Events Leading to the Declaration of Independence
Conflicting Theories About the Origin and Nature of American Freedom
The 1774 Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress reveals the political thought of the delegates, who cite conflicting theories about the origin and nature of American freedom, affirming their natural rights as men, their prescriptive rights as Englishmen, and their chartered rights as Americans. According to John Adams, their assertions were the result of efforts by the committee to accommodate the opposing views of its members.
That the inhabitants of the English Colonies in North America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following Rights:
Resolved, N. C. D.
1. That they are entitled to life, liberty, and property, & they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.
2. That our ancestors, who first settled these colonies, were at the time of their emigration from the mother country, entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural-born subjects within the realm of England.
3. That by such emigration they by no means forfeited, surrendered, or lost any of those rights, but that they were, and their descendants now are entitled to the exercise and enjoyment of all such of them, as their local and other circumstances enable them to exercise and enjoy.
4. That the foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council: and as the English colonists are not represented, and from their local and other circumstances, cannot properly be represented in the British parliament, they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures, where their right of representation can alone be preserved, in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the negative of their sovereign, in such manner as has been heretofore used and accustomed. But, from the necessity of the case, and a regard to the mutual interest of both countries, we cheerfully consent to the operation of such acts of the British parliament, as are bona fide restrained to the regulation of our external commerce, for the purpose of securing the commercial advantages of the whole empire to the mother country, and the commercial benefits of its respective members excluding every idea of taxation, internal or external, for raising a revenue on the subjects in America without their consent.
5. That the respective colonies are entitled to the common law of England, and more especially to the great and inestimable privilege of being tried by their peers of the vicinage, according to the course of that law.
6. That they are entitled to the benefit of such of the English statutes, as existed at the time of their colonization; and which they have, by experience, respectively found to be applicable to their several local and other circumstances.
7. That these, his majesty's colonies, are likewise entitled to all the immunities and privileges granted and confirmed to them by royal charters, or secured by their several codes of provincial laws.
8. That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the King; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal.
9. That the keeping a Standing army in these colonies, in times of peace, without the consent of the legislature of that colony in which such army is kept, is against law.
10. It is indispensably necessary to good government, and rendered essential by the English constitution, that the constituent branches of the legislature be independent of each other; that, therefore, the exercise of legislative power in several colonies, by a council appointed during pleasure, by the crown, is unconstitutional, dangerous, and destructive to the freedom of American legislation.
Source: Online Library of Liberty: Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government
The English Bill of Rights circa 1689, was in response to Glorious Revolution, during which James II was overthrown.
The real significance of the Glorious Revolution stems from the fact that when William and Mary accepted the throne in 1689, they also officially accepted the Declaration of Rights: a document drawn up by the emergency Convention Parliament that, with a few amendments, was later written into law as the Bill of Rights.
No longer threatened by the type of royal absolutism personified by Louis XIV and on the rise throughout Europe in the seventeenth century, England would be from this point forward a constitutional monarchy. Unlike the US Constitution, which is one amendable document, the English Constitution is a combination of legal traditions, court rulings, and parliamentary statutes. Written into law as one such parliamentary statute, The Bill of Rights is considered to be the cornerstone of the English Constitution.
According to the new arrangement, the monarch would serve as head of state and possess a limited degree of authority, while Parliament would maintain the ultimate power. In other words, Parliament would be sovereign. The Bill of Rights also guaranteed certain individual rights. For example, article ten declares that English subjects were to be free from excessive bail, fines, or "cruel and unusual punishments." The language of this article and others reveals how influential the English Bill of Rights was to the writers of the US Bill of Rights a century later. The English Bill of Rights, however, did not go nearly as far in identifying individual rights as did its American successor, but instead focused on the monarchy, the Parliament, and the relationship between the two.
John Locke wrote his Second Treatise of Government during the Glorious Revolution.
According to Locke, if a government does not protect the natural rights of the people—defined specifically as life, liberty, and property—than the people have the right to rebel and replace the government with one that more effectively protects those rights. In The Two Treatises on Government, Locke presents the Glorious Revolution as his philosophy of government in action.
Locke wrote that all individuals are equal in the sense that they are born with certain "inalienable" natural rights. That is, rights that are God-given and can never be taken or even given away. Among these fundamental natural rights, Locke said, are "life, liberty, and property."
The purpose of government, Locke wrote, is to secure and protect the God-given inalienable natural rights of the people. For their part, the people must obey the laws of their rulers. Thus, a sort of contract exists between the rulers and the ruled. But, Locke concluded, if a government persecutes its people with "a long train of abuses" over an extended period, the people have the right to resist that government, alter or abolish it, and create a new political system.