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.
The Bill of Rights was the greatest triumph of the seventeenth century. The seventeenth century on the continent of Europe was one marked by the growth of despotism and the destruction of free institutions. Influences were at work in England tending to bring about these same results. For nearly the whole of the century the issue had hung in doubt, and the tide of battle, for three generations had swayed now towards absolutism and now towards popular government. In the closing years of the century the contest was' ended by a decisive victory for free government. The instrument which saved England from following in the footsteps of France and Austria, and from the necessity of undergoing those terrible scenes, which a century later burst upon her neighbor across the channel, was the Bill of Rights. This instrument was adopted upon the accession of William and Mary to the throne of England and contained the statement of those rights which the long contest of the century had won for England. It was the vindication of those rights which the House of Stuart had denied and attempted to overthrow, and was a denial to the crown of those powers which they had attempted to usurp. Among other things the Bill of Rights declared that the pretended power of suspending or dispensing with laws or the execution of laws, by royal authority, without the consent of the people, was illegal; that levying money by the crown without a grant of Parliament or under terms of said grant was illegal; that the right of any subject to petition the King could not be denied to him; that the raising and keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, except with the consent of Parliament, was against the law; that the Protestant subjects of the kingdom should have the right to keep and bear arms; that the election of members of Parliament ought to be free from interference by the King; that the freedom of speech, debates, or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside of Parliament; that excessive bail ought not to be required nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted; that juries ought to be duly and fairly impaneled; that all grants and promises of fines or forfeitures of particular persons before conviction were illegal and void; that for the redress of all grievances and for the amending, strengthening, and preserving of the laws, Parliament should be held frequently. Many of these provisions are today to be found in the Bills of Rights of the United States Constitution and of the Constitutions of the individual states of the Union.
The passage of the Bill of Rights is perhaps the greatest of all landmarks in the constitutional history of England. The change between the government of England of the year 1688 and that of the year 1689 was hardly less than the difference which today exists between the government of England and that of Russia. The importance of the instrument can only be understood by a study of the historical conditions of the times, as well as of the text of the instrument. The Bill of Rights ranks with the Magna Charta and the Petition of Rights as the three great charters of English liberty. There is, however, one great distinction between the history of the Bill of Rights, and that of its two predecessors; the Magna Charta and the Petition of Right, both contained promises of great value to the country, but the promises therein contained were almost always resisted, and at times absolutely disregarded. The promises of the Declaration of the Bill of Rights were kept, and with the passage of this bill, the danger of the destruction of English liberty passed away. The long contest between the King and the nobility and the people for the commanding influence in the government of England was now over; by the Bill of Rights the governing power was finally secured to the English people.