The Glorious Revolution is as relevant today in Australia, and in the wider world, as it was in England in 1688. It is arguably the most significant single advance in the provision of good government that the world has ever seen. This has been overshadowed by concentrating on its quite peripheral impact on the divisions among Christians. But the Calvinist Prince of Orange who became William III was driven by his fear of absolutist French hegemony over Europe, not by worries about Catholicism, whose leader, the Pope, was his temporal ally.
The freedoms ensured and the benefits gained from the Glorious Revolution far exceed anything gained from any other single event, including the mistakenly more celebrated French Revolution. The Reign of Terror in the French Revolution was bad enough; but the loss of life from the resulting years of war which ended only in 1815 compares with the First World War, and that with a smaller population. The other great so-called revolution, the Russian, was more a coup d’état by the Bolsheviks, with equally disastrous imitations in Europe and
The Glorious Revolution was in many ways
The influence of the Glorious Revolution is not limited to the particular
This indicates some advantage in the Anglo-Saxon system of governance. There is no evidence that this has anything to with race, but rather it is to do with the endorsement of what we may call political culture.
It is important to stress that the great advantages of the Glorious Revolution were not the result of some philosopher sitting down and designing them. That was what directed the French and Bolshevik revolutions, near-crazed men designing schemes to save the world that came close to ruining it. The style of the Anglo-Saxon is pragmatic; the style of the major continental powers has hitherto been more theoretical.
The wisdom of the Anglo-Saxons has been in allowing institutions to evolve gradually over time and through trial and error. By way of contrast to continental thought, I would refer to the story of the French énarque who, when the benefits of something we are familiar with were shown to him, said: “Yes, it may well work in practice, but does it work in theory?”
The Glorious Revolution began with an invitation to invade England made to Prince William of Orange by certain leading Englishmen who were outraged by what they saw as the unconstitutional acts of James II.
The Glorious Revolution involved
This is in no way an argument that the English, the British, or the English-speaking peoples were or are endowed with any superior intellect. It was that a Dutch prince was prepared to accept the conditions under which he and his wife might have the throne of
This was to have momentous consequences.
What was achieved—a great governmental, military, financial and diplomatic revolution—was in many respects unintended and the benefits took some time to become apparent.
It would be wrong to assume that the Glorious Revolution introduced democracy, at least as we know it. Nor for that matter did the American Revolution. The suffrage in
The essential point is that the Glorious Revolution introduced conditions essential for good, limited government, something which the American Revolution affirmed. This was a liberal constitution which came to provide stable limited government with adequate checks and balances against the abuse of power. Those checks and balances comply with
That a liberal constitution requires that government be limited is something which socialists have never appreciated. Because much of Western political philosophy in the nineteenth and twentieth century was dominated by socialist thought (and still is under the guise of, for example, militant environmentalism) this means that little attention has been given to a feature absolutely essential to any society which is governed under a liberal constitution. This is that the right to private property be protected under the law.
Indeed, Hernando de Soto (in The Mystery of Capital) has demonstrated that the protection of property rights in a formal property system, and one with adequate records, is crucial to economic development, and indeed, that its absence in many Third World countries explains many of their barriers to development.
In the context of the debate over the Bush administration’s policy to impose democracy across the world,
This point was not fully appreciated in the occupation of
If we return to the British experience, not only did they transmit the benefits of the Glorious Revolution to their first empire in the
The Australian, Canadian and New Zealand colonies were soon given the same free institutions, allowed to run themselves, to federate if they wished, and in the case of Australia they were even given the golden key to their constitution—the right to amend it. No other colonies in other empires ever had these, quite often because the imperial power did not enjoy them at home. The English-speaking world enjoyed a benefit in advance of others. According to
Living under a liberal constitutional system is reflected in the political judgment of the English-speaking world. Once again, it is not that the English-speaking people are more intelligent. It is that, accustomed to a liberal constitutional system, the electorate becomes capable of sophisticated judgment and is suspicious of those who challenge the constitution. These electorates typically reject extremes at either end of the political spectrum. The electors can of course be misled, but they are less inclined than others to render heroic status to their leaders or to be swayed by adventurism.
Accordingly it is no coincidence that communist and fascist parties never attracted significant support in English-speaking countries, in contrast to many of the apparently sophisticated European continental countries. By maintaining a liberal constitution, the result is that the electorate becomes a guardian of that system.
The Principles of the Glorious Revolution
William Blackstone, in his Fundamental Laws of England, published in 1760, enumerates a stream of signal documents which declare what he saw as the “absolute rights of Englishmen”. It was these rights which the American colonists believed they had taken with them to the new land, and it was these rights which they claimed
Let us go to the Bill of Rights of 1689, “An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown”. In summary, the Bill of Rights established the fundamental principles of government in what is the first version in
The Bill of Rights was a revolutionary document in that with the landing of Prince
Constitutionally this was irregular, to say the least. If
The Bill of Rights begins with a recital referring to the Declaration of Right which was read to the sovereigns before the Crown was formally offered to them. Then follows a general accusation against
Then follow thirteen specific allegations, principally that he claimed the power to dispense with the laws of
Thus on November 11, 1975, the Australian Governor-General,
“Because of the principles of responsible government a Prime Minister who cannot obtain supply, including money for carrying on the ordinary services of government, must either advise a general election or resign. If he refuses to do this I have the authority and indeed the duty under the Constitution to withdraw his Commission as Prime Minister.”
In summary, and in case anyone doubted the illegality of
Accordingly, the Bill of Rights declares that the “late King James the Second”—almost as if he were dead—“having abdicated the government and the throne being thereby vacant, his Highness the Prince of Orange (whom it hath pleased Almighty God to make the glorious instrument of delivering this kingdom from popery and arbitrary power)” had called an election for the House of Commons which met and formulated the conditions under which they would offer the throne to William and Mary.
The Bill of Rights then records that “their said Majesties did accept the crown and royal dignity of the kingdoms”, and that certain principles were accepted. It was noted in particular that the King and Queen could not, under the prerogative, dispense with the application of the laws, that a standing army will not be maintained in England without parliamentary consent, that the monarch would not interfere in elections, nor rule without supply, that subjects would be free to petition the King, and that they were to be protected from cruel and unusual punishments, and fines and forfeitures without trial. Parliamentary privilege was established and Protestants were entitled to bear arms for their defence.
The parliament had clearly tired of the
In the year following the passing of the Bill of Rights, William defeated King James in Ireland at the famous Battle of the Boyne. This ended any real hope of a
While this battle is best remembered today in
The battle was regarded as more significant on the continent than in
The Act of Settlement
After the death of Queen Mary, and then the death of her sister Anne’s son Prince William of Gloucester, William and parliament felt the need to restate the succession. This was to ensure that the Crown did not return to
Accordingly the Act of Settlement of 1701 vests the succession in the Electress Sophia of Hanover, a granddaughter of
The Act of Settlement is frequently the subject of debate, principally because of the Protestant succession. But there is something far more important in this legislation, something which would have a profound effect on governance in
This was of signal importance. It is the source of the doctrine of the separation of powers in
Subsequently the English model evolved into the
The Constitutional Monarchy
There was to be one further development in the constitutional monarchy which was to follow American independence. Until then, the king or queen played an active role in the executive. The ministers were not responsible to parliament; they were responsible to the king. So the model the Americans took was one where the head of state was also still head of government.
Paradoxically, it was the American War of Independence that was to see the beginnings of what we recognise as the
This was the beginning of the constitutional convention which became firmly established in the middle of the nineteenth century, that a government must retain the confidence of the House of Commons. This of course was the system which the British gave to their settled colonies in the mid-nineteenth century.
But noting that William was not a constitutional monarch as we would know it today is not to say he was not meticulous in observing the obligations he entered into under the Declaration and then the Bill of Rights.
In 1698 a very foolish House of Commons wanted to cut down the size of the army to a mere 7000 in
“I came into this kingdom, at the desire of the nation, to save it from ruin, and to preserve your religion, your laws and your liberties. And for that end, I have been obliged to maintain a long and burdensome war for this kingdom, which, by the grace of god, and the bravery of this nation, is at present ended in a good peace, under which you may live happily and in quiet, provided you will contribute towards your own security in the manner I have recommended to you, at the opening of the sessions.”
They had not, so he would go. But when he read his speech to the Lord Chancellor,
But when five gentlemen of
The Lords, differing from the Commons, implored the King to act. The result was the Treaty of Grand Alliance and the War of Spanish Succession 1701–14). As a consequence,
The Glorious Revolution and
The principles of the Glorious Revolution are central to the Australian constitutional system for at least three reasons. First, the settlers brought with them the laws of
Our constitutional system includes the principles in the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement as well as our federal and state constitutions. I should make one caveat: not all parts are entrenched. Some significant parts of the constitutional system can be changed by act of parliament.
In any event, when Australians agreed, as the preamble to the Constitution Act records, humbly relying on the blessings of Almighty God, to unite in one indissoluble federal Commonwealth under the Crown, they did so knowing that golden thread from Magna Carta through the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement was fully comprehended in our constitutional settlement.
One of the facile critiques of our Constitution is that it is silent on some matters which are assumed, for example the cabinet and the office of prime minister. This has no foundation, and may only be advanced to justify some ill-thought-out change. The Constitution was never intended as a “stand alone” constitutional primer. It was always intended to complement and not to replace the laws incorporating what were known as the fundamental rights of Englishmen, and to import these fully into the Australian constitutional system.
The Glorious Revolution and the
When the American Founding Fathers set about designing their constitutional model, they did not come to their task in a vacuum. They were, after all, the thirteen freest countries the world had ever known. They were and saw themselves as heirs to
It was not so much the Great Proclamation of 1763 which prevented the colonists taking more Indian land. Nor was it the decision in
These two irritations were reason enough to try to establish an independent slave-owning state, free to take Indian land. But that alone was not enough. Rather it was the ham-fisted way that the English government unilaterally required the Americans to make a quite fair contribution to their defence against the French. “No taxation without representation” was the Americans’ remarkably effective slogan.
But out of one corner of
“the backdrop for the amazing growth, prosperity, and military success of eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain—and for the American Revolution and the even more amazing growth, prosperity, and military success of the United States …
“It changed England from a country in which representative government was threatened to one where it was ingrained, from a nation in which liberties were based on tradition to one in which they were based in part on positive law, from a nation where the place of religion was a matter of continued political dispute and even armed struggle to one where it was settled in a way that generally respected individual choice, from a nation that mostly kept apart from the wars of continental Europe to one that saw its duty as maintaining a balance of power there and around the world.”
This English and British example of representative government inspired the Founding Fathers of the
The Glorious Revolution also guaranteed liberties. The “right to bear arms” was very different from the feudal obligation to bear arms. Rather than being an obligation to support the king and his government, it was now “a way for the freeman to protect his property and his liberty”. Here we see the clear origin of the Second Amendment in the US Bill of Rights. Barone also reminds us of the Third Amendment, against quartering of troops, the Fourth Amendment, against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Fifth Amendment, against self-incrimination, and the Eighth Amendment, against cruel and unusual punishment.
It was not just in the constitution and the law that the Glorious Revolution guided
The Glorious Revolution had given