Both the Preface to the First Frame of Government for Pennsylvania, and the Ordinance and Constitution of the Virginia Company outline the guiding philosophical and organization structure of each state government, but the Pennsylvania document focuses much more on the philosophy to consider in the government structure, while the Virginia document emphasizes the structure of government itself.
The Pennsylvania document begins by outlining God’s values, and denotes how “lust, prevailing against duty” (Penn 80) can work against these values. What Penn is describing is the tendency of governments to fall under corruption. By introducing the document with this analysis, Penn is reaffirming that the goal of government is to uphold God’s values and be protected against corruption.
Penn then declares the role of government to have two main functions: to “terrify evildoers” and “cherish those that do well” (Penn 81). This identifies that a government’s function is to primarily define laws that should be obeyed, with consequence of punishment, while also rewarding those who live well. Both functions are necessary in government. Penn writes that government has a distinct connection with religion.
Penn resists defining a structure of government to be established, and instead advocates that the guiding rule of government, in whatever form it takes, should uphold the values of punishing wrongdoers, while supporting those who work according to biblical values. His main resistance in defining a specific structure is based on his belief that times constantly change, and a defined system is ultimately rigid. He concludes by stating that the “great end of all government” (Penn 83) should therefore be to support the people, while protecting the people from abuses of power. He writes that “liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery” which indicates that there must be a balance: if government supports liberty, then government should be obeyed.
The Virginia Ordinance and Constitution outline similar values, but is much more succinct in how they are presented: the goal of government is to be of “the greatest benefit and comfort of the people, and whereby all injustice, grievances, and oppression may be prevented” (Virginia Assembly 74). These values are similar to those outlined by Penn, and although the Virginia document does identify that the framing of government is aided by divine assistance, it limits its discussion of religion in the governmental framework.
The document then outlines specifically how the government should be structured: there will be two separate councils, the council of state and the General Assembly. The council of state is comprised of those who have been appointed to their positions by government officials, including the treasurer and other council members, while the General Assembly is comprised of citizens who have been nominated by their respective communities. In this biggest difference from the Pennsylvania document, the state laws of Virginia are to adhere to the “laws, customs, and manner of trial…used in the realm of England” (Virginia Assembly 75). As a British colony, the Virginia laws are to be modeled after those that are used in England. The role of the local government is therefore to ensure that any local law, trial, or other legal proceeding is consistent with how law is created and governed in England. Thus, this early Virginia constitution limits the amount of agency and independence of Virginia residents, and does not seek to establish a wholly new system of government. Instead, the document is more concerned with outlining how state representatives will be selected, and limits the amount of power they have, with the guiding principle being that they follow established laws and traditions that are found in England.
- Penn, William. Preface to the First Frame of Government for Pennsylvania. 1682.
- Virginia Assembly. An Ordinance and Constitution of the Virginia Company. 1621.