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I think the 17th Century Quakers (Friends) don't receive the credit they deserve for creating much of what modern-day America knows to be "American". In particular, the freedoms and guarantees against infringements by government were an early innovation of the Quakers who organized the West Jersey colony (the area known today as "South Jersey" in the state of New Jersey).

Philadelphia, of course, is well known as founded by a Quaker, William Penn, but Americans often forget that our notions of religious tolerance and the equality of man (values truly worth remembering in times like these), had their root in that city and the Pennsylvania Colony. In other American colonies, the idea of some people being "superior" to others, or that everyone "should" profess the same religious beliefs, weren't all that rare or unusual opinions. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia was the second-largest English-speaking city in the world.

And although there is some debate about the terms of the deal, the Pennsylvania colony was purchased. Penn compensated the local American Indian tribes for the land on which Philadelphia sits, and the three surrounding counties that made up the original colony.

Also, American business practices were highly influenced by the Friends. Quakers had already established themselves as business people in England (and to a small extent Holland), but became the "Atlantic Community" with the fortune and influence they developed in the New World. (The old saying was, "the Quakers came to America to do good, and ended up doing well.") Quite often, the town's successful business district would grow up right around the local Quaker Meeting house, or an area would be known for the presence of Quakers (like the town of Plymouth Meeting, outside of Philadelphia. I think it's now mostly known for its shopping mall, not owned by Quakers!)

One of the reasons Quakers were so successful in business is that they were known to be honest and reliable, and membership in the local Meeting tended to "enforce" those high standards. I remember reading a post on another site, from about 1997 (link discontinued), that said that the Quakers were likely the originators of the "market price", the idea that you charge all comers the same price for a good. And not for business reasons, but for ethical ones. (In the sense that you might be cheating others by offering out different prices.) As it turns out, of course, the market price inspires confidence of buyers, that what you are selling can generally be seen to be worth that price. Macy's, Cadbury's, Lloyd's of London, all started by Quakers.

That lost link also talked about how the Annual General Meeting in the modern corporation is probably derived from the Quaker meeting. That meeting of yesteryear, however, probably started with prayer, and the management faced an uncomfortable silence if it sought to make cheap excuses for bad business practices. Nothing like the charade that many contemporary AGMs have become. Ken Lay of Enron, to name a CEO in the news, probably wouldn't be too comfortable at an early business meeting of the Friends.

The 17th Century Quakers were a remarkable people who gave modern America very much, and yet so little is popularly known about them.

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