Hennepin County lawyers channel King Edward I — the bad guy from Braveheart — to justify pillage of Minneapolis resident

The American Revolution can, in many ways, be seen as one of a string of attempts running back through English history to restrain the arbitrary power of government.

In 1642, Parliament rebelled against King Charles I, angered at, among other things, his attempts to impose taxes without parliamentary approval. The ensuing English Civil War ended with Charles’ execution and the establishment of a British republic followed by a military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell.

Charles I setting an example for George III by getting beheaded by his subjects, an example George failed to heed

The notion that the monarch had to get parliament to approve taxes went back to the 13th century. Back then, a group of barons led by Simon DeMontfort rebelled against Henry III, who they claimed was infringing on their rights and privileges. The barons won. In 1258, drawing on ideas contained in the Magna Carta of 1215, itself wrung from a king by rebellious barons, they established the precedent that the monarch could not levy taxes without the approval of parliament. No taxation without representation, as a later generation would put it.

Edward I, a.k.a. Edward Longshanks, a.k.a. Hammer of the Scots, witness for the county

By the end of his long reign, Henry had regained some authority over the barons — DeMontfort was defeated in battle and butchered at Evesham in 1265 — and his son, Edward I, continued to expand royal power after becoming king in 1272. To this end, he enacted the Statute of Gloucester in 1278, which challenged baronial rights by reviving the system of general eyres (royal justices going on tour round the country) and through a significant increase in the number of pleas of quo warranto to be heard by such eyres. To sweeten the pill, the statute also, as the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) writes:

…allowed aristocratic lords to evict tenant-farmers and keep the crops the tenants raised on the lord’s land if the tenants failed to pay “quit-rent” on time and the tenants had insufficient personal property to satisfy the debt.  

And it is this provision that Hennepin County lawyers cited in court recently.

In January, I wrote about the case of Geraldine Tyler, whose Minneapolis condo was seized by the county “over about $2,300 of unpaid property taxes, plus $12,700 in penalties, interest and fees.” The county sold the condo for $40,000 and pocketed the $25,000 difference. It claims it is justified in doing so, in part, because of the Statute of Gloucester of 1278. The county’s brief says:

The roots of Minnesota’s authority to treat delinquent or abandoned property as forfeited trace back to medieval England.

They are citing Feudalism, in other words.

This, in itself, is fair enough. Legal precedent is legal precedent, and English Common Law is frequently cited in legal proceedings in the United States. But, as the PLF notes:

Remember the American Revolution? 

As PLF explained in our reply brief, when the colonists declared their independence from the English crown, they explicitly rejected the feudal concept that people work the land solely for the benefit of their lords and masters. Thomas Jefferson wrote that American colonists “held their lands, as they did their personal property, in absolute dominion.” Ms. Tyler was not a vassal owing fealty to her lord, but a free woman who owned her property outright. 

To put it bluntly, the American Revolution was, in part, about the right of citizens to tell the likes of Edward I — and Hennepin County — to pound sand.

I am not a lawyer, so I do not know if Ms. Tyler will win. I do know that I hope she does. Either way, this isn’t a blog I ever expected to write.