Monday, June 15, 2015

The Magna Carta: Celebrating 800 Years Of Democratic Ideals

Articles of the Barons (Magna Carta), 1215            British Library

Eight hundred years ago today England's King John set his seal to a document containing ideals that have formed the basis for democratic governments ever since. The document is the Magna Carta. Here is what Michael Wood wrote about it in his book, The Story of England, a companion volume to the BBC documentary of the same name:

In the Magna Carta in 1215 King John had acceded to the barons' demands made in response to his wholesale abuses of power. In essence it was a charter for the ruling class but it embodied the crucial principle that the king was bound by the law. Immediately after John's death Magna Carta was reissued in the name of his successor, and there were several versions up to 1225. Since then it has come to be regarded by English people, and by all who have adopted English law, as the chief constitutional defense against arbitrary or unjust rule. Its most famous clauses express some of the English people's most deeply held political beliefs, and pertain to both rich and poor:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed, or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement 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.
Later lawyers found here the basis for fundamental English rights: equality before the law and freedom from arbitrary arrest . . . .

For a bit more on the Magna Carta, including some excellent links and illustrations, I refer readers to Instapundit's Stephen Hayward and his fine tribute to this historic moment in Western history.

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