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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Liberty Fund has published in 2003 a massive 3 volume collection of Coke’s writings including many of his lesser known works. In the contemporary debates about the principle of habeas corpus it is informative to go back to the England of the 1620s to see how lawyers like Coke fought for English liberties against the Stuart monarchy and their claims to absolutist rule.

Other quotes from this week:

Other quotes about Law:

16 August, 2004

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Sir Edward Coke defends British Liberties and the Idea of Habeas Corpus in the Petition of Right before Parliament (1628)

Read the full quote in context here.

After a series of debates in parliament in early 1628, Sir Edward Coke wrote and got adopted one of the founding documents securing the liberties of Englishmen:

And where also by the statute called the Great Charter of the Liberties of England, it is declared and enacted that no free man may be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his freehold or liberties, or his free customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land…

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

And where also by the statute called the Great Charter of the Liberties of England, it is declared and enacted that no free man may be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his freehold or liberties, or his free customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land; and in the 28th year of the reign of King Edward the Third it was declared and enacted by authority of parliament that no man, of what state or condition that he be, shall be put out of his lands or tenements, nor taken, nor imprisoned, nor disinherited, nor put to death without being brought to answer by due process of law. Nevertheless, against the tenor of the said statutes, and other the good laws and statutes of the realm to that end provided, divers of your subjects have been of late imprisoned without any cause shown, and when for their deliverance they were brought before your justices by your Majesty’s writs of habeas corpus, there to undergo and receive as the court should order, and their keepers commanded to certify the causes of their detainer, no cause was certified, but that they were detained by your Majesty’s special command, signified by the lords of your Privy Council, and yet were returned back to several prisons without being charged with anything to which they might make answer according to the law….

They do therefore most humbly pray your most excellent Majesty that none hereafter be compelled to make or yield any gift, loan, benevolence, tax, or such like charge, without common consent by act of parliament. And that none be called to make answer, or to take such oath, or to give attendance, or to be confined, or otherwise molested or disquieted concerning the same, or for refusal thereof. And that no free man, in any such manner as is before mentioned, be imprisoned or detained. And that your Majesty would be pleased to remove the said soldiers and mariners, and that your people may not be so burdened in time to come. And that the aforesaid commissions for proceeding by martial law may be revoked and annulled. And that hereafter no commissions of like nature may issue forth to any person or persons whatsoever to be executed, as aforesaid, lest by color of them any of your Majesty’s subjects be destroyed or put to death contrary to the laws and franchises of the land.

[More works by Sir Edward Coke (1552 – 1634)]