The exhibition ‘Faith and Action’ at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery about the Quakers and World War One focuses on the themes of peace, war, conscience, relief and faith, and examines the difficult moral dilemmas Friends belonging to a largely pacifist denomination faced. The theme of peace was not new to the Quakers, who took a stance against war and supported peace early on in their history. By the time of the French Revolution when there was considerable tension and political division in Britain, the Religious Society of Friends became concerned about any involvement of Quakers in the production of weapons, the provision of ships or the financing of war. In 1790, the Yearly Meeting Epistle stated,
‘If any be concerned in fabricating or selling Instruments of War, let them be treated with in love; and if by this unreclaimed, let them be further dealt with as those we cannot own. And we intreat that when warlike preparations are making, Friends be watchful lest any be drawn into loans, arming, or letting out their Ships, or Vessels, or otherwise promoting the destruction of the human Species.’
In Birmingham, this was to force one member of Birmingham Preparative Meeting, Samuel Galton junior (1753-1832), gun maker and member of the Lunar Society, to choose between his business interests and his membership of the Religious Society of Friends, as is shown by records in the Galton Papers (MS 3101) and the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (SF). In 1792, concerns were raised in the Birmingham Preparative Meeting about the ethics of accepting subscriptions from Friends whose wealth had been accumulated through the manufacture and trade of guns. The matter was further discussed at the Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting in Tamworth on 8th March 1795, where it was decided that representatives of the Meeting should visit the Galtons:
‘Mention having been made at this, and some former Sittings, respecting the Case of Samuel Galton and Samuel Galton, jun. Members of this Meeting, who are in the practice of fabricating, and selling Instruments of War, concerning which divers Opportunities have been had with the Parties, by several Friends, under the Nomination of Overseers, and others, to some Satisfaction; but thinking it proper that they should be further labored with, respecting the Inconsistency thereof, with our religious principles : We appoint the following Friends to visit them, on behalf of this Meeting, who are desired to make a Report thereof, at a future Monthly Meeting, viz. Sampson Lloyd, Joseph Gibbins, and James Baker together with any other Friends, who are inclined to join them in the Service.’
Following several meetings between the Galtons and Sampson Lloyd, Joseph Gibbins and James Baker, it was reported on the 8th July 1795 that Samuel Galton senior,
‘has relinquished the business & declined receiving any further emolument from it, the minute as far as respects his case is discontinued…’.