800 Years Later, The Magna Carta Still Merits Reverence And Debate

Although many look to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution as the key documents that serve as a foundation for today’s democratic movements, many believe it is the Magna Carta, signed 800 years ago today, that is the true founding document.

“It was really the first document we associate with the rule of law where in fact you have a monarch in England giving up some of their powers and … putting forward a document which he then seals and agrees to be bound by what that document says,” Malcolm Stuart, vice-president of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia and a member of Magna Carta Australia Committee, told The Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Not only scholars recognize the importance of the document which was signed in 1215 by England’s King John and was the first charter protecting the rights and freedoms of society and establishing that the king was subject to the law.

As part of a school project about the Magna Carta, South Carolina student Colin Newton wrote that it “affects almost every single person living in the free world today.

Not all historians and political analysts believe it merits the reverence many accord, such as Tom Ginsburg, a professor of international law at the University of Chicago.

Writing in the New York Times, Ginsburg points out that the Magna Carta has been praised by almost everyone from rapper Jay Z to members of the Tea Party.

But, he says, some of that praise stems from the survival of several myths.

“First, it wasn’t effective. In fact, it was a failure. John was a weak king who had squandered the royal fortune on a fruitless war with France. Continually raising taxes to pay for his European adventures, he provoked a revolt by his barons, who forced him to sign the charter. But John repudiated the document immediately, and the barons sought to replace him. John avoided that fate by dying,” he says.

The Magna Carta was rewritten several times but, Ginsburg contends, it did little to constrain the monarchy. What the Magna Carta did accomplish was to lay the groundwork for democratic movements moving forward, argues John Stanton, a lecturer at City Law School at City University London.

“Over the centuries most of the Great Charter’s clauses have been repealed. Only three of the original 63 clauses remain in force: those providing for the freedom of the Church of England; the protection of the liberties and free customs of the City of London; and the protection of individuals from imprisonment or punishment without due process.

“But the legacy of Magna Carta runs much deeper. The establishment of the rule of law at Runnymede 800 years ago went on to inspire and shape the development of the UK constitution and, indeed, the constitutions of democratic systems the world over,” Stanton says in a CNN web opinion piece.



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