The Road to the Modern State

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Petition of Right

Whereas it is declared and enacted by a Statute made in the time of the Reign of King Edward the first, That no Tallage or Aid [that is, tax] should be laid or levied by the King or his Heirs in this Realm without the good will and assent of the Archbishops Bishops Earls Barons Knights Burgesses and other the Freemen of the Commonalty of this Realm,

And by Authority of Parliament held in the five and twentieth year of the reign of King Edward the third, it is declared and enacted, That from thenceforth no person should be compelled to make any Loans to the King against his will …

And by other Laws of this Realm your Subjects have inherited this Freedom That they should not be compelled to contribute to any Tax Tallage Aid or other like Charge not set by common consent in Parliament.

Yet nevertheless of late divers Commissions have issued, by means whereof your people have been assembled and required to lend certain sums of money unto your Majesty, and many of them upon their refusal so to doe have had an Oath administered unto them not warrantable by the Laws or Statutes of this Realm and have been constrained to become bound to make appearance and give attendance before your Privy Council and in other places; and others of them have been therefore imprisoned confined and sundry other ways molested and disquieted.

And whereas also by the Statute called The great Charter of the Liberties of England, It is declared and enacted, That no Freeman may be taken or imprisoned or be disseised of his Freehold or Liberties or his free Customs or be outlawed or exiled or in any manner destroyed, but by the lawful Judgment of his Peers or by the Law of the Land.

Nevertheless divers of your Subjects have of late been imprisoned without any cause shewed: And when for their deliverance they were brought before your Justices by your Majesty’s Writs of Habeas corpus there to undergo and receive as the Court should order, and their Keepers commanded to certify the causes of their detainer, no cause was certified, but that they were detained by your Majesty’s special command signified by the Lords of your Privy Council.

They do therefore humbly pray your most Excellent Majesty, that no man hereafter be compelled to make or yield any Gift Loan Benevolence Tax or such like Charge without common consent by Act of Parliament,

And that none be called to make answer or take such Oath or to give attendance or be confined or otherwise molested or disquieted concerning the same or for refusal thereof.

And that no freeman in any such manner as is before mentioned be imprisoned or detained.

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Habeas Corpus

FROM THE Habeas Corpus ACT

Be it enacted that whensoever any person or persons shall bring any Habeas Corpus directed unto any Sheriff, Minister or other Person Whatsoever for any person in his or their Custody and the said Writ shall be served upon the said Officer that the said Officer shall within Three days after the Service thereof as aforesaid bring or cause to be brought the Body of the Party so committed or restrained unto or before the Lord Chancellor for the time being or the Judges or Barons of the said Court from whence the said Writ shall issue and shall likewise then certify the true causes of his Detainer or Imprisonment.

The great and efficacious writ in all manner of illegal confinement, is that of habeas corpus; directed to the person detaining another, and commanding him to produce the body of the prisoner with the day and cause of his caption and detention, to do, submit to, and receive, whatsoever the judge or court awarding such writ shall consider in that behalf….

In a former part of these commentaries the personal liberty of the subject was shewn to be a natural inherent right, which could not be surrendered or forfeited unless by the commission of some great and atrocious crime, nor ought to be abridged in any case without the special permission of law.  A doctrine co-eval with the first rudiments of the English constitution; and handed down to us from our Saxon ancestors, notwithstanding all their struggles with the Danes, and the violence of the Norman conquest: asserted afterwards and confirmed by the conqueror himself and his descendants: and though sometimes a little impaired by the ferocity of the times, and the occasional despotism of jealous or usurping princes, yet established on the firmest basis by the provisions of magna carta, and a long succession of statutes enacted under Edward III.

- Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries (1768)

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Glorious Revolution, Bill of Rights

1689: From the Bill of Rights

Whereas the late King James the Second by the assistance of diverse evil Counsellors, Judges and Ministers employed by him did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant Religion and the Laws and Liberties of this Kingdom.

The Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons pursuant to their respective Letters and Elections being now assembled in a full and free Representative of this Nation Do in the first place (as their ancestors in like Case have usually done) for the Vindicating and Asserting their ancient Rights and Liberties, Declare

That the pretended Power of Suspending of Laws or the Execution of Laws by Regal Authority without Consent of Parliament is illegal.

That the pretended Power of Dispensing with Lawsor the Execution of Laws by Regal Authority as it hath been assumed and exercised of late is illegal.

That levying Money for or to the Use of the Crowne by pretence of Prerogative without Grant of Parliament for longer time or in other manner then 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 a standing Army within the Kingdom in time of Peace unless it be with Consent of Parliament is against Law.

That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.

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 that for Redress of all Grievances and for the amending strengthening and preserving of the Laws Parliaments ought to be held frequently. And they do Claim Demand and Insist upon all and singular the Premises as their undoubted Rights and Liberties and that no Declarations Judgments Doings or Proceedings to the Prejudice of the People in any of the said Premises ought in any wise to be drawn hereafter into Consequence or Example.