Magna Carta World Tour
Maybe it won’t be as big as the Beatles, but the Magna Carta is on its first U.S. Tour in 800 years. It’s the Beatles for government and history nerds!
The original document was executed on a field in Runnymede in 1215. An assembly of English barons demanded that King John recognize their rights as well as the limitations on his power and codify them in a written document, which could be read by freemen throughout the British empire. The result was one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy.
The U.S. tour is fitting, as the Magna Carta is arguably more influential in this country than it ever was in England. As highlighted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1941 inaugural address, “The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history . . . It was written in Magna Carta.”
Colonists who settled in America viewed the Magna Carta as fundamental law, founding their revolution on the principles that no leader is above the law and that all citizens are entitled to certain rights. When the founding fathers were circulating the U.S. Constitution for ratification, critics noted that it lacked an enumeration of citizens’ rights. The Bill of Rights was born.
The Fifth Amendment’s due process guarantees echo the ancient words of the Magna Carta: “No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseized, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”
The Magna Carta still remains relevant today. As highlighted in a recent National Law Journal article, the U.S. Supreme Court has cited the legal document more than 60 times since 1940. In recent years, the Court has referenced its principles in decisions regarding the habeas corpus rights of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
Miraculously, four copies of the Magna Carta have survived. One of the manuscripts will be displayed in three U.S. exhibits over the next several months on loan from the Lincoln Cathedral in England. It is currently exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, will travel to Williamstown, Massachusetts, and end its tour at the Law Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The Magna Carta’s final stop will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the November 1939 transfer of the Magna Carta to the Library for safekeeping during World War II.