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Magna Carta: The Great Charter Of Freedoms

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Published on: March 10, 2023

“The Great charter of Freedoms.”

On June 15, 1215, in a field at Runnymede, King John affixed his seal to something called the Magna Carta.

Confronted by 40 rebellious barons, he consented to their demands in order to avert civil war.

These barons were gifted the lands by the king that they in turn rented to the peasants and were angry with the said king who ruled over them arbitrarily.

Just 10 weeks later, after the signing of the Magna Carta, Pope Innocent III nullified the agreement, and England plunged into internal war.

Do remember that the king was propped up by the pope and the arch bishop, who convinced the people that the King was appointed by God only to secure their positions.

It is concerned with many practical matters and specific grievances relevant to the feudal system under which they lived.

A feudal system (also known as feudalism) is a type of social and political system in which landholders provide land to tenants in exchange for their loyalty and service to the King.

The Magna Carta was a response to King John, who had decided that tradition didn’t bind him, and he could rule arbitrarily (Whatever he says goes), even to the point of forcing taxes without any representation from the nobility in the land.

They rose up to guard their ancient rights and forced the king to sign this particular document.

It didn’t grant anything new; it was merely a statement of what already was.

What we have with the Magna Carta is the first written document identifying the rights of individuals. These rights had been handed down from one generation to the next orally; the Magna Carta signified a transition from orally transmitted rights to those written down for posterity.

Some of the key rights identified in this document were:

  • No tax can be imposed except by common council of the kingdom
  • Fines are to be according to the degree of the offense
  • Personal property cannot be taken without the consent of the owner
  • Witnesses are needed for indictments against individuals
  • No death sentence, imprisonment, dispossession, or banishment without due process of law

Why were these the traditional concepts upon which England operated?

Where did they get these ideas?

Back in 1965, a scholar named Helen Silving wrote an article in the Harvard Journal on Legislation that brought to light the basis for the Magna Carta. Here is what she wrote:

“An old document such as the Magna Carta is not only that which it “was” at the time of its conception, but also that which it becomes in the course of history.

In this sense, undoubtedly, the Magna Carta stands for the idea . . . of subjection of the King not to man but to God and the law (Our Rights come from God, not man), an idea rooted in the Bible which has dominated Anglo-American thought. “

The roots of this foundational document are found in the Bible.

“It is remarkable, indeed, and has an interesting bearing on the nature of our reactions to the Bible, that this has passed unnoticed, while efforts have been made to connect our constitutional documents with Greek and Roman ideas.

Whatever influence Greece and Rome had on the development of Western civilization, there was another influence far greater—the Biblical foundation laid for centuries after Greece and Rome had disappeared as empires.”

It was this foundation, primarily, that guided the thinking of the American colonists as they fought the battle of ideas that led ultimately to a break with the Mother Country.

The interests of the common man were hardly apparent in the minds of the men who brokered the agreement. But again, there are principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day:

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.

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