The People Establish a Government

Chapter 1:
The People Establish a Government

William Penn and the Frames of Government

Pennsylvania’s origins stem from one man, William Penn. Born in London on October 24, 1644, William Penn grew to become a member of the Quakers, who at the time were a persecuted sect in England. As the son of an Admiral, Penn had high social standing among members of the King’s court. This standing allowed him to protect the Quakers from certain persecution.

In order to further protect the Quakers, Penn sought to establish an area where he and the Quakers could reside without fear. Penn requested that King Charles II grant him land between Lord Baltimore’s providence of Maryland and the Duke of York’s providence of New York instead of money the king owed his father. With permission of the Dukes, King Charles II granted Penn’s request. Thus, the Charter of Pennsylvania was signed on March 4, 1681, to be made official on April 2. The name Pennsylvania was given to the colony in honor of William Penn’s Father, Admiral Sir William Penn.

Prior to Pennsylvania’s State Constitution, which was created by a state convention in 1776, there were four Frames of Government, three of which were authored by William Penn himself. These initial four Frames of Government could also be considered “constitutions” as they did have some influence later over the drafting of Pennsylvania’s Constitution and the United State’s Constitution as well.

The First Frame of Government, accepted in 1681, provided for free enterprise, religious freedom, a free and open press, and trial by jury of one’s peers. This First Frame of Government was followed by the Second a year later, because of requests for revisions by the Assembly and new settlers. The Second Frame set up a unicameral legislature (a legislature that consists of one chamber or house). This new legislature had the ability to choose its own leaders, draft legislation, had broad privileges and said that the governor could no longer dissolve the Assembly. However, Penn kept the right to veto legislation.

The Third Frame of Government is known as Markham’s Frame because it was authored by William Markham in 1696. Markham was a deputy governor at the time and also Penn’s cousin. This Frame of Government served as the “Constitution” for Pennsylvania until Penn returned to Pennsylvania in 1699 where he would draft his final Fourth Frame of Government with the help of the Provincial Assembly. The Frames of Government series would serve as a guide for the United States Constitution and some of the first State Constitutions as well, including Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania State Constitution

Given the strong ties between William Penn and England, many residents in Pennsylvania did not support independence from England. The William Penn family had worked hard to establish an area where individuals, regardless of faith and beliefs, could reside without fear of persecution. Going against England also meant going against the William Penn family. In addition, the Quakers residing in Pennsylvania at that time were pacifists and not supportive of fighting. Supporting independence from England meant risking privileges already granted by England for Pennsylvania and hurting ties between the William Penn family and England. In addition, the existing Frames of Government already provided for taxation by the English Parliament, which went against the “taxation without representation” movement.

At this time the General Assembly was mostly made up of Quakers who would be against independence from England. This meant that those Pennsylvanians who supported revolution realized that the only way they could gain more support was to take over the General Assembly. This was accomplished through the formation of a shadow government which eventually did just that. This new General Assembly would help push Pennsylvania towards its first Constitutional Convention in 1776.

The first Pennsylvania Constitution, adopted on September 28, 1776, created an Assembly of one house and a Supreme Executive Council. There was no governor at that time.

The second Constitutional Convention, held in 1789, resulted in a new Pennsylvania Constitution in 1790. Many changes were made between the first and second state Constitutions including a change from a one chamber legislature (unicameral) to a two chamber legislature (a bicameral model that included a House of Representatives and a Senate). Senators would serve four year terms, with one fourth of the Senate elected every year. The Constitution stated that the number of Senators could be no less than one-fourth the number of Representatives and no more than one-third the number of Representatives. The number of Representatives would vary between 60 and 100 members and were elected each year. In addition, the Supreme Executive Council was replaced by a single governor. The governor was given power to veto legislative actions and to call special sessions of the Assembly. Judges served for life (if they showed good behavior) but were subject to removal from office (also known as impeachment). Circuit courts were set up as well.

After a period of nearly 50 years a third Constitutional Convention was held in 1837. The Convention wrote a state Constitution that was passed in 1839. This new state Constitution included new rules for how the governor could appoint state officials and added a process to amend the state Constitution. With the ability to now amend the state Constitution, a total of four amendments were passed between 1850 and 1872. The next Pennsylvania Constitution Convention was held from 1872 to 1873 and resulted in the fourth Constitution (approved in 1874).

The current Pennsylvania Constitution is a result of a “limited” Constitutional Convention that took place from December 1, 1967 to February 29, 1968. Several proposals emerged from the Convention and these proposals which after adopted by the Convention were then approved by the citizens of Pennsylvania on April 23, 1968. The Constitution that resulted from this “limited” Convention would become the fifth and current Pennsylvania Constitution.

The Current Pennsylvania Constitution

The current Pennsylvania Constitution has 11 articles. These articles provide instruction on how the government in Pennsylvania operates and lists rules to prevent government from taking on too much power. This Constitution begins with a declaration of rights for all citizens:

Article I –
Declaration of Rights
Lists the rights that Pennsylvania citizens are granted under the Constitution
Article II –
The Legislature
Lists the responsibilities, functions, qualifications, and other rules the Legislature must abide by
Article III –
Provides a framework for how laws should be passed in the Commonwealth
Article IV –
The Executive
Describes the responsibilities of officials in the Executive Branch
Article V –
The Judiciary
Provides a basis for how the court system in Pennsylvania operates
Article VI –
Public Officers
Gives direction for officers who are elected or appointed but are not covered in other sections of the Constitution
Article VII –
Defines how elections are held and provides rules to follow for elections, and the qualifications of residents who can vote
Article VIII –
Taxation and Finance
Explains how taxes are to be administered (in terms of fairness) and exemptions or special provisions
Article IX –
Local Government
Describes how local governments are to be operated
Article X –
Private Corporations
Gives information on charters for private corporations
Article XI – Amendments Provides instructions on how to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution

The Pennsylvania Constitution can be found here: