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Abstract of the Charter granted to William Penn. Conditions to the first Settlers of Pennsylvania. Penn's first Frame of Government. His Reservation of Quit-Rents. His second Frame of Government. Pennsylvania and the Territory of the Three Lower Counties united. Remonstrance of a subsequent Assembly against the Union. Motives of the Planters for accepting the second Frame of Government. Mr. Penn's Return to England, and Appointment of five Commissioners to administer the Government. Disorders which ensued during his Absence. Captain Blackwell's Government.
THE Constitution of Pennsylvania is derived, first, from the birthright of every British subject; secondly, from the royal charter granted to William Penn by King Charles the Second; and, thirdly, from the charter of privileges granted by the said William Penn as proprietary and governor, in virtue of the former, to the freemen of the said province and territories; being the last of four at several periods issued by the same authority.
The birthright of every British subject is, to have a property of his own, in his estate, person, and reputation; subject only to laws enacted by his own concurrence, either in person or by his representatives; and which birthright accompanies him wheresoever he wanders or rests; so long as he is within the pale of the British dominions, and is true to his allegiance.
The royal charter was granted to William Penn in the beginning of the year 1681. A most alarming period! the nation being in a strong ferment; and the court forming an arbitrary plan, which, under the countenance of a small standing army, they began the same year to carry into execution, by cajoling some corporations, and forcing others by quo-warrantos to surrender their charters; so that, by the abuse of law,
the disuse of Parliaments, and the terror of power, the kingdom became in effect the prey of will and pleasure.
The charter governments of America had, before this, afforded a place of refuge to the persecuted and miserable; and, as if to enlarge the field of liberty abroad, which had been so sacrilegiously contracted at home, Pennsylvania even then was made a new asylum, where all who wished or desired to be free might be so for ever.
The basis of the grant expressed in the preamble, was, the merits and services of Admiral Penn, and the commendable desire of his son to enlarge the British Empire, to promote such useful commodities as might be of benefit to it, and to civilize the savage inhabi
In the third section, which constitutes the said William Penn the true and absolute proprietary of the said province, there is a saving to the crown, of the faith and allegiance of the said William Penn, his heirs and assigns, and of all other proprietaries, tenants, and inhabitants of the said province, as also of the sovereignty thereof.
The fourth, professing to repose especial trust and confidence in the fidelity, wisdom, justice, and provident circumspection of the said Penn, grants to him and his heirs, and to his and their deputies, free, full, and absolute power, for the good and happy government of the said country, to ordain, make, and enact, and, under his or their seals, to publish any laws whatsoever, for the raising of money for public uses of the said province, or for any other end appertaining either unto the public state, peace, or safety of the said country, or unto the private utility of particular persons, according to their best discretion; by and with the advice, assent, and approbation of the freemen of
the said country, or the greater part of them, or of their delegates and deputies, to be assembled in such sort and form, as to him and them shall seem best, and as often as need shall require.
By the fifth, the said William Penn is empowered and authorized to erect courts of judicature, appoint judges, and administer justice in all forms, and carry all the laws so made as above, into execution, under the pains therein expressed; provided the said laws be consonant to reason, and not repugnant or contrary, but, as near as conveniently may be, agreeable to the laws and statutes and rights of England; with a saving to the crown in case of appeals;-for this reason doubtless, that, in case any act of injustice or oppression was committed, the party injured might be sure of redress.
By the sixth, which presumes, that, in the government of so great a country, sudden accidents might happen, which would require a remedy before the freeholders or their delegates could be assembled to the making of laws, the said William Penn, and his heirs, by themselves or their magistrates duly ordained, are empowered to make and constitute fit and wholesome ordinances, from time to time, as well for the preservation of the peace, as for the better government of the inhabitants, under the same proviso as that above, regarding the laws, and so as that the said ordinances be not extended in any sort to bind, change, or take away the right or interest of any person or persons, for or in their life, members, freehold, goods, or chattels.
And to the end, that neither the said William Penn or his heirs, or other the planters, owners, or inhabitants of the said province, may, by misconstruction of the power aforesaid, through inadvertency or design, depart from their faith and allegiance to the crown, the
seventh section provides, that a transcript or duplicate of all laws, so made and published as aforesaid, shall, within five years after the making thereof, be transmitted and delivered to the Privy Council for the time being; and if declared by the King in Council inconsistent with the sovereignty or lawful prerogative of the crown, or contrary to the faith and allegiance due to the legal government of this realm, shall be adjudged void.
The said William Penn is also obliged to have an attorney, or agent, to be his resident representative, at some known place in London, who is to be answerable to the crown for any misdemeanor committed, or wilful default or neglect permitted, by the said Penn against the laws of trade and navigation; and to defray the damages in his Majesty's courts ascertained; and, in case of failure, the government to be resumed and retained till payment has been made; without any prejudice however in any respect to the landholders or inhabitants, who are not to be affected or molested thereby.
His Majesty moreover covenants and grants to and with the said William Penn, in the twentieth section, for himself, his heirs and successors, at no time thereafter to impose or levy any tax on the inhabitants in any shape, unless the same be with the consent of the proprietary or chief governor, or Assembly, or by act of Parliament in England.
On pain of his highest displeasure, he also commands all his officers and ministers, that they do not presume at any time to attempt any thing to the contrary of the premises, nor that they do in any sort withstand the same; and, on the contrary, enjoins them to be at all times aiding and assisting, as was fitting, to the said William Penn and his heirs, and unto the
inhabitants and merchants of the province aforesaid, their servants, ministers, factors, and assigns, in the full use and fruition of the benefit of the said charter.
And in the last place, a provision is made, by the King's special will, ordinance, and command, that, in case any doubt or question should thereafter perchance arise, concerning the true sense or meaning of any word, clause, or sentence contained therein, such interpretation should be made thereof and allowed in any of his Majesty's courts, as should be adjudged most advantageous and favorable to the said William Penn, his heirs and assigns; provided always, that no interpretation be admitted thereof, by which the allegiance due to the crown may suffer any prejudice or diminution.
The whole consists of twenty-three sections; of which it is presumed, these are the most material. They are penned with all the appearance of candor and simplicity imaginable; so that, if craft had any thing to do with them, never was craft better hid. As little is left as possible to future instructions, and nowhere is there to be found the shadow of a pretence, that such instructions should be laws. All is equally agreeable to law and reason, the claims of the crown, and the rights of the subject; nor, indeed, would the grant have been valid if it had been otherwise. The words legal government are words of great significancy. No command of the King's is a legal command, unless consonant to law, and authenticated by one of his seals; the forms of office in such case providing, that nothing illegal shall be carried into execution; and the officer himself being responsible to the laws in case of yielding a criminal obedience.
It would therefore be a waste of words to show, that the crown is limited in all acts and grants by the