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MAGNA CARTA

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Author Topic: MAGNA CARTA  (Read 1193 times)
Bianca
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« Reply #15 on: December 06, 2007, 08:35:26 pm »








Eighteenth century



The power of the Magna Carta myth still existed in the 18th century; in 1700 Samuel Johnson talked of Magna Carta being “born with a grey beard” referring to the belief that the liberties set out in the Charter harked back to the Golden Age and time immemorial. However, ideas about the nature of law in general were beginning to change. In 1716 the Septennial Act was passed, which had a number of consequences. Firstly, it showed that Parliament no longer considered its previous statutes unassailable, as this act provided that the parliamentary term was to be seven years, whereas fewer than twenty-five years had passed since the Triennial Act (1694), which provided that a parliamentary term was to be three years. It also greatly extended the powers of Parliament. Previously, all legislation that passed in a parliamentary session had to be listed in the election manifesto, so in effect the electorate was consulted on all issues that were to be brought before Parliament. However, with a seven-year term, it was unlikely, if not impossible, that all the legislation passed would be discussed at the election. This gave Parliament the freedom to legislate as it liked during its term. This was not Parliamentary sovereignty as understood today however, as although Parliament could overrule its own statutes, it was still considered itself bound by the higher law, such as Magna Carta. Arguments for Parliamentary sovereignty were not new; however, even its proponents would not have expected Parliament to be as powerful as it is today. For example, in the previous century, Coke had discussed how Parliament might well have the power to repeal the common law and Magna Carta, but they were, in practice, prohibited from doing so, as the common law and Magna Carta were so important in the constitution that it would be dangerous to the continuing existence of the constitution to ever repeal them.





Extent of the Commons' powers



In 1722 the Bishop of Rochester (Francis Atterbury (a Stuart Jacobite)), a member of the House of Lords, was accused of treason. The Commons locked him in the Tower of London, and introduced a bill intending to remove him from his post and send him into exile. This, once again, brought up the subject of which was the more powerful house, and exactly how far that power went. Atterbury claimed, and many agreed, that the Commons had no dominion over the Lords. Other influential people disagreed however; for example, the Bishop of Salisbury (also a Lord) was of the strong opinion that the powers of Parliament, mainly vested in the Commons, were sovereign and unlimited and therefore there could be no limit on those powers at all, implying the dominion of the lower house over the upper house. Many intellectuals agreed; Jonathan Swift went so far as to say that Parliament’s powers extended to altering or repealing Magna Carta. This claim was still controversial, and the argument incensed the Tories. Bolingbroke spoke of the day when “liberty is restored and the radiant volume of Magna Carta is returned to its former position of Glory”. This belief was anchored in the relatively new theory that when William the Conqueror invaded England he only conquered the throne, not the land, and he therefore assumed the same position in law as the Saxon rulers before him. The Charter was therefore a recapitulation or codification of these laws rather than (as previously believed) an attempt to reinstate these laws after the tyrannical Norman Kings. This implied that these rights had existed constantly from the ‘golden age immemorial’ and could never be removed by any government. The Whigs on the other hand claimed that the Charter only benefited the nobility and the church and granted nowhere near the liberty they had come to expect. However although the Whigs attacked the content of the Charter, they did not actually attack the myth of the ‘golden age’ or attempt to say that the Charter could be repealed, and the myth remained as immutable as ever.
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