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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
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

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
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
The essence of Keith™s concern was that some Friends “ namely, supporters
of the proprietary “ were placing too much emphasis on the Inward Light,
which caused them to deny the signi¬cance of Christ himself. Keith had an
understanding of Quaker theology from the earliest days “ he was present
when the church government was established and the Discipline written. Early
Friends, we should remember, tested their understanding of the Light against
Scripture and emphasized the importance of Christ as a human being and
his presence through the Holy Spirit. This understanding alone, rather than
any man-made religious institution, de¬ned the doctrine of the Inward Light.
When the ecclesiastical government was established in the 1670s, it respected
this understanding of the Light (though not according to Wilkinson and Story),
while providing the additional guiding structure that came from a corporate

109 In a later essay, Butler notes that criticism of elite Friends was known prior to and independently
of Keith™s. See “Into Pennsylvania™s Spiritual Abyss: The Rise and Fall of the Later Keithians,
1693“1703,” PMHB vol. 101 (1977), 151“70.
110 Butler, “Gospel Order,” 433.
124 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

Although some have seen Keith as hyper-intellectual and fundamentally
misguided when it came to Quaker theology, it seems, rather, that Keith was
more in keeping with the Quakerism of the Friends™ early years than most of his
contemporaries.111 Many of the points Quakers have used to prove that Keith
was out of step with Friends in general “ including his intellectual approach to
Quakerism, his interest in Jewish mysticism, and his familiarity with German
mysticism “ actually show him to have had even stronger similarities with
esteemed Quaker leaders such as Fox and Barclay.112 In fact, in Keith™s brief,
unpublished tract, “Gospel Order Improved,” his purpose was to rekindle an
understanding among Friends of the aims and standards of these early Friends,
not to create some new form of Quakerism.113
Keith™s understanding of Quakerism clearly contrasted with that of many
of the elite Quaker members of the General Assembly. Some Pennsylvania
Friends had moved away from what had become the orthodox Quakerism
of the 1670s and had begun to insist “That the Light is suf¬cient without
anything else, thereby excluding the Man Christ Jesus without us, and his
Death & Sufferings, Resurrection, Ascention, Mediation & Intercession for
us in Heaven, from having any part or share in our Salvation; and thereby
making him only a Titular, but no real Saviour.”114 According to Keith, this
was a dangerous assertion. It essentially separated the guiding principles of
history, Scripture, and community from the Light and allowed the individual
to interpret the Light freely to his own advantage. The result, he believed, was
that some Friends in high places claimed to be able to understand the leadings
of the Light through their own abilities entirely. It became very easy, then, for
ministers and elders to place themselves above the body of Friends and bear rule
over them by claiming a higher understanding of God™s law. These ministers, he
charged, “uphold and defend [the elders] in their Tyrannical Usurpation over
your Consciences, as if ye were only to see with their Eyes, and hear with their
Ears, and not with your own, and that ye were to take all things without all
due Examination and Tryal, by implicit Faith, Papist-like, from them.”115 The
government of the Yearly Meeting in Philadelphia, Keith charged, had become a
dictatorship of sorts, rather than a uni¬ed fellowship of believers deciding their
path as one. The Yearly Meeting, he wrote, was “not any true Representative
of the Body [of Friends] . . . but a Party or Faction of people . . . against the
Truth”116 The problem was, as always, where authority lay.
Accordingly, Keith proposed a new organization for church government.
His vision of it had more structure “ a stronger, more imposing Discipline

111 Ethyn Williams Kirby, George Keith, 1636“1716 (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company,
112 Butler, “Gospel Order,” 432“33, 435.
113 Ibid., 436.
114 George Keith, An Appeal from the Twenty Eight Judges to the Spirit of Truth & True Judgment
in all Faithful Friends, called Quakers (Philadelphia, 1692), 5.
115 Ibid., 2.
116 Ibid.
Constituting a Quaker Government in Pennsylvania 125

and more dependence on knowledge and interpretation of Scripture “ but was
fundamentally more egalitarian and designed expressly to keep individuals
from claiming absolute power based on an irrefutable understanding of the
Although at ¬rst Keith con¬ned his criticisms to the religious sector, it was
not long, considering how closely they were connected, for civil crimes before
he extended them to the political. The fact that he was put on trial by Thomas
Lloyd, his main adversary in the dispute, must have encouraged this exten-
sion.117 In An Appeal from the Twenty Eight Judges (1692), Keith accused
Quaker magistrates loyal to Penn of betraying their religious principles while in
of¬ce. Not only, Keith charged, had tyrannical ministers threatened believers by
dominating processes within the church government, but they had encroached
upon the civil government in a manner most inappropriate to Friends. Much
like William Penn who challenged the English government on its mixing of
church and state, he asked “[w]hether there is any Example or [Precedent] for
it [in] Scripture, or in all Christendom, that Ministers should eagress [sic] the
Worldly Government, as they do here? which hath proved of a very evil Ten-
dency.”118 As if this were not bad enough, church government, Keith argued,
was coming to resemble the civil government “ authority from the top down.
The Keithian Controversy revealed that Quaker church government, as Quaker
civil government, had strayed from the original balance that it had as a represen-
tative democracy and was becoming an oligarchy “ or perhaps a dictatorship.
Keith was disowned by the meeting, but interestingly, it is not clear that
it was because of his theological assertions. It seems, rather, that it was his
“walking” that was the problem. He was warned about his deportment, but
he scorned descriptions of his “rude and unchristian-like behavior.”119 He
minimized such charges, attacked his opponents on doctrinal grounds, and,
adding abuse onto abuse, claimed that calling them “ignorant Heathens” was
not “railing or ungodly speech.”120 He accused them of prioritizing process
above Truth when he said they cared more that members “come to Meetings,
and use plain Language and plain Habit” than about what they believed. While
dissent was vital to the Quaker meeting, Friends were as concerned with the
process of dissent “ how one dissented “ as the ends. It may have been Keith™s
delivery of the message as much as the message itself that was offensive to
Thus, although Keith™s remedy for the church government was rejected by
London Yearly Meeting, and Keith himself was disowned, a change in civil
government was on the way.121

117 PWP, 3: 375, n. 6.
118 Keith, Appeal, 7.
119 Minutes from the Meeting of Ministers, March 5, 1692, in Frost, Keithian Controversy, 140.
120 George Keith, The plea of the innocent against the false judgment of the guilty . . . (Philadelphia,
1692), 7.
121 At this point in time, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting still generally deferred to the sense of London
Yearly Meeting.
126 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

The 1696 Frame of Government
The largest effect of the Keithian Controversy was still a few years away. In
the immediate future, great changes in the political situation in England were
about to affect Pennsylvania. By 1692, after the Glorious Revolution, William
and Mary were on the throne, and Penn was under suspicion of treason for his
former dealings with James II. It did not help matters for Penn that Pennsylvania
had gained a reputation as a disruptive, disorderly, and disobedient colony. Not
only did the Pennsylvania government ignore Penn™s laws and directives, it also
de¬ed the crown on a number of issues, including evading the laws in the
Navigation Acts, refusing to support the crown in its war with France, and
resisting to take or administer oaths.
Because of these circumstances, in 1692 William and Mary deprived Penn of
his government in Pennsylvania. Once he was removed, in 1693 Pennsylvania
was annexed to New York with Benjamin Fletcher, an Anglican military man,
as governor of both. Fletcher™s appointment was perceived as a threat by some
Quakers but a boon by others. Penn™s objection to Fletcher stemmed from his
concern that Quakers remain autonomous from the crown and preserve their
unique liberties, but other Friends “ those who had been swayed by Keith™s
arguments “ welcomed him as a reprieve from Penn and the domination of the
With Fletcher™s arrival in Pennsylvania, two parallel oppositional campaigns
were launched, both using established methods of Quaker resistance. First,
and most apparently, the Quaker elite “ Penn™s supporters “ embarked on
a program of obstruction against Fletcher.122 As they had with Blackwell,
they thwarted every attempt Fletcher made to achieve his political ends. Only
this time, Penn encouraged them. Since he was denied any part in his own
government by the crown, Penn reasoned that the remaining Quakers “must
have the part alone . . . to [stand] upon their Patent agst the commission of the
Gov. of N. York.” In an interesting twist in colonial governance in general, yet
in true Quaker form, Penn led the resistance against the governor, outlining
the legal steps they were to take should Fletcher threaten their interests: “draw
up yr exceptions descreetly & fully & Lay them before the Lords of Plantation
here, & frds concerned in the Province here will appear for the Prov. & if
that dont do, Westminster Hall, & if that fail, the hous of Lords will do us
right.”123 Although Penn did not write a public letter, preferring to “whisper

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