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The Political Writings of William Penn

William Penn

Publication Year: 2012

William Penn played a crucial role in the articulation of religious liberty as a philosophical and political value during the second half of the seventeenth century and as a core element of the classical liberal tradition in general. Penn was not only one of the most vocal spokesmen for liberty of conscience in Restoration England, but he also oversaw a great colonizing endeavor that attempted to instantiate his tolerationist commitments in practice. His thought has relevance not only for scholars of English political and religious history, but also for those who are interested in the foundations of American religious liberty, political development, and colonial history. This volume illuminates the origins and development of Penn’s thought by presenting, for the first time, complete and annotated texts of all his important political works.

Penn’s early political writings illuminate the Whig understanding of English politics as guided by the ancient constitution (epitomized by Magna Charta and its elaboration of English native rights). The ancient constitution symbolized, for Penn and other Whigs, a balanced governing relationship between King and Parliament, established from antiquity and offering a standard against which to judge the actions of particular Parliaments. The values of liberty, property, and consent (as represented by Parliament) provide the basis for Penn’s advocacy of liberty of conscience in Restoration England. During the 1660s and 1670s, Penn used his social prominence as well as the time afforded him by several imprisonments to compose a number of works advocating religious toleration and defending the ancient constitution as a guarantor of popular liberties. In the 1680s, Penn’s political thought emphasized the substantive importance of toleration as a fundamental right and the civil magistrate’s duty to grant such freedom regardless of those interests in society (e.g., the Church of England, Tories in Parliament) who might oppose it. His social status, indefatigable energy for publication, and command of biblical and historical sources give Penn’s political writings a twofold significance: as a window on toleration and liberty of conscience, perhaps the most vexing issue of Restoration politics; and as part of a broader current of thought that would influence political thought and practice in the colonies as well as in the mother country.

William Penn (1644–1718) lived during the two great political and religious upheavals in seventeenth-century England: the Civil Wars of the 1640s and the 1688 Revolution. He was expelled from Christ Church College, Cambridge, for religious nonconformity, and in 1667 he converted to Quakerism. After his conversion, he worked as a preacher, writer, and spokesman for the Quakers, promoting religious liberty and attempting to advance the interests of the Quakers in the American colonies.

Published by: Liberty Fund


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

In preparing this edition of Penn's political writings, I have relied heavily on the expertise and advice of an array of colleagues. Chief among these are a number of friends in the Core Humanities Program at Villanova University, where I began work on this volume: ...

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Introduction. William Penn: His Life, His Times, and His Work

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pp. xi-xxiv

William Penn was born in London on 14 October 1644, and died in Buckinghamshire on 30 July 1718. His life spanned the two great political and religious upheavals in seventeenth-century England: the Civil Wars of the 1640s and the 1688 Revolution. ...

Notes on Texts and Annotations

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pp. xxv-xxvi

Chronology of Penn's Life and Times

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pp. xxvii-xxviii

Part I. Foundations: The Ancent Constitution and English Liberties

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1. The People's Ancient and Just Liberties Asserted (1670)

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pp. 3-21

How much thou art concerned in this ensuing Trial where (not only the Prisoners, but) the Fundamental Laws of England have been most Arbitrarily Arraigned, Read, and thou may'st plainly Judge. ...

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2. England's Present Interest Considered (1675)

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pp. 22-76

There is no Law under Heaven, which hath its Rise from Nature or Grace, that forbids Men to deal Honestly and Plainly, with the Greatest, in Matters of Importance to their present and future Good: On the contrary, the Dictates of both enjoyn every Man that Office to his Neighbour; ...

Part II. Penn's Argument for Religious Liberty

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3. The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience (1670)

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pp. 79-119

Toleration (for these Ten Years past) has not been more the Cry of some, than Persecution has been the Practice of others, though not on Grounds equally Rational. ...

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4. One Project for the Good of England (1679)

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pp. 120-136

Religion, as it is the noblest End of Man's Life, so it were the best Bond of Human Society, provided Men did not err in the Meaning of that excellent Word. Scripture interprets it to be Loving God above all, and our Neigh bours as our selves;1 but Practice teacheth us, that too many meerly resolve it into Opinion and Form; ...

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5. An Address to Protestants of All Perswasions (1679)

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pp. 137-271

Having thus ended my Reflections upon the Five Great Crying Sins of the Kingdom,1 and my Reproof of the Actors and Promoters of them; give me Leave to make my Humble and Christian Address to you that are in Authority. And in the First Place, I beseech you to remember, that tho' ye are as Gods on Earth, yet ye shall dye like Men: ...

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6. A Brief Examination and State of Liberty Spiritual (1681)

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pp. 272-288

It hath of long Time rested with some pressure upon my Spirit, for Zion's Sake, and the Peace of Jerusalem, to write something of the Nature of True Spiritual Liberty; LIBERTY, one of the most Glorious Words and Things in the World, but little understood, and frequently abused by many. ...

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7. A Perswasive to Moderation to Church-Dissenters (1686)

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pp. 289-329

Having of late Time observ'd the Heat, Aversion and Scorn with which some Men have treated all Thoughts of Ease to Church Dissenters, I confess I had a more than ordinary Curiosity to examine the Grounds those Gentlemen went upon: For I could not tell how to think Moderation should be a Vice, where Christianity was a Virtue, ...

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8. Good Advice to the Church of England, Roman-Catholick, and Protestant Dissenter (1687)

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pp. 330-376

No matter Who, but What; and yet if thou wouldst know the Author, he is an English-Man, and therefore obliged to this Country, and the Laws that made him Free. ...

Part III. General Principles and Specific Events

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9. The Proposed Comprehension Soberly, and Not Unseasonably, Consider'd (1672)

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pp. 379-383

Although the Benefits wherewith Almighty God has universally bless'd the whole Creation, are a sufficient Check to the Narrowness of their Spirits, who would unreasonably confine all Comforts of Life within the streight Compass of their own Party (as if to recede from their Apprehensions, ...

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10. England's Great Interest, in the Choice of This New Parliament (1679)

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pp. 384-391

Sinceit hath pleased God and the King, to begin to revive and restore to us our Ancient Right of Frequent Parliaments, it will greatly concern us, as to our present Interest, and therein the Future Happiness of our Posterity, to act at this Time with all the Wisdom, Caution and Integrity we can. ...

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11. A Letter from a Gentleman in the Country, to His Friends in London, upon the Subject of the Penal Laws and Tests (1687)

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pp. 392-398

I wonder mightily at the News you send me, that so many of the Town are averse to the Repeal of the Penal Statutes; surely you mean the Clergy of the present Church, and those that are Zealous for their Dignity and Power: For what part of the Kingdom has felt the Smart of them more, and at all times, ...

Part IV. An Expanding Vision for the Future

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12. An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe (1693)

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pp. 401-420

I have undertaken a Subject that I am very sensible requires one of more sufficiency than I am Master of to treat it, as, in Truth, it deserves, and the groaning State of Europe calls for; but since Bunglers may stumble upon the Game, as well as Masters, though it belongs to the Skilful to hunt and catch it, ...


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pp. 421-440

E-ISBN-13: 9781614878476
E-ISBN-10: 1614878471
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865973183

Page Count: 467
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None

OCLC Number: 62325982
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Political Writings of William Penn

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Subject Headings

  • Freedom of religion -- Early works to 1800.
  • Freedom of religion -- Great Britain -- Early works to 1800.
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