CORNERSTONE OF LIBERTY… the Magna Carta and our Bill of Rights
The Magna Carta is considered the “Cornerstone of Liberty”. It has influenced most of the civilized world, including the foundation of the Constitution of the United States.
Written in 1215, a few of its words in the Magna Carta are as follows:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned No man shall be stripped of his rights or possessions or outlawed or exiled Nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
How did the Magna Carta come into existence?
It was drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King John and a group of rebel barons – was designed to ensure the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown. On the 19 June 1215 at Runnymede King John signed the Magna Carta. (This means Great Charter.) It was the first formal document stating that a King had to follow the laws of the land and it guaranteed the rights of individuals against the wishes of the King. (from Telegraph)
How unpopular was this English King? Well, according to A. A. Milne’s poem for children, he was most unpopular: “King John’s Christmas”, begins
‘King John was not a good man. He had his little ways… And sometimes no one spoke to him for days and days and days.
Nevertheless, our own government here in the U.S.A is based upon the Magna Carta.
Where is the original Magna Carta? The manuscript at Salisbury Cathedral is the best preserved of four surviving original copies of Magna Carta, which were written up shortly after a beleaguered King John met and agreed to terms with 25 rebellious barons.
The Magna Carta influence was shaped by what eighteenth-century Americans believed Magna Carta to signify. Magna Carta was widely held to be:
- The people’s reassertion of rights against an oppressive ruler
- A legacy that captured American distrust of concentrated political power
- In part because of this tradition, most of the state constitutions included declarations of rights intended to guarantee individual citizens a list of protections and immunities from the state government.
The United States also adopted the Bill of Rights, in part, due to these political convictions. Both the state declarations of rights and the United States Bill of Rights incorporated several guarantees that were understood at the time of their ratification to descend from rights protected by Magna Carta. Among these are freedom from:
- unlawful searches and seizures,
- a right to a speedy trial,
- a right to a jury trial in both a criminal and a civil case,
- and protection from loss of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
Many broader American constitutional principles have their roots in an eighteenth-century understanding of Magna Carta, such as the theory of representative government, the idea of a supreme law, and judicial review.
Perhaps in their next meeting, President Trump should carry a copy of the Bill of Rights to the North Korean leader. It would be a GREAT START to the assurance of human rights for that country.
If you do not live in the United States or you, as an American, are rusty on your knowledge of government and our freedoms, here is a short film that may help you understand why Americans cherish their freedoms….with a little quiz at the end. See how you do.