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Chapter 1

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The importance of Magna Carta is in the influence of its being granted, rather than of what was granted by it. It was essentially a document of feudal law, rights, and obligations, with little bearing on modern democratic matters. It was, on June 15, 1215, forced on King John by the barons, whose chief interest was in their own claims; but it was not confined to these, and in its administrative reforms did undoubtedly, especially through the chain of confirmations, give strength to the demand for civil rights in later times. It was not the first royal charter, and it did not grant new liberties; but besides confirming existing claims, it proposed means of sustaining them. The procuring of Magna Carta was a dramatic affair, and the name by which it has come down from the earlier ages set it apart from the other medieval documents which helped to found the English polity; so that, when the struggle between autocratic power and popular rights began under the Stuart monarchs, it was natural that the Great Charter should be brought forward as proof of the early existence of sacred rights later denied. Certain striking clauses in general terms gave substance to this. These, with the tradition and later influence, continue to make Magna Carta a Liberty Document of first importance."

In the original Latin the charter contains about 3,500 words and over 5,000 when translated into English. Historians and scholars have divided it into 63 “chapters" or articles, many of which were temporary in influence. The nine points on which the English judicial system is based were summarized by William Penn in 1687:

(1) No man shall be taken or imprisoned.
(2) No man shall be disseised (dispossessed of land).
(3) No man shall be outlawed (from the privileges of the law).
(4) No man shall be banished.
(5) No man shall in any sort be destroyed.




p. 511.

(6) No man shall be condemned but by the judgment of his peers

(trial by jury).
(7) We shall SELL to no man justice or right.
(8) We shall DENY to no man justice or right.
(9) We shall DEFER to no man justice or right.?


In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyall Subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord King James, by the grace of God of Great Britaine, France and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, &c.

Having under-taken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian Faith, and honour of our King and Countrey, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly & mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant, and combine our selves together into a civill body politike, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by vertue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equall Lawes, Ordinances, acts, constitutions, offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the generall good of the Colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witnesse whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names. Cape Cod 11. of November, in the yeare

of the raigne of our soveraigne Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland 18. and of Scotland 54. Anno Domino 1620.

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When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.—We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute



p. 116. Revised Ed., National Education Association. Washington, D. C. 1946.

• Written and signed by the Pilgrims on board the Mayflower, Nov. 11, 1620.

* From a Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, July 4, 1776.


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