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

LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE

1700-1764

Hogarth's rambunctuous scene of a member being chaired

Hogarth painted Chairing the Member as part of his election series in the 1750s. Brits in America want the same right to be represented in government and to have a voice in how much they are taxed as Brits in Britain.

"SUNBURNT AMERICA" FIGHTS FOR RIGHTS OF BRITS

American revolutionaries begin their struggle for freedom as Brits "born to the bright inheritance of English freedom." Their struggle is supported by many in Britain. An artist fights for copyright.
A reporter fights for freedom of the press.

Photo: kickstand @istockphoto.com

1700 - 1701 PARLIAMENT PASSES ACT OF SETTLEMENT DECLARING THE RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES OF THE SUBJECT AND SETTLES SUCCESSION TO THE CROWN

The Parliament of England passes the Act of Settlement, to settle the succession to the English throne, and in a fundamental document of the written British Constitution recognizes the Common Law as the Birthright of the people that may never be taken away. The section of the Act that allows only a person who is not a Roman Catholic to succeed to the throne appears biased, but is intended to prevent a monarch from owing allegiance to the Pope and thus losing sovereignty.

The Act is a clear-as-crystal statement that the laws and liberties of the people are their birthright. Any and all treaties with the EU are in flagrant disregard of this fundamental, written part of the British Constitution which reads,

V. And whereas the laws of England are the birth-right of the people thereof, and all the Kings and Queens, who shall ascend the throne of this Realm, ought to administer the government of the same according to the said laws, and all their officers and ministers ought to serve them respectively according to the same: the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do therefore further humbly pray, That all the laws and statutes of this Realm for securing the established religion, and the rights and liberties of the people thereof, and all other laws and statutes of the same now in force, may be ratified and confirmed, and the same are by His Majesty, by and with the advice of the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, and by authority of the same, ratified and confirmed accordingly.

Note also that the Act 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. The Act is extended to Scotland and by the Acts of Union 1707 to all the United Kingdom.

1701 CHIEF JUSTICE RULES THAT SLAVERY IS ILLEGAL IN ENGLAND

When a slave is brought into England, and with the help of other Brits fights for his freedom, the case goes to court. John Holt, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, rules that "as soon as a negro comes into England, he becomes free: one may be a villein in England, but not a slave".

1702 - 1706 BRITS & ALLIES BRING MILITARISTIC FRANCE TO STANDSTILL

Beginning in 1688 Brits fight in Europe and America to contain Louis XIV’s despotic French state, which has pitilessly and methodically attacked other European peoples, even attacking Austria's German allies when they were fighting desperately against the invasion of the Ottoman Turks in 1683. Brits are determined to protect their commercial interests, and to prevent Louis XIV from dominating Europe. In particular Brits intend to stop him from threatening invasion of Britain on behalf of the Catholic claimant to the British throne.

Standing against the "Sun King" is one remarkable man, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. It is said Churchill learned military strategy from a book in his school library, but it seems somewhat doubtful that his military genius was taught.

Protecting the Netherlands from a French invasion, Churchill learns that Louis has united a second army with his Bavarian allies and is threatening Austria. Concealing his plans, he marches his men south from the Netherlands through appalling weather. Brilliant at logistical planning, the ordering of transport and communications and supplies so essential to military success, he executes a series of brilliant feints that deceive the French, and takes a position south of them to protect Austria.

Churchill and Prince Eugene of Savoy, who leads the Austrian army, attack the French on the Danube. Eugene commands the right wing, and Churchill, the centre and left wing. Their army falters, but Eugene presses the attack on the right wing, and late in the day Churchill, whose cool-headed courage in the thick of battle is legendary, succeeds in crossing the Nebel River, and breaks the French centre.

Their famous victory at Blenheim destroys Louis' army, but nine months later he fields another army in what is now Belgium. For a second time, at the battle of Ramillies, Churchill takes the field, leading Brits, Dutch, and Danes. He makes a heavy but feigned attack on the French right then hurls the Dutch, British, and Danish cavalry against the French horse. After furious fighting, Churchill and his cavalry break the French line, and after several more battles, including the Battle of Oudenarde in 1708, put an end to Louis' imperial ambitions to dominate Europe.

1707 ACT OF UNION UNITES ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND

We are going to boldly say that the Act of Union of May 1 was a positive thing for freedom for it gave to the Scots all the rights and liberties that the English had acquired. Scottish representatives were elected to Parliament, and decisions which had affected Scotland without their having much voice in the matter were now developed with their say. However, we are aware that the Scots believed and to some extent experienced less autonomy, and their affection for their ancient kingdom remained staunch. This was so even as they benefitted from the economic and intellectual opportunities of the Union and themselves contributed to the remarkable success of Great Britain.

1709 -1710 STATUTE OF ANNE PROTECTS COPYRIGHT OF AUTHORS

Britain established the world's first fully-fledged copyright law. Without it, it's doubtful that Ian McEwan or JK Rowling would ever have bothered to write.

Before Parliament passed the copyright law, only publishers had copyright protections; authors had none. They did not even own their works and could not collect royalties. Under the new law the author's exclusive rights were limited to 21 years, after which the work entered the public domain.

The law of copyright protects both property and innovation. It's fundamental to inventors and businesses and artists. Fair use and public domain are also fundamental to creativity, scientific breakthroughs and even prosperity so, like most things in life, balance is necessary.

1713 PLAY IS GODFATHER TO A REVOLUTION

Joseph Addison’s play Cato: A Tragedy opens in London with a heroic Roman senator, Cato the Younger, defending the republic and defying the tyranny of Julius Caesar. Samuel Johnson remarks that no one gives a hoot what Cato’s characters are doing, only what they have to say. Among those who care are revolutionaries in America.

Decades after the first American productions, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry quote Cato in letters and speeches. George Washington, who sees the play sometime in the 1750s, can quote lines from memory, and has it performed for his army at Valley Forge in the icy winter of 1777-78.

The virtues defended by Cato and George Washington are endurance, character, civility, constancy of mind, discipline, faith, friendship, honour, humanity, lawfulness, mildness, self control, sociability, strength of mind, striving, toil, and valour.

1720 – 1723  ‘ANONYMOUS’ CATO DEFIES GOVERNMENT; DESCRIBES PRINCIPLES OF LIBERTY

Inspired by Addison’s play, two friends in London conceal their identities behind the name Cato and publish newspaper articles condemning tyranny and advancing the principles of liberty. They call for limited government and freedom of speech. Later identified as John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, they publish 144 “Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious” as Cato's Letters.  Along with Addison’s play, their essays become one of the most popular and quoted sources of political ideas in the American colonies.

1720s TRADE OPENS DOORS

Novelist and pamphleteer Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) observes that in Britain, "After a generation or two the tradesmen’s children, or at least their grand-children, come to be as good Gentlemen, Statesmen, Parliament-men, Privy Counsellors, Judges, Bishops and Noblemen as those of the highest birth and the most ancient families.” 

18th century silver coffe pot

Increasing prosperity inspired silversmiths and coffee drinkers. Sardonic Defoe is correct: The freedom to trade in
a country where property rights are protected can propel
a whole people into a more prosperous way of life.

1762 Coffee Pot from London
Photo: www.equinoxantiques.com

1735 ARTIST WILLIAM HOGARTH FIGHTS FOR PROTECTION OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

The artist or scientist who cannot protect his intellectual property is not free. Audacious William Hogarth experiences financial success with paintings and engravings depicting a harlot whose debauchery ruins her life, but the popularity of the series attracts pirates. Hogarth finds other men stealing his intellectual property, reproducing his engravings, and depriving him of his right to profit from his own work. He fights fiercely for a copyright law that will protect designers and engravers. Parliament agrees, and a day after "Hogarth's Act" is passed, he finishes A Rake's Progress, the male counterpart to his unhappy harlot. The series sells out, and is still being reproduced.

1754 FRIENDS IN PHILADELPHIA RENOUNCE SLAVEHOLDING AND FREE AFRICANS

In Pennsylvania, three British Quakers, Benjamin Lay, John Woolman and Anthony Benezet, work tirelessly to end slavery. Woolman travels through the colonies on foot, to hold conversations with Friends, urging them for the love of Christ to free their slaves. Benezet keeps a free school at Philadelphia for the education of Africans and publishes treatises against slavery. They are so tenacious that Philadelphia Quakers officially renounce the practice of slaveholding and free the Africans who have been their slaves.

1754-1763 SEVEN YEARS WAR WINS AMERICA FOR THE BRITS

Better known as the French and Indian War in America, the Seven Years War against the French is fought on three continents – America, India, and Europe. Brits win due to the superiority of the British Navy, their adept use of financial instruments like credit, their technology, the audacity of their merchants, and the refusal of Brits in America to be ruled by an autocratic French government. Without this victory it is doubtful whether America, Canada, or India would exist today.

1760s – 1770s WILKES JAILED; PITT DEFENDS HIM; PRESS FREEDOM LEAPS FORWARD

William Pitt the Elder, a hard-working MP and Prime Minister who has a bad case of gout, successfully leads the Brits in the Seven Years War. Pitt is also incorruptible, but many others in Parliament are not.  They represent pocket boroughs – and are ‘in the pocket’ of the rich family that owns them.

John Wilkes is an MP, a newspaper publisher, a rake and a wit. (When the Earl of Sandwich remarks that Wilkes will die of the pox or on the gallows, Wilkes famously responds, “That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your mistress or your principles.”) Wilkes publishes an article accusing government ministers of corruption and despotism, and the government jails him. His arrest on a General Warrant flies in the face of the right to habeas corpus, freedom of speech as an MP, and freedom of the press. 

Lord Chief Justice Pratt frees him, declaring General Warrants are illegal and contrary to the Bill of Rights.  The Earl of Sandwich has Wilkes charged with libel, and expelled from Parliament. Wilkes takes refuge in Paris, returns to fight a Parliamentary election, is reelected, but is denied his seat and is once again jailed. 

The Society for Supporters of the Bill of Rights protests. Pitt, who has never been afraid to criticise the powers-that-be, stands up in Parliament and launches a blistering attack against unlawful arrest and political corruption.

Eventually freed, Wilkes' appetite for controversy remains keen. With a drive to write and publish that will be familiar to modern bloggers, Wilkes takes his revenge by publishing daily reports of Parliament’s speeches verbatim.  Members of Parliament are incensed, but cannot stop him. The freedom of the press that many today take for granted and others want to destroy comes roaring into life here, with Wilkes’ transcripts, comments, and criticism of Parliament published for all Brits to read.


1765-1775

 

When you contribute to this website,
you support Brits at their Best.

Join the Circle of Friends

English bulldog puppy

 

Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass