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William Penn: Tried for Sedition - Summary

The trial of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia, changes the way jurors are treated. When William Penn is only 26, and still living in England, he faces execution for sedition against the crown. At a time when defendants are not allowed to have a lawyer, William Penn has to defend himself. A jury finds Penn guilty, and then refuses to upgrade their verdict when challenged by the government. The jury goes to prison because of these actions. 

It is hard to believe in today’s society that a jury could be sequestered without food, water, heat, or bathrooms. Yet this is exactly what happens when William Penn violates a law that says the Church of England is the only place a person can worship. Penn is a Quaker, and preaches at Grace Church in London. He violates the “Conventicle Act” forbidding “Tumultuous Assembly”. After his sermon, Penn faces immediate arrest.

Penn appears before a jury consisting of 12 Londoners, and 10 judges that make up the court. Penn publishes the trial transcript, leaving a written record of what transpires. The case appears very simple to the judges. It is clear that Penn has preached an illegal sermon at Grace Church, so the verdict is evident. What the court does not count on is the jury’s reaction to Penn’s treatment during the trial. Since Penn is so adept at representing himself, the court locks Penn up so that the jury can still hear him, but he is not visible.

The jury reaches a unanimous verdict that Penn is guilty of speaking at Grace Church. They refuse, however, to say that it is an unlawful assembly. This angers the court, and causes the jurors to be locked up until they reach an acceptable verdict. After two days in deplorable conditions, eight jurors change their decision and are released. The other four, along with the jury foreman, refuse to do so. They are fined and sent to prison until they can pay the fine. Here they remain under inhumane conditions for nine weeks. 

Finally, England’s High Court of Common Pleas sets the prisoners free. This causes a change in the laws, and serves as a model for Penn’s own approach to government. When Penn comes to America, he bases his laws on a model of freedom, and reserves the death penalty for murder and treason. This influences the writers of the Constitution. This model ensures that today’s jurors can reach a fair and equitable decision. 

In this story of how the laws concerning jurors change, learn about William Penn. See how he develops the city of Philadelphia. See “Old Bailey”, the courthouse where Penn was tried and Newgate Prison, where the jurors were held. Learn how these actions influence William Penn’s views of government. Learn about how Penn plans the government of his Union. See the documentation of the actual trial. 

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 01, 2000

Updated Last Revision: May 06, 2019


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"William Penn: Tried for Sedition" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 01, 2000. Jan 22, 2020.
       <http://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/135713/Summary>.
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