The Quakers and Peacemaking

As well as personal opposition to engagement in, and wider witness against, military activity, there is a long history of Quaker involvement in efforts of peacemaking and addressing the causes of war. Within sixty years of the emergence of Quakerism at least two significant Quaker figures had set out plans for achieving a warless world. The first of these was William Penn's Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe, by the Establishment of an European Dyet, Parliament, or Estates, published in 1710. As well as arguing for a European Parliament which would draw up rules of international conduct and settle disputes between constituent states, this essay presages modern notions of international sanctions and reparation payments. The second proposal, also published in 1710 was John Bellers' Some Reasons for an European State proposed to the Powers of Europe. Like Penn, Bellers' peace tract was written in response to prolonged internecine conflict between major European powers. Although it had some features in common with that of Penn it went further in recommending a reconfiguration of the nature of European states.

While these proposals operated at the level of aspiration, there was a major initiative, also associated with William Penn, that was grounded in the reality of day-to-day statecraft. In 1681 Penn received a royal charter, as repayment of a debt owed to his father, giving him title to the land that became the province of Pennsylvania in North America. Penn conceived of the new venture as a "holy experiment". A majority of the early settlers were Quakers, particularly Quakers from Wales who were subject to high levels of harassment and persecution for their beliefs. For nearly three quarters of a century Pennsylvania was subject to some form of Quaker control. While the early history of Pennsylvania is too complicated to traverse in a short piece such as this, it can be said that, during these seven decades, Pennsylvania remained virtually unarmed and no citizen was required to bear arms. As well, with some exceptions, there was a serious attempt to deal justly with the rights of the indigenous Indians with whom the settlers came in contact. This situation began to unravel with an increasing influx of new settlers from non-Quaker backgrounds and the adoption of laws and policies contrary to Quaker beliefs and principles. This situation led to those Quaker assemblymen who remained close to the Society of Friends withdrawing from the Pennsylvania legislature.

Quakers have also played a very significant role in the development of peace research and the scientific study of conflict. Lewis Fry Richardson (1881-1953), a prominent English meteorologist and pacifist who pioneered modern mathematical approaches to weather forecasting, is regarded (along with the American Quincy Wright) as the founder of the discipline of peace research. In his major works, Arms and Insecurity (1949) and Statistics of Deadly Quarrels (1950), Richardson engaged in both deterministic and statistical analyses of the causes of conflict and war. As peace research emerged as a distinct discipline, other Quakers, including the economist and co-founder of general systems theory, Kenneth Boulding (1910-1953), the promoter of the concept of a peace culture, Elise Boulding (1920-2010) and the social psychologist and peace activist, Adam Curle (1916-2006) made significant contributions to the development of this field.