"Valeria, long before there was a United States, people came here with hope for their future. Some wanted to get rich. Many wanted freedom of religion. Many wished for their own land and certainly good leaders.
Recently, I overheard a woman say about an American leader, "He organized an American colony with protections for the people's freedoms. The goal was to live under law, not under whatever a ruler wanted. They could elect their leaders and vote on their laws.' "Whoa,' I thought, "that man was ahead of his time. I wonder, is she's talking about William Penn of the 1600s.'
Valeria, I began reading about Penn. He's worth knowing about. The way Penn lived and believed as an adult was nothing like the way he was raised.
When William was growing up, he could have been on a T.V. show for the Rich and Famous. His father was a powerful commander in the British Navy and a national hero. His family had servants, money, an Irish castle, and large homes in England.
Sometimes he knew big changes were happening around him. When his mother cried, he learned that King Charles had been beheaded. When England's new leader, Oliver Cromwell, put William's father into the Tower of London prison for five weeks, he learned rulers can be unreasonable. When his family was moving to southern Ireland, he saw little children begging for food. Their stomachs stuck out from their starving skinny bodies. He saw villages with only the black remains of burned homes. William was disturbed by what he saw. It did not seem right, even if his father told him that strong nations had the right to take over weak nations.
In his new home in Ireland, William was happy. He was surprised when his father invited a Quaker to speak to the family. The teaching of Quakers did not agree with the official churches. William paid attention when the Quaker, Thomas Loe, said, "True religion is not a matter of outward observances." "Each man, in the quiet of his heart, must come to his own reckoning with God." This was unlike any teaching William had heard before.
When the English government changed and a king was again on the throne, William and his family returned to England. At 16 he became a student at Oxford University. He found the campus tense. Students were divided into groups, many hating each other. There were two main groups: the Royalists and the Puritans. They represented two political groups in the country.
The Royalists supported rule by kings and queens. The Royalist students were known as partiers. The Puritan students were passionate about politics and religion. William despised the atmosphere of division, especially when some student was targeted and beaten up, which often happened to Quakers. In his experience Quakers had been kind and tried to live simply.
Though William's family was a Royalist and he dressed like one, his heart was not with them. He tried to separate himself from other students. Often he was drawn into intense evening discussions with Puritans. He began attending a discussion group led by the former dean of the university. William read and talked about the possibility of a country where leaders were accountable to the people in the country, where wars could not be declared for selfish purposes by a ruler.
When the discussion group he attended was declared off limits for all Oxford students, he continued to attend. He received a warning from the dean at Oxford University for his nonconformist views. He did not change and was expelled. When he went home, his father knocked him down and punished him as he would a disobedient sailor. William was firm. He would not abandon his convictions.
Secret religious studies in France, law school, and time with Quakers set him firmly on the road of action for freedom, even though he was put into prison several times.