SPEECH OF MR. W. F. LEAK,
On Mr. Badger's ordinance to exempt Quakers from military duty
May 07, 1862 issue of the WEEKLY STANDARD (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Transcribed and Posted by Myrtle Bridges
February 09, 2003
Sir: I have listened with marked attention to the arguments that have been brought forward for
and against, the present memorial of the Society of Friends, asking to be relieved from military
duty, and my mind has been brought to the following conclusion, and that for the following reasons,
which I ask to state briefly with the hope, that if I am so fortunate as to make myself understood,
others may take the same view as I do, and cast their vote in favor of the memorial, as I propose
to cast mine
In the first place, allow me to say, that the ground upon which they rest their opposition to all
wars and fighting, is no now plea trumped up for the occasion; but a coeval with the institution
of the Friends; that it is one of their fundamental religious principles, under all circumstances
to bear faithful testimony against the sin of going to war; and that as such, they cannot aid,
either directly or indirectly in the prosecution of any war.
They say and we have no right to question their sincerity, still less a right to invade the tabernacle
of their bosom, and there set up an image of our own orthodoxy, that their opposition rests its support
upon their construction of the tenets inculcated by the New Testament, and being such, it becomes a
question of conscience, and that sooner than violate its teaching; they stand ready patiently to suffer
any penalties you may impose for the non-performance of what you may conceive to be their present duty.
Their opposition then becomes a religious one, and being such, involves the liberty of conscience; for
there can be no religion, when there is no conscience, neither can there by an conscience where there
is no recognized rule as a standard of Christian duty. I do not mean to say, that the conclusion of a
man's conscience are always right, per se, but I do mean to say, that the honest dictates of a man's
conscience, availing himself of all the lights in his power, to arrive at correct conclusions, are
obligatory upon him, and that he cannot disregard them without contracting sin.
In this view of the case, the proposition is simply reduced to this-would it be right in this Convention
to exact the performance of any duty, from any of its citizens and punish them for its non-performance,
when they had the highest degree of moral evidence, that the refusal to perform, originated from no
refractory spirit, from no contempt of authority, but solely arose from a deep seated conviction, that
the performance required was sinful?
We have heard much, Mr. President, about conscience, and different definitions given of this much abused
word. What, sir, I ask, is conscience?--. Conscience has been defined by some to be "that judgment which
the rational soul passes upon all her actions," and is said to be a faculty of the soul itself, and
consequently natural to it. Others, there are, who state that it is a ray of divine light. Milton calls
it "God's umpire," and Doctor Young calls it "God in man." Dr. Adam Clark, one of the most learned, most
able and pious biblical critics, that this or any other age has produced, says that conscience is nothing
else than a faculty capable of receiving light and conviction from the spirit of God, and he says that it
answers the end in spiritual matters to the soul, that the eye does to the body, in the process of vision.
The eye is not light in itself, nor is it capable of discerning any object, but by the instrumentality of
solar or artificial light; but it has organs properly adapted to the reception of the rays of light, and
of the various images of the objects they exhibit.-When solar light is present to an eye whose organs are
perfect, there is discernment, but when this light is absent there is no discernment of the object, however
entire and perfect the optic nerve. In this very same manner, the spirit of God enlightens that eye of the
soul, which we call conscience, and its teaching and conclusions are obligatory. Yes, in the language of
holy writ, the spirit itself bears witness with our spirit; that is, it shines into the conscience, and
reflects through the soul a conviction both of our duty, as well as the obligation resting upon us to
perform that duty.
Conscience, then, according to this definition, pre supposes a knowledge on our part of the rule by which
it is to be governed; which so far as Christians are concerned, is the written word of God.-Conscience
then has a law, a rule, a standard, which is authoritative and rises superior to human legislation and
when honestly entertained should be respected. The dictates of an enlightened conscience should never be
disregarded, and cannot be without consequent remorse and pain felt for omission of duty. It follows from
the premises, that although the thing suggested may not be right per se, yet it so appearing to be,
justifies him who follows its suggestions.
"Yes, what conscience dictates to be done
Or warns me not to do,
This teach me, more than Hell to shun
That more than Heaven pursue."
Conscience in the language of Abercrombie, in his moral ethics, holds a place among the moral powers,
analogous to that which reason holds among the intellectual. When we act under its influence we perform
actions simply because we feel them to be right, and we abstain from others because we feel them to be
wrong, without regard to any other impression, or to the consequence of action upon ourselves or others.
Now, sir, the good book in which we all profess to believe, clearly reveals this truth-that conscience
is a power of such importance, that without any acquired knowledge or any actual precepts, it is sufficient
to establish in every man such an impression of duty, as leaves him without excuse: "For when the Gentiles
which have not the law do by nature the things of the law-those not having the law are a law unto themselves."
Again: "If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things."
The province of conscience, then, is to convey to man a certain conviction of what is right. The dictates
of conscience can never be disregarded without remorse and pain felt for omission.
But, say gentlemen, they are wrong in their conclusions, and, therefore, such fanaticism should not be
respected; but this does not meet the case. I believe myself that they are wrong but then I ask who made
me a keeper of their conscience? The question still returns, ought we to impose pains and penalties on
them for their non-performance of that which they justify upon religious principle? I unhesitatingly
answer No. But it has been said that they enjoy the privileges of the government, and will enjoy the
liberties for which we are now fighting, and therefore ought to fight or contribute to the support of
the war. In this there seems upon a surface view of the question, to be some plausibility, but if you
will properly analyze the argument, it has not the force that is attached to it. If you are willing to
receive a commutation tax, it must be for the reason, that you to some extent, respect their conscience,
and if you respect it so far as to exempt them directly from bearing arms, how can you disregard the same
conscience, when you seek to impose a special tax for omitting to do, in their estimation a sinful act?
If, as the gentleman from Wake, has said, if it be wrong to fight yourself, it is equally wrong to get
another to fight for you, for what you do by another you do by yourself. Notwithstanding they religiously
resist the going to war, or furnishing a substitute, or paying an equivalent, still they hold it to be
their religious duty to make no opposition forcibly, but quietly and patiently suffer the penalties.
This, sir, is no mere sham pretence got up to screen them from sharing in the present troubles of the
country, but it has been incorporated into their religious tenents for the last 200 years, from the very
origin of the Society of Friends? They are not mushrooms of yesterday, whom the heat and strife of battle
has now called forth, but they have been distinguished for the last two centuries for their orderly
demeanor, for their sobriety, for their intelligence, for their piety, for their industry, and for
their law-abiding principles. They support their own poor, they never engage in broils of any kind,
seldom if ever engage in law suits, and are a worthy class of our population; and, however, I may
condemn as erroneous their notions about war, yet I would to God that the whole world were Quakers,
when the sword would be beaten into the plough share, and the spear into the pruning-hook. Yes sir,
what a happy people we should be when wars and rumors of wars should cease. For these reasons and
others I have not time to give, I am for saying to this inoffensive and law-abiding people, depart
in peace, and may the Lord of peace be with you.
November 14, 1860
We had the pleasure of seeing Walter F. Leake, Esq., of Richmond, in this City, on Monday, on his way to
Fayetteville, where he is to deliver the annual address before the Agricultural Society of Cumberland. W. W.Holden.
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