In 1682, the Quakers purchased East New Jersey. Penn then sought to extend the Quaker region. The King granted Penn a land charter, the area that is currently known as Pennsylvania, and that charter made Penn a sovereign ruler and the world's largest private landowner. Penn named the region Sylvania, but Charles II changed that to Pennsylvania, to honor Penn's father. (See Jacobson, pp. 43-55).
Pennsylvania was a very interesting colony. First, it guaranteed absolute religious freedom to its inhabitants. Second, it guaranteed the traditional rights of Englishmen. It guaranteed free elections, trial by jury, and freedom from unjust imprisonment. All of these guarantees were contained in Pennsylvania's first constitution, which was written by Penn. Penn also set about establishing a government much like the modern American government, which divided the legislature into two houses, and limited the power of the sovereign. Penn also introduced the idea of constitutional amendments, which would allow continual revision of the governing document, an idea that has continued in modern American government. Penn limited capital offenses to murder and treason, tried to establish rehabilitative prisons, established free enterprise, and the fair imposition of taxes. Penn also attempted to assure Native Americans that he sought a peaceful relationship with them (Prentzas, p.4). In fact, Beckman's compilation of the statutes of his time trace the evolution from the original draft of the Duke of York's Laws to Penn's draft of the Great Law of 1682, and focuses on the changes made by Penn which have become essential elements of American law (Beckman, see generally p. 3-68). What Beckman makes clear is that, while Pennsylvania was an English colony, from the beginning it had features that made it very unique from other English colonies. (See Jacobson, pp. 55-68)
However, it would be inappropriate to envision Penn as a liberal. On the contrary, "Penn was born a liberal and a conservative, a product...
123). Penn kept control of the colony in the wealthy landowners, which reflected traditional English norms. Moreover, Penn also sought to establish behavioral norms for the colony, including prohibitions against swearing, lying, and drunkenness. After establishing how Pennsylvania would be run, Penn then had to find inhabitants for his colony. He attracted Quakers from London, as well as Huguenots, Mennonites, Amish, Catholics, Lutherans, and Jews from throughout Western Europe. (See Jacobson, pp. 62-76).
Penn returned to England in 1684. At the time, he was embroiled in a conflict with Lord Baltimore, the proprietor of Maryland over a tax dispute. While he was in England, the political climate was so oppressive that Penn feared the Pennsylvania charter might be rescinded and actually withheld publication of some texts because of fear of reprisal. Charles II died in 1685, and the Duke of York, James II, became the king of England. James II seemed to be an ally to Penn, but he was a troubled ruler. Meanwhile, Penn, who was not a very effective manager, faced problems in his colony. For example, one of his fellow Quakers, Philip Ford, embezzled money from Penn, and even tricked Penn into transferring the colony to him. Penn agreed to let Ford keep the rents from Penn's Irish properties in exchange for keeping the transferred ownership secret. Penn then returned to America. However, When Ford died, his widow had Penn thrown into debtor's prison, but in 1708 the Lord Chancellor ruled that the colony belonged to Penn and his heirs. (See Jacobson, pp. 77-84),
Pennsylvania did not remain the Utopia that Penn had envisioned. While Penn was in England, Pennsylvania law had evolved. Its inhabitants had restricted Penn's power, giving greater power to the people. In fact, they did away with one of the legislative houses. However, it also began to incorporate religious discrimination, preventing Jews from holding office. After Penn died, Pennsylvania became less of a religious haven and more of a secular colony. In fact, because Penn had refused to impose Quakerism as a colony-wide religion, Pennsylvania attracted people of all religious backgrounds.
Association of Friends for the Diffusion of Religious and Useful Knowledge. A Memoir of William Penn. Philadelphia: Association of Friends for the Diffusion of Religious and Useful Knowledge, 1858.
Beckman, Gail McKnight. The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania in the Time of William
Penn. New York: Vantage Press, 1976.
Hughes, Mary. The Life of William Penn. Philadelphia: Carey Lea & Carey, 1828.
Moretta, John. William Penn and the Quaker Legacy. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.
Jacobson, Ryan. William Penn: Founder of Pennsylvania. Mankato: Capstone Press, 2007.
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