The drama of local politics centuries ago: Colonial America

Quaker medal captures one side of political struggle
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 05/09/16
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Colonial America column from May 23, 2026, Weekly issue of Coin World:

Elections were entirely local issues in Colonial times. As long as you were a white male Anglican adult landowner, you could cast votes for any number of local offices, including representation in Colonial assemblies and town councils. Some Colonies allowed members of dissenting faiths to vote (Pennsylvania, for instance, which was long dominated by Quakers), and the requirements to own land fell by the wayside in some areas in later decades. Those who ran tended to be wealthy and well known, either of aristocratic stock or from the merchant class.

Elected assemblies had little practical power in many colonies, serving as rubber stamps for governors appointed by England.

Pennsylvania’s governor was chosen by the descendants of the colony’s original proprietor, William Penn.

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Those who favored the policies of the proprietor, who by the mid-18th century was Anglican instead of Quaker, became known as the Proprietary Party, while the dominant opposition party was the Quaker or Anti-Proprietary Party. 

The battles between the Pennsylvania parties became vicious in the 1740s and 1750s, coming to a head during the French and Indian War.

The Quakers, who tended to be wealthy men from Philadelphia and its environs, took a much more commercial and pacifist approach to the conflict, while those of the Proprietary Party, which was more dominant in central and western Pennsylvania, would have rather exterminated the Native Americans than make money trading with them. This political struggle manifested itself numismatically with the 1757 Quaker peace medal.

Struck in Philadelphia at the behest of the Quaker Party, the medal was only the second struck in what would become the United States, crafted from dies by the clockmaker Edward Duffield and struck in the shop of the Quaker silversmith and politician Joseph Richardson.

The medals were presented at the signing of the Treaty of Easton in 1757, where the Quaker Party met with Pennsylvania Indians to renounce the warlike posture the Proprietary Party had established against them.

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