English Quaker William Penn founded Pennsylvania in 1681, when King Charles II granted him a charter for over forty-five thousand square miles of land. This made Penn not just the owner of thousands of square miles of land in North America, but also the proprietor of a whole new colony. His constitutional authority in Pennsylvania was second only to the King of England. With this power, he had granted certain powers to the colonists of Pennsylvania in his First and Second Frames of Government, which were the governing documents of Pennsylvania until the late 1690s. When the Second Charter expired, the colonial government under the leadership of acting governor William Markham (1635-1704) attempted to establish a new frame of government without the consent of Penn. The government created by Markham and the Pennsylvania legislature was far more liberal than the previous frames of government. The new frame of government gave the government the ability to legislate for itself and to choose its own leaders. Penn affirmed the right of the legislature to enact its own laws and choose its own leaders with the Charter of Privileges that he granted in 1701.

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John Locke

Library of Congress

John Locke is considered one of the most important political philosophers in Western thought. Works such as An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and his Two Treatises of Government were political essays that influenced thought during the English Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 and thereafter. His theories of government revolved around the idea that government derived its powers from the consent of the governed, and that any government should enact laws that serve the common good of society. This idea of where the power of government is derived, and what purpose it should serve, influenced the thinking of William Penn during the period in which he granted Pennsylvania the Charter of Privileges in 1701.


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Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges, granted by William Penn in 1701, gave many powers to the colonial government of Pennsylvania. These powers included the ability to enact its own laws and appoint its own legislative leaders. Penn granted these powers before leaving Pennsylvania because he feared that the power of the monarchy would erode the powers of the colonial government and would force Pennsylvania into becoming a royal colony. In 1812, as part of an initiative to preserve historical documents, members of the American Philosophical Society secured the donation of the original charter from a Philadelphia resident, Joseph Anthony. The charter remains in the collection of the society.