Rights of Englishmen

The rights of Englishmen are the perceived traditional rights of English (and British) subjects. Some colonists that objected to British rule in the British colonies in North America argued that their traditional rights as Englishmen were being violated. This subsequently became a justification for the American Revolution of 1775 and the resulting separation of the colonies from the British Empire.

The American colonies had since the 17th century been fertile ground for libertarian opinion within the spectrum of English political discourse. However, as the ratification of the Declaration of Independence approached, the issue among the colonists of which particular rights were significant became divisive. George Mason, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, stated that "We claim nothing but the liberty and privileges of Englishmen in the same degree, as if we had continued among our brethren in Great Britain." The nature of the discussion itself can be seen to be revolutionary.

Historical background



Judge William Blackstone called them "The absolute rights of every Englishman", and explained how they had been established slowly over centuries of English history, in his book on Fundamental Laws of England, which was the first part of his influential Commentaries on the Laws of England. They were certain basic rights that all subjects of the English monarch were understood to be entitled to.

Some scholars reasoned that the 18th century colonists could "claim all the rights and protections of English citizenship." In fact, the legal apologists for the American Revolution claimed they had "improved on the rights of Englishmen" by creating additional, purely American rights.

Calvin's Case

In a legal case in 1608 that came to be known as Calvin's Case, or the Case of the Postnati, the Law Lords decided in 1608 that Scotsmen born after King James I united Scotland and England (the postnati) had all the rights of Englishmen. This decision would have a subsequent effect on the concept of the "rights of Englishmen" in America. Some scholars believed that the case did not fit America's situation, and thus reasoned that the 18th century colonists could "claim all the rights and protections of English citizenship."

Legacy in United States law



Owing to its inclusion in the standard legal treatises of the 19th century, Calvin's Case was well known in the early judicial history of the United States. Consideration of the case by the United States Supreme Court and by state courts transformed it into a rule regarding American citizenship and solidified the concept of jus soli â€" the right by which nationality or citizenship can be recognized to any individual born in the territory of the related state â€" as the primary determining factor controlling the acquisition of citizenship by birth.

The Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Bradley asserted that the "rights of Englishmen" were a foundation of American law in his dissenting opinion on the Slaughter-House Cases, the first Supreme Court interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in 1873.

The legal apologists for the American Revolution claimed they had "improved on the rights of Englishmen" by creating additional, purely American rights.



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