Not Understand the Bill of Rights Unless you Have Read Coke
After reading and hearing the many post
in the media that refer to the second, third, fourth, etc. generation of a
political theory retaliative to Sir Edward Coke's Petition of Right, and often
times seeing that those posts are not at all reflective of the founding
principles that the founders of this nation believed to be the basis of our Bill
of Rights, I feel compelled to suggest to those who wish to make such statements
as being a true reflection of the underlining principals of our Bill of Rights
to look at the collective works of Coke first. I suggest this as I believe that
any good commentator on the principals of any theory must reflect on the
original source work of the theory rather that a 12th generation
rewrite of the theory that is so removed from the bedrock of the original it
greatly distorts it.
It is hard work, Coke’s work is not easy reading. My original Latin text,
as I read it, appears to show that the translations of that work did not capture
many of the idioms of the time. They contain the words but not the meaning of
those words as intended by Coke.
Sir Edward Coke (pronounced "cook") (1 February 1552 – 3
September 1634), was an early English colonial entrepreneur and jurist whose
writings on the English common law were the definitive legal texts for some 300
One of Coke's greatest contributions to the law was to interpret Magna Carta
to apply not only to the protection of nobles but also to all subjects of the
crown equally, which effectively established the law as a guarantor of rights
among all subjects against even Parliament and the King. He famously asserted:
"Magna Carta is such a fellow, that he will have no sovereign."
Copies of Coke's writings arrived in North America on the Mayflower in 1620,
and every lawyer in the English colonies and early United States was trained
from Coke's books, particularly his Reports and Institutes (see #References
section below), the most famous of which was his property book, The First
Institute of the Laws of England, or a Commentary on Littleton (a reference to
15th century English jurist Thomas de Littleton). Coke was a patron and mentor
for American theologian and dissident Roger Williams and assisted with his
education at Sutton's Hospital and at the University of Cambridge, Pembroke
College. Both John Adams and Patrick Henry argued from Coke treatises to support
their revolutionary positions against the Mother Country in the 1770s.
Under Coke's leadership, in 1628 the House of Commons forced Charles I of
England to accept Coke's Petition of Right by withholding the revenues the king
wanted until he capitulated. The Petition of Right was the forerunner of the
English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Bill of Rights.