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   Chapter 5 THE BEGINNING OF PENN'S POLITICAL LIFE THE HOLY EXPERIMENT

William Penn By George Hodges Characters: 14768

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In 1673, George Fox came back from his travels in America, and Penn and his wife had great joy in welcoming him at Bristol. No sooner, however, had Fox arrived than the Declaration of Indulgence was withdrawn. It had met with much opposition: partly ecclesiastical, from those who saw in it a scheme to re?stablish relations between Rome and England; and partly political, from those who found but an ill precedent in a royal decree which set aside parliamentary legislation. The religious liberty which it gave was good, but the way in which that liberty was given was bad. What was needed was not "indulgence," but common justice. So the king recalled the Declaration, and Parliament being not yet ready to enact its provisions into law, the prisons were again filled with peaceable citizens whose offense was their religion. One of the first to suffer was Fox, and in his behalf Penn went to court. He appealed to the Duke of York.

The incident is significant as the beginning of another phase of William's life. Thus far, he had been a Quaker preacher. Though he was unordained, being in a sect which made nothing of ordination, he was for all practical purposes a minister of the gospel. He was the Rev. William Penn. But now, when he opened the door of the duke's palace, he entered into a new way of living, in which he continued during most of the remainder of his life. He began to be a courtier; he went into politics. He was still a Quaker, preaching sermons and writing books of theological controversy; he gave up no religious conviction, and abated nothing of the earnestness of his personal piety; but he had found, as he believed, another and more effective way to serve God. He now began to enter into that valuable but perilous heritage which had been left him by his father, the friendship of royalty.

Penn found the duke's antechamber filled with suitors. It seemed impossible to get into the august presence. But Colonel Ashton, one of the household, looked hard at Penn, and found in him an old companion, a friend of the days when William was still partaking of the joys of pleasant society. Ashton immediately got him an interview, and Penn delivered his request for the release of Fox. The duke received him and his petition cordially, professing himself opposed to persecution for religion's sake, and promising to use his influence with the king. "Then," says Penn, "when he had done upon this affair, he was pleased to take a very particular notice of me, both for the relation my father had had to his service in the navy, and the care he had promised to show in my regard upon all occasions." He expressed surprise that William had not been to see him before, and said that whenever he had any business with him, he should have immediate entrance and attention.

Fox was not set at liberty by reason of this interview. The king was willing to pardon Fox, but Fox was not willing to be pardoned; having, as he insisted, done no wrong. Penn, however, had learned that the royal duke remembered the admiral's son. It was an important fact, and William thereafter kept it well in mind. That it was a turning-point in his affairs, appears in his reference to it in a letter which he wrote in 1688 to a friend who had reproached him for his attendance at court. "I have made it," he says, "my province and business; I have followed and pressed it; I took it for my calling and station, and have kept it above these sixteen years."

Penn went back to Rickmansworth, and for a time life went on as before. We get a glimpse of it in the good and wholesome orders which he established for the well-governing of his family. In winter, they were to rise at seven; in summer at five. Breakfast was at nine, dinner at twelve, supper at seven. Each meal was preceded by family prayers. At the devotions before dinner, the Bible was read aloud, together with chapters from the "Book of Martyrs," or the writings of Friends. After supper, the servants appeared before the master and mistress, and gave an account of their doings during the day, and got their orders for the morrow. "They were to avoid loud discourse and troublesome noises; they were not to absent themselves without leave; they were not to go to any public house but upon business; and they were not to loiter, or enter into unprofitable talk, while on an errand."

With the canceling of the Indulgence, the persecution of the Quakers was renewed. Their houses were entered, their furniture was seized, their cattle were driven away, and themselves thrust into jail. When no offense was clearly proved against them, the oath was tendered, and the refusal to take it meant a serious imprisonment.

Under these circumstances, Penn wrote a "Treatise on Oaths." He also addressed the general public with "England's Present Interest Considered," an argument against the attempt to compel uniformity of belief. He petitioned the king and Parliament in "The Continued Cry of the Oppressed." "William Brazier," he said, "shoemaker at Cambridge, was fined by John Hunt, mayor, and John Spenser, vice-chancellor, twenty pounds for holding a peaceable religious meeting in his own house. The officer who distrained for this sum took his leather last, the seat he worked upon, wearing clothes, bed, and bedding." "In Cheshire, Justice Daniel of Danesbury took from Briggs and others the value of one hundred and sixteen pounds, fifteen shillings and tenpence in coin, kine, and horses. The latter he had the audacity to retain and work for his own use," and so on, instance after instance. Penn's acquaintance at court and his friendships with persons of position never made him an aristocrat. He was fraternally interested in farmers and cobblers, and cared for the plain people. Quakerism, as he held it, was indeed a system of theology which he studiously taught, but it was also, and quite as much, a social and intellectual democracy. What he mightily liked about it was that abandonment of artificial distinctions, whereby all Quakers addressed their neighbors by their Christian names, and that refusal to be held by formulas of faith, whereby they were left free to accept such beliefs, and such only, as appealed to their own reason.

About this time he engaged in controversy with Mr. Richard Baxter. Baxter is chiefly remembered as the author of "The Saints' Everlasting Rest," but he was a most militant person, who rejoiced greatly in a theological fight. Passing by Rickmansworth, and finding many Quakers there,-to him a sad spectacle,-he sought to reclaim them, and thus fell speedily into debate with Penn. The two argued from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon, a great crowd listening all the time with breathless interest. Neither could get the other to surrender; but so much did William enjoy the exercise that he offered Baxter a room in his house, that they might argue every day.

In 1677, having now removed to an estate of his wife's at Worminghurst, in Sussex, Penn, in company with Fox, Barclay, and other Quakers, made a "religious voyage" into Holland and Germany, preaching the gospel. His journal of these travels is printed in his works. "At Osnaburg," he writes, "we had a little time with the man of the inn where we lay; and left him several good books of Friends, in the High and Low Dutch tongues, to read and dispose of." Then, in the next sente

nce, he continues, "the next morning, being the fifth day of the week, we set forward to Herwerden, and came thither at night. This is the city where the Princess Elizabeth Palatine hath her court, whom, and the countess in company with her, it was especially upon us to visit." Thus they went, ministering to high and low alike, in their democratic Christian way making no distinction between tavern-keepers and princesses. As they talked with Elizabeth and her friend the countess, discoursing upon heavenly themes, they were interrupted by the rattling of a coach, and callers were announced. The countess "fetched a deep sigh, crying out, 'O the cumber and entanglements of this vain world! They hinder all good.' Upon which," says William, "I replied, looking her steadfastly in the face, 'O come thou out of them, then.'" This journey was of great importance as affecting afterwards the population of Pennsylvania. Here it was that Penn met various communities "of a separating and seeking turn of mind," who found in him a kindred spirit. When he established his colony, many of them came out and joined it, becoming the "Pennsylvania Dutch."

During these travels Penn wrote letters to the Prince Elector of Heidelberg, to the Graf of Bruch and Falschenstein, to the King of Poland, together with an epistle "To the Churches of Jesus throughout the world." This was a kind of correspondence in which he delighted. Like Wesley, after him, he had taken the world for his parish. He considered himself a citizen of the planet, and took an episcopal and pontifical interest in the affairs of men and nations. He combined in an unusual way the qualities of the saint and the statesman. His mind was at the same time religious and political. Accordingly, as he came to have a better acquaintance with himself, he entered deliberately upon a course of life in which these two elements of his character could have free play. He applied himself to the task of making politics contribute to the advancement of religion. Many men before him had been eminently successful in making politics contribute to the advancement of the church. Penn's purpose was deeper and better.

He came near, at this time, to getting Parliament to assent to a provision permitting Quakers to affirm, without oath; but the sudden proroguing of that body prevented it. In the general election which followed, he made speeches for Algernon Sidney, who was standing for a place in Parliament. He wrote "England's Great Interest in the Choice of a New Parliament," and "One Project for the Good of England." The project was that Protestants should stop contending one with another and unite against a common enemy.

This was in 1679. The next year he took the decisive step. He entered upon the fulfillment of that great plan, which had been in his mind since his student days at Oxford, and with which he was occupied all the rest of his life. He began to undertake the planting of a colony across the sea.

Penn had already had some experience in colonial affairs. With the downfall of the Dutch dominion in the New World, England had come into possession of two important rivers, the Hudson and the Delaware, and of the countries which they drained. Of these estates, the Duke of York had become owner of New Jersey. He, in turn, dividing it into two portions, west and east, had sold West Jersey to Lord Berkeley, and East Jersey to Sir George Carteret. Berkeley had sold West Jersey to a Quaker, John Fenwick, in trust for another Quaker, Edward Byllinge. These Quakers, disagreeing, had asked Penn to arbitrate between them. Byllinge had fallen into bankruptcy, and his lands had been transferred to Penn as receiver for the benefit of the creditors. Thus William had come into a position of importance in the affairs of West Jersey. Presently, in 1679, East Jersey came also into the market, and Penn and eleven others bought it at auction. These twelve took in other twelve, and the twenty-four appointed a Quaker governor, Robert Barclay.

Now, in 1680, having had his early interest in America thus renewed and strengthened, Penn found that the king was in his debt to the amount of sixteen thousand pounds. Part of this money had been loaned to the king by William's father, the admiral; part of it was the admiral's unpaid salary. Mr. Pepys has recorded in his diary how scandalously Charles left his officers unpaid. The king, he says, could not walk in his own house without meeting at every hand men whom he was ruining, while at the same time he was spending money prodigally upon his pleasures. Pepys himself fell into poverty in his old age, accounting the king to be in debt to him in the sum of twenty-eight thousand pounds.

Penn considered his account collectible. "I have been," he wrote, "these thirteen years the servant of Truth and Friends, and for my testimony's sake lost much,-not only the greatness and preferment of the world, but sixteen thousand pounds of my estate which, had I not been what I am, I had long ago obtained." It is doubtful, however, if the king would have ever paid a penny. It is certain that when William offered to exchange the money for a district in America, Charles agreed to the bargain with great joy.

The territory thus bestowed was "all that tract or part of land in America, bounded on the east by the Delaware River, from twelve miles northward of New Castle town unto the three and fortieth degree of northern latitude. The said land to extend westward five degrees in longitude, to be computed from the said eastern bounds, and the said lands to be bounded on the north by the beginning of the three and fortieth degree of northern latitude and on the south by a circle drawn at twelve miles distance from New Castle, northward and westward, unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of northern latitude, and then by a straight line westward to the limits of longitude above mentioned."

This was a country almost as large as England. No such extensive domain had ever been given to a subject by an English sovereign: but none had ever been paid for by a sum of money so substantial.

On the 4th of March, 1681, the charter received the signature of Charles the Second. On the 21st of August, 1682, the Duke of York signed a deed whereby he released the tract of land called Pennsylvania to William Penn and his heirs forever. About the same time, by a like deed, the duke conveyed to Penn the district which is now called Delaware. Penn agreed, on his part, as a feudal subject, to render yearly to the king two skins of beaver, and a fifth part of all the gold and silver found in the ground; and to the duke "one rose at the feast of St. Michael the Archangel."

This association of sentiment and religion with a transaction in real estate is a fitting symbol of the spirit in which the Pennsylvania colony was undertaken. Penn received the land as a sacred trust. It was regarded by him not as a personal estate, but as a religious possession to be held for the good of humanity, for the advancement of the cause of freedom, for the furtherance of the kingdom of heaven. He wrote at the time to a friend that he had obtained it in the name of God, that thus he may "serve his truth and people, and that an example may be set up to the nations." He believed that there was room there "for such an holy experiment."

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