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William Penn & His “Holy Experiment” of Pennsylvania

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Published on: December 13, 2014

Pennsylvania became the 2nd State to join the Union, DECEMBER 12, 1787.

Pennsylvania was where the Continental Congress met, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and where the Liberty Bell was rung.

The Continental Army spent the freezing winter of 1777 at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania was where the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, and from 1790-1800 it was where the United States Capitol was located.

Pennsylvania was originally given by King Charles II in 1682 to William Penn, the Quaker dissenter who was son of the famous Admiral Sir William Penn.

William Penn considered Pennsylvania a “Holy Experiment” where Christians of different denominations would live together.

This was unique in the world.

William Penn insisted on purchasing land from the Indians at a fair price and treating them with respect.

Contrary to most other countries and colonies, which permitted only one denomination of Christians, Pennsylvania allowed any person who acknowledged “one Almighty God” to “fully enjoy his or her Christian Liberty.”

This was stated in the colony’s first legislative act, The Great Law of Pennsylvania, December 7, 1682:

“No person…who shall confess and acknowledge one Almighty God to be the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World…shall in any case be molested or prejudiced for his, or her Conscientious persuasion or practice… but shall freely and fully enjoy his or her Christian Liberty without any interruption.”

Instead of harsh corporal punishments, as he had been imprisoned in the notorious Tower of London, William Penn promoted the idea of putting a criminal is a room with a Bible.

Chuck Colson stated in 1981:

“Quakers introduced the concept in Pennsylvania… The first American prison was established in Philadelphia when the Walnut Street Jail was converted into a series of solitary cells where offenders were kept in solitary confinement.

The theory was that they would become ‘penitents,’ confessing their crimes before God and thereby gaining a spiritual rehabilitation. Hence, the name “penitentiary”-as a place for penitents.”

The oldest church in Pennsylvania is Old Swedes’ Gloria Dei Church, which was begun by Lutheran missionary Johannes Campanius in 1646 among Swedish and Finnish settlers.

From 1700 to 1750, Britain’s laws against dissenters drove some 200,000 Scots and Scots-Irish Presbyterians from Scotland and Ireland to mostly Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley and counties of Lehigh, Bucks and Lancaster.

In 1706, the first meeting of Presbyterian leaders in America took place in Philadelphia, led by Rev. Francis Makemie.

Beginning in 1720, German and Swiss settlers known as New Baptists, or Dunkers, began arriving in Pennsylvania, together with Anabaptists, Mennonites and Amish.

These were followed by Protestant Schwenkfelders, who came from the Germany’s Rhine Valley, Alsatia, Suabia, Saxony, and the Palatinate.

Between 1730 and 1740, numerous Lutheran Reformed Congregations were formed.

In 1731, the first English speaking Catholic Church in the world since England’s Reformation two centuries earlier was Philadelphia’s St. Joseph Church, founded by 22 Irish and 15 Germans.

In 1739, German Moravians, or Church of the Brethren, led by Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf, settled Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Moravians sent missionaries around the world, including the Colony off Georgia, where they worked with Native American tribes, and briefly influenced John and Charles Wesley.

In 1740, several Jewish families organized Pennsylvania’s first congregation, Mikveh Israel, building their first Sephardic synagogue in 1782.

The first Ashkenazic Synagogue, Rodeph Shalom, was built in 1795.

At the age of 29, Ben Franklin wrote a series of pamphlets, as he mentioned in his Autobiography:

“About the Year 1734, there arrived among us from Ireland, a young Presbyterian Preacher named Samuel Hemphill… Among the rest I became one of his constant Hearers, his Sermons pleasing me, as they had little of the dogmatical kind, but inculcated strongly the Practice of Virtue, or what in the religious Stile are called Good Works… I became his zealous Partisan, and contributed all I could to raise a Party in his Favour…and wrote for him two or three Pamphlets, and one Piece in the Gazette of April 1735.”

Bill Fortenberry’s book, The Christian Pamphlets of Benjamin Franklin (2014), contain Franklin’s quotes, such as:

“Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all Iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar People zealous of Good-Works. And there is scarcely a Chapter in the whole Gospels or Epistles from which this Doctrine can’t be prov’d.”

On December 12, 1747, in response to French and Spanish privateers raiding America’s coast, Ben Franklin published a Proclamation for a General Fast in the Pennsylvania Gazette, approved by Pennsylvania’s Colonial Council:

“As the calamities of a bloody war, in which our nation is now engaged, seem every year more nearly to approach us…we have, therefore, thought fit…to appoint…a Day of Fasting & Prayer… that Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations & put a stop to the effusion of Christian blood.”

Just over two months after the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, President of the Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Convention, signed the State’s first Constitution, September 28, 1776.

Considered “the most radically democratic Frame of Government that the world had ever seen,” Pennsylvania’s Constitution stated in Chapter 2, Section 10:

“Each member of the legislature, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration:

‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governour of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and Punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.'”

In 1824, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, in Updegraph vs. Commonwealth, acknowledged a 1700 law still in force which imposed a penalty upon any who,

“…willfully, premeditatedly and despitefully blaspheme, or speak lightly or profanely of Almighty God, Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Scriptures of Truth.”

Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn had written to Czar Peter the Great of Russia, July 2, 1698, as Peter had visited Penn in England ten years earlier:

“Know, great Czar…’tis in this kingdom of England that God has visited and touched the hearts of a people, above forty years ago, by the holy light and grace of his Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ…to worship God, who is a Spirit, in and by his own Spirit…

If thou wouldst rule well, thou must rule for God; and to do that, thou must be ruled by Him.”

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