The Quaker Ethic
The Quakers embarked for America with a goal similar to the Puritans of establishing a plain and pious society in the New World. As new generations underwent the same decline in simple spirituality as the Puritans, religious leaders worried that they would be unable to convince them to revert back to the virtues of moderation and hard work that their ancestors promoted. Concerned Friends, however, were able to revitalize the original virtues to a greater degree than the Puritans. In his novel, The Simple Life, David Shi illustrates how the Quaker ethic was able to endure largely due to diligent reformers willing to withdraw from political authority and social leadership in order to promote Quaker principles.
William Penn was intent on establishing a simple life of hard work and piety in the New World. Penn insisted on making the Quaker meetings mandatory, and like John Winthrop, Penn also worked with the governing political body to create wage and price controls and sumptuary laws. Despite these actions, many Friends experienced the same decline from piety and simplicity that plagued the Puritans. Penn was also accused of being hypocritical due to his own seemingly lavish lifestyle. Reformers would have to take more drastic action in order to maintain the original Quaker Ethic of leading a plain and benevolent life.
During the mid-eighteenth century a growing religious revival encouraged by Anthony Benezet and other dedicated Friends chastised the rationalizations of the affluent and began to bring their views into the political arena. During the French and Indian War, frequent attacks on the frontier of Pennsylvania led the assembly to question whether they should provide for the defense of the colony. Such actions, however, would go against the Quaker’s pacifist principles. Concerned Friends wrote to the assembly urging them to “not let earthly possessions nor enjoyments” bias their judgment so they may stick to the...