Progressive Quaker Poetry: The Tyrant’s Ancient Argument–Or, The Dangers of Thought


Yes, for Progressive Quakers, A Man’s Best Friend Was His Dog-gerel. (It Was A Woman Friend’s Best Friend too.) So here’s a sample, from 1856; it might not be great art, but I hear a lot of current resonance in it. It’s called:

Greed-Gilded Age

The Tyrant’s Ancient Argument: Or, The Dangers of Thought:

Cease your thinking, O ye people! shouts the Tyrant, fierce and loud.
As, with scornful eye, he glances o’er the slowly moving crowd;

Ye were made for toil and labor — mark your hard and brawny hand!
We are God’s appointed Rulers, to obey is his command!

Cease your thinking, lest ye fancy ye can rule yourselves by thought,
And the world’s fair peace and order be to swift destruction brought;
Lest, seduced by idle dreams, ye may fondly think there be
Minds and souls in those rough bodies, and we’re men as well as we.

Progressive Friends: The Most Important Quakers We Never Heard of - A Continuing Series

Cease your thinking, chimes the Rich man, else you’ll soon uneasy grow,
Feeling you must have whatever we your lords and betters do;
I am rich and sleek and happy, my condition’s well enough;
every change my peace endangers, and your grievance is but stuff:

For it makes you fierce and restless, fills your lives with discontent,
Loses present joys in grasping what for you was never meant. . . .
Claiming that mankind are equal, that the bondman should be free,
That the vile, degraded masses all should educated be;
Claiming that the humble labor of the low degraded thrall
Is too worthy, is too noble, to depend on capital.

Cease your thinking, shrieks the Bigot, there’s your Bible, and the creed
To interpret what it tells you, so that all may be agreed;
So that no one thro’ his thinking, daring to dissent from these,
Might blasphemously endanger his salvation and his peace.

Carnal reason’s use is sinful; ‘tis a blind deceitful; guide;
I have wondered why ‘twas given us — Satan’s lure is Reason’s pride!
God ordained you Priests and Elders, who should safely think for you;
Tell you what you must believe in, what you may and may not do.

Thought has led vain men to question what the Creeds set forth as true;
Thought has made them doubt sound doctrine, and reject the good old view;
Thought upon the Ancient Bible even dares to lay his hand,
Doubts its perfect inspiration, doubts Jehovah’s stern command . . .

Says that God is near his children now, a sin in days gone by,
That his living inspiration breathes through all, both low and high.
With the Bigot chimes the Tyrant, and the gray Conservative:
Stop this thinking, crush these thinkers, or we can no longer live.

By James Richardson Jr., Minister of the Unitarian Church in Brooklyn NY, from Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends, 1856.
There’s More About Progressive Friends in my new book, Angels of Progress, available now.
Angels of Progress - Book Cover

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