Magna Carta, Rights and the Rule of Law

Agreed to by King John of England in June 1215, Magna Carta was a peace treaty forced upon a defeated king by his rebellious, often equally intemperate barons. It intended to control John's reckless reign, and to codify and thus protect the liberties of the politically powerful, above all the feudal lords who brought John to heel, and the English church. Yet Magna Carta applied beyond these groups, and created precedents that have had enduring importance, first in England, then in America and finally across a global community.

Preserved in four contemporary English manuscripts, the text of Magna Carta articulates familiar and now foundational principles. Among these that government is limited by law and held accountable in its offices to a wider populace, that consent is required for taxation, and that individuals shall not forfeit their liberty or property without due process, including the judgment of their peers. These tenets found broader expression in subsequent English interpretation, in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, and have become a cornerstone of modern constitutional thought. In the face of the new challenges posed by the 21st century, the global legacy of Magna Carta continues and promises to endure.