The Inheritance of the Common Law in Western Civilization


Guest essay by Bobbie Ames

Will We Live Under The Rule Of Law, Or The Rule Of Man?

The concept of man in the Common Law of England is one of the most civilizing forces in all of History. For centuries the Common Law was recorded and declared as “the highest inheritance of the King, by which he and all his subjects shall be ruled. And if there were no law, there would be no king, and no inheritance.” In the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign, an entry in her Court Cases was this affirmation, “The Common Law is the best and surest inheritance that any subject hath, and to lose it is to lose all.”

In the 18th century our Founding Fathers brought to our shores with them, the Commentaries on the Laws of England, by William Blackstone. He called these rights “imperishable and the best birthright and noblest inheritance of mankind.”

In every century the line of succession had been to the king, to his subjects, and to mankind, all under the Rule of Law given to Moses and throughout the Holy Scriptures.

In the decade before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, more than 2500 copies of Blackstone’s Commentaries had been received by the Colonies of the Atlantic Seaboard, nearly as many as were circulated in England. Every college and university in early America used them as the “gospel on law.” We have used Blackstone in our Christian school in teaching high school students for more than forty years. The Common Law has been the organic unity of the legal institutions in all states except for Louisiana. Australia and New Zealand also belong to the living tradition of the Common Law.

In the laws of King Alfred, there was no sign of Roman Law. but translations of the Ten Commandments and passages from Exodus and Apostolic History, etc. When William the Conqueror took possession of England, he proclaimed, “One God shall be honored in the whole of the kingdom, and that the Christian Faith shall be kept inviolate.”

The separate organization of the King’s Courts and the Courts Christian, later to be called the Ecclesiastical Courts of the Church of England, was confirmed by the first clause of the Magna Carta: “We have granted to God, and by our present charta, have confirmed for us and for our heirs, forever that the Church of England shall be free and shall all its laws in their integrity and all its liberties unimpaired.”

The twofold jurisdiction and discipline of temporal and spiritual courts was a regular feature of England and America from the 1600’s until the 1800’s when erosion slowly took place.

The Conqueror was also concerned with the Family, with inheritance, with the matter of private property rights. The Charter he gave to the people read, “I will that every child be his father’s heir, after his father’s day, and I will not endure that any man offer any wrong to you. God keep you.” He believed that a mark of tyranny is to rob man out of his rightful inheritance.

When the Conqueror arrived in England, the slave trade was thriving. These were men and women usually slaves from birth, usually attached to the soil and often sold with the land. This was much against the proclamation of Augustine, who declared, “God did not make man to lord it over his fellows, but only to be masters of irrational creatures.” He also wrote, “The desire to rule over our equals is an intolerable lust of souls.”

In 1215, the year of the Magna Carta, a decree from the Fourth Lateran Council called for all men and women to confess sins, and to receive Holy Communion.The sinfulness of every human being was acknowledged and a call for repentance individually and corporately was frequent throughout the land. The sense of human equality was espoused in church and in literature, becoming a leading principle of English law. From the writing of Sir Thomas More (Everyman is to Everyman an ‘even Christian’) to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, we see where men and women are to meet on equal terms and follow life’s Pilgrimage. Shakespeare’s thought is explicit in Piers Plowman:

For we are all Christ’s creatures, and of his coffers rich, and brethren of one blood…alike, as beggars and earls.

The Common Law was not tolerant of Slavery. It was a slow process before the Social System recognized the intellectual and moral autonomy of Everyman. “A free man is able to manage and maintain his own family, educate his own children, administer his own property and live in a free community.”

The thoughts of Erasmus, “Nature, or rather God, hath shaped this creature (that is man) not to war, but to friendship, not to destruction, but to health, not to wrong, but to kindness and benevolence.”

In stark contrast, Thomas Hobbes, and others sharing his worldview, look at man in need of external authorities (The State) and sees a solution for man in totalitarianism. Do we not see this all over the world today, where the Moral Law does not exist as Supreme, Tyranny fills the void.

In the Classical and Christian tradition which animates the Common Law, the political community consists of three parts; the individual, the family, and the city, or state. On the deepest level in the life of the individual, the life of the conscience and mind where everyman is alone with his Creator, and hopefully, his Redeemer. On the next level is the life of the individual within his family. Aristotle and Aquinas both greatly influenced the philosophy of the Common and Moral Law. They saw three levels of living in community; Ethics, Economics, and Politics, but they saw that the basis for living on these levels in the responsibility and quality of family life. The good must be achieved by prudence, by science….a difference in training for ethics, for family life, for economics, and the politics. If the teaching here sounds very different from what we have in education today, indeed it is.

The Law of Succession was to protect the family in terms of private property. The sanctity of the family was to protect the development of the next generation to his highest potential, so that the community will exist in peace and in liberty. and within that revered law.

The language of an Irish Judge is cited with approval in the English Courts: “The authority of the Father to guide and govern the education of his child is a very sacred thing bestowed by the Almighty and to be sustained to the uttermost by human law.” Ignorance is never condoned in Christianity and educating the children was an imperative, with the family held accountable. Naturally there were varying views on educating children so far as content, methods, occupational goals. Reading, writing, reasoning from the Scriptures was always paramount with Christian families.

The Reformation was a transforming worldview over England and Europe. The Pilgrims and Puritans brought it to our shores with true piety and lived the Gospel out in their communities. They certainly left the model for faith and practice, and for education of children as well. The Mass Law of 1642 addressed the importance of children being taught to read and understanding the principles of the Christian religion. In January, 1643 A Grant for Land for Schools is recorded in Dedham, Mass. to be used for a community free school. The citizens vote for the necessary finances and it was locally conducted. The Old Deluder Satan Act, a Mass Bay Law of 1647 read, “It being the chief project of the old deluder Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, and fearful that the knowledge might be buried in the graves of their fathers.” This act provided for a community of 50 families to establish a school, and a community of 100 families to establish a grammar school. The goal was to preserve Christianity and to prepare the youth for the university. American Statesmen to the man, valued education and was passionate about diffusing knowledge more generally through the masses of the population than had every been done before. Ben Franklin was a leader in a “Committee of Guardians” who took it upon themselves to provide education for free blacks and to superintend the instruction in the schools. Furthermore, this committee took the responsibility to procure employment for these youths among various trades.

In a Public School Society meeting in Connecticut, in 1809, a comment was recorded that  “It is uncommon ( in New England ) to find a poor man who cannot read and write, and that it is rare in Europe to find a poor man who can read and write.”

To understand the importance of the First Amendment to the U S Constitution, one must understand the life of the early Republic and the inheritance of the Common Law, so dearly cherished and defended for centuries by colonial antecedents. When the officers of the Crown and a series of Royal Governors threatened their liberty, Samuel Adams and others recognized the threat of tyranny lurking just over the horizon and organized the Sons of Liberty. It was one battle after another: The Stamp Act, The Sugar Act, the Townsend Act, and on and on. When the colonies saw their common danger, they saw their mutual dependence and united for action.

When the movement came to replace the Articles of Confederation, and the formation of a constitution was put forward, Sam Adams was hesitant to support a national government. Elected a delegate to the national ratification convention, he revealed his conviction: “As I enter the building, I stumble on the threshold. I meet with a national government, instead of a Federal Union of Sovereign States.” His fear was that a national government would have too much power and not long remain free. His voice was muted by others who gave us the Declaration and the Constitution, both preserving the Moral and Common law.

Patrick Henry, the true “Trumpet Voice” of Freedom proclaimed,” It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, people of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship.” Educated at home by his father, and in a local common school, Henry certainly possessed an eloquence unmatched in his day. He too was skeptical of a national government and an enemy of any “over reaching” of government. He, George Mason, John Tyler, Benjamin Harrison, James Monroe, and others are largely responsible for the assurance that the Constitution would have the Bill of Rights from the beginning. The First Amendment has remained the most crucial one, and the protection of Conscience today is a vital issue in families over Education, as in all of life matters.

By the early 1800s the Unitarian “conquest “of New England churches had taken place. In 1837, Massachusetts formed the very first State Board of Public Instruction. Other states followed suit. Until the Unitarian influence became prominent in New England churches and Legislature, all schooling had been Christian education. Horace Mann was then President of the Mass. State Senate, and close to Governor Edward Everett. Both were followers of Germany’s Hegelian philosophy which claimed that nothing was absolute and that man’s ideas were superior to the Bible. In Mass, Secular Humanism was formally pushed through as taught in the German State of Prussia. Such a radical change from McGuffey’s Readers which had sold over 122 million copies throughout the colonies. Much Christian teaching and older textbooks were retained for many years in many colonies, as well as the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary with its Biblical references throughout.

With John Dewey came sweeping changes in the textbooks. A philosophy professor at Columbia University and the University of Chicago, Dewey was a Hegelian, holding that truth is always in process. Morals change, society changes, and his theme was “Change and Adjust, Change and Adjust.” He was the first President of the American Humanist Society and he signed the Humanist Manifesto in 1953. It opens with this declaration, “The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world.” He offers a new religion, Humanism: meaning man is the measure of all things. The time had passed for Theism. Dewey’s most ardent followers were the university professors who would train the next generation of educations. Most of those early ones came from Europe, schooled in Hegel’s philosophy. The National Education Association went along with the dramatic shift in Education’s content and objectives. To achieve their goals, History must be distorted to remove the greatness of Western Civilization, and children would be given a new inheritance to replace the Judeo-Christian foundation which proclaimed liberty to Everyman.

It would be a new religion to which the curriculum would conform.

Dr. Paul Vitz, a famed psychologist, and many others have sounded alarms for the public. They condemned the educational mind control techniques of Values Clarification, Magic Circle, Quest, and all the programs that government schools have used for many decades. We have been keenly aware of these programs in undermining the academic and moral training of our children.

We recently observed D Day across our land. What was won that day on the Normandy beaches was our freedom, and yet, is that in more danger today than ever before? Five Supreme Court Justices—Blackmun, Kennedy, O’Connor, Stevens, and Souter—tell you that there is a fundamental right to kill a human being. Can we say that we live under the Rule of Moral Law? When a parent no longer has the right to educate his child by the dictates of his conscience, do we really have liberty? How will Christian parents deal with Deut 6:7? God’s command is to teach the children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord. “Isn’t the issue for all of us in all of life this: Obedience to the Lord? And is the First Amendment still protection for this Liberty of Conscience? We need the kind of education that the Pilgrim and Puritan fathers brought with them, fear and disdain for tyranny, a love of the Moral and Common law, building on the cherished liberties. If one generation becomes the Mere Creature of the State, America will no longer exist as we have known it. Restoration begins with the individual mind and heart, and then within the family (Mal. 2: 15). “He seeks godly offspring. Therefore, take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of your youth.” Be not afraid, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25).


The original of this article appeared in the Alabama Gazette, Vol. 14, Number 10, on July 1, 2014. It is an installment of a regular column in the Education section.

Bobbie Ames is a lifelong educator and advocate for the faith of Jesus Christ and liberty under law. In 1965, she founded what would eventually become Emerald Mountain Christian School in Montgomery, Alabama. The associated Hoffman Educational Center and Emerald Mountain School continue to serve the community and nation.

© 2014 Used by Permission

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