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Why is the Magna Carta seen as a key document in the founding of the US?

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Question: Why is the Magna Carta seen as a key document in the founding of the US?
The Magna Carta, or Great Charter, was created in 1215 in England. King John was on throne and after a falling out with the Pope over who should be the archbishop of Canterbury, was excommunicated. In order to get back in the Pope's good graces, he was required to pay money to the Pope. Further, King John desired to lands he had lost in present day France. In order to pay the fees and wage war, King John imposed heavy taxes on his subjects. The English barons fought back, forcing a meeting with the King at Runnymede near Windsor. At this meeting, King John was coerced into signing the Charter which protected some of their basic rights against royal actions.
Answer: The Magna Carta was the first constitutional text and one of the most important documents on the path to democracy. The reason why the Magna Carta was so important in terms of the founding of the United States was that the Founding Fathers used many of the principles first codified in the Magna Carta. Many of them studied English Law and understood this document's part in guaranteeing basic rights and freedoms for the English. Up until its creation, monarchs ruled supreme. With the Magna Carta, the king, for the first time, was not allowed to be above the law. Instead, he had to respect the rule of law and not abuse his position as king.

Key Provisions of the Magna Carta

Following are some of the key items that were included in the Magna Carta:
  • Habeas Corpus or the right to due process, was first written down in the Charter. It only allowed free men to be imprisoned and punished upon lawful judgment by a jury of their peers.
  • Justice could not be sold, denied, or delayed.
  • Civil lawsuits did not have to be held in the king's court.
  • The Common Council had to approve the amount of money that vassals had to pay instead of having to serve in the military (called scutage) along with any aid that could be requested from them with only three exceptions, but in all cases the aid had to be reasonable. This basically meant that John could not longer tax without the agreement of his Council.
  • If the King wanted to call the Common Council, he had to give the barons, church officials, landowners, sheriffs, and bailiffs 40 days notice with a stated purpose for why it was being called.
  • For commoners, all fines had to be reasonable so that their livelihood could not be taken away. Further, any offense that a commoner was said to have committed had to be sworn to by "good men from the neighbhorhood."
  • Bailiffs and constables could not appropriate possessions.
  • London and other cities were given the right to collect customs.
  • The king would not be allowed to have a mercenary army. In feudalism, the barons were the army. If the king had his own army, he would have the power to do what he wanted against the barons.
  • Inheritances were guaranteed to individuals with the amount of what today we would call inheritance tax being set in advance.
  • As stated previously, the king himself was placed under the law of the land.

Location of Documents Today

There are four known copies of the Magna Carta in existence. In 2009, all four copies were granted UN World Heritage status. Of these, two are located at the British Library, one is at Lincoln Cathedral, and the last is at Salisbury Cathedral.

Official copies of the Magna Carta were reissued in later years. Four were issued in 1297 which King Edward I of England affixed with a wax seal. One of these is currently located in the United States. Conservation efforts were recently completed to help preserve this key document. It can be seen at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. along with the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

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