Ira Chernus  




During the 17th century, the nonviolence movement developed in new ways, creating a new path that combined the rejection of violence with more active efforts to engage with the larger society and move it in more moral directions, working through the political process. The first people to walk on that new path were members of the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. Although the early Quakers had much in common with Anabaptist movements, they were not Anabaptists. One of the things that made them different was precisely their willingness to get involved in social and political issues.

The Quakers began with the preaching and organizing work of George Fox (1624 – 1691). Fox was born in England. At the age of 19, he felt a divine call to wander about the country, Bible in hand, preaching a new religious message. The "friends" he gathered about him formed organized communities throughout England. By the time Fox died, their Society of Friends was well known as a somewhat radical but generally highly respected addition to the English religious scene.

The Quakers were not Puritans. However, their movement emerged from the much larger Puritan movement, which was affecting England deeply during Fox's youth. Puritans stressed that religious truth would be found by looking inside oneself and changing one's spiritual state, rather than by obeying external authorities or depending on external behavior. Since Puritans believed that everyone could have access to God's truth, they were more egalitarian than other English Protestants. They believed that God called them to bring His kingdom on earth by spreading their own religious truth. They hoped to organize all social, cultural, and political forces to advance God's plan for human history. Therefore, they hoped to get control of their nation’s political institutions to serve their mission.

The Puritans were strongly opposed by the more conservative religious elements who grouped around the Church of England. In Fox's youth, the Puritans were suppressed by the Church and the government until the Puritans deposed the king and a civil war broke out. Fox agreed with many Puritans, who viewed the political civil war as a manifestation of an eternal cosmic civil war between the forces of God and the forces of the devil. In this dualistic view, the godly forces (manifest in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit) represent a cosmic unity that exists beyond all time. The devil's forces are all those fragmented and conflicting aspects of life that exist only within time and history.

Fox’s great innovation, which he discovered in his own religious meditations, was the claim that this spiritual civil war is raging within every human being. Good and evil are primarily inner states, he preached. Everyone has evil within them, which is the source of all our selfish and unloving actions. But everyone also has an "infinite ocean of light and love, which flow over the ocean of darkness." Fox felt he had experienced this inner light and love directly in moments of religious exaltation, and he was trying to lead others to the same experience.

On the basis of this direct experience (which some would call mystical), Fox developed a moral teaching. He said that the only way to overcome the external evils of the world is to overcome inner evil, particularly the tendency to be proud and follow one's own selfish desires. He called the battle between inner good and evil "the Lamb’s War." According to Fox, the way to win the Lamb's War is to follow the inner Light, which is God's Light, and to act in loving ways. God's Light, which is the divine will within oneself, is "a cross to one’s own will." True Christians crucify their individual will and let the will of Christ replace it. This is certainly not easy. It requires a long struggle with one's own inner darkness. Those who win this struggle experience a spiritual rebirth. They are still tempted to do evil, but now they find that they can always resist temptation. So they can obey the divine Light perfectly, and this brings them inner peace.

Fox taught that everyone has the inner Light, which reveals itself progressively within each individual. Each of us is at a different stage of moving toward its full truth. Each of us has some truth to guide us in life. Therefore, no one is permanently damned. Anyone and everyone can be a source of truth. If everyone has this Light available to them as part of their human nature, then the way to find the truth is not to look outward, not even to read the Bible. Although the Bible can be a helpful guide, the ultimate source of all truth, and therefore of all authority, is the inner Light. Truth is found by looking within oneself, where one can always find "that of God in every one."

This all adds up to a radical doctrine of following one's own conscience, which always contains at least a seed of God's truth. Since everyone has "that of God" within, there is no cause for pride or lording it over others. Everyone should be treated as an equal and a friend. In religious terms, this means doing away with the familiar church hierarchy, the authority of tradition, and the elaborate rituals based on hierarchy and tradition.

In political terms, it means that there can never be any grounds for coercing others. Government officials are fighting the Lamb's War just like everyone else, doing evil but gradually working toward the good. Though they inevitably do some sin, they are also capable of doing moral good and justice. But the government should never force people to act against their own conscience. On this basis, Quakers are willing to be loyal citizens as long as the government does not try to force them to violate their conscience.

But their real sense of belonging comes in their own communities, which they call the Meetings of Friends. There no coercion is allowed. When differences of opinion arise, each individual is expected to test their own conviction of the truth against the "sense of the Meeting." All members of the Meeting wait quietly for an "opening" or "leading" of the Light; i.e., they wait until some individual expresses a new thought or feeling that has just arisen within them, which may move the discussion toward some kind of resolution. No votes are taken; all decisions are made by consensus. People who still disagree with the majority may decide to stand aside, to let the decision go forward anyway, so that they will not block consensus. In this way, decisions are made, yet everyone's right to differ is respected. Sometimes the dissidents will not stand aside, and no decision is reached. When there is a resolution of the debate, it is viewed as guidance from the divine Light. Thus the Meeting is a model for the way all differences may be resolved nonviolently.

The earliest Quakers felt compelled to bring their new spiritual path to the wider world. Here is perhaps the greatest difference between Quakers and Anabaptists: the Quakers set out to improve their society. They combined elements of Anabaptist theological belief with elements of the Puritan drive to save the world through political and social change. Like the Puritans, they saw themselves as Christ’s army, conquering the world for love and peace and thereby fulfilling God’s plan for history. They claimed that when God's plan is fulfilled, at the end of history, all social and political relations will follow the will of God. The early Quakers' turn to politics grew partly from their social makeup. They came from all classes, but their leaders were mostly from the working class. So they were drawn toward the larger movement of socioeconomic leveling that was being supported in many quarters. But the turn to politics was also a logical deduction from their basic beliefs. Since every person has "that of God" within them and is on the way to being saved as an individual, it is clear that every society can be saved, which means becoming perfectly free from sin. So it makes sense to apply the spiritual dynamics of individual life to whole societies.

Quakers can therefore combine their religious beliefs with humanistic ideas of social progress through rational enlightenment. They expect everyone to learn to follow the promptings of conscience and become progressively more moral. Therefore they bring religion into politics and apply utopian moral standards to political life. But the premise of their political work is that the constantly changing material world can be reshaped by the unchanging values of the spirit. The way to reshape the world is by patient Christian suffering, which means crucifying one's own will to serve the needs of others, in love.

It was not immediately clear to George Fox that his new religious insights demanded strict nonviolence. He developed his new religious community in the midst of the very violent civil war between the Puritans and their foes. Some of the earliest Quakers were strict pacifists (perhaps influenced by Anabaptists). But some, including Fox himself, were more ambiguous on the subject. While the Puritans ruled, the Quakers were not persecuted. So they could have a relatively positive view of government and believe that the government's "sword" can serve justice.

The first theory of Quaker nonviolence was developed by James Naylor in his book, The Lamb’s War (1657). Naylor approached the issue psychologically. He argued that pride, the fundamental sin, leads to anger, which leads to violence. People who succumb to pride are avoiding a basic truth: all evil in the world stems from the evil we each have within ourselves. The way to salvation is to face that truth directly and, through suffering, purge ourselves of pride. Then there will be no reason for, nor possibility of, doing violence to others. But the early Quakers who followed the teaching of nonviolence did not make it a strict principle for all their fellow Quakers. The more basic principle was that every person has some truth. Therefore those who still use violence must be accepted, as long as they are sincerely following their own conscience. They may be imperfect Christians, but more perfect Christians would rather suffer than impose their will on others who see the Light differently.

Yet in 1661, George Fox and other Quaker leaders wrote a Declaration in which they made strict nonviolence a fundamental principle for the entire Society of Friends. Scholars have advanced several theories to explain this change. All relate to the great event of the preceding year: the victory of the traditional Protestants over the Puritans, which brought an end to the brief Puritan rule and restored the English monarchy. Perhaps the Quakers realized that they no longer had any chance to gain political power, and thus they felt free to renounce the violence that government officials must sometimes use. Perhaps they decided that the Puritans' violent revolt had failed to make a lasting change, so they decided that spiritual means were more effective than violence to oppose governments and work for political change. Along with this, they may have been disappointed with the nature of the Puritan government, and so turned away from political life. Perhaps (more cynically) they were just trying to avoid repression; they embraced nonviolence to show that the Quaker movement posed no threat to the government. They may even have claimed that they had always been committed to nonviolence, trying to escape charges that they had fought alongside the Puritans in the civil war.

Whatever the reason, after 1661 nonviolence became an article of faith among Quakers. Soon their writers were arguing that violence is always a carnal weapon, motivated by carnal desire. Because Quakers want to bring the world under the rule of spirit, they would use only spiritual weapons. "Fighting in the gospel is turned inward against the lusts, and not outward against the creatures," one of their leaders wrote. The teachings of George Fox made it easy to believe that all outward fighting is an expression of selfish desire and therefore a turning away from the Light, the will of God. Yet this did not send the Quakers out of the political arena, in Anabaptist fashion. They continued to criticize the government when its actions violated their conscience and their sense of truth as revealed by the inner Light.


Quakers began coming to the New World in 1681, when William Penn (1644 – 1718), a Quaker aristocrat, received a royal grant of land in the British colonies. Penn was one of the great Quaker peace visionaries. Like some other Quakers of his day, he combined biblically-based belief with rational arguments for a more humane way of life and government. He argued that peace always brings a better life for everyone, materially as well as spiritually. War always costs more than it is worth; good ends can never be gained by bad means. So he offered a famous plan for bringing peace through a parliament of nations (An Essay Toward the Present and Future Peace of Europe, 1693). He wanted all governments to use kindness, goodness, and charity, rather than coercion. Penn believed that it was perfectly realistic to implement such seemingly idealistic political plans, especially if Quakers ran the government. So he established his new colony of Pennsylvania as a "holy experiment," to test his belief.

Through the middle of the 18th century, the experiment seemed to be a resounding success. Quakers were widely respected for their honesty and efficiency, and many prospered. Within a few decades, economic success became as much a mark of Quaker identity as the nonviolent "peace testimony." Because of their wealth, Quakers were able to keep effective control of Pennsylvania's political life, even when non-Quakers became a majority of the population. The Quakers also followed Penn's injunction to "live together as neighbors and friends" with the Native American people. Pennsylvania had less conflict between natives and immigrant settlers than other colonies.

As subjects of the English king, the Pennsylvania Quakers had some hard decisions to make. Would they pay the taxes the king imposed to finance his wars, which violated the Quaker conscience? Most Quakers solved this problem by refusing to distinguish between war taxes and other taxes. They paid all their taxes in one lump sum. If the king wanted to use some of it for war, that was his responsibility, not theirs. Would they follow the king's command to impose capital punishment, which violated their conscience? Their compromise was to allow capital punishment, but for fewer crimes than was the rule in England; thus they avoided direct conflict with the King. By making such compromises, the Quakers in Pennsylvania were able to go on flourishing. On one issue, though, they were increasingly firm. In the 1680s, Quakers began to oppose slavery, because they recognized that it could continue only through violence. By 1754, the Quaker community was officially opposed to slavery.

Compromise became harder in 1756, when the Seven Years (or French and Indian) war broke out. For the first time, the king demanded direct support for a war through a specific war tax. The Pennsylvania legislature agreed to impose the tax on the people. (This may have been a complex political ploy to strengthen the legislature's power and weaken the English proprietors.) A minority among the Quakers were outraged. They refused to pay the war tax and accepted punishment, hoping that their suffering would prompt the legislators to change their minds.

These dissidents were mostly rural folk, who saw themselves leading a reform movement. Under the influence of the first Great Awakening (a wave of spiritual revivals that swept through all the colonies in the 1730s and 1740s), they stressed individual inner experience as the essence of religion, and they held to a rigid morality. They wanted all Quakers to return to the original simplicity of Quaker life, with stricter obedience to the group's principles and customs, which they were sure reflected God's will. They opposed war because they saw it as a quest for this-worldly goals. There can be no "good" side, they argued, because taking sides in war always means attachment to the things of this world. True Christians desire only to do the will of God. They follow the Gospel injunction to love your enemies and therefore refuse to fight.

However, the reformers were not particularly tolerant. The allowed no differences of opinion on fundamental moral issues like war and war taxes. They began to oppose marriage with non-Quakers, which led toward making the Quakers a closed sect. But they did not want to lead Quakers away from social involvements. On the contrary, they still wanted to improve their whole society, which in their view meant bringing religion into every aspect of life.

Yet their methods for improvement no longer included direct political activity. They had seen how easily politics can lead to compromise, which they firmly opposed. So they urged people to trust God, not government. By keeping a critical distance, they expected to do more to improve society. They argued that they could analyze social problems more objectively if they stayed outside of the mainstream. For example, they recognized that the upsurge in violence by Native Americans was caused by oppressive government policies and by clever schemes that whites developed to cheat the Indians. They also saw that poor whites who fought with the Indians on the frontier had been forced there, because they could not afford the high rents charged by rich landlords in eastern Pennsylvania.

The reformers' demands became central issues in every Quaker meeting and soon polarized the Quaker community. Although they were strongly opposed in some quarters, they rapidly gained a dominant voice. They demonstrated their ascendancy during the Revolutionary War, when the community confirmed its strict peace testimony and refused to fight. (In fact, the conservative bent of most Quakers kept them loyal to Britain, fearing that revolution would change the social order too much.) From then on, Quakers tried to avoid conflict by staying out of political life completely. Under the growing influence of the reformers, they moved increasingly out of the social mainstream of the new nation, too. The Quaker community as a whole would not return to political activism until the 20th century.

JOHN Woolman

The most famous of the 18th century Quaker reformers was John Woolman (1720 – 1772). He attained his greatest fame after he died, when his Journal was published and became a minor classic of U.S. literature. During his life, though, he was well-known and influential not because of his writing, but because he set a powerful example of a simple, sincere moral life. He seems to have followed his own dictum: "In the real substance of religion practice doth harmonize with principle." Although Woolman was not a philosopher, his Journal and his conversations during his lifetime revealed a fairly consistent underlying religious worldview, which combined ideas from Quaker tradition, the Great Awakening religiosity, and Enlightenment humanism. In other words, he took individual conscience, the Bible, and reason as valid and complementary sources of truth.

From these sources, Woolman developed a dualistic understanding of the world similar to that of George Fox. But his focus was somewhat different from Fox's. He was not an innovator offering a new kind of religious experience and truth. Rather he was a reformer, pained by what he saw as moral lapses in a community that should know better, because it already had the religious experience and truth necessary for a moral life. So he emphasized the need to reshape society in a more moral direction. Woolman held that God has created a moral order in the world, parallel to its natural order. Therefore order, along with unity and eternity, is a mark of the divine. Whatever reflects disorder, multiplicity, and change is of this world and opposed to the divine. Following the inner Light means finding God's Truth, conforming to the divine order in the world, and living a life of love. The key to Woolman's thought is the idea that truth and love necessarily imply and evoke each other.

Woolman developed this key idea in ways that were both ancient and modern. The basics of his moral philosophy would have been familiar to almost any Christian thinker of the Middle Ages. Those who follow the spirit of Truth care only about inner life, not the outer world. They know the truth: nothing but God is of any value. So they set aside all desire for anything but God. Their "eyes being single to the Lord" (i.e., caring about nothing but the Lord), they crucify their own will to obey the inner "Divine Fountain of truth." They suppress their own desires in order to conform to God's moral order. "All the cravings of sense must be governed by a divine principle"; there is an "appearance of right order in their temper and conduct whose passions are fully regulated."

Not all desires are bad, however, in Woolman's view: "Desires arising from a spirit of Truth are pure desires." The goal of life is to have only pure desires: "To labor for an establishment in divine love where the mind is disentangled from the power of darkness is the great business of man’s life." Those who act only on pure desires attain an innocence and intellectual happiness that is more satisfying than any sense pleasure. "The true felicity of man in this life, and that which is to come, is in being inwardly united to the fountain of universal love and bliss." "Nothing is more precious than the mind of Truth inwardly manifested." People whose only motive is to obey God have no desire for wealth or personal gain. Because there is a moral order in the universe, goodness is rewarded, but only if done for its own sake, not from a selfish desire to gain the reward.

Once selfishness is overcome, it is possible to love. To love God rather than self is also, necessarily, to love God's created order, "to love him in all his manifestations in the Visible world." Since each of us is part of that single order, it makes no sense to love ourselves more than any other part of creation. True happiness comes from loving God by loving every part of creation equally. Anyone who truly understands God and human life will devote themselves to universal love. And the more lovingly they act, the more they reinforce their awareness of the world as a single divine order. Just as truth leads to love, so love leads back to truth.

Woolman's Journal records his struggle to live this pious kind of life. He wanted to crucify his self, to suffer for all creatures as Christ did: "Every trial was a fresh incitement to give myself up wholly to the service of God." He claimed to discover that selfless love of God leads to a love of all creatures: "As the mind was moved by an inward Principle to Love God as an invisible, Incomprehensible Being, by the same principle it was moved to love him in all his manifestations in the Visible world.…A universal love to my fellow creatures increased in me." The less we are caught up in our own selfish desires, the more we can "get a feeling sense of the condition of others." One way Woolman manifested this was in wanting to spend more time among the Native Americans, to "bring me into a nearer sympathy with them."

For Woolman, truth and love combine to shape action. When one follows the "opening of the Light," which is the "power of Truth" manifest in personal conscience, one's actions are motivated by God’s will, not one's own will. Therefore one feels compelled to act in obedience to conscience. Those who care about self will fear others’ reactions and therefore refuse to do what they know is right and true. But a selfless person who knows what is right will necessarily do the right. The crucial first step is to search very carefully within oneself for the truth. Woolman lived a life of intense introspection. He felt that he had to justify every act. Once he had a subjective feeling of certainty, which he took to be the voice of conscience, he felt confident that his course was moral, even if it was quite radical (as it often was). He was willing to follow his conscience even when it meant going against the majority of Quakers and destroying the community's unity.

On the basis of this rather traditional moral philosophy, Woolman developed a strikingly modern critique of Quaker society in Pennsylvania (and his native New Jersey). This critique amounted to a rather sophisticated theory of political economy. Wealth, like desire, is not a problem in itself, he argued. In fact, the material improvement that wealth can buy may be good if it is used for moral improvement: "To turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives" "All we possess are the gifts of God. Now in distributing it to others we act as his steward."

At the base of Woolman's economic theory there is a utopian vision. Because there is a divinely created order in the world, he argued, everyone has enough, if everyone takes only what they need. If everyone were motivated by universal love, not love of wealth, all could "live comfortably on honest employments." "Were all superfluities and the desire of outward greatness laid aside and the right use of things universally attended to, such a number of people might be employed in things useful that moderate labour with the blessing of heaven would answer all good purposes…and a sufficient number have leisure to attend on proper affairs of civil society." The obvious problem is that too many people take more than they need.

But Woolman went beyond this to see a less obvious problem: "Too small a number of people are employed in things useful; and therefore they, or some of them, are necessitated to labour too hard, while others would want [i.e., lack] business to earn their bread were not employments invented which, having no real use, serve only to please the vain mind [of the rich]." He pointed out the direct links between the unjust distribution of labor, as well as resources, and the two social problems that pained him most: slavery and war.

Although Woolman was surely moved by the suffering of the slaves, his attack on slavery was based primarily on what it did to the slaveowner. He asserted that slavery would be morally permissible if there were no selfish motive involved¾ if it could be done only from a sense of a moral duty and the slaves were treated with love. In fact, though, he was sure that people owned slaves because they loved wealth, which really meant they loved self, and they wanted to get more wealth while doing less work. Woolman spoke out loudly against slavery and refused to get any gain from it. Often this meant that he refused the hospitality of slaveowners as he journeyed through the colonies. On some occasions, he did seek a compromise to avoid insulting his hosts; he left money with them to be given to the slaves who had served him during his stay. (He never said whether he had any way to know that the money reached the slaves.)

As a Quaker moralist, Woolman opposed the injustice of slavery, but even more he opposed its violence. He argued against the institution not only because it led to violence but because it was coercive, and therefore a form of violence. In his political-economic analysis, slavery was part of a larger pattern. Unjust distribution of labor and resources also forced many whites into poverty. Some of them felt compelled to move to the frontier, where land was still free. The pressures they put upon the native people there inevitably led to conflict. Once again, injustice was both a cause and a form of violence.

Woolman's view of violence combined his sharp political-economic insights with an equally sharp and modern psychological analysis. Wealth and property always bring with them a fear of losing that wealth and property, he noted. It seems only logical that one must defend what one has accumulated. This means accumulating the power and the weapons needed for defense. But this concern for defense and power only breeds more anxiety. The inevitable result of this spiral is conflict and violence. "This is like a Chain, where the end of one link encloses the end of another. … Wealth is attended by Power, by which bargains and proceedings contrary to Universal Righteousness are Supported, and here Oppression, carried on with worldly policy and order, clothes itself with the name of Justice, and becomes like a seed of Discord in the soyl.…So the seed of War Swells & Sprouts and grows & becomes Strong, till much fruit are ripened." The whole chain begins with selfish desire and the injustice it breeds. But to oppose that injustice with violence only creates more injustice and therefore more violence. There is no way to break the chain as long as one is ensnared in it.

The only way to break the chain, Woolman argued, is by a strict commitment to nonviolence. For him, nonviolence is above all a method for and fruit of self-denial. Those who have renounced worldly desires will have no reason to fight. They do not create ill will in others, so they never provoke conflict. Nor do they have any psychological urge to fight. Living simply, having no wants, they have nothing to lose and therefore nothing to fear. They trust in God under all circumstances. So they are not afraid of anything. Therefore, they feel no need to fight back against the world or anyone in it. If suffering comes, they accept it as God’s will¾ a chance to grow in self-denial and to create more justice and peace.

Perhaps the deepest source of nonviolence, for Woolman, is the peace of mind that comes from following the inner Light. This means having only one desire: to do God's will. When this is the only motive for all actions, the mind is not being pulled in conflicting directions. The result is an "inward unity of heart and spirit." Inward unity gives a sense of a solid, unchanging foundation amidst a constantly changing world. So one can be content and enjoy life, no matter what it brings: "Many were the afflictions which attended me, and in great abasement with many tears, my cries were to the Almighty for his gracious and fatherly assistance.…Being thus helped to sink down into resignation, I felt a deliverance from that tempest in which I had been sorely exercised, and in calmness of mind went forward, trusting that the Lord, as I faithfully attended to him, would be a counsellor to me in all difficulties." A person who is so calm and contented has no reason to use violence, because violence is always an effort to change the situation for selfish gain. Nonviolence, on the other hand, stems from acceptance of one’s own lot (though not of the lot of others who are oppressed). And it reinforces that acceptance: "Heavenly peace is the reward of our labors."

When the Quaker reformers emerged in opposition to the Seven Years war, they based their opposition mainly on the Gospel's command to love your enemies. Woolman did not rely heavily on this line of argument. Yet it was certainly implicit in everything he said. Emptying oneself of selfish desire and self-love makes it more possible to love others. The inner Light is the Light of love. Still, Woolman's persistent stress on moral reform led him to use the language of self-denial more than the language of love.

Although Woolman was an energetic social crusader, he never sought to improve society directly through the political system. He spoke to individuals and focused on changing society one person at a time, not changing social institutions. His main response to institutions was to withdraw from the evil ones, not to use the political system to create new and better ones. When he refused to pay the war tax, he hoped that it might "put men athinking about their own public conduct." But he did not organize an antiwar political party. He merely saw to it that he himself was not directly contributing to the war.

In a remarkable dialogue with a friend in 1758, Woolman anticipated the fundamental issues involved in such an act of civil disobedience. His friend argued that "civil government is an agreement of free men by which they oblige themselves to abide by certain laws as a standard, and to refuse to obey in that case is of like nature as to refuse to do any particular at which we had covenanted [i.e., agreed] to do." Woolman clearly understood the force of this argument, but he replied: "If I should unwarily promise to obey the orders of a certain man, or number of men, without any proviso, and he or they command me to assist in doing some great wickedness, I may then see my error in making such promise, and an active obedience in that case would be adding one evil to another; that though by such promise I should be liable to punishment for disobedience, yet to suffer rather than act to me appears most virtuous."

Woolman's primary concern was not political change, but religious virtue. He engaged social and political issues because he wanted to overcome sin, and he defined sin primarily in social and political terms. Institutions like slavery, war, and the unjust economic system were the essence of sin for him. They were also the prevailing forms and principal causes of violence. So he concluded that nonviolence and social reform are necessary to overcome sin. But the ultimate goal is for each individual to overcome the power of sin in order to attain personal salvation. He never claimed that any one religion is the only path to salvation. Since everyone has "that of God" within them, there must be truth in all religions: "Sincere upright-hearted people, in Every society that truly love God are accepted of HIM." But love of God means conquering love of self. Only those who prefer "the real good of Mankind universally" to their own selfish good can be saved. Only they can be nonviolent. They must, and inevitably will, be nonviolent.

The Journal and other writings of John Woolman stand out for their literary grace as well as their probing intellect and moral strength. But Woolman could not have developed all of these ideas alone. He is merely the best-known representative of the whole community of Quaker reformers. His writings show how deeply and subtly this community explored all the issues related to nonviolence. Even before there was a United States, the Quaker reformers bequeathed to the nation-to-be a rich legacy of thinking about nonviolence. After several decades, that legacy would spread beyond the bounds of the Society of Friends and have a profound impact upon the entire nation.

Notes to Chapter 2: The Quakers