"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)