Interesting Times

I recently read an entertaining book. It was entitled “History Play”, written by Rodney Bolt. It had an interesting argument. Christopher Marlowe did not die in the tavern brawl in Deptford. In fact he staged his own death so that he could “disappear” and in the following years travelled extensively around the Continent and to the New World. And how do  we know this? There are two sources of evidence. The plays attributed to an ambitious but talentless playwright by the name of William Shakespeare which were in fact written by Marlowe, and from a number of “recently discovered” documentary sources that give us possible links to Marlowe’s activities both before and after the “Deptford Incident”. I should say at the outset that the book should not be taken seriously, at least for the argument it advances. But there are other issues that arise that underlie Bolt’s very entertaining and, at times, erudite piece.

The plays, according to Bolt, contain all sorts of minor clues that nestle in the detail of speeches or actions that could only have come from an intimate acquaintance with the subject matter possessed by Marlowe but not by Shakespeare. For example, Marlowe visited his grandparents in Dover and would have been familiar with the view from the cliffs described in King Lear IV vi 11 – 23. In addition there are phrasing similarities that appear in Marlowe’s plays that are duplicated in “Shakespeare”. Marlowe, according to Bolt, travelled widely on the Continent during and after his time as a student at Cambridge. The observations of those he met appear in his plays . The detail of military fortifications described in 2 Tamburlaine are almost verbatim from a military manual written by one Paul Ives, but which was not printed until 1589, thus precluding the possibility of plagiarism. The detail of Danish drinking habits could have been acquired by Marlowe on a visit to Elsinore and are recorded in Hamlet V ii 267-70.

But perhaps most interesting of the sources which provide the evidence are the written and printed materials that have been located in archives or recently discovered collections that connect Marlowe with others after his “death” or which provide background or context for what he wrote either as Marlowe or Shakespeare. It is not for me to question these “sources” although I should note that they do not appear in the bibliography and some of the manuscript sources come only from “private collections” and therefore are incapable of independent verification. What is important is that printed, written or transcribed sources provide valuable and,at times, critical evidence for the historian.

And this leads me to the point of this post. How will the historians of tomorrow fare when most, if not all, of the “documentary” evidence is in digital form, dispersed across cloud servers or retained in locally located hard drives. Will there be a digital equivalent of the Harley, Cotton or Sloane collections of manuscripts held by the British Library that have provided a vital resource for historians. In passing I should note that the British Library is digitising some of its manuscript collection and in my own researches into the early history of legal printing I was aided by Chadwyck-Healey’s invaluable Early English Books Online.

But will there be a modern equivalent of Robert and Edward Harley or Robert Cotton or Hans Sloane, gathering together the digital documents and manuscripts and retaining them for posterity? Are there individuals, even now, salvaging the discarded hard drives and other storage devices against the day when they will provide invaluable evidence for historians? And if so, how and where will these be located. Will the historian, with access to a private library of hard drives serendipitously uncover the trove on information that he or she need to complete the picture?

Of course, the future historian, once the digital archive has been located, should have little difficulty locating the information needed. The use of what lawyers recognise as e-discovery tools will assist in processing and locating the relevant information. The only problem of course is that the future historian will have to have some skill in the use of such tools – unless he or she wishes to pay a highly skilled “e-discovery” analyst.

It may well be that such digital treasure troves will be seen as highly authentic sources. What of the “archived web” do I hear you say? This assumes that the capacity of web archives in the various libraries and on-line archives contain a comprehensive dataset. And the next question is whether that dataset is sufficiently complete. The rise of the so-called “right to be forgotten” will compromise web archives significantly and may well relegate them the the status of secondary authority for digital historians.

“May you live in interesting times” is, I understand, a form of curse. The question is whether, with an absence of stable source material, historians of the future will be able to ascertain if the twenty-first century was an interesting time at all.


La Fête Nationale – le quatorze juillet – Bastille Day

Against a background of national grain shortages and bankruptcy, a meeting of the First and Second Estates (the clergy and nobility) of French society with the Third Estate (comprising the vast majority of the population) was called in May 1789.

Frustrated that their calls for equality, relief for the poor and proportional representation had gone unheard, in June the representatives of the Third Estate split away to meet in a Versailles tennis court, where they formed their own voting bloc, the National Assembly, and declared revolt against the monarchy. In July the King’s dismissal of his competent and popular Finance Minister, Jacques Necker, triggered fears that royal force might be used against the people of Paris. What followed was the first significant step in the French Revolution.

The storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 marked the first decisive intervention of ordinary people against the ancien regime, following on from the revolt of the nobility against the King, and that of the bourgeoisie at the Tennis Court.

The abolition of the gloomy stone symbol of despotism that for centuries had loomed overthe Paris skyline was thus an event to be commemorated as a triumph of spontaneous collective will. To this day, 14 July is observed in France as the anniversary of modern France.

The Bastille was a medieval prison, used by monarchs to contain citizens arrested by lettre de cachet, a royal warrant increasingly despised as a symbol of arbitrary power. In 1789 the Bastille housed a small handful of inmates, some of whom were insane or detained at therequest of relatives. But the lettre de cachet was not the cause of the 14 July uprising, as has already been observed.

Told that the Bastille housed stockpiles of gunpowder owned by the State, the workers of Paris rushed to the prison in the furniture-making district of Saint-Antoine to arm themselves. There they found the prison’s Governor, Bernard-Rene Marquis de Launay, protected only by a small garrison. Quickly overwhelmed by angry crowds who scaled the walls and lowered the drawbridge, de Launay ordered his men to fire and by doing so signed his own death warrant once the crowd had successfully stormed the prison.

The Storming of the Bastille and the Arrest of its Governor de Launay – Versailles, musee national du chateau

The 650 men and women of this great Revolutionary day in the Republican Calendar (known as a journee) were later honoured as Vainqueurs and heroes of the people. The prison was subsequently torn down. Some of its fabric was used to manufacture mementos, which were distributed to every corner of France. The remaining materials were recycled in the construction of the Pont de la Concorde.

With political ideology penetrating every aspect of public life, the decorative arts underwent a transformation. New emblems were employed affirming the civic values that were to provide the basis for the new France. Phrygian bonnets or caps (liberty caps), lictors fasces, the red, white and blue tricolour, the set square symbolising equality, the sacles of justice, military trophies all spoke forcefully of the new values espoused by the French nation. During the Revolution and the Terror the liberty cap was worn both by adherents of social change and those who feared condemnation for their association with the ancient regime. Such symbols were accompanied by slogans such as Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite ou la mort which served as reminders that failuire to comply with the new virues could have fatal consequences.

Revolutionary Poster (Affiche revolutionnaire- 1791 – 95 musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris)

Yet within these requirements of the citizens of the Revolutionary France was an affirmation of rights that regrettably fell by the wayside more than once as the Revolution progressed to the Terror, the Directory, the Consulate and the new Empire .Like the American Revolution, the French Revolution had its fundamental document, created after the outbreak of violence

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen) defines the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of “natural right”, the rights of man are held to be universal: valid at all times and in every place, pertaining to human nature itself.

The concepts in the Declaration come from the philosophical and political principles of the Age of Enlightenment, such as individualism, the social contract as theorized by the French philosopher Rousseau, and the separation of powers espoused by the Baron de Montesquieu. As can be seen in the texts, the French declaration is heavily influenced by the political philosophy of the Enlightenment, and by Enlightenment principles of human rights, some of which it shares with the U.S. Declaration of Independence which preceded it (4 July 1776). Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, was at the time in France as a U.S. diplomat,and was in correspondence with members of the French National Constituent Assembly. James Madison’s proposal for a U.S. Bill of Rights was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives on 21 August 1789, 5 days before the French declaration. Considering the speed at which information crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the 18th century, it is clear that the French declaration was not inspired by its US counterpart.

The declaration is in the spirit of what has come to be called natural law, which does not base itself on religious doctrine or authority.

The declaration defines a single set of individual and collective rights for all men. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, these rights are held to be universal and valid in all times and places. For example, “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.”They have certain natural rights to property, to liberty and to life. According to this theory the role of government is to recognize and secure these rights. Furthermore government should be carried on by elected representatives.

At the time of it was written, the rights contained in the declaration were only awarded to men. Furthermore, the declaration was a statement of vision rather than reality. The declaration was not deeply rooted in either the practice of the West or even France at the time. The declaration emerged in the late 18th Century out of war and revolution. It encountered opposition as democracy and individual rights were frequently regarded as synonymous with anarchy and subversion. The declaration embodies ideals and aspirations towards which France pledged to struggle in the future

The text

Approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789


1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

5. Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.

6. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.

7. No person shall be accused, arrested, or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law. Any one soliciting, transmitting, executing, or causing to be executed, any arbitrary order, shall be punished. But any citizen summoned or arrested in virtue of the law shall submit without delay, as resistance constitutes an offense.

8. The law shall provide for such punishments only as are strictly and obviously necessary, and no one shall suffer punishment except it be legally inflicted in virtue of a law passed and promulgated before the commission of the offense.

9. As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been declared guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all harshness not essential to the securing of the prisoner’s person shall be severely repressed by law.

10. No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

11. The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.

12. The security of the rights of man and of the citizen requires public military forces. These forces are, therefore, established for the good of all and not for the personal advantage of those to whom they shall be intrusted.

13. A common contribution is essential for the maintenance of the public forces and for the cost of administration. This should be equitably distributed among all the citizens in proportion to their means.

14. All the citizens have a right to decide, either personally or by their representatives, as to the necessity of the public contribution; to grant this freely; to know to what uses it is put; and to fix the proportion, the mode of assessment and of collection and the duration of the taxes.

15. Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his administration.

16. A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.

17. Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condition that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.

Les Droits de l’homme

The IT Countrey Justice

4th July – Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – and Jefferson’s Departure.

Matters Introductory

The Declaration of Independence was created by a committee, but the member of the committee who made the greatest contribution was Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.  Among the other members were John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.

Jefferson was a reluctant revolutionary, having expressed an affection for union with Britain. But his was not an unconditional affection.

Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.
—Thomas Jefferson, November 29, 1775.

The War and the Declaration

The Declaration of Independence did not start the War of Independence. That had been raging for a year before July 1776. Even after fighting in the American Revolutionary War began at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, most colonists still hoped for reconciliation with Great Britain. When the Second Continental Congress convened at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in May 1775, some delegates hoped for eventual independence, but no one yet advocated declaring it. Although many colonists no longer believed that Parliament had any sovereignty over them, they still professed loyalty to King George, who they hoped would intercede on their behalf. They were to be disappointed: in late 1775, the king rejected Congress’s second petition, issued a Proclamation of Rebellion, and announced before Parliament on October 26 that he was considering “friendly offers of foreign assistance” to suppress the rebellion.

Towards the Declaration

The path towards the Declaration was not an easy one. There was a considerable reluctance to take  what many considered to be an irrevocable step. There seemed to remain a hope that the colonies could be reconciled with the Imperial power.

On May 1, however, opponents of independence retained control of the Pennsylvania Assembly in a special election that had focused on the question of independence.  In response, on May 10 Congress passed a resolution, which had been promoted by John Adams and Richard Henry Lee, calling on colonies without a “government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs” to adopt new governments. The resolution passed unanimously, and was even supported by Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson, the leader of the anti-independence faction in Congress, who believed that it did not apply to his colony.

On May 15, the Virginia Convention instructed Virginia’s congressional delegation “to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain”. In accordance with those instructions, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a three-part resolution to Congress on June 7. The motion, which was seconded by John Adams, called on Congress to declare independence, form foreign alliances, and prepare a plan of colonial confederation. The part of the resolution relating to declaring independence read:

Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

But there was still debate about independence and how it should be handled.

While political maneuvering was setting the stage for an official declaration of independence, a document explaining the decision was being written. On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five”, consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, to draft a declaration.

Writing the Declaration – Jefferson’ First Draft

Because the committee left no minutes, there is some uncertainty about how the drafting process proceeded—accounts written many years later by Jefferson and Adams, although frequently cited, are contradictory and not entirely reliable.  What is certain is that the committee, after discussing the general outline that the document should follow, decided that Jefferson would write the first draft.

The committee in general, and Jefferson in particular, thought Adams should write the document, but Adams persuaded the committee to choose Jefferson and promised to consult with Jefferson personally.  Considering Congress’s busy schedule, Jefferson probably had limited time for writing over the next seventeen days, and likely wrote the draft quickly.  He then consulted the others, made some changes, and then produced another copy incorporating these alterations. The committee presented this copy to the Congress on June 28, 1776. The title of the document was “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled.”

Writing the Declaration of Independence – an idealised view

On Monday, July 1, having tabled the draft of the declaration, Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, with Benjamin Harrison of Virginia presiding, and resumed debate on Lee’s resolution of independence.  John Dickinson made one last effort to delay the decision, arguing that Congress should not declare independence without first securing a foreign alliance and finalizing the Articles of Confederation.  John Adams gave a speech in reply to Dickinson, restating the case for an immediate declaration.

After a long day of speeches, a vote was taken. As always, each colony cast a single vote; the delegation for each colony—numbering two to seven members—voted amongst themselves to determine the colony’s vote. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against declaring independence. The New York delegation, lacking permission to vote for independence, abstained. Delaware cast no vote because the delegation was split. The remaining nine delegations voted in favor of independence, which meant that the resolution had been approved by the committee of the whole. The next step was for the resolution to be voted upon by the Congress itself. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, who was opposed to Lee’s resolution but desirous of unanimity, moved that the vote be postponed until the following day.

On July 2, South Carolina reversed its position and voted for independence. In the Pennsylvania delegation, Dickinson and Robert Morris abstained, allowing the delegation to vote three-to-two in favor of independence. The tie in the Delaware delegation was broken by the timely arrival of Caesar Rodney, who voted for independence. The New York delegation abstained once again, since they were still not authorized to vote for independence, although they would be allowed to do so by the New York Provincial Congress a week later.

The resolution of independence had been adopted with twelve affirmative votes and one abstention. With this, the colonies had officially severed political ties with Great Britain. In a now-famous letter written to his wife on the following day, John Adams predicted that July 2 would become a great American holiday. Adams thought that the vote for independence would be commemorated; he did not foresee that Americans—including himself—would instead celebrate Independence Day on the date that the announcement of that act was finalized.

Approving the Declaration

After voting in favor of the resolution of independence, Congress turned its attention to the committee’s draft of the declaration. Over several days of debate, Congress made a few changes in wording and deleted nearly a fourth of the text, most notably a passage critical of the slave trade, changes that Jefferson resented. Although Jefferson wrote that Congress had “mangled” his draft version, the Declaration that was finally produced, according to his biographer John Ferling, was “the majestic document that inspired both contemporaries and posterity.”

On July 4, 1776, the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved and sent to the printer for publication. That in itself is significant and demonstrates that the declaration was not just addressed to George III but was intended as a piece of political propaganda. Why else have it printed. Simply, the distributive power of print allowed copies – and the ringing message contained therein – to spread through the colonies and, as the list of Facts justifying Independence suggest, “to a candid world”

The Language of the Declaration

The Declaration falls into a number of sections demonstrating care in its construction..

The first sentence of the Declaration asserts as a matter of Natural law the ability of a people to assume political independence, and acknowledges that the grounds for such independence must be reasonable. Jefferson and Adams were lawyers and were well aware of the need to appeal to law and to reason

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The next section, the famous preamble, includes the ideas and ideals that were principles of the Declaration. It is also an assertion of what is known as the “right of revolution”: that is, people have certain rights, and when a government violates these rights, the people have the right to “alter or abolish” that government. The form is almost poetical, and it seems that the preamble was designed to be read aloud, its ringing phraseology building to an emotional yet reasonable crescendo

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Then follow the list of complaints against King George and the Imperial power.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Was this something that the colonists did joyfully. No it was not as the following section demonstrated

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends

The final section asserts  that there exist conditions under which people must change their government, that the British have produced such conditions, and by necessity the colonies must throw off political ties with the British Crown and become independent states. The conclusion incorporates language from Lee’s resolution of independence that had been passed on July 2.

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Jefferson went on to become wartime Governor of Virginia, and from 1784 served as the government’s representative in Paris. Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) serving under President George Washington. Upon resigning his office, with his close friend James Madison he organized the Democratic-Republican Party. Elected Vice-President in 1796, when he came in second to John Adams of the Federalists.

He became President in 1800, serving two terms purchased the Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr, and escalating trouble with Britain. With Britain at war with Napoleon, he tried aggressive economic warfare against them; however, his embargo laws did more damage to American trade and the economy. In 1807, President Jefferson signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into the United States. Jefferson has often been rated in scholarly surveys as one of the greatest U.S. presidents, though since the mid-twentieth century, some historians have increasingly criticized him for his failure to act against domestic slavery.

A leader in the Enlightenment, Jefferson was a polymath who spoke five languages and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy, interests that led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello.

Monticello – Main Portico
Monticello – From the Lawn

By 1815, Jefferson’s library included 6,487 books, which he sold to the Library of Congress for $23,950 to replace the smaller collection destroyed in the War of 1812. He intended to pay off some of his large debt, but immediately started buying more books. As he wrote to John Adams “I cannot live without books”.  In honor of Jefferson’s contribution, the library’s website for federal legislative information was named THOMAS.

Jefferson was a prolific letter writer but, apart from the wonderful preamble to the Declaration of Independence for me his most important statement of freedom may be seen around the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC

“I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Thomas Jefferson died on 4 July 1826 but his legacy is gigantic and remains to this day. He was buried at his beloved Monticello, now a World Heritage site, I would hope as much in honour of the spirit and inestimable genius of the man who built the house and lived there, and for his contribution to liberty as for any intrinsic value in the building.

His gravestone recounts what he considered his most significant achievements:


Jefferson’s Grave


Dumas Malone Jefferson the Virginian (Little Brown, New York, 1948)

Dumas Malone Jefferson and the Rights of Man (Little Brown, New York,, 1951)

Dumas Malone Jefferson and His Time (Little Brown, New York, 1970)

Andrew Burstein The Inner Jefferson: Portrait of a Grieving Optimist (University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1995

The text of the Declaration of Independence was taken from Wikipedia.

“Writing the Declaration of Independence” was ontained from the History Channel website

The Photographs are my own.

The IT Country Justice

Magna Carta – 797 Years On

Magna Carta 1215 at Salisbury Cathedral

Section 3 of the New Zealand Imperial Laws Application Act 1988 provides that “The Imperial enactments listed in Schedule 1  are hereby declared to be part of the laws of New Zealand.” Casting the eye over Schedule 1, one sees a reference to (1297) 25 Edw 1 (Magna Carta) c.29

Chapter 29 – although it is more like a clause – reads

 Imprisonment, etc contrary to law. Administration of justice

 NO freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties, or               free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.

The word “condemn” in the context of the clause means “deal with”. That is the only part of Magna Carta that survives as part of the law of New Zealand, and perhaps it is the most recognised one dealing as it does with the concept of a judgment of his peers – which later came to be interpreted as trial by jury – or by the law of the land.

But Magna Carta was not, as it has been argued over the centuries, the first Charter of English Liberty. Far from it. A careful reading of Magna Carta reveals that it deals with a number of issues, primarily about land and entitlements, not of ordinary Englishmen (if there was such a person in 1215) but of the Church and the nobility. Clause 1 confirms the liberties and entitlements of the Church. In the 1297 version clause 1 also states: ” We furthermore grant and give to all the freemen of our realm for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity the liberties written below to have and to hold to them and their heirs from us and our heirs in perpetuity.” The use of the word “freemen” is important. Serfs were not included. The Charter was not of universal application.

It seems no accident that the enactment of Magna Carta in the reign of Edward I had the title ” The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest”. But despite the lofty title, reading on the subject matter deals with the rights of earls and barons and succession, and the powers of the Crown and its officers to undertake certain actions. Looking through the document one gets the impression that it was designed to deal with a number of complaints about the way that the country was being run by King John. For example it seems that there may have been some inaccuracies in the standard weights and measures that were being used (Clause 25). The sittings of the county court were prescribed (Clause 35). These and other clauses were designed to place restrictions on what were perceived as the arbitrary use of Royal power contrary to accepted custom and the expectations of the land-owning nobility.

1215 saw an open baron’s rebellion against the King, which probably would have proceeded through to John’s deposition had there been an obvious adult successor – but there was not. John’s nephew, Arthur of Brittany, the son of his brother Geoffrey, had died in mysterious circumstances. Louis of France as the husband of Henry II’s granddaughter, had a tenuous claim, and although  the English had been ruled by the Angevin Plantagenet family at war, the country had been at war with the French for thirty years. So the barons based their revolt on John’s oppressive government and ongoing popular dissatisfaction with the Crown particularly flowing from a lengthy dispute that the King had with the Church which resulted in the country being placed under Papal Interdict.

In January 1215, the barons made an oath that they would “stand fast for the liberty of the church and the realm”, and they demanded that King John confirm the Charter of Liberties – a Charter issued by Henry I in 1100 in which certain limitations upon Royal power were accepted.

During negotiations between January and June 1215, a document was produced, which historians have termed ‘The Unknown Charter of Liberties’, seven of the articles of which would later appear in the ‘Articles of the Barons’ and the Runnymede Charter. In May, King John offered to submit issues to a committee of arbitration with Pope Innocent III as the supreme arbiter, but the barons continued in their defiance. With the support of Prince Louis the French Heir and of King Alexander II of the Scots, they entered London in force on 10 June 1215, with the city showing its sympathy with their cause by opening its gates to them. They, and many of the moderates not in overt rebellion, forced King John to agree to a document later known as the ‘Articles of the Barons’, to which his Great Seal was attached in the meadow at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. In return, the barons renewed their oaths of fealty to King John on 19 June 1215, which is when the document Magna Carta was created.

One of the magnates who was instrumental in bringing about the settlement – for that was what Magna Carta really was – was William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Marshal was a paragon of chivalry, a faithful knight and undeafeated champion in the lists. He served three Plantagenet Kings – Henry II, Richard I and John – and was Regent following John’s death and before Henry III could take the throne. Marshal’s tomb is in the Temple Chapel in London, in the grounds of the Inner Temple Inn of Court, and it is probably significant that many of the negotiations leading up the Magna Carta took place in this very location.

Temple Chapel – Inner Temple – Exterior
Temple Chapel – Interior
William Marshal – Tomb at Temple Chapel

An excellent overview of Magna Carta and its history, and the part that Marshal played has been written by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge. His article addresses some of the misconceptions surrounding Magna Carta, the events leading up to 15 June and what happened subsequently, because John was released from his promises by the Pope, and disharmony in the kingdom continued. The article follows:

For a reassessment of the reign of John there is a recent article in History Today (February 2012) entitled “Good King John”  by Graham E. Seel which can be found here

The advent of the printing press, the first information technology, saw Magna Carta in print as law printers and compilers took advantage of the new information technology to record and preserve legal information beyond manuscript texts and lawyers’ notebooks. Robert Redman printed The boke of Magna Carta with divers other statutes in 1534. Richard Tottell, a leading law printer in the sixteenth century and holder of the patent giving him the monopoly to print common law books, printed Magna Charta cum statuis quae antiqua vocantur in 1556. Magna Carta featured in William Rastell’s A Collection of all the statutes from the beginning of Magna Carta until the yere of our Lord 1557, a book printed by Totell in 1559 and which was subsequently reprinted and updated.

Ferdinando Pulton (1536 – 1618), a compiler of statutes, published five works including A kalendar, or table, comprehending the effect of all the statutes that have been made an put into print, beginning with Magna Charta, enacted in anno 9. H3. Although he was a Catholic he was admitted to the Bar in 1609 and was a supporter of Elizabeth I and James I. His interest in  the strict execution of the criminal law allowed him to retain the critical support of James and Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere, the lord chancellor. He wrote in his prefaces that the purpose of publishing the law was to educate the people in it. He believed that the criminal law must be firmly implemented and that knowledge of it would deter unlawful acts and his book De Pace Regnis is his recognised treatise on the “great and generall offences of the realme.”

Magna Carta was also the subject of Readings – oral lectures or expositions of statute law given at the Inns of Court – and one by Robert Brooke was printed in 1641

Magna Carta has been used for many and varied purposes. Edward Coke was a particular advocate of its use in the contest between the King, the Law and Parliament in the early Stuart period, and he refers to Magna Carta with reverence.  As he proclaimed to Parliament in 1628, “I know that prerogative is part of the law….but sovereign power is no parliamentary word: in my opinion, it weakens Magna Carta … Magna Carta is such a fellow that he will have no sovereign”

When Charles I warned the Commons that he would veto any bill that did more than reconfirm Magna Carta, Coke took the opportunity to make new law out of the greatest medieval statute. The result was the Petition of Right, something more than a list of grievances, if less than an actual bill of rights. After a stand-off the king came to Westminster and assented to the petition, ‘soit droit fait comme est desiré’—words acceptable to show royal assent, as Coke told the Commons.

In Coke’s Second Part of the Institutes, he glosses the meaning of the Great Charter of 1215 and elaborated in considerable detail the foundation upon which “English liberties” rested. The Second Institutes was not published until 1642, some 8 years after his death, but  in time to become part of the intellectual ammunition used by opponents of the Monarchy during the English civil war and revolution during the 1640s and 1650s. His commentary on C. 29 held that the clause was the “root” from which sprang many “branches” of English law regarding individual liberty.

Lord Judge makes reference to Kipling’s poem, The Reeds of Runnymede which mythologises Magna Carta. The entire poem follows.

What Say the Reeds at Runnymede

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:
‘You musn’t sell, delay, deny,
A freeman’s right or liberty.
It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw ’em roused at Runnymede!

When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to play the game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;
And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,
The curt uncompromising “Sign!’
They settled John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter signed at Runnymede.’

And still when mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!

Kipling had an idealised view of English liberties and justice. The mytholgising of Magna Carta perhaps tells us as much about how the Charter has developed within the context of the history of law and justice as anything else. We can complain that what Kipling has idealised is not, historically, what it was about. Rather Kipling tells us what Magna Carta has become. One of my fondest memories of law school was in 1966 when Lord Denning was in New Zealand for a Law Conference. He gave a lecture to us law students and covered Magna Carta, quoting the last verse in his beautiful soft Hampshire accent. It is a memory which has stayed.

Kipling’s poem Norman and Saxons expresses the importance of fair dealing with a conquered race, but his image of the Saxon embodies many of what could be described as “English virtues”and concepts of justice and how it may be achieved.

Norman and Saxon

AD 1100

“My son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for share
When he conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears;
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.

“But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs and songs.
Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale of their wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they’re saying; let them feel that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ’em out if it takes you all day.

They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour of the dark.
It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game in the park).
Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man- at-arms you can find.

“Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish priests.
Say ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking, instead of ‘you fellows’ and ‘I.’
Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ’em a lie!”

From a “revisionist” point of view one wonders whether or not that poem was a coded message to the adminstrators of Empire. It was in fact written for C.R.L. Fletcher’s “A History of England” published in 1911 – a book which, incidentally, contained “The Reeds of Runnymede.”

So Magna Carta occupies various roles. The historian has a particular view of what it actually was but over the centuries it has been used and has developed in potency, especially in the early seventeenth century. Today it may be said to be a symbol of the importance of limiting unbridled power and of ensuring proper justice and fair dealing. The fact that the clause which emphasises the importance of the rule of law and legal process, and the importance of the obligation on the part of a ruler to ensure justice still remains as part of our law  points to its continued significance and value in the twenty-first century

The Countrey Justice – 15 June 2012