« PreviousContinue »
The Church of England and her priests sacrificed their consciences to their possessions. Fearful of being again ejected from the happy rectories and snug vicarages, they winked at the filthy excesses of the king, or rebuked them, if at all, with whispering humbleness ;' but they were vigilant against Nonconformists. With all the craft and cruelty which have been distinctive, more or less, of every hierarchy, their great aim was, to hold up Nonconformists to the ridicule of the public—and it were no hard matter to excite the laughter of a bear. bait-loving people against the Puritans; to whet against them sectarian jealousies and animosities; to surround them by a cordon which could not be infringed; in a word, to render Nonconformity impossible. With this view, they had persuaded the obsequious Ministry to introduce, and a time-serving and Puritan-hating Parliament to pass into law, the infamous Conventicle Act, which declared it 'seditious and unlawful for more than five persons, exclusive of the family, to meet together for religious worship according to any other than the national ritual ; and for every person attending such meeting to be fined, for the first offence 51., or three months' imprisonment; for the second, 101., or six months' imprisonment; for the third, 1001., or seven years' transportation,' &c.
This act had been pased in 1664; it was renewed in 1667; and now, in 1670, was continued. Its provisions were peculiarly galling to the Quakers, and William Penn soon became the victim to their tyranny. Going, in the August of 1670, to attend the meeting of his sect, in Gracechurch-street, he was arrested by some soldiers, and carried before the mayor—a brutal man, ever ready to strangle justice at the bidding of the king and his courtiers. Penn was put to his trial in September; and, after a tedious process, the jury pronounced him not guilty. This trial, while it evinces the fearful despotism and injustice of the period, is one of the most important on record; as it established the principle that a jury may, without fear of penalty, find a verdict contrary to the sense of the court. Till the time of this trial, it had been customary to fine refractory juries; but from this date their independency was established. Soon after his acquittal, Penn lost his father, who left him his English and Irish estates, valued at 1,5001. a year; and the king, and his brother the Duke of York, undertook to be the protectors of the heir of their faithful admiral. It was this promise-one of the few they ever remembered and fulfilled—which brought the Quaker into that connexion with the Stuarts which has been often severely and unjustly reflected on.
After the loss of his father, Penn repaired to the village of Chalfont, in Buckinghamshire, where Milton, Ellwood, and Pennington, a galaxy of the good and great, lived in delightful society. Here he won the love of Guli Springett, the fair daughter of an old Parliamentary commander. Shortly after the formation of this engagement, Penn was arrested at the meeting in Wheeler-street, and committed, for six months, to Newgate. During his imprisonment, he wrote Liberty of Conscience,' * An Apology for the Quakers,' and other shorter works, in which the noblest principles were asserted or defended. The years immediately following those of the Commonwealth, abounded, as we have seen, with multitudes of sectaries and fanatics; but we must carefully discriminate between these and the Quakers. That George Fox was a man of an ardent enthusiasm, ignorant and dogmatical on some points, and that he, and Loe, and others were—if we understand them aright-occasionally intolerant of systems and of opinions differing from their own, must be honestly conceded, though this is only to admit that they were not free from the frailties of mankind; but their distinctive principles, whether of spiritual belief or of worldly polity, were good and true. As the expounder of these, we prefer Penn to Fox, just because the serene philosopher is superior to the earnest enthusiast. Calm, dignified, eloquent, and godly, Penn must ever be regarded as the great champion of Quakerism, and the chief expositor of those noble principles which he and his followers have, at length, taught governments to admit as true. He it was who, in the day of persecution, taught that however opinions might be decried, the men who held them should be intact ;-noble teaching in the day in which red prelacy waged war to the knife with the Nonconformists, when Milton lived in constant fear, and Bunyan languished in Bedford jail. Penn was married to Guli Springett in 1672; taking a house at Rickmansworth. The months immediately following his marriage, were, perhaps, the happiest of his life ; and beautiful, indeed, is the picture which we have of the young apostle of freedom, with his lovely bride in their quiet home, upon which no surges of worldly discord fell, but where the light of love and truth shed a constant ray.
Beautiful is the picture of them among their roses in the quiet country, both of them disciples of the Master whose teachings are able to save the soul;' possessors of that peace which God gives the pure of heart; and living in preparedness for that Fatherland wherein the children of light have everlasting joy. But it is not to worldly contentedness that God calls his children. They who have achieved most for the world have always been men of sorrow; their crown has been of thorns; their life a travail; and their end the cross. No true son, either of genius or of truth, ever yet reached the goal of his destiny but by the path of sorrow. So the great teacher of the principles of freedom soon finds that all his roses have thorns, and that for the great worker the lap of ease is a restingplace only for an hour. He had much to accomplish. His destiny called him to no frivolous employment; but it fell to his lot, under the wise arrangement of unerring Providence, that he was to be as well the founder of a powerful state abroad, as the champion of freedom at home. As with Columbus and Cortes, with Raleigh and Drake, so it was with Penn. The darling dream of his youth had been the founding of an empire in the new world, wherein European oppression and cruelty should have no place, but in which each man should be free to act, free to say the thing he would. Years before, the pilgrim fathers had been driven to the wilds of New England, and had laid the foun. dation of a broad and mighty empire. During the Commonwealth, thousands of royalists, and of those who were otherwise offensive to
the ruling power, had found across the Atlantic a home, not without vast suffering, but in which, at least, they might dwell in peace. So, under the iron tyranny of Charles II., thousands of British patriots had settled on the American sea-board.
Penn had already been referred to as an umpire, to adjust some differences which had arisen in reference to property in New Jersey, of which he was ultimately appointed a trustee. For a portion of this province he was determined to frame a constitution, in the formation of which he was to be assisted by the consummate skill of Algernon Sidney. Intent on this scheme, he chartered vessels, invited men to emigrate, and assisted by money and advice many who wished to find a home in the New World.
Starting then on a lengthened tour on the continent of Europe, he visited those cities in which there were Quakers, encouraging them in their perplexities, settling whatever disputes there were among them, proselyting many to his faith, and preaching everywhere peace and good-will among men. Returning to England, he had easy access to the highest society in the land. Patronized by the king and his brother, he mixed with the gallants and profligates of the time, “ faithful only found among the faithless,' and enjoying the friendship and counsel of the noble republican, Algernon Sidney. Disgusted, as he soon became, first, at the gross profligacy, and then, at the heartless tyranny of the king, he once more turned his thoughts to the western world, and to that dream of his youth—the founding a free state therein, the realization of which was at hand. It happened that his father had, many years before, lent large sums of money to the king and government, neither the principal nor the interest of which had ever been paid to his heir; and he resolved to petition the king that, in lieu of payment of this debt, the king should grant him all that tract of country which lay to the north of Maryland, and to the east of New Jersey, having the Ohio on the west, and lake Erie on the north. To quote from his accomplished biographer, he wished to provide out of that wilderness a free colony for all mankind-his experiment was to bear witness to the world that there are in human nature virtues sufficient for self-government. The spirit of love brooded over all his projectsuniversal freedom of the conscience-perfect equality of political and civil rights—the most sacred respect for personal liberty—and a full regard to the rights of property.'
This petition of Penn's, to the king in council, was long unanswered. Vexatious opposition was made to it. At length, however, ere the heart had sickened by hope deferred, his petition was granted. A charter was given him, in which the full right to levy taxes was reserved to the mother-country; and in which, the then Bishop of London, with the craft and greed which have marked so many of his order, obtained the insertion of a clause guaranteeing the security of the National Church.
Thus Penn became the absolute proprietor of a vast forest-land, which in honour of his father was called Pennsylvania. After the obtainment of this magnificent province, Penn's great work was to
draw up a constitution for the inhabitants, in which he was assisted by Algernon Sidney, to whom the United States are everlastingly indebted. This constitution very much resembled the system which, in modern times is termed Chartism. Holding as his political credo, that if the citizens are wise and virtuous, the governments under which they live must also become wise and virtuous—he enacted, that the governing body, chosen of the people, should be elected by universal suffrage, for three years; that the votes were to be taken by ballot; that the members were to be paid; and that, as he repudiated all property-qualification, the country should be divided into electoral sections. So soon as the principles became known on which his government was to be conducted, there arose a desire to emigrate to Pennsylvania among many European people—the German from the Rhine and from remoter regions of the fatherland; the Netherlander from his dykes and his canals; and the Englishman from the west and from the north-a motley collection, but unanimous in their opinion that man should be free as his own thoughts. Penn sent no troops to defend his colony, and the emigrants generally carried neither weapons nor munitions of war. The world, as is its wont, was ready with its scorn against the man who went with "abstract principles' to the scalping Indians; but history sets her seal to his consummate wisdom, in testifying that no Quaker blood was ever shed by an Indian.
After losing his mother, Penn resolved to visit his colony. Leaving Guli and her children in England, he set sail for the Delaware, which he reached after a nine weeks' voyage. Most kindly received by the people, he began the execution of many plans he had formed for their economical and political improvement; he founded Philadelphia ; established schools; and met the Indians in council, relying not on the sword, but on his friendly mien, and the kindness of a true heart. The simple but noble children of the forest, charmed by his honesty and worth, struck a covenant of everlasting friendship with the great Onas, as they named him, whom they committed, in their simple earnestness, to the care of the Great Spirit who loves and blesses his children. Happily dwelt the apostle of peace and good-will in his American province, and unwilling, perhaps, had he been to return to the troubled English land, but that intelligence from home reached him of a startling character. His beloved Guli was ill; the illustrious Algernon Sidney had perished on the scaffold; and the prelates of the Church had awakened a fierce persecution against all who would not conform.
Arriving in England, it was some consolation to him to find his wife restored to health ; but, as a patriot, there was much to grieve him in the administration of public affairs. The infamous tyrant Charles II., exhausted by his incessant debaucheries, and abhorred for his perfidy, negligence, and treachery, had gone to his account. James II. was king in his stead ; and, at the very commencement of that dreary bigot's misrule, the prisons were full of Nonconformists. Penn had had great influence over him when Duke of York; and now that James had reached the throne, he still hoped to exercise a happy power upon royal mind. With this view, he took a house in London, and was daily
at court. By his influence the immortal Locke was recalled from that banishment into which the tyranny of the foregoing reign had driven him; and many hundreds of Nonconformists were freed from prison. When the ill-starred Monmouth raised rebellion in the west, and his followers were slaughtered by Churchill, and himself a captive, Penn attempted gallantly, but in vain, to obtain mercy for the unfortunate duke, and to hinder the bloody assize,' as the trial of the prisoners of that sad expedition was called. But James II. belonged to a race-our English Bourbons—who knew nothing of mercy; and as the tiger who has once tasted blood must glut himself with carnage, so the cruel king revelled in the slaughter of some of the best and noblest of his subjects. The Quaker-chief could avail nothing to quench the fiendish Stuart's thirst for blood. Indeed, his intimacy with the king, coupled with the fact that he had been educated at a foreign university, caused him to be publicly pronounced a Jesuit in disguise; and, for some time, even Tillotson believed him to be such. So entirely had Penn the friendship of the king, that he was sent on a confidential mission to the Hague, to ascertain the opinions of William of Orange.
In reference to this mission, we must bear in mind that we learn much of Penn, and to his disadvantage, from Burnet, who was his bitter enemy; so that great care is needful for a rightful decision on the oftdisputed question-Whether Penn, in the employ of James, was treacherous to the friends of freedom, and forgetful of his boasted principles ; or not. That, out of gratitude to the tyrant James, who had done him considerable benefit, he may have served him too well, and that, from indiscretion in his mission, he may have betrayed those he should have befriended, is possible ; but, on the whole, we would maintain the entire integrity of his character. That he had many failings as a public man, and as a negotiator, is true; but the evidence is, at best, meagre and unsatisfactory, that he ever forgot, as an envoy, the noble principles which had guided him from his youth. At home, he gave the king the best counsel-to banish the Jesuits ; to abolish all the penal laws; to set the imprisoned bishops at liberty, and to grant a full pardon to all political exiles. But the Stuart had filled up
the measure of his crimes; and that Supreme Justice, which sooner or later overtakes the guilty, blinded his perceptions and impeded his judgment. The tyrant had done evil as he could. Friend and counsellor could not save the man whom Heaven doomed ; and he fled ignominiously from the land to which his government had been an irritation and a curse.
On the accession of William III., troubles accumulated on Penn. That stern and cold-hearted soldier never liked the man whose doctrines, in the extension of them, would disband every army in the world ; and as an adherent of the exiled king, he was arrested. Locke interceded in his behalf; and though he was liberated, he was a suspected and a marked man. In March 1692, by an order in council, he was deprived of his government, which, for military purposes, was added to that of New York. His Irish estates had been ruined by the civil his property in Kent and Essex had been consumed by the
war ; VOL. I.