History of William Penn



"For the Nations want a precedent and my God will Make it (Pennsylvania) the Seed of a Nation.”-William Penn 1681


          This groundbreaking and unprecedented seed spoken of by William Penn grew into one of the greatest nations that the world has ever known. In a day when religious persecution permeated society and the reign of kings brought tyranny to the globe, all of creation witnessed the revealing of a new era in human governance that would champion liberty and justice for all mankind. Penn became the architect of the foundation for freedom in the new world that the Founding Fathers would build upon to form a more perfect union.

          His design known as the First Frame of Government was praised by French writer Voltaire, “William Penn might, with reason, boast of having brought down upon earth the Golden Age, which in all probability, never had any real existence but in his dominions.” In other words, Penn was the first in modern history to create a new kind of civilization that provided and protected equal rights for all people regardless of diversity or religious forms of worship. These principals were so revolutionary that they prompted Thomas Jefferson to say that Penn was, “the greatest law-giver the world has produced.” The revision of Penn’s Fourth Frame of Government in Pennsylvania was named the Charter of Privileges and was celebrated on its fiftieth anniversary in 1751 by the casting of the infamous Liberty Bell.


          Penn himself was born into an era of great religious discrimination and political oppression.  Any Christian group possessing views contrary to those of the Church of England were not tolerated by King Charles II.  Nonetheless, in violation of legal restrictions, Penn boldly attended Quaker meetings where he became close friends with their founder George Fox.  Soon thereafter, Penn and Fox travelled throughout England spreading Quaker beliefs. Also, Penn wrote multiple pamphlets on the faith helping to spread their message and movement all over Great Britain.


"My prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot: for I owe my conscience to no mortal man."


In 1668, Penn was imprisoned for his faith and placed in solitary confinement in the Tower of London in an unheated cell.  His captors left him with only paper and pen, on which he was to retract his opposition to the ruling church of the day.  Instead, Penn authored the extensively read No Cross, No Crown (a timeless work still relevant to church issues today). 


“It is a clear and just thing, and my God that has given it (Pennsylvania) me through many difficulties will, I believe, bless and make It (Pennsylvania) the seed of a nation.  I shall have a tender care to the government that it be well laid at first.”


King Charles II was indebted to the Penn family because of large financial contributions he received to fund the war from Admiral Penn, William’s father. Consequently, William approached the King requesting that he give him a piece of land in North America with the intention of developing a colony where people could live and worship freely.  He realized that Quakers and other groups would have little chance of finding true freedom to worship without persecution in England and that his ideals of a free world and fair government could be established there.


“…you shall be governed by laws of your own making and live a free, and if you will, a sober and industrious life. I shall not usurp the right of any, or oppress his person. God has furnished me with a better resolution and has given me his grace to keep it.”


In 1681 King Charles II issued to William Penn present day Pennsylvania, the largest plot of land owned by one individual at the time under British rule. However, he learned that this territory commissioned to him was already inhabited by some colonies and native tribes.  Taking an unprecedented approach towards the Indians, Penn chose to reach out to the First Nations living in Pennsylvania in fairness and justice by offering them compensation for their property.  Furthermore, he made a treaty of peace with them in which they made it clear that they would not fight against them.


"… I and my friends have a hearty desire to live in peace and friendship with you, and to serve you to the utmost of our power. It is not our custom to use hostile weapons against our fellow creatures, for which reason we have come unarmed.”


            Penn made a covenant of peace with the Lenape Indians along the banks of the Delaware River where he established the city of Philadelphia (“brotherly love”) in 1682. Penn undoubtedly had the Biblical Philadelphia in mind when he named this primary city.  His concept of loving God and loving mankind were core values to his philosophy in life and government.


We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive, or gain by Love and Information. And yet we could hurt no Man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: For if Men did once see we Love them, we should soon find they would not harm us.


Penn’s relationship with the First Nations people exemplified the brotherly love that was to be the hallmark of Penn’s “Holy Experiment” in establishing a free society.


"There may be room there for such a Holy Experiment. For the Nations want a precedent....

And what a precedent it was.  It became the example to the Thirteen Colonies and the world of peaceful coexistence between different people groups including Jews, Christian denominations, and First Nations. It grew into the largest city in all of the young empire known as the United States of America becoming the first capitol.  Additionally, the city hosted historic events like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the planning of the American Revolution, the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and the establishing of the Bill of Rights. Not only was the American government formed there, but major leaders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and many others often convened there. 

Penn’s concepts became the seedbed for free democracies all over the world and even influenced principles of the United Nations today.  His prototype city Philadelphia has been branded as a city of brotherly love and holds the governmental and spiritual foundation of our nation. The vision that God gave William Penn for Philadelphia is not just history, it is Philadelphia’s destiny and ultimately the purpose for our national identity. Through humility and prayer, we are asking God to redeem His purpose and restore the foundation of Philadelphia and the foundation of the United States of America by renewing covenants of peace and healing the land.


And Thou Philadelphia the virgin settlement of this province named before thou wert born, what care, what service, what travail have there been to bring thee forth and preserve thee from such as would abuse and defile thee. O that thou mayest be kept from the evil that would overwhelm thee, that faithful to the God of thy mercies in the life of righteousness, thou mayest be preserved to the end. My soul prays to God for thee that thou mayest stand in the day of trial, that thy children may be blest of the Lord and thy people saved by His power.                                                            - William Penn, 1684