|... there we lay a foundation for after ages that they may not be brought in bondage, but by their own consent, for we put the power in the people ...|
"West New Jersey Concessions and Agreements," 1677
THE English monarchy encouraged settlement in America by granting land and governing powers in the New World to various individuals, called proprietors. When territorial and financial disputes arose among some proprietors with claims to West New Jersey, Quaker leaders were called upon for arbitration.
The new governing board, with William Penn acting as principal trustee and 12 of the 13 new proprietors being Quaker, resolved the quarrel with the landmark "Concessions and Agreements of the Proprietors, Freeholders and Inhabitants of the Province of West New Jersey in America."
Facsimile, West New Jersey "Concessions and Agreements"
Courtesy: Taylor, Wiseman & Taylor
Map of New Jersey
Courtesy: John Gallery
THE creation of this West New Jersey government preceded Penn's Pennsylvania by 6 years and reflects both Quaker religious beliefs and Enlightenment ideas adopted by Friends as politically pragmatic. This document, after governing the region for 25 years, became absorbed in the 1702 union of East and West New Jersey into one royal colony. The descendants of these 1677 proprietors still meet annually, although they no longer have legal jurisdiction.
Based on egalitarian concepts as well as Quakers' adverse experiences with English laws of the period, this document embodies Friends' application of religious principles to form a successful, working government and attracted many new settlers to the colony. Among the hallmark provisions presented for the first time in American law were: Freedom of Religion; Expanded Concept of Democracy Through the Establishment of a Predominant, Powerful Assembly Elected by All Free Men; No Taxation Without Consent of the Governed; Trial by Independent Jury; Sunshine Laws; Safeguards Against Bribery and Corruption; Restorative Justice; and Equal Rights for Native Americans.
Freedom of Religion
That no men or number of Men upon Earth hath power or Authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters therefore it is consented agreed and ordained that no person or persons whatsoever within the said Province at any time or times hereafter shall be any ways upon any pretence whatsoever called in question or in the least punished or hurt either in Person Estate or Privilege for the sake of his opinion Judgment faith or worship towards God in matters of Religion but that all and every such person and persons may from time to time and at all time freely and fully have and enjoy his and their Judgments and the exercise of their consciences in matters of religious worship throughout all the said Province.
- "Concessions and Agreements," Chapter 16
Expanded Concept of Democracy Through the Establishment of a Predominant, Powerful Assembly Elected by All Free Men
No Taxation Without Consent of the Governed
They are not to impose or suffer to be imposed any Tax Custome or subsidie Tollage Assessment or any Other duty whatsoever upon any colour or pretence how specious soever upon the said Province and Inhabitants thereof without their owne consent first had or other then what shall be imposed by the authority and consent of the Generall Assembly and that only in manner and for the good ends and uses as aforesaid.
- "Concessions and Agreements", Chapter 11
Trial by Independent Jury
Following the Restoration [of the Stuart Monarchy, 1660] it became a principal objective of the Crown to assure that no revolution would ever again unseat the monarchy. The 1660s became a period of repression. The Quakers were by now a substantial movement, and although a completely peaceable sect, were among the principal victims. ...
One method of harassing Quakers was to lock their meetinghouses. Among those locked by the London authorities was one on Gracechurch Street.On Sunday August 14, 1670, 300 people gathered outside the barred meetinghouse. William Penn, a young man of 26 and of gentlemanly bearing, spoke to the assemblage. He was accompanied by William Mead, a draper and an active Quaker. Penn and Mead were both arrested and, refusing to pay the fine prescribed by the Conventicles Act, they demanded a jury trial and spent the next two weeks in jail.
The indictment was for participating in an unlawful assembly. ... The crime consisted of taking part in a band intending acts not yet being committed, but which, if committed, would be a riot. ...
The trial of William Penn and his colleague William Mead [in the Old Bailey] in 1670 was a celebrated one. Despite the venomous hostility of the presiding judge to the accused, the jury acquitted them. The jurors in turn were fined and imprisoned for bringing in the acquittal verdict. Eight jurors paid to secure their release. Four, however, sought relief in a higher court. In a ringing opinion the court determined that a judge may not punish a jury for its verdict, however thoroughly he disagrees with it. The case became a landmark in Anglo-American jurisprudence.
Samuel M. Koenigsberg, "Jury Freedom and the Trial of Penn and Mead"
"William Penn and William Meade" panel, © Quaker Tapestry Scheme. One of 77 panels of community embroidery made by 4,000 people from 15 countries.
Governmental Meetings Open To All (Sunshine Laws)
That in every general ffree Assembly every respective member hath Liberty of speech that no Man be interrupted when speaking ... and that the people have Liberty to come in to heare and be witnesses of the voates and the inclination of the Persons voating.
- "Concessions and Agreements", Chapter 36
Safeguards Against Bribery and Corruption in Government
Restorative Justice, rather than Jail for Theft
"Mutual Trust", Courtesy: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC. - Paul Domville
Equal Property and Legal Rights for Native Americans
It is agreed when any Land is to be taken up for settlement of towns or otherways before it be Surveyed the Commissioners or the major part of them are to appoint some persons to go to the chief of the natives concerned in that land soe intended to be taken up to acquaint the Natives of their Intention and to give the Natives what present they shall agree upon for their good will or consent and that a grant of the same in writeing under their hands and seals...
- "Concessions and Agreements", Chapter 26
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