The Petition of Right (1627) and the Bill of Rights (1688)

Just War, Rebellion, and the American Revolution: John Keown and Modern Critiques on Whether the War of Independence was Just.

Part 16: Context: The English Experience Leading Up To The American Revolution, The Petition of Right (1627) and the Bill of Rights (1688)

By Leonard O. Goenaga

These rights were initially expressed in the Petition of Right (1627), which claimed “the Kings Subjects should not be taxed but by Consent in Parliament.”1 In addition, the document also listed the right that “Subjects have inherited this Freedome That they should not be compelled to contribute to any Taxe Tallage Ayde or other like Charge not sett by comon consent in Parliament.”2 Other rights established within the Right of Petition were against forced billeting of soldiers, restrictions to martial law, and imprisonment without cause.3 After the success of their own war of revolution, Parliament would further secure these basic Englishmen rights in the Bill of Rights (1688), which echoed the principles of the Petition of Right (1627). The document opens up by charging the late King James the Second of various abuses, including the dispensing and suspending of Laws without consent,4 maintaining standing armies during peacetime within the land without consent of Parliament and quartering soldiers contrary to law,5 disarming Protestants,6 violating free elections,7 prosecuting persons illegally and without juries,8 and various other tyrannical acts.

In light of the acts of tyranny committed by the monarchy, the Bill of Rights proceeds to establish a list of rights “takeing into their most serious Consideration the best meanes for attaining the Ends aforesaid Doe in the first place (as their Auncestors in like Case have usually done) for the Vindicating and Asserting their auntient Rights and Liberties.”9 These “ancient Rights and Liberties” included the right to petition,10 the right to parliament’s consent to maintain a standing army during peacetime,11 the right to have arms for self-defense,12 the right of free parliamentary elections,13 the right of trial by juries,14 and several other guaranteed rights. These rights were bestowed upon every Englishmen (and so every Colonist), and they would formulate much of the colonial complaints against the actions of the Crown.


1 The Petition of Right (1627), <>

2 Ibid.

3 The Bill of Rights (1688), <>, “And whereas of late great Companies of Souldiers and Marriners have been dispersed into divers Counties of the Realme, and the inhabitants against their wills have been compelled to receive them into their houses, and there to suffer them to sojourne against the Lawes and Customes of this Realme and to the great grievance and vexacion of the people.”

4 Ibid. “Dispensing and Suspending Power. By Assumeing and Exerciseing a Power of Dispensing with and Suspending of Lawes and the Execution of Lawes without Consent of Parlyament.”

5 Ibid. “Standing Army. By raising and keeping a Standing Army within this Kingdome in time of Peace without Consent of Parlyament and Quartering Soldiers contrary to Law.”

6 Ibid. “Disarming Protestants, &c. By causing severall good Subjects being Protestants to be disarmed at the same time when Papists were both Armed and Imployed contrary to Law.”

7 Ibid. “Violating Elections. By Violating the Freedome of Election of Members to serve in Parlyament.”

8 Ibid. “Illegal Prosecutions. By Prosecutions in the Court of Kings Bench for Matters and Causes cognizable onely in Parlyament and by diverse other Arbitrary and Illegall Courses. Juries. And whereas of late yeares Partiall Corrupt and Unqualifyed Persons have beene returned and served on Juryes in Tryalls and particularly diverse Jurors in Tryalls for High Treason which were not Freeholders”.

9 The Bill of Rights (1688).

10 Ibid. “Right to petition.That it is the Right of the Subjects to petition the King and all Commitments and Prosecutions for such Petitioning are Illegall.”

11 Ibid. “Standing Army. That the raising or keeping a standing Army within the Kingdome in time of Peace unlesse it be with Consent of Parlyament is against Law.”

12 Ibid. “Subjects’ Arms. That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.”

13 Ibid. “Freedom of Election. That Election of Members of Parlyament ought to be free.”

14 The Bill of Rights (1688), “Juries.That Jurors ought to be duely impannelled and returned”.

Self-Educated American Research Writer, Leonard O. Goenaga
, is a Baptist Associate Pastor (assigned to the Youth) at Glory of God Christian Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina; a Mentor (Computer Lab/Technology) at the Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club; a husband (to Katrina); and rugby coach. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (with a specific concentration in Political Theory, Social Contract, and Constitutionalism), a second B.A. in Religious Studies (with a concentration in World Religions and Early Christianity), a Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics, and an A.A. in Entrepreneurship. He has begun Ph.D with a concentration likely centered on an analysis of Locke’s Social Contract, H.L.A. Hart’s Legal System, American Constitutionalism, and Baptist Ecclesiology of Covenant. Visit his website at