By Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33)
William Penn lived an incredible life during his 73 years on Earth.
At a young age in England, Penn became a Quaker, was disowned by his father, overcame homelessness and was imprisoned several times for sharing his Christian faith.
He wrote more than 40 books and pamphlets on Christianity, how to establish a better government order and the importance of freedom.
He founded Pennsylvania as a place where people could live in freedom. It was a safe haven for countless millions who fled Europe because of religious persecution. Penn’s “holy experiment” was as beacon of freedom, where residents could walk as free people.
In addition to establishing religious freedom, Penn maintained peaceful relations with Native Americans and forged the longest lasting peace treaty with them.
William Penn contributed ideas and concepts that were weaved into the U.S. Constitution and was an early innovator of the idea to use amendments to enable a governing document to evolve with time and changing dynamics.
Since his death in 1718, Penn has rightfully been immortalized in places such as Philadelphia’s City Hall and the state Capitol building in Harrisburg.
But according to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), William Penn is now CANCELLED.
On Jan. 5, NPS announced its plans to renovate Philadelphia’s Welcome Park to provide a more “welcoming, accurate, and inclusive” experience for visitors. NPS further announced the park will be “rehabilitated” by tearing down the statue of William Penn and outline of where his house once stood. NPS stated future plans would include removing a display panel timeline of his incredible life.
This decision was made before the call for public comment on the rehabilitation, which is from Jan. 8-12. There is such irony that the man who fled the imposition of belief systems on others’ lives by law is now being removed due to the imposition of the equity and social justice ideology by the U.S. government.
In Philadelphia, a city that was planned and developed by Penn, Welcome Park is currently the only public place dedicated to his life and legacy. It is also part of the Independence National Historical Park which, according to NPS, represents the founding ideals of the nation, and preserves national and international symbols of freedom and democracy.
Many of us warned years ago that activists who sought to erase history would not stop at southern generals and Christopher Columbus. In recent years, activists and local governments have targeted monuments to heroes such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
The notion that Penn’s legacy is unwelcoming or non-inclusive is just absurd.
Of the 13 original colonies, Penn’s Pennsylvania was by far the most tolerant and progressive.
He established a charter of liberties that guaranteed free elections, freedom from unjust imprisonment, free and fair trial by jury, and – most importantly – freedom of religion.
Pennsylvania became a haven for persecuted religious minorities from across Europe.
Groups such as the Amish, Catholics, Huguenots, Jews, Lutherans and Mennonites all made their way to Pennsylvania, where they could freely practice their beliefs.
Penn developed his “Framework of Government” to outline the political structure of Pennsylvania. He decided early on that the Legislature would have two chambers and that a key responsibly of government was to protect the rights of free enterprise and private property.
William Penn presided over the first Assembly in Pennsylvania. He worked to establish a system of government in Pennsylvania that responded to the will of the people.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Penn believed in making peace with Native Americans and believed they should be paid a fair price for any land that was purchased from them. If there was a dispute between the Native Americans and the settlers, Penn insisted that a fair trial take place with a committee that had an equal number of Native Americans and settlers to resolve the dispute.
Penn negotiated the first land-purchase survey with the Lenape people. On July 15, 1682, he purchased the first tract of land under a white oak tree at Graystones. His land purchase allowed the Lenape to retain the right to travel across the lands to hunt, fish and gather.
This past October marked the 341st anniversary of the Treaty of Shackamaxon. Under an elm tree in Shackamaxon – modern day Philadelphia – William Penn and Lenape Chief Tamanend agreed to a peace that would last for more than 70 years. Famous French philosopher Voltaire later stated that this was “the only treaty between the Indians and the Christians that was not ratified by an oath and was never infringed.”
Penn’s unique relationship with the Native Americans culminated in a 75-year peace in Pennsylvania. At that time, Pennsylvania was remarkably the only colony that didn’t have an army, but still maintained peace.
William Penn left a legacy that all Americans benefit from today. He advanced the cause of religious liberty that we hold dear. His experiment in representative government here in Pennsylvania paved the way for the founding of the United States of America and the U.S. Constitution.
There is still time for the U.S Department of the Interior and NPS to come to their senses.
I call on the NPS to reverse its plans to erase the legacy of William Penn at Welcome Park.
Sen. Doug Mastriano represents the 33rd Senatorial District, covering Adams and Franklin counties. Mastriano has a doctorate in history and four master’s degrees. He is a member of the Senate State Government Committee.
Media contact: Josh Herman