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"FRIENDS SUFFERINGS," that is of the money, or the value of the goods, that have been taken from the Quakers for (c) tithes and church dues; for the society are principled against the maintenance of any religi ous ministry, and of course cannot conscientiously pay toward the support of the established church. In consequence of their refusal of payment in the latter case, their goods are seized by a law-process, and sold to the best bidder. Those, who have the charge of these executions, behave differently. Some wantonly take such goods, as will not sell for a quarter of their value, and others much more than is necessary, and others again kindly select those, which in the sale will be attended with the least loss. This amount, arising from this confiscation of their property, is easily ascertained from the written answers of the deputies. The sum for each county is observed, and noted down. The different sums are then added together, and the amount for the whole kingdom within the year is discovered.
In speaking of tithes and church-dues I must correct an error, that is prevalent. It is usually understood, when Quakers suffer on these accounts, that their losses are made up by the society at large. No
(c) Distraints or imprisonment for refusing to serve in the militia are included also under the head" sufferings."
thing can be more false than this idea. Were their losses made up on such occasions, there would be no suffering. The fact is, that whatever a person loses in this way is his own total loss; nor is it ever refunded, though, in consequence of expensive prosecutions at law, it has amounted to the whole of the property of those, who have refused the payment of these demands. If a man were to come to poverty on this account, he would undoubtedly be supported, but he would only be supported as belonging to the poor of the society.
Among the subjects, introduced at this meeting, may be that of any new regulations for the government of the society. The Quakers are not so blindly attached to antiquity, as to keep to customs, merely because they are of an ancient date. But they are ready, on conviction, to change, alter, and improve. When, however, such regulations or alterations are proposed, they must come not through the medium of an individual, but through the medium of one of the quarterly meetings.
There is also a variety of other business at the yearly meeting. Reports are received and considered on the subject of Ackworth school, which was mentioned in a former part of the work as a public seminary of the society.
Letters are also read from the branches of the society in foreign parts, and answers prepared to them. Appeals also are heard in various instances, and determined in this court.
I may mention here two circumstances, that are worthy of notice on these occasions.
It may be observed that whether such business as that, which I have just detailed or any of any other sort comes before the yearly meeting at large, it is decided, not by the influence of numbers, but by the weight of religious character. As most subjects afford cause for a difference of opinion, so the Quakers at this meeting are found taking their different sides of the argument, as they believe it right. Those however, who are in opposition to any measure, if they perceive by the turn the debate takes, either that they are going against the general will, or that they are opposing the sentiments of members of high moral reputation in the society, give way. And so far do the Quakers carry their condescension on these occasions, that if a few ancient and respectable individuals seem to be dissatisfied with any measure that may have been proposed, though otherwise respectably supported, the measure is frequently postponed, out of tenderness to the feelings of such members, and from a desire of gaining them in time by forbearance. But, in whatever way the question before them is settled, no divi
sion is ever called for. No counting of numbers is allowed. No protest is suffered to be entered. In such a case there can be no ostensible leader of any party; no ostensible minority or majority. The Quakers are of opinion that such things, if allowed, would be inconsistent with their profession. They would lead also to broils and divisions, and ultimately to the detriment of the society. Every measure therefore is settled by the Quakers at this meeting in the way I have mentioned, in brotherly love, and as the name of the society signifies, as Friends.
The other remarkable circumstance is, that there is no ostensible president or (d) head of this great as, sembly, nor any ostensible president or head of any one of its committees ; and yet the business of the society is conducted in as orderly a manner, as it is possible to be among any body of men, where the number is so great, and where every individual has a right to speak.
The state of the society having by this time been ascertained, both in the meetings of the women and of the men, from the written answers of the different deputies, and from the reports of different committees,
(d) Christ is supposed by the Quakers to be the head, under whose guidance all their deliberations ought to take place.
and the (e) other business of the meeting having been nearly finished, a committee, which had been previ÷ ously chosen, meet to draw up a public letter.
This letter usually comprehends three subjects: first, the state of the society, in which the sufferings for tithes and other demands of the church are included. This state, in all its different branches, the committee ascertain by inspecting the answers, as brought by the deputies before mentioned.
A second subject, comprehended in the letter, is advice to the society for the regulation of their moral and civil conduct. This advice is suggested partly from the same written answers, and partly by the circumstances of the times. Are there, for instance, any vicious customs creeping into the society, or any new dispositions among its members contrary to the Quaker principles? The answers brought by the deputies shew it, and advice is contained in the letter adapted to the case. Are the times, seasons of diffi culty and embarrassment in the commercial world? Is the aspect of the political horizon gloomy, and does it appear big with convulsions? New admonition and advices follow.
(e) This may relate to the printing of books, to testimonies concerning deceased ministers, addresses to the king, if thought necessary,
and the like.