In Praise of William Lenthall and The End of Nova Scotia’s Legislature Part 1

Who was William Lenthall? He was an English politician active in the mid-1600s. This was a time of rising tension between the King, Charles I, and England’s legislature, Parliament. The King wanted money to pursue foreign wars, but taxes could only be raised with the agreement of the legislature. In the past, the monarchy was able to overcome resistance from the legislature through threats, diplomacy, or political machinations.

However, at the beginning of 1642, the King, exasperated with the legislature’s inaction on tax increases, threatened five leading members of the legislature with high treason, the very worst crime on the books (the penalty was to be partially hung, disembowelled, and cut into four pieces – drawn and quartered). The King showed up, unannounced, with 400 armed men to arrest the five, who had fled. When the King inquired where they were, the rest of the Members remained silent. Then, he gave a direct command to the speaker, William Lenthall, demanding to know where the five were hiding, who famously responded:

“May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here; and I humbly beg your majesty's pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what your majesty is pleased to demand of me.”

This was the first time the legislature openly defied the will of the monarch and his government. This act was the tipping point in affirming the freedom and liberty of the people in the face of tyranny by demonstrating the independence of the legislature. It was a watershed moment in the development of our democracy.

And the rest is history. Soon the English Civil War started with the King and his supporters on one side and the legislature and its supporters on the other. In the end, Charles lost both his throne and his head.

A little over a century later, Nova Scotia’s own legislature convened on October 2, 1758. However, the existence of a legislature does not guarantee restraint and oversight of government. Political science has a theory called the Iron Law of Oligarchy which argues all democratic institutions eventually fall under the sway of a small group of people (an oligarchy). Political systems in every form can be manipulated to the advantage of the insiders, usually to the detriment of everyone else. A legislature is designed to keep government insiders at bay, but only if it retains its independence from the government.

Unfortunately, Nova Scotia’s legislature is currently under the complete control of a small group of government insiders called the Premier’s Office. The King, sorry... the Premier controls the legislature. The latest display of this insidious power occurred March 10, 2020, a year ago, the Premier and his cabal used threats of party discipline to close the legislature in a secret vote. Since then, the government has acted by decree with no restraint (or consequences).

Where are our William Lenthalls who would simply ignore the Premier and keep the legislature going? Break down the doors! Let our legislature debate and vote with or without the Premier and his lap-dog supporters!

Jonathan Dean
Leader, Atlantica Party

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The Atlantica Party is Nova Scotia’s newest registered political party. The Atlantica Party is Nova Scotia's only political alternative committed to fixing Nova Scotia’s democracy and making Nova Scotia a have province.
The Atlantica Party’s Democracy Revolution is a comprehensive plan to fix Nova Scotia’s democracy and empower the voter.