Magna Carta Comes To America

The Founding Fathers’ belief in the “law of the land” derived from a 13th-century document recently donated to the National Archives

“King John was not a good man,” wrote A. A. Milne in his children’s classic, Now We Are Six. This feckless 13th-century king so badly mismanaged his kingdom that powerful English barons confronted him in June 1215 at Runnymede, a large meadow in the Thames Valley. In tense negotiations, the angry barons outlined their requirements for certain fundamental rights, writing down their demands in a 2,500-word document in medieval Latin on a single sheet of parchment.Read more »

Lord of the Law

The fathers of American independence founded their case on “that wonderful Edward Coke … masterful, masterless man,” who made two English kings bow to the common law

A nation that has weathered a successful revolution, at once sweeps a prideful arm over the blackboard and erases all previous national history. It is a naïve and very human gesture. We saw it in Russia after 1917, in France after 1789, in North America after, let us say, 1787 and the Constitutional Convention. The United States, standing tall if a bit uncertain on its feet, cast off the hand of the mother country and along with it cast off family tradition. For the ensuing century, American historians began their story with the Pilgrim fathers—no earlier.