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The English Bill of Rights vs. American Bill of Rights

The English Bill of Rights vs. American Bill of Rights
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  • 0:03 Why Have a Bill of Rights?
  • 0:55 English Bill of Rights
  • 2:07 American Bill of Rights
  • 3:00 Similarities Between the Two
  • 4:31 Differences Between the Two
  • 5:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Penn

Michelle has a J.D. and her PhD in History.

In this lesson, we'll learn some of the similarities and differences between the English and American Bills of Rights. The American Bill of Rights was influenced by the English Bill of Rights, although it also has a number of significant differences.

Why Have a Bill of Rights?

Imagine that you are an Englishman living in Boston in 1775. You believe as an Englishman the English Bill of Rights applies to you. The Bill says that ''levying money for or to the use of the Crown'' without the permission of Parliament is illegal. Because you and other colonists are not represented in the English Parliament even though you're taxed, you believe that you should have your own representatives. Not having them is a violation of your rights as an Englishman. As a result of this violation, you side with American independence in the Revolutionary War that has just begun. After the war ends and the Americans gain independence, you want to make it clear that you have rights, not as an Englishman anymore, but as an American. Thus you support the American Bill of Rights.

English Bill of Rights

The English Bill of Rights was created in 1689 and the American Bill of Rights was created in 1789. Being so much later, the American Bill of Rights was influenced quite a bit by the English. So, let's start with the English Bill of Rights, which was created after the Glorious Revolution, which overthrew King James II and replaced him with his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.

The English Bill of Rights was written by a special Parliament and stated the wrongs of King James II, which included not allowing for free elections, arresting peaceful protesters, and inflicting cruel punishments. The Bill also limited the power of the Crown, which included the right to petition the king, the right to bear arms, the free election of Parliament, freedom of speech for members of Parliament, and included a prohibition on establishing any institutions of the Catholic Church.

By limiting the power of the crown, the English Bill of Rights ushered in a constitutional monarchy. Constitutional monarchies limit the power of the monarch, instead of giving him or her complete and absolute power.

American Bill of Rights

The American Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution because of concerns that the federal government would have too much power and to make it clear that some rights and powers belonged to either the people or the states. Some of America's founding fathers wanted to make it clear that these rights didn't belong to the federal government.

Many English colonists in America believed that the English Bill of Rights applied to them, and King George III's disagreement over their belief contributed to the Revolutionary War and the creation of the United States of America. Many of the amendments reflected the influence of the English Bill of Rights (for example, forbidding cruel and unusual punishment). Other rights expanded on the English Bill of Rights (for example, freedom of speech was given to all citizens, not just to members of the government).

Similarities Between the Two

Both Bills of Rights reflected the influence of the English philosopher John Locke. Locke wrote about the idea of the social contract, or the belief that individuals have given up some of their freedoms to a government in order to protect their remaining freedoms. Locke believed that under the social contract, individuals could revolt against the government if it acted against its citizens, and that all citizens had a right to life, liberty, and estate. Locke's influence is indirect on the English Bill of Rights, seen mostly in its establishment of constitutional limitations on rulers.

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