Washington Law Review

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The Penn Cases


The Penn cases came at the climax of one of the most vital periods of English history The Stuart kings had denied the people many of the liberties defined by the Magna Carta and the Common Law, and additional privileges won through the centuries. James II had used every effort to repress the independence of the bar and had in fact prostituted the independence of the bench to the arbitrary prerogative of the lng. Charles II was attempting to evade the provisions of the Petition of Right, wrung from his father through the efforts of Lord Coke and other eminent lawyers. Parliament, under the control of the cavaliers, in an effort to regulate the religious thought and personal conduct of nonconformists, had enacted a series of odious acts, among which was the Conventicle Act of 1664, and the people were fighting stubbornly to maintain their sacred constitutional rights. They were struggling for still greater power in the courts as well as in Parliament. Our debt to the period can be judged by the fact that it produced thirty per cent of the leading constitutional cases of England, and gave us such unporant laws as the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, the Bill of Rights of 1689, and the Act of Settlement of 1700-1701, all of which mark important developments in English and American constitutional history.Under these acts the Quakers had suffered greatly. William Penn was a Quaker, but he did not belong to the class whose resistance, although firm, was passive, and whose suffering was borne in the spirit of martyrdom. Although not rebellious in spirit he adopted such means as would accomplish his desired end. He was expelled from Christ's Church, Oxford, for attacking fellow students because they wore gowns which he considered papistical. Before he was twenty-six years old he had been twice driven from his home by his father. Although he had enrolled as a student at Lincoln's Inn and had been promised an honorable career at the bar, he had abandoned his studies and had undertaken to preach the forbidden doctrines of the Society of Friends. His devotion to his religion caused his arrest no less than six times during his career.

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