In former days among civilized nations the liberty of many individuals was subject to far more restrictions than it is at present. In England many peasants were bound to the soil, could only Change their habitation with the consent of their lord, and were compelled to render him agricultural service whenever he required them. No subjects of the State possessed any vote or power of expressing their approval or disapproval of the actions taken by those in authority. Their overlords could, without fear or redress, punish them unjustly or defraud them. Any individual who took upon himself to differ from the state religion was in danger of being burnt to death for heresy.
The Great Charter granted by King John has always been viewed as the basis of English liberty. It granted extended freedom of commerce; forbade the selling, denying or delaying of justice and the arbitrary spoliation of life, liberty and property. Gradually the people by continual struggles won for themselves a voice in public affairs, the right to legislate for themselves and perfect liberty of individual speech and action, so long as that action did not conflict with the interests of their neighbours or of the nation at large, until England became the home of freedom.
To all countries, which have come under the rule or influence of the British, the English ideas of freedom have been carried and put into operation. Her colonists and her subjects enjoy, in all essentials, the same liberty of action as the Englishman. The result in some cases has not been altogether happy. The English won their privileges one by one, in a wise and constitutional Manner, by hard struggles, and learnt not to abuse them, so that at the present day England is not only the freest but the most law-abiding nation in the world. People, who have been slaves for centuries, when suddenly permitted to indulge in free thought, speech, and action, often do not know how to use their liberty. Their old standards and rules of life are changed. They do riot recognize readily what is honourable and expedient, and what is not. Liberty degenerates into license. Freedom of speech is interpreted as permission to pour scurrilous abuse upon any one who may excite their dislike. Freedom of action results in crimes of the worst description, assassination, arson, and rapine. The virtues of discipline and self-control become objects of contempt. Progress is impossible. until the strong arm of the law steps in, and it is recognized that license can only mean tyranny and that general freedom is a fraud and a delusion unless it is restricted by wise laws which forbid crime, slander and mob-interference with the liberties of others; and until the social conditions discourage childish and petulant outbursts and insist upon education, sober self-control and a proper respect for constituted authority.