Sunday, June 14, 2015

Magna Carta's legacy lives on 800 years later

USA Today

Photo: Joseph Kaczmarek, AP

LONDON — Eight centuries ago this Monday, a peace treaty came into being that would become a pillar of English law and the basis of constitutional democracies in the United States and around the world hundreds of years later.
Rebel barons made King John of England seal the Magna Carta — the Great Charter — on June 15, 1215 in a bid to limit the power of the monarch, who they viewed as cruel and greedy.
The document set out the principle that everybody was subject to the law, even the king, for the first time on written record.
Some of its key principles influenced the U.S. Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many legal systems around the world.
On Monday Queen Elizabeth II, her husband Prince Philip, Prince William and other dignitaries will mark the anniversary in Runnymede in the county of Surrey, near London, where King John sealed the charter.
A statue of the Queen was unveiled near the site Sunday, and the royal barge Gloriana was leading 200 boats along the River Thames to Runnymede over the weekend.
Surrey County Council, one of the organizers of the ceremony, said: "Magna Carta was a milestone in world history and its birthplace at Runnymede deserves a lasting legacy."
The four known surviving copies of the charter are kept at the cathedrals of the cities of Lincoln, northeast England and Salisbury in the south, and two are housed in the British Museum.
So how has a document that began almost a millennium ago become such a profound part of life as we know it today?
Historians say Magna Carta is even more revered in the United States than it is in England.
"The basis of the Magna Carta is a bastion against tyranny and against over-mighty government," Derek Taylor, the author of the book Magna Carta in 20 Places, told USA TODAY. He said the charter's importance in the U.S. "can't be under-estimated."
"There's something about the Magna Carta that rings a bell and chimes with the fundamental American belief about the way society should organize itself," he said.
However, the brutality against Native Americans and slaves and the treatment of women and slave descendants as second-class citizens for generations after the signing of the Constitution, show that "it took a long time for those words to have any meaning," he added.
Due process can be traced to Chapter 39 of Magna Carta, and is incorporated into the Fifth Amendment, which includes the provision that that no person shall be " deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
In an article called Magna Carta in the United States, Ralph Turner, emeritus history professor at the University of Florida, says: "For America's founding fathers, Magna Carta symbol­ized the "rule of law," the precept that a government is bound by the law in deal­ing with its people.
"This view was set forth first in the Declaration of Indepen­dence, then in the state constitutions of the former thirteen colonies, and in the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the federal Constitution."
Sir Robert Worcester, chairman of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, which is coordinating events to mark the milestone, told the Telegraph: "It is probably the most important document that sets out a legal basis upon which to act other than the whim of the monarch King John in 1215."
"The relevance of the Magna Carta in the 21st century is that it is the foundation of liberty, some say the foundation of democracy, not counting Athenian (ancient Greek) democracy of course," he said.
"All of those things are relative today, all of them in law in one way or another today. And not only here (Britain) but in over 100 countries affecting the lives of over a billion people in the world today in the 21st century."

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