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William Penn, Charter of Privileges for the Province of Pennsylvania, 1701

Front page, Charter of Privileges
First page, Charter of Privileges

Second page, Charter of Privileges
Second page, Charter of Privileges
William Penn's "holy experiment" began in 1681, when the 37 year old Quaker convert received a royal grant of an immense tract of land in North America out of "regard to the memorie and meritts of his late father," a royalist admiral during the English Civil War. From the beginning, Penn governed his eponymous province, Pennsylvania, by attempting to apply Quakerly principles of equality and tolerance. Although his record of relations with Indians was sometimes mixed, it stands in strong contrast to the strife-ridden and antagonistic relations in other colonies, and during his lifetime, Penn carefully cultivated peaceful relations and attempted to guarantee that all provincial lands were legally purchased. Penn also sought to ensure that the Swedish, Dutch, and Finnish settlers already resident in the Delaware River Valley retained their rights of citizenship under the new English government.

On October 28, 1701, during his second, and last, visit to the colony, Penn signed his Charter of Privileges, formally establishing a stable frame of government that for its day, was remarkable liberal. As governor, Penn retained the right of veto for himself, however he granted the right to initiate legislation to the unicameral legislature, and allowed it to determine its time of adjournment, judge qualifications for membership, select their own Speaker and officers, and to enjoy "all other Powers and Priviledges of an Assembly according the Rights of the Freeborne Subjects of England and as is usuall in any of the King's Plantations in America."

More famously, perhaps, Penn granted a set of individual rights to the inhabitants of Pennsylvania, codifying the freedom of conscience he had espoused since the first plantation of the province. Monotheists willing "to live quietly under the Civill Governement" were never to be "molested or prejudiced" for their religious beliefs or practices, nor were they to be "compelled to frequent or mentaine any Religious Worship place or Ministry contrary to his or theire mind." Furthermore, Christians of any denomination were permitted to hold any governmental office. This most liberal and best known of all colonial constitutions continued as Pennsylvania's constitution until the outbreak of the American Revolution, and even thereafter retained its share of supporters for the broad privileges it conferred.

After the turn of the nineteenth century, members of the American Philosophical Society, many of whom had been staunch supporters of the Revolution, grew increasingly concerned about the preservation of the historical record of their nation. By 1811, the Board of Officers at the APS proposed "making researches into and collecting materials for the History of the United States, and of Pennsylvania in particular," a move which culminated in the formation of the Society's Historical and Literary Committee four years later. That these patriotic sentiments were generally shared in Federalist Philadelphia is suggested by the founding of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1817.

The following text is taken from the copy of the Charter of Privileges donated to the Society by Joseph Anthony in February, 1812, through the agency of Benjamin Smith Barton, William Tilghman, Peter Stephen Duponceau, and James Gibson.


Text of the Charter of Privileges

Obverse of seal, Charter of Privileges
Obverse of seal, Charter of Privileges

Reverse of seal, Charter of Privileges
Reverse of seal, Charter of Privileges
William Penn Proprietary and Governour of the Province of Pennsilvania and Territories thereunto belonging To all to whom these presents shall come Sendeth Greeting Whereas King Charles the Second by his Letters Patents under the Great Seale of England beareing Date the fourth day of March in the Yeare one thousand Six hundred and Eighty was Graciously pleased to Give and Grant unto me my heires and Assignes forever this Province of Pennsilvania with divers great powers and jurisdictions for the well Governement thereof And whereas the King's dearest Brother James Duke of York and Albany &c by his Deeds of Feofment under his hand and Seale duely perfected beareing date the twenty fourth day of August one thousand Six hundred Eighty and two Did Grant unto me my heires and Assignes All that Tract of Land now called the Territories of Pensilvania together with power and jurisdictions for the good Governement thereof And whereas for the Encouragement of all the Freemen and Planters that might be concerned in the said Province and Territories and for the good Governement thereof I the said William Penn in the yeare one thousand Six hundred Eighty and three for me my heires and Assignes Do Grant and Confirme unto all the Freemen Planters and Adventurers therein Divers Liberties Franchises and properties as by the said Grant Entituled the Frame of the Government of the Province of Pensilvania and Territories thereunto belonging in America may Appeare which Charter or Frame being found in Some parts of it not soe Suitable to the present Circumstances of the Inhabitants was in the third Month in the yeare One thousand Seven hundred Delivered up to me by Six parts of Seaven of the Freemen of this Province and Territories in Generall Assembly mett provision being made in the said Charter for that End and purpose And whereas I was then pleased to promise that I would restore the said Charter to them againe with necessary Alterations or in liew thereof Give them another better adapted to Answer the present Circumstances and Conditions of the said Inhabitants which they have now by theire Representatives in a Generall Assembly mett at Philadelphia requested me to Grant Know ye therefore that for the the further well being and good Governement of the said Province and Territories and in pursuance of the Rights and Powers before mencioned I the said William Penn doe Declare Grant and Confirme unto all the Freemen Planters and Adventurers and other Inhabitants in this Province and Territories these following Liberties Franchises and Priviledges soe far as in me lyeth to [be] held Enjoyed and kept by the Freemen Planters and Adventurers and other Inhabitants of and in the said Province and Territories thereunto Annexed for ever first Because noe people can be truly happy though under the Greatest Enjoyments of Civil Liberties if Abridged of the Freedom of theire Consciences as to theire 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 {[can]} Enlighten the mind and perswade and Convince the understandings of people I doe hereby Grant and Declare that noe person or persons Inhabiting in this Province or Territories who shall Confesse and Acknowledge one Almighty God the Creator upholder and Ruler of the world and professe him or themselves Obliged to live quietly under the Civill Governement shall be in any case molested or prejudiced in his or theire person or Estate because of his or theire Conscientious perswasion or practice nor be compelled to frequent or mentaine any Religious Worship place or Ministry contrary to his or theire mind or doe or Suffer any other act or thing contrary to theire Religious perswasion And that all persons who also professe to beleive in Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world shall be capable (notwithstanding theire other perswasions and practices in point of Conscience and Religion) to Serve this Governement in any capacity both Legislatively and Executively he or they Solemnly promiscing when lawfully required Allegiance to the King as Soveraigne and fidelity to the Proprietary and Governour And takeing the Attests as now Establisht by the law made at Newcastle in the yeare One thousand Seven hundred Intituled an Act directing the Attests of Severall Officers and Ministers as now amended and Confirmed this present Assembly Secondly For the well Governeing of this Province and Territories there shall be an Assembly yearly Chosen by the Freemen thereof to Consist of foure persons out of each County of most note for Virtue wisdome and Ability (Or of a greater number at any time as the Governour and Assembly shall agree) upon the first day of October forever And shall Sitt on the Fourteenth day of the said Month in Philadelphia unless the Governour and Councell for the time being shall See cause to appoint another place within the said Province or Territories Which Assembly shall have power to choose a Speaker and other theire Officers and shall be judges of the Qualifications and Elections of theire owne Members Sitt upon theire owne Adjournments, Appoint Committees prepare Bills in or to pass into Laws Impeach Criminalls and Redress Greivances and shall have all other Powers and Priviledges of an Assembly according to the Rights of the Freeborne Subjects of England and as is usuall in any of' the Kings Plantations in America And if any County or Counties shall refuse or neglect to choose theire respective Representatives as aforesaid or if chosen doe not meet to Serve in Assembly those who are soe chosen and mett shall have the full power of an Assembly in as ample manner as if all the representatives had beene chosen and mett Provided they are not less then two thirds of the whole number that ought to meet And that the Qualifications of Electors and Elected and all other matters and things Relateing to Elections of Representatives to Serve in Assemblies though not herein perticulerly Exprest shall be and remaine as by a Law of this Government made at Newcastle in the Yeare One thousand [Seven] hundred Intituled An act to ascertains the number of members of assembly and to Regulate the elections Thirdly That the Freemen [in Ea]ch Respective County at the time and place of meeting for Electing [th]eire Representatives to serve in Assembly may as often as there shall be Occasion choose a Double number of persons to present to the Governour for Sheriffes and Coroners to Serve for three Yeares if they Soe long behave themselves well out of which respective Elections and Presentments the Governour shall nominate and Commissi6nate one for each of the said Officers the third day after Such Presentment or else the first named in Such Presentment for each Office as aforesaid shall Stand and Serve in that Office for the time before respectively Limitted And in case of Death and Default Such Vacancies shall be Supplyed by the Governour to serve to the End of' the said Terme Provided allwayes that if the said Freeman shall at any time neglect or decline to choose a person or persons for either or both the aforesaid Offices then and in Such case the persons that are or shall be in the respective Offices of Sheriffes or Coroner at the time of Election shall remaine therein untill they shall be removed by another Election as aforesaid And that the justices of the respective Counties shall or may nominate and present to the Governour three persons to Serve for Clerke of the Peace for the said County when there is a vacancy, one of which the Governour shall Commissionate within Tenn dayes after Such Presentment or else the first Nominated shall Serve in the said Office dureing good behaviour fourthly That the Laws of this Government shall be in this Stile Viz "By the Governour with the Consent and Approbation of the Freemen in Generall Assembly mett" And shall be after Confirmation by the Governour forthwith Recorded in the Rolls Office and kept at Philadelphia unless the Governour and Assembly shall Agree to appoint another place fifthly that all Criminalls shall have the same Priviledges of Wittnesses and Councill as theire Prosecutors Sixthly That noe person or persons shall or may at any time hereafter be obliged to answer any Complaint matter or thing whatsoever relateing to Property before the Governour and Councill or in any other place but in the Ordinary courts of justice unless Appeales thereunto shall be hereafter bylaw appointed Seventhly That noe person within this Governement shall be Licensed by the Governour to keep Ordinary Taverne or house of publick entertainment but Such who are first recommended to him under the hands of the Justices of the respective Counties Signed in open Court which justices are and shall be hereby Impowred to Suppress and forbid any person keeping Such publick house as aforesaid upon theire Misbehaviour on such penalties as the law cloth or shall Direct and to recommend others from time to time as they shall see occasion Eighthly If any person through Temptation or Melancholly shall Destroy himselfe his Estate Reall and personall shall notwithstanding Descend to his wife and Children or Relations as if he had dyed a Naturall Death And if any person shall be Destroyed or kill'd by casualty or Accident there shall be noe forfeiture to the Governour by reason thereof And noe Act Law or Ordinance whatsoever shall at any time hereafter be made or done to Alter Change or Diminish the forme or Effect of this Charter or of any part or Clause therein Contrary to the True intent and meaning thereof without the Consent of the Governour for the [time being and] six parts of Seven of the Assembly [mett] But because the happiness of Mankind Depends So much upon the Enjoying of Libertie of theire Consciences as aforesaid I Doe hereby Solemnly Declare Promise and Grant for me my heires and Assignes that the first Article of this Charter Relateing to Liberty of Conscience and every part and Clause therein according to the True Intent and meaneing thereof shall be kept and remaine without any Alteration Inviolably for ever And Lastly I the said William Penn Proprietary and Governour of the Province of Pensilvania and Territories thereunto belonging for my Selfe my heires and Assignes Have Solemnly Declared Granted and Confirmed And doe hereby Solemnly Declare Grant and Confirme that neither I my heires or Assignes shall procure or doe any thing or things whereby the Liberties in this Charter contained and expressed nor any part thereof shall be Infringed or broken And if any thing shall be procured or done by any person or persons contrary to these presents it shall be held of noe force or Effect In wittnes whereof I the said William Penn at Philadelphia in Pensilvania have unto this present Charter of Liberties Sett my hand and Broad Seale this twenty Eighth day of October in the Yeare of our Lord one thousand Seven hundred and one being the thirteenth yeare of the Reigne of King William the Third over England Scotland France and Ireland &c And in the Twenty first Yeare of my Government. And notwithstanding the closure and Test of this present Charter as aforesaid I think fitt to add this following Provisoe thereunto as part of the same That is to say that notwithstanding any Clause or Clauses in the above mencioned Charter obligeing the Province and Territories to joyne Togather in Legislation I am Content and doe hereby Declare That if the representatives of the Province and Territories shall not hereafter Agree to joyne togather in Legislation and that the same shall be Signifyed to me or my Deputy In open Assembly or otherwise from under the hands and Scales of the Representatives (for the time being) of the Province or Territories or the Major part of either of them any time within three yeares from the Date hereof That in Such case the Inhabitants of each of the three Counties of this Province shall not have less then Eight persons to represent them in Assembly for the Province and the Inhabitants of the Towne of Philadelphia (when the said Towne is Incorporated) Two persons to represent them in Assembly and the Inhabitants of each County in the Territories shall have as many persons to represent them in a Distinct Assembly for the Territories as shall be requested by them as aforesaid Notwithstanding which Seperation of of the Province and Territories in Respect of Legislation I doe hereby promise Grant and Declare that the Inhabitants of both Province and Territories shall Seperately Injoy all other Liberties Priviledges and Benefitts granted joyntly to them in this Charter Any law usage or Custome of this Governement heretofore made and Practised or any law made and Passed by this Generall Assembly to the contrary hereof Notwithstanding.

Wm Penn

Edwd: Shippen
Phineas Pemberton
Sam: Carpenter
Griffith Owen
Caleb Pusey
Tho: Story
Prop'y and
Governours Council

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