Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER IV.

PENN A LEGISLATOR.

But Penn was now to accomplish the desire of his youth, the object which, in his maturer years, he had always set before him. Already when a student at Oxford, appalled at the inroad of depravity which set in with the return of monarchy, Penn had soothed his fancy, as he wandered through the avenues of Christ Church, with visions of a happy commonwealth, under a pure government, where freedom and virtue should reign. He had cherished the same dream when, on first meeting with Algernon Sydney on the continent, he had been admitted to a glimpse of those Utopian visions in which that ardent Republican had embodied his impressions—impressions suggested perhaps by the pages of More and Harrington, but afterwards modified and illustrated by the familiarity of Penn with the ancient commonwealths of Greece and Rome. But the commonwealth of Penn required more than that of Sydney; not liberty only, but religion

the rule of Christianity, as well as the reign of freedom. Was this a dream ? Could it be realized ? Was it the fancy of the poet ? Would mankind receive it? Was the world fitted for it? At least, in the New World alone was it to be found : from Europe liberty was banished, and toleration was as yet unknown. To the New World therefore Penn's thoughts turned ; to the vast world beyond the Atlantic, which had received, on one corner of its sea-coast, the exiled Puritans. They, indeed, had carried with them the intolerance from which they had fled; but as they had found in one part a platform for their polity, might not he and his Quaker friends establish another for their nobler freedom? It was a great experiment, but it was a great cause—an aim worthy of a life. Penn would leave others, for a time, to contend at home with prejudices; let him offer their best refutation, by presenting to mankind the model of a free and happy commonwealth, where each should follow his own conscience, and in the depths of his spirit worship God.

In 1677 his floating schemes were brought to a point by his visit to Holland, and by the accounts which there reached him from Quaker emigrants, who had crossed the seas and settled on the gigantic seaboard of the West. The story of their wanderings, their adventures and their progress, fired his fancy : and events, which he did not foresee, occurred to decide his plans.

That vast district, which stretches from the Delaware to the Connecticut, had been granted by Charles II. to his brother the Duke of York, and by him part of it, lying between the Hudson and Delaware, had been handed over to two English noblemen; from one of whom, late governor of the island of Jersey, it received the name of New Jersey. After various negociations, part of the province was sold for a thousand pounds to a wealthy Quaker; and finally, through Penn's interposition, (whose aid, from his influence and habits of business, was sought to disentangle the difficulties,) it was secured and made an independent province, under the title of West New Jersey. A large body of harassed Quakers, flying with their chattels from the land which had so severely used them, found on the banks of the Delaware a refuge, which prompted them to call the infant city in the wilderness by the name of Salem. Grateful for Penn's assistance, and relying on his judgment, the new colonists applied to him to prescribe the laws and constitution of the infant State; and Penn, shutting himself up at Worminghurst, in Sussex, in the summer of 1676, drew up the constitution which secured for the new colony a representative government, trial by jury, freedom of conscience, and a system of national education. To provide for the first exigencies of the colony, Penn, with the leading settlers, selected the first executive government.

Since the days of the first Puritan emigration, no

event, of greater interest to the feelings of the ardent friends of freedom in England, had occurred. The draft of the new Constitution was published, and, with a brief description of the advantages and capabilities of the colony, was widely circulated. The news flew through England. Wherever the Quakers were found, it revived and gladdened them. Two companies, to promote emigration, were formed in Yorkshire and Middlesex. A body of emigrants, with the commissioners, sailed from the Thames; another body from the Humber. Tents were seen on the Delaware, and the worship of the Quakers found a place on that remote strand. The wandering Indians came to gaze at these peaceful strangers, and, delighted with their gentleness, assured them of their friendship. The language of the Sachem chiefs was graphic. “You are our brethren,” they said to the English Quakers, "and we will live, like brethren, with you. We will have a broad path for you and us to walk in. If an Englishman falls asleep in the path, the Indian shall pass him by and say, He is an Englishman : he is asleep: let him alone. The path shall be plain. There shall not be in it a stump to hurt the feet.” Thus the colony grew; land was sold ; tillage spread; the desert retired, and already on the pathless forest appeared the traces of industry and civilization.

Penn meanwhile sought, in other parts of Europe, colonists for the new State, and a rest for his fellow

sufferers. With Barclay and Fox (the latter of whom could testify of the New World from his own observation) he went to Holland. At Rotterdam and Amsterdam, at Leyden and Haarlem, he addressed the Dutch Quakers, and unfolded to them these opening prospects. To Herwerden, and Paderborn, and Cassell, and Frankfort, Penn transported his Christian preaching and his patriotic zeal. Through Worms and Manueim, down the Rhine to Cologne, he carried the message of his Quaker doctrines ; the bigotry of priests and the despotism of princes, were startled, for a moment, out of their security, by the advent and passage of the missionary of peace. He returned to find, in all parts of England, a keen interest in the colony. Hundreds of emigrant settlers sailed; he was overwhelmed by enquiries, details, and directions, given with regard to the conduct of the colony abroad and the despatch of the emigrants from home. To this was added another interest, with further labour. Circumstances led to the eastern portion of New Jersey being offered for sale; and Penn, with several of his sect, purchased it, and established there a government on liberal principles ; the effect of which, coupled with his reputation, now widely established, was to draw more emigrants to this colony.

This success, and the disappointments he had met with at home, in all his efforts to improve the prospects of English freedom, induced Penn to devise a greater

« VorigeDoorgaan »