Happy Birthday William Penn
By Leo Knepper
On Oct. 14, 1644, Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn was born in London, England. Penn had a rebellious streak and was a man who was ahead of his time. Ivan Martin’s introduction to Penn’s book No Cross, No Crown provides a brief account of his life. By limiting himself to the highlights, Martin manages to condense Penn’s life to a mere seventeen pages.
Despite being born into an aristocratic family, Penn was kicked out of Oxford at the age of 17. At the age of 24, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Penn was imprisoned for his writings, which attacked the doctrines of the Church of England. The Bishop of London ordered Penn’s indefinite imprisonment until he recanted his previous statements in writing. Instead, he used the supply of paper and ink to write No Cross, No Crown. Penn spent eight months in the Tower before he was released; without recanting. Essentially, Penn spent eight months in an unheated cell in solitary confinement for his religious beliefs. One of his more famous quotes neatly encapsulates his personal philosophy, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”
Penn’s numerous encounters with the courts and persecution by English authorities inspired many of the innovations he included in Pennsylvania’s first Constitution. Penn used the Constitution to limit the power of government, a novel idea at the time. He was the progenitor for many of the liberties enumerated in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights including a free press, trial by jury, religious tolerance, and the amendment process itself. Penn also insisted on low taxes. His focus on freedom and free enterprise led to an explosion of growth for Penn’s Woods.
William Penn’s guiding principles and dedication to his “Holy Experiment” paid dividends for Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers and American’s today.