The Historical Development of Legislative Bills in England


The device of legislative “bills” grew out of an often-used practice of the members of the early English Parliament of submitting petitions to the monarchy for the redress of grievances.


In the Britain of old, Parliamentary petitions were a long-standing practice, and the right to present them was one of the rights, among others, protected in Magna Carta (Great Charter), which was granted by the King of England in 1215.  While the limited purpose of Magna Carta was to provide a set of rights for the protection of the subjects of the English monarchy, this important document has been credited as having the most significant impact on the hundreds of years of historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law we have today.


Members of Parliament slowly came to realize that they might combine a petition with a request for “an aid” and thus be more likely to get a favorable answer to the petition.  In 1309, the Parliament seemed to make its consent to a tax bill conditioned on the monarch’s favorable reply to a petition.  The legislators thereby came to participate in a process by which the king received Parliamentary approval for the tax bill he wanted so he could raise revenues to carry out his agenda and the legislative members had their redress of a grievance. From that process, it was only a step from changing the petition to a “bill.”


The term “bill” was carried forward in what is now Section 29 of the Constitution of Maryland of 1776, the first constitution of the new state.  While the term is used in other sections of the Maryland Constitution added since 1776, the inclusion of the term “bill” in the first State constitution confirms that the colonial founders indeed looked to the Parliamentary procedures in England that had developed over the centuries when they were formulating legislative procedures to be implemented at the outset of Maryland’s history as a state.