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The Instrument of Government was a constitution of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Drafted by Major-General John Lambert in 1653, it was the first sovereign codified and written constitution in the English-speaking world.



The Instrument of Government included elements incorporated from an earlier document "Heads of Proposals,[1][2] which had been agreed to by the Army Council in 1647, as set of propositions intended to be a basis for a constitutional settlement after King Charles I was defeated in the First English Civil War. Charles had rejected the propositions, but before the start of the Second Civil War, the Grandees had presented the Heads of Proposals as their alternative to the more radical Agreement of the People presented by the Agitators and their civilian supporters at the Putney Debates.

After the trial and execution of Charles I the Rump Parliament passed an Ordinance declaring England to be a Commonwealth on 19 May 1649. It was a simple deceleration that Parliament would appoint "Officers and Ministers under them for the good of the People ... without any King or House of Lords".


The Instrument of Government granted executive power to the Lord Protector. Although this post was elective, not hereditary, it was to be held for life. It also required the calling of triennial Parliaments, with each sitting for at least five months.

Adoption and repacement

The Instrument of Government was adopted on 15 December 1653 and Oliver Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector on the following day. In January 1655, Cromwell dissolved the first Protectorate Parliament, ushering in a period of military rule by the Major Generals.

The Instrument of Government was replaced in May 1657 by England's second, and last, codified constitution, the Humble Petition and Advice.

Influence on the American constitution

Since America had already been colonized by the English--in 1607, at Jamestown, and in 1620, at Plymouth—the United States has sometimes claimed this historic document as a part of its political, legal, and historic heritage.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Tyacke p. 69
  2. ^ Farr pp. 80,81. See Declaration of Representation of 14 June 1647
  3. ^ Washington, p. 113


  • Far, David (2006). Henry Ireton and the English Revolution, Boydell Press, ISBN 1843832356, 9781843832355
  • Tyacke, Nicholas (2001). Aspects of English Protestantism, c. 1530-1700, Manchester University Press, ISBN 0719053927, 9780719053924
  • Washington, George (2008). American Historical Documents 1000-1904, Wildside Press LLC, 2008. ISBN 1434473430, 9781434473431

Further reading



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