Tag Archives: Magna Carta

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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