The world’s transition from imperialism to democracy has been long and frequented by hurdles. Magna Carta is one of the unforgettable milestones in that journey, which played a major role in shaping the democratic ideals of the modern world.
The Latin term Magna Carta means Great Charter. This historical charter, also known as Magna Carta Libertatum, was signed on 15th June 1215 by the then English King John at Runnymede on the banks of Thames. Only four of the real Latin manuscripts of Magna Carta survive now. Two copies are kept in British Library where Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral houses each.
Magna Carta was drafted by the erstwhile Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, to bring peace between the English monarch and a group of local barons who were vehement critics of the rule. King John, the third ruler of the Angevin Kings, was very unpopular among the barons and even many royals. He, like his precursors, was the practitioner of the policy, ‘force and will’. His administration was weak and unrest had formed among the barons. And the failure in a battle against the French king weakened him considerably and the rebellious barons saw it as a good chance to pressurize him into agree to many of their demands. After long counsels with Pope and the Barons, John agreed to sign the charter.
The charter had many demands including the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, and limitations on feudal taxes to the Crown.
However, both the parties failed to abide by the stipulations and it triggered the first Barons’ War. Two years later, a peace treaty was signed and it was then the charter earned the name Magna Carta. The charter was regularly reissued by following monarchs but the formation of the Parliament and their laws reduced its practical relevance.
Magna Carta has now a long legacy behind it. Most of the modern human rights movements and theories owe a great deal of their formative principles to Magna Carta. Many writs widely used by modern governments, such as Habeas Corpus, trace their origins to the charter. The charter was the basis for the modern Natural Law Theory conceived by Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius in 1645. It also influenced the American Independence charter of 1776 and the post-French revolution charter of 1784. The American and modern British laws have also borrowed some elements of the document. The influence of Magna Carta could be seen in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 as well.
To preserve the legacy of the historical document, in 1922, Magna Carta Society was founded in England. Under the initiation of American Bar Association, the Magna Carta Memorial was established in Runnymede in 1957.