Frame of Government

(redirected from Frame of Government of Pennsylvania)
Also found in: Wikipedia.

Frame of Government

William Penn, 1682

In 1681 King Charles II of England granted William Penn a large tract of land on the west bank of the Delaware River, which Penn named Pennsylvania in honor of his father. Penn, a member and intellectual leader of the Quakers (Society of Friends), saw Pennsylvania as a refuge for Quakers and other persecuted peoples.

Penn believed in religious toleration on both pragmatic and moral grounds. He thought that a harmonious society, unhampered by intolerance, would be a prosperous society as well. In 1682, before he left England to become the first governor of Pennsylvania, Penn wrote the Frame of Government, which served as the colony's first constitution.

The Frame of Government was an expression of Penn's religious and political ideas. He sought to create a framework that would frustrate political mischief and prevent a ruler from assuming absolute power to the detriment of the community. To prevent absolutism, Penn employed the concept of balancing forces, a concept that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution later would use liberally. Freedom of worship was to be absolute, and all the traditional English rights were to be protected.

In practice, the government outlined in the Frame of Government proved in some respects to be unworkable. Penn, however, had included an amending clause, the first in any written constitution, so that the Frame of Government could be changed as circumstances required.,

Frame of Government


I know what is said by the several admirers of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, which are the rule of one, a few, and many, and are the three common ideas of government, when men discourse on the subject. But I chuse to solve the controversy with this small distinction, and it belongs to all three: Any government is free to the people under it (whatever be the frame) where the laws rule, and the people are a party to those laws, and more than this is tyranny, oligarchy, or confusion….

* * *

Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men, than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But, if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.

I know some say, let us have good laws, and no matter for the men that execute them: but let them consider, that though good laws do well, good men do better: for good laws may want good men, and be abolished or evaded by ill men: but good men will never want good laws, nor suffer ill ones. It is true, good laws have some awe upon ill ministers, but that is where they have not power to escape or abolish them, and the people are generally wise and good: but a loose and depraved people (which is the question) love laws and an administration like themselves. That, therefore, which makes a good constitution, must keep it, viz: men of wisdom and virtue, qualities, that because they descend not with worldly inheritances, must be carefully propagated by a virtuous education of youth; for which after ages will owe more to the care and prudence of founders, and the successive magistracy, than to their parents, for their private patrimonies….

* * *

But, next to the power of necessity (which is a solicitor, that will take no denial) this induced me to a compliance, that we have (with reverence to God, and good conscience to men) to the best of our skill contrived and composed to the frame and laws of this government, to the great end of all government, viz: To support power in reverence with the people and to secure the people from the abuse of power; that they may be free by their just obedience, and the magistrates honourable, for their administration: for liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery. To carry this evenness is partly owing to the constitution, and partly to the magistracy: where either of these fail, government will be subject to convulsions; but where both are wanting, it must be totally subverted; then where both meet, the government is like to endure. Which I humbly pray and hope God will please to make the lot of this Pensilvania. Amen.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.