Today’s Birthday, June 15: The Magna Carta

Submitted by Charlton Stanley (Otteray Scribe), guest blogger

“The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history . . . It was written in Magna Carta.”

–Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Third Inaugural address (1941)

Magna Carta
Magna Carta

On June 15, in  the year 1215 AD, the King of England was an involuntary “guest” of a group of forty rather angry Barons in a field at Runnymede. After the Barons explained “the facts of life” to him, King John affixed his Seal to a document they called the Magna Carta. In those days, documents were not signed, as is the custom today.  Instead of a signature, the official Seal of the person “signing” was impressed into hot wax poured onto the document.

King John consented to the Baron’s demands, sealing the document in hope of averting a civil war. Ten weeks later, Pope Innocent III proclaimed the Magna Carta document null and void, plunging England into a civil war the King and Barons had hoped to avoid.  Fortunately, for posterity and the law, King John died before Pope Innocent III’s decree became law. He died only 15 months after sealing the Magna Carta.

Although this magnificent document did not solve King John’s immediate problems, it was reissued in multiple copies after his death, and was read to the people throughout England. In fact, when the first English settlers landed on the shores of Colonies around the world, they took their rights with them.

Years later, when the American Colonies decided to break away from control by England, the writers of the Declaration of Independence and new Constitution had the rights first enumerated in the Magna Carta very much in mind.

Exact copies of the document, called “exemplifications,” were made, so all of the participants would each have one of the originals. The picture above is of one of the four original exemplifications. This copy has been conserved and restored by the Archives responsible for it.  There was a copy for the Royal archives, one for each of the Barons, and one for each of the 40 counties existing in England at the time. If there was a single ‘master copy’ of the first Magna Carta sealed by King John on this date in 1215, it has not survived.  Four of the original exemplifications still exist, one of them in the National Archives of the United States.

There have been a number of reissues of the Magna Carta, in several versions. In 1759, Sir William Blackstone wrote an analysis of the Magna Carta, which he titled, The Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest. In that treatise, Blackstone created the numbering system for the sections, which are still in use today.

Some later versions were edited for the benefit of the nobleman or landowner commissioning the reproduction, however, hidden away near the middle of the dense Latin manuscript in the original are these words:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled … except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”

This was a legal concept unknown at the time until the Barons inserted it into the document to be sealed by King John. For the first time in history, the right of habeas corpus was made law.

The rights of the common person, the peasants, and other commoners of the day were probably not very high on the list of priorities of the Barons. However, and probably unwittingly, they unleashed human rights on the people in ways they could hardly have imagined. Here are just two excerpts:

“No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.”

“To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice.”

So let’s wish The Great Charter a happy 798th birthday. There are already plans in the works at several historical sites to celebrate the 800th anniversary in 2015.

The floor is open for discussion, and if anyone has any ideas on how to bring it (and its progeny) back as enforceable–and enforced–law, I am certainly interested.

55 thoughts on “Today’s Birthday, June 15: The Magna Carta”

  1. Charlton Stanley (Otteray Scribe):

    Sorry to trespass in this thread, but I wanted to wish a Happy Father’s Day to all our faithful bloggers on Sunday, June 16, 2013.
    Jonathan and I both have 4 children and this is a special day to we Dads/Fathers/Daddy/Pop/Papa, etc. To all the fathers, enjoy your children!

  2. LK/OS,

    Save early, save often, even on the best word processor (which WordPress decidedly is not). But if you’re going to use a dedicated word processor, so many of them use HTML anymore, it’s best to use Ctrl+Shift+V and select the “Paste as plain text” option if a dialog open (its often the default). Otherwise you might get a bunch of extraneous formatting like Mike S. did the other day and then you’ll really be thinking WordPress is a tool of Satan.

  3. Ok, itchinBayDog, if you want to itchBay about one small point. Yes, it is the federal POWER that is invoked when the feds prosecute you for smoking pot or eating a pot brownie when you are dying of cancer. Not some States Right. Sorry. Never the Twain shall met unless you get to Cairo, Illinois, according to Mark Twain and he and Jim never did so how does he know.

  4. Wait a minute BarkinDog. I thought that a state or the federal government had “powers” and that individuals had “rights”. So why do you invoke the tired old bigot phrase of “states rights”? That phrase is invoked when the Klan gets made because the state wont intervene when the Klan lynches some guy for being black but the feds come in and prosecute the Klan. So, dog who was a former lawyer in a prior life, do not confuse the two concepts. A state has powers. A person has rights. It is Sunday morning so don’t try to confuse us because we have not sparked up from the coffee as yet.

    Its Magna Carta week. You may THINK that you live in a sovereign state which has medical marijuana laws but you LIVE in a federal sovereign nation which will prosecute you and put you in prison for using pot for medical purpose. Here is an excerpt from the Doug Berman, Sentencing Law and Policy blog:

    “Records Show Nearly 500 Years In Prison Time For Medical Marijuana Offenses”
    The title of this post is the heading of this notable new entry on The Weed Blog, which gets started this way:

    In spite of growing public support for medical marijuana, concern about overreach by the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies, and cutbacks in federal spending, the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana is raging unabated according to a survey of court records by Cal NORML.

    On Tuesday, Michigan medical marijuana grower Jerry Duval, a kidney and pancreas transplant patient with severe medical problems, began serving a ten-year sentence in the same prison as the Boston bomber. Duval joins a growing list of defendants in states that allow medical marijuana who have been charged by the Department of Justice for violating federal laws prohibiting medical marijuana.

    According to a survey of US court records, news stories, and case reports compiled by Cal NORML (with help from Americans for Safe Access):

    • Over 335 defendants have been charged with federal crimes related to medical marijuana in states with medical marijuana laws.

    • 158 defendants have received prison sentences totaling over 480 years for medical marijuana offenses. Some 50 are currently in federal prison, while more are waiting to be sentenced or surrender.

    • Over 90% of the criminal cases settled to date have resulted in convictions. 10% have been dismissed. A single defendant has been acquitted. Federal law typically prohibits defendants from invoking medical marijuana in their defense.

    • 153 medical marijuana cases have been brought in the 4 ¼ years of the Obama administration, nearly as many as under the 8 years of the Bush administration (163).

    • Not a single pardon or clemency petition has been granted to a medical marijuana defendant by President Obama or his predecessors.

    • One seriously ill defendant, Richard Flor, has died while in federal prison, and two others, Peter McWilliams and Steve McWilliams (no relation) died while being denied access to medical marijuana on bail. Other seriously ill patients who have who have been sentenced to lengthy terms include Dale Schafer, a hemophiliac currently serving 5 years along with his wife Mollie Fry, a cancer patient (pictured above); Vernon Rylee, who served nearly 5 years in a wheelchair (pictured right), and Jerry Duval.

    • At least 259 defendants have been chargedI in California; over 31 in Montana; 6 in Oregon; 15 in Nevada; 12 in Michigan; 2 in Colorado; and 10 in Washington.

    I would not bark about something like this on a Sunday morning if it was not true and outrageous.

  6. In Celebration of the Magna Carta. It is time to waterboard the waterboarders. Start with Claptrapper. When they lie to Congress, they lie to the American people and hence to the American dog. Liars need to be punished. After you waterboard them subject them to questioning. Blow a large whistle in their ears at numerous short intervals so that they know what whistleblowing is. Lie to Congress, you lie to me and you get waterboarded and whistleboarded.

  7. OS, never compose in WordPress, it is a tool of Satan.

    Darren and OS, I’m not a Magna Carta denier and I’m aware that land-owning men were the target of the Constitution (as some I fear, would like it to be again). I give it its due. Just providing a counterpoint. A universal declaration of civil right it was not. It was a good, engineered, first hole in the dam of absolute power. I can dig that.

  8. When I got out of the U.S. military in early February of 1972, I felt like a prisoner released after serving a six-year sentence for a crime I had never committed. Since regaining my freedom, I have never worn a uniform, saluted, or pledged subservience to anything or anyone. As a free civilian and citizen, I have no intention of living under a system of government where an active-duty military officer runs a vast network of government flunkies and private corporate mercenaries recording, storing, or analysing any information at all regarding anything that I say or do. I don’t answer to the U.S. military, and neither should any other citizen — of any country. Screw General Alexander. He needs to get a real job washing Private Bradley Manning’s skivvy shorts.

  9. This is why some might refer to constitutions as living documents as they can grow or spawn other and improved versions which align with the progress of cultures or societies.

    On balance, one has to look at the environment in which those works were created. It would be rather unfair to expect a perfect agreement to come out where a society hasn’t yet achieved the social equality that we generally have come to expect today and more than we can expect a 13th century man to have the same values that we espouse today.

    The fact that was eventually brought to existence at the time it did was greatly significant especially in terms of what was offered previous to it which was rather rare and seldomly fair to anyone other than a few individuals who were regarded as kings and in many cases gods with absolute rule over everyone.

    I wonder what society would be like today if the Magna Carta was not issued when it was. The butterfly effect would be quite epic by 2013

  10. LK,
    It was really weird when I hit publish. It not only did not publish, but went to another preview screen with the graphic missing and reverted back to the very first draft which had more typos than a first semester typing class. WordPress has been acting strange lately.

    I understand your skeptical take on the Magna Carta. We had some of the same problems with the Constitution. Written to protect the interests of landowners and the upper classes. However, the language was all inclusive. Some argue the French Revolution used the ideas in the Magna Carta as a stimulus. Same for the American revolt. Pamphleteers like Paine and Franklin used the legal models first enacted in the Magna Carta as a basis for their arguments.

    They built on the model first set forth by those disgruntled Barons. That is the real value of the Magna Carta. Had it not been for those capitulations by the King, would the French and American revolutions have ever taken place. Sir Isaac Newton once wrote that he had been able to see further than others because he stood on the shoulders of giants. I think that is the progeny the Magna Carta spawned.

  11. OS, set your word processing editor to save periodically, like every 5 (or 1) minutes or do it manually, it really helps. Get and stay well and get more rest. I’m sorry to hear you have been ill.

    The Magna Carta was written for the gentle class, not commoners and the common class caught hell under the gentle’s boot for centuries thereafter. The landowners and lords went on a rampage to fence their lands and abolish the ‘law of the commons’ which destroyed the livelihood of the commoners and entire villages. There was a commoners revolt in the early 1600’s but it was put down ruthlessly and came to nothing. All very legal and proper for the lords to do, though they decried the same confiscations (and odious taxes) by the royals.

    I’ve never been that impressed with the Magna Carta except that it may have given some hope to the commoners that with sufficient force and resolve even kings can be bent to the will of their servants. The Magna Carta may have been an inspiration and eventually embraced as a template for certain freedoms for everyone but it wasn’t written for or by any but the already privileged.

  12. A phone call from Brussels to my half blind guy revealed that the Europeans who attend the legal stuff in Brussels and Den Haag are all bent about the Prism apCray.

  13. When American has to escape to a Communist country to attempt to find the Rule of Law… It says volumes about America and Her Rule of Men.

  14. I know Dredd,
    That’s what other countries go through and the USA usually funds one of the sides… This time, the American TAX PAYER has funded their own oppressor. No wonder it looks foreign, we’re being rammed through the FOREIGN Intel Court system.

  15. Dredd,
    When I read that EFF and ACLU linked the MIC and then it hit me why Americans are now considered ‘foreigners’ by their own Government’s ‘Homeland Security’ NSA program that needed secret approval from the throttled and secret FISC, I realized we’ve been suffering under a long, slow and seemingly soft military coup… It made sense why the President won’t blink when he assassinated four Americans without due process… Our Constitution doesn’t apply so well in GITMO… what if the USA could be GITMO-atized a bit? Accuse the ‘pacifists’ for speaking out and remind the People that speaking out harms the Nation… or be arrested.

  16. “They aren’t listening to your phone calls…”
    ~ B. H. Obama

    Of course they’re not ‘listening’ Mr. President…
    … They’ve digitized our voices and fed the digits through algorithms.

    But keep talking to Americans like we’re three years old…
    … It makes you look so smart and so much the older BIG BROTHER.

  17. OS,

    Thanks for reminding us to honor ancient, timeless wisdom.

    Some people never get it though.

    The military has just admitted to violating these ancient principles which were in the Magna Charta you honor in your post, and are in the 4th Amendment:

    The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.

    Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed “simply based on an analyst deciding that.”

    If the NSA wants “to listen to the phone,” an analyst’s decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. “I was rather startled,” said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.

    (Military Says It Can Tap Phones Anywhere Anytime). What we call heroes are actually zeros.

    Principles which these “heroes” will continue to violate since the Coup.

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