Website Security Test

Bill of Rights in Action

Bill of Rights in Action Home Page and Archives 

Many lessons on U.S. history, world history, and government from Bill of Rights in Action, CRF's quarterly curricular newsletter. We have published this tremendous resource since 1967, and we continually add to the archive.

Sign up for a FREE subscription to Bill of Rights in Action: Subscribe HereCurrent Subscribers: Make the switch to electronic-only delivery - Your copy will arrive  as much as 2 to3 weeks before the printed issue.

Thank you for a great publication. A fellow teacher pointed me to your Bill of Rights in Action publication. It's nice to have a resource that will put some depth to a topic without overwhelming the kids.

--Mr. Raj R., Teacher

Please scroll down to the view the issues available online or browse the archives by subject:
Current Issues | Economics  | Law | U.S. Government  | U.S History  |  World History

bria31_1_coverRegister or log-in to download the PDFs of Bill of Rights in ActionRegistration is FREE, so please click here to register now.

Breaking New Grounds, Fall 2015 (31:1) Login to Download PDF 

  • James Madison and the Bill of Rights
  • Hatshepsut: How a Woman Took the Throne

The 1960s, Summer 2015 (30:4) Login to Download PDF 

  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Cuba at the Crossroads
  • Mao Zedong and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

The Law, Spring 2015 (30:3) Login to Download PDF 

  • Saved From the Gallows — The Trial of Leopold and Loeb
  • The Great Qing Code: Law and Order During China’s Last Dynasty
  • The Free Exercise of Religion in America

Leadership, Winter 2014 (30:2) Login to Download PDF 

  • 'Go Boldly!': Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War
  • Sam Houston: A Study in Leadership
  • Margaret Thatcher and Conservative Politics in England

War & Policy, Fall 2014 (30:1) Login to Download PDF 

War and the Military, Summer 2014 (29:4) Login to Download PDF 

  • The Chinese Civil War: Why Did the Communists Win?
  • The Cold War: How Did It Start? How Did It End?
  • Women in the Military

Conflicts, Spring 2014 (29:3) Login to Download PDF

  • The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
  • Sudan, Imperialism, and the Mahdi’s Holy War
  • Are Bible Readings Ever Allowed in Public Schools?

Making a Difference, Winter 2014 (29:2) Login to Download PDF

  • Queen Elizabeth I: Religion and the State
  • Harriet Tubman and the End of Slavery
  • Affirmative Action in American Colleges After Fisher v. Texas

The Governance, Fall 2013 (29:1) Login to Download PDF

  • Puritan Massachusetts: Theocracy or Democracy?
  • Who Was the Real Cleopatra?
  • How the First State Constitutions Helped Build the U.S. Constitution

The Environment, Summer 2013 (28:4) Login to Download PDF

  • Conservation, Preservation, and the National Parks
  • Rachel Carson and the Modern Environmental Movement

Industrialization and Labor, Spring 2013 (28:3) Login to Download PDF

  • The Industrial Revolution
  • The Pullman Strike and Boycott
  • American Labor Unions: Yesterday and Today

Origins, Winter 2012 (28:2) Login to Download PDF

  • Hamilton, Jefferson, and Their Fight for the Future of America
  • Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire
  • The Electoral College

Health-Care Reform, Fall 2012 (28:1)  Login to Download PDF

  • The Continuing Struggle for U.S. Health-Care Reform
  • The U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on the Affordable Care Act
  • Health Care: What Do Other Countries Do?

Facing Crisis, Summer 2012 (27:4) Login to Download PDF

  • FDR and the Banks
  • Munich and “Appeasement”
  • Unemployment and the Future of Jobs in America

A New Order, Spring 2012 (27:3) Login to Download PDF

  • Simon Bolivar: Thinker, Liberator, Reformer
  • J.P. Morgan, the Panic of 1907, and the Federal Reserve Act
  • Juan Peron: Dictator or Champion of Social Justice?

Law, Winter 2011 (27:2) Login to Download PDF

  • Canon Law: Medieval Europe’s Legal System
  • Oliver Cromwell: The Lord Protector
  • Calhoun and Webster: Two Visions of the Federal Union

Revolutionary Thinkers, Fall 2011 (27:1) Login to Download PDF

  • Thomas Paine: America’s Most Radical Revolutionary
  • Sir William Blackstone and the Common Law
  • St. Augustine and the Role of Religion in the State

Communism, Summer 2011 (26:4) Login to Download PDF

  • Lenin and the Russian Revolution
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis
  • North Korea: The Rogue Nation

Economic Crises, Spring 2011 (26:3) Login to Download PDF

  • The WPA: Putting the Nation to Work in the Great Depression
  • A Guide to the Federal Budget Deficit and National Debt
  • Tulipmania and Economic Bubbles

Population Perils Winter 2010 (26:2) Login to Download PDF

  • The "Black Death": A Catastrophe in Medieval Europe
  • The Potato Famine and Irish Immigration to America
  • The Debate OverWorld Population: Was Malthus Right?

Tyranny Fall 2010 (26:1) Login to Download PDF

  • The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
  • Plato and Aristotle on Tyranny
  • Nigeria: After 50 Years, Still Struggling to Be a Democracy

Reaction and Reform Summer 2010 (25:4)  Login to Download PDF

  • The Watergate Scandal
  • Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism
  • Land, Liberty, and the Mexican Revolution 

Revolution and Change Spring 2010 (25:3) Login to Download PDF

  • England's Glorious Revolution
  • John Maynard Keynes and the Revolution in Economic Thought
  • William Jennings Bryan, the "Great Commoner" 

Building Democracy Fall 2009 (25:2) Login to Download PDF  

  • The Major Debates at the Constitutional Convention
  • King and Parliament in Medieval England
  • Every New Generation

Environmental Issues Summer 2009 (25:1) Login to Download PDF

  • Are We Headed for a "Sixth Mass Extinction"?
  • The Columbian Exchange
  • What Caused Egypt's Old Kingdom to Collapse? 

Reform and Change Spring 2009 (24:4) Login to Download PDF

  • The Teapot Dome Scandal
  • Woodrow Wilson's Quest to Change the World
  • John Stuart Mill and Individual Liberty

Communication of Ideas Winter 2009 (24:3) Login to Download PDF  

  • Herodotus and Thucydides: Inventing History
  • Gutenberg and the Printing Revolution in Europe
  • Henry Clay: Compromise and Union

Politics Fall 2008 (24:2) Login to Download PDF 

  • How Political Parties Began
  • Making It Easier to Vote vs. Guarding Against Election Fraud
  • The Development of Confucianism in Ancient China

Reform Spring 2008 (24:1) Login to Download PDF 

  • Communism, Capitalism, and Democracy in China
  • Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
  • John Dewey and the Reconstruction of American Democracy

Intellectual Property Winter 2008 (23:4) Login to Download PDF 

  • The Origins of Patent and Copyrights Law
  • Digital Piracy
  • Patenting Life
  • The Cheating Problem

Justice Fall 2007 (23:3) Login to Download PDF 

  • The Whiskey Rebellion and the New American Republic
  • Cicero: Defender of the Roman Republic
  • "Justice and Fairness": John Rawls and His Theory of Justice

Rights Reconsidered Summer 2007 (23:2) Login to Download PDF

  • Sacco and Vanzetti
  • Edmund Burke
  • Mendez v. Westminster

Free Markets and Antitrust Law Spring 2007 (23:1) Login to Download PDF 

  • Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations
  • Progressives and the Era of Trustbusting
  • Media Mergers and the Public Interest

Making a Just Society Winter 2006 (22:4) Login to Download PDF

  • Stem-Cell Research: The Promise and the Pitfalls
  • Slavery, Civil War, and Democracy: What Did Lincoln Believe?
  • St. Thomas Aquinas, Natural Law, and the Common Good.

The Rule of Law in Dangerous Times Fall 2006 (22:3) Login to Download PDF

  • Solon Put Athens on the Road to Democracy
  • John Peter Zenger and the Freedom of the Press
  • The National Security Agency's Warrantless Wiretaps. 

The Establishment of Religion Spring 2006 (22:2) Login to Download PDF

  • The Scopes Trial
  • More Monkey Trials
  • Turkey: An Evolving Democracy in the Middle East

Standards for the Time Winter 2005 (22:1) Login to Download PDF

  • The Transcendentalists in Action
  • Petrarch, the Father of Humanism
  • Is Torture Ever Justified?

Centralized vs. Decentralized Rule Fall 2005 (21:4) Login to Download PDF

  • The Legacy of Alexander the Great
  • The Articles of Confederation
  • The European Union: Toward a "United States of Europe"?

Economics and Democracy Summer 2005 (21:3) Login to Download PDF 

  • Dust Bowl Exodus
  • The German Weimar Republic
  • Outsourcing Jobs to Other Countries

American Interventions Spring 2005 (21:2) Login to Download PDF 

  • Is Iraq on the Way to Democracy?
  • Teddy Roosevelt and the Panama Canal
  • The Boxer Rebellion in China

Executive Power Winter 2004 (21:1) Login to Download PDF

  • Machiavelli and The Prince 
  • Detaining U.S. Citizens as Enemy Combatants
  • Jackson and Indian Removal

Religion and Society Fall 2004 (20:4) Login to Download PDF 

  • Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening in Colonial America
  • Islam Divided: The Shiites and Sunnis
  • Should We Take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance?

Nation-Building Summer 2004 (20:3) Login to Download PDF 

  • The Marshall Plan for Rebuilding Europe
  • Different Visions for Vietnam
  • U.S. Involvement in Nation-Building Before Iraq

Developments in Democracy Spring 2004 (20:2) Login to Download PDF

  • How Women Won the Right to Vote
  • Have Women Achieved Equality?
  • Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau on Government

Culture in Conflict Winter 2004 (20:1) Login to Download PDF

  • President Polk and the Taking of the West
  • Muslim Conquests in Europe
  • The Rise of Islamist Terrorist Groups

National Security and Freedom Fall 2003 (19:4) Login to Download PDF 

  • The Patriot Act: What is the Proper Balance Between National Security and Individual Rights?
  • The Alien and Sedition Acts: Defining American Freedom
  • Plato and The Republic

Controversies Summer 2003 (19:3) Login to Download PDF 

  • Three Visions for African Americans
  • "Forgotten Genocide": The Destruction of the Armenians During World War I
  • The Bush Doctrine 

Ideas Spring 2003 (19:2)  Login to Download PDF

  • Karl Marx: A Failed Vision of History
  • Social Darwinism and American Laissez-faire Capitalism
  • Copying Music and Movies from the Internet: "Digital Piracy" and "Fair Use"

Eastern Europe Winter 2002 (19:1)

  • Life Under Communism in Eastern Europe
  • Emerging Democracies in Eastern Europe and Russia: How Are They Doing?
  • Ethnic Minorities in Eastern Europe

 The Environment Fall 2002 (18:4)

  • Environmental Disasters in the Cradles of Civilization
  • Global Warming: What Should We Do About It?
  • Climate Change and Violence in the Ancient American Southwest

Victims of War Summer 2002 (18:3)

  • Wartime and the Bill of Rights: The Korematsu Case
  • The "Rape of Nanking"
  • Compensating the Victims of War

Imperialism Spring 2002 (18:2)

  • The Great Rebellion of 1857 in India
  • Oil and National Security
  • The Debate Over Hawaii and an American Overseas Empire

Africa Winter 2001 (18:1)

  • The United States and the Barbary Pirates
  • AIDS in Africa
  • Ibn Battuta: The Greatest Traveler in the Middle Ages

Law of Empires Fall 2001 (17:4)

  • Clash of Empires: The Fight for North America
  • When Roman Law Ruled the Western World
  • Puerto Rico: Commonwealth, Statehood, or Independence?

Military Authority Summer 2001 (17:3)

  • The French Army Mutinies of World War I
  • Truman, MacArthur, and the Korean War
  • The Military Confronts the Harassment of Women and Gays

Labor Spring 2001 (17:2)

  • One Big Union--One Big Strike: The Story of the Wobblies
  • Marching with "General Ludd": Machine Breaking in the Industrial Revolution
  • Globalization and Worker Rights

Religious Tolerance Winter 2000 (17:1)

  • Should Students Have The Right to Lead Prayers at Pubic School Events?
  • The Persecution of the Mormons
  • Luther Sparks the Protestant Reformation

Innovations in Law Fall 2000 (16:4)

  • The Hebrews and the Foundations of Western Law
  • The Declaration of Independence and Natural Rights
  • Animal Rights

Civil Disobedience Summer 2000 (16:3)

  • The Berkeley Free Speech Movement: Civil Disobedience on Campus
  • Bringing Down an Empire: Ghandi and Civil Disobedience
  • The Rescue Movement: Pushing the Limits of Free Speech

Wealth and Power Spring 2000 (16:2)

  • King Leopold's "Heart of Darkness"
  • Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Monopoly
  • United States v. Microsoft

Matters of Principle Winter 1999 (16:1)

  • John Adams and the Boston Massacre
  • The Murder of an Archbishop
  • Should We Have the Right to Die?

Clash of Cultures and Law Fall 1999 (15:4)

  • Young People and the Internet: Issues of Censorship and Free Expression
  • The Law of Shi Huangdi, First Emperor of China
  • Laws of the Indies: Spain and the Native Peoples of the New World

Rules of War Summer 1999 (15:3)

  • Firestorms: The Bombing of Civilians in World War II
  • Choices: Truman, Hirohito, and the Atomic Bomb
  • New Threat to Nuclear Non-Proliferation

Codes  Spring 1999 (15:2)

  • The Code Napoleon
  • The Death Penalty and Human Rights: Is the U.S. Out of Step?
  • The Southern "Black Codes" of 1865-66

Islamic Issues Winter 1998 (15:1)

  • The Origins of Islamic Law
  • The U.S. and Iran: Time for a New Beginning?
  • Blasphemy! Salman Rushdie and Freedom of Expression

Rules, Policy, and Empire Fall 1998 (14:4)

  • Blood and Tribute: The Rise and Fall of the Aztec Empire
  • The Edicts of Asoka
  • Africa's "Second Independence" and U.S. Policy

Welfare Summer 1998 (14:3)

  • How Welfare Began in the United States
  • Welfare to Work: The States Take Charge
  • "The Swedish Model": Welfare for Everyone

Independence of the Judiciary Spring 1998 (14:2)

  • An Issue of Consent
  • Voters and Judges
  • An Independent Judiciary

Culture Clash Fall 1998 (14:1)

  • The Kennewick Controversies
  • Witch Hunt
  • The Battle Over Proposition 187

Separating Church and State Fall 1997 (13:4)

  • Separating Church and State
  • Religious Tolerance and Persecution in the Roman Empire
  • Should Government Aid Students Attending Parochial Schools?

Forensic Evidence Summer 1997 (13:3)

  • The Riddle of the Romanovs
  • DNA, Lie Detector, and Voiceprint Evidence: Does It Belong in the Courtroom?
  • How Reliable Are Eyewitnesses?

Controversies in the Arts Spring 1997 (13:2)

  • The Battle over the National Endowment of the Arts
  • The Suppression of Art in Nazi Germany
  • Music on Trial: Rock, Rap, and Responsibility

Election Issues Winter 1996 (13:1)

  • Political Scandals, Scoundrels, and Schemer: Are the Media Focusing on the Wrong Things?
  • Issues in Campaign '96
  • TV Attack Ads and the Voter

New Claims to Equal Protection Fall 1996 (12:4)

  • Equal Opportunity in the Military
  • Including the Disabled Student
  • Helen Keller
  • Gay Rights and the Constitution

Keeping the Peace After the Cold War Summer 1996 (12:3)

  • The United Nations: Fifty Years of Keeping the Peace
  • The Future of NATO
  • Do We Need a Permanent International Criminal Court?

Voting and Discrimination Spring 1996 (12:2)

  • South Africa: Revolution at the Ballot Box
  • Race and Voting in the Segregated South
  • Race and Representation

Journey to Equality Winter 1996 (12:1)

  • Black Troops in Union Blue
  • The Adarand Case: Affirmative Action and Equal Protection
  • The Mandinko of the Gambia

Issues of Terrorism Fall 1995 (11:4)

  • The Aftermath of Terror (Oklahoma City Bombing)
  • Terrorism: How Have Other Countries Handled It? How Should We?
  • Conspiracy Theories: Attacks on Jefferson Set the Pattern
  • Talk Radio: Playground for Free Speech or a Forum for Hate?

Examining the Federal Government Spring 1995 (11:3)

  • The Balanced Budget Amendment
  • The Income Tax Amendment: Most Thought It Was A Great Idea in 1913
  • Term-Limits Debate: Professional Politician or Citizen Legislator?

What Should We do About Crime? Spring 1995 (11:2)

  • "Beyond the Seas": The Transportation of Criminals to Australia
  • What Should We Do About Crime?
  • Juvenile Justice: What Should We Do With Children Who Break the Law?

The Right to an Impartial Jury and a Free Press Winter 1994 (11:1)

  • Is a Fair Trial Possible in the Age of Mass Media?
  • The Dreyfus Affair and the Press
  • Sex, Crime, and Jazz-Age Journalism

The U.S. Supreme Court Fall 1994 (10:4)

  • FDR Tries to "Pack" the Supreme Court
  • Should Nations Have the Right to Kidnap Criminal Suspects?
  • Update on the Supreme Court (Abortion Protester's, Religious Schools, and Jury Selection)

Hate Crimes Summer 1994 (10:3)

  • Should Hate be Outlawed?
  • "At the Hands of Persons Unknown": Lynching in America
  • German Skinheads: Are the Nazis Making a Comeback?

United States Asylum Policy Spring 1994 (10:2)

  • U.S. Immigration Policy and Hitler's Holocaust
  • Haiti and the Boat People
  • Seeking Asylum in the United States

When Rights Conflict Fall 1993 (10:1)

  • Free Press vs. Fair Trial: The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping Case
  • Singapore: Model Society or City of Fear?
  • Religious Rights in Conflict

The Legislative Branch Summer 1993 (9:3 & 4)

  • "Let us Reason Together"--Lyndon Johnson, Master Legislator
  • The European Community: Cooperating Nations or Unified Superstate?
  • A Different Voice: Women in the Congress

The Executive Branch Spring 1993 (9:2)

  • Policing the Police
  • Ruling in the Name of the Emperor: How Japan Became a World Power
  • A Hero Betrayed: The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.

The Judicial System Winter 1992 (9:1)

  • The Inquisition: Looking Into the Human Soul
  • "We Came to Free the Slaves": John Brown on Trial
  • Does the Criminal Justice System Discriminate Against African-Americans?
  • The Election of 1824-25: When the House Chose the President
  • Democracy and Dictatorship in Ancient Rome
  • Why Don't People Vote?
Issues in Education Winter 1992 (8:2)
  • Educating European Immigrant Children Before World War I
  • The Debate Over School Choice
  • Teaching to the Test in Japan

Trends and Issues of the Bill of Rights Fall/Winter 1991 (8:1)

  • The New Supreme Court: Decisions to Come
  • Who Voted in Early America
  • On The Road to Revolution with Boris Yeltsin
  • The Tax Farmer of Mari

The 14th Amendment Spring 1991 (7:4)

  • The Stalin Purges and "Show Trials"
  • The 14th Amendment and the "Second Bill of Rights"
  • Education and the 14th Amendment 

BRIA 25 3 John Maynard Keynes and the Revolution in Economic Thought

Bill of Rights in Action
SPRING 2010 (Volume 25, No. 3)

Revolution and Change

England’s Glorious Revolution  |  John Maynard Keynes and the Revolution in Economic Thought  |  William Jennings Bryan, the “Great Commoner”

John Maynard Keynes and the Revolution in Economic Thought

British economist John Maynard Keynes believed that classical economic theory did not provide a way to end depressions. He argued that uncertainty caused individuals and businesses to stop spending and investing, and government must step in and spend money to get the economy back on track. His ideas led to a revolution in economic thought.

John Maynard Keynes (pronounced canes) was one of the great economic thinkers. Born into an academic family in 1883, his father was a noted philosophy and economics professor at Cambridge University. His mother was a teacher who later served as mayor of Cambridge.

Keynes attended Eton, England’s best prep school. After Eton, he went to King’s College at Cambridge University. He earned a degree in mathematics, but his curiosity extended to many fields—history, classical literature, the arts, and moral philosophy. He learned economics from Cambridge’s leading economist, Alfred Marshall.

Brilliant, an outstanding student, and intellectually curious, Keynes did not pursue a traditional academic career. He did work as a university lecturer, but he also spent much of his life working in government, writing books and articles (for newspapers, magazines, and academic journals), and working as a financial consultant. Keynes also played the stock market, which he considered a casino. He lost his shirt more than once but ended up with a substantial investment fortune.

In 1906, Keynes got a job in Britain’s colonial India Office as a junior clerk. His curiosity propelled him to become an expert in India’s finance system.

Britain’s Leading Economist

When World War I broke out in 1914, Keynes joined Britain’s Treasury ministry. He specialized in financial relations among the allies. At the Paris Peace Conference after the war, he was in charge of the ministry’s position on how much Germany should pay in war reparations—financial compensation to the victors.

Keynes found that allied leaders believed Germany should pay for the “whole costs of the war,” including widows’ pensions. Keynes disagreed. He called for reparations that Germany had a reasonable “capacity to pay.” Keynes believed that by financially crippling Germany, all European nations would suffer.

In May 1919, the final draft of the Treaty of Versailles shocked Keynes. It demanded the Germans pay billions of dollars over a period of 30 years.

Keynes declared, “The Peace is outrageous and impossible and can bring nothing but misfortune.” He resigned from the Treasury. Returning to Cambridge, he took charge of the finance department at King’s College and wrote a book, The Economic Consequences of Peace. The book made him famous.

In his book, Keynes attacked the leaders at the Paris Peace Conference. He predicted the harsh treaty would impoverish Germany and would lead to a war of German revenge. He also criticized the leaders for dealing only with political matters like redrawing national borders while ignoring economic cooperation needed to bring permanent peace to Europe. Published in 1919, Keynes’ book was an international bestseller.

Keynes lived in Bloomsbury, an area in central London. He was a long-time member of a circle of famous writers, painters, and performing artists. A passionate supporter of the arts, he frequently attended the theater, art galleries, and the ballet. In 1925, he married ballerina Lydia Lopokova.

On their honeymoon to the Soviet Union to visit Lydia’s family, Keynes met with communist economic planners to observe Marxist socialism in action. Upon returning to Britain, Keynes wrote an essay attacking the Soviet system. He called it a system using “the weapons of persecution, destruction, and international strife” along with “an obsolete economics textbook” (Marx’s Das Kapital).

In the 1920s, Keynes began to focus on the problem of Britain’s unemployment. It had remained stuck around 10 percent since the end of the war. Like most economists at that time, he believed monetary policy would remedy an economic slump.

This meant that the nation’s central bank, the Bank of England, should lower interest rates and increase the money supply. These monetary measures were supposed to halt falling prices, boost industrial production, and revive hiring.

But Keynes was puzzled when monetary policy did not lift Britain out of its economic rut. In 1924, he explored a radically new way to combat unemployment by hiring the jobless to build roads, bridges, and other government-financed projects.

Keynes also became embroiled in a controversy concerning the gold standard. At this time, most industrial countries tied the value of their paper currency to gold. For example, one French franc might be backed by 1/100 of an ounce of gold in the French treasury. Britain had gone off the gold standard during the war. In 1925, Winston Churchill, Britain’s finance minister, acted against Keynes’ advice and returned the nation to the gold standard. Keynes opposed this move because it limited the paper money supply to the amount of gold in the Bank of England’s vaults. By holding back the money supply, the gold standard helps to control inflation in boom times. But Britain was in a long economic slump.

Thus, the gold standard hobbled monetary policy, which called for an expansion of the money supply to stimulate economic growth. Also, Churchill set the British pound’s value in gold high. This made the nation’s exports too expensive to complete with other countries.

As Keynes predicted, returning to the gold standard worsened Britain’s unemployment. In 1928, he helped draft a Liberal Party election campaign proposal to reduce unemployment by government-funded public-works projects. Then the New York stock market crashed on October 24, 1929.

Keynes and the Great Depression

The stock market crash ended a frenzy of speculation that had driven up stock prices far beyond their real value. The U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, had used monetary policy to try to rein in speculation by increasing interest rates. But the Fed’s policy caused a sharp drop in consumer spending for major purchases such as automobiles and houses.

Following the disaster on Wall Street, people began to withdraw their money from the nation’s banks, causing many banks to fail and many depositors to lose their money. The Federal Reserve refused to pump more money into the banking system and even raised interest rates further in 1931. This made it more difficult for individuals and businesses to borrow and spend.

The crash led to the Great Depression. During the 1930s, industrial production in the U.S. dropped by nearly 50 percent. Unemployment reached 25 percent of the labor force. The U.S. offered no unemployment insurance, only bread lines filled with jobless workers and their families.

The Depression quickly spread to Europe and around the world. Relying on monetary solutions, most central banks cut interest rates and increased their money supply. Britain finally abandoned the gold standard in 1931. But the economic damage was too severe. Consumers and businesses, gripped by fear of the future, hoarded cash and stopped spending. Meanwhile, the U.S. and other nations cut their spending and raised taxes to balance their budgets.

As the worldwide depression became more severe, Keynes concluded that the free-market capitalist system had no remedy for a long and deep economic decline. Reducing interest rates and other monetary policy solutions were not enough. Keynes feared that if capitalism did not find a way to address mass unemployment, desperate people might turn to communism or fascism.

Keynes argued that the government must save capitalism. In a 1931 radio broadcast, he revived his earlier backing of public-works projects and called for the major redevelopment of central London. He asserted that the reduction of government relief payments to idle workers and an increase in tax revenue from suppliers of materials would offset the cost of such projects.

In 1932, Keynes began to argue publicly that the solution to mass unemployment depended on more, not less, government spending. This would require the government to borrow money and temporarily run a deficit.

The following year, Keynes wrote a series of newspaper articles explaining the “employment multiplier.” This was a new economic concept that he and one of his students, Richard Kahn, had been developing.

Keynes pointed out that newly employed public project workers and suppliers would have cash to spend again, causing more demand for goods and services from private businesses. With more orders coming in, Keynes predicted, businesses would regain confidence and begin to hire workers. These workers would in turn spend their paychecks, multiplying demand, and so on.

Despite his reputation as Britain’s leading economist, Keynes had little luck convincing the government. The Treasury continued to insist on spending cuts and balanced budgets.

In December 1933, the New York Times published an article by Keynes directed at newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Keynes advised Roosevelt to focus first on the terrible unemployment problem. Keynes presented his case for the government to borrow and spend large amounts of money on public-works projects. Earlier, Keynes had passed on to FDR an explanation of the “employment multiplier.”

In May 1934, Keynes visited Roosevelt in Washington, but FDR was reluctant to adopt Keynes’ ideas. Nevertheless, Keynes had many meetings with government officials, Wall Street investors, business leaders, and university economists. He tried his best to persuade them to embrace his big idea that explained why severe depressions occurred and how to end them.

Keynes’ Big Idea

Keynes had been working on the puzzle of persisting unemployment in Britain for over a decade. In 1936, he published The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, which revolutionized economics.

In his book, Keynes declared that free-market capitalism had failed to provide a remedy for an economy stuck in a long-lasting depression with mass unemployment. He wrote that relying on traditional monetary solutions like lowering interest rates was not enough. In uncertain times, businesses and individuals shy away from borrowing and lending money.

Keynes argued that uncertainty brought on by a shock to the economy, such as the 1929 Stock Market Crash, cripples “effective demand.” Effective demand is the actual amount of consumer and investor spending in an economy. When effective demand is up, businesses are profitable and employment is high.

When uncertain consumers and investors sharply cut back on their spending, effective demand drops. Businesses lose confidence about future sales and income. To cut costs, they start to lower prices, reduce wages, and lay off workers. Unemployed workers do not have much money to spend, which further reduces spending throughout the economy. Thus, a vicious downward spiral goes into motion, leading to failed businesses and mass unemployment.

Keynes challenged a key free-market principle that saving is always good because it provides the money for investing in businesses. Keynes agreed saving was a good idea during normal economic conditions. But he argued that it hurt the economy in a depression. If people hoard their cash in a depression, he said, they will obviously spend less. This only worsens “effective demand” and feeds into the downward economic spiral.

Keynes recognized that it makes sense for individuals to hold on to their money in uncertain times, but he pointed out that their reduced spending harms the economy as a whole. As people spend less, companies sell less and invest less in production. The economy gets worse. Keynes called this the “paradox of thrift.”

When uncertain consumers and investors are not spending in a depression, where should the money come from to pump up “effective demand”? Keynes answered that government should take on this role.

Keynes pioneered the use of national economic statistics (macroeconomics). He estimated how much a government should spend to increase “effective demand” and achieve full employment.

Keynes called for governments in a depression to hire jobless workers directly for public works like roads, dams, and schools. He was confident that the “employment multiplier” would then stimulate private business activity and rehiring to end the depression.

The most controversial part of Keynes’ theory concerned how the government would finance its public-works spending. He said that the government would have to borrow the money by selling treasury bonds. It should not attempt to balance its budget but should run a temporary deficit. Raising taxes to pay for the public works would take more money out of people’s hands, he explained, defeating the goal of boosting “effective demand.”

Keynes concluded that lowering interest rates, expanding the money supply, and other monetary policies could only go so far. Getting an economy out of a deep depression, he argued, required fiscal policy measures such as government borrowing and deficit spending. He also thought tax cuts could help, but he noted that people were likely to save some or all the money they gained rather than spend it.

Keynes recognized that his deficit spending solution to boost “effective demand” could explode the national debt and cause inflation in the future. But he thought the government could address these problems by increasing taxes once prosperity returned.

Thus, “effective demand” (sometimes called “aggregate demand”) was at the center of Keynes’ General Theory about the cause of and remedy for severe depressions. This was his big idea.

Traditional economists argued against deficit spending and government intervention in the economy. They pointed out that in the long run the economy would correct itself. Keynes famously replied, “In the long run, we are all dead.” Keynes wanted to relieve the tremendous suffering a depression caused and avoid a possible communist or fascist revolution.

Many younger economists in the world enthusiastically accepted Keynes’ radically new ideas. Older economists tended to defend free-market principles and warn about the dangers of government intervention in the private enterprise system.

Keynes’ chief opponent was Friedrich A. Hayek, an Austrian free-market economist and harsh critic of socialism. Hayek rejected Keynes’ argument for massive government spending to end a depression. Instead, Hayek called for individuals to save more, directly contradicting Keynes’ “paradox of thrift.” Saving more, Hayek argued, would enable greater private investment in business.

Keynes and the New Deal

When Keynes published his book in 1936, the New Deal was operating in the U.S. Numerous government employment programs such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) hired workers to construct government buildings, roads, and other public projects. The purpose of the WPA and similar New Deal programs was relief for the jobless. The New Dealers did not design these programs to increase “effective demand,” as Keynes wanted.

Keynes calculated that the U.S. federal government needed to borrow billions of dollars for its employment programs to stabilize “effective demand” and get the U.S. on the road to recovery. But the New Deal borrowed and spent far less. The government even raised taxes, further crippling consumer and investor demand. By 1936, the unemployment rate was lower but still more than 15 percent.

In 1937, President Roosevelt took a sharp turn and decided to balance the budget. He ended some job program funding, cut other government spending, and raised taxes. In addition, the Federal Reserve reduced the money supply to curb renewed stock market speculation.

These fiscal and monetary policies were the exact opposite of what Keynes advised. As a result, “effective demand,” in Keynes’ view, took another hit in the U.S. Industrial production declined, business investment dropped, consumer spending decreased, and unemployment surged to 20 percent in 1938. Some called this the “Second Depression.”

A debate then took place among Roosevelt’s economic advisers. One group wanted to spend less and balance the budget. The other group agreed with Keynes that the government needed to borrow and spend more to strengthen “effective demand.”

The Keynesians won the debate and deficit spending resumed. By 1940, however, war in Europe and Asia had its own influence on “effective demand” in the U.S. Factories began to convert to producing weapons. In March 1941, the Lend-Lease Act authorized producing and transporting defense materials to Britain and other countries fighting Germany and Japan.

When the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, wartime spending grew enormously. Deficit spending soared to $50 billion per year between 1943 and 1945. This was far above the annual budget deficits in the 1930s. Meanwhile, unemployment shrank to 1 percent.

The Fate of Keynesian Economics

As the war ended, Keynes took a leading role in negotiating an international agreement to prevent a repetition of the economic decline that followed World War I. In July 1944, 40 nations signed the Bretton Woods Agreement. This agreement, mainly designed by the U.S., established a stable currency exchange system, opened up free trade, and provided loans to poor countries to develop their economies.

In 1945, Keynes negotiated an agreement with the U.S. to settle what Britain owed for the Lend-Lease program and to secure post-war aid. Keynes hoped for a $6 billion “gift” from the U.S. in recognition of Britain’s heroic war effort. He had to settle, however, for a $3.75 billion loan at 2 percent interest.

Plagued by heart disease, Keynes died in London in 1946 at age 62. He never lived to see the “Keynesian Revolution.” For two decades after the war, nearly all economists were Keynesians. Most advocated government deficit spending in bad times and government surpluses in good times.

Economic Terms

central bank A special bank operated by the government, such as the U.S. Federal Reserve, that sets monetary policy.

monetary policy Central bank monetary policy increases or decreases the money supply to try to control inflation and avoid depressions. Central banks set certain interest rates that eventually affect businesses and the consumers by making it more or less expensive to borrow money.

fiscal policy The spending, borrowing, and taxing policy adopted by the government.

effective demand Keynes’ term for actual consumer spending on goods and services plus investor spending on capital goods such as computers for business operations.

In the 1970s, a spike in oil prices led to a dangerous combination of high inflation and unemployment. Keynesian economics did not seem to apply to this situation. Milton Friedman, a University of Chicago economist, led a revival of free-market economics. Friedman stressed less government spending, little regulation of private enterprise, and lower taxes.

Free-market capitalism took off in the U.S. after 1980. Free-market economists argued that the private enterprise market system was self-regulating and needed little government oversight. Banks, investment companies, and other financial institutions were de-regulated. Economists increasingly relied on mathematical computer programs to predict investment risk.

Then things fell apart in 2008. Real estate values fell dramatically, spurring huge losses in banking and financial institutions and destabilizing the stock market. Businesses along with state and local governments cut wages and laid off workers. Unemployment grew to more than 10 percent. Millions of homeowners could not afford their mortgage payments, which led to increased foreclosures and further depressed real estate prices. In a recurring cycle, financial institutions, which had invested heavily in mortgages, continued to suffer substantial losses.

Amid this financial uncertainty, people sharply reduced their spending and investing (“effective demand”). Many hoarded cash in low interest savings accounts and bought gold, further reducing demand. Another Great Depression seemed near.

The Bush and Obama administrations rescued banks, other financial institutions, and auto companies with billions of dollars in loans. Congress passed a $787 billion government-spending program to stimulate the economy. Keynesian economists said this was too little. Free-market economists said it was too much and would cause further damage by increasing the national debt, inflation, and taxes. By the end of 2009, the prospects for the U.S. economy were at best uncertain.

For Discussion and Writing

1.  What are the similarities and differences between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession today?

2.  According to Keynes, what is the “paradox of thrift”? Do you think it is true? Explain.

3.  What was Keynes’ “big idea”? Do you think it was the right remedy for ending the Great Depression? Why? Do you think it is the right remedy today for ending the Great Recession? Why?

For Further Reading

Skidelsky, Robert. John Maynard Keynes, 1883–1946: Economist, Philosopher, Statesman. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Skousen, Mark. The Big Three in Economics: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2007.


Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

By the end of 2009, 8 million jobs had been lost in the U.S. Great Recession. Economists predict a slow employment recovery. This has prompted a variety of proposals for creating more jobs. Form small groups to discuss the proposals listed below. Each group should select three proposals, rank them by importance, and then defend the top-ranked one before the rest of the class.

Proposals to Create More Jobs

1.  Grant federal aid to states to prevent layoffs of teachers, police, and other state and local government workers.

2.  Grant federal aid to states to fund construction of highways, bridges, and other transportation projects.

3.  Grant federal aid to states to make schools, libraries, and other public buildings more energy efficient.

4.  Create a direct government employment program to hire jobless workers for public projects as the Work Progress Administration (WPA) did during the Great Depression.

5.  Provide a tax credit to companies that hire new workers.

6.  Provide a tax credit to those who purchase a newly constructed house.

7.  Provide a tax credit to homeowners who install energy saving windows and doors or solar heating.

8.  Cut taxes for small, large, or all businesses.

9.  Cut taxes for individuals.

10.  Cut government spending and reduce the national debt.

Groups may also devise their own proposals.


BRIA 25 3 England Glorious Revolution

Bill of Rights in Action
SPRING 2010 (Volume 25, No. 3)

Revolution and Change

England’s Glorious Revolution  |  John Maynard Keynes and the Revolution in Economic Thought  |  William Jennings Bryan, the “Great Commoner”

England’s Glorious Revolution

England’s Glorious Revolution was complex. It involved a struggle for power between a Catholic king and Protestant Parliament, a fight over religious and civil liberties, differences between emerging political parties, and a foreign invasion.

In 1534, King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic faith and created the Protestant Church of England (also called the Anglican Church). Henry established the Anglican faith as the official religion of England and made himself and future English monarchs head of the church. Henry, rather than the Catholic pope, appointed the country’s top religious leaders and decided how people would practice Christianity in the kingdom.

Henry had broken from the Catholic Church after the pope refused to grant him a divorce. Henry did not object much to the Catholic faith itself. Therefore, he continued many Catholic beliefs and practices in the Church of England.

Henry’s break with the Catholic Church set off a long period of religious turmoil in England. One of Henry’s daughters, Mary, remained a Catholic. When she became queen, she tried to force England to return to Catholicism. Mary ordered hundreds of Protestants burned at the stake as heretics, earning her the name “Bloody Mary.”

Elizabeth, another of Henry’s daughters, took the throne after Mary’s death in 1558. Queen Elizabeth I, a Protestant, restored the Church of England, which then became a powerful force in English society and politics.

By the early 1600s, increasing numbers of English Protestants, known as Puritans, wanted to “purify” or get rid of many lingering elements of Catholic worship in the Church of England. The Puritans wanted a much simpler form of worship and the right to elect ministers for their own congregation. But when Charles I became king in 1625, he tried to force the Puritans to conform to Anglican worship practices.

Charles provoked great hostility from Parliament, dominated by Puritans. In 1642, a civil war began between the supporters of Charles, called Cavaliers, and the Puritan supporters of Parliament.

The Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell, defeated Charles in 1648 and beheaded him. Fighting continued for a few years. The king’s son, also named Charles, fled to France when Cromwell finally crushed the remaining Cavalier armies.

The Puritan Parliament abolished the monarchy and established a republic called the Commonwealth. As commander-in-chief, Cromwell reluctantly took on the role of Lord Protector of England.

Cromwell and Parliament set up a new official state Puritan Church to replace the Church of England. But Cromwell also permitted Anglicans and Catholics to practice their faiths.

The Puritan Parliament proved ineffective, and in 1658, Cromwell died. Tired of Puritan rule, the English people wanted a king to lead them again. In 1660, Parliament restored the monarchy with the son of the beheaded king ruling as Charles II.

Charles II

After Charles II took the throne, a new Parliament met. The Cavaliers, those who had backed Charles I in the Civil War, controlled both the elected House of Commons and the appointed House of Lords. Parliament quickly acted to restore the Church of England and its Anglican worship as the state religion.

The Cavaliers believed that Catholics and Protestant Dissenters like Congregationalists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Puritans, and Quakers wanted to destroy the Church of England. Therefore, Parliament enacted new harsh criminal laws to punish Protestant Dissenters and Catholics for worshipping openly.

Charles II attempted to heal the divisions of the Civil War by adopting a policy of religious tolerance. In 1672 without the consent of Parliament, he issued a Declaration of Indulgence. This suspended all religious criminal laws, issued licenses to Protestant Dissenters to meet publicly, and allowed Catholics to worship in their homes.

His declaration outraged the Cavalier Parliament. It threatened to withhold its consent for the king’s requests for money and forced Charles to withdraw his declaration.

The next year, Parliament passed the Test Act. It prevented the king from appointing Protestant Dissenters and Catholics to any government or military post. A second Test Act soon followed, prohibiting Catholics from holding seats in either house of Parliament. These laws tested the religious beliefs of individuals by requiring them to take the sacrament of Holy Communion in an Anglican church.

In 1678, word of a “Popish Plot” to kill the king and massacre Protestants terrified England. The plot turned out to be a fake, but Protestants began to worry about the next person in line to inherit the throne.

Charles had fathered only illegitimate children. If he died without a legitimate heir, his brother, James, would become king. Parliament attempted to pass a law excluding James from inheriting the crown because he had converted to Catholicism.

During the drawn out debate over excluding James, members of Parliament divided into political parties, Tories and Whigs. These were not highly organized parties designed to campaign for the election of political candidates. (Highly organized modern political parties were first created in the United States in the early 1800s.)

Nevertheless, in the late 1600s, the Whigs and Tories were the first parties to rally around sets of principles in a lawmaking body. Their basic principles were:


  • The monarch is the supreme power, answerable only to God, and must not be resisted. But the monarch is also bound by the law.
  • The monarchy is based on hereditary succession.
  • The Church of England is the established state church. No religious toleration for Catholics or Protestant Dissenters should be permitted.


  • The monarch shares power with Parliament. Both are answerable to the people and bound by the law.
  • The hereditary succession may be overridden by the common good.
  • The Church of England retains too many Catholic practices and should be further reformed. Toleration for Protestant Dissenters, but not for Catholics, should be permitted.

The Whigs controlled the elected House of Commons and took the lead in the attempt to exclude James from succeeding his brother as king. The Whigs argued that James would rule as a dictator like France’s Catholic King Louis XIV.

The more conservative Tories dominated the House of Lords and objected to overturning England’s tradition of a hereditary monarchy. Although they, too, dreaded a Catholic king, the Tories still blocked the exclusion bills proposed by the Whigs. The exclusion attempt finally ended when Charles, who opposed it, refused to call a new Parliament after 1681.

James II and Toleration

In 1685, Charles II died, and his brother became king, reigning as James II. Surprisingly, English Protestants welcomed their new Catholic king. Many sided with the Tories and believed even a Catholic king was better than another civil war over the monarchy.

James assured his subjects that he would “preserve this government both in church and state as it is now by law established.” Catholics made up only about 1 percent of the English population. But James believed that, if instructed properly, Protestants would voluntarily convert to Catholicism as he himself had done.

Shortly after James took the throne, the Duke of Monmouth, one of Charles II’s illegitimate sons, led a rebellion to make himself king. James formed an army and defeated him. Known as the Bloody Assizes, a series of trials followed, and hundreds of rebels were executed.

James violated custom and did not disband his army after the threat passed. Instead, he created a peacetime standing (permanent professional) army organized and trained like that of Louis XIV. James stationed his troops throughout England, frequently quartering them in private homes and inns. This caused resentment and fears that James would someday use this standing army against his subjects.

Meanwhile, James had formed a council of top government advisers who were nearly all Catholics. James attended Catholic mass in the royal palace. He also encouraged English Catholics to worship openly in public meetings even though this was illegal under the criminal laws passed by Parliament.

In addition, James approved the building of Catholic chapels and schools. He allowed the printing of Catholic Bibles and other religious publications. He welcomed Catholic missionaries from France and other European countries.

While all this was going on, James attempted to persuade Parliament to repeal the criminal laws and Test Acts that discriminated against both Catholics and Protestant Dissenters. Parliament refused and called for the rigorous enforcement of these laws. James then dissolved Parliament and ruled without it.

In 1686, James forged a political alliance with dissenting Protestants such as the Quakers led by William Penn. James promised them religious freedom in exchange for supporting his effort to secure the same for his fellow Catholics.

Acting on his own, James suspended enforcement of the criminal laws banning public worship by Catholics and Protestant Dissenters. He also dispensed with the enforcement of the Test Acts when he appointed Catholics and Dissenters to government and military posts.

His actions enraged Parliament. Whigs and some Tories argued that the king could not lawfully suspend or dispense with laws without Parliament’s consent. James replied that suspending and dispensing with laws were part of the king’s inherited powers. James replaced judges with those friendly to his policies. He won a court decision, taking his side of the controversy.

Next, James set out to pack a new Parliament with Protestant Dissenters and other allies. He sent spies to report on the political views of local officials who usually ran for seats in the House of Commons. If they opposed his policies, he replaced them. He also cracked down on speech, press, and other civil liberties to smother criticism of him and his government. He angered Protestants by ordering them to disarm.

James set up a Commission for Ecclesiastical (religious) Causes to punish Anglican clergy who defied his orders not to preach against Catholicism. He also forced colleges at Oxford to accept Catholic students.

In 1688, seven Church of England bishops sent a petition to James, protesting his order to read one of his declarations on toleration from their pulpits. James had them put on trial for “seditious libel” (inciting people to overthrow the government). A jury, however, acquitted the bishops to the cheers of those in the courtroom and throughout the kingdom.

Whigs, Tories, Anglicans, Dissenters, and even some Catholics increasingly grew critical of James. Hearing reports of local disobedience among his subjects and a possible Dutch invasion, James backtracked. Hoping to gain Tory support, he withdrew some of his bitterly opposed acts and summoned a new Parliament.

In June 1688, his wife gave birth to a son. This inflamed fears in England of a continuing succession of Catholic kings.

The English Bill of Rights (1689)

The following excerpt from the English Bill of Rights includes the comprehensive political settlement of the Glorious Revolution.

1.  That the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of the laws by regal [the king’s] authority without consent of Parliament is illegal;

2.  That the pretended power of dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by regal authority . . . is illegal;

3.  That the commission for erecting the late Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious [destructive];

4.  That levying money [taxes] for or to the use of the Crown by pretense of prerogative [king’s authority], without grant of Parliament . . . is illegal;

5.  That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments [imprisonment] and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal;

6.  That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, is against law;

7.  That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;

8.  That elections of members of Parliament ought to be free;

9.  That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament;

10.  That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted;

11.  That jurors ought to be duly impaneled and returned, and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders [property owners];

12.  That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void;

13.  And that for redress of grievances, and for the amending, strengthening and preserving of the laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequently.   

William of Orange

Days after the birth of James’ son, a small group of Whig and Tory nobles sent a message to Protestant Holland’s Prince William of Orange. He was married to James’ Protestant daughter, Mary. The nobles asked William to intervene against James, apparently hoping to force him to stop his pro-Catholic and dictatorial rule. 

William was putting together a coalition of Protestant and even Catholic countries against Louis XIV, who wanted to dominate all of Europe. William quickly saw the advantage of adding England to his coalition.

On November 5, 1688, William landed in England with more than 20,000 soldiers carried by a fleet larger than the Spanish Armada that had threatened England 100 years before. William’s army consisted of Dutch soldiers, English soldiers, and others who had fled to Holland.

James was shocked to learn that his English subjects cheered when William landed. Many waved swords and sticks with oranges stuck on them to show they were with him. Some of James’ soldiers deserted and joined William as he led his invading army to London.

Violent uprisings against James and his government took place throughout England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and even colonial America. Mobs attacked Catholic chapels, schools, printing shops, and the houses of James’ government officials and tax collectors. Mobs also attacked his Protestant Dissenter allies and some of James’ quartered troops.

Fearing the fate of his beheaded father, Charles I, James ordered his army disbanded, cancelled his call for a new Parliament, and escaped to France as William neared London. The disorder continued for several months.

James made one last stand. In the spring of 1689, he landed in Ireland with a fleet of ships and soldiers supplied by Louis XIV to join an army of Irish Catholics. They had besieged Protestant colonists and soldiers in Northern Ireland.

William led an army against James and defeated his Catholic force in the summer of 1690. James then returned to France.

The Settlement and English Bill of Rights

A new Parliament, divided between Whigs and Tories, assembled in January 1689. The two parties debated who should be the new king. The Whigs favored William. Most Tories, objecting to Parliament “electing” a king, wanted James’ Protestant daughter, Mary, as queen. A few Tories argued that James had only “deserted” not “abdicated” the throne, so he should return under certain conditions.

When William landed in England he said he was not interested in the throne. But in early 1689, he issued an ultimatum: Either Parliament proclaim him king or he would take his army back to Holland and leave England undefended and in chaos.

The Whigs and Tories finally settled on a compromise. William and Mary would technically rule as co-monarchs, but William would take charge of the government. In February 1689, Parliament offered William and Mary the crown.

At their crowning, Parliament presented William and Mary with a Declaration of Rights. This condemned the illegal acts of James, placed limits on royal authority, called for “frequent” Parliaments, and listed specific rights of Parliament and the people. Nevertheless, the monarchy kept most of its traditional powers.

Parliament later amended the Declaration to say that anyone who “shall profess the popish religion [Catholicism] or shall marry a papist, shall be excluded and be forever incapable to inherit, possess, or enjoy the crown and government of this realm. . . .” This requirement still exists today.

Parliament passed into law the amended Declaration with the consent of King William III. This document became the English Bill of Rights.

The Whigs, the main supporters of the Glorious Revolution, gained the confidence of William and passed into law the Toleration Act of 1689. This allowed moderate Protestant Dissenters, but not Catholics, to worship publicly in licensed meeting places. The Test Acts, however, still excluded the Dissenters along with Catholics from holding public office.

William did not strongly enforce the laws that continued to discriminate against Protestant Dissenters and Catholics. Many Dissenters evaded the Test Acts by taking Communion in an Anglican Church once a year just to qualify for public office. Catholics worshipped pretty much as they pleased. William also appointed bishops to the Church of England who favored a more open-minded policy toward toleration. But England still had a long way to go to before achieving true religious freedom.

For Discussion and Writing

1.  Which one of the following do you think was the main winner and which was the main loser in the Glorious Revolution? Use evidence from the article to back up your choice. 

A.  Monarchy

B.  Parliament

C.  Church of England

D.  Protestant Dissenters

E.  Catholics

2.  Some historians argue that the Glorious Revolution was not a revolution at all but merely a change of kings brought on by a foreign invasion. Do you agree or disagree with this viewpoint? Why?

3.  Which of the English Bill of Rights ended up in the American Bill of Rights more than 100 years later? Which one of these rights do you think is the most important? Why?

For Further Reading

Cruickshanks, Eveline. The Glorious Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

Pincus, Steve. 1688: The First Modern Revolution. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009.


What Was James II’s Goal?

Some historians believe James only wanted to end religious discrimination against Catholics so they could worship freely and participate fully in English political affairs. Other historians are convinced James wanted to copy the Catholic regime of Louis XIV in France by embarking on a calculated plan to create a centralized Catholic English state with an all-powerful king.

1.  Form half the class into two groups that will debate the two sides to this question: What was James II’s goal? Each debate group should look for evidence in the article to back up its side.

2.  The remaining half of the students will serve as judges of the debate. They will ask questions during the debate and vote on the winner. After they vote, each judge will write an essay, explaining his or her answer to the debate question.

3.  Debate procedure:

a.  Each debating group will make an opening statement on the evidence that supports its side of the debate.

b.  Each debating group will then have a chance to question the other side.

c.  The judges may ask questions at any point during the debate.

d.  The judges will discuss the debate question, vote on it, and write their individual essays.


BRIA 25 3 Revolution and Change

Bill of Rights in Action
SPRING 2010 (Volume 25, No. 3)

Revolution and Change

This edition of Bill of Rights in Action examines revolution and change. The first article looks at England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688, a complex struggle for power that resulted in a new king and queen and the English Bill of Rights. The second article explores the Keynesian Revolution in economics. The last article examines the notable career of William Jennings Bryan, the populist champion. 

World History: England’s Glorious Revolution

Economics: John Maynard Keynes and the Revolution in Economic Thought

U.S. History: William Jennings Bryan, the “Great Commoner”

Guest writer Lucy Eisenberg, Esq., contributed the article on William Jennings Bryan. Our longtime contributor Carlton Martz wrote the other two articles.

© 2010 Constitutional Rights Foundation

Officers: Michael A. Lawson, Chair; Publications Committee: Rachel Helyar, Marshall P. Horowitz, Louis E. Kempinsky, Walter R. Lancaster, Peter I. Ostroff, Lisa M. Rockwell, Patrick G. Rogan, Peggy Saferstein, K. Eugene Shutler, Russell C. Swartz, Douglas A. Thompson, Lois D. Thompson, Gail Migdal Title. Staff: Jonathan Estrin, President; Marshall Croddy, Vice President; Lucy Eisenberg, Carlton Martz, Writers; Bill Hayes, Editor;Andrew Costly, Senior Publications Manager; Douglas A. Thompson, CRF Board Reviewer.

BRIA 25 2 Every New Generation

Bill of Rights in Action
FALL 2009 (Volume 25, No. 2)

Building Democracy

The Major Debates at the Constitutional Convention  |  King and Parliament in Medieval England Every New Generation

Every New Generation

For a representative democratic system of government to work, citizens must be engaged. They must vote, be informed about issues, participate on juries, make their voices heard, and be willing to defend the Constitution. People are not born with these abilities. For this reason, the founders of this country believed that each new generation of Americans needed to be educated to become effective citizens. How are we doing with today’s generation of young people? Are they prepared to be the citizens and leaders of tomorrow’s America?

The founders of our country—George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison—all believed in education. They realized that each new generation would need to understand the principles of liberty and republican government. They also wanted to make sure that future Americans would know about their rights. And be prepared to fight for them, if necessary.

As early as 1779, Thomas Jefferson had authored a bill in Virginia proposing a system of public education and requiring that history be studied by all citizens. In 1806, he proposed a constitutional amendment to Congress to empower the federal government to support education. In 1817, he proposed a system of free public education in Virginia and the establishment of a state university.

All of these attempts met with failure, except the last. The Virginia legislature decided that a public education system would cost too much. But it did vote to establish a university. In 1818, Jefferson was appointed to the commission to plan the site for the new college.

Jefferson agreed to write the group’s findings. He had no intention of limiting the report to a recommendation about location. Instead, he took the opportunity to propose a universal course of study and make another argument for public education. With the help of his old friend James Madison, the findings were soon published.

In his report, Jefferson proposed a system of elementary education to teach all citizens about their rights and duties to the community and to the country. He wanted students of higher education to be well-versed in political theory, have a strong knowledge of law and government, and have the skills to reason and debate issues. Basically, among other things, he wanted high quality history and civic education.

The Virginia legislature accepted the commission’s recommendation about the site of the university. But it took no further action on the other elements of Jefferson’s plan. Universal public education in America would have to wait 100 years.

Until the 1840s, private schools provided most education in the United States, mainly to the wealthy. Some regions, particularly New England, did have public elementary grade schools. Reformers set out to improve the situation. Among the most prominent was Horace Mann of Massachusetts. He started a publication called the Common School Journal. In this journal, he advocated for what he called common schooling, a system offering education to all children.

Mann argued that public education would help create good and informed citizens, unite society, and help prevent poverty and crime. State legislative bodies around the country responded to these arguments. By 1918, 100 years after Jefferson proposed his idea for public education, all states had laws requiring children to have at least some education. Later, states increased the education required, most until a young person reached the age of 16.

The founders’ hope for citizens to have at least a basic civic education came to pass.

Are Young People Ready to Be Effective Citizens?

During the presidential campaign of 2008, most of the major candidates’ parties courted the youth vote, those voters between 18 and 24. For example, the Obama campaign initiated a variety of social networking strategies to connect with young voters; the McCain campaign often highlighted youthful speakers at rallies and speeches. The youth vote proved crucial in the primaries when huge numbers of young voters turned out. And indeed, on Election Day itself, the percentage of youthful voters casting votes did increase to 48.5 percent up from 41.9 percent in 2004 presidential election. Still, young voters participated at a lower rate than any other age group. For example, voters in the age range 65 to 74 voted at a rate of 72.4 percent. This is not a new trend. Since 18 year olds got the right to vote, they have always voted at lower rates than older Americans.

A number of reasons account for the lower voter turnout among young voters. Many young people are focused on college and starting careers and families. Many have not yet settled in one area or own property, and they don’t feel they have a real stake in what government does.

But voting is not the only factor that raises questions about whether young people are prepared to take the role of effective citizens.

On the 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in civics, two-thirds of all students scored below proficient, and 72 percent of 8th graders surveyed could not identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence. These results showed little improvement over the 1996 assessment.

In a study conducted in California, a survey was given to graduating seniors who had recently completed a mandatory American government course. Although a high percentage of students reported that they intended to vote, the number declined when asked if they felt prepared to vote. Their confidence declined even more when asked about specific issues such as Iraq, the economy, or health care.

Only one-half of the students could identify the function of the Supreme Court. Thirty-three percent could not name one of California’s two U.S. senators from a list of options. Forty-one percent did not know which of the two national parties was more conservative. The survey revealed that students overall only averaged a little above 60 percent correct on items designed to test civics content knowledge, a low “D” on common grading scales. (California Survey of Civic Education, 2005)

The survey also revealed that today’s graduates are not prepared for, or inclined toward, effective participatory citizenship. Less than half of the high school seniors believed that, “Being actively involved in state and local issues is my responsibility.” Only 41 percent surveyed agreed with the statement that, “In order to be patriotic, one must be involved in the civic and political life of the country.”

Given these findings, it should be no surprise that young peoples’ trust in government is appallingly low. Only 33 percent of high school seniors trust “the people in government to do what is right for the country” and only 28 percent agreed with the statement, “I think that people in government care about what people like me and my family need.”

There are other signs that today’s young people are less prepared, or less willing, to assume the role of effective citizens. Voting rates of young people in presidential and congressional elections in the 1970s were generally higher than today. A survey of college freshmen, conducted since the mid-1960s by UCLA nationwide, shows a steady decline over the last four decades in responses to civic engagement questions. For example, significantly fewer college freshmen discuss politics with their friends or think keeping up with politics is important.

There are good signs, too. On the California survey, 86 percent of the students surveyed agreed with the statement, “I try to help when I see people in need.” Only 5 percent disagreed. Also, 84 percent of all high school seniors reported that they volunteered while in high school. Other studies have shown that those in the 18–25 age group are more tolerant than older people. They are very supportive of free speech for diverse groups. They are also more likely to socialize across racial lines.

The Role of Schools

Until the 1960s, three courses in civics and government were common in American high schools. Civics explored the role of citizens, especially at the local and state level. It was often taught at the ninth grade. Problems of Democracy encouraged students to discuss current issues and events. U.S. Government focused on the structures and function of national government. Only the latter is common today.

Today’s public schools have many educational priorities. In recent years, federal and state policies have focused on increasing graduation rates, preparing students for college and the workplace, and improving reading, math, and science education. In some schools, this means fewer resources are available for social studies and civics education.

These trends have caused educators to question whether schools should strengthen their civic education programs.

In 2001, the Carnegie Foundation of New York and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) brought together a distinguished group of educators, researchers, and scholars to study the problems of civic education. After extensive deliberations, the panel’s report described the goals of civic education as follows: To help prepare young people to become citizens who (1) are informed and thoughtful, (2) participate in their communities, (3) act politically, and (4) have moral and civic virtues.

With the help of educational researchers, the group also identified “promising approaches” that schools could use to improve civic education. Research has shown that these school practices increase students’ civic knowledge, skills, and interest in civic engagement. Schools should:

1. Provide formal instruction in government, history, law, and democracy. The most effective classes encourage open debate and active discussion of issues that affect students’ lives.

2. Incorporate discussion of current local, national, and international issues and events into the classroom. Active discussion of issues, especially those students care about, increases students’ civic and political knowledge and skills, improves civic attitudes, and increases political participation.

3. Have students apply what they learn through community service linked to the curriculum and classroom instruction. This helps students develop skills and encourages political and community participation.

4. Offer extracurricular activities that involve students in their schools and communities. The most effective activities involve students in decision making and problem solving.

5. Encourage student voice and participation in school governance. Studies have found that students who believe they can make a difference in how their school is run or that their student council affects school policies have more knowledge about politics and more interest in current affairs than other students.

6. Encourage student participation in simulations of democratic processes and procedures. Activities such as mock trials, moot courts, and legislative hearings increase civic and political knowledge and skills and improve civic attitudes.

No single promising approach addresses all positive civic outcomes. Some are better at helping students achieve knowledge gains. Others are better at building civic or positive attitudes. For this reason, experts argue that students should receive as many of these opportunities as possible during their time in school.

Debates Over Civic Education

Not everyone is convinced that more civic education in schools is a good idea. Some argue that civic education is best left to parents and families. They point out that more than anything students learn in school, what happens in the home is the biggest factor in determining whether one will vote, develop political knowledge and civic skills, and be interested and participate in politics. For example, research shows that students who regularly discuss politics with parents, or who have parents who are active in politics or in their community, are most likely to do these things themselves.

Others worry that certain kinds of civic education in classrooms could lead to problems. For example, if open discussion of controversial issues in the classroom were encouraged, would students expressing unpopular opinions or values learned in the home be subject to ridicule or attack? Or should young people be forced to participate in community service or service learning?

Finally, some argue that social studies education should be more traditional. It should focus on historical facts, not contemporary issues. It should be teacher-centered and not promote student-centered approaches such as open discussion of issues, simulations, or inquiry-based methods. They worry that at least some of the “promising approaches” either don’t work, are not appropriate for all students, or could lead to indoctrination.

Today, as at the time of the founders, questions and debates arise about how best to prepare young people to take over the role of leaders and citizens in our democratic republic. Our future depends on it.

For Discussion

1. Why might it be important for young people in a democracy to learn about the Constitution and our governmental and legal systems?

2. When you are eligible, will you vote? Do you feel prepared to vote wisely? Why or why not?

3. In your school career have you experienced any of the “promising approaches” of civic education? If so, what effect did they have on you?

4.  Should civic education have more emphasis in schools? Why or why not?


School Board

In this activity, students role play school board members deciding whether to adopt the six promising approaches for classes in the school district.

1. Divide students into small groups.

2. Each group will role play a committee of a school board charged with recommending whether to adopt the six promising approaches. Each group should:

a. Read and discuss the six promising approaches.

b. Decide whether these approaches should be adopted in the district. (The committee may choose to adopt all, some, none or to modify them or add other approaches.)

c. Be prepared to report its recommendations and reasons for them.

3. Have the committees report their recommendations, discuss them, and hold a vote as the school board on whether to adopt the promising approaches.

Opinion Poll

In this activity, students administer a civics poll on students from other classes. Each student should administer the poll to five students.

Civics Poll

1. When you are 18, do you intend to vote?  YES NO Unsure

2. Do you think you are prepared to vote?  YES NO Unsure

The next questions relate to your social studies classes (civics, history, and government).

3. Did you participate in simulations or role plays of democratic processes (such as mock trials, moot courts, and legislative hearings)?  YES NO Unsure

4. Did you have the opportunity to debate or  discuss current issues or events?

YES NO Unsure


BRIA 25 2 King and Parliament in Medieval England

Bill of Rights in Action
FALL 2009 (Volume 25, No. 2)

Building Democracy

The Major Debates at the Constitutional Convention  |  King and Parliament in Medieval England Every New Generation

 King and Parliament in Medieval England

The English Parliament evolved over hundreds of years. The first medieval English Parliaments took important steps toward a more representative and democratic government.

The English monarchy had been around for a long time before William the Conqueror led the French Norman invasion and occupation of England in A.D. 1066. After the conquest, a new line of Norman kings continued the English monarchy.

The English people believed God had blessed the king’s right to rule. They also accepted that his successor, usually his eldest son, inherited that right.

But the king of England also owed duties to the people. At his coronation, he promised to preserve the unwritten “common law” passed down through the generations. He also had a duty to act with “right justice” and defend the realm by leading his army in battle.

From ancient times in England, the king was the only lawmaker and often acted above the law. But things began to change in 1215 when King John lost a war against his powerful barons who forced him to sign the Magna Carta.

This feudal document mainly guaranteed certain rights to the barons, who made up most of the landowning elite. But the Magna Carta also established that the king must obey the law and use only lawful means against his subjects.

Even at the height of their powers, English kings seldom acted without consulting important nobles and church leaders, the Lords of the kingdom. After the Magna Carta, the king increasingly sought the advice and consent (agreement) of the Lords in exchange for their supporting his government’s policies and projects. This was the origin of Parliament.

The king created Parliament to serve his own purposes. But during its long evolution, the English Parliament changed dramatically and nibbled away at the king’s powers until almost none remain today.

Advice and Consent of Parliament

King Henry III, the son of King John, began his reign in 1216. At first, he consulted with a small Council of important Lords, who were usually always around him. Later, Henry began the practice of summoning an expanded group of Lords from the entire kingdom. Known as a Great Council, it included the major land-owning barons, other nobles, and the archbishops and bishops of the Catholic Church, the state religion. The king’s judges and top government officials also attended. Henry summoned about 50 Lords to a Great Council when he needed their advice and consent for such things as going to war, changing the law, or levying a new tax.

The Great Council Lords looked upon their advice and consent as both a duty to the king and a right that he was bound to honor. By ancient custom, the king was not supposed to change the law or impose taxes without the advice and consent of those affected.

At the Great Councils, the Lords could discuss, debate, request changes, or seek exemptions from what the king wanted. The Lords could attempt to change the king’s mind, but in the end, they had a duty to consent to his desires.

By 1236, royal clerks used the word “parliament” to refer to the king’s meetings with his Great Council. This term comes from the French verb “to talk or discuss.” French, not English, was the language spoken by the kings and ruling elite, who were the descendants of the Norman conquerors.

King Henry III summoned his Lords to Parliament when he wanted to meet with them. He found this was an effective way to secure the advice and consent of his Lords and to discuss important matters with them.

From the beginning, Parliament also acted as the highest court in the land. The Lords handled trials of their fellow nobles, sat as an appeals court, and judged cases that were too difficult or controversial for the regular king’s courts.

Toward the end of Henry III’s reign, the barons grew frustrated with their limited power in Parliament. In 1258, Henry summoned Parliament to approve new taxes to pay his extravagant royal household expenses, foreign war debts, and a scheme to obtain the crown of Sicily for one of his sons.

The barons at Parliament balked and demanded that Henry agree to government reforms before they consented to a new tax. Among other things, the reforms called for Parliament to meet three times a year and for a committee of barons to serve as the king’s chief advisers. Desperate for money, Henry agreed.

In 1262, Henry III denounced the reforms, saying they invaded his rights as king. The conflict escalated into a civil war between Henry and the rebel barons led by Simon de Montfort, the king’s brother-in-law. Montfort defeated Henry and his son, Edward, in battle, but they escaped. For a year, Montfort ruled the kingdom and summoned his own Parliament. But Henry and Edward rallied royalist supporters and finally won the war by defeating Montfort in 1265. During the battle, Henry sent a special assassination squad to kill Montfort and mutilate his body.

Representation in Parliament

Another factor in the evolution of Parliament was representation. At first, only the great Lords, king’s judges, and chief government officials met with the king in Parliament.

During the reign of King Henry III, most assumed that the Lords in Parliament gave their advice and consent on behalf of everyone in the kingdom. The barons and Catholic Church were well represented in King Henry’s Parliament. But lower-ranking nobles like knights, free yeoman farmers, town merchants, and the vast numbers of poor people had no direct representation. Yet the laws and taxes approved by Parliament applied to most of them.

While King Henry was away fighting in France, those he left in charge of the kingdom agreed to call a Parliament in 1254 that included elected knights, two from each English shire (county). Henry III felt this change violated his rights as king and never summoned the knights again.

When Simon de Montfort briefly ruled, his Parliament included elected shire knights and town representatives, called burgesses, along with the Lords. As taxes increasingly fell on knights and townspeople, many believed that they also needed to give advice and consent to the king.

King Edward I, son of Henry, called his first Parliament in 1275. In addition to summoning the Lords, he ordered the election of two knights from each shire and two burgesses from each city and town. Edward wanted their consent for new taxes to fund his military campaigns.

The knights and burgesses together made up a new group in Parliament called the Commons. The Commons was a body of “commoners” (non-nobles) in Parliament.

In 1295, King Edward called what later was dubbed the “Model Parliament.” It included knights and burgesses and began the practice of including the Commons on a fairly regular basis. Still, the knights and burgesses represented only well-off property owners.

By 1325, at the end of the reign of King Edward II, the Commons had won the right of representation at every Parliament. But the Commons was timid and usually did little but give consent to agreements reached by the king and the Lords.

After Edward III became king in 1327, the Lords and Commons began to meet annually in two separate “houses” at Westminster Palace. This is the location of the current Houses of Parliament in London.

About 50 barons, other nobles, archbishops, and bishops met in the House of Lords. They were a close-knit body that did not change membership until a lord died.

Owners of property worth a certain value elected about 200 knights and burgesses to Commons. These representatives often changed from one Parliament to another. Centuries would pass before all the English people would gain the right to vote and run for a seat in the House of Commons.

English Kings (1199–1399)

John (1199–1216)

Henry III (1216–1272)

Edward I (1272–1307)

Edward II (1307–1327)

Edward III (1327–1377)

Richard II (1377–1399)

Parliament and Taxation

English kings summoned Parliament most often because they needed its consent for taxes. The king collected revenue through customs duties, taxes on people’s possessions (“movable property” taxes), and even taxes on every adult over 14.

English medieval kings needed taxes to fund their almost continuous wars. For example, toward the end of his reign, King Edward I was frequently summoning Parliament for new taxes to pay his debts and finance his wars against France, Wales, and Scotland.

By 1297, Edward had grown desperate for money. Although Parliament was in session, he wanted a quick decision. Rather than asking Parliament, he simply got approval from his royal court to impose a new property tax. He also seized wool from merchants and food from the people.

Outraged, the barons in Parliament drew up a list of grievances against the king. A few months later, while Edward was on a military campaign, the officials he left in charge of the government agreed that new taxes and seizures would only take place “with the common consent of all the realm.”

Edward later agreed to this condition in exchange for a new property tax. But he resisted carrying out his promise. As a result, the Lords in Parliament withheld their consent for new taxes, and Edward ended his reign with a huge debt.

The threat of withholding their consent for taxes gave the Lords a weapon they could use to extract concessions from the king. By the late 1300s, the House of Commons had acquired this power too. The king had to persuade a sometimes skeptical Parliament to consent to more taxes.

Lawmaking in Parliament

In 1236, King Henry III agreed to the first written law made by the Lords in Parliament. Called the Statute of Merton, it set principles of land law. It also included a provision on children born out of wedlock, which reaffirmed the common law. Even if their parents later married, these children could not inherit their father’s property.

During the Parliament of 1278, King Edward I encouraged private individuals and groups, seeking a royal grant, pardon, or remedy for a grievance, to petition him. He and the Lords in Parliament directly answered these written petitions or referred them to the appropriate government department.

Submitting petitions to King Edward when Parliament was in session became so popular that he and the Lords established special committees of royal clerks to receive, review, and answer most of them. Only the most important and controversial petitions went directly to the king. Sometimes the king would answer a petition by presenting a statute for the consent of the Lords.

During the reign of King Edward II, the Commons in Parliament took on the responsibility of receiving the petitions. But the members of the Commons had no role in making statutes.

Under King Edward III in the mid-1300s, “common petitions” that concerned a community or the entire kingdom gained importance. The House of Commons itself initiated most of these petitions, called “bills,” which were written in the form of proposed statutes. The Commons then submitted its bills to the House of Lords and king for their consent.

A bill or proposed statute soon became the necessary first step in making a written law, whether initiated by the king, House of Lords, or House of Commons. The elected Commons, however, still lacked the authority to give consent to bills presented by the king or House of Lords.

Under King Richard II in the late 1300s, taxes and statutes required the consent of both Lords and Commons in Parliament. There was also widespread agreement that statutes made in Parliament were the supreme law of the land, superior even to the unwritten common law and the will of the king.

King and Parliament Turned Upside Down

By the early 1400s, Parliament had begun its long slow growth toward democracy and representative government. Yet, even with the addition of the Commons, Parliament spoke for only a small fraction of the English people, mainly the nobles, church leaders, and property owners. Meanwhile, the king continued to get his way most of the time.

The medieval king created Parliament. He summoned it and set the agenda for its work. The House of Lords dominated Parliament with seats that had become hereditary by 1400. The Commons had gained representation in Parliament and the right to consent to taxes and statutes. But it had almost no role in governing the kingdom. Its members were merely “petitioners and demanders.”

Over the next 600 years, the House of Commons gradually gained control of the government at the expense of the king and House of Lords. This development turned the political situation that existed in medieval England upside down.

Today, voters elect the House of Commons members, who typically belong to political parties. The party that commands a majority of the seats in the Commons chooses the prime minister and cabinet to run the government. With rare exceptions, the prime minister and cabinet members also hold elected seats in the House of Commons.

Thus, the parliamentary system that operates today in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Wales) unifies the executive and legislative functions of government. The prime minister usually gets his way because he or she has the votes in the House of Commons.

Elections take place every five years or sooner if the prime minister calls for them or loses a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. Losing a vote of confidence is rare since it means the majority party in the Commons disagrees with its own prime minister on an important issue.

Today, only the House of Commons chooses and operates the government. In addition, it originates all tax measures and can pass most bills into law without the consent of the Lords. The Lords cannot reject legislation passed by the Commons. But the House of Lords does debate bills and has some power to amend and delay them. Committees of Lords recommend reforms and investigate government misconduct.

In 1999, a law expelled all but about 90 hereditary Lords from Parliament. The government appoints most of the remaining 600 or so Lords for life terms. Recent proposals have called for the election of the House of Lords or abolishing it altogether.

The monarch, now Queen Elizabeth II, has no real role in running the government except as a symbolic figurehead for the nation. Queen Elizabeth still opens the sessions of Parliament as in medieval days, but she merely reads the proposed government program prepared by the prime minister. The Queen continues to consent to acts of Parliament, but she has no authority to veto them.

The parliamentary system of the United Kingdom continues to evolve. The Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 removed the role of the House of Lords as the final appeals court and established a new independent Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, which began operation in October 2009.

For Discussion and Writing

1. What democratic ideas took root in medieval England between the reigns of King John and King Richard II?

2. What role did taxation play in the development of Parliament? Give examples from the article.

3. In what ways does today’s parliamentary system in the United Kingdom turn England’s medieval government system upside down?

For Further Reading

“The Evolution of Parliament.” UK Parliament. 10 July 2009. URL:

Prestwick, Michael. Plantagenet England, 1225–1360. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005.


Parliamentary or Presidential System?

Form small groups to role play advisers to a new democracy that is about to write its constitution. The advisers will study the United Kingdom’s parliamentary and American presidential systems of government in the chart and recommend one of them or a new system that combines features of both. Each group will then report and defend its recommendation. For the purposes of this activity, the House of Lords in the British system has been excluded.


U.K.’s Parliamentary System

American Presidential System


The executive and the legislature are unified in the House of Commons. The judiciary has recently become independent of Parliament. Checks and balances are weak.

Separate executive, legislative, and judiciary branches share powers of the federal government. Checks and balances are strong. States also have governments.


The prime minister and cabinet are members of the House of Commons and are chosen from that body by the majority party after elections. The term of the prime minister and House of Commons members is five years or earlier if elections are called by the prime minister or a vote of no confidence occurs. The prime minister is head of the government. The monarch is head of state and symbolizes the kingdom but is only a figurehead. Parliamentary systems in other countries sometimes elect a president to fill this symbolic role.

The president is elected to a four-year term by winning a majority of electoral college votes. The president may only be removed during a term by impeachment and trial. The president has significant powers in conducting foreign affairs and as commander in chief of the military. The president signs or vetoes bills passed by Congress, which may override a veto by a two-thirds majority. The president is head of the government and head of state. The president must be at least 35 and is limited to two terms.



The House of Commons retains almost all power in choosing the government (prime minister and cabinet) and passing taxes and laws. The prime minister, who is a member of the House of Commons, must face questions there in public session, usually once a week. Since the prime minister and cabinet are usually members of the majority party in the House of Commons, legislation is relatively easy to pass. Minimum age for election to the House of Commons is 18.

Congress consists of the House of Representatives and Senate, elected to two and six-year terms. After the House and Senate pass a proposed tax or law, it goes to the president. The Senate votes its consent for the president’s nominations of cabinet members, judges, and other top federal officers. The Senate also approves treaties, negotiated by the president, by a two-thirds vote. Legislation may be difficult to pass if the president and majority in Congress belong to different parties. Minimum age is 25 for the House and 30 for the Senate.



The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) selects judges of England and Wales based on legal background and merit. The new Supreme Court began with justices from the House of Lords. The JAC will appoint future justices. The president nominates and the Senate votes its consent for life-term federal judges and justices of the Supreme Court. There are no formal qualifications for federal court appointees.
<< Start < Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Next > End >>

Page 4 of 62