This work appears in Anarchy Archives with the permission of the author. Translation by Claire Cahen, from: Creagh, R. (1983), L'anarchisme aux Etats-Unis, 2 vols. New York: Peter Lang.
IN THE UNITED STATES
The Origins: 1826-1886
ANARCHISM AND AMERICAN SOCIETY
On July 2 1881, the President of the United States of America, James Abram Garfield, was shot down with .44 caliber revolver (a weapon whose fancy handle would stand out even more in the museum were it would be displayed). Following that assassination, the "executive" committee of the Russian terrorist movement Narodnaya Volya (The Will of the People), which had just used dynamite to kill the czar Alexander II, lead a vehement protest: the Slavic revolutionaries could not accept the murder of a head of a state in which political freedoms flourished.
A European tradition dating back more than a thousand years always applauded the murder of despots; even the least-contested intellectual authority of the Catholic Church, more specifically Saint Thomas of Aquinas, Doctor Angelicus, justified the killing of tyrants. More recently, Schiller's Guillaume Tell and most of the German romantic movement considered such murders to be acts of patriotism and chivalry. Yet, the terrorism and the anarchism that seemed admirable under czarist despotism was detestable in a liberal republic that, all in all, most intellectual and political groups of the West recognized to be a democracy. Beyond the initial debate on violence, the indignation of the Russian "nihilists" raised an important question: which methods of popular struggle are valid to use in order to refine the democratic system or to rise a superior historical form? To answer this question, one could not dream of a better field of observation than the U.S.
Indeed, the American people inscribed in its book of destiny, the Declaration of Independence of 1776, the most liberal proclamation of its era. No other society since, it seems, has put as much thought toward individual freedom. No other manifesto has had so great an effect. The United States invoked in the past the idea of a kind of social contract, of a balance of power; it invoked the promise to create a State which would base its legitimacy, its decisions and its fate on the will of the people. This would protect the people against any form of oppression. Today, Americans still take credit for having created multiple centers of decision, thus encouraging flexibility in the face of unexpected twists of events and partial autonomy of local collectivities. Any tensions between the multiple instances of power, just like any confrontation between pressure groups, is deemed to be the sign of a properly functioning democracy and of the citizen's relative tranquility.1
Such a cohort of guarantors obscures the people's vision; in a time of anger, why aim the gun toward one head rather than another, preferably why even point the gun at the heads that rise above the others? In the United States of the 19th century, the cry of "political oppression" seemed incongruous! It is only after a war in Vietnam and a Watergate scandal that the greater public and a minority of intellectuals momentarily concerned themselves with the effects of the domination of a seemingly all-powerful and omnipresent federal machine. The American example is not merely one illustration amongst others of the dilatation of the State; it is the most gripping example. Indeed, there stood once in front of us a colonial population that claimed its right to decide on the form of its government, that boldly violated the very principles of the authority that had established itself on American soil, and that threw itself in a war of independence. Once liberated from the oppression of the English monarchy, inheriting almost no feudal tradition, this colonial population hesitated before creating a central authority, and then went through great pains to reduce the authority finally established to its simplest elements. Better yet, a non-negligible part of the elite dreaded and fought the government's interventions. Finally, half of the country decided to secede from it: in vain. At times, they worriedly examined the ineluctable growth of the dinosaur and at other times they rushed to give it more food. In any case, the democratic institutions never slowed down this process of infinite development, for even when a Watergate scandal erupted, the questioning of governmental power was avoided by creating new control mechanisms. Government representatives and officials were then given more power and put in charge of surveillance: the machine became bigger and stronger.
The anarchist movement of the United States was one of the first in the country to denounce the political body, and the only one to unflinchingly maintain its criticism, because, on principle, it rejects a representative democratic regiment. According to the movement, any established power has as a fatal consequence the domination of one class over the rest of the population. For better or worse, anarchism accompanies the American democratic state as a living rebuke.
This forced marriage, this shameful arrangement puts democratic conventions into question, as well as our unconditional faith in the "least harmful of systems." American anarchists, in fact, do not request a more perfect democracy; they invite us to discover and develop the processes likely to install a system that better respects the liberties than a Democracy, to create a "transdemocratic" society.
But isn't the anarchist a fabulous character? Those who control public opinion associate him with terrorism and chaos; he is a dark figure, an infernal one, who in political mythology is something of a specter. The masters of politics describe him as a simpleton: all anarchists are supposed to reject progress, and organization; the abolition of the State is their panacea. Hence the slalom of ideologues whose "scientific" definitions of anarchy do not include battles against authoritarianism, but do emphasize the combats against the State. Hence Plekhanov's simplistic Marxist thesis: anarchism, because it is bound to liberal enterprise philosophy, is but the terrible child of the "laissez-faire" liberal.
Pseudo-methodological tricks pull anarchism by its ears and remove it from the political spectrum like one would a rabbit from a magician's hat. Yet, what can be the worth of a reporter who turns a deaf ear to the rich and diverse discussions among anarchist collectives and from the very start excludes their designated spokespersons? The natural limitations of political literature, but especially the personal preferences of authors often induced dichotomies and generalities in the chapters that covered anarchy. Until the 1970's, when James J. Martin published his classic work, Men against the State, so that readers could learn about "anarchist economists" and "atheists," only that form of anarchism with religious origins, born from radical Protestantism, commanded respect from his fellow historians. Meanwhile his colleagues wrote about "individualists," "the little Bourgeoisie," and "reformers" who opposed "communists," "the proletariat," and "fire-and-brimstone" aliens. Yet, individualist literature of Germany and Italy sometimes seduced the American proletariat, and the communist swell shook long-time Americans as well as immigrants, reaching manual workers just as well as other milieus.
In spite of the assertions by some Marxist observers that anarchism smacks of the dominant ideology, the movement endures the most severe of repressions. One has then to explain by what kind of confusion America does not recognize its image, why those historians who complacently underline the liberal spirit of the Unite States are those who elude or play down anarchist currents, why anarchist organizations appear so insignificant in the general setting. Indeed, the first question of our research can only be to find out what are the links between anarchism and the structure of American society. This is to say that a knowledge of libertarian currents is indispensable to fully shed light on all major phenomena of American history, whether pertaining to pacifist traditions, direct action, abolitionism, the worker's movement, immigration, birth control, feminism, and even the denunciation of the State and its powers, and the fight for both individual and collective freedom of speech.
In a general manner, the anarchist perspective brings a non-negligible outlook on a rereading of history: the problem of domination, considered to be only marginally theoretically important, becomes a centre of intelligibility.
It is not a matter of reintroducing a Manichean view by opposing victims and tyrants, but of establishing several elements of a dialectic of hegemony which also considers the victims. Since this is not the place to develop a theory of domination, we will define anarchism as an art, in every sense of the word: a natural gift, an acquired skill, a "job," a practice, a useful theoretical knowledge, and an aesthetic work.
This art aims at -- symbolizes -- the integral and universal emancipation, that is to say that everyone is offered the very real possibility of expressing their affective and corporal creative activities as well as creative feelings and ideas, whether in their daily lives or in collective structures, attuning themselves to their ecological environment. This art of emancipation stands in direct opposition to any dialectic of domination.
In an era of nationalism, anarchist internationalism is inevitably tainted, modeled in accordance with various cultural heritages. From a global perspective, militants from the United States distinguish themselves from their European peers: a more pronounced leaning toward certain traits of economic liberalism, more frequent references to the "models" nature offers, a greater respect for individual moral stances, make less clear references to class struggles, greater insistence on the internal divisions, on the internal conflicts that exist within each class, have a more sustained attention to subjective revolutionary processes, a call for decentralization and self-management which perhaps has materialized earlier than in monarchies and empires, a more striking experimentation with intentional communities, and thus a "parallel culture," and finally are engaged in a more powerful and lasting combat for freedom of expression. The kind of individualism that some American anarchists encourage is influenced by global culture; it has nothing to do with the connotations that the French, for example, associate with individualism; it does not signify egotism, possessiveness, but a right to take one's destiny into one's own hands, as a last resort, without allowing the State or anyone else to intervene, and to dispose of whatever means are necessary for this end.
The national culture has left its mark on American anarchism. Many first-generation immigrants who rallied for the movement came to this position only after their arrival on U.S ground. And at other times, by an understandable fatality, in the American Republic's most luminous moments, for instance during the Kennedy era, the democrats who were the most shaken by the contradictions between the country's beliefs and its institutions swung to the side of anarchism.
Despite the symmetry with certain European currents, libertarian influences emerge from the very structure of America's national ideology, not only on account of some situation. National sentiment is always an act of faith in certain values. This is true in the United States. There, the movement proclaims itself, with spontaneity, consistency and pertinence, as part of the "American revolutionary tradition," symbolized in a three-fold manner by the Declaration of Independence, an attitude that can be described as Jeffersonism, and a very strong sense of individualism that can be traced back to protestant dissidents. Long time Americans and immigrants alike, if they are anarchists, find themselves within this model, either because it represents for them their only "raison d'être," their only justification for the existence of United States, or because they are disillusioned by the contrast between the American ideal and the reality. The faith of some of its people and the disillusionment of others is a common thread in America's varied and jerky history.
At the start of the summer of 1872, an adolescent named Benjamin R. Tucker discovered almost by accident the Boston anarchists; the number of their auditors seemed pretty small, but the group seemed composed of very intelligent members. The group's secretary, Ezra Hervey Heywood, orator whose high stature and gaunt silhouette was embellished by a beard and blond hair, uttered accusations in a leveled tone, making slightly sharp gestures that in no way affected the ease and grace of his allure, or the power of his seduction. He had once befriended one of the leaders of abolitionism, William Lloyd Garrison, but his faith in non-violence had turned him away from these belligerent partisans of the immediate suppression of slavery. His companion, Angela Tilton Heywood, who as a young child ran barefoot in the streets of Newburyport, jumped with indignation every time one of the orators seemed to transgress some fundamental liberty, and as a militant feminist did not shy away from speaking her mind. The president of the session, William Batchelder Greene, had a particularly impressive bearing: his hair, beard and mustache trimmed with elegance; their whiteness contrasted with a black velvet coat that he admirably wore. A firm jaw complemented a high brow; in his ironic and singularly piercing eyes, a sparkling glow. He appeared much older than fifty-three, but his presence was striking, and one never missed the opportunity to mention how he married a beautiful angel, and that the sight of the couple, entering a restaurant arm in arm, was a show worthy of gods. Greene used to find himself in Ralph Waldo Emerson's circle, and attended in a couple conferences the sage of Concord had put on.
Tucker was soon to meet another member of the group in New York: Stephen Pearl Andrews. This man, of great potential, though perhaps a little stooped on account of his long hours of deep study, with a nose that malicious reporters transformed into a falcon's beak, represented one of the era's peaks of marginal science. He had introduced stenography to the United States and dedicated himself to new inventions in the sphere of ideas; he fought to free Texas from the influence of slave states; his present activities triggered the eloquence of journalists, the enthusiasm of a chapel of admirers, and the thunder of Karl Marx. The circle counted other men still, the jurist Lysander Spooner whose patriarchal beard was one of the ornaments of the Boston Athenaeum, and for whom a venerable library still exists today to preserve his memory and his work. Or the Frenchman Victor or George V. Drury, who was said to have voluntarily cut off his finger because his love of music had once made him miss the International Workingmen's Association meeting in London.
All owed an affectionate but lucid admiration to an old simple man, with a face full of good humor and cleverness, and with tattered clothing that bore the mark of forty years of strange adventures in the virgin and almost forbidden territories of a young America. At sixty-four, Josiah Warren would still impress an adolescent Tucker, thus leading him to become one of the leaders of a new race of American anarchists.
Josiah Warren and Benjamin R. Tucker can be considered to be the Anglo-Saxon witnesses of the first two generations of anarchism that this study offers to portray, and from which history flows, especially in the northeast of the U.S, between the Mississippi and the Atlantic. Warren's activities started around 1826 and Tucker died in 1939, but the wings of the second generation were brutally clipped in 1886, a year marked by the "Haymarket" affair, changing the course of history.
After studying the precursors, prophets, and first theoreticians of anarchism, as well as the ideological formations that are the sources of anarchist inspiration, we will examine a socialism that, in between the "First International," whose peak occurred in America in 1872, and the terrible "Haymarket affair," underwent 15 years of torment; we will hear the cries of newly-born groups, cries of war released in northern regions where the process of industrial development had accelerated; we will witness the hesitation of anarchists, equally seduced by two rival philosophies, fierce individualism and a form of communism tinged with Blanquism;2 these embryonic capricious forms, which were the wild growth of capitalism. But the thunder of the Haymarket provoked a profound mutation within the anarchist movement; its institutions entered into a semidarkness, its inspiration was no longer the revolutionary American tradition, which lost all credibility in its eyes. Revolutionary action was not taken over by the new immigrants. These would introduce new cuttings of anarchism within the working classes and the international peoples' movements. But this would then inaugurate a different setting.
PRECURSORS OF THE COLONIAL ERA:
REBELLIOUS MYSTICS AND POPULATIONS
The anarchists of the United States were interested in their country's past; the movement examined the foundations of power and democracy, as well as the development the American state, and concluded that the latter was but the result of an imposture. The movement also pointed out several "pre-anarchist" or libertarian behavioral patterns, that the pilgrims had themselves recommended, and that for their part many historians ignore; it emitted the hypotheses that colonial life could have generated another type of society; finally, it outlined the three major obstacles to that society's development: the State, property and religion. In sum, it established the premises of a theory of the American system.
The dialectic of colonial political systems in North America, and later that of the young Republic of United States, can be very roughly summed up in the following way: you cavalierly impose on the people the power of the State, you adopt a few democratic practices to contain, whenever it manifests itself, the spirit of rebellion, and you strengthen the new colonial powers. The State, that is to say the Crown of England and the governments of the colonies, establishes and maintains itself thanks to a double privilege: seizure of the lands and a monopoly of power on these lands. The democratic model corresponds to a need the State has to attract its clientele toward the far off and unproductive regions, then enables them to stay there, all the while refusing the possibility of direct democracy. Such a model is the work of colonizing societies: it reproduces the structure of their shareholders' assemblies, and finds its ideological justification in the "contract theologies" of Puritan and other churches.
Representative democracy is progressively imposed on Governors and other British authorities, on account of the interests of the new American aristocracy, which aims to inherit the prerogatives of feudalism. But the Crown is also vying for control of the local oligarchies. In 1763, outside of Connecticut, Rhode Island and of the three colonies of proprietors, all the other territories became royal provinces; if representatives are still elected in Massachusetts, everywhere else they are designated by the Crown, just like the Governor. But these authorities lose their often hereditary prerogatives to the local aristocracies, especially in the South. Cities and counties are represented in legislative bodies; the oldest of these unities are run by notables who voluntarily refuse or slow down the extension of political rights to new territories.
From the point of view of the people, the colonial era can be considered as a period of regression in terms of political liberties that the apathy of the English Royalty had let bloom in the first place. Maybe have we too complacently confused the growth of the powers of the oligarchy with the progress of liberties of small settlers. If it is true that religious intolerance became less frequent, we should not seek to find a hypothetical democratic development in the colonial era, but to ask ourselves about the very real growth of new dominations.
With this acme of power, achieved in part by the sword, in part by the pen, two opposing behavioral models emerged: the non-conformism of "rebel mystics" and the "individualism" of popular revolts. The former holds exemplary value, since at several points in history religion has served anarchism as a dubious pillar; the latter fills the American citizen's imagination with the myth of the Frontier.
In a place where only one kind of discourse is allowed to expand, rebellion can only be expressed in the words and logic of the system: it is not surprising, then, if opposition within certain communities only expressed itself in theological terms. Is it a coincidence that Quakers, Universalists, and Unitarians provided the American anarchist movement with a considerable proportion of militants and an arsenal of argument? Not all these versions of Christianity are easily reconcilable with the principle of a human authority; Max Weber remarked that, unlike Catholicism, which considers obedience to be an ascetic value, the Reform gave birth to many "anti-authority" sentiments. Certain historians have even given anarchism a historic past, inaugurated by the antinomian current which includes Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, prolonged in the 18th century by Adin Ballou's universalism, and then in the 19th century by the abolitionist school of William Lloyd Garrison. We can then suppose that the American version of Tolstoyan pacifism and the contemporary anarchist-catholic movement reveals the same line of thought. Assuredly, imprints and influences exist, but also solutions of continuity; therefore, analogies and comparisons are often fairly superficial because they do not take into account different contexts. The spiritual affiliations are far from being well established, especially when you think of certain atheist anarchists.
While the European religious establishment eyed America with a colonizer's eye, with the perspective of missionary crusades for the conquest of pagans, the multiplication of their flocks and the expansion of their field of action, the persecuted Churches that had emigrated to the colonies tended on the contrary to praise the skies for the country of their exile. They depicted the country as a Babylon in decline; their adoptive land rose up against their motherland, like a new Jerusalem. But unfortunately this sacred place, alas, also has its established Church.
When kept away from these power centers, a sect may at times commit itself to some form of libertarian mystique. This includes, for instance, the affirmation of several principles, such as the predestination of all (anti-elitism) and an insistence on the "inner light" (spontaneous individualism). This leads to a devaluation of the authorized interpretation of the social contract theory, a certain contempt for the recognized forms of worship and a refusal of hierarchal social relations. This religious insubordination stands in stark contrast to the aristocratic model of "a small number of chosen ones"; it affirms, at least implicitly, the equality and perfectibility of each man; it respects personal sources of inspiration; it minimizes, even depreciates prestige and rituals of public power and legislative assemblies.
Right at the beginning, these theological currents clash with the ideological apparatus of the State, which is often controlled by the established Churches; they try their best to clip the wings of the legislative branch and the claws of the executive branch. The fact that these sects are a minority, and especially the lack of balance of power, stop them from checking the increasingly irresistible growth of colonial governments. Ruthlessly repressed, they venture into virgin territories where they plan to implement their fervent vision of the terrestrial city. Thanks to these sects, and it is quite ironic to be saying this today, the colonies that were the most famous for their spirit of tolerance, those of which Americans were the most proud, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, also had the strongest anarchist leanings.
Of course, one cannot talk of anarchism in its full sense, if qualified as "religious," for the horizon of these sects dips into more obscure zones; their criticism is too much a prisoner of their theology to feel seriously concerned with the usual progress of power. Passive resistance to the establishment of a political machine did not suffice to stop the State from erecting an autonomous system of domination. It is thus almost a paradox if forms of social libertarianism appeared in the cracks of history, without having always clearly been wished for, almost despite their coincidence with religious ideals. But it is a paradox only in appearance, since any return to the sources of "primitive Christianity" blocks certain of the avenues of power.
Hence the antinomians used Saint Paul's famous line: "the law kills but the spirit gives life." Their controversy with the authorities reached its climax in New England, in between 1636 and 1638, with the arrival in Boston of an English woman of thirty-four years, Anne Hutchinson, and of her stepbrother, the clergyman John Wheelwright. In this theocratic society, to oppose inner inspiration and the law was akin to subversion; nevertheless, Wheelwright went as far as condemning all legislation on principle. Among other things, the first American "feminine club" was libertarian: they met at the young woman's to discuss sermons --- which upset and horrified the predicators. Resounding trials, followed by mandates of expulsion, alienated the antinomian mystics toward other lands of exile, notably Rhode Island.
Free to follow their inspiration in this virgin region, our libertarian theologians installed a patriarchal system and its logical sequel was the implementation of a state system. Roger Williams created the first agglomeration, Providence, run for a few months by heads of families, who met every fortnight. The mystic Samuel Gorton, hostile toward any civil authority, any formal organization and any legislation, founded the community of Shawomet, sister of the former community. More consistent with his principles, William Harris, denounced all legislative assemblies or even official ones, inviting everyone to shout: "No lords, nor masters." The indomitable Anne Hutchison, faithful to herself, set off on a new exile where she unfortunately ended up massacred by the Indians.
Dramatic changes occurred in Rhode Island. The society turned upside down, decomposed, disintegrates, victim of its geopolitical situation. The struggle for control of the land, perhaps inevitable in a colony of plantations, fomented a division between the different mind sets. And to make things worse, Rhode Island, this land of refuge, provoked mass hysteria among the authorities of Massachusetts Bay, who could talk of nothing but annexing the territory to stop the dissidents. Williams could only slow down their invasion at the cost of resorting to royal authority.
Closer to anarchism, perhaps, is the experience of the Quakers in Pennsylvania, maybe because the project of George Fox's disciples had more time to grow than that of the antinomians who, promptly rejected from their adopted land, had ample opportunity to experiment with their ideas and put them to the test in the practical world.
Quakers, as have been called the members of the Society of Friends, preached a doctrine of "inner light," inspired by Saint John: the word of God illuminates the path for all men. They do not reject sacred texts, but, at that time, insisted on the advantage of direct and private inspiration, which in practice translated into recognizing the supreme authority of the individual on himself, as well as developing a sense of responsibility. Quakers showed a fair amount of skepticism toward governments: they participated in the voting process but could not run for any office because they refused to take the required oath. They dared to confront the State when they judged it to be in the wrong. From a sociological point of view, the attitudes of the members of the Society of Friends were tinged with anarchism: they refused to answer to any superior authority, and even more vehemently to kneel and bow down to this said authority; as a sign of defiance, they addressed everyone as "thou", even the King of England, scandalizing judges and magistrates. Like their libertarian successors, they showed mixed feelings toward organizations: they assessed them as being at once dangerous and necessary, all the while attempting to reduce formal institutions to a minimum. There was no one to head their meetings other than a simple chairman who essentially served as a secretary. The greatest respect was shown to minority voting groups, but actually there hardly existed a notion of "majority" or "minority" since the votes were counted less quantitatively than qualitatively; anyone present could talk; their contribution counted as one voice, but certain voices carried more weight than others. In fact, they struggled to get most decisions passed unanimously. Finally, in case of a crisis, Quakers, like anarchists, were often confined to choosing between two terms of one alternative: increasing the official mechanisms of decision-making or seeing their groups explode into schisms.
The cruel persecutions that the Society of Friends endured in New England and elsewhere drove them to look for a place to settle where they could fully live out their ideas with relative independence. The occasion to find this place presented itself when one of the converts to Quakerism, William Penn, suggested they participate in the "sacred experience" of Pennsylvania.
An educated believer in feudalism, split between his religious conscience which pushed him toward liberalism, and his objective function of grand commissioner to the king, a property-owner endowed with medieval prerogatives, but whose power stayed limited by the veto of the sovereign and the English parliament, William Penn surrounded himself with a Council made of the wealthiest settlers and invited the moneyed aristocracy to people his colony. Among other things, before the arrival of Quakers, the land already was home to certain structures of power, particularly county tribunals and sheriffs.
There is some bad faith underlining the participation of Quakers in the government, while glossing on their attempts at resistance. From the start, a political Assembly composed of representatives elected by all freeholders checked the power of the legislative branch and led a veritable class war against the oligarchy. The charter of April 8 1683, established by this assembly and promulgated by Penn, reduced the rights of the Governor and brought the Council down to eighteen members; because if the Quakers recognized and appreciated the founder of the colony and owed him a symbolic allegiance, they led a war of attrition against his prerogatives. Because they implicitly recognized his right of veto, by 1684 the Assembly had repealed the triple vote of the Governor. In 1685, William Dyer, whose wife died as a martyr for her religious ideals, became a Collector for royal bonds. Despite encouragements from William Penn, the population refused to obey the laws of His Majesty on navigation. For several years, they rejected all taxes, viewing them as vestiges of feudal times. Besides, the founder of the colony had eliminated taxes in 1683 to encourage immigration, which was a dangerous precedent.
In the spirit of the Quakers, the public administration in Pennsylvania was almost useless and had to be limited to the simplest of systems: no bureaucracy, army, or police. No one was attached to the idea of maintaining a cast of councilors or of elected representatives and some of those who held public functions prided themselves on receiving no preferential treatment whatsoever.
There is no lack of reasons to justify the existence of a police force in a society of pioneers that is consistently portrayed as irremediably ruled by the survival of the fittest. The Society of Friends did not adhere to the principle of non-resistance, since a criminal violates divine and human laws and thus deserves to be punished. In the early days of Pennsylvania, there were no hostile sentiments toward the police, but the Quakers limited its power: the community kept things ordered by attacking problems at their root to avoid any repressive role the police could take on; they preferred reform to punishment. In conflicts that arose among Quakers, the various parties negotiated amiably in meetings; refusing mediation through an assembly was deemed a fault: the party involved risked expulsion from the group. In practice, excommunication was actually rare and noticeably avoided. As for civil courts, Quakers tried in fact to fix some of the judiciary system's shortcomings: they reduced technical jargon and long procedures; but they themselves refused to take an oath in court.
The Society of Friends never clearly distinguished the police from the army, but absolutely condemned the latter. It was determined to keep the peace without resorting to weapons. One placard, presented to Charles II on November 21 1660, declared: "We are certain and we will testify in front of the universe that the Spirit of Christ that leads toward all truths would never inspire us to wage war against any armed enemy and this both for the kingdom of Christ and for the kingdom of our world." Ironically, the only authentic portrait of William Penn we have today shows him in a military uniform; it was painted, it is true, before his conversion to the Society of Friends. Many Quakers considered it legitimate to carry arms, even in self-defense. However, there was very little crime and even their relations with Native American Indians were excellent. Religious tolerance, as described in the official documents and, better yet, in practice, gave Pennsylvania its bragging rights. Hence, the only "witch hunt" held in this colony ended with the suspects being released, since William Penn and the other judges, who came mostly from the Society of Friends, considered that it was not against the law to ride on a broom in the air.
Undoubtedly, contradictions did appear in the attitudes of the Quaker society. The growing number of converts to other religions forced them to create official institutions. They attempted to stop their opponents from getting to positions of power. The secession of Delaware, the non-representation of disadvantaged classes in the electoral body are proof of some corruption. Having become the "minority" despite their best efforts, the members of the Society of Friends managed to stay in power because they aligned themselves with an important group of German origin. Only in 1756 did they stop running the colony of their own volition. These historical facts have lead historians to present Quakerism as being quite bipolar, infatuated at once with a spiritual ideal, indifferent and even hostile to all things political, rejecting compromises, but very capable of exercising pressure on other groups in the name of God, and with their Calvinist legacy, eager to accumulate wealth.
Without a doubt, we are not quite impartial when we systematically assign the group the responsibility of a few individuals actions and when we boldly state that the Friends want only to acquire power. Quaker candidates for public positions did not always benefit from the approval of the Society of Friends and their political actions were not endorsed without being scrutinized. Thus, in 1692 when a new law was proposed to raise taxes, the freemen of Philadelphia and of Chester sent petitions to protest against the new project. They pressured the assembly to keep the "country free of servitude and slavery and to avoid also those methods which could subject them to their posterity." Similarly, when the Crown suggested to start a militia to protect themselves against a French-Indian attack, the Quakers showed no opposition, but their official position was: let those who wish to fight go and fight themselves, but do not send others to fight in their place. Let those who want to fight shoulder the cost of their actions! The governor, they felt, held the right to create a militia if he deemed this wise, but they absolutely refused to have the measure approved through a vote. Samuel Carpenter, one of the richest men of the province, very appreciated among the Society of Friends, declared: "I would rather be broke than violate my conscience on this matter."
(1) The State is understood here as the legislative, executive and judiciary machinery from the federal level to the local one.
2 Blanquism, attributed to the philosophy of Louis August Blanqui (1805-1881), a French politician, was interpreted by some anarchist as a concept of highly-organized revolution, led by some determined militants who did not reject the use of violence.