Over the years, Hutchinson attracted a following. Almost sixty people, both men and women, joined her group. The discussions at her home soon became more like sermons where she criticized the teachings of the colony’s ministers. For anyone—and especially a woman—to go against the official religion of the colony was a crime. Colony ministers charged Hutchinson with eighty-two “erroneous opinions.” But she did not keep silent. She courageously defended her beliefs. In the end, Hutchinson was convicted and banished to the colony of Rhode Island.
Hutchinson’s struggle affirmed the values of respect and religious liberty. In 1789, the Constitution banned religious tests for public office; the First Amendment, adopted in 1791, stopped the federal government from establishing a national church; finally, all the states ended their official churches by the early 19th century. Hutchinson’s early struggle helped lay the foundation for religious liberty.
Writing the colonial charter and making plans from across the Atlantic in England, Penn wrote to the colony’s residents about his belief that just government relies on the consent of the governed: “You shall be governed by laws of your own making…” He ensured rights such as jury trials, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion for all Christians who were included in the charter. Penn’s commitment to moderation was evident in the colony’s criminal code. At a time when other colonies punished religious dissenters with death and English law provided the death penalty for offenses like robbery, Pennsylvania reserved the death penalty for the crimes of murder and treason only. The government also included ideas later found in the Constitution including separation of powers and republican government.
On his first visit to Pennsylvania in 1682, Penn founded the city of Philadelphia. In negotiating with Indians, he always treated them with respect and paid a fair price for land. On his second visit in 1701, a new constitution for the colony was written that endured until the Revolutionary War. A bell was cast in 1751 for the 50th anniversary of that document, on which was inscribed a Biblical verse: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This bell, now known as the Liberty Bell, hangs in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson called Penn “the greatest law-giver the world has produced.”
In response, the governor ordered the newspaper burned and had Zenger arrested for “seditious libel.” Zenger’s bail was set extremely high and he spent nine months in jail. At his trial, Zenger complained that the three judges on the bench had all been appointed by the governor. In response, the judges disbarred (or disqualified) Zenger’s lawyers. Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton then took the case.
Hamilton argued that the law defining “seditious libel” was unjust, because it was irrelevant whether the objectionable printed statements were true or false. Since what Zenger printed was true, Hamilton argued, the jury should set him free. He asserted the importance of a free press in society, which ought to have “a liberty both of exposing and opposing tyrannical power by speaking and writing truth.” The jury agreed and set aside the law, acquitting Zenger. In addition to the principles of press freedom expressed by Hamilton, the Zenger case illustrates the importance of protections such as jury trials, due process, and prohibitions on excessive bail.