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In the year 1798, the state of Ireland afforded a striking occasion to the members of this Society, who are scattered abroad in different parts of that kingdom, to put the efficacy of their peaceful principles to the test. It is, however, to be presumed, that, even if outward preservation had not been experienced, they who conscientiously take the maxims of Peace for the rule of their conduct, would hold it not less their duty to conform to these principles : because the reward of such as endeavour to act in obedience to their Divine Master's will, is not always to be looked for in the present life. While, therefore, the fact of their outward preservation would be no sufficient argument to themselves that they had acted as they ought to act in such a crisis, it affords a striking lesson to those who will take no principle, that has not been verified by experience, for a rule of human conduct, even if it should have the sanction of Divine authority,
When a kingdom is divided in itself, it is difficult for any to remain neutral. Either the passions of human nature, by the influence of many private and public bonds, will be pressed to a near union with one of the contending parties; or the Christian principle of universal charity must operate, uniformly and powerfully, in maintaining a dignified and amicable relation with all. It is therefore necessary to subdue the natural propensity which we feel to imbibe the fears, hopes, wishes, and prejudices of our neighbour, to bear his reproach for our seeming apathy, and in this way to clear the avenue of the mind from the seeds of contention, that in reality, as well as by profession, we may be followers of Peace.
Whatever secret and slowly-operating causes might have conspired to produce the Rebellion of 1798, it is certain that different objects were proposed by two great classes of the insurgents. By some, civil liberty—a specious pretence in all ages to the warm and enterprising, -by others, uniformity in religious faith—an imposing object to the dark and bigoted, were held up as justifiable reasons for erecting the standard of sedition, and plunging their native country into the horrors of a civil war. The members of a Society which neither united with the political nor the religious views of these factious bands, might naturally be looked upon with suspicion by both ; at least, they were not likely to be considered as friends; and, as a part of the community, which did not exert itself actively in aiding the power it was bound, in all cases of purely civil obligation, to
obey, in order to suppress a rebellion, the motives and objects of which it could not possibly approve, the Society, in its relation to the government, seemed to manifest but a spurious loyalty. It was in fact openly charged, not only with a dereliction of its civil duties, but with a tacit reliance upon its neighbours, to step forward in the defence of rights and privileges, in which it was as much interested as others. Hence, whatever forbearance the government itself was disposed to exercise towards the Society, the professed loyalists, as they were termed, regarded its members in no more favourable light than as drones, unwilling to work, and ready to feed upon the honey supplied by the industrious bees. Whether some individuals who, having the name, were but little bound to the principles of the Society, might not have deserved this imputation, is not a matter of much moment. For, were the question to be decided in the affirmative, the censure could neither lessen the value of the principles themselves, nor affect the general character of the body in its conscientious support of these principles.
These were a few of the critical circumstances in which the Society of Friends was placed at this period, when private individuals belonging to it were engaged to lift up the standard of peace to their contending countrymen, and, with few exceptions, enabled to preserve a remarkable consistency on this memorable occasion.
Many of these were separated at a considerable distance from each other, very often without an earthly counsellor to flee to, and therefore deprived of any other refuge than the light and law of God in their own hearts.
Long before the rising, a spirit of contention was working in the minds of the people ; opposed factions were increasing their numbers, and marking out friends and foes; in the silence and gloomy reserve which characterized the multitude, a storm was seen to be gathering; and it appeared obvious that as deep-seated animosity was concentrating its forces on either side, nothing short of a dreadful conflict could extinguish their mutual hatred in mutual slaughter. If the members of the Society in question did not anticipate this calamity, they seem, at least, to have wisely taken some precautions against it. One of the means adopted by the insurgents in the first place, to prepare for the struggle, and by the constituted authorities in the next, to defeat their purpose, was the robbery and the search for arms in private houses. So arly as the year 1796, rad in one particular province in 1735 the Quarterly Meetings of the Society were induced to recommend to all their members, through the medium of Monthly Meetings, that those individuals who had guns or other weapons in their houses should destroy them ; and the General or National Meeting of 1796 confirmed this recommendation ; in order, as the document states, “to prevent their being made use of to the destruction of any of our fellow-creatures, and more fully and clearly to support our peaceable and Christian testimony in these perilous times."
Committees were appointed by the several Monthly Meetings throughout the Society, to go round to the different members for this purpose ; and it appears that, in most families, these committees had little more to do than to communicate their business ; some having previously destroyed all such instruments, and others giving full expectation of their intention immediately to comply with the recommendation of the superior meetings, whilst a few, who could not be prevailed upon to make this sacrifice, were found to have been generally inconsistent in their conduct in other respects : so that they soon incurred the censure of the Society, and suffered disownment. It was certified that, upon the whole, the labours of the members to carry this wholesome advice into effect were attended with a considerable degree of success.
It is related by an individual who resided at Ferns, in the county of Wexford, that, being appointed on one of these committees, he saw the necessity of first cleansing his own hands; and he took a fowling-piece which he had, and broke it in pieces in the street opposite to his own house ; an example of fidelity to his principles, and a spectacle of wonder to his neighbours.
A little after this, when the government ordered all arms to be given up to the magistrates, it was a source of satisfaction to many, that, in a general way, the members of the Society were found to be without any such thing in their possession.
On this head, a circumstance, relating to the Friend above alluded to, deserves to be noticed : as it shows at once the uncertainty of life, and the weakness of human dependency. But, in stating this fact, or others of a similar nature, the author hopes none of his re ers will imagine that he is anxious to hold up such events to
view, as in the light of judgments upon those who did not see tne religious necessity of abstaining from war. Many well-disposed persons, of different denominations, he has no doubt, were permitted to be cut off by the arm of violence, during the time of the rebel. lion, in mercy and not in judgment. It is the object of this publication to record simply the facts : it is not for the author to judge any of his fellow-creatures.
Some of the neighbouring magistrates, with the clergyman of the parish, came to his house, and, the Friend being absent, expostulated with his wife on the supposed impropriety of his having destroyed his gun instead of giving it up to the government, for the alleged purpose of defending the loyalists against the fomenters and plotters of rebellion, and for the preservation of himself and his family. On which occasion the clergyman, who seems to have been an amiable man, made this spontaneous remark, " That he believed the Friend had put his confidence in a higher power.” On the day the town of Enniscorthy was burned, this clergyman was murdered, and his body, with many others, was exposed for several days in the streets, where they were left to be eaten by the swine, till party rage had so far subsided as to embolden a few Friends to bury their remains. One of the magistrates was also murdered, and his house was burned over the body.
As the members of the Society, at so early a period as the year 1796, by taking the precautionary step of destroying their arms, mani. fested to the government their peaceable intentions ; so, in the few months of turbulence and dismay which immediately preceded the Rebellion of 1798, they were in a considerable degree relieved from the midnight depredations of the rebels, to which most of their neighbours were exposed, in the lawless search for destructive weapons ; because it was now generally known that none such were kept in their houses. And the National Meeting of the Society was concerned, officially to acknowledge its belief, “that this early destruction of these instruments was, under Providence, a means of lessening in some degree the effusion of buman blood, (as these weapons would probably have fallen into the lands of violent men). and might have also tended to preserve some of the members of the Society themselves from blood, who if they had had guns in their houses, might have used them in an upguarded momen
of surprise or attack, so as to take away the lives of their fellowcreatures.”
A Friend, living near the town of Taghmon, remarks, that he had personal proof of the advantage of having destroyed the guns kept for domestic purposes ; and he gives the following instance : “ Two parties of insurgents coming near my father's residence during the Rebellion, an individual of one party of them snapped a gun at the other; when an armed man came to the front door, and on my coming towards him, presented his gun at my breast, asserting that a gun had been snapped at their party by some person of our family. I then felt less of fear, than often during that period, when in less apparent danger, and told him, we had destroyed our guns, and that there had been no arms in the house except what their party brought into it, for a considerable time; appealing to our servants, who confirmed the truth thereof. And, soon after, some, probably of his party, came, and he being, I supposed, informed of the real circumstances of the case, withdrew, when I saw one of the party whom I had some knowledge of, and who appeared friendly disposed to me; and on going to speak with him, I saw, in the passage to the house, numbers sitting in groups, as if consulting on what had occurred.”
As the state of public affairs was drawing nearer to a crisis, the situation of the Society, especially of those who resided in the vicinity of the contending parties, was a subject of deep and awful solicitude to its feeling members ; and many individuals had the efficacy of their religious principles against War, put, in various ways, to severe proof.
Amongst these, the Friend before alluded to, residing in the village of Ferns, in the county of Wexford, who is represented to have been constitutionally weak in body and timid in disposition, had to endure a considerable share of close trials; and, notwithstanding his natural infirmities, it appears that, in most cases, he was enabled to support his principles with exemplary firmness.
A party of militia being stationed at Ferns, the Earl of M-, who commanded, came to this Friend, and desired he would give up part of his house, which was then used as a store, for a guard-house for the soldiers. The requisition being sudden, the friend was put to a stand what he should answer; and, although he might have refused it on the ground of its being occupied as a store, yet, knowing that