Are the Quakers Secessionists?

So are the Quakers secessionist? Let’s go through each of our rules and why the Quakers fit this criteria:

  1. A secessionist divide must be one group splitting into many parts.

Well, unlike the Puritans (who wanted to ‘purify’ the Church) the Quakers actually separated from the Church of England and began a new religious denomination with specific objections to Anglican doctrine. Not only was their interpretation of Jesus different from the Church of England and as a result their practice markedly different, they also visually divided themselves from larger society by dressing in ‘simple dress.

2. There has to be more than one person wanting to leave the organization.

And there certainly were. Quakerism spread fairly quickly with an estimated 40,000 members by 1661 across the British Isles making it one of the fastest growing religious movements of its time. William Penn was also granted a land charter in Pennsylvania with the express purpose to create a haven for Quakers within North American. Other predominantly Quaker settlements in Rhode Island and New Jersey prove that there were more than just a few dissatisfied members of Puritan society hoping for refuge, there was a significant group looking to form societies that suited their needs.

3. There has to be something that you’re seceding from.

What the Quakers were seceding from is a good question. Initially they split from the mainstream national churches (Anglican, Presbyterian, etc.) of the British Isles. Those are specific organizations that lost members due to the Quaker movement. They could also be seen as seceding from Massachusetts Bay Colony though this argument is a little bit shakier. Though the Quakers did leave Massachusetts Bay, they were facing extreme intolerance at the hands of the Puritans. Does that make them secessionists or just asylum seekers? Many secessionist movements can and have argued that they left a group due to biased and unjust policies but does the violence against the Puritans speak more to necessity rather than an active choice?

4. There has to be a reason why you’re seceding.

There were reasons why the Quakers were seceding from the mainstream churches though those reasons were differences in beliefs. They had a different outlook on life, one had spiritual needs that the Anglican Church could not satisfy so they formed their own religion. If you agree that the large-scale resettlement from Massachusetts is a secessionist move than that means that the Puritan treatment of Quakers were the motivation behind it.