfishness, and mean compliance.
Freedom, as applied to morals, was cherished in England
among the people, and therefore had its development in religion.
The Anglo-Saxons were a religious people.
had as little superstitious regard for the Roman
see as Henry VIII.; but the oppressed Anglo-Saxons looked for shelter to the church, and invoked the enthusiasm of Thomas
a Becket to fetter the Norman tyrant and bind the Norman aristocracy in iron shackles.
The enthusiast fell a victim to the church and to Anglo-Saxon
If, from the day of his death, the hierarchy abandoned the cause of the people, that cause always found advocates in the inferior clergy; and Wickliffe
did not fear to deny dominion to vice and to claim it for justice.
The reformation appeared, and the inferior clergy, rising against Rome
and against domestic tyranny, had a common faith and common political cause with the people A body of the yeomanry, becoming Independents, planted Plymouth
The inferior gentry espoused Calvinism, and fled to Massachusetts
The popular movement of intellectual liberty is measured by advances
towards the liberty of prophesying, and the
liberty of conscience.
The moment was arrived when the plebeian mind should make its boldest effort to escape from hereditary prejudices; when the freedom of Bacon
, the enthusiasm of Wickliffe
, and the politics of Wat Tyler
, were to gain the highest unity in a sect; when a popular, and, therefore, in that age, a religious party, building upon a divine principle, should demand freedom of mind, purity of morals, and universal enfranchisement.
The sect had its birth in a period of intense public activity—when the heart of England
was swelling with passions, and the public mind turbulent with factious leaders; when zeal for reform was invading the church, subverting the throne, and repealing the privileges of feudalism; when Presbyterians in every village were quarrelling with Anabaptists and Independents, and all with the Roman Catholics
and the English church.
The sect could arise only among the common people, who had every thing to gain by its success, and the least to hazard by its failure.
The privileged classes had no motive to develop a principle before which their privileges would crumble.
Penn, i. 346, 353, ed. 1825.
said William Penn
, ‘are wont to be God's great ambassadors to mankind.’
‘He hath raised up a few despicable and illiterate men,’ said the accomplished Barclay
, ‘to dispense the more full glad tidings reserved for our age.’
It was the comfort of the Quakers, that they received the truth from a simple sort of people, unmixed with the learning of schools; and almost for the first time in the history of the world, a plebeian
sect proceeded to the complete enfranchisement of mind, teaching the English
yeomanry the same method
of free inquiry which Socrates
had explained to the
young men of Athens
The simplicity of truth was restored by humble instruments, and its first messenger was of low degree.
, the son of ‘righteous Christopher,’ a Leicestershire weaver, by his mother descended from the stock of the martyrs, distinguished even in boyhood by frank inflexibility and deep religious feeling, became in early life an apprentice to a Nottingham shoemaker, who was also a landholder, and, like David, and Tamerlane, and Sixtus V., was set by his employer to watch sheep.
The occupation was grateful to his mind, for its freedom, innocency, and solitude; and the years of earliest youth passed away in prayer and reading the Bible
, frequent fasts, and the reveries of contemplative
devotion. His boyish spirit yearned after excellence; and he was haunted by a vague desire of an unknown, illimitable good.
In the most stormy period of the English
democratic revolution, just as the Independents were beginning to make head successfully against the Presbyterians, when the impending ruin of royalty and the hierarchy made republicanism the doctrine of a party, and inspiration the faith of fanatics, the mind of Fox
, as it revolved the question of human destiny, was agitated even to despair.
The melancholy natural to youth heightened his anguish; abandoning his flocks and his shoemaker's bench, he nourished his inexplicable grief by retired meditations, and often walking solitary in the chase, sought in the gloom of the forest
for a vision of God.
He questioned his life; but his blameless life was ignorant of remorse.
He went to many ‘priests’ for comfort, but found no comfort from them.
His misery urged him to visit London
; and there the religious
feuds convinced him that the great professors were
He returned to the country, where some advised him to marry, others to join Cromwell
's army; but his excited mind continued its conflicts; and, as other young men have done from love, his restless spirit drove him into the fields, where he walked many nights long by himself in misery too great to be declared.
Yet at times a ray of heavenly joy beamed upon his soul, and he reposed, as it were, serenely on Abraham's bosom.
He had been bred in the church of England. One
day, the thought rose in his mind, that a man might be bred at Oxford
, and yet be unable to