Saturday, May 29, 2010

Friend Thomas M'Clintock

"Religion has been emphatically embodied, not in speculative theories, but in practical righteousness, in active virtues, in reverence to God, in benevolence to man- the latter being the only sure test of the former." -- Thomas M'Clintock in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1841

Thomas M'Clintock was an abolitionist Friend who was among those who separated from Genesee Yearly Meeting in 1848 to form a Progressive Friends meeting. One month later, he and a number of other Garrisonian abolitionist Friends would provide the backbone of support for the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY. His wife and daughters were among the principle players in the organization and execution of the Seneca Falls Convention and in the Rochester Convention that followed. Thomas was one of the signers of the Declaration of Sentiments which demanded, among other things, the elective franchise for American women. Part of a vibrant history of human rights activism, William Lloyd Garrison wrote to Thomas, "You have a soul capable of embracing the largest idea of humanity..."

Lucretia Mott called him "a biblical scholar of some renown." He edited the first volume of Elias Hicks's Sermons (1826) and in 1831 worked on the eight volume publication of Works of George Fox. As a leading Hicksite luminary and reformer, Thomas M'Clintock's leadership was critical in the formation of Progressive Friends in the late 1840s. After their split with Genesee Yearly Meeting, the Junius meeting of Progressive Friends (later known as Friends of Human Progress)continued with their work as abolitionists and advocates of women's equality. Their meetings were congregational and non-hierarchical. Women and men met together and members were not required to agree on doctrine or creed. In October of 1848, Thomas M'Clintock wrote The Basis of Religious Association, which stated, "The true basis of religious fellowship is not identity of theological belief, but unity of heart and oneness of purpose in respect to the great practical duties of life."

Friends belonging to or associated with the Progressive Friends meeting in Junius/Waterloo included Daniel Anthony and his daughter Susan B. Anthony, Amy and Isaac Post, Thomas and Mary Ann M'Clintock, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who worshiped with Friends in the late 1840s and 1850s). Lucretia and James Mott were present at the Genesee Yearly Meeting in which Progressive Friends separated themselves from the larger meeting. She gave vocal and written support to the dissidents and assisted them in their organization.

The emergent women's rights movement of the mid-nineteenth century was led and inspired by Quaker advocates of women's equality among whom Thomas M'Clintock wielded great intellectual and moral influence. It is unfortunate how little attention has been paid to his life and legacy. Lately I've been thinking of him, thankful for him, and looking forward to learning more. I'm realizing now how much I owe his open-minded approach to religious association for my ability to make a spiritual home among Friends.

For information on Thomas M'Clintock and Progressive Friends in New York see

Judith Wellman's The Road to Seneca Falls (2004)


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

Thanks so much for the powerful quote. I'm adding it to my website.

I'm still in the process of checking out your last theological recommendation, but thanks for telling us about the Progressive Friend M'Clintock.

I am very interested in reading about Thomas, because when I read the biography on Lucretia Mott last year, I realize I spiritually identify with the Friends she joined with.


Hystery said...

Yes, I also identify with the Friends with whom Mott associated. Many of them lived right near my home. They were my primary introduction to Quaker thought and belief. I understand my Paganism, btw, within that historical context. Probably the reason I've had difficulty explaining myself as "Pagan" and as "Quaker" has been that I identify myself within a pretty locally and historically specific tradition that often defies others' expectations of those labels. Perhaps I should just start to think of myself as a "Friend of Human Progress." :-)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton also identified strongly with this group and worshiped with them into the 1850s. They were a pretty remarkable bunch of people and there is much more to be learned from them.

Daniel Wilcox said...


Too bad that Progressive Friends died out or drifted into other denominations sometime in the late 19th century.

However labels are so ambiguous. What do terms "conservative," "liberal," "Christian," "Pagan" mean? The latter has very negative connotations for me, but I know that it is mostly positive for you.

As for "Christian" I used to identify myself as one, but with the new direction of millions of Christians in the U.S., now holding to theology and social ethics that represent everything I find abhorrent, I realize the label isn't my faith.

I recently took the religion survey again and came out 100% Bahai. That surprised me since I don't subscribe to Bahai religous beliefs. Obviously, it must be because of similar ethical views. Sort of what M'Clintock is talking about in his quote.

In the Light,

Hystery said...


What you say about labels is very true. Indeed, there are various interpretations of both Christianity and Paganism that I find deeply offensive. Still, I maintain my particular (and perhaps peculiar) definitions of these terms and find myself therein. In the end, I prefer to think of people as individuals. Whatever you call yourself, I have found you to be a person of great value. Your words carry weight with me.

Isn't it interesting how Progressive Friends meld into emerging spiritual movements in the late nineteenth century and then later liberal Friends' path brings them back around to where the Progressive Friends left off? I love the connections between Unitarians, Transcendentalists, Quakers, Universalists, Spiritualists, Theosophists, freethinkers, Romanticists, and Neo-Pagans. Such a fantastically complex, juicy mess of connections! Not a straight line of inheritance in there. It just makes me happy thinking about it.

Lone Star Ma said...


Lone Star Ma said...

I just took the survey Daniel mentioned and came out 100% Liberal Quaker. Unitarian Universalist and neo-pagan were in the 90s.

Mary Ellen said...

A helpful slice of history. I am glad to know the particulars - and people - that made up the Quaker influences on the first wave of U.S. feminism. I'm wondering what is the cause today that needs this kind of courageous leadership. The BP disaster points in one direction, surely - accentuating the urgency to reclaim what "simple living" is all about.

Hystery said...

Mary Ellen,
As an ecofeminist, I believe that feminism and environmentalism are deeply related. In fact, I see that all human rights, peace-making, and green goals are best served by spiritual and philosophical beliefs that emphasize compassion and interrelationship. Our environmental crisis which is a matter of survival as well as of justice, is a result of a profound lack of regard for the testimonies Quakers emphasize but which many other traditions also hold in high regard. We've always known what we needed to know to survive together on the planet, but we've chosen to disregard that knowledge in the interest of greed and power.

Rick Swegan said...

Thank you for the kind comments about Thomas M'Clintock. He is one of my great, great, great grandfathers and I am immensely proud of the family and all they conributed to reform and rights for all in the US. In the face of enormous adversity they consistently acted on their faith to the betterment of humankind.

In addition to your comments Thomas was one of the central figures in the 1827 split between the Hicksite and Orthodox Friends and one of the Founders of the Philadelpia Free Produce Society (a group that advocated boycotting slave made products. Additionally his daughter Elizabeth was the early confidant of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Truly a formidable family and one I honor.

There are a number of comments indicating interest in the M'Clintocks and if I might provide a short commerical, I have the fictionalized memoirs of Thomas coming out this summer "The Memories of Thomas M'Clintock: A Quiet Warrior for Women's Rights and the Abolition of Slavery or you may want to check my page on facebook, the memories of thomas m'clintock

Hystery said...

Dear Rick,

What an honor to have your comment on this blog! The M'Clintock family are heroic figures to me and a valued part of my community's history. My family was also active in abolition in Seneca Falls/ Waterloo area and had connections to the Stanton family as well.

I'm really looking forward to your book. Please feel free to "advertise" here as often as you wish. Everyone should know about the M'Clintocks and their legacy.

WritnGma said...

Hystery. What a wonderful find online this morning. I was looking up the North Collins group because I am working on a book about Vineland NJ. Margaret Pryor, 1/2 sister of Mary M'Clintock was one of the women that attempted to vote there in 1868. Thomas and Mary later moved there.
Thank you for adding too the wealth of information.
I would love to hear from you directly. Or call me after the first of the year. 609-568-6801.
We have a lot in common and much to talk about!
I am following up with Rick, too.
Hoping to hear from you soon.
Susam Ditmire