Glorious Revolution and Bill of Rights as Part of the Enlightenment

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Before the Glorious Revolution of 1688, England had adopted a new military dictator to replace the monarchs from before. Cromwell’s reign was supported at first but was soon disliked as he dismissed Parliament and divided England through the formation of military districts. After Cromwell died and the government collapsed, Parliament restored the monarchy with England but Charles II continually relaxed laws against Catholics. Charles’ Catholic brother, James II went to more extreme points by appointing Roman Catholics to top positions. England’s Protestant Parliament sought a more appealing ruler, so they offered the crown to William of Orange and Mary, James’ daughter, and they were crowned with barely any bloodshed. The Glorious Revolution thus began and can be considered a part of the Enlightenment because of the creation of the Bill of Rights and the bloodless exchange of power, which were both Enlightenment ideals.

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Because of James II’s extreme Catholic principles, he was an unfavorable ruler. John Evelyn, a founding member of the Royal Society of London, wrote in his diary that James II increased discontent by removing Protestants from positions of trust and retaining Jesuits and Roman Catholics (1). The document voices the thoughts of the general public at the time and shows just why James II’s policies were not considered beneficial. It also conveys that rulers should have ideals that correlate to the public and not to a small minority. William III was described as this kind of ruler in a declaration by himself (2). He stated in this declaration that he would restore laws, liberties, and Protestantism to England under a fair government, which were popular beliefs at the time. These beliefs also stirred up the need to remove James II from power. In Two Treatises of Government, English philosopher John Locke identified the problems with the Catholic monarchs, stating that they destroyed the property of the people and refused to cooperate with them (5). His ideas laid the groundwork for the new government and show why James II’s rule was bad for England. Locke also presented this document to demonstrate the monarchy’s abuse of privileges.

The Glorious Revolution’s inclusion in the Enlightenment can be displayed by its lack of bloodshed when replacing rulers, unlike other revolutions. The Glorious Revolution’s aftermath proved its role in the Enlightenment even more; King William signed the Bill of Rights, which was an extensive change (3). The Bill of Rights was put in place to highly inhibit the power of the king, as any rights previously given were now illegal without consent from Parliament. This was an early form of checks and balances, which provided a basis for democracy. King William III also respected Protestants and was a god-fearing man according to Anglican bishop Gilbert Burnett (4). Burnett’s position as a head of the Anglican church gave him a more positive stance with the common people. Furthermore, the fact that William III operated under the will of God showed that he was more just and fair. The Glorious Revolution also limited power efficiently by making a reliable governmental system, as stated by the great French writer Voltaire. Voltaire believed that the English served liberty rather than absolute power and dictatorship (6). Voltaire’s influence in Europe led to the spread of these ideas, although the publication of them was suppressed in France because it was seen as an attack on the French government. William was also portrayed as a hero because he signed the Bill of Rights (6). A woodcut from the mid-eighteenth century also displays William III in a favorable light as it shows the reform of freedom, an ideology of the Enlightenment.

Through the thorough examination of these documents, it can be shown that the Glorious Revolution was part of the Enlightenment as it provided citizens with a more just ruler, came about with relatively little bloodshed and provided the world with evidence that checks and balances worked to limit monarchs’ power. Furthermore, it can be assumed that this form of government was effective and therefore gave way to modern democracy.  

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