Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A History of the English Revolution

Realizing that a sound understanding of American constitutional history is not possible without an understanding of the English Revolution, I have prepared the following brief history of the major events of the English Civil War, Interregnum, and Glorious Revolution:

A. Events Leading to the Protection of Individual Rights in England

1. King James I (1603–1625)
King James I was an unpopular King who had a tumultuous relationship with Parliament and denied the basic rights and freedoms of his subjects. He considered the king to be as the head of a body, the father in a family (the king is parens patriae), and a god (resembling divine power on earth), and held that it was sedition for a subject to dispute what the king may do.

2. King Charles I (1625–1649)
King James’ son, Charles I, similarly held views of the absolute sovereignty of the king, which caused friction with prominent leaders in society. In many ways, he acted tyrannically and arbitrarily in denying his subjects basic rights. When he was unable to raise funding from Parliament to finance his military exploits, Charles imposed required the wealthy to pay loans and imprisoned subjects who failed to pay. In the Five Knights’ Case (K.B. 1627), five landowners resisted the forced loans. Charles, believing the actions of the landowners to be criminal, ordered them to prison and denied them a trial by a prosecutor. The landowners argued that the King had violated their rights under the Magna Carta, but the court held that the order of the King was enough of a justification to hold the prisoners, even without a formal charge.
The king’s acts led to rising tension among his subjects and between him and Parlaiment. The Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament would eventually condition their cooperation with Charles in raising taxes on the king’s signing of the Petition of Right, which protected several rights that endure to this day, including taxation only with representation and the prohibition of arbitrary imprisonment. It also protected the rule of law and petitioned the king to remove stationed soldiers and mariners who obliged the citizens to receive them into their homes. Although Charles signed this Petition, he largely ignored it and continued to tax without Parliamentary approval.

3. The English Civil War and the Execution of King Charles I

a. Rising Tensions
During his reign, Charles I continued with the support of his judges to punish those who opposed his taxation and military campaigns. Parliament attacked his judges and impeached his advisors, and forced him to agree to abolish a prerogative court where criminals were frequently tortured. Charles feared that Parliament was trying to usurp his power, and Parliament feared that the King and his Archbishop Laud, were seeking to return the English State Church back to Roman Catholicism.
In 1640, a Puritan-dominated Parliament provoked Charles by voting to establish the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. Charles reacted by bringing troops into the House of Commons to arrest its leading members. The Parliament reacted in turn by raising an army of its own to bring down the Stuart Monarchy.

b. Civil War, Trial, and Execution of the King
Civil war between Parliamentarians and Royalists ensued from 1642 to 1649. The first (1642–46) and second (1648–49) civil wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament. The king was finally defeated militarily and tried in 1649 for “Treason and High Misdemeanours.”
Throughout the trial, Charles repeated the charge that the court had no authority to try him, and he refused to enter a plea. The President replied that the king was being tried “in the name of the people of England,” but the king never submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. The idea that the king was above the law, a principle that both King James and Charles adopted, was abolished in the trial. The court held that the king was accountable to the people and to the laws, and could be punished for violating the public trust, and yet there were no members of the Upper House present the court and the court’s claim that its authority derived “from the people” was highly dubious.. This was a view articulated by Milton, who stated that “it is lawful, and has been held so through all ages, for any, who have the power, to call to account a tyrant or wicked king, and after due conviction, to depose and put him to death.”[1], [2]
At the conclusion of the trial, the king was sentenced to death and was executed on January 30, 1649. Thereafter, more armed conflict broke out between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The Civil War ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

B. The Interregnum, Restoration, Glorious Revolution, and English Bill of Rights

1. The Interregnum
Beginning with the execution of Charles I in 1649 and ending with the restoration of Charles II in 1660, England was marked by a period of parliamentary and military rule known as the Interregnum. This period of English history was comprised of a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell (1653-58) and of a Protectorate under his son, Richard Cromwell (1658-59).
Oliver Cromwell emerged as the central power holder of England after the execution of Charles I. Cromwell led brilliant military victories throughout Ireland, Scotland and continental Europe, and quashed rebellions ruthlessly. He dissolved Parliament on multiple occasions when dissatisfied with its results, and his rule came close to something akin to a military dictatorship. Some have suggested that this centralization of power was necessary in a realm whose government was historically marked by a powerful executive. In the absence of a king, Cromwell was forced to take on this role.
At the death of Cromwell, the country degenerated into near anarchy. Cromwell’s son, Richard, tried to lead the country but, lacking his father’s military prowess and ruthlessness, was unable to work effectively with Parliament.

2. The Restorations of the Stuart Monarchy
Under these tense circumstances, a radical change was undertaken. General Monck, commander of troops in Scotland, believing the only way to restore order under the Protectorate of Richard Cromwell was to restore the Stuart Monarchy, brought the formerly purged members of Parliament back to their seats. The new Parliament set up a Council of State that invited Charles II back to the throne.
Charles II followed a policy of forgiving the parliamentarians for their policies of the past. However, the old power struggle between the Monarch and Parliament continued. With so much animosity against Catholicism during his reign, Charles II naturally feared that when he died, his openly Catholic brother James II would be unable to hold the throne.

3. The Glorious Revolution
When Charles II died, James II succeeded to the throne and introduced the Declaration of Indulgence to legitimize his appointment of Catholics throughout England to posts formerly reserved to Protestants. Many read the Declaration of Indulgence as establishing Catholicism. This, coupled with the fact that James II’s Catholic wife unexpectedly gave birth to a son (thus transferring succession of the throne to a Catholic), sparked a revolution among Protestants. The opposition to continued Catholic rule invited William III (William of Orange, France) and his wife Mary (James’ daughter) to vie for the English throne and thus assure a Protestant succession. William mobilized an army, but without shedding any blood, ascended to the throne in 1689 in what was known as the “Glorious Revolution.”
As a result of the Glorious Revolution, Protestant denominations gained new favor in the kingdom. The Church of England, while continuing to receive support from the state, came to coexist with the Calvinist denominations that had initiated the Revolution in 1640. Christian subjects were no longer required to adhere to the Anglican Church.

4. The English Bill of Rights
The English Bill of Rights was passed in 1689 to confirm William and Mary’s rule in England. Reacting to the purported attempt of James II to “subvert and extirpate” Protestantism from England, the Bill of Rights enumerated several rights exclusive to English Protestants, including the right to sit on the throne. The Bill of Rights echoed many of the elements of the Petition of Right in 1628 under King Charles, such as the prohibition of taxation without representation and of standing armies in times of peace. The list of rights enumerated foreshadows the American Bill of Rights.

[1] Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649). Milton, dealing with the right of the people to execute a guilty king, argues that political power comes from the consent of the people, who have a right to execute a guilty sovereign, as in the case of King Charles I. The central role of the consent of the governed in his paradigm foreshadows the views that Locke and the Founders would later adopt.
[2] Further justification for the execution of the king can be found in the political thought of Thomas Hobbes. In Leviathan, Hobbes argues that government is needed to maintain peace and order, which contrast the state of nature in which man naturally finds himself. Like Milton, Hobbes maintains that the state derives its power from the consent of the governed, a principle that is instrumental in inspiring the American Revolution. Like Locke, Hobbes views man as fallen, but argues that sin and liberty do not have inherent meaning; rather, they are defined by whatever the sovereign prohibits, in the case of sin, or, in the case of liberty, whatever the sovereign permits.

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