This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
It was, however, this very isolation of the House of Commons which secured for England the retention of her liberties. Deserted by his allies of an earlier century, she was compelled to rely upon herself and upon the people of England for the task. The victory, when it came, thus became one for the whole people and not for the favored classes. The ulitmate result was to make the victorious House of Commons the governing body of the Kingdom. What the House of Commons did accomplish during this reign has been thus summed up: "The Commons had now been engaged for more than twenty years in a struggle to restore and to fortify their own and their fellow subjects' liberties. They had obtained in this period but one legislative measure of importance, the late declaratory act against monopolies. But they had rescued from disuse their ancient right of impeachment. They had placed on record a protestation of their claim to debate all matters of public concern. They had remonstrated against the usurped prerogatives of binding the subject of proclamation, and of levying customs at the out-ports. They had secured beyond controversy their exclusive privilege of determining contested elections of their members. Of these advantages some were evidently incomplete, and it would require the most vigorous exertions of future Parliaments to realize them."3
It was during the reign of James I, that the first steps were taken towards the creation of the greater England. The accession of James to the English throne united Scotland and England under a common ruler, and it was also during the reign of this King that the first successful English colonies were founded in America.
The first three years of the reign of Charles I, are, from a Constitutional point of view, a continuation of the reign of his father. The passage of the Petition of Right, in 1628, marked the close of the first period of Stuart history. The Petition of Right consisted of a statement of the grievance which the people of England had suffered under the different kings, and the enactment that such grievances should cease for the future. The principal grievances thus petitioned against were:
1st. Illegal exaction under the forms of loans. 2nd. Arbitrary imprisonments especially of parliamentary leaders.
3rd. The billeting of soldiers upon the people; and 4th. The infliction of punishment by martial law.
3 Hallam's Constitutional History of England. Vol. I, p. 373.
It was hoped that the Petition of Right would end the controversy between the King and the Commons. Such hope, however, rested upon a misunderstanding of the true character of the King. The belief was firmly imbedded in the mind of King Charles that a King was so far removed by Divine Providence above his subjects, that he could not be held bound by any promises or contracts made with them. Events soon showed that Charles never intended to keep the promises contained in the Petition of Rights and such promises were, in fact, not kept. The session of Parliament in 1629 was tumultuous in the extreme; the King refused to listen to the remonstrances of Parliament and finally commanded the House of Commons to adjourn. Upon learning that the House was preparing to pass a series of resolutions condemnatory of his actions, the King decided to send his guard to the House to force immediate adjournment. This action occasioned one of the most dramatic scenes in the Parliamentary history of England, as with the doors locked against the admittance of the King's guard, Sir John Elliot read the resolutions to the House, while Valentine and Holies held the speaker in his chair. These resolutions, the last remonstrance which Parliament was able to utter for years, being passed, the doors were then opened and Parliament was adjourned by force. This adjournment was followed by one of the worst periods of Stuart tyranny. For eleven years the King endeavored to rule the country entirely by his own will, independently of Parliament. The King's first act of tyranny was the imprisonment of the rebellious members of this Parliament, and Sir John Elliot the leader, of the popular party in the House of Commons, during the session of 1629, died during his imprisonment. Charles next attempted to introduce many innovations in the religious and political institutions of England. Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, was his chief advisor as to religious matters, while Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and a renegade leader of the Commons, was the instrument by whom the King attempted to destroy the political rights of the English people.
The English religious disputes of the seventeenth century are beyond the understanding of any one but a trained theologian, but by the course of events the cause of the established Church in England and of the Stuart tyranny became inseparably connected. Arrayed against these were the Protestant non-conformists and the friends of political liberty. On the political side, the King's policy was a simple one, it being summed up in the one word motto of his chief minister- thorough. The aim was nothing short of the destruction of the liberties of England. The English people were, as nearly as possible, to be reduced to the same position as that of the subjects of an oriental despot. The principle that the King is the State, and that the subjects were created for him, was to be rigidly carried out. Parliament was to be done away with; and although the courts were to continue to exist, they were to continue merely as agents of the King, and subject at all times to his commands. There was to be no division of powers among executive, legislative, and judicial departments; all departments were to be one, and that department the King.
The chief difficulty of the King at all times lay in his lack of money, and to obtain it many illegal methods were resorted to. One of these illegal methods which brought in the greatest returns was the levying of ship money in time of peace, throughout all the countries of England, inland as well as those bordering on the sea shore. It was at this time that John Hampden, forever famous as the champion of English liberties, refused to pay his share of the illegal tax and contended against its lawfulness in the English courts. The judges, however, proved their subserviency to the King on this question and ten of the twelve judges upheld the King's claim.4 It might have seemed at this time, as though the darkness of midnight had descended upon the liberties of England, and many of the stoutest hearts in the kingdoms showed their despair at the existing conditions at home by emigrating to the wilderness of the new western continent. Of a sudden a ray of light appeared in the North. Archbishop Laud, in his zealousness, not content with his alterations in the English Church, had attempted at the same time to overthrow the Calvan-istic system of the Scottish Church. The Scotch, however, lacked the patience of their southern neighbors and scarcely had an attempt been made to put the hated innovations into force, when the nation rose in arms. Terrified at this unexpected incident, and in need of greater supplies of money than could be wrested from the people even by all his unlawful expedients, Charles at last summoned Parliament. The Parliament elected was a far more moderate one that would be expected to have been chosen after eleven years of misgovernment, without a parliament, and in violation of law. The majority of the members of Parliament were men of conservative views but even they insisted upon certain reforms before they would grant money-supplies to the King. The King would hear of no concession, and Parliament was adjourned, without the passage of a single act. But it was the King's friends and not his enemies who were disappointed at this dissolution. Historians of the age5 tell us how the leaders of the people went down from Parliament, smiling, knowing that a new Parliament would meet in a far different spirit, a spirit far more hostile to the King than had been that of the Parliament just dissolved. Such proved to be the case. Continued trouble in the North compelled the summoning of a new Parliament before the year was out, and the election manifested that a great change of opinion had taken place during the last few months - a change against the King. The candidates of the King were rejected on all sides, and his bitterest opponents elected to Parliament.