The Story of the Magna Carta


The Magna Carta resulted from the peace made between King John of England and about sixty of his rebelling barons. After preliminary negotiations with Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton as go-between, John and his party met the barons on 15 June at Runnymede meadow next to the Thames River. After several days of discussions, the document language was finally agreed upon, and on 19 June the barons elected 25 of their number as “Sureties” to hold title to certain of the king’s properties, including the Tower of London, in order to guarantee his compliance with the laws and liberties expounded in the Magna Carta.

Thus began the long legal process of putting limits on kingly, and by extension, governmental authority, and of granting explicit rights to the ruled. From the time it was issued, the Magna Carta became a symbol of freedom to the barons and the people, and kings in succeeding centuries were expected to affirm it.

This compact, originally between the king and his discontented barons, has been invested by time and later interpretation with power far beyond its original intent and far beyond any other single document in English law.  The Magna Carta led directly to the English and United States Constitutions. More precisely,it gave protection to the rights of the nobles and common citizenry alike to be free of arbitrary actions against their persons or property by their sovereign. It has come to be recognized as the cornerstone of liberty and justice in the western world.

It is the well-spring of modern concepts of free speech, free association, the right to petition government for redress of grievances, the right to due process according the law of the land, to public and impartial trial at the hands of one’s peers, the right to travel freely in time of peace,and perhaps most important of all, recognition that even the sovereign is subject to the law of the land.