Although US president Barack Obama is not a direct descendant of the Anglo-American slave trade, his abolitionist stance versus nuclear weapons is consistent with abolitionist values championed by a few Quakers in Underground Railroad times.
You may be thinking “a few Quakers” is an understatement given Friends had disowned all slave-owning by around the early 1800s, pre Civil War. Good point, however the US Government took the position that slavery was legal at the time, and indeed founding fathers such as Jefferson were entirely dependent on slavery as an institution. Quakers also believed in the separation of church and state.
People were still in the early stages of industrialization and were not seeing how labor-saving appliances, factories, freeways, on-line shopping, would be altering the landscape, especially after two “world wars” (in the early 1800s, people did not yet imagine wars at that scale with a lot of foresight, science fiction writers excepted perhaps). They could not foresee how prisoners and the undocumented could be forced to work under slave-like conditions. Making slavery go away is more sleight of hand when you have PR-minded spin doctors serving political agendas. Those days were in the distant future (our own time).
Many Friends therefore took the view that whereas members of the Religious Society should not be slave-owning, members of other persuasions, not convinced of Quakerism, were free to hold slaves, as private property was protected by the laws of the land, and other humans could be property. Women were not voting members of society yet either.
When a suitable homeland was established, in Liberia perhaps (a sort of proto-Zionism was in the wind), all the “Negroes” could go there. Some Quakers were most comfortable with this political agenda. The stereotype that Friends were all secretly working with the Underground Railroad is more like spin applied later, after the Civil War.
Fast forward to today and one may find some Friends taking a non-abolitionist stance towards nuclear weapons, which make slaves of us all by threatening us with gross destruction in case someone’s will or policies are not obeyed. “Defiance will be punished” is the message, from the masters to their minions.
Some Quakers are OK with this state of affairs, believing themselves to be on the masters’ side, which is also the side of God and all that is right and orthodox (ortho-normal, right-angled, four-square).
Other Friends such as Bayard Rustin, into speaking truth to power (a translation of “jihad” by some accounts), have been less compromising. Like Obama, the AFSC, with which Rustin was affiliated, has been consistently in favor of (A) non-proliferation and (B) roll-back.
Indeed, built in to the Nonproliferation Treaty is the promise that those presently endowed with nukes will seek to abolish them. The Marshall Islands is suing nations it perceives to have violated these terms of the agreement. More power to ’em, as they too were victims of nuclear war, euphemistically described as “forced evacuation” followed by “tests” by the imperial-minded of a non-Friendly bent.
As a former AFSC liaison for the West Region (US jurisdiction), and former NPYM delegate to Philadelphia, I’d like to thank president Obama for calling for an awakening of conscience from Hiroshima today. He takes his stand with abolitionists of the past, as well as those of the present.