In his book William Penn and the Quaker Legacy, author John A. Moretta makes the case that while many people believe William Penn founded Pennsylvania as a place of religious tolerance, he also...

In his book William Penn and the Quaker Legacy, author John A. Moretta makes the case that while many people believe William Penn founded Pennsylvania as a place of religious tolerance, he also needed "wealthy Friends" to support the colony. Based on examples from the book, how can one explain Penn's tension between his religious faith as a Quaker and his need for investors in the new colony? How did it effect the early years of Philadelphia's growth?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As online access to the book William Penn and the Quaker Legacy by John A. Moretta is limited, below are some ideas to help get you started concerning how Quakers view debt, why William Penn needed investors to help found the colony, and how those investors influenced Penn's decisions. The following should give you a better understanding of the situation to apply as you review your book in search of Moretta's answers to your questions.

Quakers believe that every aspect of their lives is a direct spiritual reflection of their communion with God. As a result, like many religions, they see money as a useful means of fulfilling spiritual needs. For example, money can feed and house the poor, provide aid to war victims, help the sick, and provide many other comforts. But money can also be a spiritual distraction, as it can nurture selfishness, leading to reckless spending and even dept. As West Hills Friends church phrases it, money can be seen as "the antithesis of everything spiritual"; as West Hills Friends church further states, "When money is employed as a tool for spiritual purposes, however, it can provide a home, an education and relief from suffering" (West Hill Friends, "Money"). Therefore, Quakers would not necessarily see money accrued from investments as a bad thing but rather a beneficial thing; however, excessive debts to investors can certainly lead to spiritual problems. West Hills Friends church further points out that wealth was actually a very critical tool in making the colony of Pennsylvania so successful. Pennsylvania was established with a thriving and suitable port, and many Quakers became successful as merchants, entrepreneurs, and bankers, helping Pennsylvania's economy to grow ("Money").

These wealthy merchants also became many of William Penn's investors as he acquired the charter for the colony and worked on writing the constitution. One reason why money was critical for Penn in establishing what historians have really seen as a utopian colony in terms of its peacefulness was due to the fact that much of the land chartered to Penn belonged to the Delaware Indian tribe Leni-Lenape. Quakers also believe adamantly in peace, so Penn was certainly against the idea of trying to capture the land through military conquest; besides, even the Swedes and the Dutch had already proved it was impossible to defeat the Leni-Lenape in battle. As a result of wanting to take the land through peaceful means, Penn knew he would need to establish a peace treaty, which would require money. By 1701, Penn was able to purchase most of the land he needed for the charter and sign the peace treaty of 1701 (American Studies at the University of Virgina, "Penn and the Indians").

One result of needing to rely on investors to establish a peaceful and prosperous colony was that the investors significantly influenced the first constitution Penn drafted. In his article titled "William Penn's Gentry Commonwealth: An Interpretation of the Constitutional History of Early Pennsylvania, 1681-1701," author Richard Alan Ryerson cites scholar Gary Nash as arguing that Penn's major investors "threatened to withhold the major investments" unless Penn signed the "Fundamentall Constitutions," also called the Frame of Government, which placed the power over the colony in the hands of the wealthy (p. 304). While Penn rejected placing all power in the hands of the wealthy, the result of his investors' influence was the Frame of 1682, which established two parliamentary houses, an upper house and a lower house. The lower house was made up of smaller landowners, while the upper house consisted of the wealthier landowners. The lower house had no authority to propose legislation; the house could only pass or reject legislation proposed by the upper house ("Frame of Government of Pennsylvania"). However, the assembly who came together to ratify the Frame of 1682 was made up of a non-Quaker majority, and they rejected the constitution on principle that it gave the wealthy Quakers most of the power. Instead, the Frame of 1683 was eventually ratified granting the governor of the colony the right to pass or veto legislation passed first "by the Governor and the freemen in Council and Assembly met" ("Frame of Government of Pennsylvania"). Hence, the new constitution granted rights to all freemen, not just landowners.