Sir Edward Coke – By Daniel W. Sheridan (Twitter: @DanielWSheridan)
On this day, February 1, 1552, Sir Edward Coke is born. What he did matters to you.
There were three types of oppression that drove the English to the New World: political, religious, and economic. Political oppression led to the greatest amount of resistance in England.
The Stuart Monarchs bullied the courts by forcing the judges to do their their bidding. Chief Justice Coke, believing Monarchs aren’t above the law, courageously withstood King James the First who then angrily dismissed the just judge. Coke told King Jimmy that he was bound by the common law, but tyrants never like words like “bind” being applied to them.
Coke’s courage inspired future opponents of arbitrary government, especially the American Founders. Coke’s works were read by lawyers well into the 19th century. Before becoming a lawyer, America’s famous Revolutionary Orator, Patrick Henry, studied “Coke Upon Littleton” – one of Coke’s four-volume “Institutes of the Laws of England.” The volume Henry read contains the text of Sir Thomas Littleton’s 1481 treatise on property with an English translation and commentary by Coke. Henry, with help from Coke, passed his law exams with flying colors.
The rest is history!
Henry’s studies in Coke would soon be put to the test. As in Coke’s days, King George III became oppressive imposing arbitrary laws on the colonists. Like Coke, Henry stood up to King George III.
One day a young Thomas Jefferson attended a meeting of the House of Burgesses which was discussing one of King George’s oppressive laws – the Stamp Act. On that fateful day, Jefferson heard Henry give his famous speech in which he defied Parliament and compared King George III to Julius Caesar and Charles I saying he might “profit by their example.” Jefferson, so inspired by Henry’s substantive oratory, said that was the most important day of his life.
The rest, once again, is history!
Coke didn’t win all his battles, but he inspired those who came after him. We may not see the results of our work in our lifetime, but we can influence future generations. Imagine if Coke knew that his work would one day influence a Henry and a Jefferson, men who would in turn create a Declaration of Independence, Bills of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution – in short, an Empire of Liberty and Reason!
Happy Birthday Sir Edward Coke! Thanks for sacrificing comfort and east for me.