by Steve Palmer, Pennsylvania Tenth Amendment Center

Last year, when writing “Early Pennsylvania, Nullifying the Way to Freedom“, an article about Pennsylvania’s use of nullification in resistance to federal efforts at enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Acts, I learned of the Germantown Petition.  This radical petition circulated among the Quakers and Mennonites of Pennsylvania in 1688, nearly two centuries before the Civil War.  According to wikipedia,

In 1688, five years after Germantown was founded, Pastorius and three other men petitioned the Dublin Quaker Meeting.  The men gathered at Thones Kunders’s house and wrote a petition based upon the Bible‘s Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” urging the Meeting to abolish slavery.  It is an unconventional text in that it avoids the expected salutation to fellow Quakers and does not contain references to Jesus and God.  It argues that every human, regardless of belief, color, or ethnicity, has rights that should not be violated.


The 1688 petition was the first American document of its kind that made a plea for equal human rights for everyone.  It compelled a higher standard of reasoning about fairness and equality that continued to grow in Pennsylvania and the other colonies with the Declaration of Independence and the abolitionist and suffrage movements, eventually giving rise to Lincoln’s reference to human rights in the Gettysburg Address.

Classical liberal thought of this nature was visionary for a time period that was more years before the beginning of the Civil War than have now passed since the Civil War’s ending.  As a Pennsylvanian with family heritage dating back to Bucks County Quakers in 1683, I was proud to learn of this initiative.  It is fascinating to imagine that this petition might even have been discussed among my own family members’ meetings, twenty-five miles away, in Lower Makefield.  So, to celebrate Pennsylvania’s tradition of working to advance freedom for all people, we commemorate the 323rd anniversary of the signing of this petition on April 29 of 1688, by reposting it in its entirety, from here.

This is to the monthly meeting hold at Rigert Warrells.

These are the reasons why we are against the traffick of men-body, as followeth:

Is there any that would be done or handled at this manner?  viz., to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life?  How fearful & fainthearted are many on sea when they see a strange vassel – being afraid it should be a Turck, and they should be tacken, and sold for slaves into Turckey.  Now what is this better done, as Turcks doe?  yea, rather is it worse for them wch say they are Christians, for we hear that the most part of such Negers are brought heither against their will & consent and that many of them are stollen.

Now tho they are black, we can not conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as it is to have other white ones.  There is a saying that we shall doe to all men licke as we will be done ourselves; macking no difference of what generation, descent or Colour they are. and those who steal or robb men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not alicke?  Here is liberty of conscience wch is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of the body, except of evildoers, wch is an other case.  But to bring men hither, or to robb and sell them against their will, we stand against.  In Europe there are many oppressed for Conscience sacke; and here there are those oppressed wch are of a Black Colour.

and we who know that men must not comitt adultery, some doe comitt adultery in others, separating wifes from their housbands and giving them to others. and some sell the children of those poor Creatures to other men.

Ah ! doe consider well this things, you who doe it, if you would be done at this manner?  and if it is done according Christianity?  You surpass Holland and Germany in this thing.  This mackes an ill report in all those Countries of Europe, where they hear off, that the Quackers doe here handel men licke they handel there the Cattle.  and for that reason some have no mind or inclination to come hither.  And who shall maintaine this your cause, or plaid for it?  Truely we can not do so, except you shall inform us better hereoff, viz: that christians have liberty to practise this things.

Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, then if men should robb or steal us away, & sell us for slaves to strange Countries, separating housband from their wife and children. Being now this is not done at that manner we will be done at, therefore we contradict & are against this traffick of men body.

And we who profess that it is unlawfull to steal, must lickewise avoid to purchase such things as are stollen, but rather help to stop this robbing and stealing if possibel.  and such men ought to be delivered out of the hands of the Robbers, & made free as well as in Europe.  Then is Pensilvania to have a good report, in stead it hath now a bad one for this sacke in other Countries.  Especially whereas the Europeans are desirous to know in what manner the Quackers doe rule in their Province, & most of them doe loock upon us with an envious eye.  But if this is done well, what shall we say is done evill?

If once these slaves (wch they say are so wicked and stubbern men) should joint themselves, fight for their freedom and handel their masters & mastrisses, as they did handel them before; will these masters & mastrisses tacke the sword at hand and warr against these poor slaves, licke we are able to belive, some will not refuse to doe?  or have these Negers not as much right to fight for their freedom, as you have to keep them slaves?

Now consider well this thing, if it is good or bad? and in case you find it to be good to handel these blacks at that manner, we desire & require you hereby lovingly that you may informe us herein, which at this time never was done, viz., that Christians have such a liberty to do so. To the end we shall be satisfied in this point, & satisfie lickewise our good friends and acquaintances in our natif Country, to whose it is a terrour, or fairfull thing that men should be handeld so in Pensilvania.

This is from our meeting at Germantown, hold the 18 of the 2 month, 1688, to be delivered to the Monthly Meeting at Richard Warrels.

gerret hendericks
derick up de graeff
Francis daniell Pastorius
Abraham up den graef

Here in Pennsylvania, the first state to enact legislation to end slavery*; the first state to allow interracial marriage; and one of the many Northern states to resist the unconscionable Federal Fugitive Slave Acts, we don’t need ivory tower elitists in distant lands to tell us what is right or to give us permission to do it.  As William Penn noted,

“Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”

Tenthers, take heart…  As in 1688, today’s contest of ideas is being waged over tomorrow’s Liberty.  One generation’s radicals are another generation’s visionaries.

*Vermont outlawed slavery before Pennsylvania, in 1777, but did not become a member State under the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution until 1791, eleven years after Pennsylvania had implemented our law.

Steve Palmer [send him email] is the State Chapter Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Tenth Amendment Center.

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