Sudha British Government And The Glorious Revolution Of 1688


In order to fully understand the form of government the Founding Fathers created and the rights included in the Bill Rights, it is important to understand British government and its history. The colonists were influenced by several important events in British history such as the creation of the Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the English Bill of Rights. Although the colonists were separated by distance from Britain, many of the colonists came from Britain and identified themselves as Britishers. According to Gordon Wood, "most colonists knew more about events in London than they did about occurences in neighboring colonies."1 The colonists' were influenced by the notion of liberty that pervaded in British politics. "Since the early seventeenth century the English had radically transformed their monarchy: they had executed one king and deposed another, written charters and bills of rights, regularized the meetings of their parliaments, and even created a new line of hereditary succession."2 Many of the rights that were included in the Bill of Rights of the American Constitution were already implemented by the British government. "The English had no standing army, no lettres de cachet;a letter bearing an official seal and usually authorizing imprisonment without trial of a named person they had their habeas corpus, Habeas corpus originated in English common law as a means to protect individuals from illegal detention. their trials by jury, their freedom of speech and conscience, and their right to trade and travel they were free from arbitrary arrest and punishment."3

British Government

The British government in the 18th century was structured as a constitutional monarchy. The King was the head of the government, but Parliament had the authority over the King t0 create laws. Parliament was divided into two Houses. The House of Lords and the House of Commons. This bicameral legislature is reminiscent of the House of Representatives and the Senate created in the Constitution.

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta (Great Charter) is a charter of English liberties granted by King John in 1215. King John's tyrannical behavior such as, "imposing brutal punishments on individuals who challenged his authority" and creating an administration that was both corrupt and inefficient which caused the "feudal lords to challenge his authority."4 The lords began to rebel in 1213, by refusing to support him against the war in France. By May 1215, the lords renounced their allegiance to the king. Since King John was threatened with an overthrow, he conceded he was left with no choice but to meet with the barons and agree to their terms.5 Thus, the Magna Carta was a document that reclaimed the rights of the nobles over the kings.6The Magna Carta became the foundation upon which parliamentary government was created and also inspired the declaration of rights in Great Britain and the United States. The rights stated in the Magna Carta, habeas corpus and due process of law, "found their way into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."7

The Glorious Revolution

As the population of England became increasingly Protestant, King James II's Catholicism and absolutism began to alienate his subjects.8 Much of the population hoped for his soon death, so that his daughter, Mary (Protestant), and her husband, Prince William of Orange (a Protestant), could rule over England. However, when King James II's wife gave birth to a male heir who was baptized as a Catholic, their hopes were dashed.9 "Fearing the continuation of Catholic absolutist rule, seven English lords invited William and Mary to England."10 "The real significance of the Glorious Revolution stems from the fact that when William and Mary accepted the throne in 1689, they also officially accepted the Declaration of Rights: a document drawn up by the emergency Convention Parliament that, with a few amendments, was later written into law as the Bill of Rights."11The significance of the English Bill of Rights is that Parliament gained powers over the King, as well as individual liberties. For example, article ten states that English subjects were to be free from excessive bail, fines, or “cruel and unusual punishments.”12 The English Bill of Rights also changed Britain into a constitutional monarchy. Not only did The Glorious Revolution impacted the colonists, but so did John Locke's interpretation of the Glorious Revolution.

John Locke's interpretation of the Glorious Revolution also influenced the colonists. "Locke argues that the people, as represented by the Convention Parliament, were right to replace the tyrannical James II and to declare their rights, through the Declaration of Rights, before anointing a new king… if a government does not protect the natural rights of the people—defined specifically as life, liberty, and property—than the people have the right to rebel and replace the government with one that more effectively protects those rights."13 The influence of Locke's interpretation is clearly seen in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is similar to the Glorious Revolution in that the colonists believe that Great Britain is not securing or protecting their basic rights, and government which does not must clearly be overthrown.

Why it Matters

Although the colonists were declaring their independence from Great Britain, it is clear to see the reasons for seeking independence from Great Britain are quite similar to the reasons the noblemen renounced the King in 1215, and the reasons the noblemen brought Mary and William of Orange. The colonists felt that Parliament was overstepping its authority and taking away their rights as Englishmen. Thus, they too decide to overthrow the government. Not only were the colonists influenced by the British overthrowing oppressive rulers, but they were also influenced by the principles in the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights. Habeas corpus, the right to a trial by jury, to be free from "cruel and unusual punishments" are all either stressed the Constitution or the U.S. Bill of Rights. They were also influenced by the structure of the British Parliament, choosing to create a bicameral legislature themselves.

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