by Linda A. Ries and Jane Smith Stewart  


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The famous patient in Harrisburg needed treatment immediately. Dismembered, suffering gaping wounds, and literally growing weaker day by day, the situation was critical. The Pennsylvania State Police provided special escorts to and from Philadelphia to ensure safe transport.

Once there, in the city this patient helped create, trained technicians administered highly effective restorative processes. After enduring for more than three hundred perilous years of wear and tear and wholesale neglect, the prognosis now appears excellent.

Pennsylvania’s seventeenth-century Charter truly is a survivor. On March 4, 1681, William (1644-1718) Penn received his Charter from Great Britain’s King Charles II for the land that ultimately became Pennsylvania. Because it marks the formal beginnings of the Commonwealth, the Charter is sometimes described as Pennsylvania’s "birth certificate."

It enabled Penn to create a system of government without royal intervention, and also entitled him to more than sixteen million acres in the New World. The government created by Penn reflects some of the earliest conscious attempts at modern democracy.

His plan, grounded in Quaker philosophy, established such principles as representative government, separation of church and state, and the elimination of nobility and ranks. It stressed self-rule and peaceful coexistence among peoples of differing cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Nearly one hundred years later these ideals were adopted as fundamental, or "inalienable," rights with the establishment of the national government.

The legal precedent for these principles can be traced to Penn's Charter. Thomas Jefferson hailed Penn as "the greatest law giver the world has produced." Although contemporary editions of this remarkable document do exist, the ornamental version owned by the citizens of Pennsylvania and safeguarded for them at the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg was Penn’s personal copy, and is considered the "official" version. And its history and recent conservation are intertwined with the very story of Pennsylvania itself. 


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