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June 15, 2019

The Magna Carta (b. June 15, 1215 - present)

Today, Saturday, June 15, the great human rights document known to most of us as the Magna Carta--also the Magna Charta or the Great Charter--celebrates its 804th birthday. The Charter was of course imposed by feudal barons on the English King John Lackland at the banks of the Thames near Windsor, England, on June 15, 1215. By limiting the king's absolute power, and protecting the rights of at least some of his subjects, the document wisely signed that day by King John (1199-1216) became a critical building block in both English and American constitutional law.

The Magna Carta did two groundbreaking things. It acknowledged that punishment of citizens must be under the law of the land. More generally, it also gave rise to a settled notion, and expectation, that a monarch should not and cannot act on a completely arbitrary basis. What spurred the barons to confront King John? Answer: Taxes, mainly, without notice, over and over again, to pay for John's lackluster military campaigns on the continent.

Magna-Charta (1).jpg
A reprinting in London in 1600s.

Posted by JD Hull at June 15, 2019 12:29 AM

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