Whither the Rights of Englishmen?
- American liberties are in many cases derived from English common law, well understood by our Founding Fathers. The trial of Peter Zenger in 1735 was a formative moment in American jurisprudence. The rights of Zenger to publish, and the use of the jury to rule against the wishes of the judge, were both firmly based upon English common law traditions. John Adams, who famously defended British soldiers tried after the Boston Massacre, felt that this use of the rights of the accused under English common law was of the highest importance.
Every state in the union bases its interpretation of law upon English common law except Louisiana, which relies upon the French civil law system. As well, the federal judicial system also relies upon English common law. The foundational principles of the U.S. government, enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, derived in many cases from the English common law, which included such seminal documents as the Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, and the (English) Bill of Rights.
As the nations of Europe accede more and more sovereignty to supra-national entities and lose their historic systems of rights, traditions, and jurisprudence, constitutionalists in this country are stressing the increasing importance of U.S. citizens working to preserve their heritage as the best anchor for American liberties.