Archived Story

American Heritage: ‘Virtuous education’ made for good government

Published 10:43pm Wednesday, May 2, 2012

“The origination and descent of all human power (is) from God … first, to terrify evil doers; secondly, to cherish those who do well…” (William Penn, “Frame of Government,” April 1682)

We will conclude our look at the marvelous William Penn by looking at his own words concerning his view of what makes for good government. Mr. Penn did a lot of writing, and was very generous with stating just what he thought about what government and its officials should be like.

After stating, in his “Frame of Government,” that since humans govern, whether government is good or bad depends upon those who are in the government offices, he went on to say that his desire was “Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad.”

Later in that same document, he stated, “That, therefore, which makes a good constitution must keep it — namely men of wisdom and virtue — qualities that, because they descend not with worldly inheritance, must be carefully propagated by a virtuous education of youth… (It is therefore enacted) that all persons … having children … shall cause such to be instructed in reading and writing, so that they may be able to read the Scriptures and to write by the time they attain to 12 years of age.”

What was his philosophy on education and government? First, we see that good government depends on whether men are good or bad. Next, we see that he believed that good men begin with good education. The main things in education, according to what he believed, were reading and writing.

He believed that a person who would be a good government official was a person who was carefully propagated by wisdom and virtue, which were qualities that don’t come from “worldly inheritance.” These things, he stated, could only come from a “virtuous education” of the children. It would come from reading the Scriptures.

In 1701, Mr. Penn wrote in the Charter of Privileges, “Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience … and Author as well as object of all Divine Knowledge, faith and worship, who only doeth enlighten the minds and persuade and convince the understandings of people, I do herby grant and declare:

“All persons living in this province, who confess and acknowledge the One Almighty and Eternal God to be the Creator, Upholder, and Ruler of the world, and that hold themselves obliged in conscience to live peaceably and justly in civil society, shall in no wise be molested or prejudiced for their religious persuasion or practice.”

Finally, the words from his 1684 prayer for the city of “Brotherly Love:”

“And thou, Philadelphia … My soul prays to God for thee, that thou mayest stand in the day of trial, that thy children may be blest of the Lord and thy people saved by His power.”

Oh, that our government officials felt today as this man did in his day. May it never become a shame in the eyes of Americans to pray for God’s blessings on America, and to recognize him as our God.

By using this website’s user-contribution features, including comments, photo galleries, or any other feature, you agree to abide by the terms of use. Please read this agreement in its entirety because it contains useful information that will help you better understand the rules and general "good manners" that are expected when contributing content to this website.

Editor's Picks