Freedom and Liberty
To a great extent, Americans owe their personal freedom to a unique document called the Magna Carta. This historical document was proclaimed and sealed by King John of Great Britain, June 15th, 1215 AD.
Prior to this date, the Monarch of England had absolute power to rule over all people as they felt proper.
The Magna Carta laid out specific limitations which the Monarch must follow when passing any laws or statues for the ruling of the nation. This charter was the foundation to spark the idea, people would be governed by the rule of law, rather than the whims of Monarchs or governments.
Despite the fact America would later break away from England, mostly in objection to taxation, it was the laws of Britain which served as the guiding light in the formation of the new and united colonies.
The Magna Carta consisted of a preamble and 63 clauses and dealt mainly with feudal concerns that had little impact outside 13th century England.
However, the document was remarkable in that it implied there were laws the king was bound to observe, thus precluding any future claim to absolutism by the English monarch.
Of greatest interest to later generations was clause 39, which stated that “no free man shall be arrested or imprisoned or disseised [dispossessed] or outlawed or exiled or in any way victimised…except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”
This clause has been celebrated as an early guarantee of trial by jury and of habeas corpus and inspired England’s Petition of Right (1628) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1679).
John Locke would later define freedom under the rule of law as:
“Freedom of people under government is to be under no restraint apart from standing rules to live by that are common to everyone in the society and made by the lawmaking power established in it. Persons have a right or liberty to follow their own will in all things that the law has not prohibited and not be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, and arbitrary wills of others.”
This concept, as laid out in the Magna Carta, combined with the principle of a governing democracy developed by the Greeks and the Romans would form the principle foundation upon which the Constitution of the United States of America would be built.
In your journalforlife, reflect upon the primary principle of democratic freedom.
The rights and liberty of the individual comes before those of the state, until such time as the government (by the people and for the people) clearly demonstrate such a restriction is necessary in the best interest of the majority.
We welcome you to post your journal entry to this Journal Challenge, or discuss this challenge, in our forum, Common Ground.
“Where justice is concerned, the principles of Magna Carta are a reference to which we should always return to ensure that we are proceeding in the right direction.” –Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court
“The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history. It is human history. It permeated the ancient life of early peoples. It blazed anew in the Middle Ages. It was written in Magna Charta.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.” –Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls
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