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US Anabaptists

during the Revolutionary War

Not Everyone Favors Independence

The Loyalists. Not all the people could say "Amen" to independence. A sizable minority stayed loyal to King George. These loyalists were called Tories by the revolutionaries.

Why did the Tories stay loyal? Some Tories supported the king because they thought the revolutionaries were rabble-rousers. In their minds democracy meant mob rule, tarring and feathering, and destruction of property. Other loyalists agreed with the patriots about "no taxation without representation." But they wanted to solve the dispute in such a way as to remain in the British Empire. Independence went too far for them. The patriots considered all loyalists traitors. Most of the new states passed laws taking away the loyalists' property. Patriot mobs attacked prominent Tories. Those found helping the British were imprisoned.

To escape mistreatment, many loyalists fled to areas held by the British army. Around 100,000 went to Canada. But most stayed and tried not to attract any notice. To uncover these secret Tories, the states required everyone to swear an oath of allegiance. Some angry loyalists served in the British army. The Revolutionary War was actually America's first civil war in which brother killed brother.

The Liberties of Nonresistant Christians. Some Americans supported neither side in the Revolution. Instead, as Mennonite and German Baptist leaders said in 1775, "We have dedicated ourselves to serve all men in everything that can be helpful to the preservation of men's lives, but...we are not at liberty in conscience to take up arms to conquer our enemies, but rather to pray to God, who has power in heaven and on earth, for us and them." Chief among these nonresistant Christians were the Quakers, Mennonites, German Baptists, Moravians, and Schwenkfelders.

Most nonresistant Christians were quite content with their lot as British subjects. As three Mennonite bishops in Pennsylvania wrote in 1773, "Through God's mercy we enjoy unlimited freedom in both civil and religious matters." Ironically, once the fight for liberty started, the freedom of nonresistant Christians became sharply limited.

Militia Duty. The first issue that peace-promoting Christians faced was militia duty. After Lexington and Concord, patriot committees called all able-bodied men to join a voluntary association "to learn the art of war." The associators noticed that the nonresistant Christians did not join in the drills. They demanded laws requiring everybody to serve.

In November 1775, Mennonite and German Baptist ministers sent A Short and Sincere Declaration to the Pennsylvania assembly. They suggested an alternative to militia duty. They would donate money to help poor families left destitute because their men were off fighting. Instead Pennsylvania passed a law levying a special war tax on all non-associators. Later it said nonresistant Christians could hire substitutes or pay a fine. Most nonresistant Christians refused to do either, because as the Short and Sincere Declaration stated, they found "no freedom in giving, or doing, or assisting in anything by which men's lives are destroyed or hurt." Therefore, Patriot officials confiscated their property to pay the tax and fines.

Free Quakers. A small number of Quakers abandoned their nonresistant convictions to fight for liberty. But most Quakers did not consider these to be real Quakers. They disowned any members who took up arms. In Philadelphia a group of disowned Quakers formed a new church, the Free Quakers.

Who is Caesar?

Independence created another problem for the nonresistant Christians. Was King George III or was the Continental Congress the Caesar they were to obey? Many of them had promised obedience to the king when they came to America. Breaking their word was seen as a serious sin. Also, the king had protected their liberties. Now the patriots were taking them away.

In the end the nonresistant Christians put their trust in the words of the prophet Daniel in the Bible, "He removeth kings and setteth up kings" (Daniel 2:21). They patiently waited for the outcome of the war to find out who God would set up as Caesar. In the meantime they followed a pattern of strict neutrality. They refused to help either side to fight.

However, when hungry, sick, or wounded soldiers, whether patriot or redcoat, needed aid, the nonresistant Christians gave it. As a Hessian officer said, "They are the most hospitable to us." The patriots did not understand this impartial love. They threatened men like Mennonite Christian Weaver with a whipping for feeding runaway British prisoners even though he had done the same for Continental soldiers.

The Test Acts. In 1777 most states passed Test Acts. They required everyone to take an oath of allegiance promising to defend the revolutionary cause with arms. Pennsylvania law decreed banishment and confiscation of all property for those who refused the oath.

Fanatical patriots used the Test Act against nonresistant Christians. In Northampton County, officials left "not a morsel of bread" for the children of ten Mennonite men who refused to take the oath. The authorities threw the men into jail at Easton. Two of the men's wives, Eva Yoder and Esther Bachman, appeared before the assembly and begged for mercy. Moved by the women's plight, the assembly revised its Test Act. It reduced the penalties to double taxation and loss of citizenship.

Christian Funk and the War Tax. Still the issue of war taxes troubled the nonresistant Christians. Quakers stood firmly against paying them. The Mennonite bishops also told their people not to pay the tax. But after reading Pennsylvania's new constitution, which promised religious freedom, one bishop, Christian Funk of Franconia, thought Mennonites could pay it. Bishop Andrew Ziegler told Funk, "I'd as soon go to war as pay the tax." After many attempts urging Funk to change his mind, his fellow bishops ordered him to step down from his office. Funk refused to accept their decision. He and a small band of followers formed a separate Mennonite group. It was the first split among the Mennonites in America.

Christians Move to Canada. With the war's end in 1783, most Mennonites and Quakers accepted the United States as God's appointed Caesar. But a few wondered, "Can we live unmolested in this new nation?" Besides, land in Pennsylvania was getting expensive. They decided to move to Canada where King George still ruled and land was cheap. The first group of Mennonites migrated to Ontario, Canada in 1786. Quakers also settled in Canada. In 1793, the British government promised them exemption from military service.

The above material is excerpted from the fifth grade social studies course produced by Christian Light Publications.

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