The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the fact that liberty and freedom was first granted by the Magna Carta 800 years ago. June 15, 2015, marked the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.
Magna Carta is Latin for “the Great Charter;” the document is also called Magna Carta Libertatum, which is Latin for “the Great Charter of the Liberties.” King John of England agreed to the charter on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, near Windsor. King John was an unpopular king and was challenged by a “group of  rebel barons.” The first draft of the Magna Carta was written by the Archbishop of Canterbury in an effort to make peace between the king and the barons.
The draft “promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown.” It was to be “implemented through a council of 25 barons.” When neither side honored their commitments, “the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III.” This led to the First Barons’ War.
After King John died, “the regency government of his young son, Henry III, reissued the document in 1216” but deleted some of the “more radical content.” King Henry’s effort was unsuccessful in building political support, but it formed part of the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth at the end of the war in 1217. It was at that time that the document was given the name of Magna Carta, “to distinguish it from the small Charter of the Forest which was issued at the same time. Short of funds, Henry reissued the charter again in 1225 in exchange for a grant of new taxes; his son, Edward I, repeated the exercise in 1297, this time confirming it as part of England’s statute law.
“The charter became part of English political life and was typically renewed by each monarch in turn, although as time went by and the fledgling English Parliament passed new laws, it lost some of its practical significance. At the end of the 16th century there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians at the time believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, that protected individual English freedoms. They argued that the Norman invasion of 1066 had overthrown these rights, and that Magna Carta had been a popular attempt to restore them, making the charter an essential foundation for the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as habeas corpus. Although this historical account was badly flawed, jurists such as Sir Edward Coke used Magna Carta extensively in the early 17th century, arguing against the divine right of kings propounded by the Stuart monarchs. Both James I and his son Charles I attempted to suppress the discussion of Magna Carta, until the issue was curtailed by the English Civil War of the 1640s and the execution of Charles.”
There are four “exemplifications of the original 1215 charter;” they are held by the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral, and Salisbury Cathedral. There are also a few of the “subsequent charters in public and private ownership, including copies of the 1297 charter in both the United States and Australia.
“The original charters were written on parchment sheets using quill pens, in heavily abbreviated Latin, which was the convention for legal documents at that time. Each was sealed with the royal great seal (made of beeswax and resin): very few of the seals have survived. Although scholars refer to the 63 numbered `clauses’ of Magna Carta, this is a modern system of numbering, introduced by Sir William Blackstone in 1759; the original charter formed a single, long unbroken text. The four original 1215 charters were displayed together at the British Library for one day, 3 February 2015, to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.”
Adam Brandon, CEO of FreedomWorks, explained, “The Magna Carta was a remarkable document. Even all these centuries later, it continues to stand as one of the most important recognitions that people – not just royalty and church leaders – but all people, have rights that must be defended by any government that regards itself as legitimate. In that regard, it stands second only to the Bill of Rights, and indeed, many of the protections enshrined in the first 10 Amendments to our Constitution can trace their philosophical and political origins all the way back to the 13th century.
“For example, one of the few clauses of the original charter that still remains in British law today guarantees the right to due process and just treatment by the law that we have variously enshrined in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments in the Bill of Rights. This strikes me as especially important to note, given our current national debates on policies such as surveillance and the criminal justice system….
“On June 15, it would behoove us all to take a moment and think about the long road we’ve taken. All the way back to Aristotle, up to the signing of the Magna Carta, to John Locke and Adam Smith, to Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Bastiat, and even up to the men and women fighting today to preserve and expand the preference for individualism over collectivism, for freedom over slavery. The Magna Carta may be 800 years old but it’s clear from the headlines we read every day that its influence is still a powerful and relevant force in the modern world.”
Americans – and other people – of our day take freedom and liberty for granted. It is good for all of us to remember that the Magna Carta brought into law the principle that no one is above the law, not even royalty.