William Penn

What state is called the Quaker State? Why is it called the Quaker State? What is a Quaker?
A Quaker is a member of a religious group called the “Society of Friends.” Why did people call them Quakers? Their leader told them “to fear the Lord and quake at His words.” Who was the leader of the Quakers? William Penn. The state of Pennsylvania, which means “Penn’s woods,” was named for him.
It took all kinds of people to make America. Most of them were humble folk led by such sturdy members of the middle class as Capt. John Smith of Virginia and Miles Standish of the early Plymouth Colony. These were plain people, seeking a better life—the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed. There were religious groups such as the Pilgrims, the Puritans, and the Quakers seeking to establish a spiritual community where everyone could worship God according to their own conscience.
William Penn was no humble commoner. He was an aristocrat, the son of a famous admiral of the British navy. Penn was wealthy, well educated, trained in the law. He was handsome and had excellent manners, which soon won him respect and friends in high places and at the Court of the King of England.
By chance, he met a Quaker preacher and out of that brief contact, William Penn became a man with a great faith and noble purpose in life. He turned his back on the Court and became an apostle of freedom of religion, a severe critic of frivolity and luxury and a champion of the common people and an advocate of peace. He was jailed several times for his liberal and religious convictions.
More than 300 years ago, Penn was made one of the trustees to manage a Quaker colony in New Jersey owned by several Quaker friends. In 1681, he was granted a huge tract of land north of Maryland that he named Penn’s Woods or Pennsylvania. He later was granted the territory known as Delaware.
In these new grants, Penn began to work out what he called a “holy experiment.” He planned colonies for his persecuted Quakers. He based his colonies on religious freedom and representative government and people of any faith or nationality were invited to come and live in peace with a government devised by Penn that was liberal and representative of all the people. All the fundamental rights of the people were guaranteed in his constitution or “Frame of Government.”
William Penn only lived in Pennsylvania four years in all. He came over for two years and built an estate on the Delaware River. He made peace with the Indians. He arranged for the laying out of the city of Philadelphia. He established a permanent government and began attracting thousands of colonists to his new colony.
He returned to England and used his good influence on the King to release 1200 Quakers who were in prison. While in England he focused his attention on one of the great tenets of the Quaker faith—the prevention of war. He published “An Essay Toward Present and Future Peace.” This recommended an organization to resolve international disputes before they break out in open war. This was 250 years before the United Nations was organized. Penn also made a proposal in his essay entitled “Plan of Union” for the 13 colonies. This was 78 years before the FirstCcontinental Congress met in Philadelphia.
Penn came back to visit his colonies again for about two years. In all William Penn spent less than four years in America, yet his influence and his contribution to the Colonies was more important than any settler or colonizer of the New World. He was prominent in establishing three colonies—New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. He practiced and preached religious freedom. He was a great humanitarian in a brutal and inhumane world. His ideas of religious freedom and representative government have in the long course of time become a part and parcel of our heritage and tradition of democracy.
Next time you are in Philadelphia look at the statue of William Penn atop the City Hall. Penn’s hand rests on an open book wherein we read: “Lo, I go to prepare a place for thee.”

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