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Stop everything and celebrate “Petition of Right Day”.

June 7, 2013
petition of right

Today is June 7th. We should be calling it “Petition of Right Day”. Yes, in 1628, Sir Edward Coke (one of the most important and influential people Europe has ever produced), was able to witness the triumphant acceptance of a petition which checked the arbitrary power of the crown, lifted martial law, and put down in writing the essentially contractual basis of all authority. Some of the most basic civil freedoms many people still enjoy were developed as a result of the negotiations between the crown and parliament which produced this petition.

When this document received Royal (but very very reluctant) assent OTD in 1628, its legal status was immediately questioned.  No matter.  It refused to go away.

Charles I’s inability to understand or respect the implications of this document would lead to the outbreak of civil war, some 14 years later. A true believer in the sacred power of monarchy, he believed that he was accountable only to God and that any agreement he signed with any of his subjects could be torn up whenever he felt like it. Parliament, on the other hand, did not forget the document and it has become one of the two or three most important documents in British constitutional history. It also influenced American revolutionaries and helped inform crucial sections of the American constitution.

So where’s the bunting? Where are the parades? Where’s the bank holiday?  The Petition of Right was one of the most significant and inspiring things that this corner of Europe has ever given the English speaking world and in a nation that sponsored any rational sense of self esteem The Petition of Right would be known by every school child. Also, June 7th might well be a bank holiday. The de-Starkeyfication of history is just one reason to be a republican. But it seems the powers that be think that trumpeting sixty or more years of continuous chair moistening is a more inspiring cause for celebration than an event which actually marked a crucial new phase in the development of contractual representative government.

Oh and while we’re at it, June 7th is the date that the Great Reform Act of 1832 finally became law.  Again – this was not an Act that created democracy but rather an Act that created a precedent for rationalising representation that made a democratic trajectory very likely. What a day is June 7th. Too much inspiring anniversary celebration of representative government.  If Britain was currently a nation capable of rational self respect, there would be a strong case for it being a bank holiday.

It’s all too much.  Too much constitutional excitement.  I may have to take things easy tomorrow. 

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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Wrote this a year agp. Will reblog it with tweaks annually.

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