Quakers and Conscience: Edward Burrough's Promotion of Religious Tolerance 1653-1663
Embree Veinot, Betty
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The English Civil War period is a fascinating area of study given the religious, political and military battles which were waged from 1642-1649. Following the regicide of 1649 and the ascendency of Oliver Cromwell during the Interregnum, the formation of radical groups dominated the social sphere. This thesis is concerned with one particular sect, the Quakers, or Society of Friends. Beginning as a loosely organized meeting of like-minded individuals and quickly numbering in the thousands, the Quakers became a source of contention for the government. Their unorthodox behaviour, unpretentious lifestyle and philosophy of the equality of all, set them apart in the class-conscious society of seventeenth-century England. Convinced that they were led by the Light of Christ, they defied state laws, the formalism of the Church of England and the social mores of deference to superiors. This caused many to be imprisoned and persecuted both by state authorities and by neighbours. This thesis examines one Quaker’s responses to this persecution and his arguments in favour of toleration. It reviews the copious writings of the Quaker Edward Burrough, who published extensively from 1653 to 1663. He not only refuted tracts written by others against Quakerism, but also wrote to those in authority to advocate liberty of conscience and relief from persecution. Confrontational and hostile at times in his replies to John Bunyan, he defended Quaker doctrine which the latter had challenged. Burrough wrote to Oliver and Richard Cromwell and Parliament imploring them to relieve Quakers of persecution and to provide liberty of conscience. Correspondence to Charles II after his Restoration in 1660 was forceful and relatively successful as the persecution of Quakers in the Boston area was somewhat relieved. This thesis demonstrates that Burrough’s argument for requesting liberty of conscience was that conscience was sacred because it was informed by God through the Light of Christ. The Light of Christ, moreover, dwelled equally within all people. He also suggested that the benefits of allowing liberty of conscience would be felt in the economic, social and political aspects of English life and would help to make England great. Ultimately, Burrough advocated toleration because he argued that toleration was a basic right of freeborn Englishmen.