The magna carta

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Magna Carta and Its American Legacy

Monday, 18-Dec-00 14:55:12 writes:

National Archives and Records Administration

Magna Carta and Its American Legacy

Before penning the Declaration of Independence--the first of the American Charters

of Freedom--in 1776, the Founding Fathers searched for a historical precedent for asserting

their rightful liberties from King George III and the English Parliament. They found it in a

gathering that took place 561 years earlier on the plains of Runnymede, not far from where

Windsor Castle stands today. There, on June 15, 1215, an assembly of barons confronted

a despotic and cash-strapped King John and demanded that traditional rights be

recognized, written down, confirmed with the royal seal, and sent to each of the counties to

be read to all freemen. The result was Magna Carta--a momentous achievement for the

English barons and, nearly six centuries later, an inspiration for angry American colonists.

Magna Carta was the result of the Angevin king's disastrous foreign policy and

overzealous financial administration.

John had suffered a staggering blow the previous year,

having lost an important battle to King Philip II at Bouvines and with it all hope of regaining

the French lands he had inherited. When the defeated John returned from the Continent, he

attempted to rebuild his coffers by demanding scutage (a fee paid in lieu of military service)

from the barons who had not joined his war with Philip. The barons in question,

predominantly lords of northern estates, protested, condemning John's policies and insisting

on a reconfirmation of Henry I's Coronation Oath (1100), which would, in theory, limit the

king's ability to obtain funds. (As even Henry ignored the provisions of this charter,

however, a reconfirmation would not necessarily guarantee fewer taxes.) But John refused

to withdraw his demands, and by spring most baronial families began...