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Historical texts


"And posterity we doubt not shall reap the benefit of our endeavours, what ever shall become of us." – John Lilburne, England's New Chains, 1649

The Street Corner Society site provides original texts from times gone by, with the idea that those who produced them and managed to post them into the public domain were striving to share insights and understandings that might be valid today.

Arbitrarily, they are divided between early Quaker texts and other texts. The texts listed below mostly precede the emergence of the Quakers (in approximately 1654) but represent parts of the experience that helped to shape their movement.

Historical texts

by friends . . .

Paul's Epistle to the Laodiceans
The "Quaker Epistle." In it, the Friends recognized the spirit that moved them. "For it is God who worketh in you; And do all things without sin. And what is best, my beloved; rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ, and avoid all filthy lucre."
A bit of "pseudepigrapha" written by someone in the early christian church, presumably to provide the letter inferred from a passage in Paul's letter to Colossians (Col. iv. 16). The Quakers, among others, accepted it as a genuine expression.
A Still and Soft Voice, by William Walwyn (1647)
A study of religious inquiry, faith and hypocrisy by one of the Leveller leaders who was most concerned for religious toleration.
An Agreement of the People (1647)
Proposed after the first round of the English Civil War as the basis for democratic government.
This is one of the key documents in the development of democracy world-wide. It was first endorsed by soldiers in the Parliamentary army, whose representatives signed it. Then it was discussed in military council meetings during the phase in 1648-49 when the army was taking power in Britain and trying to decide what form of government they wanted. Later versions were signed by tens of thousands of people who petitioned Parliament to adopt it as the foundation document for the newly established Commonwealth.
The Bloody Project (1648)
An early antiwar tract, written during the second round of the English Civil War, reflecting the disillusionment of troops who had fought for the Commonwealth of England, only to find the war dragged out at high cost and to the apparent benefit of privileged factions.
The Levellers (Falsely so called) Vindicated (1649)
An account by some of the troops who "mutinied" and were then treacherously attacked at Burford.
Account of how pro-democracy activists in the military were outmaneuvered and defeated. Army commanders had ordered the most militant units to Ireland. Several units refused, saying that the objectives agreed by officers and soldiers, at the rendezvous at Newmarket in June 1647, had not been secured. They attempted to move to an area of England where they expected popular support, but were tracked down and attacked as they slept that night.
The True Levellers Standard Advanced (1649)
"This work to make the Earth a Common Treasury, was shewed us by Voice in Trance, and out of Trance, which words were these, Work together, Eate Bread together, Declare this all abroad.
   "And in Obedience to the Spirit, We have Declared this by Word of mouth, as occasion was offered. Secondly, We have declared it by writing, which others may reade. Thirdly, We have now begun to declare it by Action, in Diging up the Common Land, and casting in Seed that we may eat our Bread together in righteousness."
    While the "so-called" Levellers tried to distance themselves from the name, another group (otherwise known as the Diggers) embraced the name and tried to expand, in writings and by direct action, the principle of social equity and justice for all.
The Just Defense of John Lilburne (1653)
He wrote it while on trial for his life.
An activist for nearly twenty years, and advocate for radical legal reforms, John Lilburne was accused of treason and tried in a hugely important trial. (When the jury refused to convict, he was re-arrested and imprisoned on the Isle of Jersey, out of reach of habeas corpus protections – shades of Guantanamo after 9/11.)
Cromwell, at the Opening of Parliament (1654)
At the opening of a Parliament under the new "Protectorate" regime, Oliver Cromwell reviews the major issues of the day. This speech (collected by William Jennings Bryan as one of The World's Famous Orations) does not show Cromwell as a "friend" of the early Quakers, but it does help to set the context for the period of rapid growth of the Quaker movement.
    Cromwell was personally somewhat sympathetic to Quakers, as shown in his relationship with George Fox and his ambivalence during the prosecution of James Nayler by Parliament, but he was constrained in his role as warlord in nominal control of all of the British Isles.
Sidney, Speech on the Scaffold
Algernon Sidney, officer in the Parliamentary Army during the English Civil Wars and politician under the Commonwealth, he lived in exile after the Restoration until 1677. After his return, he ran for Parliament in 1679 (William Penn campaigned vigorously for him in the district) but lost, and ran again in 1681.
    In 1683, in the wake of the Rye House plot, he was tried for high treason and executed.
Rumbold, Speech on the Scaffold
A soldier in the Civil Wars, Richard Rumbold served as one of the guards around the scaffold where Charles I was executed in 1649. Indicted for treason in 1682 after the Rye House plot was aborted and "discovered," he escaped to Europe and in 1685 returned in the company of the Earl of Argyle, for the Scottish campaign of the unsuccessful Monmouth Rebellion.
    Rumbold is remembered mainly for his observation, made in his speech at his own execution (and quoted by Thomas Jefferson in one of his last letters), that "no man ... comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him."
    (See also Macaulay's account of Rumbold's capture and execution.)