, Research Paper
4 – 15 – 99
The Impact of the Magna Carta
Have you ever wondered where our past leaders got the idea for the
American Constitution? The rights of freedom, equality, and justice for all, which
are held sacred, were not always guaranteed for all citizens. Many were
deprived of life, liberty, and the right to own property. Others were denied public
trials and the lower class were looked upon as inferior. The Magna Carta also
known as the “Great Charter,” was signed by King John of England in 1215. It
was the document that changed the lives of millions of people around the world.
It caused long-range, long lasting, and long-term effects on society. The Magna
Carta guaranteed nobles certain rights, limited the kings power, and provided a
cornerstone for further documents that support human rights and freedom for all.
King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. It was revised in 1216 and
then later in 1217. The last version, written in 1225, became law and was
confirmed in Parliament. It stated the customary enactment and was enforced in
the courts of law. It also confirmed existing privileges and liberties (Holt 1). The
Magna Carta established the idea that nobles had certain rights and that the
king had to respect the law. It consisted of over 60 clauses. Many of them
declared human rights and over 30 were about the relations of the king and his
subjects. The document guaranteed the liberties of small and large property-
owners. It also broke the feudal compact and gave nobles the right to public
trials (Bryant 275). The charter declared that the English church should be set
free and that no free man should be outlawed, imprisoned, or exiled without a
lawful judgment by his peers or by the law (Holt 2). The Magna Carta was also
a charter of liberties. It certified reforms that would protect upper classes
against absolute monarches, and answered questions about wardship,
marriage, widows, and the payment of debts (Warren 237). Four original copies
of the Great Charter have survived since the meeting at Runnymede. All other
versions have been copied. The original versions were sent to a British
museum, Lincoln’s Cathedral, and Salisbury (265).
The difficult situations in England led to the signing of the Magna Carta.
After World War I, the nation was drifting into war. Men disobeyed the king’s
law and the government was no longer recognized as a form of power (Bryant
268). After Henry II’s reign as king, his officials continued to function in his
absence. When the next heir came into power, he used his royalty to make life
intolerable for his subjects. He was quickly overthrown and England was left
without a king (265). The barons began to take over England while the
administrators in office searched for another heir to the throne. As son of Henry
II, King John stood nearest to the throne. He was also the closest heir to the
land by birth and by right (Daugherty 36). When King John, also known as
Arthur King, became the king of England, his thoughts were first centered on
Normandy and the French provinces that had once been his father’s. King
Philip of France also wanted the French provinces, but with King John in power,
there was little hope of these dominions being his (39).
Before King John came into power, Henry II had created a dilemma.
England was in need of financial aid and new administrators. It faced political
difficulties and high taxes were given to the nobles and upper class. Also, the
happiness and prosperity of all the people, depended entirely on the supremacy
of the king (Bryant 265). Now, faced with the problem of restoring England,
King John was forced by the barons to sign a document which would unify
England’s people and provide a strong foundation for the government.
The Magna Carta changed the history of England and impacted other
nations. It was a reflection of the continuous development of English law and
administration. When the Englishmen left their homelands to establish colonies
and markets in the New World, they brought with them their liberties, which
were guaranteed in the great charter. The Magna Carta pointed the way to new
and greater freedoms. It was the beginning of liberty, fraternity, democracy,
justice, and equality in later centuries (Daugherty 106). The Magna Carta
impacted America greatly. When American colonists began to build colonies
and settle on the land, it was necessary for them to get charters, giving them the
right to set up a form of government and occupy the land. The colonists based
their charter on the only existing document known to guarantee right and
liberties to all. This document was the Magna Carta (133). On July 4, 1776, the
American colonists got together and wrote a new charter based on the ideas of
the Magna Carta. It was called the Declaration of Independence (138). The
Magna Carta contained certain fundamental principles of right and justice. The
Declaration of Independence outlined similar laws that further explained the
same principles. Like the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence
controlled both the acts of Parliament and the king’s power (Harbison 46).
Another document influenced by the Magna Carta was the Bill of Rights. When
representatives of the United States gathered to draft a constitution, they turned
to the legal system they knew and admired. The common laws and rights
outlined in the Magna Carta, served as a basis for the Bill of Rights. Both
documents were charters of rights and liberties (Brant 3). The American Bill of
Rights states that “No person….. shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property,
without due process of law,” and that “…..the accused shall enjoy the right to a
speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” (6). The Magna Carta states
similar amendments relating to liberty and justice.
Other nations have adapted the ideas of the Magna Carta. On August
14, 1941, a document that gave the hope of humanity, peace, liberty, and justice
was signed. It was called the Atlantic Charter (Daugherty 161). About four
months later, four men representing Great Britain, U.S.S.R., China, and the
United States signed a brief document based on the Magna Carta. This pact
was known as the Declaration by the United Nations. It suggested the need for
unity and peace throughout the world. The document was later signed by
representatives from 22 other nations. Eventually, 46 nations had signed it.
Together, the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration by the United Nations,
formed the greatest union of power in the history of the world. It was known as
the “United Nations” (166). The Magna Carta was the foundation of these two
documents. It provided the basis for the United Nations and written
amendments used in many other documents.
This is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break.
This is the great work of the Magna Carta. Nobles were given certain rights and
the king’s power was limited by the charter. It helped to influence further
documents that supported human rights. The clearly defined rights stated in the
charter proved to be a stepping stone for other nations. The United States, Great
Britain, and the United Nations based their laws and important documents on
the Magna Carta. This great charter was a turning point in history because it
established new nations and provided a cornerstone for further documents.
1. Brant, Irving. The Bill of Rights. New York: The BOBBS-MERRILL Company,
2. Bryant, Sir Arthur. Makers of England. New York: Doubleday and Company,
3. Daugherty, James. The Magna Carta. New York: Random House, Inc., 1956.
4. Harbison, Winfred. The American Constitution. New York: W.W. Norton and
Company, Inc., 1948.
5. Holt, J.C. Magna Carta. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1965.
6. Warren, W.C. King John. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1961.