Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Salute to William Penn

I just read a biography of William Penn.  It's a kids' book written by Elizabeth Janet Grey but well worth reading for all of that.  It's the kind of book that used to be written for young people, who were assumed to be literate and interested in the lives of great men.

The King of England gave him Pennsylvania as repayment for a debt owed to William's father.  Yes, one man owned and operated Pennsylvania--and Delaware and parts of New Jersey as well, at different times.

I knew who he was, of course, but not much more.  He was the son of an admiral who owned property in Ireland as well as England.  Given a first-class education,he was handsome and charming.  As a young man, he became a Quaker, against the wishes of his father.   It was a bad time for religious dissenters in England.  Dissent from the established church was a crime for which a man could be arrested.   Penn suffered arrest and imprisonment more than once, but  followed the dictates of his conscience and did not allow himself to be cowed or deprived of his rights.

Penn decided to visit his property in America with an eye to founding a Quaker colony and settling there .  He created a Charter of Government for the colony and granted complete  freedom of religion to its inhabitants.  He established cordial relations with the Indians.  He chose a piece of land on the banks of the Delaware to build a new city, which he called Philadelphia.   He named Broad Street and decided that the cross streets would be numbered.  In short, he had total power.

I don't know of any man in history who had so much power and exercised it so benevolently.  He had no desire to control other men, but wanted to live peacably with everyone.  The country is blessed to have such a founder.   And look at us now.  Is our luck running out?


airforcewife said...

I think that may be a wonderful book for me to get my children. They don't know much about Penn, although they studied Pennsylvania's origins in their history studies.

Thanks for the recommendation!

miriam said...

He was an amazing man. I think your kids would like the book.