Magna Carta

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Latin for the Great Charter. The Magna Carta established the principle that a written document could place limits on executive power. It is usually considered the ancestor of all national constitutions, and hence the point of origin for all constitutional government.

After a succession of military losses in France, King John's rule became oppressive to his British subjects. Barons revolted and captured London. On June 10, 1215, King John and the barons met and negotiated a settlement. The barons would renew their oaths of loyalty, and in exchange the King would agree to a list of concessions entitled Articles of the Barons. The formal royal grant prepared by the royal chancery became known as the Magna Carta.

Included in the Articles of the Barons are some principles we would recognize today:

  • "In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it."
  • "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land."
  • "To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice."

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