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MAGNA CHARTA, THE PETITION OF RIGHT,
AND THE BILL OF RIGHTS.
WITH HISTORICAL COMMENTS, AND REMARKS ON THE PRESENT
BY E. S. CREASY, M. A.,
BARRISTER-AT. LAW; PROFESSOR OF HISTORY IN UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDOX;
LATE FELLOW OF KING'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Rights form the code, which I call
TEXT-BOOK OF THE
WHATEVER may be thought of the execution of this work, I have little fear of the chief portion of it being censured, so far as regards the design. An attempt to arrange in a simple form, and to place before the public, in a few easily accessible pages, the great principles of our Constitution,--to prove their antiquity, to illustrate their development, and to point out their enduring value,—will surely, in times like the present, not be discouraged as blameable; and, in the strange dearth of really useful treatises on this all-important topic, it will hardly be slighted as superfluous.
I am aware that I assume a more questionable and difficult function in proceeding to consider what political measures should now be taken, in order that our Constitution may extend its benefits more amply, and more securely for the future. But this branch of the subject is intimately connected with the other ; for, the same earnest and longcontinued studies which teach the historical inquirer to believe in and venerate the great principles of the English Constitution, also display to him the workings of its normal law of progress, its plastic power of self-amelioration and expansion, through which alone we may hope to see the exigencies of the present and of the coming time supplied, not only without danger, but with additional security to the fundamental institutions of ages past.
It is in the first place necessary to have a clear idea of what we mean by the word “Constitutional.” For, there are few terms in our language more laxly employed than this word and its converse in party political discussion. And so very vague are the ideas which many entertain of the English Constitution, that when the opponent of a particular measure or a particular system of policy cries out that it is unconstitutional, it generally means little more than that the matter so denounced is something which the speaker dislikes.
Still, the term is susceptible of full and accurate explanation, though it may not be easy to set it lucidly forth without first investigating the archæology of our history, rather more deeply than may suit hasty talkers and superficial thinkers, but with no greater expenditure of time and labour than every member of a great and free state ought gladly to bestow, in order that he may rightly comprehend and appreciate the polity and the laws in which, and by which he lives, and moves, and has his civic being.