This essay is
from Rothbard's magisterial 4-volume history of the Colonial
period of the United States, Conceived
the vast stretches of America, William Penn envisaged a truly
Quaker colony, "a Holy experiment...that an example may be set
up to the nations."
In his quest
for such a charter, Penn was aided by the fact that the Crown
had owed his father, Admiral Sir William Penn, the huge sum of
16,000 pounds for loans and back salary. In March 1681 the king
agreed to grant young William, the admiral's heir, proprietary
ownership of the lands west of the Delaware River and north of
the Maryland border in exchange for canceling the old debt.
was to be called Pennsylvania.
greatly aided in securing the charter by his friendship with the
king and other high officials of the court. The proprietary charter
was not quite as absolute as the colonial charters granted earlier
in the century. The proprietor could rule only with the advice
and consent of an assembly of freemen—a provision quite
satisfactory to Penn. The Privy Council could veto Pennsylvania's
actions, and the Crown, of course, could hear appeals from litigation
in the colony. The Navigation Acts had to be enforced, and there
was an ambiguous provision implying that England could impose
taxes in Pennsylvania.
As soon as
Penn heard news of the charter, he dispatched his cousin William
Markham to be deputy governor of Pennsylvania. The latter informed
the five hundred or so Swedish and Dutch residents on the west
bank of the Delaware of the new charter. In the fall Markham was
succeeded by four commissioners, and they were succeeded by Thomas
Holme as deputy governor in early 1682.
In May William
Penn made the Frame of Government the constitution for the colony.
The Frame was amended and streamlined, and became the Second Frame
of 1683, also called the Charter of Liberties. The Frame provided,
first, for full religious freedom for all theists. No compulsory
religion was to be enforced. The Quaker ideal of religious liberty
was put into practice. Only Christians, however, were to be eligible
for public office; later, at the insistence of the Crown, Catholics
were barred from official posts in the colony.
as instituted by the Frame, comprised a governor, the proprietor;
an elected Council, which performed executive and supreme judicial
functions; and an Assembly, elected by the freeholders, Justices
of lower courts were appointed by the governor. But while the
Assembly, like those in other colonies, had the only power to
levy taxes, its powers were more restricted than those of assemblies
elsewhere. Only the Council could initiate laws, and the Assembly
was confined to ratifying or vetoing the Council's proposals.
himself arrived in America in the fall of 1682 to institute the
new colony. He announced that the Duke's Laws would be temporarily
in force and then called an Assembly for December. The Assembly
included representatives not only of three counties of Pennsylvania,
but also of the three lower counties of Delaware. For Delaware—or
New Castle and the lower counties on the west bank of Delaware
Bay—had been secured from the Duke of York in August. While
Penn's legal title to exercising governmental functions over Delaware
was dubious, he pursued it boldly. William Penn now owned the
entire west bank of the Delaware River.
confirmed the amended Frame of Government, including the declaration
of religious liberty, and this code of laws constituted the "Great
Law of Pennsylvania.' The three lower Delaware counties were placed
under one administration, separate from Pennsylvania proper.
anxious to promote settlement as rapidly as possible, both for
religious (a haven to Quakers) and for economic (income for himself)
reasons, Penn advertised the virtues of the new colony far and
wide throughout Europe. Although he tried to impose quitrents
and extracted selling prices for land, he disposed of the land
at easy terms. The prices of land were cheap. Fifty acres were
granted to each servant at the end of his term of service. Fifty
acres also were given for each servant brought into the colony.
Land sales were mainly in moderate-sized parcels. Penn soon found
that at the rate of one shilling per hundred acres, quitrents
were extremely difficult to collect from the settlers.
religious liberty and relatively cheap land, settlers poured into
Pennsylvania at a remarkably rapid rate, beginning in 1682. Most
of the immigrants were Quakers; in addition to English Quakers
came Welsh, Irish, and German Quakers. Penn laid out the capital,
destined to become the great city of Philadelphia, and changed
the name of the old Swedish settlement of Upland to Chester. The
German Quakers, led by Francis Daniel Pastorius, founded Germantown,
In addition to Quakers, there came other groups attracted by the
promise of full religious liberty: German Lutherans, Catholics,
Mennonites, and Huguenots. The growth of Pennsylvania was rapid:
3,000 immigrants arrived during this first year; by 1684 the population
of Philadelphia was 2,500, and of Pennsylvania, 8,000. There were
over 350 dwellings in Philadelphia by the end of 1683. By 1,689
there were over 12,000 people in Pennsylvania.
One of William
Penn's most notable achievements was to set a remarkable pattern
of peace and justice with the Indians. In November 1682 Penn concluded
the first of several treaties of peace and friendship with the
Delaware Indians at Shackamaxon, near Philadelphia. The Quaker
achievement of maintaining peace with the Indians for well over
half a century has been disparaged; some have held that it applied
to only the mild Delaware Indians, who were perpetually cowed
by the fierce but pro-English Iroquois. But this surely accounts
for only part of the story. For the Quakers not only insisted
on voluntary purchase of land from the Indians; they also treated
the Indians as human beings, as deserving of respect and dignity
as anyone else. Hence they deserved to be treated with honesty,
friendliness, and evenhanded justice. As a consequence, the Quakers
were treated precisely the same way in return. No drop of Quaker
blood was ever shed by the Indians. So strong was the mutual trust
between the races that Quaker farmers unhesitatingly left their
children in the care of the Indians. Originally, too, the law
provided that whenever an Indian was involved in a trial, six
whites and six Indians would constitute the jury.
rapturous over the Quaker achievement, wittily and perceptively
wrote that the Shackamaxon treaty was "the only treaty between
Indians and Christians that was never sworn to and that was never
broken." Voltaire went on to say that for the Indians "it was
truly a new sight to see a sovereign [William Penn] to whom everyone
said 'thou' and to whom one spoke with one's hat on one's head;
a government without priests, a people without arms, citizens
as equal as the magistrate, and neighbors without jealousy." Other
features of the Assembly's early laws were Puritanical acts barring
dramas, drunkenness, etc.
oaths were not required and the death penalty applied only to
the crime of murder. Punishment was considered for purposes of
reform. Feudal primogeniture was abolished. To make justice more
efficient and informal, the government undertook to appoint three
arbitrators in every precinct, to hand down decisions in disputes.
The Quakers, however, unsatisfactorily evaded the problem of what
to do about a military force. So as not to violate Quaker principle
against bearing arms, the Friends refused to serve in the militia,
but they still maintained a militia in the province, and non-Quaker
officials were appointed in command, But surely if armies are
evil, then voting for taxes and for laws in support of the evil
is serving that evil and therefore not to be condoned.
On the question
of free speech for criticizing government, laws were, unfortunately,
passed prohibiting the writing or uttering of anything malicious,
of anything stirring up dislike of the governor, or of anything
tending to subvert the government.
The tax burden
was extremely light in Pennsylvania. The only tax laws were enacted
in 1683; these placed a small duty on liquor and cider, a general
duty on goods, and an export duty on hides and furs. But Governor
Penn promptly set aside all taxes for a year to encourage settlers.
In 1684, however, another bill to raise import and other duties
for William Penn's personal use was tabled; instead, a group of
leaders of Pennsylvania pointed out that the colony would progress
much faster if there were no taxes to cripple trade. These men
heroically promised to raise 500 pounds for Penn as a gift, if
the tax bill were dropped. The tax bill was dropped, but not all
the money raised.
have been predicted, the first political conflict in Pennsylvania
came as a protest against the curious provisions of the Frame
restricting the Assembly to ratifying bills initiated by the Council.
In the spring of 1683, several assemblymen urged that the Assembly
be granted the power to initiate legislation. Several of Penn's
devotees attacked the request as that which seemed "to render
him ingratitude for his goodness towards the people." The Assembly
balked too at granting the governor veto power over itself. There
are indications that the non-Quaker elements in the Assembly were
particularly active in criticizing the great powers assumed by
the governor and the Council. One of the leaders of the incipient
opposition to Penn was the non-Quaker Nicholas More, Speaker of
the Assembly in 1684. And Anthony Weston, apparently a non-Quaker,
was publicly whipped on three successive days for his "presumption
and contempt of this government and authority."
the new colony and its government, and hearing of renewed persecution
of Quaker at home, William Penn returned to England in the fall
of 1684. He soon found his expectations of large proprietary profits
from the vast royal grant to be in vain. For the people of the
struggling young colony of Pennsylvania extended the principles
of liberty far beyond what Penn was willing to allow. The free
people of Pennsylvania would not vote for taxes, and simply would
not pay the quitrents to Penn as feudal overlord. As a result,
Penn's deficits in ruling Pennsylvania were large and his fortune
dwindled steadily. In late 1685 Penn ordered the officials to
use force to protect the monopoly of lime production that he had
granted himself, in order to prevent others from opening lime
As to quitrents,
Penn, to encourage settlement, had granted a moratorium until
1685. The people insisted that payment be postponed another year,
and Penn's threatened legal proceedings were without success.
Penn was especially aggrieved that his agents in Pennsylvania
failed to press his levies upon the people with sufficient zeal.
Presumably, the free tax-less air of Pennsylvania had contaminated
them. As Penn complained in the fall of 1686: "The great fault
is, that those who are there lose their authority one way or another
in the spirits of the people and then they can do little with
their outward powers."
returned to England in 1684, the Council virtually succeeded him
in governing the colony. The Council assumed full executive powers,
and, since it was elected rather than appointed, this left Pennsylvania
as a virtually self-governing colony. Though Thomas Lloyd, a Welsh
Quaker, had by Penn been appointed as president of the Council,
the president had virtually no power and could make no decisions
on his own. Because the Council met very infrequently, and because
no officials had any power to act in the interim, during these
intervals Pennsylvania had almost no government at all—and
seemed not to suffer from the experience. During the period from
late 1684 to late 1688, there were no meetings of the Council
from the end of October 1684 to the end of March 1685; none from
November 1686 to March 1687; and virtually none from May 1687
to late 1688. The councillors, for one thing, had little to do.
And being private citizens rather than bureaucrats, and being
unpaid as councillors, they had their own struggling businesses
to attend to. There was no inclination under these conditions
to dabble in political affairs. The laws had called for a small
payment to the councillors, but, typically, it was found to be
almost impossible to extract these funds from the populace.
If for most
of 168488 there was no colonywide government in existence,
what of the local officials? Were they not around to provide that
evidence of the state's continued existence, which so many people
through the ages have deemed vital to man's very survival? The
answer is no. The lower courts met only a few days a year, and
the county officials were, again, private citizens who devoted
very little time to upholding the law. No, the reality must be
faced that the new, but rather large, colony of Pennsylvania lived
for the greater part of four years in a de facto condition
of individual anarchism, and seemed none the worse for the experience.
Furthermore, the Assembly passed no laws after 1686, as it was
involved in a continual wrangle over attempts to increase its
powers and to amend, rather than just reject, legislation.
A bit of
government came in 1685, in the person of William Dyer as collector
of the king's customs. But despite the frantic urgings of William
Penn for cooperation with Dyer, Pennsylvanians persisted in their
de facto anarchism by blithely and regularly evading the
royal navigation laws.
had the strong and distinct impression that his "holy experiment"
had slipped away from him, had taken a new and bewildering turn.
Penn had launched a colony that he thought would be quietly subject
to his dictates and yield him a handsome profit. By providing
a prosperous haven of refuge for Quakers, he had expected in turn
the rewards of wealth and power. Instead, he found himself without
either. Unable to collect revenue from the free and independent-minded
Pennsylvanians, he saw the colony slipping gracefully into outright
anarchism—into a growing and flourishing land of no taxes
and virtually no state. Penn frantically determined to force Pennsylvania
back into the familiar mold of the old order. Accordingly, he
appointed vice commissioners of state in February 1687 "to act
in the execution of laws, as if I myself were there present, reserving
myself the confirming of what is done, and my peculiar royalties
and advantages" Another purpose of the appointments, he added,
was "that there may be a more constant residence of the honorary
and governing part of the government for the keeping all things
in good order." Penn appointed the five commissioners from the
colony's leading citizens, Quakers and non-Quakers, and ordered
them to enforce the laws.
were evidently content in their anarchism, and shrewdly engaged
in nonviolent resistance against the commission. In fact, they
scarcely paid any attention to the commission. A year passed before
the commission was even mentioned in the minutes of the Council.
News about the commission was delayed until the summer of 1687
and protests against the plan poured in to Penn. The commissioners,
and the protesters too, pretended that they had taken up their
posts as a continuing executive. Finally, however, Penn grew suspicious
and asked why he had received no communication from the supposedly
delay matters any longer, the reluctant commissioners of state
took office in February 1688, a year after their appointment.
Three and one-half years of substantive anarchism were over. The
state was back in its heaven; once more all was right with the
world. Typically, Penn urged the commissioners to conceal any
differences they might have among themselves, so as to deceive
and overawe the public: "Show your virtues but conceal your infirmities;
this will make you awful and revered with ye people." He further
urged them to enforce the king's duties and to levy taxes to support
confined themselves to calling the Assembly into session in the
spring of 1688, and this time the Assembly did pass some laws,
for the first time in three years. The two crucial bills presented
by the commissioners and the Council regulated the export of deerskins
and once again, levied customs duties on imports so as to obtain
funds to finance the government—in short, imposed taxes
on a taxless colony. After almost passing the tax bill, the Assembly
heroically defied the government once again and rejected the two
had reappeared in a flurry of activity in early 1688, but was
found wanting, and the colony, still taxless, quickly lapsed back
into a state of anarchism. The commissioners somehow failed to
meet and the Council met only once between the spring meeting
and December. Pennsylvania was once again content with a supposedly
dreadful and impossible state of affairs. And when this idyll
came to an end in December 1688 with the arrival of a new deputy
governor, appointed by Penn, the deputy governor "had difficulty
finding the officers of the government. . . [He] found the Council
room deserted and covered with dust and scattered papers. The
wheels of government had nearly stopped turning."
seeing that the Pennsylvanians had happily lapsed into an anarchism
that precluded taxes, quitrents, and political power for himself,
decided to appoint a deputy governor. But the people of Pennsylvania,
having tasted the sweets of pure liberty, were almost unanimously
reluctant to relinquish that liberty. We have observed that the
commissioners of state had failed to assume their posts and had
virtually failed to function after it was presumed they accepted.
No one wanted to rule others. For this reason, Thomas Lloyd, the
president of the Council, refused appointment as deputy governor.
At this point, Penn concluded that he could not induce the Quakers
of Pennsylvania to institute a state, and so he turned to a tough
non-Quaker, an old Puritan soldier and a non-Pennsylvanian, John
Once a state
has completely withered away, it is an extremely difficult task
to re-create it, as Blackwell quickly discovered. If Blackwell
had been under any illusions that the Quakers were a meek and
passive people, he was in for a rude surprise. He was to find
very quickly that devotion to peace, to liberty, and to individualism
in no sense implies passive resignation to tyranny. Quite the
Blackwell's appointment in September 1688, Penn made it clear
that his primary task was to collect Penn's quitrents and secondarily
to reestablish a government. As Penn instructed Blackwell: "Rule
the meek meekly, and those that will not be ruled, rule with authority."
initial reception as deputy governor was an omen of things to
come. Sending word ahead for someone to meet him upon his arrival
in New York, he landed there only to find no one to receive him.
After waiting in vain for three days, Blackwell went alone to
New Jersey. When he arrived at Philadelphia on December 17, he
found no escort, no parade, no reception committee. We have mentioned
that Blackwell couldn't find the Council or any other government
officials—and this was after he had ordered the Council
to meet upon his arrival. One surly escort appeared and he refused
to speak to the new governor. And when Blackwell arrived at the
empty Council room, a group of boys from the neighborhood gathered
around to hoot and jeer.
led by Thomas Lloyd, now embarked on a shrewd and determined campaign
of resistance to the imposition of a state. Thomas Lloyd, as keeper
of the great seal, insisted that none of Blackwell's orders or
commissions was valid unless stamped with the great seal. Lloyd,
the keeper refused to do the stamping. It is amusing to find Edward
Channing and other thorough but not overly imaginative historians
deeply puzzled by this resistance: "This portion of Pennsylvania
history is unusually difficult to understand. We find, for instance,
so strong and intelligent a man as Thomas Lloyd declining to obey
what appeared to be reasonable and legal direction on the part
of the proprietor. As keeper of the great seal of the province,
Lloyd refused point blank to affix that emblem of authenticity
to commissions which Blackwell presented to him."
What Channing failed to understand was that Pennsylvanians were
engaged in a true revolutionary situation, that they were all
fiercely determined to thwart the reimposition of a burdensome
state upon their flourishing stateless society. That is why even
the most "reasonable and legal" orders were disobeyed, for Pennsylvanians
had for some years been living in a world where no one
was giving orders to anyone else.
refused to hand over the great seal or to stamp any of Blackwell's
documents or appointments with it. Furthermore, David Lloyd, clerk
of the court and a distant relative of Thomas, refused absolutely
to turn over the documents of cases to Blackwell even if the judges
so ordered. For this act of defiance, Blackwell declared David
Lloyd unfit to serve as court clerk and dismissed him, but Thomas
Lloyd promptly reappointed David by virtue of his alleged power
as keeper of the great seal.
As a revolutionary
situation grows and intensifies, unanimity can never prevail;
the timid and the shortsighted begin to betray the cause. Thus
the Council, frightened at the Lloyds' direct acts of rebellion,
now sided with Blackwell. The pro-Blackwell clique was headed
by Griffith Jones, who had consented to let Blackwell live at
his home in Philadelphia. Jones warned that "it is the King's
authority that is opposed and looks to me as if it were raising
a force to rebel." Of the members of the Council, only Arthur
Cook remained loyal to the Lloyds and to the resistance movement.
Of a dozen justices of the peace named by Blackwell, four bluntly
refused to serve.
found out the true state of affairs in Pennsylvania), his state-bound
soul was understandably appalled. Here was a thriving trade based
on continuing violations of the navigation laws. Here, above all,
were no taxes, hence no funds to set up a government. As Bronner
puts it: "He [Blackwell] deplored the lack of public funds in
the colony which made it impossible to hire a messenger to call
the Council, a doorkeeper, and someone to search ships to enforce
the laws of England. He believed that some means should be found
to collect taxes for the operation of the government."
His general view, as he wrote to Penn, was the familiar statist
cry that the colonists were suffering from excessive liberty:
they had eaten more of the "honey of your concessions… than
their stomachs can bear."
managed to force the Council to meet every week during the first
months of 1689, but his suggestion that every county be forced
to maintain a permanent councillor in Philadelphia was protested
by the Council. Arthur Cook led the successful resistance, maintaining
that the "people were not able to bear the charge of constant
continued to denounce the Council and Pennsylvania as a whole
before his accession, Pennsylvanian opposition to his call for
statism was further intensified. On the Council, Arthur Cook was
joined in the intransigent camp by Samuel Richardson, who launched
the cry that Penn had no power to name a deputy governor. For
this open defiance, Richardson was ejected from the Council.
of views continued to polarize Blackwell and the Pennsylvanians.
Finally, the climax came on April 2, 1689, when Blackwell introduced
proceedings for the impeachment of Thomas Lloyd, charging him
with eleven high crimes and misdemeanors. (Blackwell had also
refused to seat Lloyd when the latter was elected councillor from
Bucks County.) In his impeachment speech, Blackwell trumpeted
to his stunned listeners that Penn's and therefore his own powers
over the colony were absolute. Penn was a feudal lord who could
create manorial courts; furthermore, Penn could not transfer his
royally delegated powers to the people, but only to a deputy such
as himself. The Council, according to Blackwell's theory, existed
in no sense to represent the people, but to be an instrument for
William Penn's will. Blackwell concluded this harangue by threatening
to unsheathe and wield his sword against his insolent and unruly
proclamation of absolute rule now truly polarized the conflict.
The choice was now narrowed: the old anarchism or the absolute
rule by Blackwell. Given this confrontation, those wavering had
little choice but to give Thomas Lloyd their full support.
now summarily dismissed from the Council Thomas Lloyd, Samuel
Richardson, and John Eckly. On April 9, while the Council—the
supreme judicial arm of the colony—was debating the charge
against Lloyd, Blackwell threatened to remove Joseph Growdon,
At this point, the Council rebelled and demanded the right to
approve its own members. Refusing to meet further without its
duly elected members, the Council was then dissolved by Blackwell.
Council homeward bound, the disheartened Blackwell sent his resignation
to Penn, while seven councillors bitterly protested to Penn against
his deputy's attempt to deprive them of their liberties. As for
Blackwell, he believed the Quakers to be those agents of the devil
foretold in the New Testament, who "despise dominion and speak
evil of dignities."
point on, the decision was in the hands of Governor Penn, and
Penn decided in favor of the Quakers and against Blackwell. For
the rest of the year, Blackwell continued formally in office,
but lost all concern for making changes or exerting his rule.
From April 1689 until early 1690 he was waiting out his term.
Blackwell wrote to Penn that "I now only wait for the hour of
my deliverance." He summed up his grievance against the
Quakers: "These people have not the principles of government amongst
them, nor will be informed…"
the Assembly, headed by Arthur Cook, met in May and fell apart
on the issue of protesting the arrest of one of its members. Between
May and the end of the year, the Council met only twice. Pennsylvania
was rapidly slipping back toward its previous state of anarchism.
William Penn enlivened this trend by deciding to reestablish the
old system with the Council as a whole his deputy governor. Writing
to the leading Quakers of Pennsylvania, Penn apologized for his
mistake in appointing Blackwell but wistfully reminded them that
he had done so because "no Friend would undertake the Governor's
Now he told
them: "I have thought fit . . . to throw all into your hands,
that you may all see the confidence I have in you." With Blackwell
out of office, the Council, back in control, resumed its somnolent
ways. Again headed by Thomas Lloyd, it met rarely, did virtually
nothing, and told William Penn even less. Anarchism had returned
in triumph to Pennsylvania. And when Secretary William Markham,
who had been one of the hated Blackwell clique, submitted a petition
for levying taxes to provide some financial help for William Penn,
the Council completely ignored the request.
Edwin B. Bronner, William Penn's "Holy Experiment" (New
York: Temple University Publications, 1962), p. 108. To Professor
Bronner belongs the credit for discovering this era of anarchism
Edward Channing, A History of the United States, 6 Vols.
(New York: Macmillan, 1905-25) 2:125.
Bronner, "Holy Experiment," p. 119.