Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Growth of Parliament - Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government
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The Growth of Parliament - James McClellan, Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government 
Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government (3rd ed.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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The Growth of Parliament
In contrast to the democracies of the ancient world or of the medieval and renaissance city-states of Italy, there arose in England, by stages, what we now call representative government, through the summoning of an assembly called Parliament. Various forms of representative government had developed in western Europe late in the Middle Ages and down to the late eighteenth century; but of these the English form, with its House of Lords and House of Commons that made up the Parliament, was the most successful and powerful. The origin of Parliament may be traced back to the King’s councils (Witans) under the Anglo-Saxons, who ruled England before the Norman invasion in 1066, but some historians prefer to mark the beginning in 1215. This was the year when the English barons compelled King John to grant them a great charter (Magna Charta), which bound the King to extend certain basic liberties to all “freemen.” A more precise point of origin, however, is the year 1295. On that date, King Edward I summoned what became known as the “Model Parliament” because it served as the model for all succeeding Parliaments. Here, for the first time, the right of all classes to be represented in Parliament was permanently established. The barons (the English nobility) and the Bishops and other high ranking members of the clergy joined together as the “Lords Temporal and Spiritual” to form the House of Lords. Two knights from every shire (county) and two burgesses from every town or borough were also summoned, and these freemen or “commoners” joined together to form the House of Commons. “What concerns all, should be approved by all.” These words appeared in the writs (written orders in the form of letters) sent out by Edward when he summoned the Model Parliament. Edward wanted to raise taxes, and taxation to support Edward’s wars concerned all. The Model Parliament granted him that monetary aid, and from this time forward it was understood that the King could not levy a tax without the approval of Parliament. Here too was the birth of the constitutional principle around which the Americans rallied five centuries later: “No Taxation Without Representation.” Gradually this “power of the purse” passed into the hands of members of the House of Commons. Under the American Constitution, as the English, the power to initiate tax revenue measures is considered to be so important that only the lower houses may propose money bills. “All bills for raising Revenue,” states Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution, “shall originate in the House of Representatives.”
By the middle of the fifteenth century, something like real representative government had taken shape in England. In theory, at least, the law was supreme. The King was bound by oath to respect the laws; he could not change the laws or impose new taxes without Parliament’s consent. Through elections held in county courts and boroughs, the people of England chose individuals from their own number to represent them in the House of Commons, whose members were privileged against interference or even ordinary arrest. The power of impeachment prevented, or at least curbed, arbitrary acts or corrupt practices among the King’s servants. About the middle of the fifteenth century there was no real hostility between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. As the end of medieval times approached, England knew more of liberty, order, and justice than did any other country.
The coming of the strong-willed Tudor sovereigns of England during the sixteenth century delayed for more than a hundred years the growth of Parliament’s powers. By manipulating elections or by threatening to use force, the Tudor kings and queens dominated their Parliaments, even if they respected the outward form of England’s Constitution. After James I became England’s first Stuart king at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the contest between kings and Parliament was resumed.
This struggle led to civil war during the reign of Charles I (James’s son), and to the execution of the King himself by the triumphant forces of Parliament and the Puritan faction in the Church (1649). When the monarchy was restored under Charles II, an uneasy compromise was reached between the Royalists and the champions of Parliament.
The accession to the throne of James II, a Catholic, brought on the opposition of the great landed proprietors of England and of most of the English people, who were overwhelmingly Protestant. In 1688 James was forced to flee abroad. He was succeeded as sovereign by the Protestant William III, from the Netherlands, the husband of James’s daughter, Mary.
To secure the throne, William III was compelled to recognize the supremacy of Parliament. From 1689 forward, the royal influence over government in England tended to diminish, and the power of Parliament—that is, of the English form of representative government—tended to increase.
In 1714, George, King of Hanover, came over from Germany to be enthroned as George I of England. Throughout the eighteenth century Britain was ruled by three Georges, of whom the first two were unfamiliar with English ways, so that political power inclined toward Parliament and parliamentary political parties. George III, hoping to rule as a “Patriot King,” tried to restore much of the royal authority, and in doing so he helped to bring on the American Revolution.