June 7 marked an important milestone in the ages-long development of constitutional government and the rule of law.

On that date in 1628, King Charles I granted the Royal Assent necessary to formally enact the Petition of Right, a document previously passed by Parliament containing several significant provisions designed to protect the individual from the arbitrary power of the state.

In 1627, following a series of disputes with Parliament over its refusal to raise taxes to fund his war with Spain, King Charles acted unilaterally to secure material support for his military. He imposed by decree “forced loans” by which he compelled gifts of money from his subjects and imprisoned without trial those who failed to pay.

The following year, he declared martial law to force private citizens to feed, clothe, and quarter his soldiers and sailors. As with forced loans, those who failed to comply could be imprisoned without trial.

Parliament determined that the actions of the King violated Magna Carta, which provides, among other things, that the monarch cannot levy taxes without consent of Parliament or imprison subjects without lawful cause. To respond, Parliament formed a committee to draft the Petition to reclaim the rights of Parliament and free men, and to extract from the monarch a recommitment to observe the rule of law as embodied in the provisions of Magna Carta.

The committee was led by Sir Edward Coke, a former Chief Justice who is widely acknowledged to have been the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Coke led the drafting of the Petition and the formulation of the political strategy that secured its passage by Parliament in May of 1628. To obtain future funding for his policies, Charles reluctantly accepted the Petition and granted Royal Assent the following month.

In its text, after listing grievances and statutes that the King had broken, the Petition reaffirms the “rights and liberties” of Englishmen, and provides that (i) no person should be forced to provide a gift, loan, or tax to the monarch without an act of Parliament, (ii) no free individual should be imprisoned or detained unless just cause has been lawfully shown, (iii) no soldiers or sailors of the monarch should be quartered in private houses without the freely given consent of the owner, and (iv) the imposition of martial law should be severely restricted to exigent circumstances in times of war and rebellion.

The Petition remains in force in the United Kingdom, with standing equal to Magna Carta and the 1689 Bill of Rights. The influence of the Petition on American constitutional law was significant. Its basic principles find expression in the Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Over the centuries, many individuals have contributed, each in their own time and way, to the development of the constitutional rule of law that protects us today. Sir Edward Coke made a significant contribution through his leadership of the committee that drafted the Petition of Right. Every June 7, the anniversary of the enactment of the Petition, we should remember Sir Edward Coke and give thanks.

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