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English Constitutional History





New York


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The pressure felt by two teachers of English history for a comprehensive volume of documents bearing on the development of the English constitution has led to the compilation of this volume. No source book for the illustration of English history yet published has met the needs of the student of constitutional history. The excellent selections made by the late Bishop of Oxford, Mr. G. W. Prothero, Mr. S. R. Gardiner, and Messrs. Gee and Hardy only cover limited periods, or deal with one aspect of the subject. Excellent as those selections are, they are too advanced or too partial to be used in a college undergraduate course covering a single year. The University of Pennsylvania Reprints and the Old South Leaflets contain too little material to illustrate a full course of English constitutional history. The editors have been guided in the present selection by their practical experience in undergraduate work, and it is hoped that it may meet the demands of similar courses of study in other colleges, and also of courses pursued in some secondary and in many law schools.

Every teacher of history has his own ideas of the relative importance of documents, and this compilation cannot expect to escape criticism either for its selections or for its omissions. There was no difficulty in deciding upon the insertion of the most famous documents, such as Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights, but the selection of documents of lesser importance to form illustrations of the growth of constitutional customs and traditions was of greater difficulty. The editors have kept in mind in making the selection that they were dealing with constitutional and legal, and not with political, economic, and social questions, and under this ruling many important documents, like the Grand

Remonstrance, were abbreviated, and others, like the Poor Laws and the Navigation Acts, were omitted altogether. The feature of the earlier pages of this compilation which needs chiefly to be defended is the translation of the documents of the medieval period from Latin and Old French. It was only after long discussion and much hesitation that it was resolved to print translations rather than the originals. It was felt by the editors that although it might be indispensable for advanced students to use their documents in the original language, yet it was not possible to expect from large undergraduate classes sufficient training to enable all students in them to make ready use of the original documents. It was desired also to provide for the apparently growing demand for such material in secondary schools. Professor G. B. Adams, who is responsible for the selection and editing of the documents down to 1485, is responsible likewise for the translations of these documents, but in the case of statutes, the official translation in the Statutes of the Realm has been followed with only slight changes. Professor Adams does not presume that all the difficulties of translation have been here, for the first time, overcome, and he will be grateful to those who will call his attention to errors which have escaped him in spite of considerable pains to avoid them. The problem with regard to the later documents after 1485 has been one of abridgment rather than of translation. The much greater length of the later documents made it impossible to print them in full, and Professor Morse Stephens is responsible for the abridgment as well as for the selection and editing of these later documents. It is as objectionable theoretically to abridge as to translate an original document, but as in the case of the translations the abridgments have been necessitated by practical considerations. A few of the most important documents have been printed in full, but most of them have been cut down in length, either by the omission of less important clauses or by inserting asterisks in the place of legal repetitions. The most valuable feature of the three well-known volumes of selections made for the Oxford Clarendon Press by Bishop

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