Hundreds of years before American colonists revolted against the crown, rebel nobles in England drafted the Magna Carta to curtail the power of their own tyrannical monarch—King John. The Magna Carta brought an end to the absolute power of English sovereigns as they, too, were required to be held accountable by the law.
King John had a tumultuous relationship with Pope Innocent III, a controversial figure in the early 13th century who claimed supreme authority over European sovereigns. Originally issued in by King John of England as a way of dealing with his own political crisis, the Magna Carta was the first governmental decree establishing the principle that all people—including the king—were equally subject to the law.
Constitution , and the constitutions of various U. Its influence is also reflected in the beliefs held by eighteenth-century Americans that the Magna Carta affirmed their rights against oppressive rulers. In keeping with colonial Americans ' general distrust of sovereign authority, most early state constitutions included declarations of rights retained by individual citizens and lists of protections of those citizens from the powers of the state government. Due in part to this conviction to individual liberty first embodied in the Magna Carta, the newly-formed United States also adopted the Bill of Rights.
Several of the natural rights and legal protections enumerated in both the state declarations of rights and the United States Bill of Rights descend from rights protected by Magna Carta. A few of these include:. The British Library translation reads:. Evidence of the influence of the Magna Carta on the American system of government can be found in several key documents, including the Journal of the Continental Congress , which is the official record kept of the Congress's deliberations between May 10, , and March 2, Written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay , and published anonymously between October and May , the Federalist Papers were a series of eighty-five articles intended to build support for the adoption of the U.
Despite the widespread adoption of declarations of individual rights in state constitutions, several members of the Constitutional Convention generally opposed adding a bill of rights to the federal Constitution.
After another embarrassing military defeat by France in , John attempted to refill his coffers—and rebuild his reputation—by demanding scutage money paid in lieu of military service from the barons who had not joined him on the battlefield.
Forced into a corner, John yielded, and on June 15, , at Runnymede located beside the River Thames, now in the county of Surrey , he accepted the terms included in a document called the Articles of the Barons. Four days later, after further modifications, the king and the barons issued a formal version of the document, which would become known as the Magna Carta. Intended as a peace treaty, the charter failed in his goals, as civil war broke out within three months.
The document was reissued again in and once again in in return for a grant of taxation to the king. Written in Latin, the Magna Carta or Great Charter was effectively the first written constitution in European history.
Of its 63 clauses, many concerned the various property rights of barons and other powerful citizens, suggesting the limited intentions of the framers. The benefits of the charter were for centuries reserved for only the elite classes, while the majority of English citizens still lacked a voice in government.
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