This series of Quaker peace stories is the outcome of a much longer history. A religious commitment to peace has been at the heart of Quakerism since its origins during the seventeenth century English Civil War.
While some future Quakers fought in the war, others shared the conviction of George Fox and William Dewsbury that armed conflict was a denial of religious truth. In 2011 Quakers commemorate the 350th anniversary of the first collective declaration of the Quaker peace testimony, addressed to the restored monarch: “So we, whom the Lord hath called into the obedience of his Truth, have denied Wars and Fightings, and cannot again any more learn it. And this is a certain Testimony unto all the World, of the truth in our hearts.” A few months earlier Margaret Fell expressed the positive side of Quaker peacemaking: “We are a People that follow after those things that make for Peace, Love and Unity, it is our desire that others’ feet may walk in the same, and we do deny and bear our Testimony against all Strife and Wars.”
Both the rejection of armed conflict and the promotion of active peace-making have strongly characterised the Religious Society of Friends since these early days. In 1693 William Penn urged his followers to remember that “A good end cannot sanctify evil means; not must we ever do evil, that good may come of it.” In 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars, London Yearly Meeting advised Quakers to “Guard against placing your dependence on fleets and armies; be peaceable yourselves, in word and actions.” In 1870 Quakers responded to the Franco-Prussian War by founding a medical and social relief service which ministered to both sides in the conflict. When the First World War broke out in 1914, the Quaker message was one of sorrow but also of determination to “search for a positive, vital, constructive message...a message of supreme love.” And in 1938, as war once again loomed, Yearly Meeting reaffirmed the historic peace testimony, reminding Quakers that “Peace is not a state of tranquillity, but a constant struggle.”
The Quaker peace stories presented here are a reminder of the many different forms which the “struggle” for peace may take. They are also a reminder that not all Quakers have felt alike about peace and war. Opposition to war ranges across a wide spectrum of opinion, and Quakers, like everybody else, need to work out their own responses within different conflict situations. Not all Quakers have been conscientious objectors. Some have enlisted for military service, some have served in unarmed support of the armed services, others have refused all forms of war work and gone to prison as a result. In more recent years some Quakers have opposed war by challenging Cold War mythology and opposing nuclear weapons, while others have served the cause of peace by devoting their skills to work in developing countries.
In recent years Northamptonshire Quakers (with others) have taken an active local role in promoting fair trade and environmental causes, seeking inter-faith understanding, assisting asylum seekers, opposing the Iraq War and supporting a monthly peace vigil in Northampton town centre. In 2009 we developed a public exhibition, titled Quaker Roads to Peace, which reminded us of our strong peace-making heritage. This book has developed from the exhibition. We want to share the peace stories of local Quakers with the widest possible readership – not in any spirit of boastfulness, but rather in the cause of active peace-making for the future. We believe that it is vital to put stories of peace-making on the historical record, alongside the innumerable histories of war, and we hope that other Area Meetings may decide to compile similar books of oral and written testimony.