The Peaceable Kingdom as Penn’s parable

What does William Penn have to do with a little boy and a lion?

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, 1826, oil on canvas, 83.5 x 106 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Speakers: Barbara Bassett, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Dr. Beth Harris

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Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom

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Key points

  • William Penn was granted land by King Charles II in 1682 to found a colony in present-day Pennsylvania. As a Quaker, he had been persecuted in England, so Penn’s goal was to create a place of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence. Philadelphia quickly became a community of many different peoples and faiths.
  • Led by his religious convictions, William Penn sought to deal fairly with the Lenape people who lived in the region. When he added land to the colonial settlement, he compensated the Lenape. However, his son, Thomas Penn, later unfairly claimed more land than agreed on in the terms of the 1737 Walking Treaty.
  • Edward Hicks was both a preacher and painter. According to his Quaker principles, fine art was frowned upon as a luxury, so Hicks specialized in utilitarian sign paintings and gave away works like Peaceable Kingdom. His style reflects this commercial influence, drawing heavily from graphic arts and lettering to create scenes that were easily understandable. He combined this with references from popular art (including a widely circulated biblical illustration) and fine art (specifically here, a painting by Benjamin West).
  • In his Peaceable Kingdom series of over 60 images, Hicks depicts a visionary scene of peace on earth that extends back to include William Penn and the founding of Pennsylvania.

Go deeper

See this object at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Read more about William Penn and explore his country estate

Learn about the founding of Philadelphia

Read William Penn’s description of meeting the Lenape

Find out about the history of Quakers in colonial North America

Explore an online exhibition of the impact of religion in the founding of the American republic

Learn more about Benjamin West’s painting William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians

More to think about

Compare Hicks’s work to Benjamin West’s painting of _William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America_ as primary source documents about the historical founding of Pennsylvania. What ideas are reinforced through each artist’s perspective? What is left out? What questions might remain about these historical events?

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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More Smarthistory images…


Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.