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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

No ostensible minority or majority


29: Distraints or imprisonment for refusing to serve in the militia are included also under the head "sufferings."]

In speaking of tithes and church-dues I must correct an error, that is prevalent. It is usually understood, when Quakers suffer on these accounts, that their losses are made up by the society at large. Nothing can be more false than this idea. Were their losses made up on such occasions, there would be no suffering. The fact is, that whatever a person loses in this way is his own total loss; nor is it ever refunded, though, in consequence of expensive prosecutions at law, it has amounted to the whole of the property of those, who have refused the payment of these demands. If a man were to come to poverty on this account, he would undoubtedly be supported, but he would only be supported as belonging to the poor of the society.

Among the subjects, introduced at this meeting, may be that of any new regulations for the government of the society. The Quakers are not so blindly attached to antiquity, as to keep to customs, merely because they are of an ancient date. But they are ready, on conviction, to change, alter, and improve. When, however, such regulations or alterations are proposed, they must come not through the medium of an individual, but through the medium of one of the quarterly meetings.

There is also a variety of other business at the yearly meeting.

Reports are received and considered on the subject of Ackworth school, which was mentioned in a former part of the work as a public seminary of the society.

Letters are also read from the branches of the society in foreign parts, and answers prepared to them.

Appeals also are heard in various instances, and determined in this court.

I may mention here two circumstances, that are worthy of notice on these occasions.

It may be observed that whether such business as that, which I have just detailed or any of any other sort comes before the yearly meeting at large, it is decided, not by the influence of numbers, but by the weight of religious character. As most subjects afford cause for a difference of opinion, so the Quakers at this meeting are found taking their different sides of the argument, as they believe it right. Those however, who are in opposition to any measure, if they perceive by the turn the debate takes, either that they are going against the general will, or that they are opposing the sentiments of members of high moral reputation in the society, give way. And so far do the Quakers carry their condescension on these occasions, that if a few ancient and respectable individuals seem to be dissatisfied with any measure that may have been proposed, though otherwise respectably supported, the measure is frequently postponed, out of tenderness to the feelings of such members, and from a desire of gaining them in time by forbearance. But, in whatever way the question before them is settled, no division is ever called for. No counting of numbers is allowed. No protest is suffered to be entered. In such a case there can be no ostensible leader of any party; no ostensible minority or majority. The Quakers are of opinion that such things, if allowed, would be inconsistent with their profession. They would lead also to broils and divisions, and ultimately to the detriment of the society. Every measure therefore is settled by the Quakers at this meeting in the way I have mentioned, in brotherly love, and as the name of the society signifies, as Friends.

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