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Excerpt from the Magna Carta
Original Magna Carta published in 1215
Reprinted from Magna Carta: Manuscripts and Myths by Claire Breay
Published in 2002
"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 [English royalty] proceed with force against him or send others to do so except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land." An English document drawn up in 1215, the Magna Carta became known as the first written guarantee of basic civil liberties and was held up as a protection for Englishmen against excessive royal power for centuries. Clauses 39 and 40 of the Magna Carta, quoted above, evolved into the cornerstone of the American criminal justice system—due process of law, meaning legal procedures must be followed fairly, and trial by jury. These basic legal concepts were later incorporated into the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights in order to protect and uphold the civil liberties of U.S. citizens.
Surprisingly, the original purpose of the Magna Carta was neither grand nor visionary. It was a practical agreement negotiated over many months between the English land barons (wealthy noblemen) and King John (1167–1216), the tyrannical ruler of England from 1199 to 1216. The only intent of the Magna Carta was to resolve the longstanding grievances of the barons against the king, and its clauses were not issued as principles of law. Threatened by the rebellious barons with civil war in spring 1215, King John reluctantly agreed to the demands of the barons that were in the Magna Carta.
For More Information
Breay, Claire. Magna Carta: Manuscripts and Myths. London: The British Library, 2002.
Holt, James C., ed. Magna Carta and the Idea of Liberty. Malabar, FL: R. E. Krieger, 1982.
Pallister, Anne. Magna Carta: The Heritage of Liberty. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.
The British Library. http://www.bl.uk/collections/treasures/magna.html (accessed on August 24, 2004).
"Featured Documents." National Archives and Records Administration. http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/featured_documents/magna_carta/legacy.html (accessed on August 24, 2004).
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