Inspiration For The U.S. Constitution – Magna Carta


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Over half a millennia, five hundred and seventy-two years before the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, a document was wrought in England challenging the monarchy, establishing certain rights, liberties and protections for the barons and people of the nation and freedom for the Church. Born(e) of grievances and rebellion from a “combination of higher taxes, unsuccessful wars, and conflict with the Pope”, on June 15, 1215 King John of England was forced by the feudal barons at Runnymede to sign the Magna Carta. The document in its long form was known as “The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest”, portions still remaining on the statute books of England and Wales.

John of England signs Magna Carta. Illustration from Cassell's History of England (1902)

Through the centuries much of the document has been repealed and replaced with new laws and statutes, but the document remains a magnificent milestone in the evolution of the rule of constitutional law and the advancement of human rights that became an inspiration for subsequent national constitutions including that of the United States. “[T]he greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot” –Lord Denning. The “first of a series of instruments that now are recognised as having a special constitutional status” –Lord Woolf, the others being the Habeas Corpus Act, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, and the Act of Settlement.

The charter was an important part of the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in the English speaking world, although it was “far from unique, either in content or form”. In practice, Magna Carta in the medieval period did not in general limit the power of kings, but by the time of the English Civil War it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show that the King was bound by the law. It influenced the early settlers in New England and inspired later constitutional documents, including the United States Constitution. —Wikipedia

Do the American people today understand the long course of human aspirations, deliberations and struggles that occurred in the history of Western Civilization that have gifted them the structural benefits of the rule of constitutional law, their rights, liberties, privileges and blessings? Forgetfulness and lack of knowledge is fertile ground for unexpected and often unwanted change.


In 1957 the American Bar Association acknowledged the debt American law and constitutionalism had to Magna Carta by erecting a monument at Runnymede.


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