Province of Pennsylvania

From BibleStrength
William Penn receiving the Charter of Pennsylvania from King Charles II.

Established on May 5, 1682 by its first Governor William Penn, the new government of Pennsylvania was a religious utopia to which all the persecuted religious minorities of Europe fled and were granted safe haven.[1] The government consisted of a Governor (originally Penn) and freemen of the province, the latter as represented by two ruling houses, a Provincial Council similar to today's Senate (but with 72 members instead of 100), and a General Assembly (similar to today's House with 200 members designed to increase to 500 with population growth - the House today has 435 voting members), per the 1st liberty granted under the Frame of Government:

There was separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, with rights to religious freedom, trial by jury, and private property, per the 1702 Charter of Privileges also which preceded the Bill of Rights. The House today is still called the General Assembly and in the courts witnesses are still required to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as they were then.

The Preamble's beginning was unapologetically Christian in tone, plainly revealing its foundation of government to be based on Biblical principles:

The charter was to be publicly displayed in the Provincial Council as well as in public courts of justice, and read publicly each year at the beginning of each Provincial Council and General Assembly with assent given from all members, according to the 38th law agreed upon in England.


Definition of freemen/voting citizens

Freemen, residential voting citizens capable of holding offices, were required to have either (A) purchased at least 100 acres or more, (B) paid their passage and taken 100 acres of land at a penny an acre, cultivating at least 10 acres, (C) been a 'bonds-man' free by service who took 50 acres and cultivated at least 20 of them, or (D) every inhabitant, 'artifices', or other provincial resident who pays 'scot and lot to the government'. All these and their heirs were to be considered freemen and capable of electing or being elected representatives in the Provincial Council or General Assembly, according to the 2nd law agreed upon in England:

Free and voluntary elections

Treaty of Penn with Indians by Benjamin West

All elections were to be 'free and voluntary' according to the 3rd law agreed upon in England, with those who accepted bribes or gave them to lose their voting privileges:

The ballot was to be used in both the Provincial Counsel and General Assembly for determining a host of issues including member elections, bill passage, choosing officers, impeachments, and judging of criminals, according to the 20th liberty:

Christianity-based freedoms

Religious freedom

Religious freedom was granted to all believers in a Creator regardless of religious denomination, although this apparently excluded atheists, per the 35th law agreed upon in England.

Bible-based marriage

Marriage was to be encouraged so long as "not forbidden by the law of God, as to nearness of blood and affinity by marriage" with parents or guardians first consulted and a marriage "publicized before it be solemnized", with solemnization before credible witnesses with a certificate and registered by the county, according to the 19th law agreed upon in England.

Public officials required to be Christian

Not only was everyone in "any other service in the government" as well as representatives in the Provincial Council and General Assembly required to be Christians, but those with the "right to elect such members" were required to "possess faith in Jesus Christ", as well as have solid reputations apart from lying, and be at least 21 years old, according to the 34th law agreed upon in England.

Sunday 'Blue Laws'

America's Blue Laws it appears originated early, as the 21st liberty deferred all business of the government until the next day, save in emergencies. Sundays themselves were commanded as a day free of labor for the province dedicated for worshiping God according to the 36th law agreed upon in England.

Moral laws, no profanity, alcohol, homosexuality, gambling, etc.

Far more extreme than today's laws, the early Province of Pennsylvania kept a range of laws restricting profanity, oaths, lying, drunkenness, obscenity, incest, homosexuality, rape, prostitution, and sexual immorality. Even gambling (cards, dice) and mistreatment of animals (bull-baiting, cock-fighting, bear-baiting) were prohibited as inciting people to "rudeness, cruelty, looseness, and irrelegion" and thus "respectively discouraged, and severely punished". This seen from the 37th law agreed upon in England.


Fair taxation

Taxation of money and goods was forbidden on the people apart from passed law, and anyone who violated this to be considered "public enemy to the province and a betrayer of the liberties of the people" according to the 4th law agreed upon in England:

Right to property

All land and goods were liable for paying debts, but if legally owned, only 1/3 of the land would be liable. All wills in writing attested to by 2 witnesses, legally proved in 40 days, were valid. 7 years of "quiet possession" gave "unquestionable right" [land?], per the 14th-16th laws agreed upon in England.

Public education

Starting at age 12, all children both rich and poor were to be taught a useful trade or skill to prevent idleness and ensure prosperity, per the 28th law agreed upon in England.

Employee/employer protections

For the sake of employees there was to be a registry for all servants with names, times, wages, and days of payment. There were also restrictions against overwork and mistreatment. Some form of patent was granted for the sake of planters and traders. Any wronging their employers were to make "satisfaction, and one-third over" or to the employer's estate. All this per the 23rd, 29th, 31st, and 33rd laws agreed upon in England.


Fair courts, speedy trial by jury

All courts were to be open without bribery or delays, and all people were to be allowed free appearance in the courts, with notice of summons at least 10 days early. They were required to declare in court that they believed their cause was just. Court "pleadings, processes, and records" were required to be short and in plain English for speedy administration. All trials were to be by jury, with the jury composed by 12 men of good reputation, with trials permitted against the jury members themselves. Court awards were to be 'moderate' and publicly listed on court walls for transparency, and anyone convicted of taking more was to pay double and lose their employment, with a portion to go to the party wronged. This all according to the 5th-9th laws agreed upon in England.

Fair punishment

There was to be one prison in each county, and these were to serve as "work-houses" for "felons, vagrants, and loose and idle persons". All prisons were to be free in fees, food, and lodging. Bail was to be allowed for all but capital offences (including treason and murder), where "the proof is evident, or the presumption great", and in cases of such capital offences 1/3 of the felon's lands were to go to the victim's next of kin (the remainder reserved for the felon's family).

Any people wrongfully imprisoned were to have double damages against the informer or prosecutor. All witnesses were to speak "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth", any found guilty of willful falsehood were to undergo the penalties of those against whom they bore false witness, "make satisfaction" for those they falsely testified against (presumably monetary), and be publicly exposed as false witnesses not credible for any future court hearings.

All briberies and extortions were to be "severely punished" and all fines "moderate" and weighed by a person's wages and possessions. Defamation and slander were serious offences. This all according to the 10th-13th, 17th-18th, 25th-26th, and 30th laws agreed upon in England.

Government accountability, recordkeeping

To prevent frauds and lawsuits, there was to be government record keeping of charters, gifts, grants, conveyances, leases older than a year, bills, bonds, and specialties, all enrolled within a Public Enrollment Office within 2 months. Deeds, grants, and land conveyances were to be enrolled/registered within 6 months. There was to be registry of births, marriages, burials, wills, and letters of administration kept separately.

Government officials found guilty of falsification or abuse were to pay double, half to go to the wronged party, and then dismissed of their offices. To ensure diligence, all public officials were restricted from holding more than one public office. All this according to the 20th-22nd and 27th laws agreed upon in England.

Provincial Council

The freemen of the province were to meet in a yearly election location and then choose 72 members for the Provincial Council to represent them, similar to today's Senate, a system that included built-in term limits, per the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th liberties:


This Provincial Council was responsible for passing bills into Law, erecting courts of justice, impeaching criminals, and choosing officers. 2/3 consent was required for approval by the Provincial Council. It was to be presided over by someone with a "treble voice" similar to today's Speaker of the House, and was to have Adjournments and Committees, according to the 5th and 6th liberties:

18-member committees

The Provincial Council further was to divide into four committees of 18 members. The 1st oversaw agriculture, local development, and transportation. The 2nd oversaw justice and safety; punishing those who abused the public and private trust. The 3rd oversaw trade, the Treasury, commerce, manufacturing, and the budget. The 4th oversaw education, science, and the arts. 24 were to govern each year, this revolving year-to-year. The committees and Provincial Council were to be presided over by the Governor or his deputy, and if neither were available, they were allowed to appoint a 'President', according to the 13th liberty:

Governor and Provincial Council, Joint Powers

The Governor and Provincial Council were responsible for preparing and proposing to the General Assembly all bills to be passed into law, 30 days before each General Assembly meeting. The Governor and Provincial Council were to ensure these laws, statutes, and ordinances passed into law were then "duly and diligently executed", to care for the peace and safety of the province, and prevent subversion of the frame of government. They were also to oversee commerce, the Treasury, cities, and transportation. In even more explicit power than is granted Congress under Section 8 of the Constitution, they were even given power over public education, science, and the patent process, per the 6th-12th liberties:

Courts of justice, designations

Erected by the Governor and Provincial Counsel, "standing courts of justice" were to be created. The Provincial Counsel was to designate each year officials (Judges, Treasurers, Masters of Rolls) for the courts, as well as additional offices (Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, and Coroners) according to the 17th and 18th liberties:

Young governors

Similar to England, it appears the Governor was originally a hereditary position to remain in Penn's family (I believe this changed in the 1702 version), with Chief Guardians and Commissioners to be appointed if the Governor was under 21 years of age, in executing the power of the Governor, according to the 21st liberty (see also 23rd and 24th).

General Assembly

The province's freemen were also allowed to choose up to 200 members (to increase based on population to a maximum of 500) of a General Assembly as their 'representatives' similar to today's House of Representatives. These Members, or representatives, were allowed to submit proposals to committees of the Provincial Council for approval. They also required 2/3 approval to pass laws. Essentially the Provincial Council was given authority to originate bills and to carry them out once they became law, but the General Assembly determined if they passed or not. This according to the 14th, 15th, and 16th liberties:

Impeachment of criminals

The General Assembly also had the ability to impeach criminals, with some power that now belongs to our court system instead, according to the 19th liberty:

Protection of liberties, altering framework

Alteration of the charter required consent of the Governor or his heirs/assigns, and 6/7 of those in both the General Assembly and Provincial Council. Anything done by the Governor or his family contrary to the Charter was to be held of no effect, according to the 23rd and 24th liberties, as well as the 39th law agreed upon in England:

External Sources

See Also


  1. Roland, John (2011, October 25). "Excerpts from Frame of Government of Pennsylvania by William Penn, 1682." The Constitution Society.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Penn, William (1682, May 5). "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." Lillian Goldman Law Library. Yale University. The Avalon Project.