[Volume 1, Page 429]

CHAPTER 14 | Document 3

William Penn, England's Present Interest Considered, with Honour to the Prince, and Safety to the People

1675Select Works 3:203--5

Chap I. Of English Rights.

There is no government in the world, but it must either stand upon will and power, or condition and contract: the one rules by men, the other by laws. And above all kingdoms under heaven, it is England's felicity to have her constitution so impartially just and free, that there cannot well be any thing more remote from arbitrariness, or more zealous of preserving the laws, by which its rights are maintained.

These laws are either fundamental, and so immutable; or more superficial and temporary, and consequently alterable.

By Superficial laws, we understand such acts, laws, or statutes, as are suited to present occurrences, and emergencies of state; and which may as well be abrogated, as they were first made, for the good of the kingdom: for instance, those statutes that relate to victuals, clothes, times and places of trade, &c. which have ever stood, whilst the reason of them was in force; but when that benefit, which did once redound, fell by fresh accidents, they ended, according to that old maxim, Cessante ratione legis, cessat lex.

By fundamental laws, I do not only understand such as immediately spring from synteresis (that eternal principle of truth and sapience, more or less disseminated through mankind,) which are as the corner-stones of human structure, the basis of reasonable societies, without which all would run into heaps and confusion; to wit, Honestè vivère, alterum non laedere, jus suum cuiq; tribuere, that is, "To live honestly, not to hurt another, and to give every one their right," (excellent principles, and common to all nations) though that itself were sufficient to our present purpose; but those rights and privileges which I call English, and which are the proper birth-right of Englishmen, and may be reduced to these three.

I. An ownership, and undisturbed possession: that what they have is rightly theirs, and no body's else.

II. A voting of every law that is made, whereby that ownership or propriety may be maintained.

III. An influence upon, and a real share in, that judicatory power that must apply every such law; which is the ancient, necessary and laudable use of juries: if not found among the Britons, to be sure practised by the Saxons, and continued through the Normans to this very day.

That these have been the ancient and undoubted rights of Englishmen, as three great roots, under whose spacious branches the English People have been wont to shelter themselves against the storms of arbitrary government, I shall endeavour to prove.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 14, Document 3
The University of Chicago Press

The Select Works of William Penn. 5 vols. 3d ed. London, 1782.