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Bill of Rights

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BILL OF RIGHTS is the name com monly given to the statute 1 William and Mary, seas. 2, chap. 2, in which is em bodied the Declaration of Rights, pre sented by both Houses of the Convention to the Prince and Princess of Orange, in the Banqueting-House at Whitehall, on the 13th of February, 1689, and ac cepted by their Highnesses along with the crown. The Bill of Rights was ori ginally brought forward in the first session of the parliament into which the Conven tion was transformed ; but a dispute be tween the two Houses with regard to an amendment introduced into the bill by the Lords, naming the Princess Sophia of Hanover and her posterity next in suc cession to the crown after the failure of issue to King William, which, was re jected in the Commons by the unked votes of the high church and the republican parties, occasioned the measure to be dropped, after it had been in dependence for two months, and the matter of dif ference had been agitated in several con ferences without effect. The bill was however again brought on immediately after the opening of the next session, on the 19th of October, 1689, and the amend ment respecting the Princess Sophia not having been again propmed, it passed both houses, and received the royal assent in the same shape in which it had formerly passed the Commons, with the addition only of a clause inserted by the Lords, winch enacted that the kings and queens of England should be obliged, at their coming to the crown, to take the test in the first parliament that should be called at the beginning of their reign, and that if any king or queen of England should embrace the Roman Catholic religion, or marry with a Roman Catholic prince or princess, their subjects should be absolved of their allegiance. This remarkable clause is stated to have been agreed to without any opposition or debate.

The Bill os Rights, after declaring the late king II. to have done various acts which are enumerated, utterly and directly contrary to the known laws and statutes and freedom of this realm, and to have abdicated the government, pro ceeds to enact as follows: 1. That the pretended power of sus pending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of parliament, is illegal. 2. That the pre. tended power of dispensing with laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal. 3. That the commission for creating the late court of commis sioners for ecclesiastical causes, and all other commissions and courts of the like nature, are illegal and pernicious, 4. That levying of money for or to the use of the crown, by pretence of prerogative, without grant of parliament, for longer time, or in other manner, than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal. 5. That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prose cutions for such petitioning are illegal. 6. That the raising or keeping of a stand. ing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of parlia ment, is against law. 7. That the sub jects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence, suitable to their condition, and as allowed by law. 8. That election of members of parliament ought to be free. 9. That the freedom of speech, and debates or proceedings in parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament.

10. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

11. That jurors ought to be duly empan nefted and returned, and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders. 12. That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons, before conviction, are illegal and void. 13. And that for re dress of allgrievances, and for the amend ing, strengthening, and preserving of the laws, parliaments ought to be held fre quently." It is added that the Lords and Com mons " do claim, demand, and insist upon all and singular the premises as their un doubted rights and liberties ; and that no declarations, judgments, doings, or pro ceedings, to the prejudice of the people in any of the said premises, ought in any. wise to be drawn hereafter into cone. quence or exismple." The act also' recognises their Majesties William III. and Mary as King and Queen of England, France, and Ireland, and the dominions thereunto belonging; and declares that the crown and royal dignity of the said kingdoms and domi nions shall be held by their said majesties during their lives, and the life of the sur vivor of them ; that the sole and full ex ercise of the regal power shall be only in and executed by King William, in the names of himself and her majesty, during their joint lives; and that after their de cease the crown shall descend to the heirs of the body of the queen, and, in default of such issue, to the Princess Anne of Denmark and the heirs of her body, and, failing her issue, to the heirs of the body of the king.

The Declaration of Rights is under stood to have been principally the com position of Lord (then Mr.) Somers, who was a member of the first and chairman of the second of two committees, on whose reports it was founded. The ori ginal draft of the Bill of Rights was also the production of his pen. In the latter especially there is very apparent a desire to preserve in the new arrange. went as much as possible of the principle of the hereditary succession to the crown. The legislature, for instance, in strong terms expresses its thankfulness that God had mercifully preserved King William and Queen Mary to reign over them "upon the throne of their ancestors ;" and the new settlement is cautiously desig nated merely " a limitation of the crown." Mr. Burke has, from these expressions, contended (in his ' Reflections on the Revolution in France') that the notion of the English people having at the Re volution asserted a right to elect their kings is altogether unfounded. " I never desire," he adds, in repudiation of the opposite opinion, as held by one class of persons professing Whig principles, "to be thought a better Whig than Lord Somers, or to understand the principles of the Revolution better than those by whom it was brought about, or to read in the Declaration of Rights any mysteries unknown to those whose penetrating style has engraved in our ordinances and our hearts the words and spirit of that im mortal law." The Declaration and Bill of Rights may be compared with the Petition of Right which was presented by Parliament to Charles I. in 1628, and passedby him into a law. [PETITION OF RIGHT. j