Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

BRITAIN’S CONSTITUTION

A stupendous invention


It's a warm and dusty country road which leads us into the heart of Britain's Constitution. It takes us into London, and back out again, heading toward the sea. On this road we will find:

I Opening: How a constitution resembles the rules for sport, your family traditions, and your relationships

II What a constitution can do

III Does Britain's Constitution exist? The plausible answer

IV The men and women who created the Constitution

V What's in Britain's Constitution

VI What was left out, and why

VII Conclusion: The key to success

 

I            HOW A CONSTITUTION MAY RESEMBLE THE RULES FOR SPORT AND YOUR FAMILY TRADITIONS

Sport

As early as 1175, almost a thousand years ago, the people of Britain played a riotous sport in which one hundred men would try to kick, carry, and blast a ball past their opponents. The authorities took a dim view of these pastimes, and a number of kings prohibited games of 'foote balle'. Naturally Brits played the game whenever they could. Over the years, rules were developed then ignored.

Rugby is named after the school where, according to legend, young William Webb Ellis ‘with fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game’. The year was 1843, and retribution, no doubt, was swift, but Ellis had expressed a desire for higher things that was shared by others. Freeing a player’s feet from the tyranny of the ball and letting him run with it in his arms while he attempted to escape the heavy onslaught of his opponents was a satisfactory experience.

Ultimately the people of Britain sorted it out, defining rugby and football as two different games with two separate sets of rules. By then they had grasped that applying clear rules fairly and consistently on a playing field intensified pleasure. They applied this fair, clear, consistent formula to eight sports they invented—football (soccer), rugby, tennis, boxing, badminton, table tennis, golf, and cricket, and these sports won worldwide acclaim and participation.

The rules of sport tell you how a game is played, who the players are, what they can and cannot do, and how they win. A country’s constitution tells you the principles and laws a people live by, and whether they will win or lose at the game called life.

Family traditions

Families have 'constitutions'—with rules for children and holiday traditions. Especially they have rules for children, who are told what they can eat, when they must sleep, where they can go, and what they can do. Under a family constitution, the parents are usually but not always the rulers, laying down the law. Were the rules fair? (One of the first complete sentences shouted by almost every child is That’s not fair!) Were the rules applied consistently? Did they affect everyone in the family or just some of you? Did you have ways to appeal a parent’s ruling? What were your unwritten family traditions? How deeply did you feel about them? What traditions would you defend against all comers? What rules and traditions did you want to escape?

Those are the same questions you can ask about a country’s constitution, and the answers will tell you whether that country and people are happy or unhappy, prosperous or poor, hopeful or depressed.

Relationships

Everyone in a relationship has rules - how you treat another person and how you want to be treated. What those rules are, and whether both of you in the relationship stick to them affects your happiness. The same thing is true of a constitution

Because the people of Britain understood how important the rules were, and because they loathed some rules and liked others, they tried to sort out their country’s essential rules and principles as early as the ninth century.

II             WHAT A CONSTITUTION CAN DO

If you think that your country’s constitution could affect whether you were likely to be murdered and whether your murderer would be brought to justice; whether you were able to make scientific discoveries, run a successful business, play music, and stand freely under the night stars; whether you could raise children safely and happily, share a glass with friends, and speak the true thoughts of your heart, you’re right. Your life depends on your country’s constitutional principles and whether the people of your country abide by them. So it comes as something of a shock that some people say Britain has no constitution.

For instance, historian Vernon Bogdanor said that Britain’s constitution does not exist. Sir John Baker, Downing Professor of the Laws of England in the University of Cambridge, suggested that Britain’s constitution is unwritten.

No constitution or nothing in writing? Nothing to say how Britain runs? Are Baker and Bogdanor correct?

III            DOES BRITAIN’S CONSTITUTION EXIST? A PLAUSIBLE ANSWER


Is there any evidence anywhere that Britain had and has a written Constitution? You won't be surprised that we think so, but some of the evidence lies outside Britain, in continents thousands of miles away.

In the Americas, Asia, and Australasia, people created constitutions based on what they thought Britain’s Constitution was. In the eighteenth century the people of the United States based their government and civil liberties on Britain’s. John Adams, who became the second U.S. President, described Britain’s Constitution as ‘the most stupendous fabric of human invention’ in history. In the nineteenth century, Britain’s Parliament wrote the Constitution of Canada, establishing a constitutional monarchy and an elected parliament grounded in Common Law. It seems plausible that Britain’s Parliament took these ideas from Britain’s constitutional monarchy, Common Law and elected parliament.

In the early twentieth century, the people of Australia created a constitution, which was based on Britain’s constitutional monarchy, Common Law, and parliamentary system and on America’s federalism. Imitating Britain, the people of New Zealand created a constitutional monarchy with an executive, judiciary, and democratically elected parliament. In India, in the mid-twentieth century, the people created a constitution with civil liberties, which came directly from Britain. It’s hard to imagine that all these peoples were suffering from a delusion in imagining Britain had a constitution, but perhaps they were.

Those who disbelieve the histories of five nations will hardly be persuaded by a government official, but we can reveal that Eirian Walsh Atkins, Head of the United Kingdom’s Constitutional Policy at the Ministry of Justice, expressly told David Abbott that Britain has a written Constitution.

In a letter to David written in January 2009, Atkins said: ‘You are right to point out that parts of the British Constitution are written and we can confirm that statutes that you mention such as the Bill of Rights 1688/9 and Act of Settlement 1701 are some of the many statutes that make up our uncodified constitution.’ By uncodified Atkins means that Britain’s Constitution has not been systematically arranged in one founding document.

Still, you may be interested in discerning Britain’s Constitution through documents which do exist and the tumultuous events which shaped them.

A note before we begin. In 1707, Scotland joined England and Wales in a political union. Consequently what had been called the English Constitution became the United Kingdom’s Constitution. In 1800, in a further act of union, Ireland came on board, and the country was called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Divorce followed, and in 1927, the kingdom's name changed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Since the United Kingdom is also known colloquially as Britain, we call the Constitution Britain’s Constitution.


IV            WHAT’S IN BRITAIN’S CONSTITUTION

Though Britain’s Constitution is uncodified and its exact contents are not spelled out in one document, we suggest that Britain’s Constitution includes:

1            Common Law
2            The Coronation Oath
3            Magna Carta, Great Charter of Liberty
4            Elected, representative Parliament
5            Declaration of Rights/Bill of Rights
6            Ancient rights and liberties


1            Common Law

After defeating the invading Vikings, Alfred the Great chose existing laws which agreed with Christ’s teachings to speak the truth, treat others fairly, and refrain from murder, theft, and fraud, and collected them into one Common Law—one law for all—the same law for every person. Alfred understood that most people detested unfairness. They needed just laws, grounded in common sense, which punished the guilty.

One Common Law for all encouraged peace and equality between Britons, Celts, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings, peoples who had previously been at war with each other. One law for all may seem an obvious principle to us, but it was not obvious in the ninth century, and it is under attack today. A corollary principle is that no one is above the law. Kings, prime ministers, presidents, religious leaders must all obey the law.

For the next millennium the people of Britain built on the Common Law. One example: Anselm, an Italian boy, ran away from his abusive father, crossed the Alps on foot, and joined a monastery. Eventually he became the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1102, Anselm called the Council of Westminster, and told the assembled Christians that slavery was contrary to Christ’s teaching. He asked the Council to outlaw it.

The Council did, asserting, ‘Let no one hereafter presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were sold like brute animals’. Slavers who ignored the memo were excommunicated, and slavery in England ended. This may be the most effective council meeting ever, and the most important, forgotten date in English history.

Britons ‘never will be slaves’, but centuries later Africans were being brought to Britain as slaves. So Christian evangelical Granville Sharp, who was a musician—he and his brothers and sisters performed on a floating barge on the Thames—learned law. Based on the 1102 Council of Westminster and Common Law precedents in 1762 and 1765, he won a new Common Law ruling, which declared that any slave brought to England would immediately become free.

Over the centuries the people tried to create a Common Law that was independent of kings and parliaments. They believed that you are free to live as you choose unless the law says otherwise. You cannot defraud or murder your neighbour, and if you do, you will be held to account. If you have not broken a law, you cannot be punished. Juries tried to evaluate the facts of individual cases rationally and fairly. All this may sound remote, but it is the remoteness of a dam, which holds back the waters of corruption, envy, malice, and anarchy, which might otherwise sweep us away.

2            The Coronation Oath

All leaders seem to come with some built-in bugs. In tenth century England, no one was more aware of the bugs, and more interested in them, than Dunstan.

The one person most likely to be mentioned in a constitution and the one person outside your family, friends, and job most likely to affect your life is the leader of your country. That is the person who can destroy trust between people, send men and women into war, and corrupt the economy. A leader can become a monster if he possesses unchecked authority. Dunstan fought this evil, was beaten within an inch of his life, and thrown into a cesspool to drown.

He survived, and began to think about how to limit a king’s rule and make him accountable. It took him decades, but in AD 973, Dunstan designed England’s most famous tradition. He created a covenant between Britain’s people and their leader and set it inside a Coronation Ceremony, which made their mutual pledge spectacular and sacred. Dunstan based the covenant on an extraordinary teaching from Jesus, who gave us one of the most radical ideas of all time: ‘The one who rules should be like one who serves’ (Luke 22:26).

In the thousand-year-old Coronation Ceremony at Westminster Abbey, the monarch swears a Coronation Oath to the people and before God, to serve them and to defend justice and equity. He or she promises to be their servant king or servant queen. In turn the people freely pledge to give their loyal support. The Coronation ring is the symbol of their covenant. When kings broke their covenant—John, Edward II, Richard II, Charles I, and James II—the people of Britain sent them packing.

Today the idea that a leader and people are linked together in a covenant of freedom, justice, and peace is fundamental to good government.

3            Magna Carta, Great Charter of Liberty

Magna Carta is the first great constitutional document in the history of the world to protect the individual against the oppression of the state. It was born because King John ruled with a flagrant disregard for his Coronation Oath and the law.

Crowned king in 1199, John spent the next decade in hyperactive, criminal mode. He extorted money in exchange for justice. He used crooked sheriffs to exploit the English and Welsh people. His heavy taxes and capricious regulations exacted a heavy toll from small businesses. He embarked on ruinous wars, and treated opponents with sickening cruelty.

He did all this with impunity until a coalition of barons, knights, bishops and abbots, the people of Wales, and the people of England put a stop to it. That, however, is not what we read in modern histories.

G.M. Trevelyan’s account in A Shortened History of England (1988) summarizes the prevailing narrative: ‘Acting selfishly and class-consciously’, the English barons who fought King John made ‘limited and practical’ demands, ‘and for that reason successfully initiated a movement that led in the end to yet undreamt-of liberties for all’. This unlikely story line fails to answer a question, which will have occurred to you: Exactly how did selfish men with limited demands generate the undreamt-of liberties of Magna Carta? We explain in our illustrated hardcover Share the Inheritance and in our ebook, 12 Gifts from Great Britain, both available at Amazon UK and USA.

Many people seem to have been involved in the drafting of the Great Charter, but the strongest hand was Stephen Langton’s, the Archbishop of Canterbury. On June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, John was forced to fix his seal to Magna Carta, Great Charter of Liberty. Three months later, the baron-knights were fighting for Magna Carta and for their lives.

Magna Carta is frequently mentioned, but less frequently read. (You can read Magna Carta’s complete text at the end of this book.) The first thing we see is that the baron-knights won practical relief for themselves in ten clauses among more than sixty. At the same time, Magna Carta held king and government to a great pledge and promise:

To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.

This principle did not come out of nowhere. It rose from the prophetic voices of the Old Testament who insisted that God wanted justice and out of Christ’s teaching to respect the dignity of every person.

Magna Carta affirmed four justice principles that are vital to us: 1) We must have honest justices and sheriffs who know and uphold the law and don't make it up; 2) We have a right to habeas corpus—no person can be arrested and kept in prison indefinitely without being charged and tried under the law of the land; 3) if charged, we have a right to a trial by jury of our peers in public with credible witnesses; and 4) if convicted, punishment must fit, not exceed, the crime.

Centuries later, in 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Thomas Paine: ‘I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.’ Juries become a line of defence against oppression when they refuse to convict persons charged under unconstitutional laws.

Trial by jury was not new to England. As long ago as the eleventh century, in Bury St Edmunds, the people had risen in protest at the treatment of a farmer named Ketel, who had been convicted without jury trial of a crime he did not commit, and had been executed (A Short History of the English People, JR Green). Ketel’s outraged neighbours established ever after the right to trial by jury in their community. Magna Carta affirmed this constitutional principle for the whole country.

Magna Carta confirmed a person’s right to livelihood and property and therefore the opportunity to be free from servitude. We are vulnerable indeed if anyone can lawlessly seize our homes. (The Heritage Foundation makes the case that countries without protections for fairly acquired private property are the poorest, most corrupt countries on earth.) Magna Carta leaned heavily on lenders who had loaned money to a husband or father who subsequently died. Widows and orphans were protected from having to pay interest on the loans, a clause which protected them but hurt the lenders.

Magna Carta reaffirmed the people’s right to justice, freedom, and peace from a servant leader. The church was declared free of government. The rights and liberties of self-governing towns were reaffirmed. Welsh lands, freedoms, and hostages were restored. Widows were protected from forced marriages. The right of merchants to travel freely was returned. Magna Carta was a magnificent achievement, but it came under immediate attack.

The conflict looked desperate until John unexpectedly died. John's son Henry III was made king, and Stephen Langton had Magna Carta reissued.

Seven hundred years later, the Lutyens-designed memorial at Runnymede reads:

In these Meads on 15th June 1215 King John at the instance of Deputies from the whole community of the Realm granted the Great Charter, the earliest of constitutional documents whereunder ancient and cherished customs were confirmed, abuses redressed, and the administration of justice facilitated new provisions formulated for the preservation of peace and every individual, perpetually secured in the free enjoyment of his life and property.

In 1957, the American Bar Association raised a Memorial to Magna Carta at Runnymede. India’s tribute reads: ‘To historic Magna Carta, a source of inspiration throughout the world . . .’

Winston Churchill wrote in tribute: ‘In subsequent ages when the state swollen with its own authority has attempted to ride roughshod over the rights and liberties of the people it is to this doctrine that appeal has again and again been made and never as yet without success.’

The ancient Witan and Magna Carta’s idea of an advisory council to the king planted the seed for Britain’s next great constitutional advance, which would be carried to the edge of doom by a group of young knights.

4            Elected, representative Parliament

Four decades after Magna Carta, the people of England found they were fighting the same iniquities their grandfathers had struggled against. Henry III, John’s son, sat on the throne, and the profiteering of Crown bureaucrats, the corruption and viciousness of sheriffs, the king’s heavy taxes and expensive foreign adventures were back with a vengeance.

As described in The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval England, 2001, village constables, university students, farmers, fishermen, blacksmiths, carpenters, Londoners, merchants, the great earls of England, bishops, and abbots all united in opposing the king’s high-handed, self-dealing government. The bachelor knights were the youngest to rebel, the most passionate about reform, and the most faithful to the cause when things went wrong.

Two men were their leaders. Both carried the surname Montfort, but they were not related. Peter de Montfort held the castle of Beaudesert, not far from Simon de Montfort’s Kenilworth Castle. Simon was brother-in-law to the king. He was bold, and, by most accounts, arrogant. Peter was a good horseman, an excellent swordsman, and a cool and skilled mediator in the hectic campaigns of the mid-thirteenth century. His eldest son, Piers, was one of the young bachelor knights calling for reform.

In 1258, Simon, Peter, Piers, and a host of bachelor knights met in Oxford. They swore a sacred oath and embarked on a campaign ‘imbued with the ideal of justice for all’ (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Simon de Montfort).

They compelled Henry III to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, which took their inspiration from Magna Carta. The Provisions called for honest sheriffs and established a council that would meet three times a year as a ‘parliament’ to approve or reject taxes, discuss affairs of the realm, and advise the king. The idea of a parliament was not entirely new—Iceland’s Althing, the Isle of Man’s Tynwald, and England’s Witan could stand as role models. In response, Henry III raised an army to destroy the reformers.

They defeated Henry at the Battle of Lewes, and a relieved poet spoke for the country—‘England breathes in the hope of liberty’. In a momentous step toward a government that represents all the people, the reformers invited the shires and towns to elect representatives and send them to a national parliament. On January 20, 1265, elected representatives from all over England gathered in London at Westminster Hall. They met to hold the king accountable and to enforce the reforms.

In its first act, Parliament affirmed the reforms, and the government prepared to enforce them. But their initial success turned to dust. In August the army of Prince Edward surrounded the reformers at Evesham. Urged to escape by Simon de Montfort, the bachelor knights refused to desert the cause. Many of them died. Those who survived lost everything but their principles, and became the Dispossessed.

Yet this was not the end. In 1275, the Statute of Westminster affirmed the principle of honest elections to Parliament, and thereby affirmed Parliament’s existence as well. Today a medallion of Simon de Montfort hangs in the U.S. House of Representatives, in tribute to the man who helped to lay the foundations of representative government.

Constitutionally the road which the English had taken by the end of the thirteenth century:

1) Defined the monarch as someone covenanted to serve the people

2) Created a Common Law based on Judeo-Christian ethical teachings and rational thought based on the principle that no one, not even the king is above the law

3) Established the first constitutional document with human rights which protected the individual

4) Took the first steps toward representative government with an elected Parliament

Charters such as Magna Carta mapped out the protections of the individual and the limitations of state power.

5            Declaration of Rights/English Bill of Rights

In subsequent centuries the English Parliament was shaped by its struggle to control the sovereign’s power and hold monarchs responsible to Parliament. In the seventeenth century Parliament fought to curb the power of a king who had acquired the dangerous and mistaken notion that a king ruled by divine right, and could tax the people as he liked. In 1649 Charles I was executed after a bloody Civil War.

In 1688/89, in the Glorious Revolution–glorious because it was not bloody–a convention of the people ratified a new agreement with their monarchs. At the end of 1689, Parliament ratified the agreement as the English Bill of Rights, An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject. (You can read the complete text of the Bill at the end of this book.) The phrase ‘rights and liberties’ sounds like a drumbeat in this Bill.

There are ‘ancient rights and liberties’, ‘undoubted rights and liberties’, ‘the rights and liberties asserted and claimed’, and ‘the true, ancient and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of this kingdom’. Clearly the people knew these ancient rights and liberties so well they didn’t have to spell them out.

The English Bill of Rights reaffirmed the right to trial by jury, the right to bear arms (limited to Protestants), and the right to be free of foreign rule. There are denunciations of excessive bail, excessive fines, and illegal and cruel punishments. Freedom of speech for Members speaking in Parliament was specifically protected.

Parliament and the people had triumphed over absolute monarchy. By the nineteenth century, Parliament had reduced the sovereign’s dominating role. This was good, but taken too far had the negative effect of diminishing the balance of powers between the sovereign, judiciary, and parliament. That balance, which enables each power to curb and check the overweening power of the other, is part of Britain’s Constitution. Logically it will be clear to you that if Parliament’s effort to control royal power has ended with Parliament becoming all-powerful, then a new tyrant may have been created.

The people loan power to their elected representatives, to act in their behalf. Constitutionally Parliament is bound to protect, not to attack, the ancient rights and liberties of Britain’s people.

6            Ancient rights and liberties

The English Bill of Rights did not spell out the people’s ‘ancient rights and liberties’, but it is possible to deduce from Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, and the chronicles of England what they were:

1) The right to free speech
2) The right to obtain justice in court
3) The right to defend yourself and your family
4) The right to travel freely in and out of the country
5) The right to own, sell, transfer, and bequeath property

6) Etc.

Surely there were other ancient rights and liberties, such as the right to marry and raise children.

In the 1680s, Doctor John Locke, who treated the ill, identified four natural rights crucial to the health of a country:

1) We have a right to freedom of conscience.
2) We have a right to own, sell, bequeath and transfer property,
3) Our government must be based on our popular consent.
4) We have the right to rebel when government does not protect our life, liberty, and property.


Eighteenth century Americans adopted Locke’s ideas, and claimed ‘the bright inheritance of English freedom’ as theirs. (The phrase appears in a letter from New Yorkers to the Mayor of London in 1775.) Their War of Independence was a gauntlet hurled in the faces of King and Parliament who had refused to recognise the ‘ancient rights and liberties’ of British subjects living abroad. The American Bill of Rights, which came into effect December 15, 1791, protected liberties fought for and defended in Britain over the previous thousand years. They included:

The right to equality before the law
The right to habeas corpus
The right to trial by jury
The right not to bear witness against oneself
The right to petition government for redress of grievances
The right to bear arms and defend yourself from attack
The right to your property and house, free of government searches or seizure—‘your home is your castle’
The freedom to own and sell property
The right to freedom of conscience
The right to freedom of speech.


Later amendments would be added to the U.S. Bill of Rights, and wrongs, such as slavery and the inequality of women, would be righted.

V            UNWRITTEN, COMMUNITY-WIDE PRINCIPLES, WHICH SUPPORT BRITAIN’S CONSTITUTION

1) Your rights and liberties are your birthright.

They are not the gift of government, and government has no right to take them away. Government exists not to give us freedom but to protect our freedom.

2) Your rights and liberties extend beyond those defined in a constitutional document or statute law.

You have other freedoms, which government cannot touch. To take a personal example, you have the freedom to kiss the person you love who loves you—though this is not a right defined in your country's constitution.

3) Governments gain their legitimacy only from the free consent of the governed.

4) You have an unalienable right to freedom of conscience.

Centuries ago men and women in Britain willingly faced death at the stake in order to establish each person’s freedom to worship God as he or she wished, or not worship God at all. Christians made martyrs of other Christians before they finally realized that God is a God of love, and love can only be freely and willingly given.

Women were particularly striking in their courage. Alice Driver defied her persecutors, and died by being burned to death in a public execution. Elizabeth Lilburne, who was pregnant, rode to the rescue of her husband and joined him in prison to bear witness to freedom of conscience. Margaret Fell Fox spent four years in a filthy prison because she advocated freedom of worship and women’s equality.

Freedom of conscience is now guaranteed under Britain’s statute law.

5) You have an unalienable right to equality of opportunity.


No nation that suppresses and subjugates some of its people can succeed. Women in Britain were not able to vote until the twentieth century, but they managed to do everything else, and Britain's success is built in great part on their efforts and adventures.

For two thousand years women led men in battle, managed farms, breweries and forges, served as midwives and teachers, worked as bailiffs and merchants, and endowed schools, hospitals, and colleges. They earned a living as artisans, performed on stage, built businesses, wrote popular novels (and one of the first fishing manuals), composed music, rescued men on World War One battlefields, parachuted into France to fight the Nazis, healed the sick, and helped to reform health care. They became scientists and Sovereign Queens. They were the mother-half of the human race, and they raised and protected children.

After years of protest by women who suffered violence at the hands of the authorities and went to jail for their principles, Parliament finally legislated suffrage for women. Women became MPs and a Prime Minister.

But equality of opportunity is not equality of outcome.

To paraphrase: Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by governments or universities. Some men and women have been given extraordinary gifts - for arts or sports or finance. Others have practiced superior industry, economy, and virtue. Enjoying their gifts and achievements, every person is entitled to protection by law. But when the rich and powerful bend government to their selfish purposes, and governments undertake to add titles, gratuities and exclusive privileges to natural and just advantages, to make the rich richer and the powerful more powerful, then the humble members of society have a right to oppose the injustice of their government. (Andrew Jackson, US President of Scots-Irish descent)

Britain now mandates equality of opportunity for men and women of every age, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and religion under statutory law. Perhaps equally important HM The Queen and the people of Britain appreciate and reward merit.

6) The sixth principle is to treat others as you would like to be treated.

There is only so much that the law can do. For instance, the law cannot make everyone honest. Yet countries where the great majority of people live by the values of honesty and kindness are places where people trust each other, businesses flourish, artists can create, and peace rather than mayhem is the rule.

You might say that when most people share these values, they have become part of a country’s unwritten constitution. You might even think they are more important than anything written in any constitution. Toward the end of his life King George VI, who had gallantly led Britain through the Second World War, asked, I wonder if we realise just how precious this spirit of friendliness and kindness is.

VI             WHAT WAS LEFT OUT AND WHY

Some people might well ask, where is the right to food, to a house, to clothing and health care in Britain’s Constitution? The idea was that if you made government responsible for all these things, rather than adult men and women, you made adults into children, as if your parents were still running your life. You made government very powerful, and powerful governments become bullies. They become tyrannies, if history is anything to go by. Britain’s rights and liberties respect you and your ability to achieve and your willingness to help others.

Many people report that they experience happiness by creating value in the world—by employing people, creating a product or service, helping those who cannot help themselves or raising children, to mention a few examples (University of Chicago's General Social Survey). Earned success, based on equality of opportunity, hard work, and merit, often leads to satisfaction and happiness.

In contrast, when government controls everything, as it did in Eastern Europe in the 20th century, people feel powerless and depressed. Behind the Iron Curtain, income redistribution was rampant, and the result was that everyone had almost nothing. Whole nations were dark, dirty, poverty-stricken, and lifeless. The people were miserable, particularly when they thought about their children's futures.

In representing the people, Parliament may need to act—to establish voting rights for all people, for instance. In other cases, Parliament may need to refrain from acting, first because every problem or challenge cannot be solved with a law and second because free people don’t want to live under an all-powerful government. Too many new laws and regulations strangle life. Think of music—to hear the notes, there has to be some silence between them. Too many laws, and life and liberty vanish.

VII            CONCLUSION: KEYS TO SUCCESS

Ancient rights and liberties may seem old hat, but millions of people from all over the world have voted their approval of the constitutions of Britain, America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand with their feet—by moving here.

Below we look at two successes, which evolved directly out of the rights and freedoms of Britain’s Constitution. You might say that Britain’s Constitution was the key to their success.

The free economy

The free economy is based on a mutual covenant freely entered into—a promise from one person or set of people to provide services or goods and a promise from another person to provide payment. Those who promise falsely and break their covenant are rightly punished by the law and scorned. At its best this free and mutual covenant helps us to prosper.

In the free economy, people are constantly absorbing and generating information, buying and selling, competing, but also working together. Profit motivates us, but empathy moves us. Often we find profit and empathy combine, and we all do better by freely deciding to work together.

There are problems in the free economy, but they are not the fatal problems of a centralized and planned economy. The free economy has produced medical advances, warm houses, inexpensive clothing, and thousands of inventions, including the worldwide web, and made them available.

Creating the free economy required the courage and imagination of many men and women. They had to oppose serfdom and slavery, abolish the African slave trade, and defend fair laws and wages for all people. They had and have to battle monopolies and big government-big business cronyism. They had and have to reduce heavy taxes and tariffs, eliminate corruption and withering regulations, and protect their water, air and earth. Businesses have the challenge of surviving, making a profit, and being fair to their employees. All the people have to defend equality of opportunity and a level playing field.

It is not perfect, but the free economy’s results speak for its virtues. These include the overcoming of tremendous difficulties, such as the widespread dislocation caused by the Industrial Revolution; the achievement of prosperity so great that millions of poor people have entered the middle class; and a dedication to generous responsibility so strong that private individuals created everything from schools and universities to theatres and festivals, hospitals and hospices, societies to help the blind, scholarships for children, the protection of animals from cruelty and the London Eye.

Scientific discovery

Many books describe Britain’s extraordinary scientific discoveries and tens of thousands of inventions, but few, it seems to us, acknowledge the role of Britain’s Constitution.

Thinking rationally and exploring scientifically will create every comfort and technological advance we have. In turn, rational thought and scientific development will depend on Britain’s commitment to justice, peace, and freedom. Why? People who are constantly defending themselves from violence and injustice do not have much time for scientific discovery and invention.

Britain’s Constitution was carried across the sea. The new constitutions embraced principles of justice and freedom, which had been created by earlier Brits, and created opportunities for prosperity and happiness in the Anglosphere, which were undreamt of in history.

In Britain, change has also occurred. Some change has enlarged individual freedom. Other change appears to forget or to deliberately ignore the individual’s ancient rights and liberties.

Today we are the heirs of men and women in Britain who defended freedom and justice no matter what the cost. Britain’s Constitution is part of the world’s inheritance. What its future will be lies in your hands.

London Eye

And in the illustrated hardcover, Share the Inheritance, which contains 125 colour images, and is available at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.

Share the Inheritance book cover

We’ve given you a swift overview of the Constitution and the men and women who helped to create it. They are described in full in the ebook Share the Inheritance, 12 Gifts from Great Britain, Amazon UK and Amazon USA and in the illustrated hardcover available at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.

Authors’ Bios

An Englishman, David Abbott has practiced medicine in Britain, America, and Canada for the last four decades. He believes in the principles of Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. He is a father, grandfather, bell ringer, environmental and civil rights campaigner, and marathoner. An American, Catherine Glass Abbott received her degree in Classical Greek from Columbia University, New York. She worked in arts administration and in publishing for twenty years, and voluntarily helped the homeless for seven years in Oregon. David and Catherine are married and live in Shawford, England, just a few hundred yards from Red Lane, where the body of William II was dragged by cart to Winchester.

English bulldog puppy

 

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass