Chronicles of America 

The Decline Of Quaker Government in Pennsylvania

When the treaty of peace was signed in 1763, extinguishing France's title to Canada and turning over Canada and the Mississippi Valley to the English, the colonists were prepared to enjoy all the blessings of peace. But the treaty of peace had been made with France, not with the red man. A remarkable genius, Pontiac, appeared among the Indians, one of the few characters, like Tecumseh and Osceola, who are often cited as proof of latent powers almost equal to the strongest qualities of the white race. Within a few months he had united all the tribes of the West in a discipline and control which, if it had been brought to the assistance of the French six years earlier, might have conquered the colonies to the Atlantic seaboard before the British regulars could have come to their assistance. The tribes swept westward into Pennsylvania, burning, murdering, and leveling every habitation to the ground with a thoroughness beyond anything attempted under the French alliance. The settlers and farmers fled eastward to the towns to live in cellars, camps, and sheds as best they could.* Fortunately the colonies retained a large part of the military organization, both men and officers, of the French War, and were soon able to handle the situation. Detroit and Niagara were relieved by water; and an expedition commanded by Colonel Bouquet, who had distinguished himself under General Forties, saved Fort Pitt.

* For an account of Pontiac's conspiracy, see "The Old Northwest" by Frederic A. Ogg (in "The Chronicles of America").

At this time the Scotch-Irish frontiersmen suddenly became prominent. They had been organizing for their own protection and were meeting with not a little success. They refused to join the expedition of regular troops marching westward against Pontiac's warriors, because they wanted to protect their own homes and because they believed the regulars to be marching to sure destruction. Many of the regular troops were invalided from the West Indies, and the Scotch-Irish never expected to see any of them again. They believed that the salvation of Pennsylvania, or at least of their part of the province, depended entirely upon themselves. Their increasing numbers and rugged independence were forming them also into an organized political party with decided tendencies, as it afterwards appeared, towards forming a separate state.

The extreme narrowness of the Scotch-Irish, however, misled them. The only real safety for the province lay in regularly constituted and strong expeditions, like that of Bouquet, which would drive the main body of the savages far westward. But the Scotch-Irish could not see this; and with that intensity of passion which marked all their actions they turned their energy and vengeance upon the Quakers and semicivilized Indians in the eastern end of the colony. Their preachers, who were their principal leaders and organizers, encouraged them in denouncing Quaker doctrine as a wicked heresy from which only evil could result. The Quakers had offended God from the beginning by making treaties of kindness with the heathen savages instead of exterminating them as the Scripture commanded: "And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee, thou shalt smite them and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them." The Scripture had not been obeyed; the heathen had not been destroyed; on the contrary, a systematic policy of covenants, treaties, and kindness had been persisted in for two generations, and as a consequence, the Ulstermen said, the frontiers were now deluged in blood. They were particularly resentful against the small settlement of Indians near Bethlehem, who had been converted to Christianity by the Moravians, and another little village of half civilized basketmaking Indians at Conestoga near Lancaster. The Scotch-Irish had worked themselves up into a strange belief that these small remnants were sending information, arms, and ammunition to the western tribes; and they seemed to think that it was more important to exterminate these little communities than to go with such expeditions as Bouquet's to the West. They asked the Governor to remove these civilized Indians and assured him that their removal would secure the safety of the frontier. When the Governor, not being able to find anything against the Indians, declined to remove them, the Scotch-Irish determined to attend to the matter in their own fashion.

Bouquet's victory at Bushy Run, much to the surprise of the Scotch-Irish, stopped Indian raids of any seriousness until the following spring. But in the autumn there were a few depredations, which led the frontiersmen to believe that the whole invasion would begin again. A party of them, therefore, started to attack the Moravian Indians near Bethlehem; but before they could accomplish their object, the Governor brought most of the Indians down to Philadelphia for protection. Even there they were narrowly saved from the mob, for the hostility against them was spreading throughout the province.

Soon afterwards another party of Scotch-Irish, ever since known as the "Paxton Boys," went at break of day to the village of the Conestoga Indians and found only six of them at home--three men, two women, and a boy. These they instantly shot down, mutilated their bodies, and burned their cabins. As the murderers returned, they related to a man on the road what they had done, and when he protested against the cruelty of the deed, they asked, "Don't you believe in God and the Bible?" The remaining fourteen inhabitants of the village, who were away selling brooms, were collected by the sheriff and put in the jail at Lancaster for protection. The Paxtons heard of it and in a few days stormed the jail, broke down the doors, and either shot the poor Indians or cut them to pieces with hatchets.

This was probably the first instance of lynch law in America. It raised a storm of indignation and controversy; and a pamphlet war persisted for several years. The whole province was immediately divided into two parties. On one side were the Quakers, most of the Germans, and conservatives of every sort, and on the other, inclined to sympathize with the Scotch-Irish, were the eastern Presbyterians, some of the Churchmen, and various miscellaneous people whose vindictiveness towards all Indians had been aroused by the war. The Quakers and conservatives, who seem to have been the more numerous, assailed the Scotch-Irish in no measured language as a gang of ruffians without respect for law or order who, though always crying for protection, had refused to march with Bouquet to save Fort Pitt or to furnish him the slightest assistance. Instead of going westward where the danger was and something might be accomplished, they had turned eastward among the settlements and murdered a few poor defenseless people, mostly women and children.

Franklin, who had now returned from England, wrote one of his best pamphlets against the Paxtons, the valorous, heroic Paxtons, as he called them, prating of God and the Bible, fifty-seven of whom, armed with rifles, knives, and hatchets, had actually succeeded in killing three old men, two women, and a boy. This pamphlet became known as the "Narrative" from the first word of its title, and it had an immense circulation. Like everything Franklin wrote, it is interesting reading to this day.

One of the first effects of this controversy was to drive the excitable Scotch-Irish into a flame of insurrection not unlike the Whisky Rebellion, which started among them some years after the Revolution. They held tumultuous meetings denouncing the Quakers and the whole proprietary government in Philadelphia, and they organized an expedition which included some delegates to suggest reforms. For the most part, however, it was a well equipped little army variously estimated at from five hundred to fifteen hundred on foot and on horseback, which marched towards Philadelphia with no uncertain purpose. They openly declared that they intended to capture the town, seize the Moravian Indians protected there, and put them to death. They fully expected to be supported by most of the people and to have everything their own way. As they passed along the roads, they amused themselves in their rough fashion by shooting chickens and pigs, frightening people by thrusting their rifles into windows, and occasionally throwing some one down and pretending to scalp him.

In the city there was great excitement and alarm. Even the classes who sympathized with the Scotch-Irish did not altogether relish having their property burned or destroyed. Great preparations were made to meet the expedition. British regulars were summoned. Eight companies of militia and a battery of artillery were hastily formed. Franklin became a military man once more and superintended the preparations. On all sides the Quakers were enlisting; they had become accustomed to war; and this legitimate chance to shoot a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian was too much for the strongest scruples of their religion. It was a long time, however, before they heard the end of this zeal; and in the pamphlet war which followed they were accused of clamorously rushing to arms and demanding to be led against the enemy.

It is amusing now to read about it in the old records. But it was serious enough at the time. When the Scotch-Irish army reached the Schuylkill River and found the fords leading to the city guarded, they were not quite so enthusiastic about killing Quakers and Indians. They went up the river some fifteen miles, crossed by an unopposed ford, and halted in Germantown ten miles north of Philadelphia. That was as far as they thought it safe to venture. Several days passed, during which the city people continued their preparations and expected every night to be attacked. There were, indeed, several false alarms. Whenever the alarm was sounded at night, every one placed candles in his windows to light up the streets. One night when it rained the soldiers were allowed to shelter themselves in a Quaker meeting house, which for some hours bristled with bayonets and swords, an incident of which the Presbyterian pamphleteers afterwards made much use for satire. On another day all the cannon were fired to let the enemy know what was in store for him.

Finally commissioners with the clever, genial Franklin at their head, went out to Germantown to negotiate, and soon had the whole mighty difference composed. The Scotch-Irish stated their grievances. The Moravian Indians ought not to be protected by the government, and all such Indians should be removed from the colony; the men who killed the Conestoga Indians should be tried where the supposed offense was committed and not in Philadelphia; the five frontier counties had only ten representatives in the Assembly while the three others had twenty-six--this should be remedied; men wounded in border war should be cared for at public expense; no trade should be carried on with hostile Indians until they restored prisoners; and there should be a bounty on scalps.

While these negotiations were proceeding, some of the Scotch-Irish amused themselves by practicing with their rifles at the weather vane, a figure of a cock, on the steeple of the old Lutheran church in Germantown--an unimportant incident, it is true, but one revealing the conditions and character of the time as much as graver matters do. The old weather vane with the bullet marks upon it is still preserved. About thirty of these same riflemen were invited to Philadelphia and were allowed to wander about and see the sights of the town. The rest returned to the frontier. As for their list of grievances, not one of them was granted except, strange and sad to relate, the one which asked for a scalp bounty. The Governor, after the manner of other colonies, it must be admitted, issued the long desired scalp proclamation, which after offering rewards for prisoners and scalps, closed by saying, "and for the scalp of a female Indian fifty pieces of eight." William Penn's Indian policy had been admired for its justice and humanity by all the philosophers and statesmen of the world, and now his grandson, Governor of the province, in the last days of the family's control, was offering bounties for women's scalps.

Franklin while in England had succeeded in having the proprietary lands taxed equally with the lands of the colonists. But the proprietors attempted to construe this provision so that their best lands were taxed at the rate paid by the people on their worst. This obvious quibble of course raised such a storm of opposition that the Quakers, joined by classes which had never before supported them, and now forming a large majority, determined to appeal to the Government in England to abolish the proprietorship and put the colony under the rule of the King. In the proposal to make Pennsylvania a Crown colony there was no intention of confiscating the possessions of the proprietors. It was merely the proprietary political power, their right to appoint the Governor, that was to be abolished. This right was to be absorbed by the Crown with payment for its value to the proprietors; but in all other respects the charter and the rights and liberties of the people were to remain unimpaired. Just there lay the danger. An act of Parliament would be required to make the change and, having once started on such a change, Parliament, or the party in power therein, might decide to make other changes, and in the end there might remain very little of the original rights and liberties of the colonists under their charter. It was by no means a wise move. But intense feeling on the subject was aroused. Passionate feeling seemed to have been running very high among the steady Quakers. In this new outburst the Quakers had the Scotch-Irish on their side, and a part of the Churchmen. The Germans were divided, but the majority enthusiastic for the change was very large.

There was a new alignment of parties. The eastern Presbyterians, usually more or less in sympathy with the Scotch-Irish, broke away from them on this occasion. These Presbyterians opposed the change to a royal governor because they believed that it would be followed by the establishment by law of the Church of England, with bishops and all the other ancient evils. Although some of the Churchmen joined the Quaker side, most of them and the most influential of them were opposed to the change and did good work in opposing it. They were well content with their position under the proprietors and saw nothing to be gained under a royal governor. There were also not a few people who, in the increase of the wealth of the province, had acquired aristocratic tastes and were attached to the pleasant social conditions that had grown up round the proprietary governors and their followers; and there were also those whose salaries, incomes, or opportunities for wealth were more or less dependent on the proprietors retaining the executive offices and the appointments and patronage.

One of the most striking instances of a change of sides was the case of a Philadelphia Quaker, John Dickinson, a lawyer of large practice, a man of wealth and position, and of not a little colonial magnificence when he drove in his coach and four. It was he who later wrote the famous "Farmer's Letters" during the Revolution. He was a member of the Assembly and had been in politics for some years. But on this question of a change to royal government, he left the Quaker majority and opposed the change with all his influence and ability. He and his father-in-law, Isaac Norris, Speaker of the Assembly, became the leaders against the change, and Franklin and Joseph Galloway, the latter afterwards a prominent loyalist in the Revolution, were the leading advocates of the change.

The whole subject was thoroughly thrashed out in debates in the Assembly and in pamphlets of very great ability and of much interest to students of colonial history and the growth of American ideas of liberty. It must be remembered that this was the year 1764, on the eve of the Revolution. British statesmen were planning a system of more rigorous control of the colonies; and the advisability of a stamp tax was under consideration. Information of all these possible changes had reached the colonies. Dickinson foresaw the end and warned the people. Franklin and the Quaker party thought there was no danger and that the mother country could be implicitly trusted.

Dickinson warned the people that the British Ministry were starting special regulations for new colonies and "designing the strictest reformations in the old." It would be a great relief, he admitted, to be rid of the pettiness of the proprietors, and it might be accomplished some time in the future; but not now. The proprietary system might be bad, but a royal government might be worse and might wreck all the liberties of the province, religious freedom, the Assembly's control of its own adjournments, and its power of raising and disposing of the public money. The ministry of the day in England were well known not to be favorably inclined towards Pennsylvania because of the frequently reported willfulness of the Assembly, on which the recent disturbances had also been blamed. If the King, Ministry, and Parliament started upon a change, they might decide to reconstitute the Assembly entirely, abolish its ancient privileges, and disfranchise both Quakers and Presbyterians.

The arguments of Franklin and Galloway consisted principally of assertions of the good intentions of the mother country and the absurdity of any fear on the part of the colonists for their privileges. But the King in whom they had so much confidence was George III, and the Parliament which they thought would do no harm was the same one which a few months afterwards passed the Stamp Act which brought on the Revolution. Franklin and Galloway also asserted that the colonies like Massachusetts, the Jerseys, and the Carolinas, which had been changed to royal governments, had profited by the change. But that was hardly the prevailing opinion in those colonies themselves. Royal governors could be as petty and annoying as the Penns and far more tyrannical. Pennsylvania had always defeated any attempts at despotism on the part of the Penn family and had built up a splendid body of liberal laws and legislative privileges. But governors with the authority and power of the British Crown behind them could not be so easily resisted as the deputy governors of the Penns.

The Assembly, however, voted--twenty-seven to three--with Franklin and Galloway. In the general election of the autumn, the question was debated anew among the people and, though Franklin and Galloway were defeated for seats in the Assembly, yet the popular verdict was strongly in favor of a change, and the majority in the Assembly was for practical purposes unaltered. They voted to appeal to England for the change, and appointed Franklin to be their agent before the Crown and Ministry. He sailed again for England and soon was involved in the opening scenes of the Revolution. He was made agent for all the colonies and he spent many delightful years there pursuing his studies in science, dining with distinguished men, staying at country seats, and learning all the arts of diplomacy for which he afterwards became so distinguished.

As for the Assembly's petition for a change to royal government, Franklin presented it, but never pressed it. He, too, was finally convinced that the time was inopportune. In fact, the Assembly itself before long began to have doubts and fears and sent him word to let the subject drop; and amid much greater events it was soon entirely forgotten.

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