June 20, 2015


Magna Carta: The birth certificate of the rule of law (John Steele Gordon, June 18, 2015,  AEI.org)

The war sputtered on until 1217, when Prince Louis agreed to end it and give up all claims to the English throne, provided that the rebel barons get their lands back and that the charter be reissued.

Magna Carta was now embedded in English law. In 1225, in return for taxes worth 40,000 English pounds, Henry again reissued the charter; this time, he said that it was being issued by his "spontaneous and free will" and sealed it with the royal seal.

Henry's son, Edward I, also reissued the charter in 1297, and this is still part of the statute law of England, although many of its provisions have been repealed.

Thus, Magna Carta became the foundation of that uniquely English concept, personal liberty. Because of Magna Carta, Englishmen (or at least, at that time, property owners) had rights that even the king was bound to respect. Within a century, Parliament began to develop and law became something that was not just the work of the king, but of the "king in parliament," a fundamental difference.

Over the centuries, Magna Carta profoundly influenced the English Bill of Rights of 1689, such political philosophers as John Locke, James Madison and the other American Founding Fathers, and the American Bill of Rights. After all, Jefferson's immortal "all men . . . are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," is but the distilled essence of Magna Carta.

Thus, Magna Carta, thought a dead letter two months after it was written, lived on to become nothing less than the birth certificate of the rule of law.

Posted by at June 20, 2015 11:49 AM

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