of Richmond
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

Mr. President:--
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.

Return to Index to Newspapers
Return to Richmond Co. Home Page
You are the    visitor since February 09, 2003