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Parliamentary Protests Filed in the House of Lords from 1641 TO 1799: Acquisition of a Rare Resource Related to American Independence

Through the generosity of the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress, the Law Library recently acquired two manuscript volumes of an extraordinarily rare collection of parliamentary protests lodged by Members of the House of Lords during the period from 1641-1799.

A page-opening of the second of two manuscript volumes containing parliamentary protests from 1641-1799 [Photo by Donna Sokol]

The Law Library maintains a collection of historic English and early American manuscripts. That collection contains examples of statute books, commonplace books, and court records. Until now, however, it contained no example of parliamentary records in manuscript.

Starting in the year 1641, Members of the House of Lords had the opportunity to voice their objections over decisions reached by Parliament. They entered their protest into the formal record of the House’s proceedings either by merely signing their names against the record of the decision or by signing and appending a detailed list of the reasons for their objection to the decision. These protests were not published, and therefore were only available in manuscript during the period these volumes cover.

Spine of one of two manuscript volumes of Parliamentary protests acquired by the Law Library, elaborately tooled in gilt [Photo by Donna Sokol]

The manuscripts that the Library recently acquired were copied by clerks in the Parliament Office, and subsequently became part of the private library of Charles Watson-Wentworth, Second Marquess of Rockingham (1730-82), whose bookplate appears on these volumes. Charles Watson-Wentworth, Second Marquess of Rockingham, was prime minister of the United Kingdom twice, once in 1766 and again in 1782. He was a longtime defender of the rights that Americans were advancing against Parliament and the Crown during the period leading up to American independence. During his first tenure, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act of 1765, and during his second, he led Parliament in recognizing the independence of the United States. The protests in these volumes include considerable content related to the Stamp Act and other measures directly related to the American struggle for independence. Protest against the repeal of the Stamp Act takes up fourteen pages, covering the dissent over the second and third readings of the bill, on March 11 and 17, 1766.

In this page opening can be seen a protest against Parliament’s decision to repeal the politically inflammatory Stamp Act of 1765. [Photo by Donna Sokol]

The Library’s interest in acquiring this item was in part enhanced by its relevance to an upcoming joint exhibition that will be hosted by Library of Congress and The Royal Archives and will explore the intersecting worlds of two of the most consequential historically significant figures of the late 18th century–King George III (1738-1820) of England and George Washington (1732-1799). The exhibition on the “two Georges” will explore the similarities between the two men as well as the global political, cultural and social contexts that gave distinct shape to each of their lives and careers. “Linked and then ultimately separated by empire, the two Georges offer a distinctive perspective on this vital historical period.” This exhibition is currently planned to open in 2021.

Rare book service is available on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Access to rare materials is by appointment and we welcome your inquiries.  For further information, contact me, [email protected].

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