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The Frame of Government of Pennsylvania was a constitution for the Province of Pennsylvania, a proprietary colony granted to William Penn by Charles II of England. In 1682 Penn, while still in England, drafted the first version of the Frame of Government to supplement the colony's royal charter. Freedom of worship in the colony was to be absolute, and all the traditional rights of Englishmen were carefully safeguarded.[1] The Frame of Government has lasting historical importance as an important step in the development of American and world democracy.



William Penn as an English Quaker sought to construct a new type of society with religious toleration and a great deal of freedom. The Frame incorporated very progressive ideas for its time period. The Frame of Government was only actually in effect for a short period. The legislature did not approve Penn's First Frame, but they finally accepted an amended version in 1693. William Markham, Penn's cousin and appointed deputy governor, drafted his own versions, which was approved in 1696.

History of the Frames

The First Frame created a government with a 72-member Council to propose legislation, a General Assembly of 500 to approve it, and a governor with a veto and three votes on the Council. Members of the legislature had three year terms and were chosen in staggered elections each year.

The First Frame protected many rights and liberties including trial by jury, freedom of the press, and religious toleration. Use of the death penalty was much more limited than it was in other societies at the time.

The First Frame included an amendment process where 7/8 of the legislature and the governor had to approve any change. The Frame was the first constitution to allow for an amendment process.[2]

The Second Frame weakened the governorship. The three votes stipulation was removed, and the governor was not allowed to take any official action without the Council observing.[3]

The Third Frame, proposed by Markham, gave the Assembly greater powers. It could propose legislation, which now required the consent of both houses.

Penn drew up a Fourth Frame, also known as the Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges[4] (or Charter of Liberties), in 1701. This version lasted until the American Revolution when it was replaced with a state constitution.

Legacy and reception

The Frame of Government has been seen as a significant move towards democracy in America. The political philosophy expounded in the preface to the First Frame has often been cited and quoted. Voltaire applauded Penn's efforts, saying he might "with reason, boast of having brought down upon earth the Golden Age, which in all probability, never had any real existence but in his dominions."[2]

The fiftieth anniversary of the Fourth Frame was celebrated with the making of the Liberty Bell.


  1. ^ "William Penn (English Quaker leader and colonist)". Britannica. Retrieved 2009-06-27. "In 1682 (England), he drew up a Frame of Government for the Pennsylvania colony. Freedom of worship in the colony was to be absolute, and all the traditional rights of Englishmen were carefully safeguarded" 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ PA State Archives - RG-21 - Series Titles - Proprietary Government
  4. ^ 1701 Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges.


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