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No peace without until peace within

Howard Brinton writes, in the introduction to The Guide to True Peace:

But how, the activist will ask, can we heal a sick world when we are advised to "retire from all outward objects and silence all desires in the profound silence of the whole soul" (p.2)? The answer is that there is no peace without until there is peace within.

A man who is inwardly disordered will infect all about him with his inner disorder. John Woolman, a New Jersey tailor of the eighteenth century, followed without reservation the type of religion portrayed in The Guide to True Peace, yet he was one of the world's greatest social reformers. When he went about persuading the Quakers, a hundred years before the Civil War, to give up their slaves, he did not say much about suffering and injustice. He simply pointed out to the slaveholders that they felt no inner peace.

The history of the Society of Friends shows that almost always this search for inner peace is the dynamic of Quaker pioneering in social reform. True peace comes, not by inaction but in letting God act through us. (x)


I wonder where Brinton got the idea that, when Woolman went about persuading “the Quakers” to give up their slaves, “he did not say much about suffering and injustice.”

Such a claim cannot be supported by a close reading of Woolman’s Journal.

We might ask ourselves, what message was Woolman conveying when, for example, he told an interlocutor that, “If compassion on the Africans in regard to their domestic troubles were the real motives of our purchasing them, that spirit of tenderness being attended to would incite us to use them kindly, that as strangers brought out of affliction their lives might be happy among us.... But while we manifest by our conduct that our views in purchasing them are to advance ourselves, and while our buying captives taken in war animates those parties to push on that war and increase desolations amongst them, to say they live unhappy in Africa is far from being an argument in our favor”?

What was Woolman conveying when he insisted, in the presence of the slaveholders he was visiting, that the slaves who served him be paid like freemen for the services they rendered him?

What was conveyed by the essays Woolman wrote and published, essays directed explicitly to slaveholders, in which he wrote things like, “We know not the time when those scales in which mountains are weighed may turn. The parent of mankind is gracious. His care is over his smallest creatures, and a multitude of men escape not his notice; and though many of them are trodden down and despised, yet he remembers them. He seeth their affliction and looketh upon the spreading, increasing exaltation of the oppressor. He turns the channels of power, humbles the most haughty people, and gives deliverance to the oppressed at such periods as are consistent with his infinite justice and goodness”?

And what was Woolman conveying by the simple fact that he focused on visiting slaveholders, rather than on visiting everyone who appeared to lack inner peace?

I have long felt that Brinton played fast and loose with historical truth. This is a clear case in point.