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Author Topic: MAGNA CARTA  (Read 1193 times)
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« Reply #15 on: December 06, 2007, 08:41:20 pm »

John Wilkes

In 1763 John Wilkes, an MP was arrested for writing an inflammatory pamphlet, No. 45, 23 April 1763. In his defence, he continually cited Magna Carta, and the weight that Magna Carta held at the time meant Parliament was wary of continuing the charge. He was released and awarded damages for the wrongful seizure of his papers, as the general warrant under which he was arrested was deemed illegal. He was still expelled from Parliament and spent a week in the Tower of London.

He spent a number of years abroad until 1768 when he returned and failed to be elected as the MP for London. Unperturbed he stood again for Middlesex but he was expelled again based on the earlier offence the next year. He stood again and was elected but the Commons ruled that he was ineligible to sit. At the next three re-elections Wilkes again was the champion, but the House did not relent and his opponent, Lutteral, was announced the winner.

The treatment of Wilkes caused a furore in Parliament, with Lord Camden denouncing the action as a contravention of Magna Carta. Wilkes made the issue a national one and the populace took up the issue. All over the country, there were prints of him being arrested whilst teaching his son about Magna Carta. He received the support of the Corporation of London, which had long sought to establish its supremacy over Parliament, based on the Charter.

Those who supported Wilkes often had little or no knowledge of the actual content of the Charter, or if they did, were looking to protect their own position based on it (such as the Corporation of London). Wilkes re-entered the House in 1774 having begun the cause for a reform movement to ‘restore the constitution’, through a more representative, less powerful, and shorter termed Parliament.

Granville Sharp

One of the principal reformists was the philanthropist Granville Sharp. Sharp called for the reform of Parliament based on Magna Carta, and to back this up he devised the doctrine of accumulative authority. This doctrine stated that because almost innumerable parliaments had approved Magna Carta it would take the same number of Parliaments to repeal it. Like many others, Sharp accepted the supremacy of Parliament as an institution, but did not believe that this power was without restraint, and thought that Parliament could not repeal Magna Carta. Many reformists agreed that the Charter was a statement of the liberties of the mythical and immemorial golden age, and there was a popular movement to have a holiday to commemorate the signing of the Charter in a similar way to the American 4th of July holiday; however, very few went as far as Sharp.
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