Emblematic of our times, the National Park Service announced and then retracted the removal of a William Penn statue from Welcome Park in Philadelphia, Pa.. The proposed “rehabilitation” of the park would have deleted Pennsylvania’s Quaker founder in favor of an “expanded interpretation of the Native American history of Philadelphia, in consultation with representatives of the Indigenous nations of the Haudenosaunee, the Delaware Nation, Delaware Tribe of Indians, the Shawnee Tribe, and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.”
A model of Penn’s home in the park, which originally sat on the site, was also to be removed, as were exhibit panels illustrating the timeline of Penn’s momentous and admirable life.
Kudos to the Park Service for correcting itself after a few days, but why was the canceling of Penn, the embodiment of welcome and peaceful coexistence, even contemplated?
In William Hackett Fisher’s famous 1989 book, Albion’s Seed, he proposed that America was shaped by four British “folks ways:” the Congregationalist Puritans who settled New England, the Anglican Cavaliers who settled the South, the Presbyterian Scots-Irish who settled the backcountry, and the Quakers who settled Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic. No single leader incarnated the Puritan, Cavalier, and Scots-Irish migration folkways the way that Penn incarnated Quakerism, with ongoing impact today.
Penn famously abjured war, rejected conquest in place of harmony with the native tribes, and established religious freedom in Pennsylvania. Of all early American personalities, he should be safe from assault by the radical deconstructionists. But for too many, any European Christian is an oppressor who must be deleted.