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(1837) William Whipper, “Non-Resistance to Offensive Aggression”


Few Americans are aware of the deep roots of peace activism in the African American community. Benjamin Banneker, the 18th Century mathematician and astronomer, recommended that a “Secretary of Peace” be added to the President’s cabinet whose chief function would be to craft measures to prevent international conflict. Other leaders such as William Whipper called on abolitionists and other reformers to embrace moral suasion—essentially to bring change through model behavior and by appeal to humanity’s rationality rather than by force. To that end Whipper argued that non-violence and non-resistance could effect change. In the speech below, Whipper advances his ideas.

Mr. President: The above resolution presupposes, that if there were no God, to guide, and govern, the destinies of man on this planet, no Bible to light his path through the wilds of sin, darkness and error, and no religion to give him a glorious, and lasting consolation, while traversing the gloomy vale of despondency, and to light up his soul anew, with fresh influence, from the fountain of Divine grace,—that mankind might enjoy an exalted state of civilization, peace, and quietude, in their social, civil, and international relations, far beyond that which Christians now enjoy, who profess to be guided, guarded and protected by the great Author of all good, and the doctrines of the Prince of Peace.

But, sir, while I am assuming the position, that the cause of peace amongst mankind, may be promoted without the scriptures, I would not, for a single moment, sanction the often made assertion, that the doctrines of the holy scriptures justify war—for they are in my humble opinion its greatest enemy. And I further believe, that as soon as they become fully understood, and practically adopted, wars, and strife will cease. I believe that every argument urged in favor of what is termed a just and necessary war, or physical self-defense, is at enmity with the letter, and spirit of the scriptures, and when they emanate from its professed advocates