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Fifty Nine

While re-reading Douglas Gwyn's excellent Apocalypse of the Word (more on that soon), I found a reference to a piece by George Fox I don't think I'd seen before: Fifty Nine Particulars laid down for the Regulating things, and the taking away of Oppressing Laws, and Oppressors, and to ease the Oppressed.

Written in 1659, as the Puritan government was crumbling and the Restoration was coming, Fox's list is a mixture of Quaker concerns past and present. Some of them (especially around tithing, oaths, theeing and thouing, and churches) are specific to the persecutions Quakers faced at the time. Others likely felt puritanical in their time, but would have seemed too loose to many 19th-century Quakers, like:

46. And let none keep Ale-houses or Taverns, but those who fear God, that are come into the Wisdom of God, that will not let the Creatures of God be destroyed by Drunkards.

Images in churches, the use of the cross on flags and seals, bells, music, gold lace, bull-baiting, cock-fighting, weapons, sports, plays, and ballads all come in for reproach.

One item that still feels contemporary is this:

29. Let all those Abbie-lands, Glebe-lands, that are given to the Priests, be given to the poor of the Nation, and let all the great houses, Abbies, Steeple-houses, and White-Hall be for Alms-houses (or some other use than what they are) for all the blind and lame to be there, and not to go begging up and down the streets....

33. Let all the poor people, blinde and lame, and creeples be provided for in the Nation, that there may not be a beggar in England nor England's Dominions, that you may say you come to be equal with the Jewes, that had the law that made provision for widows, strangers and fatherless. He that turns his ears from hearing the poor, turns his ears from the Law, which says to provide for them, for ye have read the practice of the Church, the Saints which were in the Gospel, which doth condemn this Nation's practice. Where is so many Beggars among them, both the Jews in the Law, and the Church in the Gospel? And so let all great gifts given to great men, be given to the poor. Let the receiver deny it, and the giver return it to the poor; for the rich may give to the rich, but the poor cannot give it him again, so minde Christ's Doctrine.

Fox calls for the centers of power, religious and secular, to be given over to the poor of the nation. Then he calls for the "great men," again the people with power, to reject the gifts given them, again for the benefit of the poor.

I read this earlier this week, but wasn't quite sure how to talk about it. I knew that I should post, though, when I read this at the end of a book review this morning:

history has put America in a position where its national security depends on its further moral growth. This is scary but also kind of inspiring.

I don't think it's 1659 again, but it does feel like it's a good time to reread Fox's exhortations and consider what they might mean today.