800 Years: Explore, Commemorate, Respect Magna Carta

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Magna Carta is not on the mind of most  21st century men, but it should be. They may not be able to explain what Magna Carta is, but they should. They may not recognize it or respect it, but every man should be grateful for Magna Carta and celebrate its 800th anniversary this year.

Even folks not passionate about history-based travel should consider venturing to England to explore the world of a document that defined what we all consider basic human rights. Forget the exact what, where and why for Magna Carta for a moment and consider what society owes to the document:

  • Due Process: You can’t be thrown in prison today without legal charges filed against you. Before Magna Carta, you could be imprisoned on a whim. 
  • Right to Trial: Because of Magna Carta, you can’t face charges without evidence and reliable witness accounts.
  • Freedom of Speech: You can’t be harmed or locked up for speaking your mind because of Magna Carta.
  • Freedom of the Press: You’re reading this now — any other publication, print or online — because of Magna Carta. And, I get to write what I want to express because of that same document.

To sum all of that up, 800 years ago, Magna Carta established a simple idea for the first time: No man is above the law.

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King John thought himself superior to his subject by design right. Once a series of foreign wars went south on him, he raised taxes and confiscated the property of wealthy British Barons. When they rebelled and took control of London, it was time for a powwow. King John and his forces met with the Barons and their armies met at on a muddy field in Runnymede – a stretch of ground too difficult to fight on and a bog no one would claim.

The Great Charter peace treaty sealed that day in 2015 was the first drafting of Magna Carta. It’s been redrafted and edited through the centuries, bit this year commemorates the 800th anniversary of its creation with special exhibits and a royal celebration.

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The British Library will serve as the epicenter for the summer’s events, hosting a dedicated exhibit including two of the remaining four original 1215 copies of Magna Carta, as well as additional and amended copies from throughout history. Perhaps most significantly, those copies sit near two hugely important American documents inspired by Magna Carta – Thomas Jefferson’s original drafting of the Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights. Neither document has ever left U.S. soil before, let alone appear in the UK.

Out at Runnymede in Surrey, the original birthplace of Magna Carta, June 15th of this year will see a visit by Queen Elizabeth II and the unveiling of a new monument to honor the ground zero of political freedom. While some smaller markers and monuments are already on the scene, the field where the document was sealed remained empty, partly because the ground would most likely not support major stone structures. The new memorial will work around that problem.

Finally, The Supreme Court off Parliament Square in London will offer special tours to examine Magna Carta’s significance to the history British law and how it still plays an active role in the world’s affairs.

For now, I’ve exercised my little taste of freedom writing this piece. And you exercised your freedom by choosing to read it, share it or comment on it. And both of us need not worry what anyone in authority thinks of how we spent that time. We owe all of those moments to 1215 and Magna Carta.