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Pennsylvania State Archives


Under the First Frame of Government drawn up by William Penn in 1682, the Provincial Council was to consist of seventy-two popularly elected members with the Governor presiding over the body and also having three votes. The Council was to govern in the absence of the Governor, appoint judges and create courts of justice, regulate trade with the Indians, and issue municipal regulations. The Council could also call and dismiss the Assembly at will and had the exclusive right to initiate legislation. The Assembly, on the other hand, possessed the right to approve or reject bills passed by the Provincial Council and to propose amendments. The Council was also to serve as the highest court of the Province.

Numerous objections were raised to the implementation of the First Frame of Government and these were addressed in the Second Frame of Government adopted in April, 1683. Under the Second Frame, the Provincial Council consisted of three members from each county with the total membership not to exceed seventy-two or fall below eighteen. The triple vote of the Governor provided for in the First Frame was abolished but he was now given veto power. The Governor could perform no public act "except in the presence of the Council" and the Council retained control over the Assembly and legislation as had been provided for in the First Frame of Government. When William Penn returned to England in 1684, he turned the government over to the Provincial Council and its president, Thomas Lloyd. William Penn subsequently grew dissatisfied with the performance of the Council and stripped it of its executive powers when he appointed a five-man commission in December, 1686. Again dissatisfied with the new arrangement, at the suggestion of Thomas Lloyd he appointed a Deputy Governor in the person of John Blackwell in July, 1688. When Blackwell was removed two years later, the government reverted into the hands of Provincial Council President Thomas Lloyd who was appointed Deputy Governor of the Province in 1691. Benjamin Fletcher replaced Lloyd in April, 1693 after Penn lost the government of the colony and during Fletcher's tenure the Council became an appointed rather than an elected body. With the restoration of the government to William Penn in 1694, he appointed William Markham as his Deputy Governor.

Markham found himself at odds with both the Council and the Assembly and acted without the Council for an entire year. When Markham finally recalled the Council in September, 1696 it was as an appointed rather than an elected body. Markham needed money for defense which was refused by the Assembly until Markham granted greater powers to the Assembly under what came to be known as "Markham's Frame of Government. " This frame took away some of the Council's powers, giving both the Council and Assembly the right to propose legislation and requiring the assent of both houses for passage. Although the Governor in Council could still call the Assembly at any time, the right of adjournment passed to the Assembly.

On October 28, 1701 William Penn's new Charter of Privileges was adopted and remained in force until the overthrow of the proprietary government in 1776. The Charter of Privileges contained no reference to the Council as a legislative body and therefore the Council was excluded by implication from the legislative process. Membership was appointive and tenure was at the Proprietor's pleasure. Consequently, it was composed of the best known and most conservative inhabitants of the Province and of devoted friends of the Proprietor. In the Governor's absence, the Council could exercise all of his powers except those relating to legislation. Advice and consent of the Council was still necessary for the Governor to act on matters of government, but this restriction was no longer in force after 1763.

All of the Provincial Council records in the custody of the State Archives were microfilmed under the sponsorship of the National Historical Publications Commission and may be located by consulting the Guide to the Microfilm of the Records of the Provincial Council, 1682-1776, in the Pennsylvania State Archives by Donald H. Kent and Martha L. Simonetti (Harrisburg: 1966). Index information cards for each document that were filmed at the time give the title and description of the item, the endorsement of the Council if any, and the place or places where the record has been published. For related types of materials on the Provincial Council see also the Logan Papers (Manuscript Group 379), Richard Peters Papers (Manuscript Group 498), Shippen Family Papers (Manuscript Group 595), Penn Manuscripts (Manuscript Group 485), Miscellaneous Collection (Manuscript 425), and Provincial Council Papers (Manuscript Group 1040) at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania located at 1300 Locust Street in Philadelphia. Rough minutes of the Provincial Council for the period May 15, 1693 to August 13, 1717 will be found in the collections of the American Philosophical Society and these were microfilmed as part of the Library of Congress and the University of North Carolina joint State Microfilm Records Project that was completed in 1950. Israel D. Rupp, writing under the pen name of "A Gentleman of the Bar," published a book entitled Early History of Western Pennsylvania in 1849 that contains an appendix relating to Indian affairs in the Provincial period. This appendix contains transcripts of instructions of the Governor and Council to the delegates attending Indian conferences, journals containing minutes of conferences, messages from the Governor and Council to the Indians, and peace treaties.

Provincial Council, 1682-1776

PA State Archives Hours, Directions, & Fees Research Topics Finding Aids for Collections Land Records