William Penn

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There can be no Friendship where there is no Freedom. Friendship loves a free Air, and will not be penned up in streight and narrow Enclosures.

William Penn (14 October 164430 July 1718) was a Quaker who founded the Province of Pennsylvania, the British North American colony that became the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The democratic and libertarian principles that he set forth served as an inspiration for the United States Constitution.

Quotes[edit]

My prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot; for I owe my conscience to no mortal man.
I shall not usurp the right of any, or oppress his person. God has furnished me with a better resolution and has given me his grace to keep it.
  • You are now fixed at the mercy of no governor that comes to make his fortune great; you shall be governed by laws of your own making and live a free, and if you will, a sober and industrious life. I shall not usurp the right of any, or oppress his person. God has furnished me with a better resolution and has given me his grace to keep it.
    • Letter to those already residing in Pennsylvania (1681)
  • There is one great God and power that has made the world and all things therein, to whom you and I and all people owe their being and well-being, and to whom you and I must one day give an account for all that we do in this world. This great God has written his law in our hearts, by which we are taught and commanded to love and help and do good to one another, and not to do harm and mischief one unto another. Now this great God has been pleased to make me concerned in your parts of the world, and the king of the country where I live has given unto me a great province therein, but I desire to enjoy it with your friends, else what would the great God say to us, who has made us not to devour and destroy one another, but live soberly and kindly together in the world.
    Now I would have you well observe, that I am very sensible of the unkindness and injustice that has been too much exercised towards you by the people of these parts of the world, who have sought themselves, and to make great advantages by you, rather than be examples of justice and goodness unto you; which I hear has been matter of trouble to you and caused great grudgings and animosities, sometimes to the shedding of blood, which has made the great god angry. But I am not such man as is well known in my own country. I have great love and regard toward you, and I desire to win and gain your love and friendship by a kind just, and peaceable life; and the people I send are of the same mind, and shall in all things behave themselves accordingly.
    • Letter to the Lenape Nation (18 October 1681); as published in William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania 1680 - 1684: A Documentary History, (1983) edited by Jean R. Soderlund, University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • BECAUSE no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship: And Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits; and the Author as well as Object of all divine Knowledge, Faith and Worship, who only doth enlighten the Minds, and persuade and convince the Understandings of People, I do hereby grant and declare, That no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.
    • Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges (28 October 1701)
  • All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishment or modes of worship.
    • Declaration of Rights
  • If thou wouldst rule well, thou must rule for God, and to do that, thou must be ruled by Him. Those who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.

No Cross, No Crown (1682)[edit]

Written while a prisoner in the Tower of London (1668-1669)
  • No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.
  • True religion does not draw men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.

Frame of Government (1682)[edit]

This went through some early revisions, some of which are also quoted below; full title: The frame of the government of the province of Pennsylvania, in America, together with certain laws agreed upon in England by the governor and divers freemen of the aforesaid province, to be further explained and continued there by the first provincial council that shall be held, if they see meet. · Full text online at American Idea
  • Men being born with a title to perfect freedom and uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature... no one can be put out of his estate and subjected to the political view of another, without his consent.
    • First Frame of Government (25 April 1682)
  • Government seems to me to be a part of religion itself — a thing sacred in its institutions and ends.
    • Preface to the Charter of Liberties and Frame of Government of the Province of Pennsylvania in America (5 May 1682)
  • When the great and wise God had made the world, of all his creatures, it pleased him to chuse man his Deputy to rule it: and to fit him for so great a charge and trust, he did not only qualify him with skill and power, but with integrity to use them justly. This native goodness was equally his honour and his happiness; and whilst he stood here, all went well; there was no need of coercive or compulsive means; the precept of divine love and truth, in his bosom, was the guide and keeper of his innocency. But lust prevailing against duty, made a lamentable breach upon it; and the law, that before had no power over him, took place upon him, and his disobedient posterity, that such as would not live comformable to the holy law within, should fall under the reproof and correction of the just law without, in a judicial administration.
  • I know what is said by the several admirers of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, which are the rule of one, a few, and many, and are the three common ideas of government, when men discourse on the subject. But I chuse to solve the controversy with this small distinction, and it belongs to all three: Any government is free to the people under it (whatever be the frame) where the law rules, and the people are a party to those laws, and more than this is tyranny, oligarchy, or confusion.
  • Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men, than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But, if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.

Fruits of Solitude (1693)[edit]

Full title: Some Fruits of Solitude In Reflections And Maxims
  • Reader, - This Enchiridion, I present thee with, is the Fruit of Solitude: A School few care to learn in, tho' None Instructs us better. Some Parts of it are the Result of serious Reflection: Others the Flashings of Lucid Intervals: Writ for private Satisfaction, and now publish'd for an Help to Human Conduct.
    • The Preface
  • There is nothing of which we are apt to be so lavish as of Time, and about which we ought to be more solicitous; since without it we can do nothing in this World. Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst; and for which God will certainly most strictly reckon with us, when Time shall be no more.
    • The Preface
  • Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than from the arguments of its opposers.
  • They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.
  • Men are generally more careful of the breed of their horses and dogs than of their children.
  • It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.
  • Passion is a sort of fever in the mind, which ever leaves us weaker than it found us.
  • The public must and will be served.
  • It is admirable to consider how many Millions of People come into, and go out of the World, Ignorant of themselves, and of the World they have lived in. (1)
  • Children had rather be making of Tools and Instruments of Play; Shaping, Drawing, Framing, and Building, &c. than getting some Rules of Propriety of Speech by Heart: And those also would follow with more Judgment, and less Trouble and Time. (8)
  • It were Happy if we studied Nature more in natural Things; and acted according to Nature; whose rules are few, plain and most reasonable. (9)
  • They have a Right to censure, that have a Heart to help: The rest is Cruelty, not Justice. (46)
  • Hasty resolutions are of the nature of vows, and to be equally avoided. (187)
  • Friendship is the next Pleasure we may hope for: And where we find it not at home, or have no home to find it in, we may seek it abroad. It is an Union of Spirits, a Marriage of Hearts, and the Bond thereof Vertue.
  • There can be no Friendship where there is no Freedom. Friendship loves a free Air, and will not be penned up in streight and narrow Enclosures. It will speak freely, and act so too; and take nothing ill where no ill is meant; nay, where it is, ’twill easily forgive, and forget too, upon small Acknowledgments.
  • Friends are true Twins in Soul; they Sympathize in every thing, and have the Love and Aversion. One is not happy without the other, nor can either of them be miserable alone. As if they could change Bodies, they take their turns in Pain as well as in Pleasure; relieving one another in their most adverse Conditions.What one enjoys, the other cannot Want. Like the Primitive Christians, they have all things in common, and no Property but in one another.
  • It were better to be of no Church, than to be bitter for any.(535)
  • A good End cannot sanctifie evil Means; nor must we ever do Evil, that Good may come of it. Some Folks think they may Scold, Rail, Hate, Rob and Kill too; so it be but for God's sake. But nothing in us unlike him, can please him. (537-539)
  • They must first judge themselves, that presume to censure others: And such will not be apt to overshoot the Mark. We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive, or gain by Love and Information. And yet we could hurt no Man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: For if Men did once see we Love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: And he that forgives first, wins the Lawrel. If I am even with my Enemy, the Debt is paid; but if I forgive it, I oblige him for ever. (542 - 547)
  • It is a severe Rebuke upon us, that God makes us so many Allowances, and we make so few to our Neighbor: As if Charity had nothing to do with Religion; Or Love with Faith, that ought to work by it. (549)
  • Did we believe a final Reckoning and Judgment; or did we think enough of what we do believe, we would allow more Love in Religion than we do; since Religion it self is nothing else but Love to God\ and Man. He that lives in Love lives in God, says the Beloved Disciple: And to be sure a Man can live no where better. It is most reasonable Men should value that Benefit, which is most durable. Now Tongues shall cease, and Prophecy fail, and Faith shall be consummated in Sight, and Hope in Enjoyment; but Love remains. (551-553)
  • Love is indeed Heaven upon Earth; since Heaven above would not be Heaven without it: For where there is not Love; there is Fear: But perfect Love casts out Fear. And yet we naturally fear most to offend what we most Love. What we Love, we'll Hear; what we Love, we'll Trust; and what we Love, we'll serve, ay, and suffer for too. If you love me (says our Blessed Redeemer) keep my Commandments. Why? Why then he'll Love us; then we shall be his Friends; then he'll send us the Comforter; then whatsover we ask, we shall receive; and then where he is we shall be also, and that for ever. Behold the Fruits of Love; the Power, Vertue, Benefit and Beauty of Love! 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. (554-556)

Advice to his children (1699)[edit]

  • Children, Fear God; that is to say, have an holy awe upon your minds to avoid that which is evil, and a strict care to embrace and do that which is good.
  • Be humble. It becomes a creature, a depending and borrowed being, that lives not of itself, but breathes in another's air with another's breath, and is accountable for every moment of time and can call nothing its own, but is absolutely a tenant at will of the great Lord of heaven and earth.
  • Much reading is an oppression of the mind, and extinguishes the natural candle, which is the reason of so many senseless scholars in the world.


Misattributed[edit]

  • I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
    • This quote is often attributed to William Penn, but there are no records of it before the 19th century, and its actual source seems to have most likely been another prominent Quaker, Stephen Grellet.
  • No men, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters.

Quotes about Penn[edit]

William Penn was the first great hero of American liberty. ~ Jim Powell
Sorted alphabetically by author or source
As a man of peace, William Penn was conscientiously opposed to war as a means of settling international disputes and worked toward its elimination by proposing the establishment of a Parliament of Nations, not unlike the present-day United Nations. ~ Ronald Reagan
  • In the history of this Nation, there has been a small number of men and women whose contributions to its traditions of freedom, justice, and individual rights have accorded them a special place of honor in our hearts and minds, and to whom all Americans owe a lasting debt...
    William Penn, as a British citizen, founded the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to carry out an experiment based upon representative government; public education without regard to race, creed, sex, or ability to pay; and the substitution of workhouses for prisons. He had a Quaker's deep faith in divine guidance, and as the leader of the new colony, he worked to protect rights of personal conscience and freedom of religion. The principles of religious freedom he espoused helped to lay the groundwork for the First Amendment of our Constitution.
    As a man of peace, William Penn was conscientiously opposed to war as a means of settling international disputes and worked toward its elimination by proposing the establishment of a Parliament of Nations, not unlike the present-day United Nations.
  • William Penn might, with reason, boast of having brought down upon earth the Golden Age, which in all probability, never had any real existence but in his dominions.
  • It was the only treaty made by the settlers with the Indians that was never sworn to, and the only one that was never broken.
    • Voltaire, contrasting Penn's treaty with the Delaware (Leni Lenape) Indians, with most others that had been made in the colonization of America. (citation needed)
    • Variant translation: No oaths, no seals, no official mummeries were used; the treaty was ratified on both sides with a yea, yea — the only one, says Voltaire, that the world has known, never sworn to and never broken.
      • As quoted in William Penn : An Historical Biography (1851) by William Hepworth Dixon

External links[edit]

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Penn's works online[edit]