Province of Pennsylvania

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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, and a General Assembly, per the 1st liberty granted under the Frame of Government:

Imprimis. That the government of this province shall, according to the powers of the patent, consist of the Governor and freemen of the said province, in form of a provincial Council and General Assembly, by whom all laws shall lie made, officers chosen, and public affairs transacted, as is hereafter respectively declared[2]
The Preamble's beginning was unapologetically Christian in tone, plainly revealing its foundation of government to be based on Biblical principles:
When the great and wise God had made the world, of all his creatures it pleased him to choose man his deputy to rule it; and to fit him for so great a charge and trust, he did not only qualify him with skill and power but with integrity to use them justly. This native goodness was equally his honor and his happiness; and whilst he stood here, all went well; there was no need of coercive or compulsive means, the precept of divine love and truth, in his bosom, was the guide and keeper of his innocency. But lust prevailing against duty made a lamentable breach upon it; and the law, that before had no power over him, took place upon him, and his disobedient posterity, that such as would not live comformable to the holy law within should fall under the reproof and correction of the just law without in a judicial administration.

This the Apostle teaches in divers of his epistles: "The law," says he, "was added because of transgressions." In another place, "Knowing that the law was not made for the righteous man; but for the disobedient and ungodly, for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, and for manstealers, for liars, for perjured persons," etc.; but this is not all, he opens and carries the matter of government a little further: "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God: whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil: wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same." "He is the minister of God to thee for good." "Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but for conscience' sake."

This settles the divine right of government beyond exception, and that for two ends: first, to terrify evil doers: secondly, to cherish those that do well; which gives government a life beyond corruption, and makes it as durable in the world, as good men shall be. So that government seems to me a part of religion itself, a filing sacred in its institution and end. For, if it does not directly remove the cause, it crushes the effects of evil, and is as such, (though a lower, yet) an emanation of the same Divine Power, that is both author and object of pure religion; the difference lying here, that the one is more free and mental, the other more corporal and compulsive in its operations: but that is only to evil doers; government itself being otherwise as capable of kindness, goodness and charity, as a more private society. They weakly err, that think there is no other use of government, than correction, which is the coarsest part of it: daily experience tells us, that the care and regulation of many other affairs, more soft, and daily necessary, make up much of the greatest part of government; and which must have followed the peopling of the world, had Adam never fell, and will continue among men, on earth, under the highest attainments they may arrive at, by the coming of the blessed Second Adam, the Lord from heaven. Thus much of government in general, as to its rise and end.[2]

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.
XXXVIII. That a copy of these laws shall be hung up in the provincial Council, and in public courts of justice: and that they shall be read yearly at the opening of every provincial Council and General Assembly, and court of justice; and their assent shall be testified, by their standing up after the reading thereof.


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:

II. That every inhabitant in the said province, that is or shall be, a purchaser of one hundred acres of land, or upwards, his heirs and assigns, and every person who shall have paid his passage, and taken up one hundred acres of land, at one penny an acre, and have cultivated ten acres thereof, and every person, that hath been a servant, or bonds-man, and is free by his service, that shall have taken up his fifty acres of land, and cultivated twenty thereof, and every inhabitant, artifices, or other resident in the said province, that pays scot and lot to the government; shall be deemed and accounted a freeman of the said province: and every such person shall, and may, be capable of electing, or being elected, representatives of the people, in provincial Council, or General Assembly, in the said province.

Free and voluntary elections

Philadelphia in 1702. 1875 lithograph painting by F.J. Wade

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:

III. That all elections of members, or representatives of the people and freemen of the province of Pensilvania, to serve in provincial Council, or General Assembly, to be held within the said province, shall be free and voluntary: and that the elector, that shall receive any reward or gift, in meat, drink, monies, or otherwise, shall forfeit his right to elect; and such person as shall directly or indirectly give, promise, or bestow - any such reward as aforesaid, to the elected, shall forfeit his election, and be thereby incapable to serve as aforesaid: and the provincial Council and General Assembly shall be the sole judges of the regularity, or irregularity of the elections of their own respective -Members.
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:
XX. That all the elections of members, or representatives of the people, to serve in provincial Council and General Assembly, and all questions to be determined by both, or either of them, that relate to passing of bills into laws, to the choice of officers, to impeachments by the General Assembly, and judgment of criminals upon such impeachments by the provincial Council, and to all other cases bv then-1 respectively judged of importance, shall be resolved and determined by the ballot; -and unless on sudden and indispensible occasions, no business in provincial Council, or its respective committees, shall be finally determined the same day that it is moved.

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.

XXXV. That all persons living in this province, who confess and acknowledge the one Almighty and eternal God, to be the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the world; and that hold themselves obliged in conscience to live peaceably and justly in civil society, shall, in no ways, be molested or prejudiced for their religious persuasion, or practice, in matters of faith and worship, nor shall they be compelled, at any time, to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place or ministry whatever.

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.

XIX. That all marriages (not forbidden by the law of God, as to nearness of blood and affinity by marriage) shall be encouraged; but the parents, or guardians, shall be first consulted, and the marriage shall be published before it be solemnized; and it shall be solemnized by taking one another as husband and wife, before credible witnesses; and a certificate of the whole, under the hands of parties and witnesses, shall be brought to the proper register of that county, and shall be registered in his office.

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.

XXXIV. That all Treasurers, Judges, Masters of the Rolls, Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, and other officers and persons whatsoever, relating to courts, or trials of causes or any other service in the government; and all Members elected to serve in provincial Council and General Assembly, and all that have right to elect such Members, shall be such as possess faith in Jesus Christ, and that are not convicted of ill fame, or unsober and dishonest conversation, and that are of one and twenty years of age, at least; and that all such so qualified, shall be capable of the said several employments and privileges, as aforesaid.

Sunday 'Blue Laws'

America's Blue Laws it appears originated early, as the 22nd 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.

XXII. That, as often as any day of the month, mentioned in any article of this charter, shall fall upon the first day of the week, commonly called the Lord's Day, the business appointed for that day shall be deferred till the next day, unless in case of emergency.

XXXVI. That, according to the good example of the primitive Christians, and the case of the creation, every first day of the week, called the Lord's day, people shall abstain from their common daily labour, that they may the better dispose themselves to worship God according to their understandings.

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.

XXXVII. That as a careless and corrupt administration of justice draws the wrath of God upon magistrates, so the wildness and looseness of the people provoke the indignation of God against a country: therefore, that all such offences against God, as swearing, cursing, lying, prophane talking, drunkenness, drinking of healths, obscene words, incest, sodomy, rapes, whoredom, fornication, and other uncleanness (not to be repeated) all treasons, misprisions, murders, duels, felony, seditions, maims, forcible entries, and other violences, to the persons and estates of the inhabitants within this province; all prizes, stage-plays, cards, dice, May-games, gamesters, masques, revels, bull-battings, cock-fightings, bear-battings, and the like, which excite the people to rudeness, cruelty, looseness, and irreligion, shall be respectively discouraged, and severely punished, according to the appointment of the Governor and freemen in provincial Council and General Assembly; as also all proceedings contrary to these laws, that are not here made expressly penal.


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:

IV. That no money or goods shall be raised upon, or paid by, any of the people of this province by way of public tax, custom or contribution, but by a law, for that purpose made; and whoever shall levy, collect, or pay any money or goods contrary "hereunto, shall be held a public enemy to the province and a betrayer of the liberties of the people thereof.

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.

XIV. That all lands and goods shall be liable to pay debts, except where there is legal issue, and then all the goods, and one-third of the land only.

XV. That all wills, in writing, attested by two witnesses, shall be of the same force as to lands, as other conveyances, being legally proved within forty days, either within or without the said province.

XVI. That seven years quiet possession shall give an unquestionable right, except in cases of infants, lunatics, married women, or persons beyond the seas.

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.

XXVIII. That all children, within this province, of the age of twelve years, shall be taught some useful trade or skill, to the end none may be idle, but the poor may work to live, and the rich, if they become poor, may not want.

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.

XXIII. That there shall be a register for all servants, where their names, time, wages, and days of payment shall be registered.

XXIX. That servants be not kept longer than their time, and such as are careful, be both justly and kindly used in their service, and put in fitting equipage at the expiratiol; thereof, according to custom.

XXXI. That for the encouragement of the planters and traders in this province, who are incorporated into a society, the patent granted to them by William Penn, Governor of the said province, is hereby ratified and confirmed.

XXXIII. That all factors or correspondents in the said province, wronging their employers, shall make satisfaction, and one-third over, to their said employers: and in case of the death of any such factor or correspondent, the committee of trade shall take care to secure so much of the deceased party's estate as belongs to his said respective employers.


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.

V. That all courts shall be open, and justice shall neither be sold, denied nor delayed.

VI. That, in all courts all persons of all persuasions may freely appear in their own way, and according to their own manners and there personally plead their own cause themselves; or, if unable, by their friends: and the first process shall be the exhibition of the complaint in court, fourteen days before the trial; and that the party, complained against, may be fitted for the same, he or she shall be summoned, no less than ten days before, and a copy of the complaint delivered him or her, at his or her dwelling house. But before the complaint of any person be received, he shall solemnly declare in court, that he believes, in his conscience, his cause is just.

VII. That all pleadings, processes and records in courts, shall be short, and in English, and in an ordinary and plain character, that they may be understood, and justice speedily administered.

VIII. That all trials shall be by twelve men, and as near as may be, peers or equals, and of the neighborhood, and men without just exception; in cases of life, there shall be first twenty-four returned by the sheriffs, for a grand inquest, of whom twelve, at least, shall find the complaint to be true; and then the twelve men, or peers, to be likewise returned by the sheriff, shall have the final judgment. But reasonable challenges shall be always admitted against the said twelve men, or any of them.

IX. That all fees in all cases shall be moderate, and settled by the provincial Council, and General Assembly, and be hung up in a table in every respective court; and whosoever shall be convicted of taking more, shall pay twofold, and be dismissed his employment; one moiety of svllich shall go to the party wronged.

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.

X. That all prisons shall be work-houses, for felons, vagrants, and loose and idle persons; whereof one shall be in every county.

XI. That all prisoners shall be bailable by sufficient sureties, unless for capital offences, where the proof is evident, or the presumption great.

XII. That all persons wrongfully imprisoned, or prosecuted at law, shall have double damages against the informer, or prosecutor.

XIII. That all prisons shall be free, as to fees, food and lodging.

XVII. That all briberies and extortion whatsoever shall be severely punished.

XVIII. That all fines shall be moderate, and saving men's contenements, merchandise, or wainage.

XXIV. That all lands and goods of felons shall be liable, to make satisfaction to the party wronged twice the value; and for want of lands or goods, the felons shall be bondmen to work in the common prison, or work-house, or otherwise, till the party injured be satisfied.

XXV. That the estates of capital offenders, as traitors and murderers, shall go, one-third to the next of kin to the sufferer, and the remainder to the next of kin to the criminal.

XXVI. That all witnesses, coming, or called, to testify their knowledge in or to any matter or thing, in any court, or before any lawful authority, within the said province, shall there give or deliver in their evidence, or testimonly, by solemnly promising to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. to the matter, or thing in question. And in case any person so called to evidence, shall be convicted of wilful falsehood, such person shall suffer and undergo such damage or penalty, as the person, or persons, against whom he or she bore false witness, did, or should, undergo; and shall also make satisfaction to the party wronged, and be publicly exposed as a false witness, never to be credited in any court, or before any Magistrate, in the said province.

XXX. That all scandalous and malicious reporters, backbiters, defamers and spreaders of false news, whether against Magistrates, or private persons, shall be accordingly severely punished, as enemies to the peace and concord of this province.

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.

XX. And, to prevent frauds and vexatious suits within the said province, that all charters, gifts, grants, and conveyances of and (except leases for a year or under) and all bills, bonds, and specialties above five pounds, and not under three months, made in the said province, shall be enrolled, or registered in the public enrolment office of the said province, within the space of two months next after the making thereof, else to be void in law, and all deeds, grants, and conveyances of land (except as aforesaid) within the said province, and made out of the said province, shall be enrolled or registered, as aforesaid, within six months next after the making thereof, and settling and constituting an enrolment office or registry within the said province, else to be void in law against all persons whatsoever.

XXI. That all defacers or corrupters of charters, gifts, grants. bonds, bills, wills, contracts, and conveyances, or that shall deface or falsify any enrolment, registry or record, within this province, shall make double satisfaction for the same; half whereof shall go to the party wronged, and they shall be dismissed of all places of trust, and be publicly disgraced as false men.

XXII. That there shall be a register for births, marriages, burials, wills, and letters of administration, distinct from the other registry.

XXVII. And, to the end that all officers chosen to serve within this province, may, with more care and diligence, answer the trust reposed in them, it is agreed, that no such person shall enjoy more than one public office, at one time.

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:

II. That the freemen of the said province shall, on the twentieth day of the twelfth month, which shall be in this present year one thousand six hundred eighty and two, meet and assemble in some fit place, of which timely notice shall be before hand given by the Governor or his Deputy; and then, and there, shall chuse out of themselves seventy-two persons of most note for their wisdom, virtue and ability, who shall meet, on the tenth day of the first month next ensuing, and always be called, and act as, the provincial Council of the said province.

III. That, at the first choice of such provincial Council, one-third part of the said provincial Council shall be chosen to serve for three years, then next ensuing; one-third part, for two years then next ensuing; and one-third part, for one year then next ensuing such election, and no longer; and that the said third part shall go out accordingly: and on the twentieth day of the twelfth month, as aforesaid, yearly for ever afterwards, the freemen of the said province shall, in like manner, meet and assemble together, and then chuse twenty-four persons, being one-third of the said number, to serve in provincial Council for three years: it being intended, that one-third part of the whole provincial Council (always consisting, and to consist, of seventy-two persons, as aforesaid) falling oh yearly, it shall be yearly supplied by such new yearly elections, as aforesaid; and that no one person shall continue therein longer than three years: and, in case any member shall decease before the last election during his time, that then at the next election ensuing his decease, another shall be chosen to supply his place, for the remaining time, he was to have served, and no longer.

IV. That, after the first seven years, every one of the said third parts, that goeth yearly off, shall be uncapable of being chosen again for one whole year following: that so all may be fitted for government, and have experience of the care and burden of it.[2]


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:

V. That the provincial Council, in all cases and matters of moment, as their arguing upon bills to be passed into laws, erecting courts of justice, giving judgment upon criminals impeached, and choice of officers, in such manner as is hereinafter mentioned, not less than two-thirds of the whole provincial Council shall make a quorum, and that the consent and approbation of two-thirds of such quorum shall be had in all such cases and matters of moment. And moreover that, in all cases and matters of lesser moment, twenty-four Members of the said provincial Council shall make a quorum, the majority of which. twenty-four shall, and may, always determine in such cases and causes of lesser moment.

VI. That, in this provincial Council, the Governor or his Deputy, shall or may, always preside, and have a treble voice; and the said provincial Council shall always continue, and sit upon its own adjournments and committees.[2]

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:

XIII. That, for the better management of the powers and trust aforesaid, the provincial Council shall, from time to time, divide itself into four distinct and proper committees, for the more easy administration of the affairs of the Province, which divides the seventy-two into four eighteens, every one of which eighteens shall consist of six out of each of the three orders, or yearly elections, each of which shall have a distinct portion of business. as followeth: First, a committee of plantations, to situate and settle cities, ports, and market towns, and high-ways, and to hear and decide all suits and controversies relating to plantations. Secondly, a committee of justice and safety, to secure the peace of the Province, and punish the mar-administration of those who subvert justice to the prejudice of the public, or private, interest. Thirdly, a committee of trade and treasury, who shall regulate all trade and commerce, according to law, encourage manufacture and country growth, and defray the public charge of the Province. And, Fourthly, a committee of manners' education, and arts, that all wicked and scandalous living may be prevented, and that youth may be successively trained up in virtue and useful knowledge and arts: the quorum of each of which committees being six, that is, two out of each of the three orders, or yearly elections, as aforesaid, make a constant and standing Council of twenty-four, which will have the power of the provincial Council, being the quorum of it, in all cases not excepted in the fifth article; and in the said committees, and standing Council of the Province, the Governor, or his Deputy, shall, or may preside, as aforesaid; and in the absence of the Governor, or his Deputy, if no one is by either of them appointed, the said committees or Council shall appoint a President for that time, and not otherwise; and what shall be resolved at such committees, shall be reported to the said Council of the province, and shall be by them resolved and confirmed before the same shall be put in execution; and that these respective committees shall not sit at one and the same time, except in cases of necessity.

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:

VI. That, in this provincial Council, the Governor or his Deputy, shall or may, always preside, and have a treble voice; and the said provincial Council shall always continue, and sit upon its own adjournments and committees.

VII. That the Governor and provincial Council shall prepare and propose to the General Assembly, hereafter mentioned, all bills, which they shall, at any time, think fit to be passed into laws, within the said province; w hick bills shall be published and affixed to the most noted places, in the inhabited parts thereof, thirty days before the meeting of the General Assembly, in order to the passing them into laws or rejecting of them, as the General Assembly shall see meet.

VIII. That the Governor and provincial Council shall take care, that all laws, statutes and ordinances, which shall at any time be made within the said province, be duly and diligently executed.

IX. That the Governor and provincial Council shall, at all times, have the care of the peace and safety of the province, and that nothing be by any person attempted to the subversion of this frame of government.

X. That the Governor and provincial Council shall, at all times, settle and order the situation of all cities, ports, and market towns in every county, modeling therein all public buildings, streets, and market places, and shall appoint all necessary roads, and high-ways in the province.

XI. That the Governor and provincial Council shall, at all times, have power to inspect the management of the public treasury, and punish those who shall convert any part thereof to any other use, than what hath been agreed upon by the Governor, provincial Council, and General Assembly.

XII. That the Governor and provincial Council, shall erect and order all public schools, and encourage and reward the authors of useful sciences and laudable inventions in the said province.[2]

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:

XVII. That the Governor and the provincial Council shall erect, from time to time, standing courts of justice, in such places and number-as they shall judge convenient for the good government of the said province. And that the provincial Council shall, on the thirteenth day of the first month, yearly, elect and present to the Governor, or his Deputy, a double number of persons, to serve for Judges, Treasurers, Masters of Rolls, within the said province, for the year next ensuing; and the freemen of the said province, in the county courts, when they shall be erected, and till then, in the General Assembly, shall, on the three and twentieth day of the second month, yearly, elect and present to the Governor, or his Deputy, a double number of persons, to serve for Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, and Coroners, for the year next ensuing; out of which respective elections and presentments, the Governor or his Deputy shall nominate and commissionate the proper number for each office, the third day after the said presentments, or else the first named in such presentment, for each office, shall stand and serve for that office the year ensuing.

XVIII. But forasmuch as the present condition of the province requires some immediate settlement, and admits not of so quick a revolution of officers; and to the end the said Province may, with all convenient speed, be well ordered and settled, I, William Penn, do therefore think fit to nominate and appoint such persons for Judges, Treasurers, Masters of the Rolls, Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, and Coroners, as are most fitly qualified for those employments; to whom I shall make and grant commissions for the said offices, respectively, to hold to them, to whom the same shall be granted, for so long time as every such person shall well behave himself in the office, or place, to him respectively granted, and no longer. And upon the decease or displacing of any of the said officers, the succeeding officer, or officers, shall be chosen, as aforesaid.

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).

XXI. That at all times when, and so often as it shall happen that the Governor shall or may be an infant, under the age of one and twenty years, and no guardians or commissioners are appointed in writing, by the father of the said infant, or that such guardians or commissioners, shall be deceased; that during such minority, the provincial Council shall, from time to time, as they shall see meet, constitute and appoint guardians or commissioners, not exceeding three; one of which three shall preside as deputy and chief guardian, during such minority, and shall have and execute, with the consent of the other two, all the power of a Governor, in all the public affairs and concerns of the said province.

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:

XIV. And, to the end that all laws prepared by the Governor and provincial Council aforesaid, may yet have the more full concurrence of the freemen of the province, it is declared, granted and confirmed, that, at the time and place or places, for the choice of a provincial Council, as aforesaid, the said freemen shall yearly chuse Members to serve in a general Assembly, as their representatives, not exceeding two hundred persons, who shall yearly meet on the twentieth day of the second month, which shall be in the year one thousand six hundred eighty and three following, in the capital town, or city, of the said province, where, during eight days, the several Members may freely confer with one another; and, if any of them see meet, with a committee of the provincial Council (consisting of three out of each of the four committees aforesaid, being twelve in all) which shall be, at that time, purposely appointed to receive from any of them proposals, for the alterations or amendment of any of the said proposed and promulgated bills: and on the ninth day from their so meeting, the said General Assembly, after reading over the proposed bills by the Clerk of the provincial Council, and the occasions and motives for them being opened by the Governor or his Deputy, shall give their affirmative or negative, which to them seemeth best, in such manner as hereinafter is expressed. But not less than two-thirds shall make a quorum in the passing of laws, and choice of such officers as are by them to be chosen.

XV. That the laws so prepared and proposed, as aforesaid, that are assented to by the General Assembly, shall be enrolled as laws of the Province, with this stile: By the Governor, with the assent and approbation of the freemen in provincial Council and General Assembly.

XVI. That, for the establishment of the government and laws of this province, and to the end there may be an universal satisfaction in the laying of the fundamentals thereof: the General Assembly shall, or may, for the first year, consist of all the freemen of and in the said province; and ever after it shall be yearly chosen, as aforesaid; which number of two hundred shall be enlarged as the country shall increase in people, so as it do not exceed five hundred, at any time; the appointment and proportioning of which, as also the laying and methodizing of the choice of the provincial Council and General Assembly, in future times, most equally to the divisions of the hundreds and counties, which the country shall hereafter be divided into, shall be in the power of the provincial Council to propose, and the General Assembly to resolve.

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:

XIX. That the General Assembly shall continue so long as may be needful to impeach criminals, fit to be there impeached, to pass bills into laws, that they shall think fit to pass into laws, and till such time as the Governor and provincial Council shall declare that they have nothing further to propose unto them, for their assent and approbation: and that declaration shall be a dismiss to the General Assembly for that time; which General Assembly shall be, notwithstanding, capable of assembling together upon the summons of the provincial Council, at any time during that year, if the said provincial Council shall see occasion for their so assembling.

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:

XXIII. That no act, law, or ordinance whatsoever, shall at any time hereafter, be made or done by the Governor of this province, his heirs or assigns, or by the freemen in the provincial Council, or the General Assembly, to alter, change, or diminish the form, or edict, of this charter, or any part, or clause thereof, without the consent of the Governor, his heirs, or assigns, and six parts of seven of the said freemen in provincial Council and General Assembly.

XXIV. And lastly, that I, the said William Penn, for myself, my heirs and assigns, have solemnly declared, granted and confirmed, and do hereby solemnly declare, grant and confirm, that neither I, my heirs, nor assigns, shall procure or do any thing or things, whereby the liberties, in this charter contained and expressed, shall be infringed or broken; and if any thing be procured by any person or persons contrary to these premises, it shall be held of no force or effect. In witness whereof, I, the said William Penn, have unto this present character of liberties set my hand and broad seal, this five and twentieth day of the second month, vulgarly called April, in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and eighty-two.

XXXIX. That there shall be, at no time, any alteration of any of these laws, without the consent of the Governor, his heirs, or assigns, and six parts of seven of the freemen, met in provincial Council and General Assembly.


  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.

External Sources

See also