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The Old Discipline

Nineteenth-Century Friends' Disciplines in America

QHP edition 1999 (iv + 476 pp.), $20.00.

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From the Editor's Introduction

In 1783, London Yearly Meeting of Friends, "having been apprehensive that, in some quarterly and monthly meetings, due care hath not been taken to preserve, and enter regularly in the books kept for that purpose, those minutes and advices, which from its first institution have occasionally been communicated to them, for establishing and conducting the discipline of the church" published a book of extracts from its minutes and epistles, arranged alphabetically by topic. This book, and its successor in 1802, became the ancestor of the printed books of discipline used throughout the nineteenth century by American yearly meetings who copied the alphabetical structure and often much of the wording of the London book.

These were not the very first written Disciplines. Earlier manuscript books of discipline, going back as far as the late 17th century, do exist; but it was at the end of the 18th century that the typical printed, organized book of discipline emerged. Its contents were often considerably older than its publication, since they were drawn from minutes of the past

The present volume reproduces the nineteenth-century Disciplines of the eight oldest yearly meetings in America -- those that were established before the separation of 1827-28. They are: New England (established 1661), Baltimore (1672), Philadelphia (1687), New York (1695), North Carolina (1698), Virginia (1702), Ohio (1813), Indiana (1821). A strong family resemblance, and in many cases similar wording, can be seen in all of these Disciplines. Footnotes chronicle the revisions that were made from time to time, and the text of each Discipline is thus tracked until such time as there is a major revision or reorganization that makes this system no longer feasible.

The Hicksite/Orthodox schism of 1827-28 had little effect on the Discipline. Friends in both branches went on using the same books of discipline as before, to such an extent that only a student of the subject can distinguish a Hicksite from an Orthodox Discipline so long as the classical format was retained.

With the second separation, however -- the Wilbur/Gurney division of the Orthodox branch -- came a change. Starting in the 1850s, yearly meetings on the Gurneyite side of the controversy began to significantly change their books of discipline by placing extensive presentations of theological doctrine at the beginning of the book. This material is couched in Evangelical Protestant terms and does not derive from early Quaker sources, except that George Fox's letter to the Governor of Barbados is often included. Meetings whose sympathies were with the Wilburite or Conservative branch (including Philadelphia Orthodox which officially refused to take sides in the Wilbur/Gurney separation but remained rather conservative in outlook) continued to use the classical format into the early twentieth century.

Dates at the end of paragraphs in books of discipline indicate when the material was first minuted or included in an official document, not necessarily of the yearly meeting in whose Discipline it appears. Sometimes such material is derived from statements of London Yearly Meeting.

This volume is divided into 6 sections, for 6 of the 8 yearly meetings covered, with 2 of the yearly meetings (Ohio and Indiana) being included as footnotes to the Baltimore Discipline. Each section presents, as its basic text, an early 19th-century book of discipline for that yearly meeting, with later editions represented by footnotes.

Although many of the Disciplines were printed with indexes, these have not been included; an index to the whole collection will be found at the end of this volume.

We have tried to footnote every change in wording that might possibly affect the meaning of a passage. No attempt has been made to footnote changes in spelling or punctuation, nor have we modernized spelling, except that scripture citations are printed in the modern form.


Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

New England Yearly Meeting

Baltimore, Ohio, and Indiana Yearly Meetings

New York Yearly Meeting

North Carolina Yearly Meeting

Virginia Yearly Meeting


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