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The Magna CartaTurning Point in HistoryIn 1215, England was a nation led by a king butmanaged by lords and barons. The lords owned muchof the land, and each lord had his own military force.The lords rebelled when King John I raised taxes,suffered military defeats, and seized land and goods byforce. Threatening civil war, the lords forced King Johnto sign a document called the Articles of the Barons. Afew months later, the document was renamed theMagna Carta, or Great Charter. This document wasrevised several times, and the final version is nowrecognized as one of the most important legalagreements ever written.What Was in the Magna Carta?The Magna Carta is mostly comprised of long lists ofrules that were important to the lords. Some of theserules were made up just for individual men or theirfamilies. For example, clause 50 reads:King of England from 1199 to1216, John I is best known forbeing forced to sign the MagnaCarta in 1215.We will entirely remove from their bailiwicks, the relations of Gerard of Athee(so that in future they shall have no bailiwick in England); namely, Engelard ofCigogne, Peter, Guy, and Andrew of Chanceaux, Guy of Cigogne, Geoffrey ofMartigny with his brothers, Philip Mark with his brothers and his nephewGeoffrey, and the whole brood of the same.However, there are also portions of the charter that discuss a person’s rights under thelaw. Several of these sections have had a profound effect on the development ofconstitutional governments in the modern world.Legal Rights and Habeas CorpusThe Magna Carta was not the first written charter to guarantee rights under the law. Itwas, however, the most important. Several of its clauses provided a model for moderndemocratic systems. Among these are clauses ensuring that individuals could not beimprisoned or lose their rights or property without due process of law.Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC1

The Magna CartaTurning Point in HistoryBelow are three influential excerpts from the Magna Carta: No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights orpossessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, norwill we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by thelawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny ordelay right or justice. In future, no official shall place a man ontrial upon his own unsupportedstatement, without producing crediblewitnesses to the truth of it.It is important to note that these protectionsapplied only to free men. They did not extend towomen or people in service to the lords. TheMagna Carta itself specifically denies particularrights to women and Jewish people, amongothers. As a result, the rights mentioned weretruly available only to a small number ofindividuals. The founding documents of futuregovernments, influenced by the Magna Carta,also failed to protect the rights of all groups. Ithas taken hundreds of years for women, peopleof lower social standing, and people of differentracial or religious backgrounds to gain equalrights.The Magna Carta provided a foundationfor both British and American law.The Right of Legal RebellionThroughout English history until the time of the Magna Carta, action against the kingwas considered to be treasonous. The punishment was imprisonment or death.However, the lords who wrote the Magna Carta wanted the right to act against the kingif he ever were to violate their agreement.In a surprising move, King John signed an agreement that would allow the lords tolegally act against him by seizing “castles, lands, possessions, and in any other way theycan, until redress has been obtained as they deem fit, saving harmless our own person,and the persons of our queen and children; and when redress has been obtained, theyshall resume their old relations towards us.”Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC2

The Magna CartaTurning Point in HistoryWhile this portion of the agreement did not last very long, it created a new way ofthinking about the relationship between the people and the king. It suggested that theking was acting in the service of the people, and not the other way around.The Magna Carta’s Role in English LawThe Magna Carta was widely shared among the people. Although it went through severalrevisions after it was originally written, its most important clauses and ideas were notabandoned. During the 1500s and 1600s, the document was used to argue against KingsJames I and Charles I, who both wanted to overstep their power. The kings argued thatthey had the right to more power because they had been put in charge by God. Thepeople argued that the Magna Carta put limits on the king’s power.After a rebellion against Charles I, the Magna Carta was used to argue for moreindividual rights. The Petition of Right of 1628 and the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 bothused clauses from the Magna Carta to ensure rights for common men.In 1688, the English Bill of Rights was written, passed by Parliament, and signed byKing William III. By signing this bill, the king accepted the idea that he reigned overcitizens who were guaranteed rights under the law. The Bill of Rights was created as away to prevent unfair acts by a king whose power had not been limited by law.The Magna Carta’s Influence on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of RightsThe language of the Magna Carta was important to the founders of the United Statesand the authors of its Constitution and Bill of Rights. It was the Magna Carta thatprovided Americans with the concept that all people should have legal rights. Severalarticles and amendments to the Constitution are drawn almost directly from the MagnaCarta. Consider the following examples from the Constitution and Bill of Rights: Article 1, Section 9: "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not besuspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety mayrequire it.” The Constitution's Fifth Amendment guarantees that "no person shall bedeprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Ninth Amendment states that "The enumeration in the Constitution, ofcertain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by thepeople."Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC3

The Magna CartaTurning Point in History The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the same legal rights to all maleAmericans including freed enslaved people: “All persons born or naturalized inthe United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the UnitedStates and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce anylaw which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the UnitedStates; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, withoutdue process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equalprotection of the laws.”Many elements of the U.S. Constitution that were inspired by the Magna Carta areincluded in state constitutions as well. They help ensure the rights of all citizens asfree people under the law.Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC4

The Magna CartaTurning Point in HistoryAfter reading the passage, answer the following questions:1. Which of the following is the best definition of “Magna Carta” as it isused in this passage?A. a document defining citizens’ rightsB. a document that is no longer relevant todayC. a document that all kings were required to signD. a document explaining why citizens should have rights2. Which of the following best summarizes the most significant ideas inthe Magna Carta?A. People are created equal.B. People have rights under the law.C. People should be loyal to the king.D. People have the right to create laws.3. How did the Magna Carta shape the world we live in today? Describethe process by which this occurred, including at least two specificevents from the text.Discovery Education Techbook Discovery Communications, LLC5

The Magna Carta’s Influence on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights The language of the Magna Carta was important to the founders of the United States and the authors of its Constitution and Bill of Rights. It was the Magna Carta that provided Americans with the

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