The Magna Carta, or Great Charter, is a charter drawn by English noblemen guaranteeing certain English rights and defining English civil and political liberties. It had been signed by seal of King John of England on June 15, 1215 in an effort to guarantee the continuing loyalty of the nobility. While Pope Innocent III nullified the arrangement 10 months later, the record has been reissued with alterations in 1216, 1217 and 1225. In 1297, Edward I entered the Magna Carta to the statues of this realm, which makes it the first entry on the statute books. While the Magna Carta was originally supposed to protect only the rights of noblemen, it was finally extended to commoners and served as the basis for English Common Law.
The Magna Carta included 63 exemptions which served to cover the main problems affecting England during the reign of King John including inheritance; debts and the payment after departure; the administration of justice; the levying of taxes; woods, riverbanks and river weirs; and freedom of commerce and travel amongst others. While the Magna Carta wasn’t originally numbered or split into separate clauses, a numbering system was supplied by Sir William Blackstone, in 1759 in a printed edition of the 1215 version of the Magna Carta.
The statute which had remained dormant for several years was revived by Sir Edward Coke in the seventeenth century. Coke touted the Magna Carta as authority for challenging the Stuart kings’ claims of royal prerogative and he translated the Magna Carta as an affirmation of the principles of human liberties and as a statement of English rights held since antiquity. The importance that Sir Edward Coke credited to the Magna Carta was reflected in the legislation of the colonies and his interpretation resulted in the claim of the inviolability of a person’s right to due process of law.
Englishmen who came to the American colonies believed they were entitled to the rights of Englishmen embodied in the Magna Carta and as defined in the English Common Law, and it was upon this frame that the colonists started to construct the laws of the land and maintain their liberty in the English Crown.
When framing their State Constitutions, nearly all the original colonies comprised a statement of their basic rights and liberties of man. While the Constitution of 1789 embodied various declarations of the basic rights of men, it didn’t include a formal Bill of Rights, like that included in the State Constitutions. Intense debate over the need for a declarative statement outlining the rights of taxpayers ensued. Consequently, Articles three through twelve, known as the Bill of Rights, became the first ten amendments to the Constitution of America.
The Bill of Rights, passed in 1789, and put in effect in 1791, secures the crucial rights and liberties of the individual citizen and restricts the government’s power in judicial proceeding. A number of these rights and liberties, in addition to the concept of representative government, the notion of a supreme law, and the notion of judicial review descend from an eighteenth-century comprehension of the Magna Carta.
The English concept of liberty of the church served as the foundation for our First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides that”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Likewise, Clause 1 of the Magna Carta provides”The English Church shall be free and shall have her whole rights and her liberties inviolable…” Clauses 62 and 63, which were omitted in the subsequent reissues of the Magna Carta, also reaffirm the freedom of the Church.
The idea of due process was expanded to include the right to bear arms (Second Amendment) and not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment (Eighth Amendment).
Clause 39 guarantees that the administration of justice shall be based on”the laws of this land.” While the idea of”law of the land” isn’t defined in the Magna Carta, it has over time come to mean the right to trial by a jury of one’s peers, the right to confront one’s accusers, and the right to appeal.
The term”due process of law” first substituted the stage”the law of the land” in 1354 in a statute restating the Magna Carta’s procedural claims. It’s this guarantee that’s embodied in the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution also contains a similar provision. It should also be noted that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1868, also comprises a due process clause.
The Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to”all persons born or naturalized in the United States” and prohibit states from denying any individual”life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or denying”any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The provisions of the Fifth Amendment were introduced as a check upon the national government while those enunciated in the Fourteenth Amendment were directed towards the respective states from the Union. Taken together, but both amendments ensure that the person’s right to life, liberty and property remain inviolate vis a vis both the state and national government.
The notion of making sure that the person’s right to life, liberty and property remained inviolate vis a vis government is further exemplified in the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution wherein it is stipulated that”the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Clearly, the framers of the Constitution meant that the rights they held before the framing of this Constitution, such as those maintained in the Magna Carta, were not lost nor restricted by the Constitution.
As previously mentioned, Clause 39 of the Magna Carta contains the assurance that”no freeman shall be taken or imprisoned… except by the lawful judgment of his peers.” The intent at the time was to induce the king to relinquish judicial authority to peers of the person on trial. Thus, while the Magna Carta didn’t consider the prosecution system that we have in america, it did serve as its inspiration. The colonists viewed the right to a jury trial because of an important liberty and a fundamental safeguard of liberty from arbitrary government. Hence the notion espoused in Clause 39 that”no freeman shall be taken or imprisoned… except by the lawful judgment of his peers” was integrated in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Thus, like Clause 39, the Sixth Amendment guarantees a trial by a jury comprised of fellow citizens.
This idea of swift justice can be reflected in the Sixth Amendment from the assurance that”the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.”
While the Sixth Amendment secured a right to a jury trial in criminal cases, it didn’t apply to civil cases. The Seventh Amendment, however, was made to ensure a jury trial in civil cases.
The rights sought by the barons in 1215, as described in the Magna Carta, not only found their way to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but these crucial rights may also be found in the jury instructions issued by Judge to jury in america. That is, these rights are seen in the conditions presumption of innocence and burden of proof.
Clause 38 of the Magna Carta, afterwards re-numbered 29, provides that”No bailiff, for the future, will put any man to his law, upon his own simple affirmation, without credible witnesses created for the purpose.” Clause 38’s requirement that no man be put to trial without witnesses found its way to the Sixth Amendment from the assurance that”the accused shall enjoy the right… to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” In our judicial system, however, it is for the jury to determine the credibility of a witness.
During the reign of King John, there existed a concern regarding the seriousness of the punishment to be rendered. Thus Clause 20 of the Magna Carta was written to make sure that”A free-man shall not be fined for a small offence, but only based on the degree of the offence; and also to get a excellent delinquency, according to the size of the delinquency, saving his contentment… and none of the aforesaid fines shall be assessed, but by the oath of honest men of the vicinage.” To make certain that punishments weren’t overly excessive, Clause 20 mandated the punishment be consistent with the gravity of the crime. The same principle is expressed in our Eighth Amendment from the assurance that”Excessive bail shall not be required nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The longest clause of the Magna Carta, Clause 61, called the security clause, was the most critical clause affecting King John in 1215. Clause 61 provided that a committee of 25 barons could meet anytime and overrule the will of the King, by force if necessary, if he defied the terms of this Charter, and they could grab his possessions and castles. As this was the first time that such a practice was forced upon a ruling monarch, Clause 61 was a severe obstacle to King John’s authority. Unsurprisingly, Clause 61 was omitted from all later reissues of the Magna Carta.
Clause 61 provides in part that”… because we have given all these things… we being desirous that these things should have entire and unshaken stability for , give and grant to them the security underwritten; namely the Barons may select twenty-five Barons of the kingdom, whom they please, who will with their whole power, observe, keep, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties which we have given to them, and have confirmed by this our present charter… And if we will not have redresses… the twenty-five Barons… shall distress… us… from the taking of our castles, lands, and possessions…”
Throughout the time of the Tudors, the Magna Carta served as a foundation for establishing the first Parliament to help in enforcing the rights claimed by law. Afterwards, in Elizabethan times, the Magna Carta was utilized to establish the antiquity of Parliament.
The principal importance of Clause 61 is that it laid the framework for the simple form of government in both England and in the USA. Subsequently, the English governmental system of Monarch, Commons, and Lords provided the legal basis for our system of two houses of Congress and the Presidency. The framers of the Constitution were affected by the inherent relationship between the Monarch, Commons and Lords in the British governmental system and it’s from this system that the legal basis for both houses of Congress and the Presidency, in addition to the notion of checks and balances, was created. The legislative, judicial and executive branches of the government, together with the system of checks and balances, are based in the first few articles of this Constitution.
For the framers of the Constitution, the checks and balances that functioned between the 3 branches of government were a way to protect against any single branch from overreaching and exceeding its powers. Therefore, the Constitution and the Magna Carta were ready with the same intent in mind. Both files limit government by requiring entry to the law and by requiring recognition of the rights of taxpayers.
Therefore, the Tenth Amendment makes it clear that our national government possesses only those powers granted to it by the Constitution. The states, however, have all powers that the Constitution neither delegates to our national government nor prohibits the states from working; said otherwise, all powers not explicitly delegated to the national government nor denied to the states, remain with the states or the public.
Thought of a Supreme Law
The Magna Carta has also been credited with providing the foundation for the notion of a higher law. In this regard, it’s regarded as a superior law such that even kings must be subject to the law, and any attempt to invalidate it does not need to be respected. The concept that the Magna Carta provided the foundation for the notion of a higher law is embedded in Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the United States Constitution. Hence the Supremacy Clause mandates that the Constitution together with all treaties and all federal laws made in pursuance of this Constitution represents the”supreme law of the land” from america. The Supremacy Clause further mandates that all judges in most countries are bound by this”supreme law of the land,” and that the state courts must refuse to uphold any state law that’s contrary to the”supreme law of the land.”
Clauses 39 and 40, discussed above, also act as a foundation for the idea of judicial review. It’s through judicial review which our courts interpret the meaning and intent of legislation.