Lennox: 800 years later, the Magna Carta endures
The rule of law. Trial by jury. Double jeopardy. Indictments and warrants. Taxation with representation.
All of these values are fundamental to the constitutional republic that is America.
However, you would be dead wrong if you thought any of these values were somehow unique or even created by the Founding Fathers.
Rather, America’s core principles were inherited by the United States at the time of her independence. They actually even predate the country today known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Much of what we all too often take for granted as quintessentially American is in all actuality not American at all. Rather, the principles are based upon the ancient legal doctrines and principles of Magna Carta.
Magna what? Literally translated from Latin into English as Great Charter, it was signed into law by King John 800 years ago today.
For the non-math majors out there, that is a full 561 years before a Virginian named Thomas Jefferson sat down to write the much more familiar Declaration of Independence in 1776.
If this contradicts what your eighth grade teacher taught during the one-semester history class, you are hardly alone.
Americans long ago stopped learning pre-American Revolution history, all of which shaped the thinking and philosophies of those who rebelled against the crown and created a new country rooted in the English notions of freedom and liberty that came about as a direct result of the English experience.
America is in many respects more English than Britain is English today, as the late Russell Kirk, the political thinker from the tiny hamlet of Mecosta, Michigan who was instrumental in the founding of the post-war conservative movement, argued in his book “America’s British Culture.”
Kirk called Magna Carta “the rock upon which the English constitution” and, by extension, America’s Constitution, was built.
While life today is totally unrecognizable from medieval life in the year 1215, the values of Magna Carta are just as important today as they were when King John made the concessions to his barons in the meadows of Runnymede, about an hour from London near Windsor.
Magna Carta does not just live on today in the United States. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the other countries of the Anglosphere have also jointly inherited it from merrie olde England.
Each of these countries has admittedly had different experiences with Magna Carta, but still share the underlying values. And it is these values that have long been the seeds of freedom and liberty across the face of the earth from French revolutionaries in 1789 to Nelson Mandela in apartheid South Africa.
The timelessness of Magna Carta’s values mean it will be just as fundamental in another 800 years time, provided we do not take the freedoms and liberties enshrined in arguably the greatest temporal document in the history of mankind for granted and allow for the erosion of those values from the basic law.
Dennis Lennox is in Runnymede for Magna Carta 800.