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determined to rule in his own way, not only questioned the right of Parliament to inquire into grievances, but even insisted upon what he regarded as his own right to levy money for the support of the Government without the consent of Parliament. This determination Parliament was disposed to question, and in the end to resist.
Under the maxim of the English Government, that “the King can do no wrong," there is but one way of securing redress, in case of an undue exercise of royal power. As the Constitution presumes that the King never acts except under advice, his ministers, as his constitutional advisers, may be held responsible for all his acts. The impeachment of ministers, therefore, is the constitutional method of redress. It was the method resorted to in 1626. Articles of Impeachment were brought by the House of Commons against the King's Prime Minister and favorite, the Duke of Buckingham.
One of the most prominent members of Parllament, and the foremost orator of the day was Sir John Eliot. This patriot, born in 1590, and consequently now thirty-six years of age, was appointed by the Commons one of the managers of the impeachment. With such skill and vigor did he conduct the prosecution against Buckingham, that the king determined to put a stop to the impeachment by ordering Eliot's arrest and imprisonment.
Eliot was thrown into the Tower; but the Commons regarded the arrest as so flagrant a violation of the rights of members that they immediately resolved “not to do any more business till they were righted in their privileges.” The King, in view of this unexpected evidence of spirit on the part of the Commons, deemed it prudent to relent. Eliot was discharged; and the Commons, on his triumphal reappearance in the House, declared by vote “ that their managers had not exceeded the commission entrusted to them.”
Thus the first triumph in the contest was gained by the Commons. But the King was not unwilling to resort to even more desperate
measures. He determined to raise
independently of Parliament, and, if Parliament should continue to pry into the affairs of his minister, to dispense with Parliament almost or quite altogether. This desperate determination he undertook to carry out chiefly by the raising of forced loans and the issuing of monopolies. But here again the King met with a more strenuous opposition than he had anticipated. Eliot and Hampden, with some seventy-six other members of the English gentry refused to make the contribution demanded. As such defiance threatened to break down the whole system, the King was forced either to resort to extreme measures or to abandon his method. He resolved upon the former course, but he was forced to the latter. He threw Eliot and Hampden into prison; but the outcry of the people was so great and so general that the necessary money could not be raised, and so he was obliged to call his third Parliament. Eliot and Hampden, though in prison, were elected members; and the King, not deeming it prudent to retain them, ordered their release a few days before the opening of the session.
The special object for which Parliament had been called by the King was the granting of money ; but the members were in no mood to let the opportunity pass without securing from the monarch an acknowledgment of their rights in definite form. Accordingly, they appointed Sir Edward Coke, the most distinguished lawyer of the time, to draw up a petition to the King that should embody a declaration of the constitutional privileges on which they reposed their rights. The result was the famous “ Petition of Right,” an instrument which, in the history of English liberty, has been only second in importance to the Great Charter itself. The petition asked the King's assent to a number of propositions, the most important of which were that no loan or tax should be levied without the consent of Parliament; that no man should be imprisoned except by legal process; and that soldiers should not be quartered upon the people without the people's consent. These propositions introduced nothing new into the Constitution. They professed simply to ask the King's approval of principles and methods that had been acknowledged and acted upon for hundreds of years. The great significance of the Petition of Right was that it designed to secure the assent of the monarch to a reign of law instead of a reign of arbitrary will. The object of Parliament was to put into definite form a clear expression of the King's purpose. They desired to know whether his intention was to rule according to the precedents of the English Constitution that had been taking definite form for centuries, or whether, on the contrary, he was determined to build up a system of absolutism similar to that which was very generally coming to prevail on the Continent. The petition passed the two Houses and went to the King for his approval. He gave an evasive answer. 1 * Parliament was taken by surprise and seemed likely to be baffled. It was