Between the years 1689 and 1760 the growth of the English constitution was largely governed by a single event — often called by the men of that age the Happy Revolution (see no. 124F). As an episode in political history, this Revolution has been the subject of considerable argument. As an affirmation of public law, it cannot be a matter of doubt; the Bill of Rights is the Revolution. The six enactments that follow it under no. 120 were all closely related to it — as was the refusal of the commons to renew the Licensing Act (no. 123A). The Act of Settlement, which still regulates succession to the British crown, was by its own words a supplement to the fundamental statute of 1689. To assure the acceptance of that settlement by the Scots, the union of the two kingdoms was negotiated and made law under Queen Anne. As a consequence, George of Hanover acceded to the throne of Great Britain in 1714. And the fact that he, as well as his son after him, reigned as foreigners, from time to time threatened by Stuart pretenders, definitively shaped the British constitution of the eighteenth century.

The Revolution of 1689 established the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. It was left for the Hanoverian succession to give parliament effective control over the executive by completing what we know as the cabinet system of government. Since the working of the system depends upon political usage rather than legal forms, to illustrate its development from official documents is impossible. The present section, however, includes a few debates that touch upon the prime minister's relations with the king, with parliament, and with his associates in the privy council (no. 123E, f). Other extracts under the same heading set forth contemporary opinions on the responsibility of the house of commons to the people.

On the whole, these documents reveal a peaceful age of great constitutional advance. The violence and unrest of the earlier Stuart reigns had subsided with the Revolution settlement. Among the trials briefly reported under no. 124, only one was really sensational — the impeachment of Sacheverell, which was coloured by the partisan conflict of Whigs and Tories. The rest, however controversial the issues, were typical of the orderly routine that now characterized British justice. So too, the records in the last group are chiefly interesting as normal products of colonial administration: such as instructions to provincial governors, decisions on appeal from American courts, and regulation of overseas trade. All this passes very quietly; of the antagonisms that were to wreck the imperial constitution there is as yet no hint.

The entire period from 1689 to 1760 has not been covered in any recent book on constitutional history, though phases of the subject are surveyed in such well-known studies as Trevelyan's England under Queen Anne and Lecky's England in the Eighteenth Century. In addition to the works by Anson, Dicey, Turner, Robertson, and Dykes cited in previous introductions (above, pp. 406, 535), special mention may here be made of the following: M. T. Blauvelt, The Development of Cabinet Government; H. W. V. Temperley, "Inner and Outer Cabinet and Privy Council," in the English Historical Review, XXVII, 682 f.; A. S. Turberville, The House of Lords in the Eighteenth Century; A. V. Dicey and R. S. Rait, Thoughts on the Union between England and Scotland. An excellent bibliography on constitutional problems affecting the empire is to be found in the appendix to the Cambridge History of the British Empire, I, 855 f., 861 f.

Popular Pages