The Missing Cross to Purity

The Christian Progress

of George Whitehead

Part X Continued

King James Deposed by William of Orange

Although the liberty of conscience declared and allowed by King James to us, and other dissenters, by which we all had relief, was envied by our persecutors, priests, and others, yet that could not be the cause of his abdication, so as to move divine providence thereto, or cause his armies to be dispirited or discouraged from defending and supporting him; for he thought himself safe both with dissenters, in allowing them their liberties, and with the church of England, by their professed doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance; and especially safe with the Quakers by their passiveness and non-resistance under their manifold sufferings and persecutions; and their being principled not to revenge, fight, kill, or destroy men's lives.

Site Editor's Comments: King James was the first Catholic monarch since Queen Mary, the elder daughter of King Henry VIII; she had been known as bloody Mary, burning many Protestants at the stake for denying the Catholic claim of wine and bread being transformed to the body and blood of Christ by a priest saying special words. She was succeeded by her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth, whose reign was both popular and prosperous. There were only 30,000 Catholics in all of England; but they were greatly feared and not allowed to hold office in Parliament, believing their loyalty was to the Pope, rather than the people of England.

King James' whole family went openly to Catholic mass, and he himself began to advance the cause of his religion by allowing the Jesuits to build a college in London. [This was particularly disturbing, because Jesuits were so mistrusted that there was a law on the books allowing execution of them. They were reputed to be the equivalent of secret police for the Pope, with no reservations in poisoning, inciting revolutions, murdering, etc.] King James had sent an ambassador to Rome, and received one from the Pope. Therefore the Declaration of Indulgence by King James was seen as nothing but his plot to restore Catholic rule of Parliament; supposedly he even employed the greatly feared Jesuits as advisors, living in the castle quarters with him. In the closing months of his reign, King James had made some serious blunders: viciously crushing a Protestant coup attempt by the Duke of Monmouth, executing many and deporting 300; replacing three colleges administrations with known Catholics; and imprisoning seven bishops of the Church of England for refusing to read one of his proclamations of tolerance in Church services. So, except for the Quakers and Catholics, James was extremely unpopular throughout England. The time was ripe for change.

William of Orange in Holland, married to James' Protestant daughter, Mary, led the very popular glorious revolution to replace the Catholic king with a Protestant King and Queen. It was a bloodless revolution without a fight, for the English army and navy had deserted King James to support William and his army landing in England. Without supporters James abdicated as king by throwing the Great Seal of England into the Thames and fleeing to France. There he resided in a castle provided by the sympathetic Catholic king of France.

William Penn had also been daily advising and lobbying King James. James was an old family friend of Penn and his father. Penn lobbied on behalf of the Quakers particularly, and other oppressed peoples in general. From King James, Penn quickly secured the release of religious dissidents from prison, 1300 of whom were Quakers. Many of the Quakers had been in long imprisonments, from ten to twelve years; and over others 500 had died the few years before. Penn warned the King regarding his actions replacing the college officials with catholics and the imprisonment of the seven Anglican bishops; but his advice was ignored. But the whole country believed that Penn was a Jesuit masquerading as a Quaker based on Penn's long influence and association with the king.

Widespread rumors of Catholic coups shortly followed Protestant William's assuming the throne. Later with the Catholic French army, James invaded Catholic Ireland in an attempt to take back the English throne, by first conquering Ireland; but King William departed for Ireland and quickly defeated him.

Two Catholic kings did not have the clout necessary to establish religious toleration. Although James' predecessor, Charles, had professed to be an Anglican, he was married to a Catholic; and on his deathbed, sent the Anglican priests away, requesting Catholic priests to attend him. The country had long suspected his Catholic leanings, so he also had lacked the clout to establish religious toleration.
Both King Charles and King James attempted to declare religious toleration, but the Parliaments refused to pass the necessary legislation, jealous of their governmental authority and suspect of the two king's motivations being only to promote popery.

Only a Protestant king would be able to sponsor such a move without Parliament's and the general population's suspicion of motive; and this is exactly what quickly happened under the reign of Protestant King William, who was widely popular and trusted. As you read the record of King William's meetings with the Quakers, he appears to have been particularly sharp in judgment of character and fair minded. With this understanding, even if James had not secretly harbored an intention to reestablish Catholic dominance, it is easier to see Almighty God's hand in securing the freedom of worship for His people.

The Quakers had suffered massively for over twenty-five years, being unable to worship without fear of or actual persecution. This was truly a definitive moment in history, not only for the Quakers, but for all to enjoy the freedom of religion without government interference.

What then moved Divine Providence to give such an invisible stroke upon his army, so as they would not stand to support him? Not the leniency, indulgence, or kindness of the prince to his conscientious, dissenting subjects, but some other cause, best known to the Divine Majesty, the Searcher of hearts; by whom both the intentions and designs of men and princes, as well as their actions, are foreseen and known; who by His power and spirit can move upon the waters, even upon the spirits of men, nations and kingdoms, to cause what overturnings and revolutions he pleases. For it is certain, the Most High rules in and over the kingdoms of men, and he gives them to whomever, and for what causes he pleases; Dan 4:17, 25,32,35.

Glory to the Most High, the great Emperor over the world, who has hitherto helped us, preserved his peculiar people, and defended them through many storms and tempests, and divided the sea, the many waters and floods, for his redeemed to pass through towards their everlasting inheritance and rest in his kingdom of glory and triumph: glory, glory forever.

George Whitehead introduces his account or his own and his friends' proceedings in the early part of the reign of William and Mary, with the following review.

1689.-The great and merciful providence of the Lord God Almighty, towards us his people, is worthy to be forever remembered; and I hope shall never be forgotten by us, who have been really sensible thereof, and seriously considered the same through many great trials, deep exercises and hardships, wherein the Lord our God helped and stood by us, and not allowed our enemies and persecutors to lay his heritage, among us, desolate or waste. He did not give us over to the will of our enemies, who often breathed out cruelty against us, threatening our ruin and desolation. Blessed be our God, who has frustrated their cruel designs, and restrained the remainder of their wrath, and contrary thereunto has carried on his own work, and prospered the same, to his own praise and his people's comfort; causing all to work together for good to all them who truly love his name and power: blessed forever be the same. Although for the space of about twenty-five years, from 1660 to 1684:, we had but little respite from some kind of persecution or other, notwithstanding the liberty of conscience so often promised and declared from the throne, yet the truth lost no ground, but gained through all. The persecution time was a seed time for the truth and gospel or Christ Jesus, for which we suffered, and the faithful grew and multiplied. The good seed of the gospel being sown and planted, the same increased and spread, even in those suffering times, which neither the devil nor his instruments could ever root out. That divine presence attended us in our many deep sufferings, which reached and tenderly affected many hearts; as they beheld our patience and innocence. In which the Lord sustained us in our many trials and sufferings, by which many were not only moved with compassion to us, but also to inquire after the Lord and his truth, the cause for which we patiently suffered. As the more Israel was afflicted and oppressed under Pharaoh in Egypt, the more they multiplied and grew: so as the Lord's people have been persecuted and oppressed in this gospel day, the more their number has increased, and they multiplied; wherein still the merciful providence of Almighty God has appeared, to frustrate the evil designs of ungodly persecutors and wicked men.

And moreover it is very remarkable and memorable, how the Lord God by his wisdom and power, has appeared and wrought for his people, even for his name and suffering seed's sake, in gradually making way for their Christian liberty, even for that liberty of conscience from persecution, so greatly labored for; insomuch that the understandings of many in outward government, even of the supreme in authority, have been so far enlightened, as to see that liberty from persecution not only most equal and consistent with a Christian spirit and temper, but also with their own safety, and the peace of the government and nation where they rule; and has been confessed to by many of the great ones in authority. Yes, I have heard it declared by a great person of the church of England, as in the name or person of the church: "Neither we nor you are safe without the toleration." And many who have formerly had a hand in persecution, are now willing that former sin of theirs should be covered, that they may be esteemed sincere for liberty of conscience, against persecution. Others, even persons of note, have gloried and seemed to rejoice in that they never had a hand in persecution, nor signed a warrant against any of us for our conscience; it being generally by men of ingenuity and sobriety deemed scandalous, or a brand of infamy to be accounted a persecutor. As the Lord our God has been graciously pleased to help us through many deep sufferings, hardships and trials, he has also been at work in the hearts or men in power, and judging among the gods for his heritage; Psalms 82:1. And in order to give his churches among us rest from open persecutions, he prepared the heart of the government, after the revolution, to allow us the sanction of a law for our liberty, together with other dissenting Protestants, respecting our religious exercise in our public assemblies. I may now give some brief account of the said act, and how I and others of our friends were concerned for the same. It commonly goes by the name or title of, The Act of Toleration, but the real title is, An Act for exempting their majesties' Protestant subjects, dissenting from the church of England, from the penalties of certain laws. [Anno primo Gulielmi et Maria.]

The preamble is:

"Forasmuch as some ease to scrupulous consciences, in the exercise of religion, may be an effectual means to unite their majesties Protestant subjects in interest and affection, Be it enacted," etc.

Which act contains much of the substance, and many clauses of the bill entitled, A Bill of ease to all Protestant dissenters, which was endeavored to have been passed into an act, by the Parliament in king Charles the second's time, 1680 and 1681, but not effected either in his reign, or in his brother's succeeding, as before related.

A bill was brought into the Parliament, in order to the before mentioned act, entitled, An Act for exempting their majesties' Protestant subjects. Several of our friends, with myself, had great care and concern upon our minds, and endeavored that it might be as effectual and clear, without being clogged or perplexed with any snare* in it, as we could obtain; so that we might be truly eased from persecution, and our religious liberties be uninterrupted. Upon perusal of the bill, we found some passages or terms not clear, but such as tended to infringe our liberties, and render the intended law ineffectual, and in some things, rather a snare to us, if enacted: as particularly about some articles or confession of faith, that some members of the House of Commons would have imposed, for terms of liberty or ease to dissenting Protestants, which seemed partly to aim at us, the people called Quakers; occasioned by one member especially, openly declaring in the House, that the Quakers were no Christians: which was but an old refuted calumny, cast upon us by our notorious adversaries and some apostates. Some of the terms in the proposed bill, required of Protestant dissenters to prove themselves Christians, were: That all such who profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, the true God, and in the Holy Spirit, coequal with the Father and the son, one God blessed forever; and do acknowledge the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, to be the revealed will and Word of God.

*They were concerned that the legislated confession would include: 1) erroneous confession of the unscriptural Trinity, three persons ; when the Quakers believed there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one, 1 John 5:7 and 2) erroneous confession that the scriptures to be called the Word of God, which they correctly believed to be the name of Jesus, John 1:1, Rev 19:13, not the name of a book, however dear.

Although we knew that when the government had granted liberty of conscience to dissenting Protestants, in religious exercise grounded upon this or like reason, namely for the increase of charity among Christians, and that no person or persons, professing a Protestant religion, although dissenting from the church of England, should be disquieted or called into question for the same beliefs, which was very fair and plausible; yet to prevent any such from being stumbled or ensnared by some expressions in the proposed bill, we instead thereof, distinctly and humbly offer, as our own real belief of the Deity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, namely: I profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, his eternal Son, the true God, and in the holy Spirit, one God, blessed forever and ever; and do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.

Which declaration John Vaughton and I quickly delivered to sir Thomas Clergis, who along with some others, desired that we should be allowed such confession of our beliefs so that we might not lie under the unjust indictment of not being Christians, nor thereby be deprived of our religious liberty. We were of necessity put upon offering this confession, it being also our known good principle, sincerely to confess Christ, the Son of the Living God, his divinity, and he is the eternal Word; and that the three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are one: one Lord, one Being, one God, blessed forever.

Sir Thomas Clergis was satisfied with our confession that we had delivered to him, and he moved for acceptance of our confession before a grand committee of the whole House of Commons, mentioning our names as from whom he had received the confession. Along with William Mead and John Osgood, we were then called into the House of Commons, where the committee could hear our confession directly from ourselves, and so Parliament might be more satisfied then by hearing us. So I had the opportunity to answer very clearly and to their satisfaction, both as to the our really acknowledging the Deity and the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, to have been given forth by divine inspiration. How we believed in the holy Scriptures was their greatest concern, and we gave them sure and certain satisfaction, both as to the holy truths contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and to the historical parts thereof being preserved by Providence to us. I clearly perceived our confession and testimony had such a sound effect upon the spirit of the Parliament, that it had made for the furtherance of the bill in order to pass it into law. When the committee considered making the law temporary, to expire unless renewed, in three years, I opposed that showing them the unreasonableness of limiting our religious liberty and that it ought to be perpetual. So with our labor and attention to our needs, the bill passed into law.

This resulted under the reign of king William a first step in obtaining liberty by law to enjoy our religious meetings for the worship of God peaceably, without molestation or disturbance by informers or other persons, yet many of our friends remained prisoners, and under prosecution by priests and magistrates, for non-payment of tithes, and kept them detained in prison, chiefly on contempts, as their term is for not swearing upon oath to the priests' bills and complaints.

Several cases were considered among us, and we had them impartially stated and documented, which friends agreed should be presented to the king , so that he might both understand their suffering for not paying tithes, and not swearing; considering that the contempts of the laws, or court rather, was deemed to be in favor of the king, which he therefore had the power of law to pardon and discharge the persons who lay under that process of judgment of contempts.

Friends asked me to present our case to the king, and to take with me take with me several of our friends, that were free to attend. I was  always willing to serve and help suffering, the same as I had with the two previous kings, according my ability and as the Lord was pleased to enable me.

I wanted my ancient companion in solicitation, Gilbert Latey, Thomas Lower a doctor, John Taylor of York, my brother-in-law, and our friend Daniel Quare to go with me, or accompany me to the king; and they were all willing, as I knew they would be. Daniel Quale was known to the king, which the rest of us were not. He went in first to procure our access into his presence. The king inquired of him who we were and what positions we held among friends? Daniel told him we were ministers and elders.

The king then sent for us into a little private apartment, or room, where he was alone, and I presented our case, which I desired him favorably to accept, which he did. He inquired of us, what places we belonged to, or to what congregations we did minister? Which gave me good occasion to answer him, that we were not settled as ministers or pastors over any particular congregations, but visited our friends' meetings in many places, as the Lord inclined us. For we do not make a gain of our ministry; we do not take salaries or hire for preaching; but preach the gospel freely, according to Christ's command to his ministers, Freely ye have received, freely give. The king gave no reply, but appeared very serious, and satisfied with my answer.

I offered to read our case to him; he said no, he would read it himself ; seeming rather willing to hear us in discussion than to read at that time.

I thereupon acquainted him, that the chief cause of our friends' suffering then was, because they cannot make their answers to the priests' suits for tithes upon oath, which for conscience sake they refused in any case; and no less for conscience sake do they refuse the payment of tithes; by which the priests take great advantage against our friends, to run them to contempts and imprisonments, and to make seizures upon their goods and estates. Therefore we had applied to the Parliament for relief in the case of oaths, that they might not be imposed upon us in any case. That we offered to submit to the penalty of perjury in case any of us were found false or corrupt in our evidence or testimonies given without oath. But our applications to the Parliament have not taken effect as desired, being sometimes prorogued or otherwise dismissed, before we could get our case through both Houses.

This our case of conscience in refusing to swear, I told the king, is the same with the people's called Menists [from his Dutch homeland] in the low countries, as it was a matter of conscience to them; to whom his predecessors [former rulers of Holland] had given liberty, that their word, in testifying the truth in courts, might be accepted instead of an oath, which is what we desire: and therefore when we saw it a season to apply again to the Parliament for relief in this case, I asked the king to stand our friend, and favorably to recommend our case to some leading members of Parliament; which he seriously promised he would do.

And accordingly he did perform his promise, as we had account from some of the noted friendly members of Parliament, one of whom in particular, told me he was present with the king and one of the House of Lords, and heard them discussing the Quakers; and how the king pleaded on their behalf, contrary to some objections that lord made against them; which was, “That they were against, or disaffected to the government.” And that the king answered him, "My Lord, I am not of your opinion; for there is an honest people among them." Thus much I very well remember the said member, sir John Austin, telling me.

When I had answered the king in several things before mentioned, relating to our conscience and Christian testimony, he made this objection: "You are a divided people." I told him, "No; as we are a people, we are not divided, but in union: although there are some who have separated or gone out from us,* and therefore are not of us; as there were of old, some who separated and went out from the primitive Christians. And although some are gone out, separated or revolted from us, yet we remain a people in unity, i.e., of the same faith and profession." To which our friend John Taylor, added, “Such as turned into separation or division from us, were some disorderly persons, who therefore were denied by us; or to that very effect." And I further added, “That I had known the people called Quakers from the first; and, as a people, they were still the same, as to faith and principle, which allows not of division or separation in our Christian society, and not a people divided.”

*This probably refers to the Wilkinson separation. John Wilkinson with a number of Quakers ran out from the unity, thinking any rules of conduct in their personal lives were an imposition on their conscience. They were only a few, but the Quaker critics were sure to point them out, particularly to a new king. Most eventually returned.

The king replied to this effect: "But some among you are disaffected to the government."

I answered: It is a hard matter for us to enter into the private affections of persons, without some overt act. We do not know that any of our friends have manifested disaffection to the government; for if we did certainly know that any of those in communion with us, should by any overt act, in word or deed, show any disaffection to the present government, we should certainly disown them in that, and give testimony against them. It is true, we have of late been aspersed and misrepresented with such nicknames, as Meadites and Pennites, as if we set up sect masters among us, yet own no such thing; but Christ Jesus to be our only master, as we are a Christian society and people.

The king appeared well satisfied with my answer, and with the rest of our discourse, being very serious in his attention to the matters proposed unto him.

I had very great satisfaction and freedom of spirit, to open several weighty matters relating to our principles and testimony; and the more, because he was seriously attentive to hear and receive information concerning us.

Near the conclusion I proposed to the king that inasmuch as the Lord Keeper, the Lord Sommers, knew the laws, and how best the king might safely extend his prerogatives, particularly in the case we had delivered, if he so pleased, we would deliver him a copy so that he might be the better prepared to give advice in our case, what way the king might release our friends, who were prisoners for contempts, as set forth in the said case. The king answered, "You may deliver it to him, for I will speak with my Lord Keeper about it." After our humble and grateful acknowledgment for the king's kindness to us and our suffering friends, we withdrew.

Site Editor's Comments: This is an amazingly fast reaction for a king. With Whitehead's single appeal, the king commits to helping the Quakers obtain relief from the long abused oppressive laws regarding failure to swear. The king's questions were deep and straight to his concerns, while Whitehead's answers were so plainly and clearly spoken that the king was immediately won over in sympathy to the Quakers' innocence and peaceful intents.

It was the next day, or soon after we had been with the king, that our friend John Edge went with me to the said Lord Keeper with a copy of the case we had presented to the king, which I thus introduced when I gave it. I told him we had presented the case to the king, and having heard a good reports of his character, being aware of his reputation, we had boldly recommended him to the king, for counsel in this case, as to how our friends, who are prisoners upon contempts, might be released. And the king told us he would speak with the Lord Keeper about it.

The Lord Keeper took it kindly, by showing not only his own willingness, but his desire that suffering friends should be released and enjoy their liberties, but also freely confided to us that the king was really for liberty of conscience to dissenters, and that was his real principle; which we were very glad to hear from him, being a person of his honor and credit.

A copy of the before mentioned case, which delivered to the king and the Lord Keeper follows:


The case and request of the peaceable people, commonly called Quakers,
in behalf of many of them who are present sufferers for conscience sake, humbly presented.


That as the God of all our mercies has preserved us a peaceable and quiet people in the land, according to our Christian principles and profession, under the various revolutions of government; so we humbly hope and resolve, by his divine assistance, ever so to continue; being heartily thankful for the several kindnesses and compassions received from the government; especially for the present liberty we now by law enjoy, in practice of religious worship.

Because so many of these Quaker people continue to be under deep sufferings, both in their persons and estates, by tedious imprisonments, seizures and sequestrations. Several have also recently died in prisons, and many more are under prosecution and liable so to suffer in England and Wales. This tends to the ruin of many families for these cases of conscience, namely: chiefly on contempts, as adjudged, for not answering upon oath, in cases of tithes when sued in the exchequer, and also for not answering upon oath when prosecuted in the ecclesiastical courts, for tithes, church rates, etc. This results in their proceeding to excommunication, and by significavits procure writs de excom. cap., and sometimes justices' warrants to imprisonment.

We therefore humbly remind the king, that the great severities and persecutions formerly inflicted on us, were sometimes abated and relieved, when it pleased God to move the heart of the kings and governments to show some compassion and favor to us; whereof these are some instances:

1. By king Charles the second's proclamation of grace in 1661, by which many of our friends were released and freed out of prisons.

2. By his letters patent, or pardon, in 1672, pursuant to his declaration of indulgence to tender consciences in the same year.

3. By an act of Parliament, 25 Car. 2, chap. 5, entitled, "An Act for the king's majesty s most gracious and general pardon, pardoning contempts, etc. against the king," by which many also of the Quaker people were discharged and released out of prisons.

4. Also by king James the second, many were released out of prisons, and relieved by many commissions, and two general proclamation pardons, the one in 1685, and the other in 1688.

5. And also by an act of gracious, general, and free pardon, in the second year of king William and queen Mary, several were discharged from contempts and imprisonments.

6. And by your late consort the queen, on application made to her in your absence, a poor innocent woman, who had been the lone prisoner at Lancaster, upon a fine, was released; which as an intimation of the queen's tender and merciful disposition, we very thankfully acknowledged; as we do also very kindly acknowledge the king's late favorable inclination, to discharge two of our friends, prisoners on fines in Westmoreland, upon a petition presented by our friend Daniel Quare.

These noted precedents of favor and compassion to the oppressed, and the present confinements and hardships of many innocent persons tenderly considered;

We the said people humbly request that the king would be pleased to extend his favor and compassion towards the said sufferers, for their lawful ease and relief from their present confinements, prisons and hardships, either by proclamation or otherwise, as in his wisdom and clemency shall seem most meet and convenient.

This case was presented to king William the third, the 2nd day of the second month, 1695, by George Whitehead, Gilbert Latey, Thomas Lower, John Taylor and Daniel Quare; and was favorably accepted.

In a very short time after the before said case of our then suffering friends, and prisoners, was presented to the king and Lord Keeper, there came out an act of grace by the king and Parliament, in the year 1695, entitled, Pardoning contempts, etc., at which point about forty of our friends were discharged out of prisons.

As to our endeavors with the Parliament for relief in the case of oaths, from the imposition thereof; I saw it very appropriate and required that I should give some account, having been greatly concerned to assist friends in that weighty case, wherein some of us innocently labored early and late, in solicitation.

1. To bring the members of Parliament to right understanding of our case, as it is a case of conscience toward our Lord Jesus Christ, that we are under his express prohibition and command, not to swear at all, or in any case.

2. To show them the great necessity of affording some relief to us in this case, from the hardships, oppressions and disappointments that many suffered, because for conscience sake they could not swear or take an oath, either to relieve themselves or neighbors.

3. Our case and petition to the Parliament, and a copy of the bill, as it passed the House of Commons, and how the solemn affirmation was formed and passed the House of Lords, are fairly stated and related in the ensuing collection.

The suffering case of the people commonly called Quakers,
relating to oaths and swearing, humbly

It is not unknown to this nation, that ever since we were a people, it has been our principle not to swear, make or take oaths, which He who is the searcher of all hearts knows, is no other than a case of pure conscience, in tender obedience to the mind of our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as we are fully persuaded, according as many eminent martyrs and men of wisdom and renown were, who testified against oaths and swearing in the gospel day, and not any obstinacy, disaffection or worldly interest whatsoever on our parts. We are really willing and desire to answer the just and good ends of law and government, as a peaceable people fearing God; and for this cause of not swearing, we have been exposed to great sufferings and inconveniences, in our persons and estates, by tedious imprisonments, and disabled from receiving our due debts, or defending our just titles and properties; not allowed to give evidence in courts of judicature at common or civil law, nor to answer in chancery or exchequer, prove wills and testaments, or take administrations, or to proceed in our trades at Custom house, or be admitted to our lands, or trusted in our duties and services in Courts leer, and Courts baron, but great advantage is taken against us, because we so fear an oath, as that we dare not swear. For this cause also, our children and young men are not allowed their freedoms in cities or corporations, when they have faithfully served out their apprenticeships, nor admitted to give our voices in elections of magistrates and Parliament members in several places, though known to have right thereunto as freeholders, etc.

Therefore our request is, that in all cases where oaths are imposed, and swearing required, our word, that is, our solemn affirmation or denial, as in the fear and presence of God, may be accepted instead of an oath, for which we humbly offer and freely submit, that if any under the same profession among us break their word, or be found false in such their affirmation or denial, or guilty of falsehood in any testimony, evidence, or answers, that then such penalty be inflicted on the person so offending, as law and justice require in case of false swearing or perjury.

To the respective member, of the House of Commons,
the humble application of the people commonly called Quakers

We the said people, being a member of that body which you represent, and concerned in trade and industry, and employing many poor in the manufactories of this nation; as also in contributing to the charge or the government, according to our abilities; do desire and humbly crave that our liberties, rights and properties, may be secured to us and ours; that we may no longer be exposed to unjust and vexatious suits, nor be a prey to ill-disposed persons, who take advantage against us, to prosecute and ruin us, merely because in point of tender conscience, we dare not swear in any case; which is in obedience to the command of our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we verily believe is our duty in this gospel day; but hold our selves obliged to declare and testify the truth without oath, in cases wherein our swearing and testimonies may be required.

Wherefore we humbly entreat your Christian compassion in your favorable acceptance of our petition, which is, for leave to bring in a bill for our relief; and so to consider our suffering case, as if it were your own, and you in our stead; that we and our posterities may have cause to bless the Lord on your behalf.

 To the Commons of England, in Parliament assembled:
the humble petition of the people
called Quaker:

Showing, Our many, long and renewed sufferings for not swearing, we hope may give satisfactions to this nation, that it is purely our conscientious and religious principle not to swear in any case, in tender obedience to the command of our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as we are fully persuaded; and according to the example of many eminent martyrs and men of holiness, wisdom and renown, who testified against oaths and swearing in the gospel day. Nevertheless we have been, and yet are, exposed in our persons to tedious imprisonments, in our estates to sequestrations and seizures, disabled from defending our just titles and properties, recovering our due debts, or helping others in like cases, and to many unjust and vexatious suits.

Therefore, the power of relieving us by law, from these our grievances and hardships resting in the king and Parliament, our humble request is, that you will be favorably pleased to give permission to bring in a bill, that our solemn affirmation or denial may be accepted instead of an oath, freely submitting that whoever in this case, shall falsify the truth, and be thereof duly convicted, shall undergo like pains and penalties, as in law and justice are due unto perjured persons.

This petition was agreed to and signed by the friends following:

John Staploe, John Harwood, William Bingley, Walter Benshall, Jo Hall, George Whitehead, Thomas Lower, Gilbert Latey, William Mead, Richard Thomas, Thomas Hudson, Thomas Hart, Theodore Ecclestone, Jo Butcher, Michael Russel, Samuel Jobson, John Hermon, Daniel Quare, John Bull, George Oldner.

Our petition was agreed by all, so some copies prepared for members of parliament, we showed to many of the House of Commons. And it took us some weeks' time in solicitation, to prepare them for our case and petition, that it might not be moved too soon or abruptly, before many of the House were well apprized and prepared. I did particularly pitch upon Edmond Waller, and engaged him to help us in this, he having then pretty great influence in the House, and being my particular acquaintance and friend: and when I had given him fully to understand our case, and what we requested, he sincerely undertook to assist us however he could, and was very helpful by solicitation and motion in the house, for our said petition, which when moved, was read on the 7th of  the twelfth month, 1695, and carried by a great majority; and leave given to bring in a bill, that our solemn affirmation, and negation or denial, might be accepted instead of an oath, &c.

At which point many of the members came out to us with great joy, love and tenderness also, and showed their satisfaction, that they had so well gained the point for us.

Permission, as before, being given to bring in a bill for our relief, according to our petition, several drafts were prepared the first by counselor Conyers, which was something large and long, yet he took some pains in it, to answer what we requested in our petition, Particularly about our solemn affirmation, etc., to be accepted instead of taking an oath, and to exempt us from swearing. In his bill, he stated the matter, that the Quakers should solemnly declare the truth, in like manner and form of words, as are used by all other persons who are required to declare the same, except only the attestation thereof upon oath; that is, the words, swear, and, So help me God, &c., to be omitted. But then to make our attestation, affirmation or negation, so solemn as was expected from us by the Parliament, and courts of justice, etc., it was the opinion of most of our friends in Parliament, that there must be some solemn or sacred expressions, religiously respecting God, as solemnly to declare the truth in his presence; which we dared not oppose, for fear that we should be deemed atheistic; it being our principle that God is Omnipresent, and Omniscient also. However, as in a multitude of counsel there is safety, we discoursed the point with several ingenious men of the House of Commons, that we might proceed with what safety and success we could. We went particularly to sir Francis Wynington, an ancient, able counsel, who greatly stood our friend; and we showed him counselor Conyer's draft of the bill. After review, sir Francis judged it much too long, and that it would be too tedious and difficult to get it through the House into an act; adding this reason, “that it was better be too short than too long, so that the committee might be able to amend it, and then they would be the more willing to pass it.” Therefore he drew up a short bill, but he would not include the use of a simple yes or no for testifying in a court of justice, saying if we proposed such a bill in the House of Commons, it would be laughed at and rejected.

Many others had the same opinion, that such expressions or terms must be offered in the bill, as might appear solemn or sacred, whether in affirmation or negation, as to declare, In the presence of God, to an answer or evidence, etc. Their forms of oaths and swearing having been of such long standing, and such great stress and obligation laid upon them, for many hundred years, that it was a very difficult point, and a great thing to gain any such variation or alteration from them, as conscientiously to declare or affirm, In the presence of Almighty God, instead of the imprecation oath of, So help me God; along with the ceremony of handling or fingering and kissing the Bible. To obtain such a significant alteration from an oath and imprecation, to a plain, solemn affirmation, was indeed a great accomplishment. Many of our friends were very sensible of and thankful for this, when it was gained.

A copy of the bill for solemn affirmation, instead of an oath, as it was drawn up by sir Francis Wynington, corrected and passed by the House of Commons; the clause relating to tithes being omitted, which was ordered by the House of Commons, and is in the printed act.

"Whereas many dissenters, commonly called Quakers, refusing to take an oath in courts of justice, and other places, are frequently imprisoned, and their estates sequestered, by process of contempt issuing out of such courts, to the ruin of themselves and families.

For remedy thereof, be it enacted, by the king's most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the some, that from and after the 4th day of May, which shall be in the year of our Lord 1696, every Quaker within this realm of England, dominion of Wales, or town of Berwick upon Tweed, who shall be required, upon any lawful occasion, to take an oath in any case, where, by law, an oath is required, shall, instead thereof, be permitted to make his or her solemn affirmation or declaration, In the presence of Almighty God; which said solemn affirmation or declaration, shall be adjudged and taken, and is hereby enacted and declared to be of the same force and effect, to all intents and purposes, in all courts of justice and other places, where, by law an oath is required, within this kingdom of England, dominion of Wales, or town of Berwick upon Tweed, as if such Quaker had taken an oath. And it is further enacted, by the authority that if any Quaker making such solemn affirmation or declaration, shall be lawfully convicted, willfully, falsely and corruptly to have affirmed or declared any matter or thing, which if the same had been upon oath, would have in any case amounted to willful and corrupt perjury; every such Quaker so offending, shall incur the same penalties and forfeitures, as, by the laws and statutes of this realm are enacted, against persons convicted of willful and corrupt perjury.

The bill was read the 17th of the twelfth month, Feb., 1695, the first time, and the 3rd of the first mouth, 1696, a second time; and committed: the same day the committee met. For its being committed, one hundred and thirty votes; against it, sixty-eight; more for; it than against it, sixty-two.

The 4th of the first month, the committee met again, and passed the bill. The 10th of the first month it was ordered to be engrossed; and on the 13th the bill passed the House of Commons by one hundred and forty-six voices for it, and ninety-nine against it; forty-seven more yeas than nays; and the same day it was carried to the house of Lords, where it was read twice; but the opposition some members of that House made to us herein, occasioned our longer attendance and labor to inform them rightly of our case, and the necessity of our being relieved. Upon my reasoning with several of the peers, who had opposed us, I so far convinced them, that they were changed in opinion concerning us, and appeared for us; insomuch, that I was daily sensible the hand of the Lord our God, that was with us in our endeavors, made the way and worked for us in this. To Him be the glory of all forever.

To incline the House of Peers to grant relief from our sufferings for not swearing, our case was reprinted and presented with several reasons attached; and along others as follows:

We also propose to your serious consideration, that this moderation for persons required to swear, has had good effects in neighboring countries, for one hundred years experience has shown, in the following instance; on the 26th day or January 1577, Guilliaume de Nassau, Prince of Orange, and Statholder of Holland, Zealand, etc., with the consent of the government and council, sent his mandate to the magistrates, commanding on behalf the people called Menists, who refused to swear in any case, that their yes should be accepted and taken instead or an oath, they being subject, in case of falsifying the truth, to the pains of perjury."

In the year 1593, Prince Maurice, son of the former prince, with the consent of the States, gave forth a mandate in behalf of the Menists, to the same effect."

Upon these passages of the Menists having this liberty to be exempted from taking an oath upon their yes, there was this quotation in the margin of the second impression, from G. Burnet's History of the Reformation in the Low Countries, part I. page 587, 588.

At which point some of the temporal [he distinguishes them from heavenly lords] lords told me, that the Bishop of Salisbury had taken occasion to exclaim against the Quakers openly in the House of Lords, for falsely quoting his name as author of the said History. By this,  I was somewhat surprised, and I told the Lords I would make inquiry about the mistake. Upon quickly searching the first impression, I found it to be a literal mistake of the printer; for in the first, it is G. Brant's History, not Burnet's. I went the next day, and showed the same as first printed, to two of the said Lords, i.e., the Earl of Carbery, and Earl of Marlborough, desiring them to call the offended bishop out of session, so that I might show him where the mistake was. They called him out to meet with us, and  I plainly showed the bishop that it was a literal mistake of the printer; and that the Quakers had no intent to misrepresent him in the quotation; neither could the mistake be any great disparagement to him, to be rendered the author of such a noted or esteemed History of the Reformation before mentioned. And therefore I hoped he would pardon the mistake, and not to charge us with it; which he cheerfully granted, making little of the matter. I asked him to be our friend with respect to the bill pending before the house of Lords, to relieve us from oaths, meaning, that it might be put forward and not delayed. He then objected that the name of God was not mentioned in it, that is solemnly to bear witness in the presence of God; and if we did not include that, he would be against us; but if the presence of God, was in it, he promised he would be for us. I told him those solemn expressions, in the presence of God, were in the bill, as it had been approved and sent from the House of Commons. I assured him that if he would go into the House of Lords and examine the bill, he would be satisfied of the truth of its inclusion. So he went back into the House to see the bill, and quickly came out again to us standing with the two temporal lords; and he then said it was true, as I had told him, in the presence of God was mentioned in the bill. The Earl of Carbery told him, “Then you were mistaken, my lord.” Then I said to him that I hoped he would now be for the bill and be present on the day it was intended to be moved in the House, so that he might be the one to second the motion for its approval. He promised before the two lords he would do that, but did not, being absent that very day it was moved for vote; of which, notice was taken by them and others. However the Lord our heavenly Father stood by us and helped us, and inclined many of those in power to help forward the case, for our desirable and requested relief. On the 15th of the second month, called April, 1696, the bill was read a second time, debated, and committed to a committee of the whole house, and then some debate held a while, chiefly about a solemn declaration instead of an oath; some of them not being willing it should pass in those general and solemn expressions, as sent up from the House of Commons, that is their solemn affirmation or declaration, to be in the presence of Almighty God. But some of the bishops urged some other words to be added such as: I call God to witness and judge; As witness do judge; I call God to record upon my soul, and appeal to God as judge, &c. These, and such like expressions, some would wished to put in the bill, instead of the usual oaths.

At which point many of the temporal lords came out several times to see us as we waited at several doors and entrances into the House of Lords, to discuss with them specific wordings, which some of the bishops would have had put upon us. We opposed all of these suggested wordings because, as I had told some of them at first, our soliciting and petitioning to be freed from the imposition and burden of all oaths was not to have any new oath imposed upon us; for if there is any imprecation, appealing to, or invoking God as judge or avenger, it would be construed to be an oath, or the nature of an oath. Based on this reasoning and others of a similar nature, some of those lords who were the most friendly to us, returned into the House, to discuss further with the bishops. When they perceived how tender and careful we were, not to be imposed upon in anything contrary to our consciences; after they had further discussed in the committee with those bishops, they came out again to us in the lobby, where a few of us were attending, under a true Christian care and fear towards Almighty God. And those lords who came out to us, and showed most care and kindness to us, urged, that in as much as the bishops were caught upon these words to be added to the word [God]. The witness of the truth of what I say, as containing no imprecation or invocation of God, as judge or avenger, we would admit of the addition, rather than lose our bill, or have it thrown out; for as much as God is really witness to the truth sincerely declared, he being Omniscient as well as Omnipresent. Then seeing the bishops were argued out of their first proposition, of calling God to witness and judge, etc., the matter was left to those who appeared our friends and were really kind to us, with this caution not to exceed these words, which they had obtained concession to, that is the witness of the truth. Then they constrained the bishops not to exceed them, by any imprecation, invocation, or appeal to God, as judge, avenger, etc.

After report made of their amendments by the committee of the lords' House, the bill was passed, with the following form of a solemn affirmation inserted in it, and agreed to by the House of Peers, that is:  "I [named person] do declare in the presence of Almighty God, the witness of the truth of what I say."

Site Editor's Comments: There is a sad irony that after forty years of suffering: close to 1000 deaths, tens of thousands being imprisoned, many more thousands losing property, and two hundred sent to slavery; these simple words above could cancel the necessity of such barbarous actions on the part of the Episcopalians, the Congregationalist Puritans, the Presbyterians, and the Baptists, all of whom had so viciously persecuted the Quakers; like their precious Lord, they truly were lambs led to the slaughter. But at last, except for tithing, the persecution of the Quakers was over.

Because many Quakers felt the wording of "in the presence of Almighty God" was too close to actual swearing, in 1721, the Quakers petitioned Parliament for a change in the law. This was granted, and the new, simpler wording permitted was: "I [named person] do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare, and affirm." Although Whitehead was still alive at the time, because of poor health in his 86th year, he was not to leave home to assist.

With some few additions in the bill not very material, they returned it to the House of Commons, which, on the 17th of the second mouth called April, agreed to the lords' amendments, and on the 20th of the same month, the bill was sent up and carried again to the House of Peers, agreed on, concluded, and confirmed by the king and both Houses of Parliament, as a temporary act, then to continue in force for seven years from the 14th of May, 1696, and from there to the end of the next session of Parliament, according to the words of the act. It was renewed again for eleven years, beginning the 22nd of November, 1702; at which time not being in good health, I was of little help with the other friends in their attendance on the Parliament in that concern.

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Manifold exercises, trials, and tribulations has the Lord my God supported me under and carried me through, in my pilgrimage; for his name and truth's sake, more than could possibly be related in this history; having spent a long time, even the greatest part of my life, from my youth upward, in the testimony, service and vindication of the living, unchangeable truth, as it is in Christ Jesus, my Lord; for whom I have suffered many things, both in body and spirit, as also by reproaches and calumnies, and sincerely labored in his love, who has supported me, and throughout my life has helped me in the gospel of the grace of God, and of his dear Son Jesus Christ, even the gospel of life, salvation and peace, to them who truly believe. And yet I esteem not all my sufferings and afflictions worthy to be compared to the glory set before me. For all which, I must ascribe blessing, honor, glory, power, and dominion to the Lord God, and the Lamb upon his throne, forever and ever.

And when, by the grace and assistance of my heavenly Father, I have finished the work he has given me to do; I firmly believe and with a living hope in the Lord, I shall die in the Lord Jesus Christ, and ever live with and rest in him, in his heavenly kingdom. Oh my soul, enter into your rest, even your eternal rest, from your manifold labors, travails, and sufferings; for the Lord your God has dealt bountifully with you, glory to his name forevermore.

George Whitehead

Concluded, London, the 18th of
the Sixth Month, 1711

[He was 75 years of age]

He has a departing letter in the next section, written in his 86th year of age.



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