QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2004-10 > 1097776148
Subject: Excerpt Of History
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2004 13:49:08 EDT
William Penn (October 14, 1644–July 30, 1718) founded the Province of
Pennsylvania, the North American colony of Great Britain that became the U.S. state
of Pennsylvania. The democratic principles that he set forth served as an
inspiration for the United States Constitution.
Although born in a well-to-do Anglican family, Penn joined the Quakers at the
age of 25. The Quakers obeyed their 'inner light,' which they believed to
come directly from God, refused to bow to the authority of the king, and
endorsed pacifism. These were times of turmoil, just after Cromwell's death, and
the Quakers were suspect, because of their heretical ideas and because of their
refusal to pay respect to the king or swear an oath of loyalty to him
(Quakers do not swear any oaths).
Penn's religious views were extremely distressing to his father, who had
through naval service earned an estate in Ireland and hoped that Penn's charisma
and intelligence would be able to win him favor at the court of Charles II.
Penn was educated at Chigwell School, Essex where he had his earliest
religious experience. Thereafter, young Penn's religious views effectively exiled
him from English society - he was expelled from Christ Church, Oxford for
being a Quaker, and was arrested several times. Among the most famous of these
was the trial following his arrest with William Meade for preaching before a
Quaker gathering. Penn pleaded for his right to see a copy of the charges laid
against him and the laws he had supposedly broken, but the judge, the Lord
Mayor of London, refused -- even though this right was guaranteed by the law.
Despite heavy pressure from the Lord Mayor to convict the men, the jury
returned a verdict of 'not guilty'. The Lord Mayor then not only had Penn sent to
jail again (on a charge of contempt of court), but also the full jury. The
members of the jury, fighting their case from prison, managed to win the right
for all English juries to be free from the control of judges.
The prosecution of Quakers became so fierce, that Penn decided that it would
be better to try to found a new, free, Quaker settlement in North America.
Some Quakers had already moved to North America, but the New England Puritans,
especially, were as negative towards Quakers as the people back home, and
some of them had been banished to the Caribbean.
In 1677, Penn's chance came, as a group of prominent Quakers, among them
Penn, received the colonial province of West New Jersey (half of the current
state of New Jersey). That same year, two hundred settlers arrived, and founded
the town of Burlington. Penn, who was involved in the project but himself
remained in England, drafted a charter of liberties for the settlement. He
guaranteed free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust
imprisonment and free elections.
King Charles II of England had a large loan with Penn's father, and settled
it by granting Penn a large area west and south of New Jersey on March 4,
1681. Penn called the area Sylvania (Roman for woods), which Charles changed to
Pennsylvania. Perhaps the king was glad to have a place where religious and
political outsiders (like the Quakers, or the Whigs, who wanted more influence
for the people's representatives) could have their own place, far away from
England. Although Penn's authority over the colony was officially subject
only to that of the king, he implemented a democratic system with full freedom
of religion, fair trials, elected representatives of the people in power, and
a separation of powers -- again ideas that would later form the basis of the
American constitution. The freedom of religion in Pennsylvania (complete
freedom of religion for everybody who believed in God) brought not only English,
German and Dutch Quakers to the colony, but also Huguenots (French
Protestants) as well as Lutherans from Catholic German states.
From 1682 to 1684 Penn was, himself, in the Province of Pennsylvania. After
the building plans for Philadelphia had been completed, and Penn's political
ideas had been put into a workable form, Penn explored the interior. He
befriended the local Indians, and ensured that they were paid fairly for their
lands. He also introduced laws saying that if a European did an Indian wrong,
there would be a fair trial, with an equal number of people from both groups
deciding the matter. His measures in this matter proved successful: even though
later colonists did not treat the Indians as fairly as Penn and his first
group of colonists had done, colonists and Indians remained at peace in
Pennsylvania much longer than in the other English colonies.
Penn visited America once more, in 1699. In those years he put forward a plan
to make a federation of all English colonies in America. There have been
claims that he also fought slavery, but that seems unlikely, as he owned and
even traded slaves himself. However, he did promote good treatment for slaves,
and other Pennsylvania Quakers were among the earliest fighters against
Penn had wished to settle in Philadelphia himself, but financial problems
forced him back to England in 1701. His financial advisor, Philip Ford, had
cheated him out of thousands of pounds, and he had nearly lost Pennsylvania
through Ford's machinations. The next decade of Penn's life was mainly filled
with various court cases against Ford. He tried to sell Pennsylvania back to the
state, but while the deal was still being discussed, he was hit by a stroke
in 1712, after which he was unable to speak or take care of himself. Penn died
in 1718, and was buried next to his wife in the cemetery of the Quaker
meetinghouse in Jordans. His family retained ownership of the colony of
Pennsylvania until the Americas Revolution.
On November 28, 1984 Ronald Reagan, upon an Act of Congress by Presidential
Proclamation 5284 declared William Penn and his second wife, Hannah Callowhill
Penn, each to be an Honorary Citizen of the United States.
There is a story widely told but is perhaps apocryphal, that at one time
George Fox and William Penn met. At this meeting William Penn expressed concern
over wearing a sword (a standard part of dress for people of Penn's station),
and how this was not in keeping with Quaker beliefs. George Fox responded,
"Wear it as long as thou canst." Later, according to the story, Penn again met
Fox, but this time without the sword. Penn then said, "I have taken thy
advice; I wore it as long as I could."