This article was first published in The Friend in the autumn of 2015.

Margaret Fell (1614-1702) was one of the most important leaders of the early Quaker movement. She became known as the ‘Mother of Quakerism’, which indicates the vital role Fell played in practical organisation and in the formation of Quaker ideas. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Fell acted as the movement’s principal political lobbyist, arguing for religious toleration and trying to secure the release of imprisoned Friends. She met with Charles II on more than one occasion and wrote to him many times. Written in 1660, her tract A Declaration and Information from Us, the People Called Quakers was the first Quaker ‘peace declaration’, pre-dating the more famous declaration by a number of months. Below is a summary of its key points.

  1. We are persecuted for our beliefs – Quakers have been persecuted by all governments and every so-called Christian group ever since we first emerged as a people of God. ­­­These things have been done to us, not because we have wronged or harmed anyone or broken the law, but because we refuse to follow the ways of the established church. We don’t believe that people should take money for preaching the Gospel and we will not pay tithes in order to fund this. Both the prophets and Christ condemned such practices. We no longer have any need for paid human priests because, for those who obey him, Christ is the only eternal High Priest and the source of our salvation. It is because of our obedience to the commandments of Christ that we have suffered persecution. For example, Jesus teaches that no one should swear oaths and that all people are equally humble before God. We are persecuted when we refuse to swear oaths and when we refuse to bow down before other human beings.
  1. We want you to understand us – We do not wish to offend the current government and, as far as we know, you have not acted against us. However, we need to explain ourselves to you because we’re not convinced that you really understand who we are and we are worried that you might believe the false allegations other people make about us. It is because of our obedience to the commandments of Christ, not because we are traitors, that we are will not swear oaths. We want to make it clear that our intentions are honest and truthful. We are a peaceable people and we will be loyal to you as long as you do God’s will and do not persecute people because of their beliefs. We don’t want any special favours, but we do want the freedom to do God’s will and be true to our consciences as freeborn Englishmen.
  2. We follow the way of Jesus – We urge you in God’s presence not to persecute people for their beliefs, as those in power have done in the past. Please pay attention to what we tell you, so that you are not ignorant about our beliefs and our ways. We want everyone to enjoy peace and experience new life in Christ Jesus. He is the truth, the way and the life for all people and, therefore, the source of their salvation. This is something we have experienced ourselves and we want everyone to benefit from this too. We are living in the new covenant where God writes his law on our hearts and teaches us himself. We are the children of the Lord, so we will never oppress anyone. However, for living in this way, we face suffering and persecution ourselves.
  1. We criticise false religion, not you – Our main criticisms have always been aimed at those priests and leaders within the Church who profess Christ as Lord but do not really possess his living Spirit. They distract people by encouraging them to focus on human ideas and the letter of scripture, rather than on God’s direct teaching within them. Before anyone can worship God authentically, they must first know the Spirit of God working within them. The priests and the leaders of the church have supported all the governments of the past and have tried to use them to further their own ends. They are only really interested in their own status and power. Their conduct reveals their true nature. Although we forgive them for the injustices they have perpetrated against us, they have shown themselves to be deceivers and false teachers.
  1. We are a peaceable people – We are a people who seek to live in peace, love and unity with all people and we want everyone else to do the same. We reject violence and war, which is caused by the inward lusts and desires that make people want to own and control things. We love all people and are concerned for their well-being. We do what we do because we are concerned for people’s souls. Like Jesus, we have been attacked, ridiculed and persecuted for this. Jesus suffered and, because we are his people, we suffer too. We are committed to living the way of Jesus and, if necessary, are willing to suffer and die for this. We are engaged in a spiritual struggle, so we have no need for physical weapons. We have shown that we are willing to endure attacks and persecution without fighting back.
  1. A warning about persecution – Now that you are in power, we caution you to act justly and with mercy and to prevent the persecution of innocent people. If you do this, you will succeed and prosper. Our desire is to enjoy freedom and liberty of conscience and we expect you to safeguard this for us, as the King has previously promised. We ask you to protect us from hateful and envious people who wish to attack us, spoil our possessions and imprison us, simply because we don’t agree with them. They accuse us of being thieves, murderers and traitors, but we are not. We are not the enemy of anyone. We reject all acts of treason, treachery and dishonesty. We will never be involved in plotting against you and we will never use violence. Instead, we are a truthful and honest people. We wish you well and proclaim our commitment to peace, love and unity. If it becomes necessary, thousands of us are willing to suffer and die for these principles. We trust that you will not end up with innocent blood on your hands by believing those who spread lies and untruths about us.

Fell’s tract seeks to reassure the King and Parliament that, although Quakers have been branded as potentially violent traitors, in reality, they are a people of God who follow the way of Jesus and reject all violence and dishonesty. She points out that Friends were persecuted by the King’s opponents during the Commonwealth period and that they are mainly interested in matters of religion and spirituality, rather than politics. However, this reassuring message is also accompanied by clear warnings. Fell implies that, ultimately, Quakers must give their first loyalty to divine authority, rather than human authority, and that they are willing to die for their beliefs. She also offers a thinly-veiled warning to the powers about the dangers of persecuting God’s people: the well-being of their souls may be in jeopardy.

A Declaration and Information from Us, the People Called Quakers, to the Present Governors, The King, and Both Houses of Parliament, and All Whom It May Concern

Margaret Fell (1660)

A Modern English Paraphrase

We are the people of God called Quakers and we are hated and persecuted by Godless people. In fact, we have been persecuted by all governments and every so-called Christian group ever since we first emerged some twelve years ago. This has included beatings, imprisonments and all sorts of other abuses. ­­­These things have been done to us, not because we have wronged or harmed anyone or broken the law, but because of our beliefs and our refusal to follow the ways of the other churches. We don’t believe that people should take money for preaching the Gospel and we will not pay tithes in order to fund this. Both the prophets and Christ condemned such practices.

The payment of priests and the charging of tithes were a feature of the old covenant but we now live in the new covenant. We no longer have any need for paid human priests because, for those who obey him, Christ is the only eternal high-priest and the source of our salvation. It is because of our obedience to the commandments of Christ that we have suffered persecution. For example, Jesus teaches that no one should swear oaths and that all people are equally humble before God. We are persecuted when we refuse to swear oaths and when we refuse to bow down before other human beings. Therefore, we suffer for obeying Christ.

We do not wish to offend the current government and, as far as we know, you have not acted against us. However, we need to explain ourselves to you because we’re not convinced that you really understand who we are and we are worried that you might believe the false allegations other people make about us. We want you to know that we are fair, honest and straight-forward in our dealings with all people so we ask you not to believe unjust people who tell lies about us. We want to state very clearly in the name of the Lord that we are an innocent people.

Because of our obedience to the commandments of Christ we are unable to swear oaths and so the magistrates and clergy who oppose us deliberately try to make us swear the oath of allegiance so that, when we refuse, we can be accused of being traitors. This is then used as an excuse to imprison us. Many of us have been unfairly imprisoned for this reason. We want to make it clear to both the king and the present government that our intentions are honest and truthful. We are a peaceable people and we will give our consent to the authorities as long as they do God’s will and do not persecute people because of their beliefs. We know that you will be blessed by God if you ensure that people have liberty of conscience. We don’t want any special favours but we do want the freedom to do God’s will and be true to our consciences as freeborn Englishmen.
We urge you in God’s presence not to persecute people for their beliefs as those in power have done in the past. Please pay attention to what we tell you so that you are not ignorant about our beliefs and our ways. Don’t listen to those who spread lies about us, we are innocent and follow the ways of Jesus. We want you to know that, as a people, we have the best interests of everyone at heart. We want them to enjoy peace and experience new life in Christ Jesus. He is the truth, the way and the life for all people and therefore the source of their salvation. This is something we have experienced ourselves and we want everyone to benefit from this too. This is the way to God’s eternal kingdom.
God has come to teach his people himself and if they would only follow this witness in their consciences, they would turn away from all oppression and persecution. We are living in the new covenant where God writes his law on our hearts and teaches us himself. We are the children of the Lord so we will never oppress anyone. However, for living in this way, we face suffering and persecution ourselves.

Our main criticisms have always been aimed at those priests and leaders within the Church who profess Christ as Lord but do not really possess his living Spirit. When we received this living Spirit ourselves, it was revealed to us that those who profess Christ but do not possess him, deceive people as false teachers. They distract people by encouraging them to focus on human ideas and the letter of scripture rather than on God’s direct teaching within them. They cannot honestly say that they possess the infallible Spirit that was in the apostles. Before anyone can worship God authentically, they must first know the Spirit of God working within them. However, the priests deny this. Their lack of intimate knowledge of God is revealed in their behaviour which is not consistent with their stated beliefs. We have made our views about this issue known to previous governments too. Everyone should have liberty of conscience. No-one should be expected to support these priests against their will. However, in the past such freedom has not been upheld and many people have been persecuted and impoverished for opposing the payment of tithes. The magistrates and those in power showed no mercy but since then their power has been overturned. The priests and the leaders of the church have supported all the governments of the past and have tried to use them to further their own ends. They are only really interested in their own status and power. Any honest person can see that these people have no consistency of principle. They chop and change to suit themselves. Are such people fit to be the teachers of others? Their conduct reveals their true nature and they will not be able to deceive people for much longer. Although we forgive them for the injustices they have perpetrated against us, they have shown themselves to be deceivers and false teachers. We only want what is best for everyone. We want all people to know God within them but they choose to persecute us for this.

We are a people who seek to live in peace, love and unity with all people and we want everyone else to do the same. We reject violence and war which is caused by the inward lusts and desires that make people want to own and control things. We love all people and are concerned for their well-being. We do what we do because we are concerned for their souls. Like Jesus we have been attacked, ridiculed and persecuted for this. Jesus is our Lord and Master. Jesus suffered and, because we are his people, we suffer too. Jesus made it clear that his kingdom is very different in nature from the kingdoms of this world. Rather than seeking to hurt and persecute people, Jesus came to save them. We are committed to living the way of Jesus and, if necessary, are willing to suffer and die for this. We are engaged in a spiritual struggle so we have no need for physical weapons. We have shown that we are willing to endure attacks and persecution without fighting back.

Now that you are in power we caution you to act justly and with mercy and to prevent the persecution of innocent people. If you do this, you will succeed and prosper. Our desire is to enjoy freedom and liberty of conscience and we expect you to safeguard this for us as the king has previously promised. We ask you to protect us from hateful and envious people who wish to attack us, spoil our possessions and imprison us, simply because we don’t agree with them. They accuse us of being thieves, murderers and traitors but we are not. We are not the enemy of anyone. We reject all acts of treason, treachery and dishonesty. We will never be involved in plotting against you and we will never use violence. Instead we are a truthful and honest people. We wish you well and proclaim our commitment to peace, love and unity. If it becomes necessary, thousands of us are willing to suffer and give our lives for these principles. We hope you will not end up with innocent blood on your hands by believing those who spread lies and untruths about us. Margaret Fell. Given forth the 5th of the 4th month, 1660.

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