William Penn in King Charles II’s Breakfast Chamber at Whitehall
William Penn (October 14, 1644 – July 30, 1718) was an English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania.
Although William Penn spent, in total, less than 4 years in America, his influence on what became the U.S. government was great. During his lifetime, both in England and in his colony of Pennsylvania, Penn fought for freedom of religion, for freedom of assembly, and for the right to a trial by jury. As a Quaker, he was a pacifist and believed in people being governed by laws of their own making. When he was first granted the charter for what King Charles II called “Pennsylvania” (literally “Penn’s Woods”), in honor of Penn’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn, the younger Penn wrote to the Swedish, Finnish, and Dutch already living in his colony to assure them that he would allow them a part in making the rules that they would be expected to live by and to state that there would be freedom to worship God according to one’s own conscience there. Years later, Thomas Jefferson would say of Penn that he was “the greatest law-giver the world has produced”. Eventually, many of Penn’s values, ideas, and laws for his colony became basic tenets of law in the new United States of America.