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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

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