“These people have not the principles of government amonst them…”

The Ludwig von Mises Institute has published an excerpt from Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty, a Colonial history, on “Pennsylvania’s Anarchist Experiment: 1681-1690”.

Not an anarchist experiment I would want to live in, but some interesting features: religious freedom for Christians (ahem) and Quaker-Native American relations. The essay charts William Penn’s annoyance that the people of Pennsylvania kept taking freedom farther than he intended. Penn established the colony, intending to grant certain liberties. But given the opportunity to govern themselves, the people of Pennsylvania granted themselves more freedoms than Penn et al would have liked. It started with tax resistance — here’s William Penn complaining about the difficulty he had enforcing taxes:

The great fault is, that those who are there lose their authority one way or another in the spirits of the people and then they can do little with their outward powers.

Penn swooped down to the colony to try to work on the tax issue for a while, but eventually had to go back to England. In the interim, he established a governing council for Pennsylvania.

After Penn returned to England in 1684, the Council virtually succeeded him in governing the colony. The Council assumed full executive powers, and, since it was elected rather than appointed, this left Pennsylvania as a virtually self-governing colony. Though Thomas Lloyd, a Welsh Quaker, had by Penn been appointed as president of the Council, the president had virtually no power and could make no decisions on his own. Because the Council met very infrequently, and because no officials had any power to act in the interim, during these intervals Pennsylvania had almost no government at all—and seemed not to suffer from the experience. … The councillors, for one thing, had little to do. And being private citizens rather than bureaucrats, and being unpaid as councillors, they had their own struggling businesses to attend to. There was no inclination under these conditions to dabble in political affairs. The laws had called for a small payment to the councillors, but, typically, it was found to be almost impossible to extract these funds from the populace.

Of this period, Rothbard concludes:

[T]he reality must be faced that the new, but rather large, colony of Pennsylvania lived for the greater part of four years in a de facto condition of individual anarchism, and seemed none the worse for the experience.

Eventually William Penn appointed John Blackwell as deputy governor to reign in those damn Quakers. Blackwell also rapidly “lost his authority” and could “do little with his outward powers” in the face of passive resistance, ultimately complaining to Penn:

“These people have not the principles of government amongst them, nor will be informed…”