Conscientious Objectors Throughout history, and in virtually every civilized nation, there have been those who objected to serving in any kind of military organization because of religious convictions. America attracted more than its share because the colonies became the refuge to various religious dissenters from all over Europe. Pacifism was not in fashion in any European nation during the period of colonization because this was an age of incessant warfare among all the major, and some minor, nations of Europe. Most European nations were so delighted in finding an easy way to rid themselves of these often wildly dissident, although usually peaceful, groups that they often assisted them in emigrating. Most nations regarded their causes as blessed by God, especially when the clash was between Protestant nations like Great Britain and Roman Catholic ones like Spain and France. The authorities believed that one did God's work by fighting not by refusing to bear arms. If a war was truly holy it was the Devil's work to be a pacifist. Kings alone cannot be blamed because the churches often agreed and worked in close support of the political authorities in waging holy wars. Since medieval times and the crusades many clerics as well as laity had believed that to die in a holy war guaranteed immediate remission of sin and entrance into heaven. Refusal to serve in a just war for a godly cause was more than sufficient reason to draw grave disapproval, even ostracism, from the body politic.dvi
In an attempt to attract Calvinist religious dissenters from Central Europe to settle in its colonies Great Britain had adopted legislation "exempting the Moravians, or congregations of the Unitas Fraternum in America, from Military Duties . . . ."dvii The specific legal exemption was extended by custom and usage to members of the Society of Friends (Quakers),dviii Dunkards, Mennonites, certain members of the Brethren, Jews and others. Although the question of religious and moral conscientious exemption from military service was more than occasionally debated in colonial legislatures, the general principle was universally upheld and sustained.
Many of the colonists rejected the arguments made by those who determined that the founder of the Christian religion rejected war. Perhaps because a religious and moral issue was involved, and because it was clearly within their area of expertise and responsibility, ministers entered the debate on pacifism and conscientious objection. Few agreed with the position and conclusions of the Society of Friends, Moravians and other pacifists. Most condemned the pacifist rhetoric strongly and without hesitation or reservation. According to Nathaniel Appleton of Massachusetts Bay, war "is an affair with the Prince and the Council of a Nation; and the Soldier is to presume that the Government have good Reasons to justify their proclaiming and engaging in a war."dix Cotton Mather, one of the Puritan's most important theologians, argued that, "Men have their Lives, Liberties, Properties, which the very light of Nature teaches them to maintain by stronger arms against all Foreign Injuries. Christianity never instructed men to lay down that Natural Principle of Self-Preservation."dx In 1776, Reverend John Cushing argued that all able-bodied men must bear arms in God's causes so that "her will build up Zion -- that he will avenge the innocent blood of our brethren, inhumanly shed . . . that he will render vengeance to his and our adversaries -- and one day restore tranquility to our county. . . . I am convinced that it is a privilege that Christ hath allowed to mankind, to defend and preserve their religion and liberties by arms."dxi Reverend Richard Price wrote that all men must be "vigilant, ready to take alarms and determined to resist abuses . . . to defend our country against foreign enemies . . . and in such circumstances to die for our country."dxii Reverend Peter Thatcher wrote that it is folly
which a people discover, and the danger to which they expose themselves, when they live in a state of security, unprepared to resist an invasion or defend themselves against the attacks of an enemy. But how are we to defend ourselves when our country is invaded, and we are threatened by the loss of every thing we hold dear, by the violence and fury of an enemy? By declaring with the Quaker, that we may not resist any force which may come against us, because our holy religion forbids us to fight? . . . Shall we send the ministers of religion to meet an army of invaders, and to tell them that they are not doing as they would have done by; that they act inconsistently with the religion of Christ, and that God will punish them for their injustice? . . . Am I obliged to deliver my purse to a highwayman, or my life to a murderer, when I am able to defend myself? Does the religion of Christ enjoin its votaries to submit to the violence of the first ruffian nation which will attack them; and to give up their liberty, and the liberty of their children, to those who would make them "hewers of wood and drawers of water?"dxiii And Reverend Peter Case argued that the
objection which is so much relied upon by Quakers and those [others] who disown all use of war and arms, in any case whatsoever, will not conclude that Christ's kingdom is not to be defended and preserved by resistance of all such who would impiously and sacrilegiously spoil us of it in this world, because it is not of this world, for then all would be obliged to suffer it to be run down by slaves of hell and satan and antichrist's vassals. . . . Hence that old saying may be vindicated, prayers and tears are the arms of the church. I grant they are so, the only best prevailing arms, and without which all others would be ineffectual, and that they [are] spiritual arms of the church. . . . but the members thereof are also men, and as men they may use the same weapons as others do.dxiv The advocates of non-violence and non-intervention often clashed with the law and with militia officers, but nearly all remained adamant about their conscientious objection to war. In September 1675 Captain Thomas Townsend of New York lodged a complaint with the governor about members of the Society of Friends in Oyster Bay about the refusal of Quakers to accept militia duty. "Many of ye Inhabitants there being Quakers & refusing to beare arms, they are also disabled from keeping a strong watch as is required." Others complained that they ought not to have to serve in the militia or be required to keep watch. The Governor, while sympathetic to Townsend's position, upheld the right of the Friends to avoid military service of any kind, respecting their religious objections to military service.dxv
In April 1707 the Lord Proprietor of Maryland ordered that members of the Society of Friends be exempted from actual military service. They were required to contribute liberally to the support of the militia.dxvi
In North Carolina most pacifists were Moravians, most of whom had moved there from Pennsylvania. Like members of the Society of Friends, Moravians were known to be scrupulously opposed to war. Nonetheless, they were enrolled in the militia, but were placed in special companies and given principally non-combattant duties, such as care of ill, wounded and dead militiamen and foraging and commissary duties. They were liable to bear arms in emergencies. If they refused they were fined £10. By 1680 Moravian and other Calvinist religious dissenters had begun to move into the Carolinas. They were as opposed to military service as their Quaker brethren in Pennsylvania, and in 1681, decided they had sufficient strength and support to oppose reenactment of the North Carolina militia law. As a period history of the colony said, they "chose members [of the legislature] to oppose whatsoever the Governor requested, insomuch as they would not settle the Militia Act" evewn though "their own security in a natural way depended upon it."dxvii Another contemporary history confirmed that the dissenters were "now so strong among the common people that they chose members to oppose . . . whatsoever the Governor proposed [especially] the Militia Law."dxviii By 1770 conscientious objectors were wholly exempted from militia service, except in case of grave emergencies. The province did allow exemptions from all militia service for most Protestant clergy. At first, only priests of the Established Church were exempted. Later, with the influx of Scots, the exemption was extended to Presbyterian ministers. Finally, on the eve of the Revolution, the exemption was extended to virtually all clergy of recognized and established churches.dxix In April 1776 the North Carolina Provincial Congress
Resolved that as there are a number of persons called Quakers, Moravians and Dunkards, who conscientiously scruple bearing arms, and as such have no occasion for Fire-Arms, that they be informed that it is the sense and confident expectation of this Congress that they will dispose of their Fire-Arms to the said Commissioners, they receiving full value thereof; but that no compulsion be exercised to induce them to that duty.dxx South Carolina exempted conscientious objectors only if they paid the usual fines for non-attendance. Failure to pay such fines could result in seizure of property or imprisonment in a debtor's prison.dxxi
Rhode Island, in planning for its revitalized militia in December 1754, recommended that the legislation be drafted, "particularly so as not to oblige any persons to bear Arms who are or may be conscientiously scrupulous against it."dxxii
Pennsylvania was founded on pacifist Quaker principles and, by creed, the sect conscientiously opposed all use of firearms against their fellow human beings.dxxiii However, some Quakers were willing to allow for a military-police force to stop the illicit rum trade among the Amerindian tribes because of the terrible damage liquor did to the natives.dxxiv Early in the colony's history there were no less than a dozen offenses which were punishable by death, including riotiuous assembly,dxxv an act usually suppressed by militia or other military force. They opposed enactment of any militia law. Soon after the colony was founded the Duke of York and the Stuart monarchy superimposed such a law. As we have seen, above, the Friends were highly successful in resisting the enactment of subsequent militia acts until mid-eighteenth century. When it first debated a militia law the Pennsylvania Assembly,
in the Year 1742 . . . exempted from military service all members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). This was a special exemption granted by the colony. Neither the Charter of Privileges, or any laws then existing, gave them such Right of Exemption from Military Service, and that it was observed that the Proprietor was no more obliged to be at the Expence of defending them in Case of Emergency than the Governors of other Colonies.dxxvi When the militia law was finally adopted in Pennsylvania it made quite adequate provision for conscientious objectors. One interesting point made in the law was the claim that Parliament had mandated exemption of Moravians, or Unitas Fratrum, although this specific exemption is not found in the militia law of other colonies. North Carolina had a substantial Moravian community, and there is no evidence that its members were mustered in that colony, or later, in the state, but the North Carolina militia law made no specific reference to them of the act of Parliament. "And for as much as the Parliament of Great Britain has thought fit to exempt the Church or Congregation called Unitas Fratrum or United Brethren from bearing Arms, or personally serving in any Military Capacity upon their paying a reasonable Equivalent or Compensation for such Service."
There are divers other religious Societies of Christians in this Province, whose Conscientious Persuasions are against bearing Arms, who are nevertheless willing and desirous to promote the Public Peace and Safety: Therefore be it enacted by the authority aforesaid. That the Captain of the Company of each District in every County of this Province shall within Six Months after he receives his Commission, cause his Clerk to make out a fair Duplicate or true Copy of the Return made by the Constable and his Assistant, of each Township of his District which was delivered him by the Sheriff, marking thereon every Persons name that is on his Muster-Roll and also distinguishing those so who belong to such religious Societies whose conscientious Principles are against bearing Arms; which said Duplicate or Copy of Constable's Returns, after so marked and distinguished, the said Captain shall deliver or cause to be delivered to the Commissioners of his County, chosen by Virtue of the Act for raising County Rates and Levies: And the said Commissioners of each County of this Province, within. Twenty Days after the Receipt of the Duplicates aforesaid, shall meet together and cause their Clerks to make out fair Duplicates of the Names and Sir Names of all and every Person. . . . Persons in each District or Division, [are to be] marked and distinguished as aforesaid to belong to such Religious Societies, whose Principles are against bearing Arms.dxxvii Although Pennsylvania exempted all religious dissenters from bearing arms in the militia, nonetheless it made an effort to recruit them into non-combattant duties in times of invasion or insurrection. The law noted specific functions that the legislators believed that the pacifists could engage in without violating their religious convictions.
Whereas there are in this Province a great number of Persons of different religious Persuasions, who conscientiously scruple to bear Arms, and yet in Time of Invasion and Danger would freely perform sundry Services equally necessary and advantageous to the Public, Therefore be it provided and enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all Quakers, Menonists, Moravians, and other conscientiously scrupulous of bearing Arms, who shall appear on any Alarm with the Militia, though without Arms, and be ready to obey the Commands of the Officers in the following Particulars, that is to say, in extinguishing Fires in any City or Township, whether kindled by the enemy from without, or by traitorous Inhabitants within; in suppressing Insurrections of Slaves or other evil minded Persons during an attack; in carrying off and taking Care of the Wounded; in conveying Intelligence as Expresses or Messengers; in carrying Refreshments to such as are on Duty, and in conveying away to such Places of Safety as the Commanding Officer shall ap point, the Women and Children, aged, infirm and wounded, with the Effects that are in Danger of falling into the Hands of the Enemy; Such Persons so appearing on any Alarm, and performing the Services aforesaid; when required, shall, and they are hereby declared to be free and exempt from the Penalties of this Act, inflicted on Persons refusing to appear under Arms on such Occasions.dxxviii During the Seven Years War it was the Moravians not the Society of Friends that came under scrutiny in New Jersey. In a letter to Lieutenant-governor Pownall, Governor Belcher wrote, "it appears to me the People called Moravians are as Snakes in the Grass and Enemies to King George and His Subjects." He decided to disarm them. "I shall give immediate orders that all Arms and Ammunition among the Moravians in this Province be seized and kept in safe Custody."dxxix
New Jersey also contained a significant Quaker minority so the first state convention allowed conscientious objectors to avoid militia duty provided only that they paid a fee of four shillings per month. There was no clear religious test for conscientious objectors, as in many colonies which stipulated regular attendance in one a limited number of specified sects which firmly held that all wars were evil. Because of the failure to limit religious exemptions the number of eligible men in the militia was substantially reduced.dxxx In August the Provincial Congress made specific reference to the Society of Friends, suggesting that contribute liberally to the relief of their "distressed brethren." It took note of their "peculiar religious principles" and suggested that generous contributions would be in keeping with their charitable sentiments.dxxxi By October 1775 the law required that those exempted for religious reasons had to pay the cost of maintaining an enlisted man, 40 shillings per month.dxxxii As Governor William Livingston came under increasing pressure to increase participation in the state militia, he responded as if the criticism was aimed at the exclusion of religious objectors. In a letter to General Israel Putnam, Livingston wrote that he would defend their right of conscience.dxxxiii
As we shall see in a later volume, on 25 November 1755 the Pennsylvania Assembly finally passed its first militia law in more than a hundred years. The Society of Friends (Quakers) had opposed any sort of military action. Much pressure was brought to bear on the Assembly by frontiersmen. The latter group had brought to, and dropped off at, the Friends' Meeting Houses the bodies of settlers massacred and mutilated by the Amerindians. The law passed the legislature almost immediately after the Friends announced their intention to abstain from voting.dxxxiv They found an ally in Benjamin Franklin who argued the Friends' case. Let those who wish to bear arms do so; let those who are conscientiously opposed to war be exempted from bearing arms. The Friends, Franklin wrote,
condemn the Use of Arms in others, yet are principled against bearing Arms themselves; and to make any Law to compel them thereto against their Consciences would not only be to violate a Fundamental in our Constitution but would also in Effect be to commence Persecution against all that Part of the Inhabitants of the Province . . . . [A]ny Law to compel others to bear Arms and exempt themselves would be inconsistent and partial . . . . [G]reat Numbers of People of other religious Denominations are come among us who are under no such Restraint, some of whom have been disciplined in the Art of war, and conscientiously think it their Duty to fight in Defense of their Country, their Wives, their Families and Estates, and have an equal Right to Liberty of Conscience with others . . . . [Those who are willing to bear arms] are willing to defend themselves and their Country, and [are] desirous of being formed into Regular Bodies for that Purpose, instructed and disciplined under proper Officers . . . .dxxxv While religious dissenters such as members of the Society of Friends had long been exempted from actual service as soldiers, their role in secondary positions remained a topic of debate. Should religious dissenters serve in hospitals and as paramedics? Should they supply the troops with food, clothing and forage? The Pennsylvania Council of Safety on 7 July 1775 resolved that,
As there are some people who, from religious principles, cannot bear arms in any case, the Congress intended no violence to their Consciences, but earnestly recommend it to them to contribute liberally in the time of universal calamity, to the relief of their Distressed Brethren in the several Colonies, and do all other services to their oppressed country, which they can do consistently with their religious principles.dxxxvi The members of the Society of Friends were not the only pacifist religious persons in Pennsylvania. The Mennonites, Dunkards and many of the Moravians, Brethren in Christ, refused to carry arms based on religious teachings of their communities. In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, problems arose as early as the spring of 1775. Some Mennonites and other pacifists were accused of paying bribes to the Committee of Safety, in amounts as large as £1500, to avoid militia duty. The Lancaster Committee of Safety denied the charge of bribery and tried to satisfy both sides. It ended pleasing neither. Most pacifists refused to take the oath of loyalty after independence was proclaimed, citing a general obligation to avoid the taking of oaths, or a religious scruple against swearing or affirming loyalty to any earthly kingdom, regardless of its good intentions and design. Non-associators were generally held to be disguised Tories and were treated with disdain and even open hostility by their patriot neighbors.dxxxvii
The province of Pennsylvania on 25 November 1775 enacted a tax of £2/10/0 on non-associators who failed to attend militia muster. The tax applied to all those who were unwilling to bear arms for the province, whether motivated by political opposition to the impending struggle with Great Britain or by religion. The tax was to be levied each time a man missed a drill.dxxxviii However, if the non-associator had a change of conviction and decided to attend a drill as a militiaman he was to receive a refund of two shillings for each drill attended.dxxxix The impact of the law was felt most heavily by the religious dissenters.
Most Friends and Mennonites in America lived in Pennsylvania. No state legislation specifically named these or any other pacifistic sect, but the Friends and Mennonites thought themselves singled out for special consideration. They objected strongly, protested visibly and refused to pay the tax.dxl They had no intention of supporting defense efforts irrespective of the form that support might take.dxli The Pennsylvania Assembly on 5 April 1776 responded by increasing the non-associator's tax to £3/10/0, while also increasing the allowance for attending a drill to three shillings.dxlii
In August 1776 the Philadelphia Committee of Safety prepared a loyalty oath of 32 "Articles of Association in Pennsylvania," and ordered all militiamen to subscribe to it. Thirty companies of Philadelphia refused to sign. In response to the repeated demand for their signatures by their officers, the men drew up a petition of grievances. They elected a spokesman, James Cannon, professor of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, to state their objections. Simply stated, the privates' association argued that all citizens should contribute equally to maintenance of liberty. All male inhabitants between the ages of 16 and 50 must immediately be enlisted into the militia. They provided exemptions only for the disabled and clergy and, perhaps, elected officials.dxliii They objected to the exclusion of those opposed to war on religious grounds because they who took no risks profited from the risk-taking of those who did serve. If the patriots won the pacifists would gain enormous profits, some from supplying food and forage during the war, and if the patriots lost the Quakers would remain in the good graces of England because they had not been belligerents.dxliv Those who refused to bear arms in defense of the new nation must pay a penalty for their pacifism. Any exclusion of pacifists must make adequate provision for the "Dangers, Loss of Time and Expence incurred" by those who did defend the nation. Sensing a strong sentiment among so many enlisted men several county Committees of Safety concurred in the sentiment and argued against the exclusion of so many men from the ranks of the associators.dxlv
The Quakers, placed on the defensive, struck back with legal arguments. They had been exempted from military service for over a hundred years by terms of Penn's Charter and by laws of the provincial legislature. Their position, they argued, was known to all men of good will. Their religion taught that they could not "bear Arms, nor be concerned in warlike Preparations, either by personal Service, or by paying Fines, Penalties or Assessments, imposed in Consideration of our Exemption from such Services." They had come to Pennsylvania, they argued, precisely to avoid such persecution as the patriots now wished to impose on them, and that forcing one to do those things that were opposed to his principles were violations of the law of nations and God's law.dxlvi In the autumn of 1776 the tax was again increased. Every non-associator between the ages of 16 and 50 was subjected to a tax of £1 each month that he failed to attend muster. Additionally, property owners over the age of 21 were subjected to a tax of four shillings per pound of assessed property valuation.dxlvii On 25 November 1776 the legislature passed new legislation which required registration of all able-bodied males, ages 16 to 50. The listing was to be submitted to both the county Committees of Safety and the provisional legislature. All who failed to register would be subject to a fine of £2/1/0. By October 1779 the failure to register subjected a pacifist to a fine of £100 to £1000.dxlviii
In the summer of 1777 Pennsylvania called a constitutional convention. Among its many concerns was provision for the state militia. It resolved that all able-bodied men between 16 and 50 were to be enlisted in the militia. All who refused to be inducted into the militia were to be disarmed as well as fined. The legislature was empowered to punish all non-associators who showed the slightest inclination to support the enemy. Their property could be confiscated, they might be imprisoned or even executed and their estates placed at public vendue. In August 1777 the Committee of Safety at Philadelphia received word that about 200 German religious dissenters, probably Dunkards, had organized in opposition to the militia fines. In an odd display of violence, they reportedly threatened to kill anyone who attempted to enlist them, collect a militia fine or make them muster.dxlix In May 1779 the Philadelphia militia demanded that the state assembly either confiscate a portion of the estates of non-associators or "leave it to the Militia . . . to Compell every able Bodied Man to join them." Those who had given their lives, they argued, "at least in the humbler grades, had as yet earned nothing, but poverty and contempt; while their wiser fellow citizens who attended to their interests, were men of mark and consideration."dl Throughout the summer of 1779 the militiamen complained of high prices of all basic commodities, blaming the merchants who were non-associators.dli The militia threatened "our drum shall beat to arms" if these wartime profiteers were not forced to bear their fair share.dlii
General Washington, writing from Valley Forge on 19 January 1778, complained to the pacifists, "From the quantity of raw materials and the number of workmen among your people, who being principally against arms, remain at home, and manufacture, I should suppose you had more in your Power to cover [cloathe] your Troops well than any other state."dliii
The patriots in Pennsylvania treated conscientious objectors badly on occasion. Outspoken Christopher Saur, Jr. (1721-1784), bishop of the pacifist German Baptist Brethren ["Dunkards"], opposed the war in his newspaper, Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, and in open debate. He complained in the summer of 1777 that patriot militiamen had stripped him naked, painted him with red and black oil, and cut his hair and beard.dliv
John Roberts was a gunpowder maker, 1776-78, in Lower Merion Township, Philadelphia County. In February 1776 George Lösch reported that he was operating the gunpowder mill owned by John Roberts, about 10 miles from Philadelphia. In July 1778 there was an explosion of about 150 pounds of gunpowder, injuring no one, but demolishing the building. In August Richard Sill was trying to clean the mortars with a chisel and sixty pounds of gunpowder exploded killing Sill and blowing the roof off the building. In 1779 the powder mill was operated by John's son Thomas.dlv Despite this service to his nation, in a time of grave need for gunpowder, in September 1778 Roberts, listed then in official proceedings as a miller, and a carpenter named Abraham Carlisle, were convicted of treason for assisting British General Howe during the occupation of Philadelphia. Roberts at this time was almost 60 years old and had nine children. Both Roberts and Carlisle were Quakers and neither had betrayed military or state secrets or borne arms against the patriots. Technically, Roberts had violated Quaker principles by engaging in the very dangerous occupation of making gunpowder, or at least, in allowing munitions of war to be made on his property. Roberts' crime was evidently only that he had assisted in finding forage for the British army's horses. Both men gathered the signatures of many reputable citizens, including patriots and clergy, attesting to their high moral characters. The men might have escaped punishment had they withdrawn with Howe's army, as many others had done. The Committee of Safety refused to consider any petition and both were hanged on 4 November 1778.dlvi
Quakers were ambivalent toward the American cause and undecided what they must do to remain true to their religion while generally supporting independence.
Up to the commencement of the Revolutionary War, the Society of Friends had maintained a controlling influence over public affairs in Pennsylvania. . . . Many members of the Society warmly espoused the American side of the question. An armed resistance against the tyrannical measures of the mother country had but few advocates in the beginning . . . . The Society of Friends, having maintained a testimony against war and bloodshed, it was not to be supposed that its members would advocate a policy . . . certain to produce this result. When it became necessary to resort to "carnal weapons" the Quakers who had before been active, withdrew from the controversy, and a very large majority of the Society assumed and maintained a position of passive neutrality throughout the war. Still there was a considerable number who openly advocated a resort to arms . . . . [in Delaware County, Pennsylvania] 110 young men were disowned by the Society for having entered military service . . . . its proportion of Tories was greatly exaggerated.dlvii Members of the Society of Friends and other religious objectors had only been exempted relatively late from military service in Virginia. An amendment passed in 1766 exempted Quakers from serving in the militia under the act of 1757. The 1766 act renewed the list of those exempted from militia, adding physicians and surgeons, Quakers and other religious dissenters, tobacco inspectors at public warehouses, acting judges and justices of the peace. Quakers were not required to buy a complete set of arms for public use, although the others exempted came under that obligation. Quakers had to present a certificate from their meeting houses certifying their membership, and if a Quaker was excommunicated or left the sect, he immediately became liable to militia service. In times of emergency Quakers were required either to muster or to purchase the services of a substitute, on the penalty of £10.dlviii
On 17 July 1775 the Third Virginia Convention excluded "all Quakers and the people called Mononists [Mennonites]" from "serving in the militia, agreeable to the several acts of the General Assembly of this colony, made for their relief and indulgence in this respect."dlix The measure proved to be unpopular. On 19 June 1776 the Committee of Safety of Frederick County sent a memorial to the Fifth Virginia Convention setting forth its objections. Why, the petition asked, would it not be fair and equitable to allow any man to avoid militia service by claiming he was a conscientious objector? Why should the legislature not allow any man to pay a small fee and escape risking his life in militia service?
[We] beg leave to represent the injustice of subjecting one part of the Community to the whole burthen of Government while others equally share the benefits of it that they humbly suggest that if in lieu of bearing Arms at general and private Musters the said Quakers and Menonists were subjected to the payment of a certain sum to be annually assessed by the County Courts and in case the Militia should be called into actual Service they should be draughted in the same proportion as the Militia of the County and on their refusal to serve or provide able bodied men to serve in their places respectively that they were liable to the same fines as other Militia men in like cases are subject.dlx When Congress passed the national militia registration law on 28 October 1775, it provided that, "such persons only [are to be] excepted whose religious principles will not suffer them to bear arms, who are hereby particularly exempted therefrom."dlxi The Continental Congress advised the states that "individual religious scruples be respected."dlxii The Congress had no power to implement these recommendations.
Catholics were expressly forbidden to keep and bear arms in both Pennsylvania and Maryland. They were not granted exemptions from appearing at musters merely because they could not possess arms. There is a certain irony in the prohibition in Maryland because it was founded as a haven for Catholics. The Pennsylvania Militia Act of 1757 provided,
Whereas all Papists and reputed Papists are hereby exempted from attending and performing the Military Duties enjoined by this Act on the Days and Times appointed for the same. And nevertheless will partake of and enjoy the Benefit, Advantage and Protection thereof, Be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, That every male Papist or reputed Papist, between the age of Seventeen and Fifty five Years, within the several Districts or Divisions so to be made by the Sheriff of each County within this Province, shall and they are hereby enjoined & required to pay on Demand to the Captain of the Company of the District in which he resides, the Sum of Twenty Shillings to be recovered of him. in case of his Neglect or Refusal, in the same manner as the Fines and Forfeitures of the Persons enrolled in the Militia, are hereby directed to be recovered, and applied to the same Purposes as the said Fines and Forfeitures are directed by this Act to be, applied. And that the Parents of every such Male reputed Papist, above Seventeen Years of Age, and under Twenty-one, shall pay the said sum of Twenty Shillings for every such Minor under the Age last aforesaid.dlxiii On 6 April 1776 the Continental Congress debated legislation dealing with "non-associators." The speakers distinguished between those who had refused to bear arms on account of their religious beliefs and those who had simply refused to associate with the new nation. Congress voted to disarm all non-associators other than religious dissenters. "Resolved, that it be earnestly recommended by this House to all well affected Non-Associators who are possessed of arms, to deliver them to Collectors . . . as they regard the freedom, safety and prosperity of their country."dlxiv
The exemption of conscientious objectors who were members of known religious sects that were opposed to war carried over to the constitutional period. When, on 8 June 1789, James Madison introduced a series of amendments to the new national Constitution, his article providing for the right to keep and bear arms provided that "no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person." Elbridge Gerry objected, not to exempting religious objectors, but to the language of the proposal which might be interpreted so as to deny arms to religious minorities.dlxv
The New York Constitution exempted Quakers from bearing arms, but required them to make monetary donations in lieu of actual service. However, it made no provision to exempt other persons who were conscientiously opposed to military service.dlxvi The New Hampshire Constitution of 1784 provided exemptions from military service for those who, by reasons of conscience and religion, were opposed to bearing arms. Conscientious objectors, however, had to bear the costs of hiring replacements.dlxvii