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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

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