Russell Kirk on the Great Charter
"Nearly all of Europe, and indeed nearly all of the 'free world,' owes modern representative institutions to the English example," the Sage of Mecosta reminds us — From England to America: Magna Carta and the Supremacy of Law. An excerpt:
- For the first stirrings of representation in national politics, we turn to the Great Charter, Magna Carta, extracted from King John by the barons of his realm, in the year 1215. John, though clever and an able soldier, was so grasping and evil a monarch that no later English king took the name of John. The king had arbitrarily imprisoned barons, knights, and burgesses, to extort large sums of money from them for carrying on his wars. With most of the barons in arms against him, and the menace of a French invasion imminent, John was forced to grant a guarantee of royal good conduct, which he signed at Runnymede, between London and Windsor. This we call Magna Carta.
Most of the many articles of the Great Charter have lost their significance with the passing of the feudal age. But a fundamental principle of Magna Carta, though not expressed in so many words in that document itself, endures to our day. This principle entered into the developing common law of the thirteenth century, and appeared in later royal charters and statutes. It became the rock upon which the English constitution was built. It is the principle of the supremacy of law: the idea that an enduring law exists, which all men must obey. The king himself is one of those men under the law. Along with this principle ran a corollary principle—that if the king breaks the law, and invades the rights of his vassals, then barons and the people may deprive him of his powers.