800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the great charter of liberty

On June 15, 1215, in a field at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames River, King John affixed his seal to the Magna Carta. Confronted by 40 rebellious barons, he consented to their demands in order to avert civil war. Just 10 weeks later, Pope Innocent III nullified the agreement and England plunged into internal conflict. Although the Magna Carta failed to resolve the struggle between King John and his barons, it was reissued several times after his death.

The Magna Carta was written by a group of barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. It was concerned with many practical matters and specific grievances relevant to the feudal system. The interests of the common man were hardly relevant in the minds of the men who brokered the agreement. Yet two principles expressed in the Magna Carta resonate to this day:

“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 or by the law of the land.”

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

During the American Revolution, the Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in the defense of liberty. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed by the Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Magna Carta has resonated throughout the centuries and across the globe as no other legal text and has been hailed as one of the most significant documents in English history. It has served as the basis for the principle that no one, including kings and presidents, is above the law and that the right to due process of law belongs to everyone.

The Illinois State Bar Association and its Committee on Law Related Education for the Public encourage elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools and universities to provide students with an opportunity to reflect upon the Magna Carta and the principles of due process of law embodied therein. ■

Login to post comments

June 2015Volume 1Number 2PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)