When England had reached the summit of delirium under her usurping Protector, Oliver Cromwell, there arose, among many other sects full of enthusiastic self-assertion, that of the Quakers, who were chiefly characterized by a profound religious, and oft fanatical, opposition to the Established Church, as well as to the Crown. Coming in contact with one of their most zealous preachers, young Penn was inflamed with their spirit and became a vigorous propagator of their particular style of devotion.
As the Quaker tenets respected the state as well as religion, the bold avowal of them brought him into collision with the laws, and several times into prison and banishment. But, so far from intimidating him, this only the more confirmed him in his convictions and fervency. By his familiarity with able theologians, such as Dr. Owen and Bishop Tillotson, as well as from his own studies of the Scriptures, he was deeply grounded in the main principles of the evangelic faith. Indeed, he was in many things, in his later life, much less a Quaker than many who glory in his name, and all his sons after him found their religious home in the Church of England, which, to Quakers generally, was a very Babylon. But he was an honest-minded, pure, and cultured Christian believer, holding firmly to the inward elements of the orthodox faith in God and Christ, in revelation and eternal judgment, in the rights of man and the claims of justice. If some of his friends and representatives did not deal as honorably with the Swedes in respect to their prior titles to their improved lands as right and charity would require, it is not to be set down to his personal reproach. And his zeal for his sect and his genuine devotion to God and religious liberty, together with a large-hearted philanthropy, were the springs which moved him to seize the opportunity which offered in the settlement of his deceased father’s claim on the government to secure a grant of territory and privilege to form a free state in America—first for his own, and then for all other persecuted people.
AN ESTIMATE OF PENN.
It may be that Penn has been betimes a little overrated. He has, and deserves, a high place in the history of our commonwealth, but he was not the real founder of it; for its foundations were laid years before he was born and more than forty years before he received his charter. He founded Pennsylvania only as Americus Vespucius discovered America. Neither was he the author of those elements of free government, equal rights, and religious liberty which have characterized our commonwealth. They were the common principles of Luther and the Reformation, and were already largely embodied for this very territory long before Penn’s endeavors, as also, in measure, in the Roman Catholic colony of Maryland from the same source.
Nor was he, in his own strength, possessed of so much wise forethought and profound legislative and executive ability as that with which he is sometimes credited. But he was a conscientious, earnest, and God-fearing man, cultured by education and grace, gifted with admirable address, sincere and philanthropic in his aims, and guided and impelled by circumstances and a peculiar religious zeal which Providence overruled to ends far greater than his own intentions or thoughts.