Summer, Burke, Freedom

It’s summertime and I have some freedom to write a bit. So I’ll pick up the ole’ blog again for a while.

Speaking of freedom, a friend wrote to me asking about Thomas Jefferson who fought for freedom while owning slaves. How could this be?

I don’t at the moment have Jefferson’s thoughts, but here is one of his English contemporaries – Edmund Burke, writing in Britain:

“In the famous law of the 3rd of Charles I., called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, “Your subjects have inherited this freedom,” claiming their franchises not on abstract principles “as the rights of men,” but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a patrimony derived from their forefathers.” (source)

In his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” Burke says over and over that the rights of liberty and freedom in the English view are different from the French, in that the French see them as things newly discovered and applicable to all, everywhere, equally; whereas for the British rights and liberty and law are things inherited, preserved, fought for, and held together in the Protestant kingly line and the kingdom of England.

This was what England held, and, though America was not England, the Americans argued for their freedom from tyranny in parliament on precisely the same grounds – they would say, “Hey, we’re Englishmen and as such we deserve our rights under ancient English common law.” (no source atm, I could dig around..)

This doesn’t explain Jefferson’s personal views, but those of his day.

More from Burke:

The same policy pervades all the laws which have since been made for the preservation of our liberties. In the 1st of William and Mary, in the famous statute, called the Declaration of Right, the two houses utter not a syllable of “a right to frame a government for themselves.” You will see, that their whole care was to secure the religion, laws, and liberties, that had been long possessed, and had been lately endangered. “Taking into their most serious consideration the best means for making such an establishment, that their religion, laws, and liberties might not be in danger of being again subverted,” they auspicate all their proceedings, by stating as some of those best means, “in the first place” to do “as their ancestors in like cases have usually done for vindicating their ancient rights and liberties, to declare;”—and then they pray the king and queen, “that it may be declared and enacted, that all and singular the rights and liberties asserted and declared, are the true ancient and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of this kingdom.”

You will observe, that from Magna Charta to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties, as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity; as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this means our constitution preserves a unity in so great a diversity of its parts. We have an inheritable crown; an inheritable peerage; and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties, from a long line of ancestors.


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