Pennsylvania Politics and the Growth of Democracy: 1740- 1776

By Theodore Thayer | Go to book overview

II
POLITICS -- PACIFISM -- WAR. 1739-1748

T HE POLITICAL HISTORY of colonial Pennsylvania stems in large part from issues which arose from the problems of war and defense. This was especially true for the years between 1740 and 1763 when the struggle between Great Britain and France for supremacy in North America reached its final stages. The question of defense, however, first confronted Pennsylvania in 1689, only eight years after its founding. A war in Europe between England and France and their allies, known as the War of the League of Augsburg, spread to America where it was called King William's War.

Under orders from the Crown, Deputy-Governor John Blackwell commanded the Quaker Assembly to contribute to the war, the brunt of which was being borne by New York and New England.1 The Assembly, as would be expected of a body composed almost entirely of pacifists, steadfastly refused to comply with the repeated orders from the Governor. Pennsylvania, the Quakers argued, was, in recognition of the fact that it was founded as an asylum for all people principled against war, exempt from military obligations.

The Assembly's answer should not be taken to mean that, but for the presence of Quakerism, the colony would have readily supported the war. All the colonies were in fact narrowly provincial and shamelessly parsimonious, reluctant at all times to contribute anything to imperial defense unless actually threatened with invasion. Everywhere there existed a deep-seated feeling that Britain should defend the relatively poor and undeveloped colonies, from which England realized great wealth through trade and commerce.

The failure of Pennsylvania to contribute to the defense of the Empire was one of the chief reasons for the conversion of the colony into a Royal province in 1692. Shortly afterwards, the new Governor, Benjamin Fletcher, reported to his superiors in England that the change had not materially improved the situation in Pennsylvania. He was convinced that no military aid could be expected from Pennsylvania so long as Quakers remained in control of the legislature.2 Proposals were presently heard both in England and America for excluding Quakers by act of Parliament from holding office during war. But no action was taken by the British government, burdened as it

____________________
1
Andrews, III, 312.
2
Root, 226, 263; Andrews, III, 314-315.

-9-

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