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June 15th is Magna Carta Day. While this doesn’t have the same cachet as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, the history of the Magna Carta is arguably far more important. A number of the rights codified in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights find their origins in the Magna Carta. The charter was drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a way to settle tensions between the King of England and some of his barons.
The Magna Carta is the foundation of the Western conception of individual liberties, particularly in the Anglosphere. It is also one of the most mythologized documents in history. Still, many today are unaware of its actual content and the historical context in which it was drafted.
The Origins of the Magna Carta
While much of the historical context is complex, the main point is this: Under the rule of King John in the 13th century, several barons were unhappy with the nebulous nature of rule and administration. The Magna Carta was an attempt to codify the procedures by which the King ruled over his subjects, in particular the barons. The “Great Charter” was renewed by subsequent kings, though under parliamentary rule, much of its main provisions were slowly stripped away.