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The Quaker Theory of a Civil Constitution

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In late seventeenth-century England, Quakers articulated ideas about the origin, form and function of a civil constitution that differed markedly from other theories of the time. The difference hinged on their mode of legal discernment being based not on reason, but rather synteresis, or direct and progressive divine revelation. From this basis, Quakers offered an alternative understanding of, among other things, popular sovereignty and political obligation that properly fitted neither Whig nor Tory constitutional thought. Most significantly, they originated the idea of the permanent, yet amendable constitution, which caused them to deny the legitimacy of revolution and put forth instead civil disobedience as a means for radical, yet peaceful constitutional change. This theory would be used as the foundation for Quaker governments in America.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: St Mary's College of Maryland, 18952 E. Fisher Road, St Mary's City, MD 20686, USA., Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2006


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