His first book got him arrested. When the jury refused to convict him, the judge put both him and the jury in prison. Later, the writings of this radical man became foundational for the Constitution of the United States. If George Washington is the “Father of our nation,” then William Penn is the “Grandfather.”
William Penn said, “It is impossible that any people of government should ever prosper, where men render not unto God, that which is God’s, as well as to Caesar, that which is Caesar’s.”
To have faith, was to be involved.
Penn landed in a splintered land of disparate viewpoints and unyielding religious prejudices in 1682. The hardy colonists who had endured the religious persecution of Europe and the murderous seas of the North Atlantic were now resigned to religious fiefdoms in separate colonies that were often as treacherous as the religious tyranny they had fled.
In deep contrast, Penn had dreams of an open and free State, where biblical freedom was the foundational truth and no one was prosecuted because of his church or her beliefs. He settled in a place he named “Sylvania.” To assure Penn his rights, King Charles renamed it “Pennsylvania.” Penn named his first grand village “Philadelphia,” the “City of Brotherly Love.” His belief was that religion allowed freedom for men and harmony between them “since Religion itself is nothing else but Love to God and Man.” He wrote, “For where there is not Love; there is Fear: But perfect Love casts out fear. Love is above all; and when it prevails in us all, we shall all be Lovely, and in Love with God and one with another.”
In contrast to the theologies of the other colonies, Penn stood strong against people being forced to attend a certain church, or have the badge of one chosen sect to do business. Penn even paid the locals, the Native Americans, for the land that King Charles had given him.
Penn was revolutionary in how he governed his colony. He claimed that “if we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.”
His understanding of the Bible led him to advocate for and institute public education for all children, due process for people charged of crimes, equal rights for women, a free press, a written state constitution and a sense of brotherhood and mutual respect.
His methods and reasoning were so persuasive that his capital, Philadelphia, became the first capital of the new nation, the United States of America.
Penn’s life was fully absorbed by his faith in God, his belief in the veracity of the Bible and his sense of the uniqueness of all mankind. Far from becoming a religious bigot due to his unwavering belief in the Christian God, Penn based his arguments for all people to have religious freedom on the pages of the Scripture he loved. He wrote that people were “born with a title to perfect freedom and uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature.”
Penn wrote, “No one can be put out of his estate and subjected to the political view of another, without his consent.” Yet today public discourse is fraught with the demand that those with opposing views abdicate, or at the least quiet their views. Penn believed that everyone had a voice, that the Bible taught the involvement of all good people, with goodwill towards each other, and that all discussion lead, at the least, to a mutual respect.