Posts Tagged ‘Bill of Rights’

The Heads of Grievances of 1689: The Origins of the British Bill of Rights

July 6, 2013

After William of Orange’s invasion and accession to the British throne in 1689, Parliament met to present him with a list of grievances. These were a mixture of the constitutional violations that had been made by James II, which they wished to see corrected and removed, and further provisions strengthening parliamentary liberty and placing constitutional limits on royal power. The second half of the list of grievances was dropped completely, but the first was amended to become the Declaration of Rights and then the Bill of Rights. This last is the closest Britain has to a written constitution.

The List of Grievances

The said Commons so elected, being now assembled in a full and free representative of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done) for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties, unanimously declare,

That the pretended power of dispensing or suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal;

That the commission for erecting the late court of commissioners for ecclesiastical causes and all other commissions and courts of like nature are illegal and pernicious.

That levying of money for or to the use of the crown, by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner, than the same is or shall be granted is illegal.

That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.

That the raising or keeping of a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law.

That the subject which are Protestants may provide and keep arms for their common defence.

That election of Members of Parliament ought to be free.

That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.

That excessive bail ought not to be required; nor excessive fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

That jurors ought to be duly impanelled and returned; and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders.

That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void.

And that for the redress of all grievances and fort he amending, strengthening and preserving of the laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequently and suffered to sit … And towards the making a more firm and perfect settlement of the said religion, laws and liberties, it is proposed and advised … that there be provision by new laws … to the purposes following, viz.

For repealing the Acts concerning the militia and settling it anew;

For securing the right and freedom of electing members of the House of Commons, and the rights and privileges of Parliaments, and members thereof, as well in the intervals of Parliament as during their sitting;

For securing the frequent sitting of Parliaments;

For preventing the too long continuance of the same Parliament; boroughs and plantations against Quo Warrantos and surrenders and mandates and restoring them to their ancient rights;

None of the royal family to marry a Papist;

Every King and Queen of this realm at the time of their entering into the exercise of their regal authority, to take an oath for maintaining the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this nation; and the coronation oath to be altered;

For the liberty of Protestants in the exercise of their religion; and for uniting all Protestants in thematter of public worship, as far as may be;

For regulating constructions upon the statutes of treasons, and trials and proceedings and writs of error in cases of treason;

For making judges’ commissions quamdiu se bene gesserint; and ascertaining and establishing their salaries, to be paid out of the public revenue only; and for preventing their being removed and suspended from the execution of their offices, unless by due course of law;

For better securing the subjects against excessive bail in criminal cases and excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments;

For reforming abuses in the appointing of sheriffs and in the execution of their office;

For securing the due impanelling and returning of jurors and preventing corrupt and false verdicts;

For taking away informations in the Court of King’s Bench;

For regulating the Chancery and other courts of justice, and the fees of officers;

For preventing the buying and selling of offices;

For giving liberty to the subjects to traverse returns upon habeas corpuses and mandamuses;

For preventing the grants and promises of fines and forfeitures before conviction;

For redressing the abuses and oppressions in levying the hearth money;

And for redressing the abuses and oppressions in levying and collecting the excise.

The British List of Grievances and American Guns Rights?

Looking through the list it struck me that the provision, that British Protestant could keep guns for the common defence is, shorn of its sectarian conditions, the origin of the American 2nd amendment: that Americans have the right to bear arms. The American Constitution was strongly influenced by Locke, and 17th century British theories of constitutional government. It seems to me that the strong feeling amongst the American Right, that people should have the right to own guns ultimately has its origin in this clause, which was intended to protect British Protestants from persecution by an absolute and tyrannical monarchy.

While the anti-Roman Catholic nature of these grievances meant that it was not until the 19th century that Roman Catholics enjoyed civil rights in Britain, and led to immense hardship and oppression in Ireland, nevertheless the List of Grievances can be seen as one of the fundamental elements of modern, British constitutional democracy.