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A mere 793 years ago today, a group of English nobleman cornered King John on a peaceful sward in England's green and pleasant land persuaded him to sign Magna Carta, generally considered the first document of freedom in the Western world.

Magna Carta limited certain kingly rights, most notably that of habeas corpus. It began the gradual process of the sharing of royal power with a body of subjects and, by the time of the English Civil War, became a rallying point for those espousing ideas that would eventually  lead to the modern concept of democracy embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

(In one of the more amusing moments in the history of references to the foundational agreement, Margaret Thatcher, in sniffing at the awe in which we hold our Declaration  -- well, some of us, anyway -- reminded us that what she called "the Great Charter" antedated it for several hundred years, eschewing, in her hidebound Englishness, even the Latin name by which we know it.)

What better way to celebrate the Magna Carta anniversary than to have dodged yet another Republican bullet aimed at the heart of our freedoms with the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision reintroducing the idea of habeas corpus into our legal lexicon?  Well, perhaps a better way is to ponder how close a call it was, and what danger our founding freedoms remained exposed to.

Even the original home of Magna Carta is having a hard time holding on to the principle of habeas corpus. Under the shadow of the threat of terrorism, a shadow at least partly cast by the leaders of our governments, the British and American people are once again united in a fight to regain and preserve rights our leaders would remove from us. Take a moment on this anniversary to reflect upon how we must re-fight for our rights in each generation. I'm sure your father would not mind sharing the day.

The next time you are in London, drop into the British Library and see copies of the great work. And the next time you're in Washington, drop into the National Archives display of the only permanent copy to be housed in this country, alongside its descendants, the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But even this Magna Carta recently dodged a bullet, when its owner, the Perot Foundation, decided to sell it. Happily, it has been restored to public display. Let us hope that the restoration of the rights that found their original expression in Magna Carta may continue, and even expand to those in our nation who have been excluded from their blessings.

Originally posted to Vico on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 09:29 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Magna Carta Day, (11+ / 0-)

    Father's Day and Portland Pride Day converging on the same date. Lots of reasons to celebrate!

    "It was his considered view that joy reigned supreme." -- P.G. Wodehouse, Cocktail Time

    by Vico on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 09:32:31 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for this. I have a vague memory from 1965 (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Vico, TexDem, fizziks, TomP, Emalene, atxcats

    of TV coverage of the commemoration from Runnymede of the 750th anniversary.  The queen was there, and I seem to remember Jackie Kennedy representing the US, but I may be wrong on that.

    The Magna Carta is the foundational document of individual rights and we need to honor it.  The SCOTUS decision on habeus last week was a fitting way to honor this.

    Thanks again.

    John McCain - Practicing the old style of politics for the past 72 years!

    by Its the Supreme Court Stupid on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 09:38:05 AM PDT

    •  I vaguely remember (2+ / 0-)

      seeing some film of this event as well. It was then I decided I had to go to Runnymede sometime. It's inspiring in its simplicity. Of course, it may not really be the site of the signing, but tradition has it that it is, and that's good enough for me.

      "A class of experts is inevitably so removed from common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge." -- John Dewey

      by Vico on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 10:05:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I like to point out that Habeas Corpus (7+ / 0-)

    dates back to Magna Carta!  When George Bush and the Refucklicans want to deny that right to us, they are not just in a pre-1776 mentality, they are in a pre-1215 mentality!  George W. Bush's opinions became retrograde 800 years ago.  It is pathetic that we have Americans who still think this way.

    It turns out that Bush IS a uniter... he united the good half of the country virulently against him.

    by fizziks on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 09:38:06 AM PDT

    •  Right. (2+ / 0-)

      I remember several years ago when I said they were trying to take us back to the 1920s. Later I was saying I wish that was as far back as they wanted to take us.

      "A class of experts is inevitably so removed from common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge." -- John Dewey

      by Vico on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 10:06:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oubliettes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Vico, Emalene

      In a castle in England, I think it was Warwick, they had small holes in the floors in the cellars with grates on them called oubliettes, from the French forget.

      The important people put the less important people in holes and left them to die..we really have not come very far in 800 years have doubt why prison remains called the hole.

      Magna Carta was addressing that issue in some part, because the Normans predated Magna Carta and the important Normans enjoyed building castles with oubliettes..

      Think Tank. "A place where people are paid to think by the makers of tanks" Naomi Klein.

      by ohcanada on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 10:22:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  here is part of another diary, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Vico, radarlady, Leo in NJ

    thought you might enjoy:

    Early this year, one night I wikipedia’d  divine right of kings:

    I’ve always wondered about this term, and too, sovereign power. In my mind the two ideas were always kind of mixed together in a murky way, and it was further confused whenever I heard of a state or nation having sovereign power. A lot of the talk in the lead-up to the invasion, was that one sovereign nation can’t just kick in the door of another sovereign nation.

    OK, divine right of kings, sovereign power, sovereign nation, sovereign state, sovereignty. What lines were to be drawn? Where does one start and another end?

    According to the Sumerians, in the beginning, the gods anointed humans as kings and handed down laws and the power to enforce them (and by power in this context, meant if you didn’t listen to the guy the gods chose, you wouldn’t be around). The Sumerians have stories of some kings being so righteous that they were taken up into the heavens to party with the gods, and a few who were so bad, the gods blasted them from power.

    The doctrine of the divine right of kings comes around as the idea in English textbooks written 1597, when a king wrote a manual for his son. A good king, he told the future king, "...acknowledgeth himself ordained for his people, having received from God a burden of government, whereof he must be countable. The idea of the divine right to rule Has appeared in many cultures Eastern and Western spanning all the way back to the first God king Gilgamesh...."    

    I’d read a book a long time ago titled The Way of Kings: Ancient Wisdom from the Sanskrit Vedas (1991, Perigee Books, Putnam Publishing Group) and it was a translation of a text of practical knowledge about how kings are to conduct their lives.

    For the last few years I’ve been immersed in political science and a project that has had me digging into texts and the founding documents of my country, which reference the concept of sovereign power. So these points of knowledge, and a general murkiness of where one ends and the other begins knocked around in my mind.


    It was the Treaty of Paris: which transferred the sovereign power held by the king of England to the people of the 13 states here in North America. Sometime after that, that power was brokered into a contract between citizens and states into the Articles of Confederation; after that, the sovereign power brokered again into the contract known as the U.S. Constitution.

    So what is that sovereign power today? Is it each individual citizen? Is it a some citizens more than others? Is it the U.S. Government? Is it the Constitution itself?

    The sovereign power won from the English monarchy is still with U.S. citizens, and the contract about how that power shall be administered is still the U.S. Constitution.

    But if you had to put a fine point on it, what really is the locus of sovereign power? Isn’t it the Congress? Isn’t the Congress tasked with representing the people, to legislate in their interests? OK, that means what? That means it is the consensus of the House and Senate--that’s the sweet spot. That’s were the sovereign power of each and every U.S. citizen is formulated and enacted--out of many, one: not a king, but consensus. Yes, consensus is king, here in America--the beauty that Lincoln said shall never fade from the land.

    But of course, upon reading the Constitution, we know that besides the Congress, there is the Article V Convention which also has the same limited ability to conjure the king. What we rightfully won and secured from a monarchy in Europe is administered through our Supreme Law. The sovereign power of the United States is with the people, executed one of two ways: Congress or Convention. Ought not we summon the king? Any American citizen who would deny the truth of an Article V Convention should be imprisoned.

    Billion dollar presidential campaigns are for losers.

    by john de herrera on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 10:27:02 AM PDT

  •  To be strictly accurate (0+ / 0-)

    King John affixed the Great Seal of England to the Magna Carta as he could not write.

    On Runnymede there are three memorials. One is to the men and women of the Allied Air forces in WWII. The memorial to the Magna Carta is in the shape of a domed classic temple and was paid for by the American Bar Association but there is also a memorial to JFK and is on land given to the USA. The inscription on it reads:

    'This acre of English ground was given to the United States of America by the people of Britain in memory of John F. Kennedy, born 19th May, 1917: President of the United States 1961-63: died by an assassin’s hand 22nd November,1963. "Let every National know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty": from the inaugural address of President Kennedy, January 1961.'

    The area is maintained by the National Trust. The JFK memorial was dedicated in 1965 and it is the coverage of that which you might have remembered.

    Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?

    by Lib Dem FoP on Sun Jun 15, 2008 at 11:20:00 AM PDT

  •  The Great Writ (0+ / 0-)

    This week we celebrate The Great Writ, fathers of our families and our country, the SCOTUS decision on Habeas Corpus, and the Stars and Stripes.

    Hooray for the good stuff!

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