|Ordinances “Consonant to Reason....nor Contrary “ to the Laws of England: William Penn and the Creation and Administration of Criminal Law|
|The purpose of this paper is to contextualize the creation, development and application of the criminal law in colonial Pennsylvania. The examination of Pennsylvania’s criminal law is of interest because of the religious background of its founder and the time period in which the charter was granted to Penn. For Penn, the charter obtained two very specific goals. The first of which was the creation of a colony in which Quakers would, not only be permitted to practice their Christian theology, but would also constitute the significant colonial population and control the majority of the political power. Secondly, Penn would achieve a second goal--the creation of the most religiously tolerant society in the Christian world. Both of these goals would have a direct impact upon the criminal law. Penn, who had had his own relationship with the criminal courts of London, was a spokesman for toleration of religious and personal thought and he believed strongly in a freedom of conscience that was translated into his colony’s political and legal ideology.
Pennsylvania, then, became a highly multiethnic, multi-religious colony. Compared to previous English colonies, Pennsylvania was already partially settled by Europeans prior to Penn gaining the charter. Thus, Penn’s colony already had Dutch, Swedish, and Finish colonists living near the native Delaware Indians. Quaker colonists immediately added another Christian theology to the Delaware River Valley that already contained Dutch Reformed and Swedish Lutherans and within years Anabaptists from the United Provinces and the Holy Roman Empire and Welsh Baptists arrived to settle outside of Penn’s green country town of Philadelphia. How well residents within this broadly tolerant society coexisted and what the laws were for their living together is why this examination is unique in comparison to other colonies.
This paper then explores Penn’s establishment of a criminal law for the colony and its subsequent development during his lifetime. Secondly, this examination includes a review of the administration of criminal justice in the first few decades of colonial establishment. Using both published and non-published cases, it is hoped that a clearer picture emerges of the relationship between Pennsylvania and the development of its criminal law with that of England during the time period.|