Happy Birthday Magna Carta. You Look Mahhhhhvelous for Being 800 Years Old Today!
On this date in 1215, a group of nobles met on the plain at Runnymede in England and basically forced King John to sign the Great Charter, outlining the “customs and liberties” to which they, and the Church, were entitled “in perpetuity.” The document listed rights we take for granted today, and which we might recognize as guaranteed in our own Bill of Rights as amendments to the United States Constitution. It’s been called England’s “most valuable export” to the rest of the world.
The Magna Carta recognized that a citizen has the right to be free from being imprisoned, or losing their lands, “save by the lawful judgment of his peers.” The King did not have the RIGHT to simply appropriate a man’s home or castle or lands or freedom without due process of law. The citizen had a right to a judgement of his peers, and the taking of liberty or property had to be in accordance with written law and not by force.
In essence, the Charter recognized that there are inherent rights, written down, and guaranteed, and defensible in a court of law (and not simply combat). The importance of this document was known to, and recognized by, the American Founding Fathers and its ideas were written into our own Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The Magna Carta is important because it recognizes the “rule of law” as an inherent right. The notion that people should be treated equally not because of who they are (or who their father was) but because a written law exists and is recognized as applying across the board to kings and the people alike. THAT was a revolutionary idea in 1215, but today stands as a guiding principle of law and government in England, in the United States of America and in many countries around the world.
The notion of personal liberties and individual freedoms that are written down and preserved to every citizen forever is deeply embedded in the American character and in American law, but it was the logical development of law that got its earliest expression in England’s Great Charter whose 800th birthday we celebrate today. (Catherine “Kate” M. Harper, Esquire – June 15, 2015)