I say freedom as easily as I say mountain, but what
do I see when I look at freedom?
Patricia Lake, Jasper National Park, Canada
The Freedom Network was as invisible to me as the Internet and World Wide Web with its universe of computer networks, fiber-optic cables, and wireless connections, documents, images, songs and video connected by URLs and hyperlinks. I saw only a small piece of the whole network of freedom. At first I did not even realize that freedom was a network with four essential and closely connected components, which are described below.
It was easier to see the absence of freedom, as I did
in Prague before the Velvet Revolution – a beautiful, shabby city full of grey and dispirited people who were depressed and poor and angry because they did not have freedom. I loved them for missing freedom, and later for fighting for it. They threw off the suffocating pall of fear, and spoke with their actions.
Breathing the air of freedom I sometimes forgot I needed air to breathe. I also wondered if freedom was always a good thing. It seemed to allow licentiousness and evils like child pornography. I wrestled with this criticism, and eventually realised my mistake. Licentiousness and pornography are not the result of freedom. They are the result of human nature. They are not allowed by freedom. They are permitted by society. In the past, free societies banned pornography, and very few people complained.
The Horrors of Lack of Freedom
Societies with freedom may have problems, but not because of freedom. In contrast, as history bears witness, societies that are not free have inflicted poverty and oppression on men, women and children because they are not free and cannot defend themselves. It is no accident that every genocide committed in the 20th and 21st centuries – against Armenians, Russians, Jews, Cambodians, Rwandans, Kurds, Bosnian Muslims, and Sudanese – has been committed against unfree and unarmed people.
I think I made my first personal connection to freedom when I was a child. My blood boiled when I thought I had been treated unfairly. "That's not fair!" was my cry – and the cry of all the children on the playground. "Play fair!" We knew how it felt to be shorn of our freedom and tyrannized before we were old enough to spell. Who gave us the idea of playing fair? Other kids. Where did they get the idea? From kids before them. And they?
Tellingly, Shakespeare uses the word fair-playe in his drama about King John, who treats no one fairly, and as a result is forced to affirm Magna Carta, the great charter of liberty. Judeo-Christian beliefs – that we are called to treat others as we would wish to be treated – are one great source of the British idea of fair play. There are others. It's a wonderful theme in British literature and history.
Brits fought with courage, intelligence, and their life's blood for fair play and freedom. They saw there were four developments essential to freedom.
The happiness, safety, and prosperity of individuals and families depend on freedom, and freedom depends on 4 powerful and interlinked developments. Brits establish these 4 essentials, and battle to sustain them: 1) Recognizing that freedom is a God-given, natural right (not a right given by government); 2) The rule of just law and independent courts; 3) Limited, incorruptible, representative government; and 4) Defending the integrity of the nation that preserves freedom.
RECOGNIZING THAT FREEDOM IS A GOD-GIVEN, NATURAL RIGHT
- For the ancient Celts and Anglo-Saxons the word free means dear or beloved, and the words free and friend share the same root. In the mind of the ancient Briton freedom and friendship are deeply linked.
- St Alban dies for freedom of religious conscience. (4th century)
- St Patrick condemns slavery. (5th century)
- Bathilde frees slaves in the Kingdom of the Franks. (7th century)
- Alfred the Great, who lays the foundation of Common Law to protect Brits, declares that Brits have certain rights. (9th century) In particular they have:
The right to law that is common to all and that protects them from injustice.
The right and responsibility to bear arms to defend themselves, their families, their houses, and their country.
- Led by St. Anselm, Brits end slavery in England at the Westminster Council. (1102)
- A serf who runs away from a feudal lord becomes free if he manages to live in a town for a year and a day (12th - 15th centuries).
- Brits create guilds, asserting the right of freedom of association. (12th - 16th centuries)
- Great Revolt of farmers and artisans calls for an end to the much-hated poll tax; an end to serfdom; and the repeal of the law that unfairly freezes their wages to pre-Black Death rates. In short they want equality and justice. They achieve the end of the poll tax. (1381)
- John Wycliffe asserts freedom of religious conscience and freedom of speech by publishing an English Translation of the Bible. (late 14th century)
- The Lollards assert the equality of men and women. They die for freedom of religious conscience. (15th century).
- Serfdom ends, changed not by Parliament or law but by a change of thinking and new social and economic realities. (15th century) Serfdom continues in France until the 18th century; in Russia until the 19th century.
- At the cost of his life, William Tyndale affirms freedom of religious conscience and freedom of speech by translating the Bible into English. (1530)
- Charterhouse monks unflinchingly die for freedom of religious conscience. (1535)
- Yorkshire men on Pilgrimage of Grace risk their lives to protest taxes and to affirm freedom of religious conscience. (1536-1537)
- John Lambert dies at the stake for defending the right to silence - the right not to give evidence against himself. (1537)
- Protestant martyrs die at stake defending freedom of religious conscience. (1550s)
- Puritans defend freedom of religious conscience. (1550s-1600s)
- Catholics go to stake defending freedom of religious conscience. (1550s-1600s)
- Pilgrims seek freedom of religious conscience in new land called America. (1620)
- John Lilburne endures whipping and imprisonment rather than testify against himself. The right not to incriminate oneself is a crucial protection against torture. (1630s)
- The Agitators (also called Levellers) demand that all men have the right to vote, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of the press, and the right not to incriminate oneself. Their leaders are John Lilburne and Richard Overton. Cromwell and Parliament's Ironside Army jail them. A jury of Brits frees them. (1649)
- George Fox, Margaret Fell, and other members of the Society of Friends suffer imprisonment to uphold freedom of religious conscience. (1660s-1680s)
- William Penn, a Friend, bears witness to freedom of religious conscience and freedom of speech on the streets of London. (1670)
- The development of a free press proceeds apace. Thousands of Brits write and print pamphlets, circulars, and newspapers, energetically debate the issues of the day, and, when necessary, elude arrest or defy imprisonment. (17th - 18th centuries)
- John Locke writes that every individual has the right to the fruits of his labour, that this is a natural right that precedes any government, and that it is fundamental to freedom. He defends the right of religious conscience and calls for religious tolerance. His impact on Brits in America will be huge. (1690)
- The colony of Pennsylvania bans the import of slaves. (1712)
- Brits who are members of the Society of Friends end slavery in Philadelphia. (1754)
- J. L. DeLolme asserts in The Constitution of England that resistance is lawful if government tramples on a people's rights. (1771)
- Granville Sharp attacks the practice of bringing slaves to England. (See Rule of Law, 1772)
- Adam Smith publishes The Wealth of Nations, and explains why a nation's and an individual's prosperity depends on freedom. It is often unremarked that Smith is describing the economy developed by the British people over a thousand years. They depended on the right to own and use property and the freedom to produce and trade freely. They created prosperity. Largely free of government controls and central planning they released their creative energies and ideas. (1776)
- Brits in America declare "that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." They fight a revolution to affirm these rights, and create a government that will secure them. (1776-1783)
- Granville Sharp, James Ramsay, Lord and Lady Middleton, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, and Olaudah Equiano begin a fellowship to abolish the slave trade. They succeed in ending the slave trade in 1807 and slavery in British colonies in 1833. (1780s-1833).
- Mary Wollstonecraft writes fiercely on behalf of the rights of women. (1792)
- Henry Brougham advocates the rights of all men to vote, rights for women, and the abolition of slavery. (1802-1830s)
- Hand weavers start a trade union, and are arrested. Brougham defends them, and wins their liberty. (1812)
- Brits rescue Tolpuddle Martyrs after they are transported to Australia for starting a union. (1834)
- Caroline Norton battles for a mother's right to have access to her children. (1830s)
- John Stuart Mill advocates the equality of women in his famous essay, and describes why this will be good for society. (1869)
- Barrister Richard Pankhurst advocates property rights for married women. (1870s)
- Emmeline marries Richard Pankhurst, and together they advocate for a woman's right to vote until he dies. (1880s-1890s)
- Matchbox girls and dock workers fight for the freedom to strike to gain better pay. (1888-1889)
- Citizens of the British Empire in South Africa call for self-government. (1893)
- Emmeline Pankhurst and daughters start campaign to win women the right to vote. Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney launch civil disobedience on behalf of women's suffrage. Thousands of women will endure prison on behalf of women's rights. (1890s-1914)
- Non-white Africans protest the Union of South Africa Constitution which denies them equality. (1909)
- Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican priest nicknamed "the dauntless one" by South Africans, fights apartheid in South Africa for 40 years. (1940s-1990)
- The British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) is founded in London at a meeting of South African exiles and their supporters. Over the next 30 years, AAM helps to overcome apartheid with a boycott of South African goods. (1959 -1990)
- Christopher Tame establishes the Libertarian Alliance
a civil liberties and free market group that advocates less government control and more personal independence and freedom. (1970s)
- The Freedom Association is founded to promote and protect the seven principles of a free society. (1975)
- James Bartholomew publishes The Welfare State We're In, describing how the 'caretaker' state wrecks prosperity and destroys freedom, and what we can do about it. (2004)
THE RULE OF JUST LAW & INDEPENDENT COURTS
- A scholar and a warrior, Alfred the Great establishes the Common Law - common to everyone in the kingdom - and based on Judeo-Christian ethical teachings and Anglo-Saxon and Danis traditions. (9th century)
- It is difficult to say when the jury first came into being. The word described 12 men called together from a neighbourhood to judge the facts and answer a question with a verdict (a true saying). Their verdict had to be unanimous. It was not a majority vote. If they were not convinced, they did not convict. It was an astonishing development in the law, in convicting the guilty and protecting the innocent. (10th century)
- Clergy and barons compel Henry I to affirm the Charter of Liberties, which affirms that the church will be free, and that no man, not even the king, is above the law. (12th century)
- Practical, hot-tempered Henry II builds on the foundation of Common Law. Henry establishes grand juries; and improves the fairness and justice of the courts. (12th century)
- King John is compelled by his bishops, baron-knights and the people of England to affirm Magna Carta (13th century). Magna Carta lays the ground for the protection of life, property, liberty, and livelihood against the power of the state. Property rights are fundamental to freedom. Without the right to the produce of your work and your property, you can have no freedom. Indeed, you can scarcely live. Magna Carta affirms:
"No freeman can be taken, imprisoned, or exiled except by the lawful judgement of his peers and the law of the land."
Free men have a right to justice that is neither "sold, refused, nor delayed".
Free men have a right to their property. Property cannot be seized except by the lawful judgement of a freeman's peers and the law of the land. Property (land, castles, franchises) seized by the King without a lawful trial by jury, must be returned. Children have a right to inherit property.
Right of the Church to be free. (Free from the tyranny of the state.)
Right to livelihood. Magna Carta makes clear that fines cannot be so large they consume a person's livelihood.
Right to sheriffs who know and obey the law.
Simon de Montfort, the bachelor knights, and the people of England call for Henry III to agree to the Provisions of Oxford and Westminster. (1258-1259) The Provisions call for a Parliament (see Representative Government in Part 2) and:
Traveling justices to hear appeals and see that justice is done.
Incorruptible sheriffs, accountable to the council of baron-knights who advise the King.
- The Statute of Marlborough reaffirms the Provisions of Oxford and Westminster, and specifies that redress for property damages will be sought and obtained through the courts. (1267)
- Parliament passes the Statute of Westminster. The Statute affirms that common right is to be done to all, rich and poor without respect of persons. It also makes a tremendous advance for representative democracy - see Freedom Network, Part III, Statute of Westminster. (1275)
- The statute Quia Emptores prohibits land from being the subject of a feudal grant, and allows it to be transferred without the feudal overlord's permission. This is an advance for the people's property rights. (1292)
- Brits develop the grand jury and trial by jury (14th century). They establish these principles:
Every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
A local grand jury will decide whether the criminal evidence against a person is sufficient to warrant a trial.
Trial by jury will give an accused person the chance to defend himself.
Common Law evolves case by case as litigants and judges defend personal rights, including property rights, from government and from rapacious individuals or groups. Clearly defined and protected property rights encourage economic progress and prosperity. (13th - 21st centuries)
Common Law becomes the basis of law in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India, among other countries. Some guiding principles include:
Judges and courts are independent, and justice cannot be bought or sold.
Rulings apply to the specific matters and individual before the court.
Judges are guided by stare decisis, "standing by things decided" that is, by a coherent tradition of legal precedent – the rulings of cases before them. They cannot make up new laws.
Every person has the right of habeas corpus (the right to be accused and tried, or allowed to go free; not left to rot behind bars).
- Common Law protects property rights. Citizens have three crucial property rights which protect their individual liberty and are at the foundation of opportunity and prosperity:
They have the right to use property;
They have the right to transfer or sell property;
They have the right to exclude other people from their property and be free from search or attack in their own homes.
In property disputes, the courts decide and enforce who owns property, who reaps the benefits, and who must pay costs for disrupting rights. The law protects all of society since citizens who cannot obtain redress legally may try to obtain them by force, to the destruction of society.
- John Lambert dies at the stake for defending his right not to testify against himself. The right to silence will become a shield against torture. (1537)
- Robert Kett and northern farmers petition Parliament and defend their legal rights to common lands which have been stolen from them. (1549)
- In the case of Cartwright, Common Law affirms that no man can be held as a slave in England. Slaves do not own themselves or the product of their work. In England, it is affirmed, every man owns himself and the product of his work. (1569)
- Chief Justice Edward Coke defends Common Law from King James I. Coke declares the law trumps the power of the King, and that the law is interpreted by judges, not by the government. In making this claim Coke asserts the crucial importance of a judiciary independent of the executive. (1613)
- John Selden fights for the habeas corpus rights of the Five Knights imprisoned for protesting taxes. (1625)
- When the Five Knights are refused habeas corpus, Brits demand the Petition of Right. (1628) The Petition -
There will be no imprisonment of freemen without cause shown. The King's command alone is insufficient to hold a man.
No person will be compelled to make loans to the King, and there will be no tax without the approval of Parliament.
Habeas corpus is not to be denied.
Soldiers and sailors will not be billeted on civilians. Their housing and feeding is the responsibility of the Government.
The Government will not imprison any man because he disagrees with the Government’s policies. This protection is a cornerstone of freedom.
- Parliament abolishes the Court of the High Commission, which tried to impose religious uniformity. (1640)
- Parliament declares that John Lilburne's imprisonment for refusing to answer questions in the Court of Star Chamber is "illegal and against the liberty of the subject." He is released from prison, and a great precedent takes root: Refusal to answer a question in a court of law is our right, and does not carry a presumption of guilt.
- Parliament abolishes the secret and oppressive Court of Star Chamber, which had become the tool of the King. (1640)
- John Lilburne is accused of libelling Parliament. He denies Parliament's power to try him, and declares that as a free Englishman he has all the freedoms of the greatest man in England, including a jury trial under Common Law; presumption of innocence; the right to counsel; and the right to subpoena witnesses in his favour. His jury acquits him. (1649)
- William Penn is charged with disturbing the peace when he speaks punlicly about his religious convictions. At his trial Penn urges his jurors to remember their rights as Englishmen, and refuse to convict him. His jury does refuse to convict, and its members are thrown into prison. (1670)
- One of Penn's imprisoned jurors, Edward Bushell, manages to have a writ of habeas corpus taken to the High Court, where the Lord Chief Justice, John Vaughn, orders the jurors released, and in a victory for justice declares that jurors cannot be punished for their verdicts. (1670)
- Parliament passes the Habeas Corpus Act, which gives sheriffs just three days to respond to a writ of habeas corpus. If they do not respond in three days, the prisoner is to be freed. (1679)
- The people win the "Glorious Revolution". The people declare a Declaration of Right, and later Parliament approves a Bill of Rights which asserts that the British people can never be constitutionally ruled by a foreign power and defends all the ancient rights and liberties of the people -
The right to protection by the law of the land
The right to petition
The right to bear arms; the right to be taxed only with the approval of their elected representatives
The right not to be fined or convicted without a trial.
- The Act of Settlement
1701 declares that the British citizen is "restored to the full and free possession and enjoyment of their religion, rights, and liberties, by the providence of God". Governments do not grant the people freedom. Freedom is the people's birthright. (1700-1701)
- The Statute of Anne is the first law in the world to provide modern copyright protections to authors and to assert the rights of public domain. (1710)
- Artist William Hogarth wins protections for a visual artist's intellectual property rights from Parliament. The rogues copying his popular prints and selling them without compensation find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Copyright law is a boon to artists and inventors. (1735)
- Blackstone's Commentaries on Magna Carta and Common Law explain and defend freedom. Blackstone confirms that Common Law has established a person’s home as his castle, a place where men and women have the right to protection from both prying and violent attack. Freedom from search and the right of self-defence are protected by the law, which extends to our right to own our house and which prevents government from taking that right away. (1760s)
- Granville Sharp attacks the practice of bringing slaves to Britain as contrary to Common Law. His argument persuades the judge, Lord Mansfield, who rules that slavery is incompatible with Common Law and that any slave who sets foot in England becomes free. (1772)
- British subjects in America revolt, win the American Revolution, and establish the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The British Constitution and Bill of Rights are inspirations for the US, and the US adopts Common Law. (1775-1783)
- Parliament repeals unfair Irish and Scottish Penal Laws. (1778-1782)
- Seditious libel is the 'crime' of criticizing the government. Despite the fact that he is libelled and caricatured more than any other man in public life, the witty, exotic, and scandalous Charles James Fox pushes a liberal Libel Act through Parliament that allows a defendant accused of seditious libel to plead the truth as a defence before a jury of his peers. (1792)
- Shoemaker Thomas Hardy risks his life to fight for freedom of political opinions and freedom of association. Charged with treason, he goes before a jury of his peers. They free him in a tremendous victory for liberty. (1794)
- Parliament responds to the will of the people by ending the slave trade. The Royal Navy enforces the law at sea. (1807)
- Henry Brougham carries an act in Parliament that makes participating in the slave trade a felony. (1810)
- After hand weavers trying to start a trade union are arrested. Brougham defends them in court, and wins their liberty. (1812)
- Parliament frees Catholics from the Test Acts, which had required religious allegiance to the Church of England for public employment. (1829)
- Robert Peel establishes the Police as as a civil, not military force which is directly accountable to the people. (1829)
- Parliament abolishes slavery in all British territories. (1833)
- Parliament ends Poor Laws as destructive to the liberty, prosperity, and well being of the poor. (1834)
- In response to Caroline Norton's brave and solitary struggle to gain access to her children, Parliament passes the Custody of Children Act. (1839)
- After a decade-long campaign Richard Cobden and John Bright gain public support to repeal the unfairly protectionist Corn Laws; free trade flourishes. (1846)
- Led by Richard Oastler and Anthony Ashley Cooper (Lord Shaftesbury) Parliament passes legislation limiting the working hours of children. (1847)
- Parliament passes the Marriage & Divorce Act to protect the rights of women. (1857)
- In response to advocates such as Richard Pankhurst, Parliament passes Married Women’s Property Act, giving property rights to married women as individuals in their own right. (1882)
- In the 1980s the European Union extends its powers by making laws that affect free Britons. This was an insidious step by step usurpation of British rights and freedoms. By 2000, three-quarters of new British law is made by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. Beginning in the late 1980s and continuing up to the present time a number of individuals and groups battle against the increasingly despotic power of the EU and its oppressive superstate. For details, see Freedom Network, Part 2 and LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE, 21st Century
- Parliament narrowly defeats a racial and religious "hatred" act that would gut freedom of speech. (2006)
To look at the development of representative government and the defence of the nation - without a country you cannot have freedom, see FREEDOM NETWORK PART 2
When you contribute to this website,
you support Brits at their Best.
Join the Circle of Friends