Which Group Refused to Fight in the American Revolution Because of Their Religious Beliefs?

William Penn was the founder of the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania.
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Although the American Revolution united various groups throughout the 13 colonies against Great Britain, one group refused to fight because of its commitment to pacifism: the Quakers. Yet despite their refusal to fight, the Quakers were instrumental in bringing about the American Revolution, and their contribution to the founding of America should not be discounted.

1 Origins

The Quakers, formally known as the Society of Friends, originated in England in the 1640s after the English Civil War, when many dissenting religious groups appeared in the wake of the religious turmoil brought by the war. George Fox, the group's founder, argued against the idea of a clergy and called for each individual to have a direct, unique experience with God. As the movement developed, pacifism became an integral part of its ideology.

2 Pennsylvania

Because their belief that clergy were unnecessary directly challenged the power of the established Church of England, Quakers met with persecution in England, and so sought a more tolerant home in the United States. A wealthy and influential landowner and early convert to Quakerism named William Penn purchased land on the American continent and was granted a royal charter by King Charles II to found Pennsylvania, a colony specifically for Quaker immigrants.

3 Contributions

Despite their pacifism, the Quakers were essential to the American Revolution in many ways. Pennsylvania was one of the leaders in the colonists' boycott against British goods adopted in response to the Stamp Act of 1765. More generally, Quaker ideals of liberty from authority influenced American revolutionary attitudes; Thomas Paine, the writer of "Common Sense," the pamphlet that helped bring about the Revolution, had a Quaker father, whose antiestablishment influence can clearly be seen in Paine's writings.

4 John Dickinson

Despite Quaker contributions, their pacifism did at times clash with the military aspects of the Revolution, a conflict most clearly seen in John Dickinson, the delegate from Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress. Although not a Quaker himself, Dickinson was deeply influenced by the Quaker roots of his home and opposed the Declaration of Independence for fear that it would lead to war. Although a major leader during the American Revolution, Dickinson today is not as renowned compared with military leaders such as George Washington, largely because of his staunch and Quaker-influenced opposition to violence.

  • 1 Don't Know Much About History, Anniversary Edition: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned; Kenneth C. Davis
  • 2 Yahoo Voices; Quakers and Their Impact on the American Revolution; Matthew Weber

Aatif Rashid writes on international politics and culture. His articles have appeared in magazines such as "The Oxonian Globalist" and online at Future Foreign Policy and ThinkPolitic. He holds Bachelor's degrees in English and history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree from the University of Oxford.