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The Magna Carta’s Legacy Lives On

By: Contributor - Jun 15, 2015, 9:52 am
The Magna Carta is the first written document recognizing the rights of the subjects before their king and a landmark for modern political thought.
The Magna Carta is the first written document recognizing the rights of the subjects before their king and a landmark for modern political thought. (The Shakespeare Blog)

EspañolBy Roberto Sánchez Fuentes

The Magna Carta is a historic document that represents a quantitative leap in political sophistication. French historian Jacques Le Goff thought the Magna Carta was the key instrument that made it possible to restrict the power of the monarchy in 13th-century England.

With time, it helped to create vital political stability and became an effective limit on how the sovereign could act toward his subjects, especially the barons, clergy, and the bourgeoisie.

In a similar vein, Spanish historian Emilio Mitre argues that the document is the mark of a process of political maturity, providing the first glance of a proto-constitutional state or the first sketches of a constitutional monarchy.

The wide range of assessments by other academic fields attest to Magna Carta’s legacy. Its importance in law is highlighted by scholar Juan Colombo Campbell, who argues that the principle of due process, a fundamental element of the modern rule of law developing in the Anglo-Saxon tradition over the course of seven centuries, can be traced back to Magna Carta’s Chapter 39:

No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

Essentially, the Magna Carta was an agreement signed on June 15, 1215, settling the disputes between King John of England and the English barons who had revolted against the crown.

The terms of the agreement inscribed in the Magna Carta responded not only to the barons’ interests, but also to important matters affecting the clergy and the bourgeoisie. They regulated almost all aspects of life in 13th-century England: deals between barons and merchants, taxes and duties from royal officers, church officials, families, as well as cities and forests.

Its great relevance remains, however, in its enduring limitation of power, and the respect for the individual and his property. Within a few centuries, these principles would be transferred to the New World. Now, 800 years later, we would do well to reflect on the contemporary state of the values of individual freedom.

Roberto Sánchez Fuentes is a coordinator at Acton Circle Chile.