Quaker Settlement of Differences

[This is taken from Thomas Clarkson's A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume II.]

Settlement of differences—Quakers, when they differ, abstain from violence—No instance of a duel—George Fox protested against going to law, and Recommended arbitration- Laws relative to arbitration—Account of an arbitration-society, at Newcastle upon Tyne, on Quaker-principles --Its dissolution— Such societies might be usefully promoted. 

Men are so constituted by nature, and their mutual intercourse is such, that circumstances must unavoidably arise, which will occasion differences. These differences will occasionally rouse the passions; and, after all, they will still be to be settled. The Quakers, like other men, have their differences. But you rarely see any disturbance of the temper on this account. You rarely hear intemperate invectives. You are witness to no blows. If in the courts of law you have never seen their characters stained by convictions for a breach of the marriage-contract, or the crime of adultery; so neither have you seen them disgraced by convictions for brutal violence, or that most barbarous of all Gothic customs, the duel.

It is a lamentable fact, when we consider that we live in an age, removed above eighteen hundred years from the first promulgation of Christianity, one of the great objects of which was to insist upon the subjugation of the passions, that our children should not have been better instructed, than that we should now have to behold men, of apparently good education, settling their disputes by an appeal to arms.  It is difficult to conceive what preposterous principles can actuate men, to induce them to such a mode of decision. Justice is the ultimate wish of every reasonable man in the termination of his casual differences with others, But, in the determination of cases by the sword, the injured man not infrequently falls, while the aggressor sometimes adds to his offence, by making a widow or an orphan, and by the murder of a fellow-creature. But it is possible the duelist may conceive that he adds to his reputation by decisions of this sanguinary nature. But surely he has no other reputation with good men, than that of a weak, or a savage, or an infatuated creature; and, if he fells, he is pitied by these on no other motive than that of his folly and of his crime. What philosopher can extol his courage, who, knowing the bondage of the mind while under the dominion of fashion, believes that more courage is necessary in refusing a challenge, than in going into the field? What legislator can applaud his patriotism, when he sees him violate the laws of his country? What Christian his religion, when he reflects on the relative duties of man, on the law of lore and benevolence that should have guided him, on the principle that it is more noble to suffer than to resist, and on the circumstance, that he may put himself into the doubly criminal situation of a murderer and a suicide by the same act?

George Fox, in his doctrine of the influence of the spirit as a divine teacher, and in that of the necessity of the subjugation of the passions in order that the inward man might be in a fit state to receive its admonitions, left to the society a system of education, which, if acted upon, could not fail of producing peaceable and quiet characters; but foreseeing that among the best men differences would unavoidably arise from their intercourse in business and other causes, it, was his desire that these should be settled in a Christian manner. He advised therefore that no member should appeal to law; but that he should refer his difference to arbitration, by persons of exemplary character in the society. This mode of decision appeared to him to be consistent with the spirit of Christianity, and with the advice of the apostle Paul, who recommended that all the differences among the Christians of his own time should be referred to the decision of the saints, or of such other Christians, as were eminent for their lives and conversation.

This mode of decision, which began to take place among the Quakers in the time of George Fox, has been continued by them to the present day.  Cases, where property is concerned to the amount of many thousands, are determined in no other manner. By this process the Quakers obtain their verdicts in a way peculiarly satisfactory. For law-suits are at best tedious. They often destroy brotherly love in the individuals, while they continue. They excite also, during this time, not infrequently, a vindictive spirit, and lead to family-feuds and quarrels. They agitate the mind also, hurt the temper, and disqualify a man for the proper exercise of his devotion. Add to this, that the expenses of law are frequently so great, that burdens are imposed upon men for matters of little consequence, which they feel as evils and encumbrances for a portion of their lives; burdens which guilt alone, and which no indiscretion, could have merited. Hence the Quakers experience advantages in the settlement of their differences, which are known but to few others.

The Quakers, when any difference arises about things that are not of serious moment, generally settle it amicably between themselves; but in matters that are intricate and of weighty concern, they have recourse to arbitration. If it should happen, that they are slow in proceeding to arbitration, overseers, or any others of the society, who may come to the knowledge of the circumstance, are to step in and to offer their advice. If their advice is rejected, complaint is to be made to their own monthly meeting concerning them; after which they will come under the discipline of the society, and if they still persist in refusing to settle their differences or to proceed to arbitration, they may be disowned. I may mention here, that any member going to law with another, without having previously tried, to accommodate matters between them according to the rules of the society, comes under the discipline in like manner.

When arbitration is determined on, the Quakers are enjoined to apply to persons of their own society to decide the case. It is considered, however, as desirable, that they should not trouble their ministers, if they can help it, on these occasions, as the minds of these ought to be drawn out as little as possible into worldly concerns. If Quakers, however, should not find among Quakers such as they would choose to employ for these purposes, or such as may not possess skill in regard to the matter in dispute, they may apply to others out of the society, sooner than go to law.

The following is a concise statement of the rules recommended by the society, in the case of arbitrations.

Each party is to choose one or two friends as arbitrators, and all the persons, so chosen, are to agree upon a third or a fifth. The arbitrators are not to consider themselves as advocates for the party by whom they were chosen, but as men, whose duty it is to judge righteously, fearing the Lord. The parties are to enter into engagements to abide by the award of the arbitrators. Every meeting of the arbitrators is to be made known to the parties concerned, till they have been fully heard. No private meetings are allowed between some of the arbitrators, or with one party separate from the other, on the business referred to them. No representation of the case of one party, either by writing or otherwise, is to be admitted, without its being fully made known to the other; and, if required, a copy of such representation is to be delivered to the other party. The arbitrators are to hear both parties fully, in the presence of each other, whilst either has any fresh matter to offer, for a time mutually limited. In the case of any doubtful point of law, the arbitrators are jointly to agree upon a case, and consult counsel. It is recommended to arbitrators to propose to the parties, that they should give an acknowledgment in writing, before the award is made; that they have been candidly and fully heard.

In the same manner as a Quaker proceeds with a Quaker in the case of any difference, he is led by his education and habits to proceed with others, who are not members of the same society. A Quaker seldom goes to law with a person of another denomination, till he has proposed arbitration. If the proposal be not accepted, the Quaker has then no remedy but the law. For a person, who is out of the society, cannot be obliged upon pain of disownment, as a Quaker may, to submit to such a mode of decision, being out of the reach of the Quaker-discipline.

I shall close my observations upon this subject, by giving an account of an institution for the accommodation of differences, which took place in the year 1793, upon Quaker principles.

In the town of Newcastle upon Tyne, a number of disputes were continually arising on the subject of shipping concerns, which were referred to the decision of the laws. These decisions were often grievously expensive. They were, besides, frequently different from what seafaring persons conceived to be just. The latter circumstance was attributed to the ignorance of lawyers in maritime affairs. Much money was therefore often expended, and no one satisfied. Some Quakers, in the neighborhood, in conjunction with others, came forward with a view of obviating these evils. They proposed arbitration as a remedy. They met with some opposition at first, but principally from the gentlemen of the law. After having, however, shown the impropriety of many of the legal verdicts that had been given, they had the pleasure of seeing their plan publicly introduced and sanctioned. For in the month of June, 1793, a number of gentlemen, respectable for their knowledge in mercantile and maritime affairs, met at the Trinity-hall in Newcastle, and associated themselves for these and other purposes, calling themselves “The Newcastle upon Tyne Association for general Arbitration.”

This association was to have four general meetings in the year, one in each quarter, at which they were to receive cases. For any urgent matter, however, which might occur, the clerk was to have the power of calling a special meeting.

Each person, on delivering a case, was to pay a small fee. Out of these fees the clerk’s salary and incidental expenses were to be paid. But the surplus was to be given to the poor.

The parties were to enter into arbitration-bonds, as is usual upon such occasions.

Each party was to choose out of this association or standing committee, one arbitrator for himself, and the association were to choose or to ballot for a third. And here it will be proper to observe, that this standing association appeared to be capable of affording arbitrators equal to the determination of every case. For, if the matter in dispute between the two parties were to happen to be a mercantile question, there were merchants in the association: If a question relative to shipping, there were ship-owners in it: If a question of insurance, there were insurance-brokers also. A man could hardly fail of having his case determined by persons who were competent to the task.

Though this beautiful institution was thus publicly introduced, and introduced with considerable expectations and applause, cases came in but slowly. Custom and prejudice are not to be rooted out in a moment.  In process of time, however, several were offered, considered, and decided, and the presumption was, that the institution would have grown with time. Of those cases which were determined, some, relating to ships, were found to be particularly intricate, and cost the arbitrators considerable time and trouble. The verdicts, however, which were given, were in all of them satisfactory. The Institution, at length became so popular, that, incredible to relate, its own popularity destroyed it! So many persons were ambitious of the honor of becoming members of the committee, that some of inferior knowledge, and judgment, and character, were too hastily admitted into it. The consequence was, that people dared not trust their affairs to the abilities of every member: and the institution expired, after having rendered important services to numerous individuals who had tried it.

When we consider that this institution has been tried, and that the scheme of it has been found practicable, it is a pity that its benefits should have been confined, and this for so short a period, to a single town. Would it not be desirable, if, in every district, a number of farmers were to give in their names to form a standing committee, for the settlement of disputes between farmer and farmer? or that there should be a similar institution among manufacturers, who should decide between one manufacturer and another? Would it not also be desirable, if, in every parish, a number of gentlemen, or other respectable persons, were to associate for the purpose of accommodating the differences of each other? For this beautiful system is capable of being carried to any extent, and of being adapted to all stations and conditions of life. By these means numerous little funds might be established in numerous districts, from the surplus of which an opportunity would be afforded of adding to the comforts of such of the poor, as were to distinguish themselves by their good behavior, whether as laborers for farmers, manufacturers, or others. By these means also many of the quarrels in parishes might be settled to the mutual satisfaction of the parties concerned, and, in so short a space of time, as to prevent them from contracting a rancorous and a wounding edge.  Those, on the other hand, who were to assist in these arbitrations, would be amply repaid; for they would be thus giving an opportunity of growth to the benevolence of their affections, and they would have the pleasing reflection, that the tendency of their labors would be to produce peace and good will amongst men.


Copyright © World Spirituality · All Rights Reserved