It happened today - June 7, 2016

It all ties together. As Faulkner says, “History isn’t was, it’s is”. And as I say, June 7 is the anniversary of the 1628 Petition of Right.

It’s not as pithy. But it matters. The Petition was the culmination of Edward Coke’s tireless political efforts on behalf of liberty. It was signed on June 7, under duress, by the fairly new King Charles I, who had his father James I’s taste for absolute rule without his bursts of well-timed tact and discretion, and whose failure to abide by its terms would lead to civil war and his own execution 21 years later. Should have listened, Chuck.

After listing a series of complaints in the Petition about the conduct of the government, and reminding the king of their rights going back centuries, Parliamentarians especially insisted “that no man hereafter be compelled to make or yield any gift, loan, benevolence, tax, or such like charge, without common consent by act of parliament”, that is, that there be no taxation without representation. They also insist that the king cease to quarter soldiers on the people or bypass common law through courts martial “lest by color of them any of your Majesty's subjects be destroyed or put to death contrary to the laws and franchise of the land.”

In short, citizens’ property is protected, and so is their capacity to resist oppression so the first promise will not be hollow. To keep the second from being hollow they had of course to be vigilant against efforts to bring back standing armies exempt from normal law, as they were in the runup to the Glorious Revolution, looking forward. And looking back, the Petition of Right specifically invokes not just the 1297 statute “made in the time of the reign of King Edward I, commonly called Statutum de Tallagio non Concedendo, that no tallage or aid shall be laid or levied by the king or his heirs in this realm, without the good will and assent of the archbishops, bishops, earls, barons, knights, burgesses, and other the freemen of the commonalty of this realm” but also Magna Carta: “And whereas also by the statute called ‘The Great Charter of the Liberties of England,’ it is declared and enacted, that no freeman may be taken or imprisoned or be disseized of his freehold or liberties, or his free customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.”

It is worth noting that it was in debate over the Petition of Right that Coke famously reminded his colleagues, and warned the King, that “Magna Carta is such a fellow as he will have no sovereign,” that is, that this most basic affirmation and guarantee of the liberties of Englishmen wrested from King John by armed citizens not plaintive appeals was itself fundamental law, which not even the King in Parliament could alter. It was that older understanding of the British system that the Americans invoked in creating their own Constitution and Bill of Rights and that in a weird and unsatisfactory form our sorcerers’ apprentices attempted to invoke in creating our Charter of Rights and Freedoms (see

It is also worth noting that although it all seems so long ago now, well before the latest iPhone appeared, the Petition of Right came fully 413 years after the original Magna Carta and only 388 years before our own time. It stands closer to us than Runnymede, yet it is unbreakably linked to Runnymede. And much of it is still in force although, ominously, the bit about Magna Carta and much language concerning due process was removed in a 1968 “modernization” of British law, the “Justices of the Peace Act”. But it still insists on that most English of ideas, cherished by the Americans, that “by which the Statutes before mencioned and other the good Lawes and Statutes of this Realme your Subjects have inherited this Freedome That they should not be compelled to contribute to any Taxe Tallage Ayde or other like Charge not sett by comon consent in Parliament.”

Exactly. Do not think it is an American idea, or that it is harmless if we in Canada lose control of the right through legislators to stop the executive from running off with the legislative agenda and our wallets. It wasn’t OK in 1215, or 1628. And it’s not OK now.