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Historically Speaking: Magna Carta, the Foundation of Law

By Tom Morrow

June 15, will mark the 800th anniversary of one of the world’s most important documents, which first afforded the basis of law in protecting an individual’s rights from illegal imprisonment, as well as access to swift justice and a limitation on taxation. It is known as the Magna Carta.
The document was meant to protect the English aristocroty from the whims of the monarch, but over the years it has been used as the basis for law throughout much of the Western world.
The original dealt with the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, but the Charter has remained a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed n the 19th and 20th centuries both in England and the United States.
Up until 1215, English monarchs could do anything they wished upon their people. The barons forced King John, who was known for his cruelty and unfair treatment, to sign the Charter at Runnymead.
First drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Charter was designed to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons. The provisions of the Magna Carta were to be enforced by a council of 25 barons.
The Charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, when neither side stood behind their commitments, causing a war among the gentry. However, the Magna Carta’s essence has remained viable.
After King John’s death, in 1216, the regency government of his young son, Henry III, reissued the document in an unsuccessful bid to build political support for the King’s cause. Over the next several years, the Charter was used as a fund-raising device for monarchs. King Henry issued a new charter in 1225 in exchange for a grant of new taxes; his son, Edward I, repeated the scheme in 1297, but this time finally confirming it as part of England’s statute law.
The Charter became part of English political life and was typically renewed by each monarch in turn, although as time went by and the fledgling English Parliament passed new laws, it lost some of its practical significance.
At the end of the 16th century there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians believed there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, which protected individual English freedoms. It was argued the Norman invasion of 1066 had overthrown these rights, and that Magna Carta had been a popular attempt to restore them, making the Charter an essential foundation for the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as a writ of “habeas corpus” – proof that a person has been legally arrested and charged.
The Magna Carta influenced the early American colonists of the 13 Colonies and the formation of the American Constitution in 1789, which became the supreme law of the land in the new republic of the United States.
Magna Carta still forms an important symbol of liberty today, often cited by politicians and campaigners, and is held in great respect by the British and American legal communities. It has been described as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom for the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”.
In the 21st century, four copies of the original 1215 Charter remain in existence, held by the British Library and the cathedrals of Lincoln and Salisbury. There also are a handful of the subsequent copies in public and private ownership, including copies of the 1297 charter in both the United States and Australia. On Feb. 3, (of this year), the four originals were displayed together at the British Library for that one day to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.


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To Learn More about Tom Morrow, the author click here
E-mail Tom Morrow at: quotetaker1939@gmail.com

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Historically Speaking: Magna Carta, the Foundation of Law