The citizens of England drafted some of the documents that contributed most to the ideas of self-government. These included the Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, and the English Bill of Rights in 1688. The American colonists and later American revolutionaries carried on this tradition by drafting some important documents of their own promoting the ideas of self-government.
Petition of Right
The citizens of England began protesting excesses of the throne in 1628; the protests became so massive that royal government was forced to give them a Petition of Right. This document set limits on non-parliamentary taxation and made it illegal for the government to imprison citizens without cause.
English Bill of Rights
The English Bill of Rights (1689) was created after King James II refused to recognize the rights of the English people and was driven out of the country, replaced by the diarchy of William and Mary. In this important document of self-government, the English people required the regal authority to execute laws only with the consent of Parliament. It limited the King’s powers in many ways. For example, it forbade him from maintaining a standing army during peacetime without the express approval of the Parliament.
On June 15, 1215, a group of feudal barons forced a document called the Magna Carta onto King John of England (1166-1216) with the dual aim of limiting his power and protecting their interests. The purpose of the document was to restore traditional property rights, limit the King’s ability to raise funds and re-establish the principle of legal due-process. The Magna Carta provided inspiration for the American colonists more than 600 years after it was written.
Written in 1620, the Mayflower Compact was the first document of self-government created in America. The English Pilgrims who traveled on the ship called the Mayflower drafted the document once they realized they had landed outside the jurisdiction of the Virginia Charter. The Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 adult males aboard the ship, an agreement which formed a government in Plymouth Colony.
Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence, produced on July 4, 1776, laid the foundation for the American political tradition by affirming that all men are created equal and each one has certain natural rights by virtue of their humanity. The Declaration of Independence stated that a legitimate government was based on the “consent of the governed” and existed for the sole purpose of protecting man’s natural rights.
- Constitution Society: The Petition of Right
- Constitution Society: Bill of Rights (1689)
- National Archives & Records Administration: Magna Carta and Its American Legacy
- Schools of California Online Resources for Education: Documents and Symbols of American Freedom
- Heritage Foundation: Declaration of Independence
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