Editor’s note: We welcome West Volusia writer Ron Jones, who offers a history of our U.S. Bill of Rights, perfectly timed as we prepare for the July Fourth holiday.
The Founding Fathers were highly educated men who lived at the end of what has been historically recorded as the Age of Enlightenment.
The invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in 1440 gave birth to that era. The invention made possible the mass production of books and paved the way for a rapid spread of knowledge throughout Europe.
As literacy began to increase among the people, firsthand knowledge of the Bible, philosophy, and national and world history began to increase, as well.
The publication of Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” in 1517 in Germany, sparked what has come to be called the Protestant Reformation. Luther believed the Bible, not traditions, should be the sole source of spiritual authority within the church.
This movement spread into England and gained in strength in 1534 when King Henry VIII entered into a dispute with the pope over a marriage annulment; this ended with King Henry proclaiming himself the head of the Church of England. This became the Episcopal order of the Anglican Church of England.
Increased publication of the Bible allowed more people firsthand knowledge of its true contents, which gave rise to the concept that all men are created equal. Before this age of enlightenment, the peasantry in Europe had been taught by the church to believe that the royals had received their powers to govern the people from God.
The House of Lords had been established in the 13th century under the Magna Carta, giving the aristocrats — along with the church — a greater voice in the decisions of the king.
Over time, the House of Commons had been established, which included the untitled middle class, composed primarily of artisans and merchants, or persons of property. Through this middle class, the peasant majority could express their concerns in regard to issues of state. These two bodies came to be known as the Parliament.
In 1688, the Parliament of England brought charges against King James II for usurping the will of Parliament and executing unwarranted persecutions against Protestant churches.
This revolt — known as the bloodless revolution — ended with King James II being deposed and replaced by Prince William and Princess Mary of Orange, as king and queen of England.
The revolution produced a document known as the English Bill of Rights, which relied heavily on the published philosophy of John Locke regarding natural law. It was signed into law in 1689.
In 1776, the American Colonials were forced to bring similar charges against King George in the Declaration of Independence.
A close examination of the charges against these two kings reveals that, in essence, they are the same. The American Colonials were British subjects and, as such, ought to have enjoyed the same rights, under the English Bill of Rights, as all other British subjects.
The Declaration of Independence contains a list of violations of those rights, committed against the Colonials by the king. This complete rejection of the Colonials as being equal in their rights by the people of England left them no recourse but to declare their own independence.
After the Colonies declared their independence from England — each Colony now a free and independent state — all the Colonies came together to form a confederation of states that was established to serve the common interest of all the states.
Under the Articles of Confederation, the Colonials defended their independence in a war against England.
This was the genesis of our U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Part II in this series will discuss more about the creation of those two documents.
— Jones, retired from the U.S. Navy, lives in Deltona.