Eight hundred years ago the Magna Carta was signed by King John, asserting the idea that Kings shouldn’t be exempt from their own laws. It was significant as a symbol of freedom and one of the first restraints on government power. In fact, it would later be looked up to as the Founding Fathers declared independence and later crafted the Constitution of the United States. While 800 years have come and gone since the signing of this significant document—it’s important that we take a moment to recognize its importance in securing freedom for us and for future generations.
The signing of this monumental document came after the barons in England were exceedingly unhappy with taxes levied by King John to pay for his brother’s expensive crusades. King John was forced to negotiate with these men and eventually was forced to relinquish some of his authority as King. The major limitations placed upon the King by Magna Carta sound familiar to many of the freedoms granted to us in the U.S. Constitution.
First, King John was forced to accept the principle of due process – curtailing his power to indiscriminately imprison citizens at will. Secondly, Magna Carta placed restrictions on the Kings ability to decree new taxes. It is true that in the immediate aftermath of the signing of Magna Carta, only the barons and bishops received protection from this “Great Charter.” However, these principles were reasserted again and again throughout English history and become the foundation of what came to be understood as the rights of Englishmen.
Later on, inspiration from Magna Carta would be influential to American colonists who believed an increasingly tyrannical King George was violating their own rights as Englishmen. For example, chants by the founding fathers condemning “no taxation without representation” closely resemble article 12 of Magna Carta that states “no scutage or aid is to be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our realm.” After the colonists refused to be denied their rights in the face of oppressive rule, the United States had a new birth in freedom.
The legacy of Magna Carta is profound. To enshrine on paper the importance of individual rights is to create the conditions where individuals can create their own prosperity instead of being restrained by the state, to cooperate on beneficial projects without interference from the government, and to allow free enterprise to bring forth the great prosperity America has seen since its founding. To honor the historic anniversary of Magna Carta, citizens of the United States must defend their freedoms set forth in our own document that protects us from arbitrary government – the U.S. Constitution.