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What was the importance of the Glorious Revolution of 1688?
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Although the Glorious Revolution of 1688 is often couched in terms of retaining a Protestant Monarchy for England, it is more important in that it was a demonstration of the right of people to change their form of government if they believed that government no longer protected their rights and it further established the supremacy of Parliament..
By accepting the throne at the invitation of Parliament, William and Mary, who replaced James II at the invitation of Parliament, implicitly recognized the supremacy of Parliament. The revolution established the principal that sovereignty and ultimate power in the state was divided between the monarch and Parliament and that the King and/or Queen ruled only with the consent of the governed.
John Locke, personal secretary and physician to Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftsbury, provided the most profound defense of the Glorious Revolution in his Second Treatise on Civil Government. His First Treatise had discussed the inadvisability of absolute monarchy. In the second Treatise, Locke argued that civil governments were created by the people to protect their life, liberty and property. Every government was charged with protecting the "natural rights" of the people, meaning those rights held by all men because they have the ability to reason. Any government that failed to do so or usurped power to which it was not entitled was tyrannous. In the event of a tyrannical ruler, the people have the right to rebel against that government.
Locke’s ideas were borrowed from ancient Greek and Roman ideals of government that state there are natural, or "universal," rights equally held by all people in all societies. These ideas became a powerful influence on Enlightenment thought and were especially popular in colonial America. By implication, they were also influential in the French Revolution.
The Glorious Revolution was NOT a democratic revolution; it placed sovereignty in Parliament, and Parliament only represented the upper classes. The vast majority of English people still had no say in government. However, it did establish a constitutional monarchy and ushered in a period of aristocratic government which lasted until 1914.
Although the Glorious Revolution was a bloodless coup in England, it had profound effects in colonial America. Some of the most influential English groups on American political thought were the Whigs and, later, the Radical or Real Whigs. The Whigs were a political faction in England that challenged the authoritarianism of the King and aristocrats in Parliament by boldly opposing any forms of arbitrary rule including the divine right of kings doctrine. To the Whigs, the Glorious Revolution represented the triumph of natural law as an almost absolute monarchy was replaced with a constitutional monarchy. They advocated a mixed government with a limited king, elements of an aristocracy, and inclusion of commoners. More than any other group, Whig thought brought all the elements of reform to the table as the Revolution approached, and, once the reign of James II was over, they wanted to run with the spirit of reform and see to it that a new political system came to fruition in English society.
Real Whig ideology found a receptive audience in the colonies where Americans were growing weary of imperial rule. In fact, as the Glorious Revolution was taking place in England, many Americans were caught up in the spirit of reform and participated in protests and mobs to challenge royal governors and bureaucrats in the colonies. Americans soon found the effectiveness of protesting as the Dominion of New England-- which was a forced conglomeration of New England colonies into one royal province where all legislative assemblies were abolished, preferential treatment was given to the Church of England, and even town meetings were banned--was dismantled in response to protests.
The ideas and actions of Real Whigs in England during and after the Glorious Revolution were embraced in America so much so that it provided a vocabulary for a new, and uniquely American, ideology that later became known as republicanism. Republicanism is not a simple, straightforward set of beliefs; the best way to understand it is to see the parallels between Real Whig ideology coming out of the Glorious Revolution and how the Founders described republicanism after the Constitution was drafted. American advocates of republicanism emphasized representative government, checks and balances, rule of law over inherited rights, and a mistrust of aristocratic governments. These notions were directly related to the Real Whig philosophy that helped ignite and win the Glorious Revolution and unintentionally sparked an American hunger for more freedom over colonial affairs and eventually a desire for complete independence.
The major importance of the Glorious Revolution was to destroy any chance that England would have an absolute monarchy like that of France. Instead, the Glorious Revolution ensured that England would have a constitutional monarchy in which Parliament had the majority of the power.
When the throne of England was offered to William of Orange, a number of conditions were placed on it. It was made clear that the monarch would not have unlimited power. Instead, there were clear powers reserved for the Parliament. Because of this, as the link below tells us, the Glorious Revolution
heralds the triumph of parliamentary government and the further limitation of royal authority within the bounds of English constitutional law.
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