The following is an excellent article from the “WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA” in the “M” volume from page 49 titled “Magna Carta, or The Great Charter, has been called “the cornerstone of English liberty.” It is a document that English barons forced King John to approve in 1214. In the Charter, the king promised certain rights to his subjects.
Magna Carta marked a beginning of democracy in England. It did not grant democracy to all the people, because the barons designed it to protect their rights and to gain more privileges. But it marked the first time that anyone had ever limited the absolute power of the king, in England or anywhere else. It was also the first document that promised certain rights to all freemen in the kingdom.
The Charter Promised two kinds of rights. Some of them were the rights the king promised to the barons, and others were the rights that the barons, in turn, promised to the freemen under them. Some articles in the Charter no longer have any importance. Many others helped form the foundation for English democracy. For example, the principle of “no taxation without representation” is usually traced back to the Charter.
Scribes wrote the Charter in Latin. Originally it contained 63 articles. In the first sentence, the king greeted his subjects. A greeting opened all such documents.
Two important articles promised justice to all freemen in the kingdom. One of them says that “No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised (which means dispossessed) or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” The article that follows this promise contains another famous guarantee: “To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.”
Enforcement. The Charter contained several articles designed to make the king keep his promises. Four barons formed a committee to warn the king if they found he was not observing the charter. If he disregarded the warnings, 25 barons had the right to raise an army and force him to obey. The king could not charge them or their followers with treason or disloyalty, because they would be doing their duty under the Charter.
History. The Charter resulted from a long struggle between the king and the barons. The barons ruled large estates and had to pay taxes on them. They wanted to limit the king’s power over them and to define his right to tax them. In the late 1100’s, King Richard I taxed the barons heavily to pay for his foreign wars, including the third crusade (see Crusades). When King John was crowned in 1199, the barons hoped he would not tax them heavily. But he demanded more money from them, and then used the money for his own purposes.
Finally, in 1213, a group of barons and high-ranking church leaders met at St. Albans, near London. They drew up a lost of rights they wanted the king to promise them. The barons presented their list to King John twice. The king refused the second time, the barons raised an army to force him to grant the rights they demanded. John quickly saw that he could not defeat the army, and agreed to meet the barons at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. There, King John finally agreed to place his seal on the document known as The Great Charter.
But the struggle did not end just because John had agreed to the Charter. He was enraged, and made plans to subdue the barons and deny the rights he had given them. He was still at war with them when he died in 1216. His son, Henry III, was only a child. The boy’s ministers agreed to issue the Charter again and to follow its provisions. Henry III made the same promise when he came of age in 1225. Each time the charter was reissued, some important changes were made in the various articles it contained.
For many years the name was commonly spelled Magna Charta, but in 1946, the British government officially adopted the Latin spelling, Magna Carta.
See also BILL OF RIGHTS; HABEAS CORPUS; JOHN (king); LAW (picture, A monument to the Magna Carta); RUNNYMEDE.”
(WE WERE READING IN THE WORLD BOOK ABOUT THE U.S. CONSTITUTION AND WHO IT WAS REPRESENTING. SINCE I BELIEVE THE UNIONS REPRESENT THE WORKERS, I WONDERED WHICH AMENDMENT in the CONSTITUTION REPRESENTS THE WORKERS AND IT SAID THAT THE 5TH AMENDMENT AND ALSO REFERRED TO THE 14TH AMENDMENT. WHEN READING THE EXPLANATION OF THE 5TH AMENDMENT, IT REFERRED TO THE MAGNA CARTA WHICH WAS SIGNED IN 1215, WHICH WE ALSO FOUND IN THE WORLD BOOK, WHICH WAS A FASCINATING READ ABOUT HOW ENGLAND ESTABLISHED A DEMOCRACY. IN THE PAST THE KING OF ENGLAND HAD THE MONEY AND THE POWER TO RULE OVER THE LANDOWNERS (BARONS). SINCE THE FARMERS DIDN’T LIKE PAYING HEAVY TAXES AND I ASSUME IT WAS PROPERTY TAXES AND NOT BASED OFF OF INCOME WHICH MUST BE BASED ON ABILITY TO PAY , LIKE THE KING OF ENGLAND HAD, THE FARMERS WERE SINGLED OUT UNFAIRLY AND COULDN’T MAKE MONEY FOR THEMSELVES. THIS SEEMS TO BE THE PROBLEM RIGHT TODAY, THE PLUTOCRATS RULING THE 99 PERCENT. EVEN THE POLLS IN THIS COUNTRY FEEL WE SHOULD ELIMINATE THE TAX LOOPHOLES AND HAVE AN HONEST PROGRESSIVE INCOME TAX SYSTEM, BASED ON ABILITY TO PAY. SO THE BATTLE GOES ON AROUND THE WORLD AND DO WE HAVE TO HAVE CIVIL WARS FOUGHT ABOUT WHO SHOULD RUN A DEMOCRACY? AN ELECTION? OR A DISTORTED MEDIA, WHO CAN ATTEMPT TO KEEP ENOUGH PEOPLE ON THEIR SIDE TO PROTECT THE CHOSEN 1 PERCENT FOR A FEW MORE YEARS UNTIL THE WHOLE WORLD GOES TO RUIN BECAUSE OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND WARS.
LaVern Isely, Overtaxed Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen and AARP Members