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ciples as a salutary endeavor. It was man™s duty to create a constitution based
on ¬rst principles and then engage in a continual process of review to see that
the laws never strayed from them. If they did, there must be a return. This
marks another departure of Quaker thought from others of the day. Most
seventeenth-century theorists rejected with horror the idea of the sort of return
to ¬rst principles that Machiavelli advocated. It was, as far as they were con-
cerned, a necessarily violent and destructive endeavor that would return society
to the chaotic state of nature.125 Quakers, on the other hand, believed that a
return to ¬rst principles was not only necessary but desirable. Isaac Penington
argued that “[a]ll things by degrees gather corruption.”126 The people must
“search out and discover things from their ¬rst rise,” but which “from suc-
ceeding Principles or Practices . . . may easily decline awry and cover the true
knowledge and intent of things.”127 But the change could not come from the
top down. The “Superstructure” of government, Penn explained, the “visible
Authority,” cannot invalidate any of the fundamental laws without “a clear
overthrow of its own Constitution of Government, and so to reduce them to
their . . . ¬rst principles.”128 This was a clear distinction between the outward
power of the government from above against the power of the people collec-
tively as they derive it from God. Divine sovereignty by proxy established gov-
ernment, and the same force had the power to change it. “When [the people],”
said Penington, “¬nd [their government] either burdensome or inconvenient
they may lay it aside, and place what else they judg lighter, ¬tter or better in
the stead of it.”129 This was because, agreed Penn, “those things that are abro-
gable or abrogated in the great Charter, were never a Part of the Fundamentals,
but hedg™d in then for present Emergency or Conveniency.”130 Thus while a
return to ¬rst principles did destroy the corrupt aspects of the government,
the fundamental constitution of the people remained intact and the power to
reconstitute the government lay with them. It was this supposedly new principle
of “constituent sovereignty” that brought the U.S. Constitution into being.131

125 Republics Ancient and Modern, 2: 36, 195, 201, 248, 298“305. Also Samuel H. Beer, To Make
a Nation: The Rediscovery of American Federalism (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, Harvard
University, 1993), 204.
126 Penington, Right, Safety and Liberty, 7.
127 Ibid., 15.
128 Penn, Great Case, 30
129 Penington, Right, Safety and Liberty, 3.
130 Penn, England™s Present Interest Discovered, 29.
131 Beer explains the principle: “Given this concept of popular sovereignty, the Americans neces-
sarily conceived of two sorts of human law: on the one hand, a fundamental law made by the
sovereign people which authorized government and de¬ned individual rights and, on the other
hand, another sort of law made by bodies authorized by this fundamental law. Needless to
say, if the rules made by such inferior law-making bodies breached the fundamental law, these
rules were invalid not merely morally but legally, since the law giving these bodies authority at
the same time limited that authority. Above these inferior law-making bodies was a sovereign
Quaker Theory of a Civil Government 93

In 1728, however, in defense of the Pennsylvania constitution, Quaker speaker
of the Assembly David Lloyd wrote that legislative acts, “together with the
[constitution], must be binding upon the People and their Delegates, until they
are regularly altered or repealed, by and Authority, at least equal to that which
First enacted them.”132
Like Levellers who decried the “Norman Yoke,” Penn differentiated between
the “Lawful” and the “Unlawful” civil laws in arguing that not all laws enacted,
though legal, are constitutional “ that one is mistaken to think that “the enact-
ing of any-thing can make it lawful.”133 But Penn did not reject the common
law in its entirety or the ancient constitution. So how, then, should constitu-
tional change take place practically? There were two ways, both of which were
in keeping with divine law. One used the existing governmental structures;
the other employed extra-legal means. The ¬rst way, which was preferable,
but also only theoretical in Britain, was to build a process for change into the
constitution. In a momentous occasion in constitutional history, Penn wrote
the ¬rst amendment clause into his First Frame of Government for Pennsylva-
nia.134 Article XXIII begins in the negative with “No Act, Law or Ordinance
whatsoever, shall at any time hereafter be made or done by the Governour, or
by the Free-men in the Provincial Council, or the General Assembly, to Alter,
Change or Diminish the Form or Effect of this Charter, or any Part or Clause
thereof, or contrary to the true Intent and Meaning thereof.” This restriction
is, no doubt, Penn™s answer to the problematic history of the common law tra-
dition when unwritten laws accrued over time and were not traceable to ¬rst
principles. But the clause continues, specifying that changes could be made with
“the Consent of the Governour, his Heirs or Assigns, and Six Parts of Seven
of the said Free-men in Provincial Council and General Assembly.” As novel
as this provision was, another leading Quaker, Benjamin Furly criticized the

power which had authorized them and which watched over them and could intervene to cor-
rect them. To appeal to this superior authority against transgressions of the fundamental law
did not disrupt the social order or send society back into the state of nature but rather called
into action the sovereign law-making power, the people” (To Make a Nation, 152). Although
God has been excised from this process, it is clear where the divinity would be in the Quaker
model. It would be in the people.
132 David Lloyd, A Defence of the Legislative Constitution of the Province of Pennsylvania as it
now stands Con¬rmed and Established, by Law and Charter, (Philadelphia, 1728), 4.
133 Penn, Great Case, 35. Wood ¬nds this distinction ¬rst at the American Revolution: “[I]t was
precisely this distinction between ˜legal™ and ˜unconstitutional™ that the Americans and British
constitutional traditions most obviously diverged” (“State Constitution-Making,” 920). Most
religious groups made distinctions between what was lawful and unlawful, where man™s law
did not correspond with God™s. But because Quakers believed God™s law was embodied in the
civil constitution, thus con¬‚ating civil law and divine law, “unlawful” and “unconstitutional”
were the same things.
134 Benjamin F. Wright, Jr., “The Early History of Written Constitutions in America,” in Essays
in History and Political Theory in Honor of Charles Howard McIlwain (New York: Russell &
Russell, 1964), 344“71, 357. Here Wright also ¬nds that this Frame “re¬‚ects a more mature
conception of fundamental law than any other of the seventeenth century.”
94 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

clause for being too restrictive in favor of the governor and not open enough
to a popular process.135
Beyond this, however, there was no formal process for constitutional
change “ no such thing as judicial review was built into the Pennsylvania
government. But Quakers already had a process for legal review and peaceful
change that made use of the existing system “ nonviolent protest of various
sorts, including civil disobedience, and then legal reform. If a law was found to
be unconstitutional, Penn said, it might be necessary “that the Law should be
broke.”136 As Quakers demonstrated in England and the American colonies,
“If the enacting of any-thing can make it lawful, then we [have disobeyed the
law].” They must do so because they are “commanded by God.”137 And Pen-
ington af¬rmed, “Now that which is of God cannot bow to any thing which
is corrupt in man: it can lye down and suffer . . . but it cannot act that which
is against its life.”138 But the uniqueness in Quaker practice was more than
simply that they should disobey, but also how.
They followed the process that we have seen in their ecclesiastical polity.
According to their peace testimony, they were commanded by God not to
destroy his creations, including the constitution.139 From the beginnings of
their Society, Quakers had been taking their religious commission to testify
for God™s law into civil society to secure liberty of conscience. They were
the only radicals to survive the Interregnum and continue to “publish” their
understanding of God™s law. They did this by developing a systematic pro-
cess of civil disobedience, the ¬rst in Anglo-American history. “We do own
and acknowledge Magistracy to be an Ordinance of God, instituted of him,”

135 PWP, 2: 227.
136 Penn, Great Case, 25. Almost thirty years after Quakers began practicing civil disobedience,
Locke came to agree with the appropriateness of their actions to gain toleration, writing in
his Letter concerning Toleration (1689) that if a magistrate enacts anything that goes against
the conscience of the individual, “such a private Person is to abstain from the Action which
he judges unlawful, and he is to undergo the Punishment which it is not unlawful for him to
bear” (57). This is, of course, in marked change from his earlier position against toleration as
expressed in the Two Tracts of Government (1660“c.1662). Given that the Quakers were the
only remaining radical sect engaging in the public sphere during the Restoration and practicing
this form of dissent, they must have been a factor in Locke™s changed thinking.
137 Ibid., 35.
138 Penington, Consideration of a Position, 29.
139 This is a vast simpli¬cation of this very complex theological doctrine. The peace testimony
was neither uniform nor codi¬ed in the Discipline until decades after the seventeenth century.
As Meredith Baldwin Weddle points out in Walking in the Way of Peace, individual Quakers
interpreted the testimony differently at this point, and for some, violence or killing under
certain circumstances was acceptable. And as for the duties of the government in this regard,
Quakers generally distinguished between the civil and temporal realms and agreed that the
government had a right to impose capital punishment for crimes such as treason. But another
point of agreement was on the sanctity of the government, for which, of course, executions
for treason were necessary. Contrary to Weddle™s claim that there was no consensus on how
to apply the testimony, all evidence in Quaker political philosophy and most practice points
to the fact that they believed the constitution to be inviolable by man.
Quaker Theory of a Civil Government 95

explained Edward Burrough, and “that we are subject by doing or suffering,
to whatsoever Authority the Lord is pleased to set over us, without Rebellion,
Sedition, Plotting, or making War against any Government or Governors.”
In a rightly constituted government, he continued, “We are, and do engage
to be subject thereunto all the Commands and Injunctions of such Authority
and Government whose Laws, Ordinances, and Commandments are grounded
upon right Reason, Equity, which leadeth to do unto all men as we would be
done unto.” And their duty was likewise “patient suffering under all Penalties
in¬‚icted for disobedience to the Commands which we cannot perform by Obe-
dience for Conscience sake.”140 They broke laws that restricted their religious
practice peacefully, openly, and submitted to the resulting brutal punishments
to bring attention to the injustice and effect reform in the system. But more
than that, as discussed in Chapter 1, they organized themselves to confront the
government from within. They established the ¬rst lobbying group in England
and mastered the law to the extent that they baf¬‚ed the very system that was
oppressing them.141
Unlike resistance theory from Duplessis-Mornay™s in Vindic¦ Contra Tyran-
nos (1579) to the practice of American mobs before the Revolution, Quakers
advocated resistance by individuals. As far as resistance to government was
allowed by thinkers such as Sidney, Locke, and Hoadly, they agreed that it
must be undertaken by the “whole people who are the Publick” or their rep-
resentatives, not private individuals.142 Quakers, on the other hand, not only
encouraged individuals to follow their inner “leadings” against the govern-
ment but often preferred this mode instead of protesting en masse, which they
believed could be too disruptive.
Quaker thought and practice was an apparent contradiction for their con-
temporaries. Friends™ actions caused most to believe that “the Quakers deny
Magistracy and Government as such.”143 Without precedent, Quakers were
uncategorizable. Non-Quakers did not understand the meaning of a people
who could in the same breath proclaim loyalty to the king while breaking
the laws he passed. This was a new understanding of government and civic
engagement. And it was premised on a comparatively modern understanding of

140 Edward Burrough, A Vindication of the People Called Quakers (n.d.), 22“23, in Quaker
Tracts, vol. 4 (London, 1661), 466“88.
141 On Quaker interactions with the government, see Horle, Quakers and the English Legal Sys-
tem. Their establishment of an organization that would approach the government on behalf
of Friends was likely an inheritance from their Puritan predecessors, who “explored the tech-
niques of lobbying” less formally (Walzer, Revolution of the Saints, 129).
142 Pauline Maier, From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of
American Opposition to Britain, 1765“1776 (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972, 1991),
33“36. As indicated in fn. 136 in this chapter, however, Locke seemed to come around to
accepting the propriety of individual resistance, at least where religion was concerned.
143 Francis Bugg, Hidden Things brought to Light. Whereby The Fox is Unkennel™d: And the
Bowells of Quakerism Ript up, laid open, and expos™d to Publick View; by a Dialogue Tri-
partite. Whereby the Quakers Inside (to speak Figuratively) is turn™d Outward; and the Great
Mystery of the Little Whore Farther Unfolded (London, 1707), 162.
96 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

political arrangements. Quakers needed to have a tremendous amount of faith
in the English constitution and its prescribed legal system to have embraced
it so. They knew that the remedy for the ills came from the same source as
the cause; the constitution merely needed reform. Their detractors did not yet
understand that civil disobedience, as disruptive as it could be, is based on a
strong sense of political obligation and a deep respect for the constitution of
the state. They were right, however, when they wrote that Quakers “Repeal,
not verbally, yet virtually, so far as their Power reaches, all Acts of Parliament
which suit not their Light Within.”144 Moreover, Quakerism necessitated a
greater degree of popular power than existed in any established group for the
legal discernment and action to grow organically.
When they wrote their political treatises, they made peaceful reform a fun-
damental principle of their political theory not just for the sake of liberty of
conscience, but for civil liberty and limitation of the government in general.
Penington wrote, emphasizing their process, that “the right Constitution and
orderly motion of them is of the greatest consequence that can be, there being
so much embarqued in this Vessel.”145 Likewise, in a treatise considered by
some historians to be one of the earliest de¬nitive statements of Whig political
philosophy, Penn expressed a belief atypical of subsequent Whig tracts: “The
Weapons of [Christ™s] warfare were not Carnal, but Spiritual.”146 He also
expanded their action beyond liberty of conscience: “Nor is there any Interest
so inconsistent with Peace and Unity, as that which dare not rely upon the
Power of Persuasion.”147 Thus Quakers could in good conscience advocate a
return to ¬rst principles because they had a process by which it could be done
peacefully, constitutionally, without overthrow of the government. This was
how, as Penington hinted, God would work through the people to alleviate
their oppression. In Quaker theologico-politics, no theory of revolution was
ever legitimate. So important was this right of civil disobedience that it was
codi¬ed in the “Fundamentall Constitutions” of Pennsylvania. Penn wrote that
if a governor or his deputy “by the evill insinuations and pernicious Councells
of some in powr or esteem, with him of or from his mistakeing the true extent
of his Authority . . . command or require the of¬[c]ers or Magistrates in this
Province . . . to do a thing that is Contrary to thes Fundamentalls . . . every such
of¬cer or Magistrate, shall be surely oblieged to reject the same & follow the
tenure of thes Fundamentalls.”148 Thus the laws were subject to interpretation

144 Francis Bugg, Pilgrim™s Progress, 38.
145 Penington, Right, Safety and Liberty, 7.
146 William Penn, England™s Great Interest in the Choice of this New Parliament (London,
1678/79), 4. David Ogg in England in the Reign of Charles II (Oxford: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 1955) and Mary Maples Dunn in Politics and Conscience have identi¬ed this tract
as such. For another reference to “spiritual weapons,” see also Penn™s “Fundamentall Con-
stitutions,” PWP, 2: 143. For the earliest and most thorough analysis to date of the role of
paci¬sm in Quaker political thought, see Wellenreuther, Glaube und Politik.
147 Penn, England™s Present Interest Discovered, 32.
148 Penn, “Fundamentall Constitutions,” PWP, 2: 152.
Quaker Theory of a Civil Government 97

by the people and civil disobedience was identi¬ed as a fundamental right.149
This demand by Quakers to determine collectively the validity of the law shat-
tered the traditional hierarchy and undermined both divine right of kings and
the forthcoming theory of parliamentary sovereignty.
It was this paci¬sm and desire for genuine and substantial reform, not rev-
olution, that was at the core of Quaker political thought; and this is what
makes their theory unique in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They
were radicals, but not revolutionaries.150 Certainly Whig political thought had
a signi¬cant element of moderation. The Whiggism of the American Revolu-
tionaries, drawn from the likes of Sidney, Locke, Hutcheson, and Cato, was
concerned at least as much with preserving laws, government, and peace as it
was with resisting oppression through revolution. There was a strong propen-
sity for ¬rst attempting peaceful means through resistance of speci¬c unjust
laws before resorting to revolution. But in spite of the pronounced Whig con-
servatism during the Restoration and the continued preference for peace in the
eighteenth century, Whigs were ultimately willing to resort to violence. At bot-
tom, they could and did justify revolution, but Quakers could not. Whiggism
was an “oppositional” ideology; Quakerism was conciliatory. Furthermore,
while it is clear that there was a whiggish theory of peaceful resistance, it is
not clear that it developed independently of the Quaker theories on govern-
ment and their methods of resistance that were being articulated and practiced
at the same time. Penn moved in the same circles and exchanged ideas with
the most prominent Whig thinkers, including Locke. Moreover, in England
and America, the Quakers were practicing peaceful resistance more staunchly
and more visibly than any other group. Other Englishmen certainly looked to
constitutions, bills, and petitions as guarantors of their rights, they appealed
to fundamental principles, and they tried to reform with moderation; but in
their impatience, they knew no way to effect major reform without destroy-
ing the constitution through revolution.151 As Thomas Paine explained in his
appendix to Common Sense (1776), “having no defense for ourselves in the
civil law; [we] are obliged to punish [the British] by the military one and apply
the sword.”152
In some ways, we can understand civil disobedience as the primitive pre-
cursor of judicial review.153 It is a way to check the power of the government

149 To be sure, the idea of disobedience was current in many forms of religious thought, both
Catholic and Protestant. But in this context, with Quakers™ theological imperative to publish
the truth through civil disobedience if necessary, we can assume that this clause would have
been understood as giving of¬cial sanction of this practice.
150 Hill hints at this when he writes that “In the last resort, perhaps, Quakers did not want to
overturn the world” (The World Turned Upside Down, 374).
151 On Whig resistance in general, as well as their inclinations for peace, see Maier, From Resistance
to Revolution, esp. 28 and 42.
152 Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776), 92.
153 It is not altogether certain that Quakers would have approved of judicial review had the idea
been in circulation, and likely for the same reasons that the thinkers at the American Founding
98 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

and change the laws without violence. In judicial review, guardians of the con-
stitution on behalf of the people test the positive law against the fundamental
principles of the constitution and then, if necessary, repeal the ones that are
unconstitutional.154 Civil disobedience is a process of judicial review in which
the people themselves are the judges.155 They repeal laws virtually before they
are formally abrogated. A point to remember is that, for Quakers, the process
was as important as the result. The means were not just tools, they were an
integral part of Truth-seeking, and adhering to them correctly was an end in
itself. Thus what historians have found to be an innovation of the American
Founding “ the idea and creation of a sacred and perpetual yet amendable
constitution that is formed through a sort of democratic process156 “ was envi-
sioned and enacted by Quakers one hundred years earlier.


Conclusion
In a sense, Quakers were a sort of “trimmer.” Describing the character of a
Trimmer, a faction of moderates during the Glorious Revolution, George Savile
wrote that “This innocent word Trimmer signi¬es no more than this, That if
Men are together in a Boat, and one part of the Company would weigh it
down on one side, another would make it lean as much to the contrary,
it happens there is a third Opinion of those who conceive it would do as
well, if the Boat went even, without endangering the Passengers.”157 Quakers,
like Savile™s Trimmers, returned repeatedly to the theme of a balanced ves-
sel. Penington wrote in 1651 that “it becometh everyone (both in reference
to himself and the whole) to contribute his utmost towards the right steering
of this Vessel, towards the preserving of it both in its state and motions.”158

expressed. See Kramer, The People Themselves; Tom Paine and Robin West, “Tom Paine™s
Constitutionalism,” Virginia Law Review vol. 89, no. 6, Marbury v. Madison: A Bicentennial
Symposium (2003), 1413“61. And note as well that Paine was raised a Quaker. See Eric Foner,
Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 3.
154 Wood calls them “agents of the people” in “State Constitution-Making,” 925.
155 See also Kramer, The People Themselves.
156 Ibid., 917. It was the framers, says Wood, who “showed the world how written constitu-
tions could be made truly fundamental and distinguishable from ordinary legislation, and
how such constitutions could be interpreted on a regular basis and altered when necessary.”
Likewise, Willi Paul Adams writes that “[t]he Americans went beyond Locke and Blackstone
in 1776 . . . by institutionalizing peaceful means of making and amending constitutions” (The
First American Constitutions: Republican Ideology and the Making of State Constitutions in
Revolutionary America [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979], 139). Jack
Rakove ¬nds that “the resort to popular sovereignty in 1778“88 marked the point where
the distinction between a constitution and ordinary law became the fundamental doctrine
of American political thinking” (Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the
Constitution [New York: Vintage Books, 1997], 130). Beer and Zuckert also follow this inter-
pretation. Kramer, it seems, would date this development latter, in the 1820s and 1930s with
the establishment of judicial review.
157 Savile, The Character of a Trimmer, preface.
158 Penington, Right, Safety and Liberty, 7.
Quaker Theory of a Civil Government 99

Similarly, in justifying the establishment of the Quaker ecclesiastical polity,
Barclay explained in Anarchy of the Ranters that the problem of establishing
a church government was that man is “inclinable to lean either to the right
Hand or to the left.” The goal, of course, is to keep it somewhere in the mid-
dle. In their politics, therefore, Quakers resisted party af¬liations in favor in
maintaining their agenda of moderation to preserve the constitution and gain
or retain rightful liberties. This is not to say they did not make temporary
alliances on one side or the other to achieve these ends “ they were as ecu-
menical in their politics as they were in their religion. It was not the name that
mattered but the principles, which caused Friends to choose seemingly strange
traveling companions, such as James II. But those who espoused moderation,
especially when they were perceived as radicals, were attacked from all sides.
“[I]t so happens,” explains Savile, “that the poor Trimmer hath all the Pow-
der spent on him alone . . . there is no danger now to the state . . . but from the
Beast called a Trimmer.”159 Barclay found the same problem for those who
sought to establish church government: “If through the power of God they be
kept faithful and stable, then they are calumniated on both Sides; each likening
or comparing them to the worst of their Enemies.”160 But although Savile™s
Trimmers preferred balance, when revolution took place, they were content to
stand aside and let it run its course.161 The struggle for a balanced and last-
ing constitution recurred in all the Quakers™ relationships with government,
regardless of whether they played the role of dissenter or politician. And unlike
Trimmers, Whigs, or Tories, traditional Quakers held steadfast to their convic-
tions about peaceful dissent, unity, and rights even in the worst storm. Their
practical politics in Pennsylvania show us their political philosophy in action.

159 Savile, The Character of a Trimmer, preface.
160 Barclay, Anarchy, iii.
161 Robbins, The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman, 57. On the Trimmer position see also
Behrens, “The Whig Theory of the Constitution,” 70“71, and Conniff, “The Politics of Trim-
ming,” who would add that Trimmers had a darker view of the nature of man that made his
dissent aggressively competitive rather than cooperative.
3

“Dissenters in Our Own Country”
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania




The transition from political theory to practice in the Quaker colonies was a
dif¬cult one. The same problems plagued them in their early years as troubled
the Quaker ecclesiastical polity at its founding. How would a people whose
theologico-political thought was based on apparently irreconcilable tenets of
unity and dissent, of bureaucracy and liberty, settle the question of authority
amongst themselves? In the church, they had decided the issue in favor of a
representative spiritual democracy with elders and ministers bearing most of
the weight of legal discernment and governance. The balance in a civil polity,
however, was not so easily achieved. The Quaker theory of a civil government,
like their theology, suggested a strong popular element. But leading Friends
were all too aware that the libertinism that necessitated a powerful central
government in their church could surface in their new civil polities, West Jersey
and Pennsylvania. Although Quakers could not agree at ¬rst on what balance
should look like in these polities, they concurred on their other basic principles “
that the polity was sacred and perpetual, and that change must be made within
the existing framework and without violence. Unlike the church government,
in the early years of these civil experiments, we see the balance of power shift
from the elite few to the popular majority. The following discussion concerns
the internal struggles of the Quaker government in Pennsylvania during the ¬rst
twenty years,1 from 1681 to 1701, and how these struggles followed a similar
pattern and exempli¬ed similar dif¬culties as in the ecclesiastical polity.2

1 Therefore, when I use the term popular or elite, I am speaking about factions within the General
Assembly and not the entire population.
2 The standard work on this period is Gary B. Nash, Quakers and Politics. The dif¬culty with
this otherwise important work is that, while Nash acknowledges the importance of theology as
a foundation for Friends™ politics (338“39), he ¬nds that self-interested ¬nancial gain is their
primary motivator (79). See also Edwin B. Bronner, William Penn™s Holy Experiment: The
Founding of Pennsylvania, 1681“1701 (New York: Temple University Publications; distributed
by Columbia University Press, 1962).


100
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 101

In particular, this chapter explores the process of constitutional reform at the
highest level of the polity, with the polity being understood by Quakers as the
meeting writ large. What we ¬nd here is an internal dissent and reform process
that reveals how Quakers imagined their civil constitution (meaning primarily
the unity of the people, a written document as a safeguard and guide, and
the ensuing structures) as something sacred that must evolve while remaining
intact. This aspect of their thought and practice was unique in this time period.
While other colonies were certainly changing their governments and evolving
as well, there was not yet a thought amongst them about either codifying their
fundamental principles in a written document or a theory that would allow for
a methodical change of the system.3


Holy Politics in West Jersey
Before we turn to Pennsylvania, the early history of West Jersey can serve
as a brief and helpful prologue.4 West Jersey Concessions and Agreements
(1676/77) is indicative of a Quaker understanding of a rightly ordered govern-
ment; but there were departures from the ideals as well.5 Its draftsman, Edward
Byllynge, in consultation with other Friends, seems to have created it to be in
keeping with the Friendly ideal that the body of the meeting should have the
responsibility of discerning and creating the law. A provision for dissent was
built into it: “every respective member hath Liberty of speech” so that he could
“enter his protests and reasons of protestations.” Accordingly, not only did the
constitution allow universal manhood suffrage, it placed the legislative power
in the hands of the Assembly. The people also had direct access to the legislative
process in that they “have Liberty to come in to hear and be witnesses of the
voate[s] and the inclinations of the persons voating.” Another distinctive point
of the Concessions was its prescription for how to handle civil and criminal
cases. There was no imprisonment for debt or jail fees, and there was to be
a collective process of decision making in which a jury, “in whom only the
Judgment resides,” will “direct” the verdict of the justices. Further, plaintiffs
“have full power to forgive and remit the person or persons offending against
him or her selfe,” whether before or after the judgment of the court. Such a
process that emphasizes collective judgment on the one hand and leniency on

3 Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, 189“93.
4 The Quaker experiment in New Jersey was quite short-lived, lasting only ten years before it
passed into non-Quaker hands. There is very little written on West Jersey. John E. Pomfret has
published most widely on it with: The New Jersey Proprietors and Their Lands, 1634“1776
(Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1964); Colonial New Jersey: A History (New York: Scribner,
1973); The Province of West New Jersey, 1609“1702: A History of the Origins of an American
Colony (New York: Octagon Books, 1976). See also the collection of essays The West Jersey
Concessions and Agreements of 1676/77: A Roundtable of Historians, Occasional Papers, No 1
(Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1979).
5 West Jersey Concessions and Agreements (1676/77), PWP, 1: 387“410.
102 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

the other re¬‚ects Quaker priorities and their preference for arbitration over
litigation.6 On the other hand, in a departure from Quaker political theory, the
Concessions initially had no provision for amendment.
Problems developed in the practical application of the constitution. Although
several issues arose, the most relevant for our concerns are Byllynge™s actions
in relation to the legislature. Most likely motivated by economic concerns,
Byllynge immediately tried to override the constitution and assert his will as
executive on the inhabitants. The Quaker assembly resisted this imposition
and took measures to secure its power. First, members appealed to the British
government, but they later acquiesced to Byllynge™s request to use Quaker arbi-
tration procedures instead. It was, after all, stipulated in the Quaker Discipline
that disputes among Friends should be resolved among Friends. In 1684 the
council of elder Friends that presided over the dispute, which included George
Fox, favored Byllynge in their verdict.7 This is hardly surprising since dur-
ing this time leading Friends had just fought their own struggle against much
radical resistance to establish a strong ecclesiastical government, and now, dis-
senters and other “libertines” within the meeting were kept under close watch.
As Byllynge and other leading Friends, including Penn, wrote the West Jersey
Concessions in 1676/77, Robert Barclay had just published The Anarchy of the
Ranters (1676), which justi¬ed the Quaker system of representatives and rep-
rimanded “disorderly walkers” in the meeting. He wrote that God “imployed
such whom he that made use of in gathering of his Church” as governors of
the church.8 In other words, those who founded the colony should lead the
colony. The leaders of the New Jersey assembly, however, more or less rejected
the verdict and continued, without violence, to resist Byllynge and appeal to
Friends for understanding. Nevertheless, the original intent of the Concessions
was ultimately compromised as, among other things, the Assembly was com-
pelled to accept a governor and upper house, and power remained in the hands
of the few. Signi¬cantly, however, despite the stipulation that the Concessions
could not be changed, the Assembly gave itself the power of amendment and
then proceeded to change, or neglect to implement those aspects of the con-
stitution they deemed inconsistent with the fundamental law.9 But ultimately,
this ¬rst Quaker experiment in government failed as it gradually came under
the control of people indifferent to Quaker interests.


6 Paul G. E. Clemmens, “The Concessions in Relation to Other Seventeenth-Century Colonial
Charters,” in Roundtable, 29“33, 31.
7 On the controversy, see The Case Put and Decided by George Fox, George Whitehead, Stephen
Crisp, and other [of] the most Ancient & Eminent Quakers, between Edward Billing on the One
Part, and some West-Jersians, headed by Samuell Jennings on the other Part . . . (London, 1699);
and Samuel Jennings, Truth Rescued from Falsehood, being and answer to a Late Scurrilous Piece
Entituled, The Case Put and Decided . . . (London, 1699).
8 Barclay, Anarchy, 70.
9 Ibid., 36.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 103

The Pennsylvania Experiment
The West Jersey dispute demonstrates on a small scale what was to happen in
Pennsylvania, but with the important difference being that Pennsylvania sur-
vived the turmoil of its early years and remained a Quaker colony. Because the
purpose here is to show the Quakers™ internal process of change and reconcil-
iation, the focus of the present discussion is the struggle of Quakers against
one another rather than Quakers against the crown or other forces outside the
immediate circle of politicians in the government. Contrary to their detractors™
claims that Quakers principles were hostile to government, and Quakers them-
selves ungovernable, Pennsylvania survived not in spite of, but because it was
a Quaker colony.10
Contrary to expectations, the ¬rst forty years of Pennsylvania government
were characterized by raucous factionalism and antiauthoritarianism at all lev-
els, which seems to us, as well as people of the time, atypical of the allegedly
quiet and quietistic Quakers. After the king granted Penn his original charter
in 1681, there were three different paper constitutions, and a period of time
when there was none, before Friends codi¬ed their understanding of the law in
the 1701 Charter of Privileges. During this time, all branches within Pennsyl-
vania government vied for power amongst themselves and created alliances of
convenience to combat the greatest perceived threat from the top. Whichever
individual or elite group seemed to possess the most authority at any given
moment was challenged by an ad hoc alliance from those below who claimed
to be oppressed. The overarching trend, however, was the popular Assembly
seeking to co-opt the legislative powers of both Penn (or the governors, whether
royal or provincial) and the Provincial Council, while Penn and his supporters
tried to curb the Assembly in its grasping for power. Quaker John Pearson
observed with dismay in 1686 that

[i]t may be cause of wonder that this people that came out together in the Light and
Unity of the one Spirit, and have stood together . . . against the many Heads and Horns
that have pushed at them, and have been struck at more or less, under every Government
that hath been since they were a People, and none has been able to break them; but all
has tended to their Encrease and Stability . . . that such should now, when their outward
Ease comes to be enlarged, fall at Odds and Difference amongst themselves, apparently
as some may expect, to the great Damage, if not the Ruin of them.11

10 My claim on this point differs from other scholars of Pennsylvania who have found the colony
to be a failure as a Quaker experiment. See, for example, Edwin B. Bronner, “The Failure of the
˜Holy Experiment™ in Pennsylvania, 1684“1699,” Pennsylvania History vol. 21 (1954), 93“108;
and Endy, William Penn and Early Quakerism, 348“77, 367. Although it is true, as we will
see in the next chapters, that as the eighteenth century progressed, Quakers had to compromise
their principles in order to govern the colony, they never really lost control and succeeded in
retaining much of what they believed to be important in a polity.
11 John Pearson writing about the Wilkinson-Story Controversy in Anti-Christian Treachery Dis-
cover™d and Its Way Block™d Up . . . (London, 1686), preface.
104 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

Pearson was referring to the Wilkinson-Story Controversy that threatened to
destroy the Quaker ecclesiastical polity even before it could take root. And
now Friends seemed to be following the same path in their civil government.
But the disunity among Friends was only temporary and relatively super¬cial
in that there was no schism that permanently separated the Society. Further,
there was a great sense of purpose behind the contention. As Pennsylvania
Quakers explained, “wee are a Quiet people and Inclined to peace, and to fall
out now is a thing by us abominated and obhorred; but in Conscience wee are
bound to Doe our utmost to preserve the Rights of our Selves and posterity.”12
Now that liberty of conscience was relatively secure (although only as secure
as their government was stable and controlled by Quakers), the main right that
concerned them was legal and political self-determination.
Beneath the turmoil of these ¬rst years, there was a process of reform at
work to constitute Pennsylvania as a truly godly polity. As in England, Quak-
ers used their expertise in bureaucratic process and civil dissent to resist the
authorities and press for greater liberties. Each successive written constitution
wrested a little more power away from the proprietor and his elite council
and placed it in the hands of the people (that is to say, the representative
branch of the government). It is important to reiterate that all the American
colonies were undergoing upheavals and changes similar to those in Pennsyl-
vania. They were all striving for greater popular power at the expense of the
other branches. Thus it was not so much what the Quakers were doing that
was unique, although arguably they took their quest to a further extreme than
most to create the most powerful popular legislature.13 Rather, it was how they
did it that is important. This turnover of constitutions, the constant pressing
for more popular power, the insistence on rights, the contentious negotiat-
ing over the dynamics of political power, and ¬nally, the essentially peaceful
way in which they achieved reform, was exemplary of Quaker process. When
we note the struggles for change in other colonies, we should also observe
that Pennsylvania was the only colony to make such drastic transformation in
their government in the seventeenth century without force of arms and with
a theory and process animating their actions.14 What they were doing was

12 The Provincial Council and Assembly to Penn, 18th of the 3rd mo. 1691. PWP, 3: 318.
13 On the lower houses™ rise to power, see Jack P. Greene, “The Role of the Lower Houses
of Assembly in Eighteenth-Century Politics,” in Negotiated Authorities: Essays in Colonial
Political and Constitutional History (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994), 163“
84. He notes Pennsylvania and Massachusetts as the colonies with the most powerful legislatures
(166).
14 Timothy H. Breen and Stephen Foster, “The Puritans™ Greatest Achievement: A Study of Social
Cohesion in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts,” Journal of American History vol. 60, no.
1 (1973), 5“22. The major incidents in each major colony were Leisler™s Rebellion in New
York (1689); Bacon™s Rebellion in Virginia (1676); the Protestant Revolution in Maryland
(1689); Governor Andros of Massachusetts forced from of¬ce by rebels (1689). Very early in
Massachusetts history, signi¬cant changes took place in the government peacefully through a
reinterpretation of the original charter. These were initiated from the top by John Winthrop
himself, and although they undoubtedly went farther than he intended, he put up no resistance
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 105

not necessarily legal by the terms of Pennsylvania™s First Frame of Govern-
ment or in accord with Penn™s wishes. But it was, according to a signi¬cant
number of Friends, constitutional. Quakers took the theory of Penington and
Penn seriously. Penington had important duties in mind for a representative
assembly: “Parliaments have a dif¬cult piece of work, viz. to chastise the great-
est Oppressors, and to strike at the very root of oppression.” Furthermore,
“unless they have Power answerable they cannot possibly go through with
it.”15 They demonstrated they agreed with Penn when he wrote in the Frame
that “I do not ¬nd a Model in the World, that Time, Place and some singular
emergency have not necessarily altered.”16 The following pages chronicle the
struggles of the Pennsylvania Assembly to realize Quaker political principles
according to Quaker process.

It cannot be overemphasized that from its inception to the Revolution, Pennsyl-
vania was self-consciously Quaker in its origins, identity, goals, structures, and
internal processes. “We are a Quaker Colony, it was so intended,” af¬rmed
Penn in 1701.17 And Friends had come there for distinctly Quaker reasons “
to establish and maintain a Quaker government. Penn wrote,
The Govermt was our greatest inducement, & upon that public[k] faith, wee have
buried our blood & bones as well as estates to make it wht it is, for being Dissenters, we
therefore came that we might enjoye that so farr of wch would not be allowed us any
share of att home, & wch we so much needed to our security and happiness abroad.18

The composition of the government re¬‚ected their priorities. It was conceived
in the spirit of the Quaker meeting for business, the administrative assembly
of the ecclesiastical polity.19 Indeed, in translating Scripture, Quakers noted
that, while the Greek word Ekklhs©a (ekkl¯ sia) was translated as “church” in
e
the English version, it also had strong political connotations that may or may

that would have tested the commitment of the Puritans to peace. For a succinct narrative of this
episode, see Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (New York:
HarperCollins Publisher, 1958), 84“114.
15 Penington, Right, Safety and Liberty, 38.
16 Penn, First Frame, PWP, 2: 213. By contrast, Greene notes that “imperial authorities persisted
in the views that colonial constitutions were static and that the lower houses were subordinate
governmental agencies with only temporary and limited lawmaking powers.” He explains that
most colonial legislatures scoffed at such views and did not shy away from innovations. On the
other hand, he does not suggest that the lower houses had a philosophy or established method for
change beyond piecemeal or ad hoc innovations. Rather, he explains that they applied the same
principle of the English common law tradition to their own constitutions. That is to say, change
inevitably happened and was validated by precedent, but there was no established process, nor
were changes necessarily codi¬ed in a written document (“Lower Houses,” 463“66).
17 Penn to William Penn, Jr., 2 January 1701. PWP, 4: 27.
18 Ibid.
19 Allan Tully calls the Assembly the “analogue of the meeting.” Tully, Forming American Politics,
274. Bronner notes the provisions Friends made in their statutory laws for Quaker priorities
such as their unorthodox marriage practices and arbitrators in the courts (Holy Experiment,
55). Laws will be discussed in greater detail in the following chapter.
106 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

not have had religious implications.20 Considering themselves, as they did, to
be like the primitive Christians, they interpreted the word as it was used in
Jesus™ day, in political terms, as a popular assembly convened to deliberate on
public matters. There was thus very little distinction made between church and
state. In the Quaker mind, then, only a certain kind of man could govern with
authority “ a Christian and, more speci¬cally, a Quaker.
Religion was not only important in the private lives of the Assemblymen;
it was a crucial element of their public lives as well. With Quakers always
comprising at least half of the House and sometimes as much as 80 percent,
Quakerism was a signi¬cant political interest.21 Many active politicians in this
early period were also considered “devout Quakers” or “weighty Friends,”
active not just in the General Assembly, but also in their monthly meetings and
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting as clerks, elders, ministers, and authors of epistles.
Isaac Penington expressed the common Quaker position on what a politician
should be: “only such as can clear the derivacy of it from Christ to them, such
as are ¬tted and appointed by [Christ] to be under him in his own seat and
place of Government.” But beyond this, it was not just what a man professed,
but how he actualized his faith in the government that was important: “Nor,”
as Penington wrote, “are they to govern as men; by outward force; but as
Christians, by spiritual virtue and ef¬cacy upon the Conscience, the seat of
Christ in man, so that it appear that not they, but the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit
in Christ doth rule and govern.”22 God was to govern through each politician
and, in according to Quakerism, peaceful process, “orderly walking,” would
rule.
One of the most important men in Pennsylvania government in its formative
years was Thomas Lloyd. A minister himself, he wrote to Penn in 1684 of
Pennsylvanians: “We are glad to See the faces of serviceable Friends here,
who Come in God™s freedom, who are persons of a Good Understanding &
Conversation: & Will Discharge Their Stations Religiously; Such will be a
Blessing to The Province.”23 If they do not, Penn wrote, they “shall be reputed
and Marked as breakers as the Fundamentall Constitutions of the Country,
and therein as well as publique enemies to God as the people, and never to
bare of¬ce till they have given good Testimony of their repentance.”24 Friends
in of¬ce were thus on guard about transgression from the fundamental law,
and they were prepared to defy those who disagreed with it.
The “Fundamentall Constitutions” of Pennsylvania was the ¬rst constitution
for the colony. Like the West Jersey Concessions, historians have called it
“innovative.”25 In this original plan Penn gave the people the power to elect and

20 Barclay, Anarchy, 32.
21 Craig Horle, et al., eds., Lawmaking and Legislators in Pennsylvania: A Biographical Dictio-
nary, 1682“1709 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 1: 115. (Hereafter
referred to as LL)
22 Penington, Right, Safety and Liberty, 43.
23 Thomas Lloyd to Penn, November 2, 1684, Howland Collection, HQC.
24 Penn, “Fundamentall Constitutions,” PWP, 2: 143.
25 PWP, 1: 387.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 107

instruct their representatives, who, in turn, would chose a Council from their
own members and instruct it and the governor. In this model, in keeping with
Quaker theory, a popular assembly was the dominant branch of government.
Moreover, this plan was liberal compared to the charter Charles II granted
Penn, which conferred almost all powers in the colonial government on Penn,
making him the virtual king of his own land.26 Penn instead allotted only a
slight power to himself alone as the governor of the colony. “I propose that
wch is extreordinary,” he said, “& to leave myselfe & successors noe powr of
doeing mischief, that the will of one man may not hinder the good of an whole
Country.”27

The 1682 Frame of Government
This plan would have been eminently agreeable to Friends. But Penn did not
institute the “Fundamentall Constitutions.” Instead he drafted the First Frame
of Government (1682) and installed it as the ¬rst constitution of Pennsylva-
nia.28 The of¬cial structure of Pennsylvania government that he laid out was a
three-part system consisting of the proprietor (Penn) or a governor as the exec-
utive and two elected branches “ an elite Provincial Council as the legislative
branch and an Assembly as the representative branch, which had a voice, but no
legislative power. All of these branches worked together as a uni¬ed body called
the General Assembly. Although in keeping with the British system, his struc-
ture stands in contrast to most other expressions of Quaker political thought,
and it departs signi¬cantly from earlier versions of Penn™s civil constitutions.
Perhaps trying to save himself the trouble that Byllynge experienced with his
colonists, the Frame abandoned the original scheme of the “Fundamentall Con-
stitutions” by signi¬cantly restricting the popular element. Instead Penn placed
most of the authority with the Provincial Council, leaving the popular Assem-
bly with only the power to suggest amendments to legislation. Moreover, in a
change that Quakers resented for a long time to come, Penn reneged on his ear-
lier promise to restrict executive power and instead conferred upon himself a
treble vote in the General Assembly.29 The representative Assembly “ the most
important branch as far as most Quakers were concerned “ was virtually impo-
tent. For many reasons, including the unrealistic number of representatives that
Penn thought would be available for governmental duty, it became clear very

26 William Penn, “The Charter of Pennsylvania,” in Jean Soderlund, ed., William Penn and the
Founding of Pennsylvania, 1680“1684: A Documentary History (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1983), 39“50.
27 Penn to Robert Turner, Anthony Sharp, and Roger Roberts, 12th of the 2nd mo. [April 16],
81. PWP, 2: 89.
28 A further discussion of the practical provisions of this Frame, as well as many of its ideological
elements, can be found in Endy, “The Kingdom Come: Pennsylvania” in William Penn and
Early Quakerism, 348“77. This chapter also includes discussion of the objections of Friends to
the new Frame.
29 See Nash, Quakers and Politics, 71; and From the Assembly to William Penn, 25 August 1704,
PWP, 4: 296.
108 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

quickly after the founding of the colony that this organization of government
was hopelessly unstable. And many Friends™ dissatisfaction with the balance of
power gave them no great incentive to try to preserve the existing Frame.
Even before the 1682 Frame was enacted, a number of prominent thinkers,
some of them Quakers, criticized Penn harshly for straying from his values.
They too believed he had shifted the weight too far in favor of the executive.
Algernon Sidney proclaimed the Frame “the basest laws in the world, and not
to be endured or lived under.”30 Quaker Benjamin Furly wrote to Penn, giving
him a line-by-line critique of his Frame in comparison to his earlier constitution.
The “Fundamentall Constitutions,” he wrote, “is much more fair and equal,
in my mind, than . . . the new Frame, which take from the General Assembly
the whole faculty of proposing any bills, and lodges it solely in the Provincial
Council, which seems to be a divesting of the people™s representatives (in time
to come) of the greatest right they have.”31 It is clear that Furly thought that
Penn™s earlier attempt at constitutional discernment was more accurate than his
later one. But even more striking than his concern for popular legislative power,
however, is Furly™s foresight as to the consequences of the 1682 Frame for the
political climate in the Quaker colony. He anticipated the dif¬culties that would
arise in Pennsylvania almost immediately and plague the government for the
next twenty years. The structure of the Frame, he tried to convince Penn, “will
lay morally a certain foundation of dissension amongst our successors, and
render the patronizers of this new Frame obnoxious to future parliaments.”
He concluded with a plea to Penn to “let the General Assembly be restored
to those powers and privileges which thy ¬rst Constitutions do give it.”32 But
Penn left it as it was and assumed that the Assembly would simply meet and
approve the Frame. It did not. What it did instead was assume the role of
trimmer and undertake a twenty-year process of revision to balance the ship of
state according to the earlier, more accurate constitution.33
The Assembly™s efforts exemplify Pennsylvania™s identity as a Quaker colony
concerned with rights advocacy and systemic reform. The way they enacted
their role as trimmers was to adhere to the Quaker process of reform that was
based on their understanding of a sacred constitution. They carried over the
“order and method” of the ecclesiastical polity into the political assemblies and
used synteresis to gain “clearness” about how to amend their faulty constitu-
tion. As in their religious business, they began by waiting in silence at the start
of the meeting in order to reach a state of inward silence and hear more clearly

30 Algernon Sidney quoted in William I. Hull, William Penn: A Topical Biography (London:
Oxford University Press, 1937), 229.
31 Benjamin Furly, “Benjamin Furly™s Criticism of The Frame of Government” in Soderlund,
William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania, 137.
32 Ibid.
33 Alan Tully writes suggestively of Quakers™ conception of balance “ that it was unbalanced
in a traditional, Lockean sense, but balanced in another way. “Pennsylvanians,” he explains,
“primarily concerned themselves with the balance of power between the legislative and executive
branches of government” (Forming American Politics, 284).
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 109

the voice of God in their consciences. In 1687 Penn advised his deputies to
“be most Just as in the sight of the allseeing allsearching God, and before you
lett your spirits into an affaire, retire to him . . . that he may give you a good
understanding & govermt of your selves in the management thereof . . . lett the
People Learn by your example as well as by your powr the happy life of Con-
cord.”34 As late as the middle of the next century the Assembly could still be
observed “to sit in silence awhile, like solemn worship, before they proceed to
do business.”35 After this period of productive silence, the governor or speaker
of the house would often begin the meeting for government by giving “reli-
gious and wholesome Council to the Members of the House.”36 Next, “The
Governor having assum™d his Seat of Authority,” describes minutes from the
colonial Assembly, “makes his Address to the General Assembly in the Way
of Christian Council and Exhortation, advising the Members of Assembly to
look unto ˜God in all their Proceedings.™”37 In contrast to a process of debate
and argumentation, synteresis was naturally very slow and cautious. More-
over, because they were concerned that “great Inconveniences doe oftner arise
from hasty than deliberate Councels . . . unless it be in a Case of Immanent and
Immediate danger” they preferred that “no business of state in Assembly or
Counc{e}ll shall be resolved the day it is proposed, to end, time may be given
to learn all that may be known or said about the matter in hand, in order to
a Cleer and Safe Detirmination” of God™s law.38 These practices continued in
the latter half of the eighteenth century as well, when Quaker legislators would
end sessions by calling for the “sense of the House” instead of a vote.39 This
re¬‚ects exactly the procedure in religious business when the clerk would take
the “sense of the meeting” from the uni¬ed group to determine what direc-
tion to take. The clerk, the weightiest of¬ce in the meeting, had to make his
decisions based on what he gleaned from both the vocal and the silent mem-
bers, while also taking into account the measure of Light from each person.40
Finally, a meeting of the Assembly would end with more “religious Counsel.”41
The goal in all this was to accurately discern God™s law, which could only be
accomplished by a group effort at synteresis.
The troubles for the colony began when the Assembly™s efforts at discern-
ment did not agree with Penn™s. In addition to their theories of change, they
also had some more concrete tools available to them to remedy the defects they
34 Penn to the Commissioners of State, 1 February 1687. PWP, 3: 145.
35 John Churchman, An Account of the Gospel Labours and Christian Experiences of a Faithful
Minister of Christ (Philadelphia, 1779), 96“98.
36 Gertrude MacKinney, ed., Pennsylvania Archives, Eighth Series: Votes and Proceedings of the
House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Franklin and Hall,
1931), 1: 44. (Hereafter referred to as PA)
37 Ibid., 1: 47.
38 “Fundamentall Constitutions,” PWP, 2: 147.
39 Tully, Forming American Politics, 274.
40 For a concise historical and contemporary analysis of this aspect of Quaker process, see Michael
J. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule, 95“97.
41 PA, 1: 11.
110 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

found. As noted in the previous chapter, Penn had included a novelty in the
Frame. But if that were insuf¬cient for the drastic changes Quakers hoped to
make, they could resort to their informal process, which at one time Penn had
considered constitutional. In a clause from the “Fundamentall Constitutions”
that did not make it into the First Frame, Penn wrote that if a governor or his
deputy oversteps his bounds, “every such of¬cer or Magistrate, shall be surely
oblieged to reject the same & follow the tenure of thes Fundamentalls.”42
Thus Penn acknowledged the laws were subject to interpretation and the con-
stitutionality of resistance was identi¬ed as a fundamental obligation. Quaker
politicians took these clauses seriously.
When the Assembly met to implement the First Frame, they did not simply
approve it as Penn had anticipated. Instead, they began their process of reform.
But the process, it should be noted, was not identical to that which they used
in their religious meeting. It was not “peaceable conversation” in the sense
that they spoke to one another with calm reserve. This was, rather, political
conversation “ it was peaceful in the sense that no one took up arms. But
in¬‚ammatory rhetoric became a hallmark of the Quaker Assembly. Accord-
ingly, they began by casting “undeserving Re¬‚ections and Aspersions upon the
Governor.”43 They accused Penn of hoarding power and worried that if more
control were not given to the Assembly, the colony might fall into the hands
of non-Quakers as had happened in West Jersey.44 They desired, as Penn had
said, that “God™s power among honest Friends, should have Rule & Domin-
ion.”45 Penn disagreed that his treble vote should amount to much among so
many representatives, but the issue was more than that for him. He argued
that God had tested him and then put this amount of power into his hands,
and he had a duty to exercise it. “My God hath given it me in the face of the
Worl[d] {& it is} to hold it in true Judgment as Reward of my Sufferings.” He
had paid for it, it was his, so he admonished grasping Friends to “keep [ye?]
in thy place; I am in mine.”46 This, however, was not a suf¬cient rationale for
Friends, and his claims to such authority may have provoked them further.
They immediately tried to step beyond what the Frame allowed, asserting “the
ancient and undoubted rights and privileges of the people.”47


The 1683 Frame of Government
Thus the meeting to approve the Frame became instead a meeting to amend it.
They produced ¬rst the 1683 Act of Settlement. This act was originally intended
as an amendment to the Frame to make it more workable. It reduced the
number of Council- and Assemblymen and made a number of other mechanical
42 “Fundamentall Constitutions,” PWP, 2: 152.
43 PA, 1:18.
44 PWP, 2: 346.
45 William Penn to Jasper Blatt, February 5, 1683, PWP, 2: 347.
46 Ibid.
47 PA, 1:18.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 111

adjustments to the Frame. But this was not enough as far as the Assembly was
concerned. They were interested in expanding their law-making powers. After
they allegedly spread “wicked lying reports”48 against Penn, in 1683 all agreed
the entire Frame of 1682 was unworkable, and a new frame was established.
At this time, the Assembly resolved that they “might be allowed the Privilege
of proposing to [the governor and Council] such Things as might tend to the
Bene¬t of the Province.”49 But they were refused. Instead, the Council and the
governor believed that “the House presuming to take that Power [of debating
proposed laws], seemed too much to infringe upon the Governor™s Privileges,
and Royalties.”50 The new 1683 Frame, written by Penn, was intended to keep
popular powers in check and decreed that only the governor and the Council
could propose laws. Penn did relent a bit, however, and allowed the Assembly
the “Liberty to consult amongst themselves, touching such Proposals . . . as
might tend to the Bene¬t of the Province.”51 This small concession, however,
only encouraged the Assembly to struggle harder against his authority. In
de¬ance of Penn, they proceeded to pass laws anyway, one of which was a
bill stating that no one could interfere with them in their political duties. With
the explicit aim “to inviolaby [sic] keep the and preserve all the Articles of
the Charter,” the Assembly proclaimed that “it is their undoubted Privilege to
proceed upon reading, debating, and concluding upon the promulgated Bills by
Vote, in order to pass them into Laws, without any the least Restriction by the
Council to hinder them from so doing.”52 The new Frame not only abolished
Penn™s treble vote, it stated that he was to act “with the Advice and Consent
of the Provincial Council” in “any publick Act of State whatsoever that shall
or may relate unto the Justice, Trade, Treasury, or Safety of the Province and
Territorries.”53 Thus from the very infancy of Pennsylvania, Quakers were
resisting the established authorities and claiming popular authority to discern
the law.
In the ¬rst decade of Pennsylvania politics, the antiauthoritarianism of the
Quakers in the Assembly was not directed at Penn per se. Friends still revered
him very much as their spiritual and political leader. In these early years,
most Quakers not only had no desire to remove Penn, they were, despite
their antagonism, even supportive of the proprietary government itself. Penn
himself remarked that he “was receiv™d . . . wth much Kindness & respect”
by the denizens of Pennsylvania.54 But before long, Penn™s assessment of his
treatment by Pennsylvanians would change dramatically.


48 James Claypoole to William Penn, April 1683, PWP, 2: 396.
49 PA, 1: 14.
50 Ibid., 1: 15.
51 Ibid., 1: 46.
52 Ibid., 1: 62, 63.
53 See Sister Joan de Lourdes Leonard, “The Organization and Procedure of the Pennsylvania
Assembly,” PMHB vol. 72 (1948), 376“412, 387“88.
54 William Penn to the Earl of Arran, January 9, 1684, PWP, 2: 512.
112 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

At ¬rst, most resistance by the Assembly was directed at the nearest, most
obvious threat “ the Provincial Council. In the ¬rst decade of the colony, the
Assembly pursued a campaign to remove legislative rights from the Council. By
1684, it became clear that whatever harmony there was in the colony was due
only to Penn™s presence. As soon as he left the colony for England, acrimony
between the Assembly and the Council became open. Until 1688, the main focus
of the Assembly™s resistance was the Council and its leader, Thomas Lloyd. A
well-to-do Quaker merchant and minister, Lloyd was quickly becoming the
most powerful man in the colony, holding many of¬ces and controlling as
much or more of the government than Penn ever did. He was at once president
of Council (and hence chief of¬cer of province) until 1688, keeper of the seal,
master of the rolls, and member of the Board of Propriety. Beyond this, even,
in 1685 he led the Council in co-opting Penn™s power of judicial appointment
in county courts and then in the provincial court.55 To the Assembly, Lloyd
embodied the unbalance in the government and the threat this posed to their
popular rights.
Penn was distressed in these years as his brethren bickered in of¬ce. He
clearly hoped that his government would resemble the meeting more closely in
its mode of conversation. “I am sorry at heart for yr Anemositys,” he wrote.
“Cannot more friendly & private Courses be taken to sett matters at right in
an infant province[?] . . . for the love of God, me & the poor Country, be not so
Governmentish, so Noisy & open in yr dissatisfactions.”56 But to express dis-
satisfactions was the Quaker way in religion; and so was it in politics, although
louder. Penn, always keeping in mind the Quaker goal to set an example to the
world of godly behavior, reminded the politicians in Pennsylvania repeatedly
that “[m]any eyes are Upon you of all sorts”57 and “that the Province is suf¬-
ciently watcht by friends & foes; & it much depends upon thos in powr.”58 He
appealed to them as Friends not to “debase [their] Noble calling[s] by a low,
mean & partial behavour: neither lett any privat concerns defraud the public
of your care.” And, “Remember that your station obliges you to be the light &
Salt of the Province; to direct & season thos that are under you, by your good
example.” Penn was always hopeful “that by a conscientious discharge of your
duty to god and man, you may provoke others to do the like.”59 It is clear
from this and other expressions of shock by observers of the Assembly that
they expected Quakers to be as placid as they were in their religious meetings.
Instead, the Assembly in these early years reproduced the radicalism during the
establishment of their ecclesiastical polity.
But Penn™s admonitions went unheeded as the Assembly continued to attack
the Council, and by 1686, it had gained some ground in establishing both a
55 LL, 1: 505“17.
56 Penn to Thomas Lloyd et al., 17th of the 6th mo. 1685. PWP, 3: 50.
57 Penn to the Provincial Council, 24th of the 2nd mo. 1686. PWP, 3: 88.
58 Ibid., c. June 1686. PWP, 3:93“96. See also Penn to Thomas Lloyd, et al., 17th of the 6th mo.
1685; Penn to Thos. Lloyd, 21 Sept. 1686, PWP, 3: 117.
59 Penn to the Provincial Council, c. June 1686. PWP, 3: 93“96.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 113

larger scope of power and a separate identity from the Council. It had already
begun to propose and debate legislation; it was beginning to determine for itself
the duration of their sessions; and it was beginning to refuse to continue laws
from one session to the next, which infringed upon the legislative authority
of the Council.60 Assemblymen were taking seriously Isaac Penington™s idea
that “A Parliament have . . . a right and power conferred upon them by the
people, to order, settle, amend, or (if need be) new-make the Government
for themselves and the people.”61 William Markham, a close advisor to Penn
who reported the activities of the Assembly in anxious detail, wrote “they had
severall Conferences between the whole Councill and the Assembly . . . I Feare
it will prove an Ill president . . . their Subject was the privilidg of the people,
a Dangerous thing to Dispute in the Face of such a Congregation.” At this
time the Assembly also challenged the authority of the Council by suggesting
the repeal of some laws and proposing a limit to the duration of other laws,
which would have forced the Council to agree with the Assembly before passing
any future legislative package.62 The Council, of course, refused these demands.
Markham expressed his opinion on the matter to Penn that “if such Disputes be
allowed it will hazard the overthrow of the Governmt, For what ever privelidg
you once grant you must never think to Recall without being Re¬‚ected on and
Counted a great oppressor.”63 The non-Quaker Markham was learning very
quickly about Quaker politics.
And it was a very real risk indeed that Penn could be seen as a “great
oppressor.” The proprietor™s two-year absence had begun to take its toll on the
disposition of the colonists. The next years, so soon after the founding of the
colony, would prove to be a turning point for Penn™s in¬‚uence. As the Assembly
and the Council struggled with one another, con¬dence in Penn was waning.
Because of serious mismanagement of the colony and an ensuing lack of trust
from his colonists, Penn was gradually becoming the object of resentment by
both the Assembly and the Council.64 Penn noted in 1686/87 that his “lettrs to
the P[rovincial] councel are so slightly regarded.” He further complained that
“I have with a religious minde consecrated my paines in a prudent frame [of
government], but I see it is not valued, understood, or kept.”65 Rather, Friends
were adhering to their own understanding of a legitimate constitution.
Friends™ disappointment at Penn™s long absence, the postponement of leg-
islation, and the miscommunication that transpired from erratic transatlantic
messages all conspired to encourage not just antiproprietary sentiment in gen-
eral, but anti-Penn feeling in particular. Penn™s apparent neglect of his own
colony, combined with his abilities to insulate the colony from the centralizing
effects of the English government, allowed the colonists to develop a unity
60 Markham to Penn, 22 August 1686. PWP, 3: 99.
61 Penington, Right, Safety and Liberty, 40.
62 Markham to Penn, 22 August 1686. PWP, 3: 99, 109.
63 Ibid., 99.
64 Nash, Quakers and Politics, 97.
65 Penn to James Harrison, 28th of the 11th mo., 1686-87, PWP, 3: 137.
114 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

amongst themselves as a people and practice and polish their own govern-
ing style.66 The situation was a sort of the “salutary neglect” that Edmund
Burke described in America as a whole in the years preceding the Revolution,
when Americans learned to govern themselves and became suspicious of any
intervention by remote powers. Similarly, as Penn became more remote from
his brethren, he quickly became the target of their suspicions.67 His authority
would be gradually and irrevocably undermined; he would never regain power
as the political leader of the colony, nor full respect as a political and spiritual
leader in his lifetime.
Contrary to the perceptions of the Assembly, as far as Penn and his closest
advisors were concerned, he had very little actual power. On the one hand,
Penn asserted con¬dently that “[the General Assembly] has no Powr but wt is
derived by me, as myn is from the King . . . I see I am to lett them know that tis
yet in my powr to make them need me.”68 On the other, Penn wrote numerous
letters to his con¬dants, lamenting his weakened condition as leader of his own
colony, and foretelling danger for those who would undermine his authority:
“I hope some of thos that once feared I had too much powr will now see I have
not enough, & that excess of powr does not the mischief that Licentiousness
does to a state, for tho the one oppresses the pocket, the other turns all to
confusion.”69 But Penn™s hopes were futile. Thomas Holme, a fellow Quaker
and devoted friend to Penn, wrote to him soon after that “one of the Generall
Assembly had the con¬dence or rather impudence publiquely to say amongst
them, he would or could give 1/2 his estate, that the Govr had not so much
power as he hath, & this by a Q[uaker].” He warned Penn that “[u]nless thou
hast more power, this Government will not thrive as it might.”70 In an ominous
expression of frustration, Penn wrote: “It almost tempts me to deliver up to
the K[ing] & lett a mercenary Goverr have the taming of them.”71 Little did
Friends know how close Penn was to acting on this impulse.
Quite apart from the practical implications of a disorderly and fractious gov-
ernment, Penn was very much concerned with the colonists™ spiritual welfare.
He was distressed by reports from his agents about their allegedly un-Quakerly
behavior and the corresponding judgment that Friends as a group were funda-
mentally “litigious & brutish.”72 Thomas Holme felt in a position to comment
candidly to Penn on the shortcomings of Friends in of¬ce. Not surprisingly, his
appraisal of the Quaker attitude toward government and authority are strongly
reminiscent of Massachusetts Puritans™ criticisms of Quakers, of the Anglicans™
in England, and of leading Friends™ during the Wilkinson-Story Controversy.

66 LL, 1: 39.
67 Clearly, as Tolles notes, this behavior bears a strong resemblance to Whig opposition (Meeting
House and Counting House, 14).
68 Penn to James Harrison, 28th of the 11th mo., 1686-87, PWP, 3: 137.
69 Penn to Thos. Lloyd, 17th of the 9th mo. 1686, PWP, 3: 129.
70 Holme to Penn, 25th of the 9th mo. 1686, PWP, 3: 131.
71 Penn to Thos. Lloyd, 17th of the 9th mo. 1686, PWP, 3:129.
72 Ibid., 128.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 115

“The want of veneration,” he observed, “to Magistracy, & Courts kept in
due order, & respect to them, is not the least cause of reproaches among us,
& many disorders and confusions ensue.” To Holme, the reason for this was
increasingly clear: “truly as things are here, makes me think sometimes, these
peopl are not worthy of such a Govr and Governt, nor ¬tted to rule themselfes,
or be ruled by a friend thats a Govr.”73 Quakers and governing, he concluded,
do not mix.
Some Quakers, including Penn, believed that the problem was that too
many Friends had forgotten the conciliatory principles in Quakerism, and that
the principles of the peace testimony should extend to everyday behavior and
not just the issue of war. They were hopeful that if these Quaker principles
were observed more carefully, the situation might improve. Penn hoped for
a revival of the restrictive aspects of Quaker process. If a few “weighty men
mett apart & waited on god for his minde & wisdom & in the sense &
authority,” he said, they might better be able to check the behavior of the
unruly ones.74 But the other Quaker principle of concern for individual rights
and privileges, and a willingness to suffer for them “ the libertine part of
the process “ was, from the perspective of some, superseding the desire for
peaceable conversation. Penn™s concerns grew and in 1686 he wrote, “I am
very much af¬‚icted in my Spirit that no Care is taken by those that have a
Concern for the Lord™s Name & Truth, by Perswasion or Authority to stop
these scurvy Quarrels, that break out, to the Disgrace of the Provinces.” Almost
worse was that this contentious behavior was taking its toll on the reputation
of Pennsylvania. “There is nothing but Good said of the Place, and little thats
Good said of the People,” Penn complained.75 Further, not only were Penn and
other elite members of the Quaker government concerned with their reputation
in England, but it had begun to occur to them that the Pennsylvania government
acted much differently than the governments of surrounding colonies. They
began to compare themselves unfavorably with their neighbors. The leaders
of Pennsylvania felt themselves in an unfortunately unique dilemma. William
Markham wrote to Penn that members of the Assembly “took large liberty
with Goverrs, wch I thought was not usual any where but here.”76
In 1687 in a desperate attempt to bring order to the colony in his absence,
Penn appointed ¬ve men “ the Commissioners of State “ to act collectively as
governor in his absence and gave explicit instructions “to suffer noe disorder
in Council nor the Council and Assembly or either of them to intrench upon
the powrs & Priviledges remaining yet in me.”77 Penn™s seeming partisanship
caused “much dissatisfaction” in the Assembly and instigated another con-
frontation. The Commissioners of State met with the Assembly which “Stood
73 Holme to Penn, 25th of the 9th mo. 1686, PWP, 3: 131.
74 Penn to Thos. Lloyd, 17th of the 9th mo. 1686, PWP, 3: 129.
75 Penn to James Harrison, November 20, 1686, Penn Papers, Domestic and Miscellaneous Letters,
31, HSP.
76 Markham to Penn, May 2, 1688, PWP, 3: 186“87.
77 Penn to the Commissioners of State, February 1, 1687, PWP, 3: 145.
116 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

Stiff For their Supposed previliges.” The next day they reconvened and again
“Fell into a Dispute of their priviliges,” which included confronting the Com-
missioners with a number of demands: to “see by what war[an]t they Could
pass Laws”; to view the original charter and an accurate record of the laws; and
to arrange a convenient and digni¬ed place they could meet with the Council
where they could sit, “For they looked upon it as a great Indignity to Stand
when they Came to the Councill.”78
As far as Penn and the Council were concerned, the Assembly was push-
ing beyond all reasonable boundaries and “touching upon many things not
belonging to them to {meddle wth}.” Markham described what he considered
the proper relationship of the Assembly to the Council. It was the same rela-
tionship as Fox and the other leaders had with the Society of Friends as a body.
They are “Brethren and Representatives of one body, only with {this} Differ-
ence that wee [the Council] may very well have the Elder Brothers place.”79 As
far as he was concerned, the Assembly was stepping out of the place ascribed
to them by God. “I Look upon the Councill and Assembly to be one Generall
assembly,” he explained, “and it were monstrous if it should be other wise as
much as one body have two heads or any other monstrous thing in Nature.”80
In most of their demands in this confrontation, Markham notes, the Assembly
“were Knock™d Downe rather then {gently} laid.”81 One can only speculate
about the quality of the conversation that ¬‚owed from the members of the
Council towards those of the Assembly.
By 1688, Pennsylvania government had become so factionalized, and Penn
felt his loss of control in the colony so acutely, that he committed what Friends
must have perceived as the ultimate betrayal. In a letter to his Commissioners
of State, he informed them of his appointment of John Blackwell, a Puritan
military man, to the position of governor of the colony. “For your ease,” he
wrote reassuringly, “[I] have appointed one, that is not a Friend, but a grave
sober wise man to be Goverr in my absence . . . I have ordered him to confer
in private with you, & square himself by your advice; but bear down with a
visible authority vice & faction, that it may not look a partiality in Frds to act
as they have done.” In other words, Penn told them that a man representing
all that Quakers had rejected would arrive and punish them all, regardless of
their previous good or bad behavior, and restore order with a heavy hand.
And in a most telling plea, signifying the depths to which this was a peculiarly
Quaker problem in Pennsylvania, Penn urged Quakers to “use his not being a
Friend, to Friends advantage.”82 As far as Penn was concerned, the problem in
Pennsylvania was a problem with Quakers, and, worst of all, they needed the
help of a Puritan to solve it.

78 Markham to Penn, July 21, 1688, PWP, 3: 196.
79 Ibid.
80 Ibid., 3: 197.
81 Ibid., 3: 196.
82 Penn to the Commissioners of State, 18th of the 7th mo. 1688, PWP, 3: 209“10.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 117

In hoping a ¬rm hand would restore order to his General Assembly, Penn
was blinded to how this appointment would affect Friends. It is clear that
Penn was privileging unity over dissent and popular power when he brought
in a Quaker arch-enemy to govern a self-consciously Quaker colony; but it
is hard to imagine his lack of foresight as to the animosity this would cause.
With Friends™ persecution at the hands of Massachusetts Puritans only a few
years behind them, and their disavowal of all things military, the decision
was disastrous to his relationship with them. Ironically, however, Penn™s ill-
conceived appointment achieved in part the result he sought. It caused the
previously bickering Quaker factions to unite ¬rmly “ but against him.
He may not have anticipated the new unity of the Assembly, but he was
not completely ignorant of the how they would react. Knowing full well the
propensity of the Assembly for resistance to authority, and in anticipation
of their dislike of Blackwell, Penn attempted to lay down the law. Prior to
Blackwell™s appointment, he delineated more clearly than ever his view of the
improper behavior of the Assembly, and outlined its proper sphere of activity.

[T]he Assembly, as they call themselves, is not so, without Govr & P[rovincial] councel
& that noe speaker, clark or book belong to them. that the people have their repre-
sentatives in the Pro. Councell . . . & the Assembly as it is called, has only the power
of I or no, yea or nay. If they turn debators, or Judges, or complainers, you overthrow
your charter quite, in the very root of the constitution of it. for that is to usurp the P.
councels part in the cha[rter] & to for¬t the charter it self . . . the Negative voice is by
that in them, & that is not a debateing, mending, altering, but an accepting or rejecting
powr.83

Clearly Penn believed that the actions of the Assembly were revolutionary and
out of keeping with Quaker political theory. But the Assembly had Quaker
process, theory, and history on their side.
Penn™s admonition did nothing to help Blackwell or curb the Assembly. The
Puritan governor™s tribulations with the Pennsylvania government is one of
the most colorful episodes of Quaker dissent during this period. Not only did
Blackwell™s appointment tarnish Penn™s reputation with his colonists, Blackwell
himself had a miserable time trying to ful¬ll his appointment. By his own
allowance, he was wholly unprepared to govern a colony of Quakers, admitting
his “unworthiness to manage so great trust and power over a people of so
different perswasions, and . . . principles from me.”84
Little did he realize how right he was. Penn™s letter to Friends informing
them of the appointment only meant they were forearmed in their battle against
Blackwell. They began their peaceful but vigorous resistance even before his
arrival. First, they ignored his letters announcing himself. Then, upon his arrival
at Penn™s home north of Philadelphia, he had no one to receive him but the
gardener, who “courteously intertayned” him. Once in Philadelphia as well, he

83 Ibid.
84 John Blackwell to Penn, January 25, 1689, PWP, 3: 218.
118 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

was ignored and avoided. All the Quaker politicians had mysteriously left town,
and Blackwell found himself standing alone in the street in front of William
Markham™s house “ the usual meeting place of the Council “ and taunted by a
large group of boys. When he ¬nally gained admittance to the meeting room, it
was deserted and dusty. But determined in his business, he “resolved [he] would
publish my Commission there before [he] removed, & that if no others came
[he] would call in the boys [from the street] to be witness of it.” When some
members of government ¬nally did arrive, Blackwell still received no words of
greeting, no offer to sit down, and, in short, no acknowledgment that he had
any business at all in their colony. Instead, they chided him for accosting them
with his business “in this publique and unusual manner,” suggesting it would
have been more appropriate to ¬rst pay them all a “friendly visit.”85
After this introduction to the Quaker political style, Blackwell was in for
more trouble. Friends blackballed him and did everything they could through-
out his tenure to inhibit his attempts to reform their government; but never
with the faintest threat of violence. In a very long and embittered letter to
Penn, Blackwell described the tactics of Friends in of¬ce in great detail and
leveled at them serious charges of corruption, deceit, evasion of duty, and
malfeasance. In speci¬c, one man seemed to lead the charge against Blackwell “
Thomas Lloyd. Weighty Friend and president of the Council, Lloyd was for-
merly a loyal supporter of Penn and advocate of his interests. Now, however,
his main interest was in thwarting Blackwell. Blackwell wrote to Penn that
Lloyd “tould me, he did not apprehend that my Commission from you gave
me suf¬cient authority to direct the setting of the great seal to any Commissions
(and yet at other times asserted he had authority to do it by his Commission
as Keeper [of the seal]).”86 With this, and other manipulative tactics, Lloyd
was “indeavoring to keep all your affayrs in the same posture of Laxness and
confusion, whereby into his managemt most of them are reduced.”87
In general, Friends were quite capable of effectively shutting down the gov-
ernment when it served them to do so. Their adept use of bureaucratic tactics
and nonattendance at government meetings “cloggs the wheels of indeavors
for your Service,” wrote Blackwell to Penn.88 Moreover, from their feigned
ignorance of procedure and demonstrated unwillingness to serve as provincial
of¬cials, Blackwell concluded that “the matter of Magistracy & Governmt
begins to be burthensome to some friends.”89 In sum, Blackwell observed that
“[t]he affayrs of your Province not only in the Generall, but most particu-
lars . . . are in a most confused frame and posture.” His assessment was that
some of the fault lay with Penn himself, for being too paci¬c as a governor.
“Instead of yielding obedience, in some things, there are [those] that support

85 Ibid., 3: 218“20.
86 Ibid., 3: 223.
87 Ibid., 3: 231.
88 Ibid., 3: 225.
89 Ibid., 3: 227.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 119

their unfriendliness towards you by the Honey of your concessions, having
tasted too much of it; more indeed than their stomachs can beare.”90 In the
¬nal grim analysis, Blackwell wrote, “The truth is, I ¬nd divers not only so
slothfull, but so opinionated of themselves, as, it™s dif¬cult to advise them
than to do many a businesses a man™s selfe.”91 Penn could not have received a
stronger recommendation to return to his colony and resume his place as active
governor.
The Assembly, however, was anything but disorganized. The chaotic appear-
ance they presented to Blackwell belied the process beneath it. They responded
to Blackwell™s charges in a wounded tone. A petition came to Penn jointly
from the Provincial Council and the Assembly, which at this point presented a
united front against both Blackwell and Penn. In the petition, they pled inno-
cently, “Wee know not that wee have givin any Just occasion of offence.” On
the contrary, they insisted they had been “the more Cautious & Circumspect”
since his appointment. The fault was rather Blackwell™s for being distrustful of
them and anticipating misbehavior. “He hath rather watched {us} for Evill,”
they claimed, “and takes downe every word wee Say in short hand whereby
to Insnare {or over awe or both} us.” The Assembly eventually decided that
Blackwell was an enemy of Quakerism. He was unsympathetic to the concerns
and processes that characterized the Quaker government and was determined
to undermine them. Thus they complained:
For want of true love to us & our Principle, he acts allmost in all things against us . . .
and Renders us . . . in the most odious terms as Factious, Mutinous, Seditious, turbulent
& the like For noe Just occasion given as wee know of, unlesse it be For our asserting
{in moderation & Soberness} our Just rights & libertyes and appearing unanimously in
Choice of our Representatives, & our Standing together as agst our knowne enimyes wth
Cautiousness & watchfullnesse and our unanimous resolvednesse as men & Christians
not to Suffer an Invasion upon our Charter & laws, wherein wee hope wee have
discharged a good Conscience to God.92

According to the General Assembly, they were merely trying to be good Quaker
governors, something Blackwell could not hope to understand.
And Friends were not wrong in their assessment of why Blackwell had dif-
¬culties. He con¬rmed it himself. In a revealing statement to Penn, Blackwell
summarized the underlying reason for his con¬‚ict with the Quakers: “I meddle
not with their Religeous but civill polity; though I could draw a parallel thence.”
Quaker religious practices and principles were the foundation of their politi-
cal structure. And this phenomenon, Blackwell believed, was already apparent
to Penn. “I doubt not but your piercing eye discerns it,” he wrote.93 Ulti-
mately, Blackwell too judged the Quakers to be ungovernable. “Your people
& tenents pretend to so high privileges from their charter & Laws” that they

90 Ibid., 3: 226.
91 Ibid., 3: 233.
92 Provincial Council to Penn, 9th of the 2nd mo. 1689. PWP, 3: 238.
93 Blackwell to Penn, 1 May 1689. PWP, 3: 243.
120 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

were unmanageable.94 In his letter of resignation to Penn, he concluded that it
was impossible “To govern a people who have not the principles of governmt
amongst them, nor will be informed.” Furthermore, nothing about Pennsyl-
vania suited him. “Besides,” he continued, “the Climate is over-hott, . . . the
hosts of Musqueetos are worse than of armed men,” and, in a ¬nal jab at the
Quakers and their paci¬st “ yet aggressive “ principles, he ¬nished, “the men
without Armes worse than [the Musqueetos].”95
In another act of desperation “ or resignation “ Penn removed Blackwell
and threw nearly the entire government into the hands of the Council. They
could pass their own laws, Penn allowed (“hold so long only as I shall not
declare my dissent”); choose their own deputy governor; and remember only
to “avoide factions & partys, whisperings & reportings, & all animositys.”96
Penn himself was gradually being reduced to the status he had originally given
the Assembly. In theory, he still retained a small amount of power. Rather than
conforming to Penn™s request for a deputy governor, however, in Quaker form,
the deputy governorship was assumed collectively by the Council.97 Soon Penn
would be entirely aware of the ultimate goals of his brethren in of¬ce. “Doe
you think,” he asked, “I am not sensible that all such would if they durst or
could, say, Away wth the Governor too?”98 They were intent on governing
themselves without interference from higher temporal authority.
With free rein given them, the Assembly was not at all worried about Penn
and his feeble protests from across the ocean. In vain he hoped that since they
could not seem to understand what it meant to bow to governmental authority
on their own, they should ¬nd a model to follow. “Let the Govmt know that
they are to follow the example of Maryland, and the other Provinces in reference
to their submission to Authority in all cases of governmt.”99 But neither did
this have any effect. Penn™s Quakers proceeded to disregard him more than
ever before, and shut him out almost completely from the workings of the
government. About the affairs of his own province he wrote, “I am wholly
in the dark.”100 He complained that he had little idea even about the laws of
the colony, since he had “long writt for a book of the Laws butt no body has
yet been pleased to send me one throughout the divers forms of Government
& administracion.”101 He was reduced to obtaining his information about
the activities of the General Assembly by word of mouth and then sending his
belated objections: “I hear the Assembly [is able] to exercise the power of a Cort
of Record And to debate & Contest with you upon occasion. Surely you doe
not consider how great a violation this is of the Charter that it is a usurpation

94 Ibid., 3: 244.
95 Ibid., 3: 252“53.
96 Penn to the Provincial Council, 12th of the 6th mo. 1689. PWP, 3: 253.
97 Blackwell to Penn, May 15, 1690, PWP, 3: 279.
98 Penn to the Provincial Council, 11th of the 9th mo. 1690, PWP, 3: 285.
99 Instructions to Blackwell, 25th Sept. 1689, PWP, 3: 262, n 20.
100 Penn to the Provincial Council, 15th of the 7th mo. 1690, PWP, 3: 284.
101 Ibid., 11th of the 9th mo. 1690, PWP, 3: 286.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 121

upon other parts of the government.”102 By this time, he too had begun to
compare his situation as Pennsylvania™s proprietor to that of the governors
and proprietors of neighboring colonies. “I cannot ¬nde,” he wrote bitterly,
“that either doctor cox [governor of West New Jersey] or l[or]d Baltimore [of
Maryland], are so used.”103
The General Assembly at this time was in their strongest position ever in
relation to Penn. They took this opportunity to caution Penn not to believe
“Misrepresentations” of their behavior and to remind him sternly about what
they believed was the true role of the Assembly and the powers that it should
have, and, as far as they were concerned, had always been a part of their
fundamental constitution. “No thing novell hath been introduced” since the
founding of the province, they argued. Not only did they outline the role of the
Assembly, they made it clear that they viewed Penn™s role as governor as quite
circumscribed.

We insist on those priveledges which thou hast Declared to be the undoubted rights of
the free borne English, which are not Cancelled by Coming hither, nor can be Lawfully
Denyed by thee, or abdicated and Dissolved by Us . . . Certainly the King our Soveraigne
Intends not that a Subject Shall Exercise greater power over his people in a forraign
plantation, then he Doth himself at home in parliaments . . . do thou take what is thine,
Suffering the people to take and Enjoy what is theirs according to what thou thy Self
hast published to the World.104

In what must have been a shock to Penn “ but hardly a surprise “ Friends also
clearly delineated where their loyalties lay. They informed Penn in no uncertain
terms that obedience to him was not their top priority. “Surely, Governr, our
¬dellity to thee is not native but Dative, not Universall but Locall.” With
this powerful assertion of their loyalty to Penn being but a gift given at their
pleasure, they fell back on their Quaker identity and principles in which God
and conscientious adherence to his law came before all.


The Keithian Controversy of 1690“1692 and Its Political Implications
During the ¬rst ten years of Pennsylvania government, it grew increasingly
clear that there were two groups of Quakers with opposing political views,
emphasizing different aspects of the Quaker understanding of government.
There were those who generally followed Penn and subscribed to the model
of Quaker ecclesiastical hierarchy and those who dissented from and opposed
his “ or anyone™s “ authority over them. Although these lines occasionally

102 Ibid.
103 Ibid., 15th of the 7th mo. 1690, PWP, 3: 284. Perhaps Penn chose a most convenient com-
parison and was intentionally blind to the behavior of most other colonial governments.
Interestingly, according to Jack Greene, Maryland was one of the colonies whose popular
Assembly made the least amount of progress toward achieving independence from the execu-
tive or proprietors. See Greene, Negotiated Authorities, 168“69.
104 The Provincial Council and Assembly to Penn, 18th of the 3rd mo. 1691, PWP, 3: 316“18.
122 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

blurred, this remained the general dynamic during the ¬rst years of the colony.
The differences between these factions, however, were more than just political.
They were differences that had always been present among Friends as a religious
body as well. The Keithian Controversy over theology and ecclesiastical power
in 1690 marked a decisive shift in political power from the elite leaders in
Pennsylvania government to the popular majority.105
In their ¬rst 180 years, Friends around the Atlantic world had a more or
less stable agreement on the fundamentals of theology and organization of
the religion with two exceptions “ the Keithian Controversy and, later, the
separation of the “Free Quakers” in the Revolution. Except for these, Quakers
retained enough uniformity on basic principles of faith and practice to keep
them together. From his experience in America during the 1770s, Cr` vec“ure
observed, “The Quakers are the only people who retain a fondness for their
own mode of worship; for, be they ever so far separated from each other,
they hold a sort of communion with the society, and seldom depart from its
rules, at least in this country.”106 Similarly, in 1788 Pennsylvania Friend James
Bringhurst con¬rmed this earlier observation, writing, “I expect the practices
of Friends in different places to be nearly the same in most respects.”107
The Keithian Controversy was named for George Keith, a long-time Friend,
minister, and one of the few Quakers who can rightly be called a theologian.
This controversy was a complicated internal dispute fueled initially by theolog-
ical challenges put forth by Keith to the leaders of the Society, but perpetuated
by political discontent among Pennsylvania Friends. It was the eruption of
a latent theological dispute that had been a cause of the political tensions in
Pennsylvania government over the preceding ten years. Now it manifested itself
in the political forum.108


105 Without minimizing the importance of this event in Quaker history, I have chosen to use the
word controversy rather than schism to describe this episode because, although a number of
Friends either left voluntarily or were disowned by PYM, a separate branch of Quakerism did
not arise as a result.
106 J. Hector St. John de Cr` vec“ur, Letters from an American Farmer (New York: Oxford
e
University Press, 1997), 50.
107 James Bringhurst to William Almy, 12th mo. 24th day 1788, Bringhurst Papers, FHL.
108 For a summary of the controversy, see J. William Frost™s introduction to The Keithian Contro-
versy in Early Pennsylvania (Norwood, PA: Norwood, 1980). Gary Nash was one of the ¬rst
to argue that this controversy had a signi¬cant effect on the political climate of the colony. But
he considered the motives of the historical actors to be primarily economic (Nash, Quakers and
Politics, 144“160). According to Nash, the Keithian Controversy was essentially a political
and economic struggle that expressed itself in religious terms. In an important corrective, Jon
Butler put forth another claim that “it was precisely because the schism was rooted in religion
that it disrupted Pennsylvania™s politics” (Jon Butler, “˜Gospel Order Improved™: The Keithian
Schism and the Exercise of Quaker Ministerial Authority in Pennsylvania,” WMQ vol. 31, no. 3
[1974]: 431“452, 432). Nash™s position has merit, but the matter cannot be understood that
simply. It makes more sense to follow Butler. For an alternate, yet complementary perspective
on the Controversy to the one put forth here, see Andrew Murphy, Conscience and Commu-
nity, 187“207.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 123

During the ¬rst decade of the province, Friends were thrown into a new
situation that tested their convictions. Almost overnight they went from being
despised and disenfranchised dissenters to politicians at the highest rank of
government. Being forced so suddenly to act on their principles brought crucial
differences among them to the fore. There had always been tensions in Quak-
erism between those who wanted freedom to follow divine revelation and
those who wanted more structure imposed on the individual and church. It is
not surprising that these two old competing strains would surface in this new
and challenging environment.109 These two conceptions of Quakerism were
represented by the competing factions in the Pennsylvania government. While
the Assembly practiced a popular, egalitarian Quakerism, the proprietary and
members of the elite Council advocated a more hierarchical version.
The Keithian Controversy unfolded along similar lines as the Wilkinson-
Story Controversy of the 1670s, but with some important digressions. Just as
John Wilkinson and John Story criticized and eventually separated from Friends
in England whom they believed were distorting the true spirit of Quakerism,
the Keithian Controversy grew from similar threats to success of the Quaker
experiment in America.110 Both controversies grew out of concerns that some
Friends had gained positions of power and were using that power to coerce
the consciences of other Friends. The dissenting Friends in both situations also
believed that the spiritual egalitarianism that was fundamental to Quakerism
was being undermined. Interestingly, the difference between these two dissent-
ing groups is an odd twist. Whereas Wilkinson and Story believed there was too
much structure imposed on Friends and not enough Light, Keith believed there
was too little structure and too much dependence on only the Light. From their
respective positions, both emphasized the potential for tyranny by the other
side.
The essence of Keith™s concern was that some Friends “ namely, supporters

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