Quaker Marriage

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

Marriage—Quakers differ in many respects from others, on the subject of Marriage—George Fox introduced Regulations concerning it—Protested against the usual manner of the celebration of it—Gave an example of what he recommended—Present regulations of the Quakers on this subject.  

The Quakers differ from others in many of their regulations concerning this custom. They differ also in the manner of the celebration of it.  And, as they differ in these respects, so they experience generally a different result. The Quakers, as a married, may be said to be a happy, people. Hence the detailers of scandal, have rarely had it in their power to promulgate a Quaker adultery. Nor have the lawyers had an opportunity in our public courts of proclaiming a Quaker divorce.

George Fox suggested many regulations on this subject. He advised, among other things, when persons had it in contemplation to marry, that they should lay their intention before the monthly meetings, both of the men and women. He advised also, that the consent of their parents should be previously obtained, and certified to these. Thus he laid the foundation for greater harmony in the approaching union. He advised again, that an inquiry should be made, if the parties were clear of engagements or promises of marriage to others, and, if they were not, that they should be hindered from proceeding. Thus, he cut off some of the causes of the interruption of connubial happiness, by preventing uneasy reflections, or suits at law, after the union had taken place. He advised also, in the case of second marriages, that any offspring resulting from the former, should have their due rights and a proper provision secured to them, before they were allowed to be solemnized. Thus he gave a greater chance for happiness, by preventing mercenary motives from becoming the causes of the union of husbands and wives.

But George Fox, as he introduced these and other salutary regulations on the subject of Marriage, so he introduced a new manner of the celebration of it. He protested against the manner of the world, that is, against the formal prayers and exhortations as they were repeated, and against the formal ceremonies, an they were practiced by the Parish Priest. He considered that it was God, who joined man and woman before the fall; and that in Christian times, or where the man was truly renovated in heart, there could be no other right or honorable way of union. Consistently with this view of the subject, he observed, that in the ancient scriptural times, persons took each other in marriage in the assemblies of the Elders; and there was no record, from the Book of Genesis to that of Revelations, of any marriage by a Priest. Hence it became his new society, as a religious or renovated people, to abandon apostate usages, and to adopt a manner that was more agreeable to their new state.

George Fox gave in his own marriage, an example of all that he had thus recommended to the society. Having agreed with Margaret Fell, the widow of Judge Fell, upon the propriety of their union as husband and wife, he desired her to send for her children. As soon as they were come, he asked them and their respective husbands, “If they had any thing against it, or for it, desiring them to speak? and they all severally expressed their satisfaction therein. Then he asked Margaret, if she had fulfilled and performed her husband’s Will to her children? She replied, the children know that. Whereupon he asked them, whether, if their mother married, they should not lose by it? And he asked Margaret, whether she had done any thing in lieu of it, which might answer it to the children? The children said, she had answered it to them, and desired him to speak no more about that. He told them, that he was plain, and that he would have all things done plainly; for he sought not any outward advantage to himself. So, after he had acquainted the children with it, their intention of marriage was laid before Friends, both privately and publicly;” and afterwards a meeting being appointed for the accomplishment of the marriage, in the public Meeting-house at Broad Mead, in Bristol, they took each other in marriage, in the plain and simple manner as then practiced, and which he himself had originally recommended to his followers.

The regulations concerning marriage, and the manner of the celebration of it, which obtained in the time of George Fox, nearly obtain among the Quakers of the present day.

When marriage is agreed upon between two persons, the man and the woman, at one of the monthly meetings, publicly declare their intention, and ask leave to proceed. At this time their parents, if living, must either appear, or send certificates to signify their consent. This being done, two men are appointed by the men’s meeting, and two women are appointed by that of the women, to wait upon the man and woman respectively, and to learn from themselves, as well as by other inquiry, if they stand perfectly clear from any marriage-promises and engagements to others. At the next monthly meeting the deputation make their report. If either of the parties is reported to have given expectation of marriage to any other individual, the proceedings are stopped till the matter be satisfactorily explained. But if they are both of them reported to be clear in this respect, they are at liberty to proceed, and one or more persons of respectability of each sex, are deputed to see that the marriage be conducted in an orderly manner.

In the case of second marriages, additional instructions are sometimes given; for if any of the parties thus intimating their intentions of marrying should have children alive, the same persons, who were deputed to inquire into their clearness from all other engagements, are to see that the rights of such children be legally secured.

When the parties are considered to be free, by the reports of the deputation, to proceed upon their union, they appoint a suitable day for the celebration of it, which is generally one of the week-day meetings for worship. On this day they repair to the Meeting-house with their friends. The congregation, when seated, sit in silence. Perhaps some minister is induced to speak. After a suitable time has elapsed, the man and the woman rise up together, and, taking each other by the hand, declare publicly, that they thus take each other as husband and wife.  This constitutes their marriage. By way, however, of evidence of their union, a paper is signed by the man and woman, in the presence of three witnesses, who sign it also, in which it is stated that they have so taken each other in marriage. And, in addition to this, though, it be not a necessary practice, another paper is generally produced and read, stating concisely the proceedings of the parties in their respective Meetings for the purpose of their marriage, and the declaration made by them, as having taken each other as man and wife. This is signed by the parties, their relations, and frequently by many of their friends, and others present. All marriages of other Dissenters are celebrated in the established churches, according to the ceremonies of the same. But the marriages of the Quakers are valid by law in their own Meeting-houses, when solemnized in this simple manner.



Quakers, marrying out of the Society, to be disowned—That regulation charged with pride and cruelty—Reasons for this disownment are—That mixed Marriages cannot be celebrated without a violation of same of the great Principles of the Society—That they are generally productive of disputes and uneasiness to those concerned—and that the discipline cannot be carried on in such families. 

Among the regulations suggested by George Fox, and adopted by his followers, it was determined that persons, belonging to the society, should not intermarry with those of other religious professions. Such an heterogeneous union was denominated a mixed marriage; and persons, engaging in such mixed marriages, were to be disowned.

People of other denominations have charged the Quakers with a more than usually censurable pride, on account of their adoption of this law. They consider them as looking down upon the rest of their fellow-creatures, as so inferior or unholy, as not to deign or to dare to mix in alliance with them, or as looking upon them in the same light as the Jews considered the Heathen, or the Greeks the Barbarian world. And they have charged them also with as much cruelty as pride, on the same account. “A Quaker, they say, feels himself strongly attached to an accomplished woman; but she does not belong to the society. He wishes to marry, but he cannot marry her on account of its laws. Having a respect for the society, he looks round it again, but he looks round it in vain. He finds no one equal to this woman; no one, whom he could love so well. To marry one in the society, while he loves another out of it better, would be evidently wrong. If he does not marry her, he makes the greatest of all sacrifices, for he loses that which he supposes would constitute a source of enjoyment to him for the remainder of his life. If he marries her, he is expelled the society; and this, without having been guilty of an immoral offence.”

One of the reasons, which the Quakers give for the adoption of this law of disownment in the case of mixed marriages, is, that those who engage in them violate some of the most important principles of the society, and such indeed as are distinguishing characteristics of Quakerism from the religion of the world.

It is a religious tenet of the Quakers, as will be shown in its proper place, that no appointment of man can make a minister of the gospel, and that no service, consisting of an artificial form of words, to be pronounced on stated occasions, can constitute a religious act; for that the spirit of God is essentially necessary to create the one, and to produce the other. It is also another tenet with them, that no minister of a Christian church, ought to be paid for his Gospel-labors. This latter tenet is held so sacred by the Quakers, that it affords one reason among others, why they refuse payment of tithes, and other demands of the church, preferring to suffer loss by distraints for them, than to comply with them in the usual manner. Now these two principles are essentials of Quakerism. But no person, who marries out of the society, can be legally married without going through the forms of the established church. Those therefore who submit to this ceremony, as performed by a priest, acknowledge, according to the Quakers, the validity of an human appointment of the ministry. They acknowledge the validity of an artificial service in religion. They acknowledge the propriety of paying a Gospel-minister for the discharge of his office.  The Quakers, therefore, consider those who marry out of the society, as guilty of such a dereliction of Quaker-principles, that they can be no longer considered as sound or consistent members.

But independently of the violation of these principles, which the Quakers take as the strongest ground for their conduct on such an occasion, they think themselves warranted in disowning, from a contemplation of the consequences, which have been known to result from these marriages.

In the first place, disownment is held to be necessary, because it acts as a check upon such marriages, and because, by acting as such a check, it prevents the family-disputes and disagreements which might otherwise arise; for such marriages have been found to be more productive of uneasiness than of enjoyment. When two persons of different religious principles, a Quaker for example, and a woman of the church, join in marriage, it is almost impossible that they should not occasionally differ. The subject of religion arises, and perhaps some little altercation with it, as the Sunday comes. The one will not go to church, and the other will not go to meeting. These disputes do not always die with time. They arise, however, more or less, according to circumstances. If neither of the parties set any value upon their religious opinions, there will be but little occasion for dispute. If both of them, on the other hand, are of a serious cast, much will depend upon the liberality of their sentiments: but, generally speaking, it falls to the lot of but few to be free from religious prejudices. And here it may be observed, that points in religion also may occasionally be suggested, which may bring with them the seeds of temporary uneasiness. People of other religious denominations generally approach nearer to one another in their respective creeds, than the Quakers to either of them. Most Christians agree, for example, in the use of Baptism in some form or other, and also in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But the Quakers, as will be shown in this volume, consider these ordinances in a spiritual light, admitting no ceremonials in so pure a system as that of the Christian religion.

But these differences, which may thus soon or late take their rise upon these or other subjects, where the parties set a value on their respective religious opinions, cannot fail of being augmented by new circumstances in time. The parties in question have children. The education of these is now a subject of the most important concern. New disputes are engendered on this head, both adhering to their respective tenets as the best to be embraced by their rising offspring. Unable at length to agree on this point, a sort of compromise takes place. The boys are denied, while the girls are permitted, baptism. The boys, again, are brought up to meeting, and the girls to church, or they go to church and meeting alternately. In the latter case, none of the children can have any fixed principles. Nor will they be much better off in the former. There will be frequently an opposition of each other’s religious opinions, and a constant hesitation and doubt about the consistency of these. There are many points, which the mothers will teach the daughters as right, or essential, but which the fathers will teach the sons as erroneous or unimportant. Thus disputes will be conveyed to the children. In their progress through life other circumstances may arise, which may give birth to feelings of an unpleasant nature. The daughters will be probably instructed in the accomplishments of the world. They will be also introduced to the card-room, and to assemblies, and to the theatre, in their turn. The boys will be admitted to neither. The latter will of course feel their pleasures abridged, and consider their case as hard, and their father as morose and cruel. Little jealousies may arise upon this difference of their treatment, which may be subversive of filial and fraternal affection. Nor can religion be called in to correct them; for while the two opposite examples of father and mother, and of sisters and brothers, are held out to be right, there will be considerable doubts as to what are religious truths.

The Quakers urge again in behalf of their law against mixed marriages, that if these were not forbidden, it would be impossible to carry on the discipline of the society. The truth of this may be judged by the preceding remarks. For if the family were divided into two parties, as has been just stated, on account of their religion, it would be but in a kind of mongrel-state. If, for instance, it were thought right, that the Quaker-part of it should preserve the simplicity of the Quaker-dress, and the plainness of the Quaker-language, how is this to be done, while the other part daily move in the fashions, and are taught as a right usage, to persist in the phrases of the world? If, again, the Quaker-part of it are to be kept from the amusements prohibited by the society, how is this to be effected, while the other part of it speak of them from their own experience, with rapture or delight? It would be impossible, therefore, in the opinion of the Quakers, in so mixed a family, to keep up that discipline, which they consider as the corner-stone of their constitutional fabric, and which may be said to have been an instrument in obtaining for them the character of a moral people.



But though persons are thus disowned, they may be restored to membership—Generally understood, however, that they must previously express their repentance for their marriages—This confession of repentance censured by the world—But is admissible without the criminality supposed—The word repentance misunderstood by the world.

But though the Quakers may disown such as marry out of their society, it does not follow that these may not be reinstated as members. If these should conduct themselves after their disownment in an orderly manner, and, still retaining their attachment to the society, should bring up their children in the principles and customs of it, they may, if they apply for restoration, obtain it, with all their former privileges and rights.

The children also of such as marry out of the society, though they are never considered to be members of it, may yet become so in particular cases. The society advises that the monthly meetings, should extend a tender care towards such children, and that they should be admitted into membership at the discretion of the said meetings, either in infancy or in maturer age.

But here I must stop to make a few observations, on an opinion which prevails upon this subject. It is generally understood that the Quakers, in their restoration of disowned persons to membership, require them previously and publicly to acknowledge, that they have repented of their marriages. This obligation to make this public confession of repentance, has given to many a handle for heavy charges against them.  Indeed I scarcely know, in any part of the Quaker-system, where people are louder in their censures, than upon this point. “A man, they say, cannot express his penitence for his marriage without throwing a stigma upon his wife. To do this is morally wrong, if he has no fault to find with her. To do it, even if she has been in fault, is indelicate. And not to do it, is to forego his restoration to membership. This law therefore of the Quakers is considered to be immoral, because it may lead both to hypocrisy and falsehood.”

I shall not take up much time in correcting the notions that have gone abroad on this subject.

Of those who marry out of the society, it may be presumed that there are some, who were never considered to be sound in the Quaker-principles, and these are generally they who intermarry with the world. Now they, who compose this class, generally live after their marriages, as happily out of the society as when they were in it. Of course, these do not repent of the change. And if they do not repent, they never sue for restoration to membership. They cannot, therefore, incur any of the charges in question. Nor can the society be blamed in this case, who, by never asking them to become members, never entice them to any objectionable repentance.

Of those again, who marry out of the society, there may be individuals, so attached to its communion, that it was never imagined they would have acted in this manner. Now of these, it may in general be said, that they often bitterly repent. They find, soon or late, that the opposite opinions and manners, to be found in their union, do not harmonize. And here it may be observed, that it is very possible, that such persons may say they repent without any crimination of their wives. A man, for instance, may have found in his wife all the agreeableness of temper, all the domestic virtue and knowledge, all the liberality of religious opinion, which he had anticipated; but in consequence of the mixed principles resulting from mixed marriages, or of other unforeseen causes, he may be so alarmed about the unsteady disposition of his children and their future prospects, that the pain which he feels on these accounts may overbalance the pleasure, which he acknowledges in the constant prudence, goodness, solicitude, and affection, of his wife.  This may be so much the case, that all her consolatory offices may not be able to get the better of his grief. A man, therefore, in such circumstances, may truly repent of his marriage, or that he was ever the father of such children, though he can never complain as the husband of such a wife.

The truth, however, is, that those who make the charge in question, have entirely misapplied the meaning of the word repent. People are not called upon to express their sorrow, for having married the objects of their choice, but for having violated those great tenets of the society, which have been already mentioned, and which form distinguishing characteristics between Quakerism and the religion of the world. Those, therefore, who say they repent, say no more than what any other persons might be presumed to say, who had violated the religious tenets of any other society to which they might have belonged, or who had flown in the face of what they had imagined to be religious truths.



Of persons, disowned for marriage, the greater proportion is said to consist of women—Causes assigned for this difference of number in the two sexes.

It will perhaps appear a curious fact to the world, but I am told it is true, that the number of the women, disowned for marrying out of the society, far exceeds the number of the men, who are disowned on the same account.

It is not difficult, if the fact be as it is stated, to assign a reason for this difference of number in the two sexes.

When men wish to marry, they wish, at least if they are men of sense, to find such women as are virtuous; to find such as are prudent and domestic, and such as have a proper sense of the folly and dissipation of the Fashionable world; such in fact as will make good mothers and good wives. Now if a Quaker looks into his own society, he will generally find the female part of it of this description. Female Quakers excel in these points. But if he looks into the world at large, he will in general find a contrast in the females there. These, in general, are but badly educated. They are taught to place a portion of their happiness in finery and show: utility is abandoned for fashion: The knowledge of the etiquette of the drawing-room usurps the place of the knowledge of the domestic duties: A kind of false and dangerous taste predominates: Scandal and the card-table are preferred to the pleasures of a rural walk: Virtue and Modesty are seen with only half their energies, being overpowered by the noxiousness of novel-reading principles, and by the moral taint which infects those who engage in the varied rounds of a fashionable life. Hence a want of knowledge, a love of trifles, and a dissipated turn of mind, generally characterize those who are considered as having had the education of the world.

We see therefore a good reason why Quaker-men should confine themselves in their marriages to their own society. But the same reason, which thus operates with Quaker-men in the choice of Quaker-women, operates with men who are not of the society, in choosing them also for their wives.  These are often no strangers to the good education, and to the high character, of the Quaker-females. Fearful often of marrying among the badly educated women of their own persuasion, they frequently address themselves to this society, and not infrequently succeed.

To this it may be added, that if Quaker-men were to attempt to marry out of their own society, they would not in general be well received. Their dress and their manners are considered as uncouth in the eyes of the female-world, and would present themselves as so many obstacles in the way of their success. The women of this description generally like a smart and showy exterior. They admire heroism and spirit. But neither such an exterior, nor such spirit, are to be seen in the Quaker-men. The dress of the Quaker-females, on the other hand, is considered as neat and elegant, and their modesty and demeanor as worthy of admiration.  From these circumstances they captivate. Hence the difference, both in the inward and outward person, between the men and the women of this society, renders the former not so pleasing, while it renders the latter objects of admiration, and even choice.



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