Magna Carta Charts A Great Comeback at the National Archives

The nation’s only copy of Magna Carta — the seminal charter in medieval English history that limited the power of government over the governed and declared that not even a king is above the law — has a new lease on life.

The Washington Post reports a $13.5 million conservation effort to protect the 715-year old copy of the document will allow the National Archives to place it on display by February 17.  It is the only copy of Magna Carta in the United States.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry, and Alexander Hamilton are among the most notable members of the Founding Generation who quoted Magna Carta or referred to it in their writings about American liberty. It was often seen as the first statement of rule of law, even part of a tradition that justifies revolution if a free people face a government that does not recognize their rights. 

Jefferson in particular had a high opinion of Magna Carta.  In 1786 during his only trip to London, he took time off from haunting bookstores and attending theaters to view Magna Carta at the British Museum.  He knew that it contained a clause stating the right of subjects to contradict the king’s will if they are endangered by a monarch’s lawlessness. In fact, much of Jefferson’s arguments for revolution align with an idea throughout Magna Carta: Englishmen cannot be alienated from their rights. As Jefferson argues in the Declaration of Independence, the colonists are simply declaring their right to rights they already possess.

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2 Comments

Filed under History of the Declaration of Independence

2 responses to “Magna Carta Charts A Great Comeback at the National Archives

  1. Ellen

    Oh my gosh. I’m glad you posted this news. I’ll be in the Washington D.C. vicinity this June. I would LOVE to see the Magna Carta!! Thanks for giving me more to look forward to! Great informative post, as usual, Mr. Huard.

    • paulrhuard

      Ellen, thank you for your kind comments. I would much rather visit the National Archives than write about an exhibit, but it does my heart good to know that I am helping you plan your trip. May it be full of wonder and learning as you see America’s founding documents close up.

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