The rest of what I have to say is about proposing a Study Guide of sorts, a way to roll forward with Quakers a focus, as a way of gaining more insight into United States history.
I want to zoom in on the Civil War Era and the role of Quakers in relationship to the institution of slavery. Lets talk about Quaker slave owners.
Then I want to talk about Prohibition, in the context of women finally gaining the vote.
Both chapters center around Codes of Conduct, as we might say today. Shall Quakers own slaves? Shall Quakers consume alcohol?
The stereotype some Friends like to cultivate is that Quakers were the principal engineers of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses helping properties escape their owners.
As a matter of fact, very few Quakers were “immediatists” calling for ending slavery yesterday, as an intolerable practice. Most went along with the prevailing wisdom: that a solution might be at the end of some long tunnel, from which no light could yet be seen.
God would show us a way forward, incrementally, not overnight.
My understanding of Prohibition is it was a direct result of women gaining the vote and wanting to close the taverns and saloons full of sex workers and human traffickers.
Too many husbands had fallen prey to these institutions, which formed a gauntlet between the factory and home. Wages would be grossly less because of debts owed to these dens of iniquity. Prohibition would put the dark side out of business, once and for all.
What actually happened is citizens became lawbreakers and scofflaws in record numbers. The well to do were especially sure that Prohibition could not apply to them. Class hath its privileges, one of which is to enjoy fine gins.
I imagine Wall Street has much the same attitude today towards other prohibited substances. The money-driven often look favorably upon cocaine for example, as it gives them the bull’s blood needed to turn cold calls into high roller deals.
High powered brokers count on getting, and expensing, their tools of the trade.
Where are Quakers in all of this?
Mostly not on Wall Street, as stock portfolios without Arms Bazaar stigma are not that easy to come by, and tend to be jeered at by those judging a fund by what it returns. Applying external criteria, apparently not market related, is not good business sense by some playbooks.
Some Quakers excelled as brewers however, and I’m guessing many smuggled rum even during Prohibition. Staying out of the weapons business did not mean staying out of steel, or ship building, or chocolate… or alcohol in some cases. These businesses could be respectable, along with banking and insurance.
Quakers rose to middle class and beyond, from humble 1600s beginnings, thanks to all that plain speech and fair dealing. They helped spark a boom economy, and offered the promise of prosperity, even to workers and their dependents. The recent book Quakernomics talks about this Quaker heyday and catalyzing role in the English industrial revolution.
What helped bring alcohol back, after the amendment establishing Prohibition was repealed, was factory beer and the automobile. Instead of running a gauntlet of bars between work and home, a middle class husband could pick up a six pack on the way home, and both he and his wife could consume it together, in front of the television. Beer companies jumped on the bandwagon of promoting clean family fun, such as outdoor adventure through car camping. Bars came back as sports bars. Athleticism and drinking go together, like baseball and hotdogs.
However, in following these two well-worn ruts, slavery and Prohibition, I’ve skirted some of the more sensitive topics that might help us “grok” Quakerism.
What about its relationship with Islamic cultures?
And how about with Native Americans?
Wasn’t the Quakers’ service organization in America, known as AFSC, on McCarthy’s watch list? Didn’t AFSC help get medical supplies to Hanoi at the height of the American bombings?
In talking about “safe topics” aren’t I copping out at some level?
I like to think “no, I’m just not biting off more than I can chew”. No sense eating with my mouth open. I should digest more history and study my own innards some more, before I make lots of public pronouncements about studies still underway. Stay tuned.