Jim Clark: June 15 is Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary
Special to the Bonanza
Admirers of democracy, checks and balances, and “certain unalienable rights” of man have cause to celebrate.
June 15 is the 800th anniversary of King John being forced by his barons to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede, England.
Unpopular taxes (what else) gave birth to the document. It was drawn up by the Archbishop of Canterbury to assure peace and dealt with a number of issues, the most important of which were church rights, protection of nobles from illegal imprisonment, access to swift judgment and limits on feudal payments to the crown.
The compact did nothing for commoners or serfs but they didn’t pay taxes anyhow because they couldn’t afford to. It was to be implemented through a council of 25 barons.
So you had the genesis of a parliament, freedom of religion, habeas corpus, the right to a speedy trial and a check on king’s right to tax.
Where and how these and other principles found their way into the US Constitution and Bill of Rights may be seen by tracing England’s political history from there.
Regrettably, the Magna Carta never went anywhere. King John immediately sought relief from Pope Innocent III, who annulled the charter.
King John died the next year but his heir, Henry III modified the strictures of the document and reissued it in 1216 to build political support.
The barons weren’t buying it and went to war with the crown. It became part of a peace treaty in 1217, at which time it acquired its name.
Henry III reissued the charter in 1225, but only in exchange for new taxes. His son, Edward I, reissued the charter in 1297 making it part of England’s statute law.
Not much happened politically during the next 250 years. Kings went on crusades and rival factions squabbled over the throne, finally resulting in Henry VII and the Tudor dynasty in 1485.
His son, Henry VIII, became king in 1509 and sought unsuccessfully to sire a son and heir. Failing that, he asked the pope for a divorce and after 5 years was told no.
He then named himself head of the church and granted his own his divorce, marrying Anne Boleyn.
Interestingly during this period parliament refused Henry VIII any tax increases so he confiscated the monasteries and sold their lead roofs to raise money.
In 1607, James I granted a charter to Jamestown in Virginia and in 1620 Puritans landed in Massachusetts.
The fight for power between king and parliament reached its zenith in 1640 when Charles I, asserting the “divine right of kings” dismissed parliament triggering civil war.
Oliver Cromwell captured Charles and beheaded him in 1649. Cromwell led a Puritan republic for eleven years but died and in 1660 parliament invited Charles’ son, Charles II back from exile restoring the monarchy.
Charles II just tried not to anger anyone. Around this time political parties emerged, “Tories” being royalists and “Whigs” favoring restraints on the king.
James II acceded to the throne in 1685 and began trying to restore England to Catholicism. He also ignored parliament’s laws and played the tin dictator.
By 1688 he created enough opposition that Whigs and Tories got together and invited Dutch noble William of Orange and his wife (James II’s sister) Mary to co-rule England.
This ousted James II and became known as the “Glorious Revolution of 1688.” Since William and Mary were crowned by invitation of parliament they agreed to a “declaration of rights” including rights of parliament to levy taxes, maintain an army, and a prohibition against “excessive Bayle” and “cruel and unusual punishment.”
A century later our founding fathers cobbled almost 600 years of English political developments into the US Constitution and added a few more clauses for good measure.
So go to your favorite pub Monday, draw a cold one and offer this toast: “Brits, God save your queen and God bless our United States. We couldn’t have done it without ya!”
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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