The following vision for a National Constitution Center which has been built in Independence Mall in Philadelphia was developed by David Stivison and presented by Tully Vaughan to the National Park Service, and printed in the November 20, 1995, issue of the Philadelphia Legal Intelligencer.
In 1215 a coalition of Barons forced King John to accept the Great Charter of Liberties,
Magna Charta, which became the basis for our own Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights more than five centuries later.
Now the City of Philadelphia is engaged in debate over how best to present those documents and concepts to the world.
So far all the proposals presented to the public have lacked a vision of the role of these documents in the history of the rule of law among all nations.
The Baronial Order of Magna Charta, a society of the descendants of the Barons who created and enforced Magna Charta, now presents its vision.
The Constitution and Bill of Rights of the United States of America have demonstrated to the world at large over the past two centuries that a democracy does not have to decay into anarchy and a republic does not have to devolve into totalitarianism.
These two documents do not stand alone and isolated, but are part of a 4,000-year struggle to create a society ruled by laws and not by men.
The proposed Constitutional Center on Independence Mall offers the chance to present that grand four millennia sweep accessible to vast numbers of visitors and citizens of Philadelphia, linking it to other sites and institutions in this area that can illuminate that history.
[The article then traces the evolution of law from the Middle East in antiquity, through the Mosaic law and the contributions of Greece and Rome, and the development of legal systems among the Germanic tribes of Medieval Europe.]
William Penn published the Magna Charta in Philadelphia in 1687, only five years after the city was founded. The world’s only complete copy of his book is at Haverford.
From the Virginia Charter of 1606 to the Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641 to the Constitution Penn wrote for the colony of West New Jersey, and his Charters for his own settlement, immigrants were guaranteed that English law back to Magna Charta would follow them to the colonies.
When this promise was broken in the next century by the Stamp Acts, denying American colonists jury trials and taxing them without representation, the American Revolution resulted.
Today, Philadelphia is the center of many heritage societies recognizing the role of our colonial ancestors and honoring those who fought and died in that Revolution, and their long allegiance to the flame of freedom will help us present that history in the Constitution Center.
[After discussing how this history can be best presented to the general public, and the important role of later events such as the Civil War and the expansion of personal freedoms in the 1960′s, the article ends with this vision for Philadelphia: To be a guardian and teacher of history.