Lucretia Mott & The Perils of Dissent – Excerpts from James & Lucretia Mott, Life & Letters.

Anna Davis Hallowell.
 Boston Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1884

1860: “[The black abolitionist] Robert Purvis has said that I was “the most belligerent non-resistant he ever saw.” I accept the character he gives me; and I glory in it. I have no idea, because I am a non-resistant, of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave. I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity. Quakerism, as I understand it, does not mean quietism. The early Friends were agitators; disturbers of the peace; and were more obnoxious in their day to charges, which are now so freely made, than we are.”

[Editor’s Note: Anna Davis Hallowell was the granddaughter of James & Lucretia Mott. She was also the editor/author of the first posthumous biography of her parents.]

From  pp. 289-295

On more than one occasion, about this time, when James and Lucretia Mott attended Friends’ meetings not far distant from Philadelphia, instead of being invited to neighboring houses [of Friends] for refreshment, they were allowed to resort to the country taverns; a thing unknown in former years, when such breaches of hospitality would not have been committed under any circumstances. Now it was countenanced as one means of showing the disfavor with which they were regarded [by many Friends].

    In the autumn of 1847 they made a journey to some of the western states, to attend various antislavery and religious meetings, and among them the Yearly Meetings of Friends held in Salem, Ohio, and Richmond, Indiana. They carried no certificate from their own Meeting, nor is it likely that one would have been given, even if asked for, as the Meeting was not then in “unity” with them.

    It must be borne in mind, however, that this did not affect their right to attend any meetings of the Society, but only their right to appoint them; and also that the main object of the journey was to attend the anti-slavery conventions. It is no uncommon thing for “ministering Friends” to travel in this way, without certificates, and to be cordially welcomed notwithstanding. Lucretia Mott had a right to expect courteous treatment even from those who differed from her in the views she held.

    In Ohio, she was generally well-received and attentively heard. The Ohio Friends, many of whom were earnest abolitionists, opened their houses to her and her husband, and willingly called meetings for them.

    In Indiana, it was the reverse. A bitter sectarian feeling prevailed there. Some idea of this may be gathered from the following extracts from the “Diary of Jane Price.” Jane Price, a  woman of high repute, and an “approved minister,” was the wife of Benjamin Price, an esteemed Friend, who was for several successive years clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. In company with Elizabeth M. Peart, also an approved minister, she attended the Western Yearly Meetings before mentioned, traveling most of the way in private conveyance. During her absence, she kept a record of her observations and experiences in the form of letters to her husband. The first date pertinent to our subject is:– –    

    Salem, Ohio, First-day, 8th mo. 29th, 1847.   – James and Lucretia Mott arrived in public conveyance just at meeting-time. Lucretia spoke at the close. . . .

    Sixth-day, 9th mo. 3rd. In the little I have written concerning the Yearly Meeting, I have only reported women’s doings, leaving the brethren to speak for themselves. In Select Meeting on Fourth-day, Lucretia gave her views as thou hast heard her, honestly, I think, and from the motive to do or say what she thought required, as was also the case in the Yearly Meeting, after the Query in regard to reading. She remarked on the frivolous publications, “lady’s periodicals,” etc., containing that which merely went to promote vanity and degrade the mind; and before she sat down, recommended to the young people a little book on the subject of “[Reflections on] Peace and War,” written by [a liberal-minded Quaker schoolmaster and author] John Jackson [published in 1846.]

    This immediately brought out a spirited reply from a minister of this Meeting (for there are spirited dear friends on both sides), in which she expressed her “astonishment” that such a thing should be recommended, as to read a book “that despises the Bible.”

[Ed. Note: Jackson had written of the biblical passages asserting that God had directed the Israelites to utterly exterminate various peoples (pp.53-55):

“It does not appear to me, that the testimony of a few Scripture passages with the authors of which we are wholly unacquainted, is sufficient to establish the belief that Divine Goodness ever did or ever could sanction such cruelty — these authors, whoever they were, were fallible men like ourselves, liable to mistaken views of the Divine character and will. . . . The scriptures are a valuable history — they contain an account of primeval ages, which but for them would probably have never reached our times. Their value increases, just in the same ratio as they give encouragement to godliness. But  . . . War, Slavery and the punishment of death, are among the popular evils of our own time, for the Divine authority of which the scriptures are appealed to. The scriptures are not an infallible rule of human conduct – but the ‘Grace of God’ is – this the apostle says ‘has appeared to all men’ – consequently its teachings are universally known.”

This book is online full text and open access here. ]

Diary of Jane Price, continued:

    It passed off without any reply or notice whatever, for it was no time to say much just then; but it was not anything of this kind that was the “head of astonishment” to me, but conversation out of meeting I think we need to watch. . . . .  . .

    Richmond, Indiana, Second-day, 2th mo. 27th. Attended the first sitting of the Yearly Meeting, quite large, and a pretty good meeting. Our friend Lucretia made some excellent preparatory remarks, that I think could not give dissatisfaction, or at least need not. If any were not satisfied, they kept it to themselves; though some of the Elders waited on her yesterday morning, and “desired her to go home” or if she went to meeting, “desired her not to speak!” I feel my mind stayed; having the fullest confidence in Truth, and that it will bear all out who do not forsake it; but I am pained to see prejudice take the place of Christian charity. I have heretofore avoided going at all into particulars relative to matters and things I have been privy to, but could not help hinting at the above. . . .

    . . . The Queries were also read, and the state of Society spoken to. Lucretia spoke once, I thought impressively, and to the purpose; though some no doubt did not feel unity, as there is a strong feeling against her in the minds of some here; also in opposition to J. Jackson’s book; many would be afraid to suffer it in their houses, much less read it. … I would like if thou could see our friends James and Lucretia, when they return. I think we, that is, Friends, will all have to learn to concede to others that sincerity, and that liberty to judge for themselves what is right, that we claim for ourselves.

    Fourth-day, 29th. – Meetings for worship were held in both houses; we attended the same we did on First-day. James and Lucretia were in the other house. She spoke, several observed to me afterwards, in a very interesting manner; told them many truths; others did not like a good deal she said. The meeting was very quiet, and nothing unpleasant occurred to disturb the solemnity.

    Sixth-day, 1st of 10th mo. – They have had, and I fear will have, sad entanglements and wounds, and wounding, more or less, all through this Yearly Meeting. I regret, I could mourn and lament, at the feeling that is spreading far and wide, at the tale-bearing and detraction, and the willingness to give occasion of offense. . . . James and Lucretia have nearly always gone back from meeting to their lodging, having taken boarding at a Friend’s house. There has been a great deal here directed against them. Lucretia has been quite poorly, too, but has attended all the sittings.

    She and James stepped up to the widow Evans’ between meetings on Fourth-day morning, where were a good many friends of the evangelical order; a roomful present; Lucretia said little or nothing, merely came in to warm her feet. She was in tears all the while, as she sat in one corner by the fire; just before she went out, I whispered to her what had deeply impressed my mind all the while she was in the room: “The disciple is not above his Lord, nor the servant above his master.” That was just before they went into the meeting for worship….  

 I asked Lucretia if she would go to a friend’s today to dinner; she said they felt best satisfied just to go back to their lodgings. She then further said to me, with tears, “It constantly runs through my mind, “‘For Thy sake, I am killed all the day long.’” [Psalm 44:22]

    Jane Price’s son, Isaiah Price, writes concerning this part of his mother’s diary : –  

    “The perusal of our mother’s letters and her daily record of the feelings attending her mind, as well as her conversation upon her return, attest that her spirit was often bowed in sorrow and trial because of the things she was a witness unto; and it is evident also, that hers was not always a silent travail; but she has not left us unadvised that these intolerant ones were often put under restraint and guard by her presence and evident want of sympathy with their proceedings. Thus was her discretion justified, and made more of a rebuke to the intolerant spirit, than an over-zealous opposition in words on her part could possibly have proved. And this was the more significant from the fact that those with whom her lot was cast principally, while in attendance at Indiana Yearly Meeting, were of the extreme Orthodox party. Owing to this fact, she had less opportunity to manifest her interest and sympathy personally by her presence with her friends James and Lucretia, but she nevertheless was enabled to impart the feeling of her heart and mind, and sometimes to give the friendly grasp of the hand, and the cordial word of feeling; and the writer can now recall the grateful expressions in which dear Lucretia has spoken of her sympathy amid the experiences of adverse feeling and opposition, as manifested toward them at that time.”

    During this visit to Richmond there was shown a remarkable instance of bigotry and intolerance; an example of the bitterness of party spirit such as is seldom seen. It is the hospitable custom among Friends, on the occasion of any large gathering in the cities where they reside, to invite the strangers who attend the meetings to their homes, particularly between the morning and afternoon sessions. In this way, and in company with many others, James and Lucretia Mott were invited to dine by a Friend, whose husband was a physician of standing, and an active member of the Society.

    Lucretia Mott had been indisposed for several days, and at times had suffered acutely from neuralgia. During the visit she was seized with an unusually severe attack, and the physician was asked to try to relieve her. It is incredible, in this day, that the dictates of  common humanity could resist such an appeal. Turn-ing from her, the doctor said, “Lucretia, I  am so deeply afflicted by thy rebellious spirit, that I do not feel that I can prescribe for thee.”

    Whereupon James Mott remarked, “It is evident, my dear, that we are not wanted here; I think we should feel more comfortable in our own lodgings;” and together they left the house. Such treatment wounded more deeply than was ever acknowledged. In her public ministry, the brave spirit showed no sign of pain, but in the seclusion of home, it was affecting to see, as it is grievous to remember, the suffering she endured. Her health became seriously impaired by the severe attacks of dyspepsia that were sure to follow seasons of mental distress.

    Yet, notwithstanding the trials she experienced, her life at this period was by no means unhappy; on the contrary, it was happier than that of most women. This was owing partly to her own natural cheerfulness, her conscious rectitude, and her unwa-vering faith in the triumph of moral principle; but more than all, to the never-failing support of a congenial home. Here was a “refuge in times of trouble” where she “dwelt in safety” in the love of husband and children.

    She also found support in the knowledge that her oppo-nents, although “weighty members” of the Society of Friends, were still its smallest portion; and that if the issue should arise, they were hardly strong enough to carry out their hostile measures of censure and disownment; and more than this, that a large number of the younger Friends would resist any attempt to deprive her of those rights and privileges which had been bestowed on her in former days. These did not wholly agree with her, nor were they always prepared to sustain her cause openly, but neither were they willing to see her cast out from among them.

    In the hard battle that she fought, even this unavowed sympathy served as encouragement. Her course was made more difficult to herself, and more unpalatable to Friends, by the open interest that she and her husband evinced in various unpopular movements of the day, besides abolition. Of this, she said, in the autobiographical sketch before alluded to,

“The misrepresentation, ridicule, and abuse heaped upon these reforms do not in the least deter me from my duty. To those whose name is cast out as evil for the truth’s sake, it is a small thing to be judged of man’s judgment.”

Leave a comment