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800th anniversary of the Magna Carta
An English Rose in Georgia
Lesley Francis - SBF
Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and made Georgia her home in 2009. - photo by File photo

I love history, majored in history at Bristol University in England and am pleased to tell you that 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John of England.
The Magna Carta was agreed by King John in 1215 to appease rebel barons who were challenging his authority. The king signed it, complete with the royal seal, in the heart of battle at a place called Runnymede, just west of London. A bit of personal trivia: My husband and I shared our first home about a minute down the road from the place of the signing.
The Magna Carta is one of the most important, well-known documents in history and generally is seen as the beginning of democracy. For the first time ever, it outlined some basic rights of individuals, whereas up to that point only royalty and those who had been appointed by royalty (wealthy landowners) including barons, lords and other impressive titles had any rights at all. Subjects were merely treated as property to be managed. The Magna Carta included the principle that no one was above the law. It charted the right to a fair trial and limits on taxation without representation. It also has inspired a number of other key historical documents, including the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to, it is believed about 250 copies of the original manuscript were created and sent to legal and religious officials across the country to communicate it far and wide and make sure it was carried out. These copies of the Magna Carta were painstakingly hand-written and copied by monks, whose literacy skills were in great demand since this was about 200 years before the introduction of the printing press into Europe.
The key clause from the Magna Carta that remains valid in England and much of the world today states that no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgment of his equals. Other surviving clauses guarantee the liberties of the English Church and confirm the privileges of the city of London and other English cities.
To celebrate the anniversary of this auspicious beginning of democracy, all four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta documents were recently displayed together at the British Library in London in an exhibition called “Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.” Demonstrating the importance historians place on the Magna Carta, these are displayed alongside Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence (the one the U.S. sent to Britain to kick off the Revolutionary War) and one of the original copies of the U.S. Bill of Rights, transported to the United Kingdom for the first time.
It comes as a surprise to many that the Magna Carta was the basis for the Declaration of Independence. The Magna Carta not only laid the foundations for 800 years of democracy in the U.K., but also inspired the Founding Fathers to form the basis of democracy in the United States of America. In 1215, when King John confirmed Magna Carta with his seal, he was acknowledging the now firmly embedded concept that no man — not even the king — is above the law. That was a milestone in constitutional thought for the 13th century and centuries to come. In 1779, John Adams expressed it this way: “A government of laws, and not of men.”
Further, the charter established important individual rights that have a direct legacy in the Bill of Rights. And during the United States’ history, these rights have been expanded, interpreted and reinterpreted throughout the years. This has allowed the U.S. Constitution to become the longest-lasting constitution in the world and has served as the model for a number of other nations. Through judicial review and amendments, it has evolved so that today Americans — regardless of gender, race or creed — can enjoy the liberties and protection it guarantees.
Just as the Magna Carta stood against royal tyranny in England, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights today serve similar roles, protecting the individual freedoms of all Americans from others, including from the government itself. As a British-born naturalized American citizen, I cannot help but feel grateful and in awe of these facts.
God bless America!

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