Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas


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Consequently, the Quakers' response to persecutions after was stoical, sometimes apocalyptical.


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They would unnerve their tormentors even in the midst of their sufferings by seeking to convert them. The pattern repeated itself everywhere: no sooner was a prominent member arrested Fox at Swarthmore in January ; Margaret Fell a month later than even bigger congregations came together. The persecutions were clearly counter-productive. And predictably, whenever a leading Quaker was brought to trial, he or she was effectively given the floor to preach and convert. Quakers were an easy target. Whenever a plot, real or imaginary, was discovered, it was assumed that they or Catholics were involved.

Moreover, the law allowed relatively easy arrest and trial, though proving a case was more difficult. Quakers could be prosecuted for attending their own services, and imprisoned when they refused to take the oath in court. For that simple offence they could also be transported to the West Indies or North America, or heavily fined.


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Their meeting houses were knocked down in London, so they gathered in the rubble. Even when acquitted, they bounced back for more, inviting authorities to do their worst. Often they did. Even though national political stability suggested the need for greater toleration, the forces of revenge were spurred on by sharp and durable memories of the troubles of the past twenty years, and endured in Parliament and Church.

The immediate impetus to end the persecutions was the changed international and diplomatic climate in the s, and the threat of war with the Dutch. Conflict abroad demanded greater domestic harmony, and from that need emerged the Declaration of Indulgence in Though Parliament sought to renew the attacks on Quakers in , the high tide of persecution seemed to have receded, hut many of the old hateful memories lived on.

From , the Friends, always swift to record the catalogue of attacks they suffered, now began to record incidents of toleration and sympathy. Non-Quaker neighbours would stand up for them when their goods and possessions were impounded by local officialdom. Sometimes even the officials themselves refused to implement what they knew to be unjust orders against Quakers. Gradually they were accepted into the local way of running things: made executors of wills, for example, or given a role in helping the poor.

Non-Quakers even began to attend Quaker funerals. Mutual trust developed and Quakers came to be accepted where once they had been reviled and attacked.

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Deep Roots?: A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas

The best remembered political disputes of those years were concerned with more elevated issues: the power of Parliament versus the King, and the right of the King to choose his own faith. In the struggle against the Catholic James II, Parliament found itself locked into a more fundamental battle than it had experienced with Quakers, but in some regions the authorities continued to feel the need to persecute Quakers and others as a means of enforcing and maintaining political power.

Meeting houses were pillaged and destroyed Bristol and London were especially badly hit ; Quaker children were not spared. Often the authorities had to dig out old legislation to sanction their actions, so that even in relatively benign times there were hundreds of imprisoned Quakers. When James II ascended the throne in , there were 1, in jail of them women and more than had died in custody over the past eight years. Much of this persecution was inspired by high politics in London, but the details, the specific pains and penalties heaped upon Quaker, heads had more to do with local enmities and jealousies.

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Informers or worried clerics, uncertain landowners or hesitant officials all felt the need to exact social and political reprisals as a means of securing their own position, and perhaps grasping some bounty afforded by the Quakers. The Restoration period had witnessed perhaps more than 15, such instances. Yet this miserable litany of pain and distress elicited a remarkable display of fortitude and durability from the Quakers. Far from being destroyed, bankrupted or downhearted, they thrived. It was becoming clear that intimidatory Acts of Parliament, punative magistrates and judges, and hateful neighbours were not having the desired effect but quite the contrary.

Suspicions on a more national scale continued to come the way of the Quakers whenever a plot or rebellion was uncovered most spectacularly, Monmouth's rebellion in , but dissenters found themselves largely tolerated and sometimes encouraged. Friends were even invited to take local office. The lesson that a greater degree of toleration was the only way to secure national political stability, whatever the theological bent of the incumbent monarch, was quickly learned by William III when he landed at Torbay on 5 November to remove James II and protect the Protestant Establishment against the threat of Catholic control.

The new monarch believed that the nation would be best served by harnessing the abilities and talents of its dissenters, men and women of enterprise, initiative and strength; still less could it afford costly and counter-productive persecutions for reasons which seemed increasingly anachronistic. Within months of the accession of William and Mary, the Toleration Act of had moved quickly through Parliament.

Major discrimination continued, of course and was not to he legislated against until the early nineteenth century , but the year marked a major turning-point in the history of the Quaker community.

Causes of the Cold War

Two years later George Fox died having endured a life of persistent persecution, as had his followers. Yet Fox had lived long enough to see his efforts allied to others rewarded by a large, thriving and committed following. From the upheavals of the Civil War, through the factional disputes of the Interregnum and the oppression of the Restoration, they had survived. At the end of Fox's life it was hard to recall that troubled youth wandering the lanes of the Midlands and the North in search of spiritual satisfaction.

Though his leadership was often disputed, by the time of his death the movement he had come to personify had grown to an estimated 50, Quakers quite apart from those thriving in Pennsylvania.


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By the last years of the seventeenth century, the Quakers were led and managed from London. Membership had taken root in many other regions and the North was no longer the main centre of activity, though it could still claim to be their spiritual birthplace. But Quakers everywhere were different; different from other religious groups in almost every respect.

They had evolved a style of conduct both at worship and in their private lives which stood in sharp contrast to the world at large. The first Quaker organisations emerged, naturally enough, to cater for their parochial needs. Regional meetings had begun to spread in the North in the s, then, prompted by Fox, annual meetings were called in London. In the counties, Quakerism organised itself through the Particular, Monthly and Quarterly Meeting the last charged with monitoring the overall conduct and well-being of local life.

There was an inevitable overlap in the concerns of these various meetings, but they formed a structure of management which allowed the London headquarters to keep in touch with events and developments in the smallest of communities. Between and the Northern Yearly Meeting reflected the origins of the movement, but the Yearly Meeting in London served to co-ordinate business at national and regional level, while the Monthly and Quarterly Meeting channelled business upwards from local meetings.

Reactions against Fox's centralised form of organisation periodically surfaced, especially in the North, where in the s John Story and John Wilkinson threatened separation. Such tensions were partly theological, but they also challenged Fox's authoritarian leadership. Many bridled against his tone and his conviction, which came out repeatedly in the London's meetings, that he alone had a monopoly on truth. However, the Quakers needed more than an efficient organisation; they also required principled rules and specified conventions which could provide the basic tenets of Quaker conduct and belief: the bedrock of Quaker life and behaviour.

Beginning in , the Yearly Meeting asked three simple questions of the various representatives about numbers, imprisonments, and the state of local Quakerism. They were designed to provide the factual information that they required to function properly. As problems were revealed a fall in Quaker membership, for example new strategies were devised, and a more coherent structure of control and discipline evolved. There thus emerged the Queries and Advices which, though changing from time to time, became their guiding rules.

If we are looking for a written code or constitution for Quakerism, it can be found here in the varied Advices published over the years. These Advices provided the precepts which shaped their personal and communal lives; not only the theological outlook but also the conduct of daily life, including outside businesses.

By the end of the eighteenth century such missives going back and forth had become the broad outline of contemporary Quaker philosophy; an accumulating corpus of judgement and suggestions which, though never sanctified as philosophy, in fact acted precisely in that way. They formed, in effect, the ideology and principles of the movement which was paralleled by an ever-tighter control exercised over Quaker life and worship.

the exception that proves the rule

An ad hoc London committee read and monitored all their publications, excluding unwanted ideas and rejecting those manuscripts which diverged too sharply from Fox's ideas of harmony and organisation. It regulated ministers and meetings, negotiated with the authorities, helped Quakers in distress and acted as a pressure group on behalf of their broader interests.

Throughout, the conduct of Quaker business was undertaken in the spirit of worship; none the less it was businesslike, thorough and meticulously minuted from first to last. As Quaker philosophy evolved, it was inevitable that disciplinary action would be taken against those who transgressed. Individualism was gradually brought to heel and subordinated to what was deemed the broader general good.

This evolution took place during years of persecution to defend Quaker interests and individuals, and to deflect external enemies and threats. This self-regulating, self-supporting community thus devised a form of organisation that survived till modern times, the foundations of which were laid as a means of self-preservation and mutual protection in the years from to At the same time there emerged the distinctive physical face of Quakerism. They needed a place of worship and to meet, so local groups consolidated and pooled resources, and they acquired, constructed or converted buildings for their own unique use.

In the early years, Quaker preachers had spoken wherever was necessary, preaching in open spaces to large crowds, converting, praying and working from within private homes. Often built by the co-operative help of members, meeting houses developed standard features: the simple benches, the gallery, an upper room initially used by women. Like Quakers themselves, these houses were simple, unpretentious and functional; early ones were often remote, in part a reflection of Quaker farming roots.

A number were pulled down and destroyed in the persecutions; others have decayed and been lost in the intervening years. But a clutch of those early original buildings survive to this day -- some in private hands, some still in use as meeting houses -- where we can catch some sense of their appealing tranquillity. This tranquillity stood in contrast to the early history of the movement. Conceived in the upheavals of revolution and civil war, by the time of Fox's death in it had been refined into a national organisation with headquarters in London, committed to active missionary work across the country and alert to the need for self-preservation.

What Do Quakers Believe?

The instinct to be mutually helpful was to become of prime importance as Quakerism moved into a new phase. With the age of persecution passed, Quakers were able to flourish in a more tolerant climate. Henceforth they directed their energies to assisting each other, no longer as a defence but for personal and communal self-advancement.

The tactics, organisation and ideology which had been fashioned to stave off hostility provided the very basis for a great deal of Quaker success to come in a more benign religious and political world. Langley Press Direct. Search this site. Books about British history. Books about Durham and the North.

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Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas
Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas
Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas
Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas
Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas
Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas
Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas
Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas
Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas Deep Roots? A Fresh Look at the Origins of Some Quaker Ideas

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