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June 16, 2014

Happy 799th, Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta (Great Charter) celebrated its 799th birthday yesterday. The Charter was of course imposed by feudal barons on King John 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 became a critical building block in both English and American constitutional law.

The Magna Carta did mainly 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.

What? You know all about the Great Charter. Okay, then by all means take this test one of our Brit cousins over at The Telegraph devised over the weekend for countrymen and colonials alike. At our shop, only the patrician Holden Oliver, with his first rate 17th century mind, got all the answers right.

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

Posted by JD Hull at June 16, 2014 08:29 AM

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