Term Paper: William Penn

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William Penn

As its name suggests, the state of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, Jr., though it was actually named after his father, William Penn, Sr. How an Englishman with estates in Ireland came to establish a colony in the United States is an interesting story, one that reveals as much about the time period as it does about the man, William Penn. William Penn, Jr. was born in 1644 to William Penn, Sr. And Margaret Jasper. Penn's father was an important part of Oliver Cromwell's religious-based revolt against Charles I, and was rewarded with estates in Ireland for his service. (See Association of Friends, pp. 1-7).

Penn's father fell into disfavor with Cromwell because of a failed mission to the Caribbean and was sent into exile in Ireland. This became a crucial period in Penn's life, because it was during this Irish exile that Penn met Thomas Loe, a Quaker missionary. Loe became part of the Penn household and he was effective at interesting Penn in Quaker religious beliefs. However, the family's exile ended with Cromwell's death, and they returned to England about a year after their exile began. After Cromwell's death, the royalists resurged, and Penn's father played an instrumental role in restoring Charles II to the throne, demonstrating loyalty to Great Britain as well as commitment to the ideals of religious freedom, at least as understood by 17th-century Puritans. For his help in restoring Charles to the throne, Penn's father was knighted and became the Commissioner of the Navy. (See generally Hughes, Moretta, and Jacobson).

Because of his father's travels, Penn had a varied educational background. He attended Chigwell School, had private tutors during his time in Ireland, and eventually went to Oxford, which was then church-controlled. In fact, it is important to keep in mind that all education at that time was private, and almost all of it was based in religion. This religious education seems to have had a lasting impact on Penn. "When about twelve years old, and at school at Chigwell in Essex, he had a remarkable vision…which convinced him of the existence of God, and of the capacity of the human soul to hold communion with Him" (Association of Friends, p. 4). Furthermore, Penn seemed to embody many Puritan ideals, even while opposing Puritan religious beliefs. However, it would be wrong to consider Penn a Puritan or even a Quaker during his youth. On the contrary, when Penn enrolled at Oxford in 1660, he was both a Protestant and a member of the aristocracy. He began to develop sympathy for Quakers who were persecuted at Oxford, which led him to withdraw from much of the social life that went on at the University. (See Hughes, pp. 12-16).

In fact, Oxford proved a fertile proving ground for Penn as he developed his personal philosophy. Oxford fired Dean Owen because of his break with traditional Protestant teachings, and Penn was one of the students to offer support for Dean. Penn continued his support of Owen, even when he was threatened with punishment for doing so. This resulted in Penn receiving a reprimand and a fine from Oxford. Penn's father responded by removing Penn from Oxford. While Penn was gone, Oxford became more of a religious institution, requiring students to worship. Penn refused to do so and was expelled. Penn's father responded violently to the news that Penn had been expelled, even going so far as to physically attack his son and kick him out of the family home. Penn's mother intervened, but Penn's parents sent him to Paris and the court of Louis XIV. (See Jacobson, pp.17-34; Hughes, pp. 12-16).

When Penn returned to England after two years in France, he enrolled in law school. However, when England went to war with the Dutch, Penn decided to join his father at sea. There, Penn worked as a bureaucrat, arranging communication between Charles II and Penn's father When Penn's father returned from the sea, England was experiencing the plague in 1665. The plague was influential in helping form Penn's personality, removing him from the gaiety he experienced in France and returning him to the seriousness and gravity that he had demonstrated while at Oxford (Association of Friends, p.7). The Penn family was also experiencing personal problems. Penn's father began to be plagued by gout, which necessitated a change in climate and resulted in Penn going to Ireland. While there, Penn helped suppress a rebellion by the Irish Catholics against Protestant English rule. (See Hughes, pp.16-17).

When Penn returned to London, he found things very depressing. The plague had taken a great toll on the city. Moreover, during the plague, anti-Quaker discrimination had increased, and Quakers doing mercy-work were targeted for persecution. Moreover, in 1666, London was hit by a huge fire, which destroyed much of the city. The combination of the plague and the fire seemed to increase Charles II's control of England, and he tightened restrictions against religions other than the Anglican Church. The result of these increased restrictions was a greater persecution of Quakers throughout all of Great Britain, including Ireland. In fact, Quakers faced persecution because their religious beliefs prohibited them from treating the king or the aristocracy as superior to others, and from swearing allegiance to the King (Hughes, p.21).

However, it was during this time that Penn began to actively explore his interest in Quakerism. He met up again with his childhood friend, Loe, and the two began attending meetings together near Cork. Penn was eventually arrested for attending a Quaker meeting. Penn could have avoided prosecution by stating that he was not a Quaker, but he chose to declare himself a Quaker. Penn avoided jail because of his family connections, but his father demanded that he return to London (Hughes, p. 20-22). Penn's father was unable to persuade Penn to denounce his recent religious conversion, and Penn's father kicked Penn out of the house and kept control of his inheritance (Jacobson, p.16-20). Penn, born an aristocrat, was actually homeless. This is something noticed by at least one of Penn's biographers. Mary Hughs noted that Penn was born to incredible wealth and privilege, but that he "simply for conscience sake rejected all of her flattering gifts, and submitted to the miseries of scorn, contempt, and persecution" (Hughs, p.10). In fact, he spent this time living with Quaker families.

While living as an itinerant Quaker, Penn developed a close friendship with George Fox, who had founded the Quaker movement in the 1650s. Though it was illegal, and, literally life-threatening, Fox traveled as something like a Quaker missionary. Penn was his frequent companion in these travels. During this time, Penn began writing about Quakerism. He was responsible for pamphlets defending and explaining Quakerism. These pamphlets also zealously attacked other religions, which made it difficult for the Anglican Church or Charles II to ignore Penn, regardless of his father's position. In 1668, Penn was imprisoned in solitary confinement in an unheated cell in the Tower of London, and the Bishop of London ordered him held until he retracted his public statements. Penn was officially charged with publication without a license, but Charles II charged him with blasphemy. Rather than retracting his statements, Penn wrote another religious treatise defending Quakerism. This treatise, called No Cross, No Crown, which contained a historical analysis of religion in England, was instrumental in Penn getting a royal chaplain to negotiate on his behalf. Penn was released after 8 months of imprisonment, without retracting his religious statements. (See Jacobson, pp. 35-43).

Penn continued to be a very active Quaker, which led to his continued persecution and repeated arrests. One of these arrests resulted in Penn being denied his rights under English law. However, that jury refused to convict Penn. They were actually put in prison and fined for refusing to convict Penn. That action by the judge actually led to juries earning the right to act freely from the influence of judges, which became an important component of American criminal justice. Like Penn, other Quakers were subject to continued persecution. However, whatever the differences between father and son, Penn's father was determined to protect his son. First, he did not disinherit Penn. Second, he arranged for the Duke of York and the King to make Penn a royal counselor, which would protect him from continued persecution. Despite this protection, Penn faced additional jail time. While not in jail, Penn worked as a missionary in England, Holland, and Germany. (See Jacobson, pp. 35-43).

When Penn realized that Quakers were going to continue to face persecution in England, he went to the King and the Duke of York and proposed a solution. Some Quakers had already fled to North America, but they faced persecution by Puritans and had virtually been banished to the Caribbean. Penn suggested starting an official haven for the Quakers in North America. In 1677, Penn was a member of a group of Quakers that purchased the colony of West New Jersey, where they founded the town… [END OF PREVIEW]

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