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The Magna Carta Essay

2171 words - 9 pages

Magna Carta and Its American LegacyMonday, 18-Dec-00 14:55:1224.14.28.77 writes:National Archives and Records AdministrationMagna Carta and Its American LegacyBefore penning the Declaration of Independence--the first of the American Chartersof Freedom--in 1776, the Founding Fathers searched for a historical precedent for assertingtheir rightful liberties from King George III and the English Parliament. They found it in agathering that took place 561 years earlier on the plains of Runnymede, not far from whereWindsor Castle stands today. There, on June 15, 1215, an assembly of barons confronteda despotic and cash-strapped King John and demanded that traditional rights berecognized, written down, confirmed with the royal seal, and sent to each of the counties tobe read to all freemen. The result was Magna Carta--a momentous achievement for theEnglish barons and, nearly six centuries later, an inspiration for angry American colonists.Magna Carta was the result of the Angevin king's disastrous foreign policy andoverzealous financial administration. John had suffered a staggering blow the previous year,having lost an important battle to King Philip II at Bouvines and with it all hope of regainingthe French lands he had inherited. When the defeated John returned from the Continent, heattempted to rebuild his coffers by demanding scutage (a fee paid in lieu of military service)from the barons who had not joined his war with Philip. The barons in question,predominantly lords of northern estates, protested, condemning John's policies and insistingon a reconfirmation of Henry I's Coronation Oath (1100), which would, in theory, limit theking's ability to obtain funds. (As even Henry ignored the provisions of this charter,however, a reconfirmation would not necessarily guarantee fewer taxes.) But John refusedto withdraw his demands, and by spring most baronial families began to take sides. Therebelling barons soon faltered before John's superior resources, but with the unexpectedcapture of London, they earned a substantial bargaining chip. John agreed to grant acharter.The document conceded by John and set with his seal in 1215, however, was notwhat we know today as Magna Carta but rather a set of baronial stipulations, now lost,known as the "Articles of the barons." After John and his barons agreed on the finalprovisions and additional wording changes, they issued a formal version on June 19, and it isthis document that came to be known as Magna Carta. Of great significance to futuregenerations was a minor wording change, the replacement of the term "any baron" with "anyfreeman" in stipulating to whom the provisions applied. Over time, it would help justify theapplication of the Charter's provisions to a greater part of the population. While freemenwere a minority in 13th-century England, the term would eventually include all English, justas "We the People" would come to apply to all Americans in this century.While Magna Carta would one day become a basic...

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