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Constitutional Development in United Kingdom

Significance of English Constitutional Development in the
Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries

This indeed is the salient fact in the evolution of constitutional government in England. While in other countries late in the eighteenth century monarchs still ruled by divine right, in England Parliament and ministers were the real rulers, and, in theory at least, they ruled by the will of the people. That England was able to develop this form of government may have been due in part to her insular position, her constitutional traditions, and the ill-advised conduct of the Stuart kings, but most of all it was due to the great commercial and industrial development which made her merchant class rich and powerful enough to demand and secure a share in government.

Great Britain Parliamentarian but not Democratic

In their admiration for the English government, many popular writers have fallen into the error of confounding the struggle for parliamentary supremacy with the struggle for democracy. Nothing could be more misleading. The “Glorious Revolution” of 1689 was a coup d’état engineered by the upper classes, and the liberty it preserved was the liberty of nobles, squires, and merchants—not the political liberty of the common people.

The Unreformed Parliament

The House of Commons was essentially undemocratic. Only one man in every ten had even the nominal right to vote. It is estimated that from 1760 to 1832 nearly one-half of the members owed their seats to patrons, and the reformed representatives of large towns were frequently chosen by a handful of rich merchants. In fact, the government was controlled by the upper class of society, and by only a part of that. No representatives sat for the numerous manufacturing towns which had sprung into importance during the last few decades, and rich manufacturers everywhere complained that the country was being ruined by the selfish administration of great landowners and commercial aristocrats.

Certain it is that the Parliament of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while wonderfully earnest and successful in enriching England’s landlords and in demolishing every obstacle to British commerce, at the same time either willfully neglected or woefully failed to do away with intolerance in the Church and injustice in the courts, or to defend the great majority of the people from the greed of landlords and the avarice of employers.

Designed as it was for the protection of selfish class interests, the English government was nevertheless a step in the direction of democracy. The idea of representative government as expressed by Parliament and cabinet was as yet very narrow, but it was capable of being expanded without violent revolution, slowly but inevitably, so as to include the whole people.

Constitutional Reform: Section 87 in relation with the Courts and Tribunals in England

This section of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (CRA) refers to those whom the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), a non-departmental public body, recommends for immediate judicial appointment.


Further Reading

F. W. Maitland, The Constitutional History of England (1908), Periods III, IV, special studies of the English government in 1625 and in 1702 by an eminent authority; D. J. Medley, A Student’s Manual of English Constitutional History, 5th ed. (1913), topical treatment, encyclopedic and dry; T. P. Taswell-Langmead, English Constitutional History, 7th ed. rev. by P. A. Ashworth (1911), ch. xiii-xvi, narrative style and brief; Henry Hallam, Constitutional History of England from the Accession of Henry VII to the Death of George II, an old work, first pub. in 1827, still useful, new ed., 3 vols. (1897). The best summary of the evolution of English parliamentary government in the middle ages is A. B. White, The Making of the English Constitution, 449-1485 (1908), Part III. In support of the pretensions of the Stuart kings; see J. N. Figgis, The Divine Right of Kings, 2d ed. (1914); and in opposition to them, see G. P. Gooch, English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century (1898).

S. Leadam, Political History of England, 1702-1760 (1909), conservative and matter-of-fact; W. E. H. Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, new ed., 7 vols. (1892-1899), especially Vol. I, brilliantly written and very informing, and, by the same author, A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, 5 vols. (1893); C. G. Robertson, England under the Hanoverians (1911), ch. i, ii, iv; Earl Stanhope (Lord Mahon), History of England from the Peace of Utrecht to the Peace of Versailles, 1713-1783, 5th ed., 7 vols. (1858), particularly Vols. I, II, tedious but still useful especially for foreign affairs. On the union of England and Scotland: P. H. Brown, The Legislative Union of England and Scotland (1914); W. L. Matthieson, Scotland and the Union, 1695-1747 (1905); Daniel Defoe, History of the Union between England and Scotland (1709)

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  • Article Name: Constitutional Development
  • Author: B. Hepple
  • Description: Significance of English Constitutional Development in the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries This indeed is the [...]

This entry was last updated: October 30, 2016


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