William Penn American Hero

7 July 2016

Should William Penn be a heroic figure to American history? Throughout British proprietary colonization of the Americas, there were many different motives for claiming American soil by those whom were audacious enough to consider the prospect of funding a distant statehood. Penn claimed to see his colony as a “holy experiment” (page XIII); who differed from its “peers” in the respect that it had intent to provide refuge to those whom faced religious persecution, even so, the “devout” Quaker, eventually allowed to fall into a state of neglect and sink to the level of its peers.

Ironically the people of Pennsylvania became so intolerant of other religions, that, not even after four decades, Paralleled their English “oppressors”. Eventually, even Penn gave up on his colony and sold it, nullifying the basis of its moral foundation. Penn founded the colony on the idea that every man could love one another as a brother would his own flesh and blood, which, if truly observed by Penn, would never be compromised to the influence of social dogma. Penn should not, by any standard, be considered an American Hero.

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Penn cannot be considered an American hero, in the light of sheer definition, as he could not be viewed as an American in the eyes of himself, his subordinates, “brothers”, or the English Gentry, which he had been raised so prominently into with such an opportunity to advance his family name. Penn’s parents raised him into the world of the English Gentry, bred to be a gentleman and carry on the Penn legacy with a distinguished career. While Penn may be dreamt of in a heroic light by many, he should be considered, in every examined case, as a hardcore Englishman.

As Penn, born, raised in, and educated in England. Penn, along with many other English proprietors, believed that objectives such as finding personal-salvation as well as being afforded the opportunity to serve their countrymen and glory to the English crown could be achieved without holding residence away from England. For, to people such as Penn and other members of the English aristocracy, “having to take up permanent residence, which meant becoming a ‘colonial’ –a status completely unacceptable to a hardcore, aristocratic Englishman”(page 100).

In lay man’s terms, all considered Penn one hundred percent English, with no relationship to the American revolutionaries of the United States whose actions would take place more than a hundred years after his. While Penn may have claimed his colony to be a “holy experiment”, his actions communicated otherwise. When Penn received his charter from Charles II he saw further potential for and many probable afforded opportunities for personal gain from establishing dominion over territories over one of the many virgin lands in one of the new worlds.

Penn’s ledger from the throne implanted the idea of escaping his own previously established personal debts, as well as enlarging his overall holdings in real-estate and land, especially one not subject to the high taxes and economic cost which land in mainland England cost at the time. When Penn received his ledger, the idea of establishing a land of religious tolerance for all those persecuted by those less open minded in the east seemed a very appealing thought to many.

“Penn, however, knew that he had a far better chance of obtaining American real estate than English. He recognized his charter as a means of enlarging his property holdings and his way out of personals debt” (page 122). While Penn’s intent of establishing a land of acceptance and brotherly love may have been apparent in many separate circumstances, it always came secondary to the personal gain that holding proprietorship over a land and people bestowed upon him.

As is also later demonstrated in his relinquishment of the lands of Pennsylvania, and the foundation of its toleration and acceptance upon which it rested its uniqueness and moral high grounds, for a payment in the form of about thirteen thousand pounds. Penn’s actions indicated that he saw the potential that those around him and the people that he encountered or met could have to benefit him, especially with the instance of his handling of the Lenni Lenape American Indians.

Penn saw their competence, knowledge, and knack for trade as nothing to be disregarded as an irrelevant factor with zero ability for profitability , not only financially, but also with respect to the exclusive knowledge of the lands that only an American Indian could possess, as the vast majority of previous European colonies had in the Americas. When Penn said, “don’t abuse them, but let them have justice and you win them” he gave us a prime demonstration of this thought process of a possible benefit from all encounters with all peoples that Penn would come across(page XIV).

The American Indians had a very intricate network of goods and trade, and Penn knew that an asset as valuable as a group of persons with the knowledge and capital to be an invaluable, not to mention lucrative, business entity that could aid the prosperity of the state of the state. Penn established his colony, pledging his commitment to the people and wellbeing of the institution to which he would be the proprietor, an obligation which he failed to fulfill.

Penn established a colony with the guarantees of religious tolerance, acceptance of all peoples regardless of the predispositions of residents, and a generally helpful and caring society. However his neglect of the colony, after over a decade of being overseas on the mainland of England, afforded many less than ideal Pennsylvania residents the opportunity to seize money, land, and power, degrading the overall quality of the moral basis and established foundation of the Quaker society.

The factor of “Penn neglected[ing] his colony, causing its inhabitants to feel abandoned” caused the fore-mentioned shifts of internal Pennsylvanian power and wealth. Penn lived as a politician of his day, whom played the game of parliamentary round-abouts. When “The assembly further extracted from Penn the mandate that he obtain the advice and consent from the council for every Official act” (page 141).

Penn did not need to worry about this mandate because he “knew it would be a nonissue for him because the Council held many of his most loyal friends, whom he could count on for supporting whatever policies he desired to implement”, if Penn’s actions reflected those of the Politicians that divide the United States government today, how can one hold him in any higher regard? Penn had no regard for the basis of his governing body, as demonstrated by his actions, which gave him complete freedom to establish and enforce whatever policies he may so choose to in Pennsylvania.

With the position granted to a proprietor, there is a degree of personal responsibility, as well as accountability that comes along with holding such power, such as Penn had. On one account Penn received a bill from Phillip Ford which, “Preoccupied with his voyage, Penn signed this account without inspecting it—his usual habit” (page 125). The documents did not only include the costs that Ford had informed Penn of, but also an outrageous amount of money with huge penalties for the failure of payment.

“Penn also signed in haste two other documents at Ford’s request, both of which came back to haunt Penn in later years. ” An easily avoidable financial, and proprietary, disaster laid on the shoulders of Penn because of his negligence to read several documents before condemning himself to be bound by their contents. In this turn of events Penn would be liable to give up 300,000 acres of land if he failed to pay 2,851 pounds in 2 days. And a double indemnity bond of 6,000 pounds guaranteeing the payment of almost 3,000 pounds.

If a character such as Penn could not bare to read 3 documents that caused him such financial and emotional grief, how could he possibly be considered a heroic figure? Should Penn really be considered an American Hero? Throughout his life, he demonstrated desires which could be held in no higher regards than those of Thomas Edison. While Penn did make a number of significant contributions toward the advancement of people, culture, and economy of Pennsylvania, there existed a large spanning list of reasons why he should not be considered an American hero, in any sense of the phrase.

He did offer what an individual could define as generous by offering a salvation or refuge to those under the heavy persecution of their peers back in their home of Europe, mainly being England and Ireland, the characteristics, attitude, and level of shear competence that are befitting of a “hero”. There simply exists a level of scrutiny within his actions and questions to be found in his motives that deglorify the generosity of his would-be intents. While his motives may seem noble, if one digs deep enough into the life of any person, it is easy to find that there is no such thing as a hero, let alone an American one.

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