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On this day, the English Bill of Rights makes a powerful statement

February 13, 2019 by NCC Staff


On February 13, 1689, Parliament in London allowed two new monarchs to take the throne if they honor the rights of English citizens. What became known as the English Bill of Rights was an important influence on the later American Constitution.

The statement presented that day was called the Declaration of Right, and it was intended for William of Orange, the Dutch ruler, and his wife, Mary. Parliament asked William (whose mother was the daughter of the late English King Charles I) to assume the throne along with Mary, the Protestant daughter of the deposed English King James II, as long as they agreed to the terms in that document – which they did.

In its statutory form, what became known as the English Bill of Rights contains several passages that were later reflected in the United States Constitution written in Philadelphia in 1787.

The English Bill of Rights reaffirmed some rights guaranteed to subjects that dated back to the Magna Carta and reflected John Locke’s influence on the document, but it had been abridged during later conflicts in Great Britain. The English Bill of Rights listed grievances against the former Catholic ruler, James II, including a prohibition on Protestants possessing arms; the Bill allowed them to “have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.”

The Bill also stated that Parliament as the representatives of British subjects shouldn’t be censored by a King or Queen, providing “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.”

The declaration also included an important statement that later became part of the American Constitution’s First Amendment, for citizens to petition a government: “That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.”

The English Bill of Rights insisted that “excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” – two important concepts in the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

It objected to the quartering of troops contrary to law (matching the Constitution’s Third Amendment), opposed standing armies without Parliaments’s approval, and reaffirmed the right to a jury trial. The English Bill of Rights also stated that Parliament should meet regularly, be subject to free elections, and could block the suspension of laws by the crown.

And the English Bill of Rights reiterated a core concept that the crown couldn’t tax subjects without the consent of their representatives: “That levying money for or to the use of the Crown by pretense of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal.”

These rights guaranteed to British subjects would later become part of the disputes between a future monarch and American colonists that led to the Revolutionary War and American independence.


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