The Record of a Quaker Conscience, Cyrus Pringle's Diary With an Introduction by Rufus M. Jones

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The body of this little book consists of the personal diary of a young Quaker named Cyrus Guernsey Pringle of Charlotte, Vermont. He was drafted for service in the Union Army, July 13th, 1863. Under the existing draft law a person who had religious scruples against engaging in war was given the privilege of paying a commutation fine of three hundred dollars. This commutation money Pringle's conscience would not allow him to pay. A prosperous uncle proposed to pay it surreptitiously for him, but the honest-minded youth discovered the plan and refused to accept the well meant kindness, since he believed, no doubt rightly, that this money would be used to pay for an army substitute in his place. The Diary relates in simple, naïve style the experiences which befell the narrator as he followed his hard path of duty, and incidentally it reveals a fine and sensitive type of character, not unlike that which comes so beautifully to light in the Journal of John Woolman.

This is plainly not the psychological moment to study the highly complex and delicate problem of conscience. The strain and tension of world issues disturb our judgment. We cannot if we would turn away from the events and movements that affect the destiny of nations to dwell calmly and securely upon our own inner, private actions. It is never easy, even when the world is most normal and peaceful, to mark off with sharp lines the area of individual freedom. No person ever lives unto himself or is sufficient to himself. He is inextricably woven into the tissue of the social group. His privileges, his responsibilities, his obligations are forever over-individual and come from beyond his narrow isolated life. If he is to be a rational being at all he must relate his life to others and share in some measure their triumphs and their tragedies.

But at the same time the most precious thing in the universe is that mysterious thing we call individual liberty and which even God himself guards and respects. Up to some point, difficult certainly to delimit, a man must be captain of his soul. He cannot be a person if he does not have a sphere of power over his own act. To treat him as a puppet of external forces, or a mere cog in a vast social mechanism, is to wipe out the unique distinction between person and thing. Somewhere the free spirit must take its stand and claim its God-given distinction. If life is to be at all worth while there must be some boundary within which the soul holds its own august and ultimate tribunal. That Sanctuary domain within the soul the Quakers, ever since their origin in the period of the English Commonwealth, have always guarded as the most sacred possession a man can have.

No grave difficulty, at least in the modern world, is involved in this faith, until it suddenly comes into conflict with the urgent requirements of social efficiency. When the social group is fused with emotion and moves almost as an undivided unit toward some end, then the claim of a right, on the ground of conscience, for the individual to deviate from the group and to pursue another or an opposite course appears serious if not positively insufferable....