Of The Probable Practical Effects Of Adhering to The Moral Law in Respect to War.

From: Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).
Author: Jonathan Dymond
Published: Harper & Brothers 1834 Philadelphia


  We have seen that the duties of the religion which God has imparted to mankind require irresistance; and surely it is reasonable to hope, even without a reference to experience, that he will make our irresistance subservient to our interests; that if, for the purpose of conforming to his will, we subject ourselves to difficulty or danger, he will protect us in our obedience and direct it to our benefit; that if he requires us not to be concerned in war, he will preserve us in peace; that he will not desert those who have no other protection, and who have abandoned all other protection because they confide in his alone.

  This we may reverently hope; yet it is never to be forgotten that our apparent interests in the present life are sometimes, in the economy of God, made subordinate to our interests in futurity.

  Yet, even in reference only to the present state of existence, I believe we shall find that the testimony of experience is, that forbearance is most conducive to our interests. There is practical truth in the position that “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

  The reader of American history will recollect, that in the beginning of the last century a desultory and most dreadful warfare was carried on by the natives against the European settlers; a warfare that was provoked, as such warfare has almost always originally been, by the injuries and violence of the Christians. The mode of destruction was secret and sudden. The barbarians sometimes lay in wait for those who might come within their reach on the highway or in the fields, and shot them without warning; and sometimes they attacked the Europeans in their houses, “scalping some, and knocking out the brains of others.” From this horrible warfare the inhabitant& sought safety by abandoning their homes, and retiring to fortified places or to the neighbourhood of garrisons; and those whom necessity still compelled to pass beyond the limits of such protection provided themselves with arms for their defence. But amid this dreadful desolation and universal tenor, the Society of Friends, who were a considerable proportion of the whole population, were steadfast to their principles. They would neither retire to garrisons nor provide themselves with arms. They remained openly in the country, while the rest were flying to the forts. They still pursued their occupations in the fields or at their homes, without a weapon either for annoyance or defence. And what was their fate? They lived in security and quiet. The habitation, which, to his armed neighbour, was the scene of murder and of the scalping-knife, was to the unarmed Quaker a place of safety and of peace.

  Three of the society were however killed. And who were they? They were three who abandoned their principles. Two of these victims were men who, in the simple language of the narrator, “used to go to their labour without any weapons, and trusted to the Almighty, and depended on His providence to protect them (it being their principle not to use weapons of war to offend others or to defend themselves); but a spirit of distrust taking place in their minds, they took weapons of war to defend themselves, and the Indians, who had seen them several times without them and let them alone, saying they were peaceable men and hurt nobody, therefore they would not hurt them,—now seeing them have guns, and supposing they designed to kill the Indians, they therefore shot the men dead.” The third whose life was sacrificed was a woman, who “had remained in her habitation,” not thinking herself warranted in going “to a fortified place for preservation, neither she, her son, nor daughter, nor to take thither the little ones; but the poor woman after some time began to let in a slavish fear, and advised her children to go with her to a fort not far from their dwelling.” She went; and shortly afterward “the bloody, cruel, Indians lay by the way, and killed her.”1

  The fate of the Quakers during the rebellion in Ireland was nearly similar. It is well known that the rebellion was a time, not only of open war, but of cold-blooded murder; of the utmost fury of bigotry, and the utmost exasperation of revenge. Yet the Quakers were preserved even I to a proverb; and when strangers passed through streets of ruin and observed a house standing uninjured and alone, they would sometimes point, and say, “That, doubtless, is the house of a Quaker.”2—So complete indeed was the preservation which these people experienced, that in an official document of the society they say,—“no member of our society fell a sacrifice but one young man;” and that young man had assumed regimentals and arms.3

  It were to no purpose to say, in opposition to the evidence of these facts, that they form an exception to a general rule.—The exception to the rule consists in the trial of the experiment of non-resistance, not in its success. Neither were it to any purpose to say, that the savages of America or the desperadoes of Ireland spared the Quakers because they were previously known to be an unoffending people, or because the Quakers had previously gained the love of these by forbearance or by good offices: we concede all this; it is the very argument which we maintain. We say, that a uniform, undeviating regard to the peaceable obligations of Christianity becomes the safeguard of those who practise it. We venture to maintain, that no reason whatever can be assigned why the fate of the Quakers would not be the fate of all who should adopt their conduct. No reason can be assigned why, if their number had been multiplied tenfold or a hundred-fold, they would not have been preserved. If there be such a reason, let us hear it. The American and Irish Quakers were, to the rest of the community, what one nation is to a continent. And we must require the advocate of war to produce (that which has never yet been produced) a reason for believing, that although individuals exposed to destruction were preserved, a nation exposed to destruction would be destroyed. We do not however say, that if a people, in the customary state of men’s passions, should be assailed by an invader, and should, on a sudden, choose to declare that they would try whether Providence would protect them,—of such a people we do not say that they would experience protection, and that none of them would be killed: but we say, that the evidence of experience is, that a people who habitually regard the obligations of Christianity in their conduct towards other men, and who steadfastly refuse, through whatever consequences, to engage in acts of hostility, will experience protection in their peacefulness: and it matters nothing to the argument, whether we refer that protection to the immediate agency of Providence, or to the influence of such conduct upon the minds of men.4

  Such has been the experience of the unoffending and unresisting, in individual life. A national example of a refusal to bear arms has only once been exhibited to the world: but that one example has proved, so far as its political circumstances enabled it to prove, all that humanity could desire and all that skepticism could demand, in favour of our argument.

  It has been the ordinary practice of those who have colonized distant countries, to force a footing, or to maintain it, with the sword. One of the first objects has been to build a fort and to provide a military. The adventurers became soldiers, and the colony was a garrison. Pennsylvania was however colonized by men who believed that war was absolutely incompatible with Christianity, and who therefore resolved not to practise it. Having determined not to fight, they maintained no soldiers and possessed no arms. They planted themselves in a country that was surrounded by savages, and by savages who knew they were unarmed. If easiness of conquest, or incapability of defence, could subject them to outrage, the Pennsylvanians might have been the very sport of violence. Plunderers might have robbed them without retaliation, and armies might have slaughtered them without resistance. If they did not give a temptation to outrage, no temptation could be given. But these were the people who possessed their country in security, while those around them were trembling for their existence. This was a land of peace, while every other was a land of war. The conclusion is inevitable, although it is extraordinary:—they were in no need of arms, because they would not use them.

  These Indians were sufficiently ready to commit outrages upon other states, and often visited them with desolation and slaughter; with that sort of desolation, and that sort of slaughter, which might be expected from men whom civilization had not reclaimed from cruelty, and whom religion had not awed into forbearance. “But whatever the quarrels of the Pennsylvanian Indians were with others, they uniformly respected, and held as it were sacred, the territories of William Penn.”5 “The Pennsylvanians never lost man, woman, or child by them; which neither the colony of Maryland nor that of Virginia could say, no more than the great colony of New-England.”6

  The security and quiet of Pennsylvania was not a transient freedom from war, such as might accidentally happen to any nation. She continued to enjoy it “for more than seventy years,”7 and “subsisted in the midst of six Indian nations, without so much as a militia for her defence.”8 “The Pennsylvanians became armed, though without arms; they became strong, though without strength; they became safe, without the ordinary means of safety. The constable’s staff was the only instrument of authority among them for the greater part of a century, and never, during the administration of Penn, or that of his proper successors, was there a quarrel or a war.”9

  I cannot wonder that these people were not molested,—extraordinary and unexampled as their security was. There is something so noble in this perfect confidence in the Supreme Protector, in this utter exclusion of “slavish fear,” in this voluntary relinquishment of the means of injury or of defence, that I do not wonder that even ferocity could be disarmed by such virtue. A people, generously living without arms, amid nations of warriors! Who would attack a people such as this? There are few men so abandoned as not to respect such confidence. It were a peculiar and an unusual intensity of wickedness that would not even revere it.

  And when was the security of Pennsylvania molested, and its peace destroyed?—When the men who had directed its counsels, and who would not engage in war, were out-voted in its legislature: when they who supposed that there was greater security in the sword than in Christianity, became the predominating body. From that hour the Pennsylvanians transferred their confidence in Christian principles to a confidence in their arms; and from that hour to the present they have been subject to war.

  Such is the evidence derived from a national example, of the consequences of a pursuit of the Christian policy in relation to war. Here are a people who absolutely refused to fight, and who incapacitated themselves for resistance by refusing to possess arms; and these were the people whose land, amid surrounding broils and slaughter, was selected as a land of security and peace. The only national opportunity which the virtue of the Christian world has afforded us of ascertaining the safety of relying upon God for defence, has determined that it is safe.

  If the evidence which we possess do not satisfy us of the expediency of confiding in God, what evidence do we ask, or what can we receive? We have his promise that he will protect those who abandon their seeming interests in the performance of his will; and we have the testimony of those who have confided in him that he has protected them. Can the advocate of war produce one single instance in the history of man, of a person who had given an unconditional obedience to the will of Heaven, and who did not find that his conduct was wise as well as virtuous, that it accorded with his interests as well as with his duty? We ask the same question in relation to the peculiar obligations to irresistance. Where is the man who regrets, that in observance of the forbearing duties of Christianity, “he consigned his preservation to the superintendence of God?—And the solitary national example that is before us confirms the testimony of private life; for there is sufficient reason for believing that no nation, in modern ages, has possessed so large a portion of virtue or of happiness as Pennsylvania, before it had seen human blood. I would therefore repeat the question,—What evidence do we ask, or can we receive?

  This is the point from which we wander:—WE DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. When this statement is formally made to us, we think, perhaps, that it is not true; but our practice is an evidence of its truth; for if we did believe, we should also confide in it, and should be willing to stake upon it the consequences of our obedience.10 We can talk with sufficient fluency of “trusting in Providence,” but in the application of it to our conduct in life, we know wonderfully little. Who is it that confides in Providence, and for what does he trust Him? Does his confidence induce him to set aside his own views of interest and safety, and simply to obey precepts which appear inexpedient and unsafe? This is the confidence that is of value, and of which we know so little. There are many who believe that war is disallowed by Christianity, and who would rejoice that it were for ever abolished; but there are few who are willing to maintain an undaunted and unyielding stand against it. They can talk of the loveliness of peace, ay, and argue against the lawfulness of war, but when difficulty or suffering would be the consequence, they will not refuse to do what they know to be unlawful, they will not practise the peacefulness which they say they admire. Those who are ready to sustain the consequences of undeviating obedience are the supporters of whom Christianity stands in need. She wants men who are willing to suffer for her principles.

  The positions, then, which we have endeavoured to establish are these—

  I. That those considerations which operate as general causes of war, are commonly such as Christianity condemns:

  II. That the effects of war are, to a very great extent, prejudicial to the moral character of a people, and to their social and political welfare:

  III. That the general character of Christianity is wholly incongruous with war, and that its general duties are incompatible with it:

  IV. That some of the express precepts and declarations of the Christian Scriptures virtually forbid it:

  V. That the primitive Christians believed that Christ had forbidden war; and that some of them suffered death in affirmance of this belief~

  VI. That God has declared in prophecy, that it is His will that war should eventually be eradicated from the earth; and that this eradication will be effected by Christianity, by the influence of its present principles:

  VII. That those who have refu1ed to engage in war, in consequence of their belief of its inconsistency with Christianity, have found that Providence has protected them.

  Now we think that the establishment of any considerable number of these positions is sufficient for our argument. The establishment of the whole forms a body of evidence to which I am not able to believe that an inquirer to whom the subject was new would be able to withhold his assent. But since such an inquirer cannot be found, I would invite the reader to lay prepossession aside, to suppose himself to have now first heard of battles and slaughter, and dispassionately to examine whether the evidence in favour of peace be not very great, and whether the objections to it bear any proportion to the evidence itself. But whatever may be the determination upon this question, surely it is reasonable to try the experiment, whether security cannot be maintained without slaughter. Whatever be the reasons for war, it is certain that it produces enormous mischief. Even waiving the obligations of Christianity, we have to choose between evils that are certain and evils that are doubtful; between the actual endurance of a great calamity and the possibility of a less. It certainly cannot be proved that peace would not be the best policy; and since we know that the present system is bad, it were reasonable and wise to try whether the other is not better. In reality I can scarcely conceive the possibility of a greater evil than that which mankind now endure; an evil, moral and physical, of far wider extent, and far greater intensity, than our familiarity with it allows us to suppose. If a system of peace be not productive of less evil than the system of war, its consequences must indeed be enormously bad; and that ii would produce such consequences, we have no warrant for believing, either from reason or from practice,—either from the principles of the moral government of God, or from the experience of mankind, Whenever a people shall pursue, steadily and uniformly, the pacific morality of the gospel, and shall do this from the pure motive of obedience, there is no reason to fear for the consequences: there is no reason to fear that they would experience any evils such as we now endure, or that they would not find that Christianity understands their interests better than themselves; and that the surest and the only rule of wisdom, of safety, and of expediency is to maintain her spirit in every circumstance of life.

  “There is reason to expect,” says Dr. Johnson, “that as the world is more enlightened, policy and morality will at last be reconciled.”11 When this enlightened period shall arrive, we shall be approaching, and we shall not till then approach, that era of purity and peace, when “violence shall no more be beard in our land, wasting nor destruction within our borders;” that era in which God has promised that “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all his holy mountain.” That a period like this will come, I am not able to doubt: I believe it, because it is not credible that he will always endure the butchery of man by man; because he has declared that he will not endure it; and because I think there is a perceptible approach of that period in which he will say,—“It is enough.”12 In this belief the Christian may rejoice: he may rejoice that the number is increasing of those who are asking,—“Shall the sword devour for ever?” and of those who, whatever be the opinions or the practice of others, are openly saying, “I am for peace.”13


  It will perhaps be asked, what then are the duties of a subject who believes that all war is incompatible with his religion, but whose governors engage in a war and demand his service? We answer explicitly, It is his duty, mildly and temperately, yet firmly, to refuse to serve.—Let such as these remember that an honourable and an awful duty is laid upon them. It is upon their fidelity, so far as human agency is concerned, that the cause of peace is suspended. Let them then be willing to avow their opinions, and to defend them. Neither let them be contented with words, if more than words, if suffering also, is required. It is only by the unyielding fidelity of virtue that corruption can be extirpated. If you believe that Jesus Christ has prohibited slaughter, let not the opinions or the commands of a world induce you to join in it. By this “steady and determinate pursuit of virtue,” the benediction which attaches to those who hear the sayings of God and do them, will rest upon you; and the time will come when even the world will honour you, as contributors to the work of human reformation.

1 See Select Anecdotes, &c. by John Barclay, pages 71, 79.
2 The Moravians, whose principles upon the subject of war are similar to those of the Quakers, experienced also similar preservation.
3 See Hancock’s Principles of Peace Exemplified.
4 Ramond, in his “Travels in the Pyrenees,” fell in from time to time with those desperate marauders who infest the boundaries of Spain and Italy,—men who are familiar with danger and robbery and blood. What did experience teach him was the most efficient means of preserving himself from injury? To go “unarmed.” He found that he had “little to apprehend from men whom we inspire with no distrust or envy, and every thing to expect in those from whom we claim only what is due from man to man. The laws of nature still exist for those who have long shaken off the law of civil government,”—“The assassin has been my guide in the defiles of the boundaries of Italy; the smuggler of the Pyrenees has received me with a welcome in his secret paths. Armed, I should have been the enemy of both; unarmed they have alike respected me. In such expectation I have long since laid aside all menacing apparatus whatever. Arms irritate the wicked and intimidate the simple: the man of peace among mankind has a much more sacred defence,—his character.”
5 Clarkson.
6 Oldmixon, anno 1708.
7 Proud.
8 Oldmixon.
9 Clarkson: Life of Penn.
10 “The dread of being destroyed by our enemies if we do not go to war with them is a plain and unequivocal proof of our disbelief in the superintendence of Divine Providence.”—The Lawfulness of Defensive War impartially considered. By a Member of the Church of England.
11 Falkland’s Islands.
12 2 Samuel xxiv. 16.
13 Psalm cxx. 7.

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