Provincial-colonial initial political structures and evolving relationships among levels of government are profoundly affected and shaped by the infusion of political culture into politics, policy-making, and inevitably wreak their havoc on whatever political structures are set into place by the First Settlers into the colony. Policy differences within, among and between the colony’s First Settlers naturally arise from differences in personalities, elite factions, and the application of consensual cultural values into practical decision/policy-making. Most commonly in our later history, the fissures among the First (Quaker) Settlers manifest and express themselves in the writing of a “constitution” the fundamental document which establishes and empowers the political structures, institutions, inter and intra governmental relationships, and then links these structures/relationships/processes to the basis of authority (sovereignty) that underlies the legitimacy of the policy system to govern.
The bed of sovereignty on which the Pennsylvania rested upon was written by William Penn (the 1681 (as amended) Frame of Government, which was by implication authorized by a clause in a land sale contact to each of Penn’s First Purchasers. As we have detailed in previous modules, much of provincial and sub-provincial government was not mentioned at all in the Frame, and if those details were contemplated at all. it was only in Penn’s sincere intention simply to copy the structures and relationships of English governance as he, Penn< understood them. Penn, it must be remembered, had little government experience with structures, other than the time spent in several jails. In Penn’s original Frame there was no small print, unreadable covenants, only the signing away to Penn of the right to design the governance system and the obligation to submit it to them for final approval.
Perhaps more than anything, the flimsiness, almost the casual approach this basis of sovereignty was conveyed, together with the indefiniteness of the specifics of whatever form of government would be applied by Penn on arrival in the New World, suggests to me how Quaker political culture first infused itself into the Pennsylvania colonial structures of policy-making. A Holy Quaker Experiment may have been in offing in this New World ventury but that bond between the proposed governor of the experiment, William Penn, was a one-on=one land contract, that did not focus on the Quaker community, nor did it reflect a deep concern from either party on the issue of governance, but instead concentrated on the particulars of a private purchase.
It probably should be little surprise to us that on the trip over and after arrival Penn worked out the details of governance which he sent over to the first session of his General Assembly for approval. It was not approved. Eventually a second Frame was negotiated and approved by these Quaker First Purchasers. Whoever arrived after that approval did not have a say in that governance, nor did they enjoy many of the rights and benefits (franchise) included within the Second Frame. From the start the Frame Proprietorship was a thin foundation, built on very unstable soils. And this in itself once again exposes the low priority the Quaker culture afforded to governance and policy-making. As Penn applied the governance specified in the Frames, he did little other than alienate his First Settlers, and in a short time that alienation (and his inability to legally govern the Lower Three Counties of his colony) led him to return to England, from which he did not return until 1699–almost fifteen years later. He left day-to-day government in the hands of his selected Deputy Governor, and speedingly put three thousand miles of ocean between him and himself. That thin foundation of sovereignty and governance was really stretched thin after 1685.
Hopefully, the reader is catching my drift that the sovereignty of Penn’s Frame of Proprietary government rested with its legality as a land sale, of land conveyed by royal grant to Penn alone, and his future successors. The small group of First Settlers included in those original land contract were always divided–other than the land sales contract and adherence to Quakerism there were no formal or binding ties. Those that came later were required by their land sales contract to adhere to the established government–and if there was no land sales, there would be no contract, and no ties, unless each individual willingly agreed to such ties. With Penn no longer present, the cat was away and the mice began to play.
In Pennsylvania these factors/realities in no time at all produced a never-ending battle between the General Assembly and the Proprietor, his allies, and political structures by which they maintained whatever grip they had on the Pennsylvania colony-province. Never-ever resolved that conflict created what would be a hundred year war. A good deal of the tension, chronic infighting, and policy fissures that fueled that war originated from the particulars of Quaker beliefs, its few core and poorly documented doctrines, and the individual values and personalities of the Quaker majority that lived in Pennsylvania–contested, of course, by those who were not Quakers who also lived in in this religiously tolerant province. If the reader expected Quaker politics and policy-making to be peaceful, rational and moralist, a community of brotherly love, it is only because he/she is unaware that Quakers, called Dissenters at the time, were sometimes oppositional, and also include a willingness to be activist. Quakers were governed by the Inner Light of each individual, a bilateral understanding of each individual with God, which no other man or woman should question or dispute. With “firmness in the right” the simplest of governance issues had to reconcile sufficiently to conform to this individual Inner Light.
the Individual Quaker Approach to Governance
When not “mobilized”, which was most of the time, Quakers were content with their own affairs: friends, family, job, and hometown. Instinctively, they preferred as little government as possible (it would be a mistake to think them anti-government per se, they were not anarchists). Their comfort level with government was increased the closer it was to them; they wanted input on those policies/decisions that affected their daily life and core religious beliefs. The link between the Quaker Meeting House and politics was a “dotted”, not solid and direct line, however, unlike the Puritans who we will discuss in the next chapter. Quakers, reflecting their individual Inner Light were always on a continuum regarding any policy or decision, with moderates, literalists, and “convenient converts” all free to join in the fray. From the beginning in Pennsylvania, policy-making and governance was like herding cats. Moderates, almost by definition, fought less intensely, and Quaker hardliners simply rejected compromise and bypass mechanism that could mute political conflict. Hard line activists could sway policy-making, and did in many critical policy decision in the nearly fifteen years before 1700.
As Quakers changed over the years, the evolution of Quaker beliefs and generational change exerted a major influence over Pennsylvania politics. Matters of contention became embedded in multi-generational family rivalries. As Quakers established themselves, they valued their extended family, and like Virginia family rivalries, family dynasties provided a base for sustained conflict. Certain policy areas that challenged central Quaker.beliefs and doctrines rose to the highest priority on the policy agenda: war, militias, oaths, and a commitment to private belief-action so strong, that after 1740 it became a critical issue as to whether a Quaker could be a politician at all (and that prompted many Quakers to abandon the government ship, moving to an exclusive preoccupation with private affairs/business, leaving governance in the hands of a rump Quaker Party run moderate and convenient Quakers and auslanders (outsiders). That story will be told in a future module.
On the good side we shall see Quakers evolve from slaveholders to abolitionists, with Philadelphia becoming a homeland for Freed Blacks. We shall also see Pennsylvania policy system concerned with care for the poor, and as time passed for social concerns like hospitals; our people-centered Community Development will find their place in Quaker priorities. But foremost in their priorities was their concern for their private economic life, their business and their occupation. They were never socialists in the modern sense of the word, but sharing the Protestant ethic toward work, and despite a concerned with ostentation, they were aspirational and hinterland manors, fine furniture and home furnishing provided many opportunities for others to ply their trades.
With the advent of the First Great Awakening around 1740, a Quaker re-thinking and a Quaker version of evangelism would appear–simultaneous with the arrival and subsequent integration of Germans to Philadelphia, and their melding with, and into the Quaker political culture–transforming it into today’s Midlands. That too will be told in a future module, but in the meantime the reader can grasp the coexistence of Quaker morality, with the development of a capitalist economic base, but also understand the nature of Quakerism and the personalities attracted to it created a set of policy systems that usually lacked consensus, that fragmented into hardened factions easily, holding on to past bitterness, and a profound willingness to abandon the governance “thing” and simply leave it to others.
On top of this Quaker culture is famous for its religious toleration, its commitment to free speech, and its strong and intense belief in the equality of all men/women. From its start Pennsylvania was religiously and ethnically diverse. Quakers numerically dominated the first years of Pennsylvania, but by the 1730’s that was less true and by 1740, false–Quakers were a minority. What was also not frequently mentioned is that toleration does not always lead to brotherly love–or conversely it supports the belief that brothers do not always get along. Quakers, including Penn, were really edging about Papists-Catholics, and Anglicans were the old English arch-enemy. An awfully lot of the latter came to Philadelphia early on, and this was no end of conflict and disruption in Pennsylvania politics.
The General Assembly, elected by freeholders, was always a basket of these contentions and divisions, and certainly by 1690’s had already gravitated to a political leadership style that could assemble working political majorities from this attitudinal diversity. Led by opposing faction leaders, one sort of supporting Penn and the Proprietorship, and everybody else. That either/or zero-sum politics created two macro-coalitions, each with its leader. With important exceptions, the Penn faction was in the minority, but its control over the political structures like the judiciary and local governments and the Land Office, and the Penn family veto over General Assembly legislation, were sufficient to keep the Proprietorship in power to 1776. This despite the General Assembly’s incessant petition to King and Parliament to kick Penn out and send in royal governor. For fifteen years they sent a lobbyist to the Parliament to demand that ouster; his name was Benjamin Franklin. He failed. In any event, the Pennsylvania provincial policy system really came together during the 1750’s, somehow made it through the French and Indian Wars (Pennsylvania was a ground zero for that war), and then flew apart at the seams in colonial America’s last decade (1765-1775). Western expansion played a major role during that period as well. The war between that Quaker Party and the Penn Proprietary became the central defining chasm in Pennsylvania colonial political development–and no political structure, institution, or level of government escaped the collateral damage from that war.
Historians have called attention to this hundred year war, and the two long-standing factions that waged it. Frequently, they labeled these factions the Penn Party and the Quaker Party. If they were political parties, they were not so in the modern sense. To me they more resembled political machines, dominated by a boss or two and a network of families and leaders rooted in the lower levels of government. In the Assembly they relied on log-rolling, and pressures from below brought about their action on issues and policy areas. General Assembly-based brokers were not likely to initiate change from above, and they moved in spasms. When Quakers themselves were split, the Quaker Party reflected those schisms–and there was no better cause to split up Quakers than a war. The sole major exceptions to this was the legislature’s drive to autonomy from the Proprietorship and its defense of larger Pennsylvania autonomy from British colonial policy–primarily protecting Pennsylvania’s economic base.
In Virginia we discovered that Virginia politics and policy revolved around the royal governor, and the two-house Legislature, a struggle in which the upper House, the Council of State took the lead. As time went on we saw that royal governors sometimes went native, for good and bad reasons, and semi-autonomously worked with the legislature in policy-making. As the state drifted toward Independence, however, that broke down–and by the early 1770’s the Legislature (1) split into Loyalists and Revolutionaries, and Revolutionaries seized control over a rump House of Burgesses and transformed it into the Revolutionary legislature leading the struggle for American independence. That is not the path that Pennsylvania followed.
Pennsylvania’s Two “Party” Policy System: Proprietary versus the Quaker Political “Party” or “Machine-Broker”
This module’s second task is to explain the policy system impact impact of the sole proprietorship and its perpetual war with the Legislature.
That there was such an impact has been consistently acknowledged by colonial historians of Pennsylvania-lots of them. Their conclusion is that colonial Pennsylvania politics exhibited a partisanship between the Proprietary and the Legislature that took the form of a pre-modern two party system: Quaker Party housed in the Legislature, and Proprietary Party which, most agree was the weaker of the two, and less party-like than the Quaker Party. Historians also agree that after 1750 this two-party system shifted, and its dominance broke down through to and into the American Revolution. Succinctly put by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Professor Thayer:
In a country enjoying so much liberty as Pennsylvania it was inevitable that a conflict would develop from opposing interests of the proprietors and the people. It was principally from this cause that two political parties emerged in the very early days of the colony, and continued until broken by the upheavals of the Revolution. Beside the political issues which divided men into parties stood the ever present rivalry for public office or favor. Outside of political motives men were attracted to one another by bonds of religion, national origins, social background, and friendship. But notwithstanding the existence of cohesive forces, political parties in colonial Pennsylvania were but loosely knit entities. They tended to assume the character of so many county parties, whose leaders when acting collectively formed a provincial party [99} Theodore Thayer, Pennsylvania and the Growth of Democracy, 1740-1776 (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1953, pp. 7-8.
Thayer’s concluding hint that this two-party system rested on county-based partisan platforms supports our notion of decentralization as a primary attribute of the Pennsylvania policy system nexus. One could wonder if this decentralization is simply a northern version of Virginia’s county-level decentralized policy-making system. That, however, would gloss over the thirty year struggle between the two “parties” for control of the counties, and local government–it would also downplay a curious interplay with the evolving political culture–and its incorporation of the political values of a large group of immigrants that migrated into Pennsylvania during that period: the Germans, whose political behavior exerted great effect on voting and office-holding. Virginia’s core Tidewater counties minimized the effects of this German (and Scots-Irish immigration) through malapportionment, but in Pennsylvania a decade or two earlier than Virginia witnessed Germans in number immigrated into Pennsylvania’s three core Quaker counties, becoming a force that had to be reckoned with. The Pennsylvania General Assembly is not the mirror of the House of Burgesses, and certainly not a clone of its upper house, the Council of State–which until 1760 or so was the dominant player.
Also, the Virginia model would not take into account the interesting role Pennsylvania Townships/County played in this two party struggle for power: at both levels, rival political structures competed with each other in what loosely were competing (sub) policy systems–for over a half century (1762), until the Legislature achieved a clear victory over the Proprietor sub-systems. Perhaps equally interesting and important, is one can observe in the paragraphs below a different approach to democratic policy-making within strata of elites, a clash that was deeply influenced by religion, personalities and exhibited an urban-hinterland dichotomy which seemingly developed a “class” dimension as well. Virginia certain exhibited a clash among its wealthy families, and that did translate into policy (western expansion, for example–and development of port cities), but lacking meaningful urban centers, the socio-economic clash did not occur.
In other words the internal dynamics, not to ignore the stark contrast in county economic bases, are vastly different—and I feel it overstates decentralization’s impact on Provincial Legislative policy-making–to the point to misdirecting us from its most important features: a powerful speaker of the house (relative to the time period), and a machine-broker policy-making process. That the two provincial policy systems tilted toward sub-provincial policy systems is accurate, but they did so for different reasons, and developed distinctly different sub-provincial policy structure and different patterns, priorities and processes of policy-making and agenda-setting.
Was colonial Pennsylvania policy-making produced by a pre-modern two party policy system?—
Let’s clarify this “two party” thing first. Richard Alan Ryerson challenges that the label of “political party” be applied to the Proprietary group:
I will use the term “Quaker party” for the Quaker faction, both because it has been commonly employed by colonial observers and modern scholars alike, and because this dominant Quaker-Anglican coalition of assemblymen had several attributes of a modern party. It had major objectives that were consistent over time; it carefully composed election tickets in Philadelphia and in several rural counties; and everyone knew who its members were. It did not, of course, have the elaborate organizational structure of a modern political party. The proprietary group I label a “faction'” because it was not a broadly-based effective nominating and electing organization. It had little internal disciple and the identities of its members are often uncertain Richard Alan Ryerson, the Revolution Is Now Begun: the Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765-1776 (University of Pennsylvania Press,1978, p. 10 footnote 10.
Ryerson’s distinction and analysis I accept and apply to this history–but I am willing to depart with his label as “Party” for the Quaker coalition. I think it misleading in that all agree the Quaker “Party” was definitely not a modern mass mobilization comparable to mid nineteenth century American political parties, I believe the Quaker Party was our first observable coalition-based political party which, with ebbs and flows, was able to broker legislative majorities (with Anglicans, Lower Three Counties, Auslanders, Philadelphia merchants, and Quaker factions) across a number of policy areas over a considerable period of time. It did so because it often was able to elect its leader to the powerful speaker of the house. Secondly, a notable, quite controversial dynamic of its fight with the Proprietor, involved the Quaker Party’s relationship with German immigrants, which benefited from Quaker Party control over the naturalization system. Large scale immigration was a major factor-dynamic throughout the last half-century of Pennsylvania’s colonial history, and the Proprietary Faction embraced the Scots-Irish, and the Quaker Party the Germans–the two literally fought it out physically over key 1750’s and 1760’s provincial/Philadelphia elections. That Quaker Party-German immigrant relationship underscored the formation of a multi-based political culture of considerable size and importance in contemporary politics: the Midlands political culture. That political culture may well be the Quaker Party’s most important and enduring contribution to our history and politics.
By labeling the Quaker Party as a “political party” one does not call attention to its broker functions, and implies in its place its embryonic electoral aspects. I suggest an emphasis on its broker functions, and calling attention to the Quaker Party’s ability to elect its leader to the speaker’s office obscure, downplays the proto-“boss” like of role the speaker. If so, given its internal power elite, suggests to me an embryonic example of a political party that one hundred years later would be labeled a political machine. The Quaker “machine” possessed an inner elite of key Quaker families that in effect functioned as a machine brokering and satisficing interests and demands of its coalition members. That core is very much in evidence in a future case study that deals with Benjamin Franklin and his involvement with the post-1751 Quaker machine. The “machine” will prove to be a consistent, chronic and pervasive form of nineteenth as well as eighteenth century Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania urban politics and policy-making, and recognizing the close similarity of the organizational form across two centuries affords us an opportunity to think of Pennsylvania’s Midlands political culture and policy system in very interesting terms.
Is Pennsylvania’s policy decentralization tile comparable to Virginia’s?--What we see in the Pennsylvania legislature is the sustained (over half-a century) chipping away at the formidable hold over policy-making and policy implementation held by the Proprietor faction who dominated in 1701 sub-state governance and policy implementation. Legislative law-making under the influence of a Quaker-dominated broker elite fabricated over that period a creation of a second “sub-system” of sub-state governance–exerting control by the extension of democracy thru elections (whose constituency was usually more loyal to them than to the Proprietor) in a series of policy areas (community development like service to the poor and unemployed, an educational system, and an economic development highways/bridges infrastructure strategy–each with their own fiscal, appointment, budgetary resources and bureaucracy. Fabricating a shared policy-making/implementation division of functions between county and township/borough, and devised an autonomous sub-system alongside Philadelphia’s municipal corporation, the Proprietor was in effect evicted year by year from Pennsylvania policy-making. The policy system that emerged from this struggle in essence was incorporated into the Revolutionary War policy system (that governed until 1790), and subsequent policy systems that developed in the nineteenth century. We can still see their impact in contemporary Pennsylvania.
the lawmaking process became a means of extending the power of the Assembly [using] … legislature procedures, financial control, and legislative appointments. In this way, the essentially non democratic character of the proprietary Colony was changed by the Assembly gradually encroached on the power of the Proprietor. By limiting the powers of the executive or securing them for itself, the legislature in time exercised the greater part of administrative power  Chester Raymond Young, “the Evolution of the Pennsylvania Assembly, 1682-1748“(Pennsylvania History: a Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, Penn State University Press, Vol. 35, No. 2 (April, 1968), p. 151.
Lost in this shuffle of state differences, is Pennsylvania provincial legislature led, and was the ultimate beneficiary in the struggle for power with the Proprietary Group. The House of Burgesses never did what the Pennsylvania General Assembly did, and in the end the latter retained its own prerogatives in state-policy-making, carving out its role in what still-remained a fairly decentralized policy process. The General Assembly developed its own policy agenda, some of which was a response to sub-provincial demands, but most of which emanated from Pennsylvania-wide issues and concern. The first and foremost was to carve out additional power from the Proprietary–and to replace it with a royal governor. The Assembly also conducted its own foreign policy agenda–with the Board of Trade especially–but it was the chief defender of Pennsylvania policy autonomy from English colonialism. It also handled larger issues that rose from the Philadelphia economic base, and balanced all of that by attempting to cope with the western hinterland expansion of settlement and population movement. The ever-chronic intrusion of Quaker dissatisfaction and activism naturally flowed to the provincial-level for resolution. Finally, impacts of sustained European migration were fought out in the General Assembly, even though they were felt more severely at local levels. All this was due, I suggest, because the Legislature was itself generally dominated by the Quaker Party whose leadership developed into a semi-formal Quaker oligopoly that wheeled, dealed, brokered, and distributed the benefits of policy outputs.
In this, we may be seeing the first embryonic broker political machine on American soil. That machine-broker style was, in my reckoning, a result of the Proprietary-Legislative war, which I contend was in effect a civil war between Pennsylvania branches of government–a war whose residue left a battered, fragmented, and substantially weakened executive branch for future generations.