On this day of thanksgiving, the question is being asked by CNN, “Are slaves the reason for the ‘electoral college, and is the Electoral College a fair representation of the people?” The video above outlays the answer. History, as it so often does, gives answers and reveal the facts. It is important to note, especially in this time of political ambiguity, that facts are independent free floating truths, unattached to any individual thought, philosophy or religion, etc.
The early Quakers would have had a lot to say on this matter. A brief history lesson on the Quakers thoughts and their “Puritanical” belief system might aid us in how we should deal with the issue of the Electoral College today.
Quakers have been a significant part of the movements for the abolition of slavery, to promote equal rights for women, and peace. They have also promoted education and the humane treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill, through the founding or reforming of various institutions. Quaker entrepreneurs played a central role in forging the Industrial Revolution, especially in England and Pennsylvania.
Most Quakers owned slaves when they first came to America; to most Quakers “slavery was perfectly acceptable provided that slave owners attended to the spiritual and material needs of those they enslaved.” 70% of Quakers owned slaves in the period from 1681 to 1705; however, from 1688 some Quakers began to speak out against slavery until by 1756 only 10% of Quakers owned slaves.
The first two prominent Friends to denounce slavery were Anthony Benezet and John Woolman. They asked the Quakers, “What thing in the world can be done worse towards us, than if men should rob or steal us away and sell us for slaves to strange countries”. In that same year, a group of Quakers along with some German Mennonites met at the meeting house in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to discuss why they were distancing themselves from slavery. Four of them signed a document written by Francis Daniel Pastorius that stated, “To bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against.”
From 1755–1776, the Quakers worked at freeing slaves, and became the first western organization in history to ban slave-holding. They also created societies to promote the emancipation of slaves. From the efforts of the Quakers, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were able to convince the Continental Congress to ban the importation of slaves into America as of December 1, 1775. Pennsylvania was the strongest anti-slavery state at the time, and with Franklin’s help they led “The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting The Abolition of Slavery, The Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and for Improving the Condition of the African Race”. In November 1775, Virginia’s former royal governor claimed that all slaves would be freed if they were willing to fight for Great Britain. This subsequently encouraged George Washington to allow slaves in the colonies to enlist as well so that they all did not try to run away and fight in Great Britain to get their freedom. Because George Washington passed this law, about 5 thousand African Americans served for the constitutional forces, and gained their freedom when they were done with their service. By 1792 states from Massachusetts to Virginia all had similar anti-slavery groups. From 1780–1804, slavery was largely abolished in all of New England, the Middle Atlantic states, and the North West territories.
The Southern states, however, were still very prominent in keeping slavery running. Because of this, an informal network of safe houses and escape routes—called the Underground Railroad—developed across the United States to get enslaved people out of America and into Canada or the free states. The Quakers were a very prominent force in the Underground Railroad, and their efforts helped free many slaves. Immediately north of the Mason-Dixon line, the Quaker settlement of Chester County, Pennsylvania—one of the early hubs of the Underground Railroad—was considered a “hotbed of abolition.” However, not all Quakers were of the same opinion regarding the Underground Railroad: because slavery was still legal in many states, it was therefore illegal for anyone to help a slave escape and gain freedom. Many Quakers, who saw slaves as equals, felt it was proper to help free slaves and thought that it was unjust to keep someone as a slave; many Quakers would “lie” to slave hunters when asked if they were keeping slaves in their house, they would say “no” because in their mind there was no such thing as a slave. Other Quakers saw this as breaking the law and thereby disrupting the peace, both of which go against Quaker values thus breaking Quaker belief in being pacifistic. Furthermore, involvement with the law and the government was something from which the Quakers had tried to separate themselves. This divisiveness caused the formation of smaller, more independent branches of Quakers, who shared similar beliefs and views.
However, there were many prominent Quakers who stuck to the belief that slavery was wrong, and were even arrested for helping the slaves out and breaking the law. Richard Dillingham, a school teacher from Ohio, was arrested because he was found helping three slaves escape in 1848. Thomas Garrett had an Underground Railroad stop at his house in Delaware and was found guilty in 1848 of helping a family of slaves escape. Garrett was also said to have helped and worked with Harriet Tubman, who was a very well known slave who worked to help other slaves get their freedom. Educator Levi Coffin and his wife Catherine were Quakers who lived in Indiana and helped the Underground Railroad by hiding slaves in their house for over 21 years. They claimed to have helped 3,000 slaves gain their freedom. Susan B. Anthony was also a Quaker, and did a lot of antislavery work hand in hand with her work with women’s rights.”
America has entered a period of profound uncertainty. The Quaker spirit of thanksgiving, moral fiber and fairness must under-gird our politics and sense of reasoning. Fairness and “One Person One Vote” are the hallmarks of any just system or platform. Without it, internal deterioration lurks beneath its planks. I would argue that the Electoral College is a termite.
Quakers. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 24, 2016,