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The English and American Constitutions

  • M. N. S. Sellers
Part of the Studies in Modern History book series (SMH)

Abstract

hThe Pennsylvania Republican’s interest in Rome’s Polybian constitution was not unusual. The Roman example had been available and admired for many years prior to the American revolution,1 with considerable political influence, both in England and America.2 As early as 1642, King Charles Is ‘Answer to the XIX Propositions of both Houses of Parliament’ adopted Polybius’s position that there are ‘three kindes of Government amongst men, Absolute Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy’ and that the best government was a mixture of the three, which would thrive so long as ‘the Balance hangs even’.3 The King’s Answer argued that the English King, Peers and Commons represented monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy respectively, in an ideal mixture which avoided the tyranny of monarchy, the factions of aristocracy, and the licentiousness of democratic government.4

Keywords

United States Constitution General Assembly American Constitution Annual Election Legislative Council 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Americans also had the examples of England, the English republic, and various American colonial or early state constitutions to confirm the lessons of Rome’s mixed Polybian constitution. For the development of English constitutionalism, and the revival of the ‘ancient prudence’ in British political thought, see W. P. Adams, First Constitutions; Robert Ashton, Tradition and Innovation and the Great Rebellion’, in Three British Revolutions, ed. J. G. A. Pocock (Princeton, NJ, 1980); Bernard Bailyn, ‘Central Themes of the American Rebellion’, in Essays on the American Revolution, ed. Stephen G. Kutz and James H. Hutson (Chapel Hill, NC, 1973); Terence Ball and J. G. A. Pocock (eds), Conceptual Change and the Constitution (Lawrence, Kansas, 1987); Carl Bridenbaugh, Mitre and Sceptre: Transatlantic Faiths, Ideas, Personalities, and Politics, 1689–1775 (New York, 1962); Edward S. Corwin, The Progress of Constitutional Theory between the Declaration of Independence and the Meeting of the Philadelphia Convention’, AHR 30 (1925): 511–36; H. T. Dickinson, ‘The Eighteenth-Century Debate in the “Glorious Revolution” ‘ in History 61 (1976):28– 45; idem, Liberty and Property: Political Ideology in Eighteenth-Century Britain (New York, 1977); Walter F. Dodd, The First State Constitutional Conventions, 1776–1783’, in American Political Science Review 2 (1908):545–61; Sydney George Fisher, Evolution of the Constitution of the United States (Philadelphia, 1887) (hereafter cited as Fisher, Evolution); Carl J. Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy: Theory and Practice in Europe and America (Boston, 1941); Jack P. Greene, ‘Origins of the Unwritten Constitution: Fundamental Law in American Revolutionary Thought’, in Stanford Law Review 30 (1978):843–93; idem, Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Policies of the British Empire and the United States, 1607–1788 (Athens, Georgia, 1986); Donald W. Hanson, From Kingdom to Commonwealth: The Development of Civic Consciousness in English Political Thought (Cambridge, Mass., 1970); Christopher Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution (London, 1972); idem, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (Harmondsworth, England, 1976); John A. Jameson, The Constitutional Convention (Chicago, 1867); Merrill Jensen, The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation (New York, 1950); David S. Lovejoy, The Glorious Revolution in America (New York, 1972); Donald Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge, La., 1988); idem, Popular Consent and Popular Control: Whig Political Theory in the Early State Constitutions (Baton Rouge, La., 1980); Charles H. McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation (Ithaca, NY, 1958); idem, Constitutionalism Ancient and Modern (Ithaca, NY, 1940); Andrew C. McLaughlin, A Constitutional History of the United States (New York, 1932); idem, The Foundations of American Constitutionalism (New York, 1932); William C. Morey, ‘The First State Constitutions’, in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 4 (1893):202–32; John M. Murrin, ‘The Great Inversion, or Court Versus County: A Comparison of the Revolution Settlements in England (1688–1721) and America (1776–1816)’, in Three British Revolutions, ed. J. G. A. Pocock (Princeton, 1980); idem, ‘The British and Colonial Background to American Constitutionalism’, in The Framing and Ratification of the Constitution, eds Leonard W. Levy and Dennis J. Mahoney (New York, 1987); William E. Nelson, ‘History and Neutrality in Constitutional Adjudication’, in Virginia Law Review 72 (1986):1237–96; idem, ‘Reason and Compromise in the Establishment of the Federal Constitution, 1787–1801’, in WMQ 44 (1987):458-84; Allan Nevins, The American States During and After the Revolution, 1775–1789 (New York, 1924); Ronald M. Peters, The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact (Amherst, Mass., 1978); J. G. A. Pocock, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, 1957); idem, ‘Machiavelli, Harrington and English Political Ideology in the Eighteenth Century’, in WMQ 22 (1965): 549–83; idem, ‘States, Republic, and Empires: The American Founding in Early Modern Perspective’, in Conceptual Change, ed. Terence Bell and J. G. A. Pocock (Lawrence, Kan., 1988); idem (eds), Three British Revolutions (Princeton, 1980); J. R. Pole, Political Representation in England and the Origins of the American Republic (New York, 1966); John Philip Reid, The Constitutional History of the American Revolution: The Authority of Rights (Madison, Wisconsin, 1986); Gerald Stourzh, ‘Constitution: Changing Meanings of the Term from the Early Seventeenth to the Late Eighteenth Century’, in Conceptual Change, ed. Terence Ball and J. G. A. Pocock (Lawrence, Kan., 1988), 35–54; Francis Newton Thorpe, A Constitutional History of the American People, 1776–1850 (New York, 1898); William C. Webster, ‘Comparative Study of the State Constitutions of the American Revolution’, in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 9 (1897):380–420; Corrine Comstock Weston, ‘Beginnings of the Classical Theory of the English Constitution’, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 100 (1956):133–144; Robert F. Williams, ‘The Influence of Pennsylvania’s Constitution on American Constitutionalism During the Founding Decade’, in PMHB 112 (1988):25–48; Wood; idem, The Intellectual Origins of the American Constitution’, in National Forum 64 (1984):5; Benjamine Fletcher Wright, Jr, The Early History of Written Constitutions in America’, in Essays in Honor of Charles Howard Mcllwain, ed. Carl Wittke (Cambridge, Mass., 1936).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    On mixed constitutions and the Roman example, see Fritz; Stanley Pargellis, ‘The Theory of Balanced Government’, in The Constitution Reconsidered, ed. Conyers Read, 37–49 (New York, 1968); Gilbert Chinard, Tolybius and the American Constitution’, JHI 1 (1940):38– 58; Thomas Francis Moran, The Rise and Development of the Bicameral System in America (Baltimore, Md, 1895); Jackson Turner Main, The Upper House in Revolutionary America, 1763–1788 (Madison, Wise, 1967).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Charles I, ‘His Majesties Answer to the XIX Propositions of Both Houses of Parliament’ (1642) in Corinne Comstock Weston, English Constitutional Theory and the House of Lords, 1556–1832 (New York, 1965) 260–5, 263.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    John Ponnet, A Shorte Treatise of Politiche Power, and of the true Obedience which Subjects owe to Kyngs and other civile Governors, with an Exhortation to all true natural Englishmen (London, 1556), as quoted in Adams, Defence, III:210. Also reprinted in Winthrop Hudson, John Ponet (1516?–56): Advocate of Limited Monarchy (Chicago, 1942).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See Conine Comstock Weston, English Constitutional Theory and the House of Lords, 1556–1832 (New York, 1965), 15 (hereafter cited as Weston, English Constitutional Theory).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Adams, Defence, 1:208, discussing Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum (London, 1583), which has been edited and reprinted by L. Alston (Cambridge, England, 1906).Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    See ‘Engagement Taken by Members of the Council of State’ (22 February 1649) in Charles Blitzer (ed.), The Commonwealth of England: Documents of the English Civil Wars, the Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1641–1660 (New York, 1963), 130–1.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    See George Vertue, Medals, Coins, Great-Seals, Impressions, from the Elaborate Works of Thomas Simon Chief Engraver to the Mint of Charles the Ist, to the Commonwealth, the Lord Protector Cromwell and in the Reign of King Charles the Hnd to 1665 (London, 1753) plates IX (coins) and XVIII (Great Seal) (hereafter cited as Vertue, Medals).Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    Weston, English Constitutional Theory, 77–6; Vertue, Medals, plate XXIII.Google Scholar
  10. 29.
    See e.g., in the nineteenth century, Fisher, Evolution; and most recently Donald S. Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge, 1988).Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Fisher, Evolution, 38, 48. Often the Council sat in the legislature, but not as a separate branch, or when it was a separate branch, was a very weak one. Cf. Leonard Woods Labaree, Royal Government in America (New Haven, 1930) at 159.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    William Penn, preface to the Frame of Government of Pennsylvania (1682), in Thorpe, American Charters 5:3053. Cf. Mary Maples, ‘William Penn, Classical Republican’, in PMHB 81 (1957):138–56.Google Scholar
  13. 42.
    Fisher, Evolution, 123–7. Cf. Leonard Woods Labaree, Royal Government in America (New Haven, Conn., 1930).Google Scholar
  14. 43.
    On the development of American constitutional thought after the state conventions, see W. P. Adams, First Constitutions; Terrence Ball and J. G. A. Pocock (eds), Conceptual Change and the Constitution (Lawrence, Kan., 1988); Beeman et al.; Edward Corwin, ‘The Progress of Constitutional Theory between the Declaration of Independence and the Meeting of the Philadelphia Convention’, AHR 30 (1924– 25):511–36; Sydney George Fisher, The Evolution of the Constitution of the United States (Philadelphia, 1897); John Fiske, The Critical Period of American History, 1783–1789 (Boston, 1889); William C. Morey, ‘The First State Constitutions’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 4 (1893):201–32.Google Scholar
  15. 44.
    Worthington Ford et al. (eds), Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, DC, 1904–37), IV:342, 357–8.Google Scholar
  16. 47.
    Constitution of New Hampshire (1776) in Thorpe, IV:2452. On New Hampshire politics, see Jere R. Danieli, Experiment in Republicanism: New Hampshire Politics and the American Revolution, 1741–1794 (Cambridge, Mass., 1970); Walter F. Dodd, The Constitutional History of New Hampshire, 1775–1792’, Proceedings of the Bar Association of New Hampshire n.s. 2 (1904–8):379-400.Google Scholar
  17. 49.
    Constitution of South Carolina (1776 Art. II–III in Thorpe VI:3243. On South Carolina politics, see Jerome J. Nadelhaft, The Disorders of War: The Revolution in South Carolina (Orono, Maine, 1981).Google Scholar
  18. 57.
    On the role of Governor under the Constitution of 1776, see Emory G. Evans, ‘Executive Leadership in Virginia, 1776–1781: Henry, Jefferson, and Nelson’ in Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert (eds), Sovereign States in an Age of Uncertainty (Charlottesville, 1981), 185–225.Google Scholar
  19. 59.
    John Adams, ‘Preface to Thoughts on Government’ (1811) in Adams, Works.Google Scholar
  20. 60.
  21. 88.
    Adams, First Constitutions 92; Journal of the Convention for Framing a Constitution of Government for the State of Massachusetts Bay (Boston, 1832); Charles Francis Adams, ‘Observations on the Reconstruction of Government in Massachusetts during the Revolution’ in Adams, Works IV:213–18; The Report of a Constitution or Form of Government for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ in ibid., IV:219– 67. See also Alexander J. Cella, ‘The People of Massachusetts, a New Republic and the Constitution of 1780’, Suffolk University Law Review 14 (1980):975; van Beck Hall, Politics Without Parties: Massachusetts 1780–1791 (Cambridge, Mass., 1966); Oscar and Mary Handlin, The Popular Sources of Political Authority: Documents on the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 (Cambridge, Mass., 1966); Ronald M. Peters Jr, The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact (Amherst, Mass., 1978).Google Scholar
  22. 91.
    John Adams, Thoughts on Government, in Political Writing, eds C. S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis, 1983), 1:403.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© M. N. S. Sellers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. N. S. Sellers
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Baltimore School of LawUSA

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