Rights of Englishmen

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The rights of Englishmen are the perceived traditional rights of citizens of England. In the 18th century, some of the colonists who objected to British rule in the British colonies in North America argued that their traditional [1] rights as Englishmen were being violated. The colonists wanted and expected the rights that they (or their forebears) had previously enjoyed in England: a local, representative government, with regards to judicial matters (some colonists were being sent back to England for trials) and particularly with regards to taxation. [2] Belief in these rights subsequently became a widely-accepted justification for the American Revolution. [3] [4]

Patriot (American Revolution) American colonist who rejected British rule in the American Revolution

Patriots were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

Thirteen Colonies British American colonies which became the United States

The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or the Thirteen American Colonies, were a group of British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. They declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. The Thirteen Colonies had very similar political, constitutional, and legal systems and were dominated by Protestant English-speakers. They were part of Britain's possessions in the New World, which also included colonies in Canada, the Caribbean, and the Floridas.

American Revolution Colonial revolt in which the Thirteen Colonies won independence from Great Britain

The American Revolution was a colonial revolt that took place between 1765 and 1783. The American Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies won independence from Great Britain, becoming the United States of America. They defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) in alliance with France.

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The American colonies had since the 17th century been fertile ground for liberalism within the center of European political discourse. [5] However, as the ratification of the Declaration of Independence approached, the issue among the colonists of which particular rights were significant became divisive. George Mason, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, stated that "We claim nothing but the liberty and privileges of Englishmen in the same degree, as if we had continued among our brethren in Great Britain." [4]

United States Declaration of Independence announcement by which the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and thus founded the United States

The United States Declaration of Independence is the statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776. The Declaration announced that the Thirteen Colonies at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain would regard themselves as thirteen independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule. With the Declaration, these new states took a collective first step toward forming the United States of America. The declaration was signed by representatives from New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

George Mason American delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention

George Mason IV was an American planter, politician and delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, one of three delegates who refused to sign the Constitution. His writings, including substantial portions of the Fairfax Resolves of 1774, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, and his Objections to this Constitution of Government (1787) in opposition to ratification, have exercised a significant influence on American political thought and events. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, which Mason principally authored, served as a basis for the United States Bill of Rights, of which he has been deemed the father.

Founding Fathers of the United States Group of Americans who led the revolution against Great Britain

The Founding Fathers of the United States, were a group of leaders who united the Thirteen Colonies, led the war for independence from Great Britain and built a Frame of Government for the new United States of America upon republican principles during the latter decades of the 18th century. Most Founding Fathers at one point considered themselves British subjects; but they came to understand themselves more as patriotic Americans who possessed a spirit distinct from that of their motherland. The group was composed of businessmen, philosophers, politicians, plantation owners and writers from a variety of social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds.

Historical background

18th-century English jurist William Blackstone attempted to explain the rights of English citizens. Sir William Blackstone from NPG.jpg
18th-century English jurist William Blackstone attempted to explain the rights of English citizens.

In the tradition of Whig history, Judge William Blackstone called them "The absolute rights of every Englishman", and explained how they had been established slowly over centuries of English history, in his book on Fundamental Laws of England , which was the first part of his influential Commentaries on the Laws of England . [6] They were certain basic rights that all subjects of the English monarch were understood to be entitled to, [6] such as those expressed in Magna Carta since 1215, the Petition of Right in 1628, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Bill of Rights 1689. [7]

Whig history is an approach to historiography that presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy.

William Blackstone 18th-century English jurist, judge, and politician

Sir William Blackstone was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Born into a middle-class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School before matriculating at Pembroke College, Oxford in 1738. After switching to and completing a Bachelor of Civil Law degree, he was made a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford on 2 November 1743, admitted to Middle Temple, and called to the Bar there in 1746. Following a slow start to his career as a barrister, Blackstone became heavily involved in university administration, becoming accountant, treasurer and bursar on 28 November 1746 and Senior Bursar in 1750. Blackstone is considered responsible for completing the Codrington Library and Warton Building, and simplifying the complex accounting system used by the college. On 3 July 1753 he formally gave up his practice as a barrister and instead embarked on a series of lectures on English law, the first of their kind. These were massively successful, earning him a total of £453, and led to the publication of An Analysis of the Laws of England in 1756, which repeatedly sold out and was used to preface his later works.

In the 1760s William Blackstone described the Fundamental Laws of England in Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book the First – Chapter the First : Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals as "the absolute rights of every Englishman" and traced their basis and evolution as follows:

In a legal case in 1608 that came to be known as Calvin's Case , or the Case of the Postnati, the Law Lords decided in 1608 that Scotsmen born after King James I united Scotland and England (the postnati) had all the rights of Englishmen. This decision would have a subsequent effect on the concept of the "rights of Englishmen" in British America. [8] [9] [10]

<i>Calvins Case</i>

Calvin's Case, also known as the Case of the Postnati, was a 1608 English legal decision establishing that a child born in Scotland, after the Union of the Crowns under James VI and I in 1603, was considered under the common law to be an English subject and entitled to the benefits of English law. Calvin's Case was eventually adopted by courts in the United States, and the case played an important role in shaping the American rule of birthright citizenship via jus soli. However, the case has also been cited as providing legal justification for the restriction of legal rights to Native Americans following their widespread conquest or confinement in reservations by the colonial forces of North America.

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and the North Channel to the southwest. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Some scholars believed that the case did not fit British America's situation, and thus reasoned that the 18th-century colonists could "claim all the rights and protections of English citizenship." [11] The legal apologists for the American Revolution even claimed they had "improved on the rights of Englishmen" by creating additional, purely American rights. [11] [10]

Legacy in United States law

Owing to its inclusion in the standard legal treatises of the 19th century, [lower-alpha 1] Calvin's Case was well known in the early judicial history of the United States. [9] Consideration of the case by the United States Supreme Court and by state courts transformed it into a rule regarding American citizenship and solidified the concept of jus soli  – the right by which nationality or citizenship can be recognised to any individual born in the territory of the related state – as the primary determining factor controlling the acquisition of citizenship by birth. [12]

<i>Jus soli</i> Birthright of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship

Jus soli, meaning "right of the soil", commonly referred to as birthright citizenship in the United States, is the right of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship.

The Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Bradley asserted that the "rights of Englishmen" were a foundation of American law in his dissenting opinion on the Slaughter-House Cases, the first Supreme Court interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in 1873. [lower-alpha 2]

See also

Notes

  1. Compiled by Edward Coke, William Blackstone, and James Kent.
  2. In his dissenting decision, Bradley wrote:
    The people of this country brought with them to its shores the rights of Englishmen, the rights which had been wrested from English sovereigns at various periods of the nation's history.... England has no written constitution, it is true, but it has an unwritten one, resting in the acknowledged, and frequently declared, privileges of Parliament and the people, to violate which in any material respect would produce a revolution in an hour. A violation of one of the fundamental principles of that constitution in the Colonies, namely, the principle that recognizes the property of the people as their own, and which, therefore, regards all taxes for the support of government as gifts of the people through their representatives, and regards taxation without representation as subversive of free government, was the origin of our own revolution.

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References

  1. Zuckert (2003).
  2. Tindall (1984).
  3. Swindler (1976).
  4. 1 2 Miller (1959).
  5. Heale (1986).
  6. 1 2 Blackstone, Fundamental Laws of England , the first part of Commentaries on the Laws of England , pp. 123–24. Scanned in text available at Yale Law School Libraries online. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
  7. Billias, George Athan (2011). American constitutionalism heard round the world, 1776–1989: a global perspective. New York: New York University Press. p. 54. ISBN   9780814725177.
  8. Price (1997).
  9. 1 2 Hulsebosch (2003).
  10. 1 2 Pearson (2005).
  11. 1 2 Ellen Holmes Pearson. "Revising Custom, Embracing Choice: Early American Legal Scholars and the Republicanization of Common Law". In Eliga H. Gould, Peter S. Onuf (ed.). Empire And Nation: The American Revolution In The Atlantic World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 102, n. 33. ISBN   0-8018-7912-4 . Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  12. Price (1997), pp. 138–39.

Citations