Understanding the Magna Carta & Why It’s Important

The Magna Carta, which is Latin for Great Charter, is one of the most important documents in the history of the world. It established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, meaning no one is above the law. The decrees it set forth sound very familiar today, but they were revolutionary at the time. It guarantees the rights of the individual, the right to a fair trial, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to justice. To demonstrate the importance of this document, we share the three original clauses from the Magna Carta that are still part of British law.

Discontent and Revolution

Rebel nobles in England drafted the Magna Carta to limit the power of their own tyrannical monarch, King John. Upon its creation in 1215, the document secured rights and liberties for the elite classes in England. However, the language in it protecting due process and barring absolute monarchy has guided the principles of common law in constitutions around the world for centuries.

It all began with King John’s volatile relationship with Pope Innocent III, who claimed supreme authority over European sovereigns. King John opposed the appointment of an archbishop in 1207 and became the first English king to receive excommunication. To get back at the Church, he seized parts of its lands. Shortly after, in 1214, King John launched an unsuccessful invasion of France. To pay for his war, the king was able to heavily tax those living on the land he seized to pay for his war defeats. This made The English Barons hate him even more. That was the last straw for them, and they revolted in 1215.

An Attempt at Peace

In an attempt to quell the civil unrest and put an end to the king’s abuse of power, Stephen Langton and a group of revel barons wrote the Articles of the Barons. These would later become the Magna Carta. Fearing the rebellion would lead to full-scale civil war and topple his regime, King John decided to act. He put his official seal on the document on June 15, 1215, officially making it Europe’s first constitution. By then, Pope Innocent III and King John had reconciled, and at the king’s request, he voided the Magna Carta. That act started the violence between the throne and the barons anew. It wasn’t until after King John’s death in 1216, those in power reinstated the Maga Carta under 9-year-old King Henry III.

Its Impact

Around 500 years later, the Magna Carta would inspire the American colonists to declare independence from the British themselves. In fact, about one-third of the provisions in the United States Bill of Rights comes from the Magna Carta. The founding fathers used the foundation to craft some of the most important documents in U.S. history. Without the Magna Carta, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence might look very different.

 

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