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MAGNA CARTA - June 15, 1215
"The democratic aspiration is
no mere recent phase in human history . . . It was written in Magna Carta."
Roosevelt, 1941 Inaugural address
On June 15, 1215, in a field at Runnymede, King John affixed
his seal to Magna Carta. Confronted by 40 rebellious barons, he consented to
their demands in order to avert civil war. Just 10 weeks later, Pope Innocent
III nullified the agreement, and England plunged into internal war.
Although Magna Carta failed to resolve the
conflict between King John and his barons, it was reissued several times after
his death. On display at the National Archives, courtesy of David M.
Rubenstein, is one of four surviving originals of the 1297 Magna Carta. This
version was entered into the official Statute Rolls of England.
Enduring Principles of Liberty
Magna Carta was written by a group of
13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical
king. It is concerned with many practical matters and specific grievances
relevant to the feudal system under which they lived. The interests of the
common man were hardly apparent in the minds of the men who brokered the
agreement. But there are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate
to this day:
"No freeman shall be taken,
imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will
We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his
peers and by the law of the land."
"To no one will We sell, to no
one will We deny or delay, right or justice."
Inspiration for Americans
During the American Revolution, Magna Carta
served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists
believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights
guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their
states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution
("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due
process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of
proceedings according to the "law of the land."