The Magna Carta 10-14-09


The Magna Carta, the Divine Right of Kings, Fraunces Tavern,

and the Development of Individual Rights


Richard J. Garfunkel

October 14, 2009

(Charles Lucas of the Sons of the American Revolution

Is a guest on the Advocates)



On Monday, September 14, 2009, WVOX Radio, celebrated its 50th anniversary. Bill O’Shaughnessy, who runs this station, has established a long and respected reputation as a defender of free speech. Throughout the past 50 years WVOX, (vox populi – the voice of the people) has been the home for commentary from every possible perspective, and Bill O’Shaughnessy has been its head cheer leader and a most vocal proponent of freedom of speech and the press. With this in mind it was fitting that I was invited down to the Fraunces Tavern to see the latest unveiling of the Magna Carta, one of the great symbols of freedom that we have in the world.

This same day, the almost 800 year old Magna Carta’s made its latest visit, ending a long journey from Lincoln Cathedral, a new generation of Americans were now able to view this most precious document. The Magna Carta is known by most students of history as the first document that articulated a break away from the power of the divine right of the monarchy. Its crafting was arguably the most important primary influence in the long, involved and almost tortured history that led to the rule of codified law today in the Anglo-American and English speaking world. Many would say that with the Petition of Right in 1628 and the later English Bill of Rights in 1689 the foundations were build for our Constitution. In a sense the rule of law that emanates from the people was germinated with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. With the development of common law, its influence on how legal systems evolved during the Middle Ages was profound. Of course the original concepts articulated in the Magna Carta were modified greatly through the ages and most of its provisions disappeared in the later part of the 19th Century. To read the Magna Carta, please open this attachment: .

As its temporary home for the next three months, no more historical place could be found in New York than Fraunces Tavern. It was originally constructed in 1719, and built as an elegant residence for the Frenchman Stephan Delancey, a New York merchant and his growing family. In those days pirates boosted the sagging local economy. New York merchants, Dutchman Frederick Flyspe, and Steven Delancy, financed wind-powered ships that sailed across the Atlantic and halfway around the world to sell foodstuffs and arms to New York pirates operating out of the African island of Madagascar. Potential large returns on investments–some promising great multiples–were publicly traded in bourses within taverns not too far from the town wall that still stood on Wall Street. The most famous of these American brigands was one Scotsman Captain Kidd.On the fourth of July, 1696, Captain Kidd in the Adventure Galley entered New York harbor, and saluted the people of Manhattan with a couple of  cannon blasts to announcing his triumphant return to the city. As he had hoped, the boom of his guns helped awaken the local community.

Captain William Kidd, who would eventually become the most famous of the American pirates, often felt he never was adequately respected by his adopted home town. His vessel, the Adventure Galley, was an immense ship-of the-line was laced with over thirty cannon. It was an impressive site as it sailed into Manhattan harbor. Kidd, who called New York his home port, had left almost a year earlier in a dinky lightly gunned merchant ship, and now he was returning in this incredible personal man-of-war. Tax records of that day reveal Captain Kidd to be amongst the wealthiest citizens in his affluent neighborhood. Kidd had certainly earned some money from his merchant sailing days, but was helped mightily by his marriage five years earlier to an attractive, young wealthy widow. With her financial help, they purchased five prime parcels of lower Manhattan real estate, including 56 Wall Street and a large tanning mill.

Later on in 1762, and many years after Captain Kidd’s hanging as a pirate, Samuel Fraunces (1722–1795), bought the tavern. It was here, on December 4, 1783 that General George Washington, in the famous Long Room, said farewell to his officers at the close of the Revolutionary War. When Washington became the first President of the United States in 1789, he selected Fraunces to be the steward of his executive mansion. Fraunces Tavern is located still at 54 Pearl Street not far from today’s South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. After the American Revolution, it was used to house a number of government offices. At one time, or another, the Department of War, Treasury and Foreign Affairs (State) were housed there.  

Samuel Fraunces's origins are somewhat nebulous. He was born about 1722-23 in the West Indies, and was of French ancestry. Although the U.S. Census and other records document Fraunces as having been white, there remains some question about his racial identity. There are historical references in which Fraunces is referred to as Black Sam, but there are no contemporaneous references in which Fraunces is described as being of African descent. Every citing, in which he is portrayed as having been of African blood, dates from much later.

Though Washington’s Farewell forever links him to the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Sons of the American Revolution, and many patriots, it is his part in feeding and supporting the 13,000 prisoners kept by the British in NYC that really honors him in history. Many of these men were kept on prison ships in New York harbor. One of whom was the poet, Captain Philip Freneau (1752-1832 later editor of the National Gazette) who wrote the poem,  The British Prison Ship and also immortalized Fraunces with the name Black Sam.

There is a tradition that Fraunces's daughter Elizabeth “Phoebe” saved Washington's life during the Revolutionary War by having her father remove poison peas intended for Washington. There are multiple versions of this event including a fictional children's book. One Jacob Corwin reports the event in his application for a service pension. Jacob Corwin was the Pastor at Wading River Church in Wading River NY and had been a witness to the execution of Thomas Hickey. The poison pea incident is then reported again by Benson John Lossing in 1870. This story was relayed to Lossing by Peter Embry who was born about 1766 and was a contemporary of Elizabeth “Phoebe” Fraunces. “Phoebe” Fraunces was a 10-year-old in June 1776, the time of the Hickey execution.

In 1904, the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York purchased the tavern and hired preservation architect William Mersereau to return the building to its colonial appearance. The Fraunces Tavern Museum opened to the public in 1907. Today, the museum complex includes four 19th century buildings in addition to the 18th century Fraunces Tavern building. Over its long history, The Sons of the Revolution has devoted it organization to educating the public about the struggle to achieve American liberty. Members are descendants of someone who fought in the Revolutionary War or otherwise placed themselves at risk for the American cause. For 125 years, the society has been involved in preserving the memory of the Revolutionary Patriots. Major projects have included erecting the statue of Nathan Hale in City Hall Park, purchasing, restoring and preserving Fraunces Tavern, purchasing and restoring Nathan Hale's Schoolhouse in Connecticut and placing plaques and memorials at important Revolutionary War sites in New York City.  In Magna Carta’s first visit to the United States it was displayed in one of the two buildings that housed the British Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair, held in Flushing Meadows, NYC. During the royal visit of George VI and Queen Elizabeth, they were hosted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt both at Hyde Park and the White House. In June of 1939 they visited the British Pavilion which not only displayed the Magna Carta, but also coinage from the Royal Mint and replicas of the crown jewels. During its stay at the New York World Fair in 1939-40, where it became a sensation, thousands lined up daily to see the parchment. However, within months Britain was engaged in World War II, and it was deemed safer for it to remain in America until the end of hostilities. It was carefully stored away in Fort Knox – next to the original copy of the American Constitution, until 1947.

I was invited to see the first viewing of the Magna Carta since its last visit in the 1980’s. It was also here in the United States in 1976 for the Bi-Centennial. In the museum, besides the Magna Carta, there are fabulous artifacts from the Federalist Era, George Washington’s time and the American Revolution. Also, for the first time on display is one of the original four copies of the Declaration of Independence. For the Magna Carta’s fifth visit to America, since its signing in 1215, it will be on view for all to see through December 15th, 2009. The Magna Carta, was assisted in its travels by Mr. Chris Woods, an archive conservation consultant, who also just arrived from London. Mr. Woods consults for the Lincoln Cathedral, which owns the British document. It was carried in a steel briefcase lined with climate-controlled boxes and tissue paper. He traveled with an armed escort from London to Heathrow Airport, and as he travelled first class it was placed in the front cloakroom of the British Airway’s plane. Normally, the document, which is insured for $30 million, rests at Lincoln Castle, an 11th Century Norman fortress. At its arrival, Mr. Woods and the staff at Fraunces Tavern spent an hour preparing it for safe keeping and its display in a $70,000 vacuum-sealed display case. Finally when the museum’s president Charles C. Lucas, closed the lid an audible sigh was heard.

Historically the Magna Carta was the first document thrust successfully onto an English monarch by a group of his subjects. These subjects were not specifically the voice or even representatives of the people, but landed gentry, or barons, who sought to limit or restrict his authority by law. It was preceded by the Charter of Liberties in which King Henry I in 1100 CE, voluntarily stated that he was also limited by the rule of law. Realistically the Magna Carta did not cause a “sea change” regarding the relationship of the King and his subjects, nor his power and relationship with the powerful landed and title gentry of that day.

Latin for Great Charter, the Magna Carta set lasting precedents for English and subsequently for American law regarding trial by jury, representative government, and freedom of the church,. It also addressed rights of women and ironically Jewish money lenders (Lincoln, in that day was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in England.). Former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “To this day, the Magna Carta remains a beacon for nations and peoples committed to the ideals of democracy and individual freedom.” Colonel Charles C. Lucas, the president of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York and Fraunces Tavern Museum president said, “Fraunces Tavern Museum wanted to bring the Magna Carta to New York, because this document is at the root of the American Revolution-which is what our Museum is about. Even though it was drafted over five centuries earlier, the Magna Carta established rights and principles on which The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution rest.”  

The signer of the Magna Carta, was King John, the brother of Richard I, the Lion-Hearted, who reigned from April 6, 1199 until his death in 1216. He acceded to the throne as the younger brother of Richard , who died without any heirs. Richard, known as the Lion-Hearted, lived from 1157 to 1199, and reigned from 1189 to his death. John was the youngest of five sons of King Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine. He was their second surviving son to ascend the throne; thus, he continued the line of Plantagenet or Angevin kings of England. Prior to his coronation, he was Earl of Cornwall and Gloucester, but this title reverted to the Crown once he became King. Apart from entering popular legend as the enemy of Robin Hood, he is perhaps best-known for having acquiesced —to the barons of English nobility— to seal Magna Carta. Before his accession, John had already acquired a reputation for treachery, having conspired sometimes with and sometimes against his elder brothers, Henry, Richard and Geoffrey. In 1184, John and Richard both claimed that they were the rightful heir to Aquitaine, one of many unfriendly encounters between the two. In 1185, John became the ruler of Ireland, whose people grew to despise him, causing John to leave after only eight months. During King Richard's long absence on the Third Crusade from 1190 to 1194, John attempted to overthrow William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely and Richard's designated justice minister. This was one of the events that inspired later writers to cast John as the villain in their reworking of the legend of Robin Hood.

The first and oldest mention of Robin Hood is not codified in written accounts, or even traditionally sung lyrics regaling his life and legend, but vague remembrances found in various works. From 1228 onwards, the names Robinhood, Robehod or Hobbehod are seen in some ancient judicial documents. The most of these accounts emanate from the latter third of the 13th Century.. Between 1261 and 1300 there are more than a few references to Rabunhod in various parts of England, from Berkshire in the southern part of Britain to York in the north. The term seems to be applied to any fugitive or miscreant coming in conflict with the established order. Basically, a Robinhood was a law breaker or felon. Early on it seems that the name Robin Hood is used for a proto-typical individual who breaks the law, or is a highwayman. This catch-all name seems to be of common use throughout the Middle Ages. Parliament, in 1439, was presented with a document officially describing that the name is to describe an itinerant felon. The name was still used to describe sedition and treachery in 1605, when Guy Fawkes (1570-1606, hung, drawn and quartered for his involvement in a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.) and his associates were branded “Robin Hoods” by Robert Cecil. The legend of Robin Hood seems to dart in and out of historical reference and there are numerous references in the 16th Century to even King Edward, but it could have been any of the first three Edwards. The names Robert Earl of Huntington, Robert of Locksley, or even Robert Fitz Ooth are often associated by legend to Robin Hood. Other sources pictured him as from the yeoman class. In the 15th Century his name became associated with May Day celebrations with men dressed up as Robin or members of his band. In this same 16th Century the prevailing common view was that Robin was a character from the late 12th Century at the time when Richard I was fighting in the Crusades.

By the Victorian Age, new and distinct versions of Robin Hood started to evolve. The traditional tales were often adapted for children, and most of these versions characterized Robin as a man who takes from the rich to give to the poor. Often King Richard's participation in the Crusades is mentioned in passing, but Robin takes no issue with Prince John, and the raising of funds from the Normans through extortion or robbery to bring Richard back from the Holy Land is never mentioned. These conclusions regarding the evolution of Robin Hood are part of the 20th Century myth. The concept of a nativist Robin Hood as a high-minded Saxon fighting Norman lords also originates in the 19th century. Much of this thought emerges from works by Jacques Nicolas Augustin Thierry and Sir Walter Scott.  

The 20th century has grafted still further details on to the original legends. The 1938 film, with Errol Flynn, Oliva de Havilland, Claude Raines, and BasilRathbone,portrayed Robin as a hero on a larger-than-life national scale, leading the oppressed Saxons in revolt against their Norman overlords while Richard the Lion-Heart fought valiantly against the Saracens in the Crusades. This classic Hollywood favorite established itself so definitively that generations of viewers, fans, and other film producers accepted its story as a historical truth.

As to the real King John, he was more popular than William of Longchamp, who was Bishop of Ely, and Richard’s appointed regent while he was off fighting in the 3rd Crusade. In October 1191, the leading citizens of the city opened the gates to him while they confined Longchamp in the Tower of London. John gave assurances to the city regarding the right to govern itself in return for recognition as being Richard's heir. Unfortunately, while returning from the most recent Crusade, (The 3rd Crusade, 1187-1192, was promulgated after Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt, recaptured Jerusalem.) Richard was captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and handed over to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, who held him and demanded the payment of a huge ransom. Meanwhile, John had no real interest in the return of his brother to England and the throne and joined forces with Philip Augustus, King of France to delay any effort to free him. They sent a joint letter to Henry asking him to keep Richard in his custody for as long as possible and even offering a large bribe to keep Richard sequestered indefinitely. Henry refused to their offer, and once Richard's ransom was paid by his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, he was set free. It was said she placed the Crown Jewels with pawnbrokers to raise the capital. Upon Richard’s release and return to England, John pleaded for forgiveness from Richard, who granted it and strangely named him heir presumptive.

Years later, as king, in November of 1209, John fell into disfavor with Pope Innocent III and was excommunicated. In February 1213, the same Pope threatened stronger measures unless John submitted to Papal edict. John accepted the papal terms for submission and they were accepted in the presence of the papal legate Pandulph in May 1213. With this submission, formalized in the Bulla Aurea (Golden Bull), John gained the valuable support of Pope Innocent III in his new dispute with the English barons. Coming to terms with Llywelyn I, Prince of Gwynedd, following the Welsh Uprising of 1211 and settling his dispute with the papacy, John turned his attentions back to his overseas interests. The European wars culminated in an English defeat at the Battle of Bouvines (1214), which forced the king to accept an unfavorable peace with France.

This finally turned the barons against John (some had already rebelled against him after he was excommunicated), and he met their leaders along with their French and Scots allies at Runnymede, near London on June 15, 1215, to seal the Great Charter, called in Latin Magna Carta. Because he had sealed under duress, however, John received approval from the Pope to break his word as soon as hostilities had ceased, provoking the First Barons' War and an invited French invasion by Prince Louis of France (whom the majority of the English barons had invited to replace John on the throne). John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, directing, among other operations, a two-month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle. In practice, the Magna Carta, in the medieval period, mostly did not restrict the power of Kings; or bring him under the control of another equal branch of government.

King John's reign has been traditionally characterized as one of the most disastrous in English history, earning him the nickname Bad King John. It began poorly with military defeats — he lost Normandy to Philip Augustus of France in his first five years on the throne — and ended with England torn by civil war and himself on the verge of being forced out of power. In 1213, he made England a papal fiefdom to resolve a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, and his rebellious barons forced him to sign and seal the Magna Carta in 1215, the act for which he is best remembered.

As far as the administration of his kingdom, John functioned as an efficient ruler, but he lost approval of the English barons by taxing them in ways outside those traditionally allowed by feudal overlords. The tax known as scutage, payment made instead of providing knights (as required by feudal law), became particularly unpopular. John was a very fair-minded and well informed king however, often acting as a judge in the Royal Courts, and his justice was much sought after and admired. Also, John's employment of an able Chancellor and certain clerks resulted in the first proper set of records, the Pipe Rolls. Tudor historiography was particularly interested in John’s reign, for his independence from the papacy (or lack of it) – this atmosphere produced not only Shakespeare's own King John, but also its model The Troublesome Reign of King John and John Bale's Kynge Johan. Winston Churchill summarized the legacy of John's reign: “When the long tally is added, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labors of virtuous sovereigns.” Medieval historian C. Warren Hollister called John an “enigmatic figure.”

As to the Magna Carta itself, one copy resides at the Lincoln Cathedral. The Bishop of Lincoln was one of the signatories to the Magna Carta and for hundreds of years the Cathedral has held one of the four remaining copies of the original. One copy has resided at the Ronald Reagan Museum in Simi Valley California until June of 2009 when it returned to the Lincoln Castle, Lincoln Castle is a major castle constructed in Lincoln, England during the late 11th century by William the Conqueror on the site of a pre-existing Roman fortress. It remained in use as a prison and law court into modern times, and today it is one of the better preserved castles in England. There are three other surviving copies, two at the British Library and one at Salisbury Cathedral. Lincoln Cathedral (in full The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, or sometimes St. Mary's Cathedral) is a historic Anglican cathedral in Lincoln and  seat of the Bishop of Lincoln of the Church of England. It was reputedly the tallest building in the world for nearly a quarter of a millennium (1300–1549), though this height has been questioned. The central spire collapsed in 1549 and was not rebuilt. It is highly regarded by architectural scholars; the eminent Victorian writer John Ruskin declared, “I have always held… that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have.”

By the time of the English Civil War, the Magna Carta had become an important symbol for those who wished to show that the King was bound by the law. Generally speaking the Magna Carta was thought of as being a single document, but over the next 80 or so years until 1297 it had been amended into various versions. During the English Civil War, which lasted for ten years from 1641 through 1651, many changes regarding the English Monarchy were put in place.

In this period there was a series of battles and political restructuring between Parliamentarians and Royalists, which involved the supporters of King Charles I against the adherents of the Long Parliament. In the last historical segment of this struggle, the third war (1649–51) saw a prolonged struggle between King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The Civil War ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

Historically, after the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, James I (formerly James VI of Scotland) ascended to the unified thrown, and had described kings as “little Gods on Earth,” ordained by the Almighty to rule with the power and the authority of the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings.” Charles I, James’s son certainly believed in that inherent right. One of the first events to cause concern about Charles I came with his marriage to a French Roman Catholic princess, Henrietta-Marie de Bourbon. The marriage occurred in 1625, right after Charles came to the throne. Charles' marriage raised the possibility that his children, including the heir to the throne, could grow up as Catholics, a frightening prospect to Protestant England.  

Charles also wanted to take part in the conflicts underway in Europe, then immersed in the Thirty Years' War (1618 – 1648). Foreign wars, then as now, required heavy sources of revenue, and the Crown could raise the necessary taxes only with Parliamentary concurrence and imperator. In fact it was always the gentry that enabled the crown to raise and collect taxes. Charles had even more financial difficulty and financial constrictions on his actions when Parliament refused to allow him the right to collect customs duties in perpetuity for the length of his reign. They decided to grant him that right on a year to year basis. Forced with problems of funding expeditions to Europe, he dissolved Parliament. Having dissolved Parliament, and being unable to raise money without it, the king assembled a new one in 1628. The elected members, including Oliver Cromwell, drew up the Petition of Right, and Charles was forced to accept it as a concession in order to get his funding. Amongst other things, the Petition referred to the Magna Carta. Therein the Magna Carta served as a useful precedent regarding future Parliamentary checks and balances over the monarch. Furious that Parliament continued to countenance Charles as a ruler the Army marched on Parliament and conducted “Pride's Purge” (named after the commanding officer of the operation, Thomas Pride) in December 1648. Troops arrested 45 Members of Parliament and kept 146 out of the chamber. They allowed only 75 Members in, and then only at the Army's bidding. This Rump Parliament received orders to set up, in the name of the people of England, a High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I for treason. Therefore, as a consequence,the Civil War, or the Great Rebellion, brought about the arrest, indictment, trial, of Charles I. At the end of the trial, Charles I  was found guilty of high treason, as a “tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy” His beheading took place on a scaffold in front of the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall on January 30, 1649.

This period of what is now collectively known as the Protectorate brought about the removal of the monarchy with first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–53), and then with a Protectorate (1653–59), under Oliver Cromwell's personal rule. The dominance of the Church of England ended with the victorious Parliament consolidating the established Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Constitutionally, the Civil War, which was fought in three separate periods, established the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament's consent, although this concept was legally established only with the Glorious Revolution (1689) later in the century.

Following the deaths of Oliver Cromwell and his heir, his son Richard, the monarchy was restored, with Charles II on the throne. But his rule would only be with the consent of Parliament. The civil wars effectively established England and Scotland to be the basis of the Kingdom of Great Britain under the rule of law and a parliamentary monarchy form of government. Eventually in 1707 under the Acts of Union, this law would manage to forestall the kind of often-bloody revolutions, typical of European republican movements that followed the Jacobin revolution in 18th century France. Specifically, future monarchs were leery of pushing Parliament aggressively. The Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament in December 1689 and was a re-statement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right, presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1688, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England.

The bill was enacted to a degree regarding the events of the Glorious Revolution. The revolution had occurred due to a religious conflict in England regarding the death of Charles II in 1685, and the ascension of his Catholic brother King James II.  Because of intense opposition from the English Protestants, numerous groups pressed for the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange to replace King James II. In November 1688, William landed in England with a sufficiently large, invading force, and was successful in ousting James II and was crowned king. The Bill of Rights enumerates certain rights to which subjects of a constitutional monarchy were believed to be entitled to in the late 17th century. It asserted the subjects' right to petition the monarch, as well as to bear arms in defense of the realm or their hearth and home. It also restates again certain constitutional requirements of the monarch to seek the consent of the people through their representatives in parliament. Parliament also effectively established its right to determine the line of royal succession with the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, and in the 1701 Act of Settlement.

Of course, not all insanity, bigotry and enlightenment ended with the signing of the Magna Carta. In 1255, not long after the signing of the Magna Carta, not far from, England where it has been preserved and protected, all the Jews of Lincoln, England, gathered for a wedding. The next day, the body of a boy named Hugh, who had been missing for a month, was found. He had probably drowned in a cesspool, but the Jews were accused of abducting him, hiding him for a month and fattening him up. It was charged that the wedding party was really a celebration of Hugh’s crucifixion and that everyone had partaken of his blood. Nineteen Jews were hung without benefit of a trial.

More blood libels followed in London and Gloucester. By a decree signed on Tishah b’Av, July 18, 1290, all Jews were banished from England, not to be legally readmitted until the middle of the nineteenth century. Even in their absence, however, the blood libel accusation was perpetuated and the deleterious image of the Jew reinforced. A century after the banishment of the Jews of England, Chaucer wrote The Prioress’ Tale, which centered around, “Jew demons” who were handmaidens of the devil and murdered Christian children.

The enemies of the Jews promulgated these false accusations for a variety of reasons, whether as a solution for an unsolved murder or to create an opportunity for the confiscation of Jewish property or to divert the attention of a restless populace from the injustices of their own societies. And by and large, the validity of the blood libel went unquestioned, even if a particular accusation was disproved. Perhaps this particular Jew had been found innocent, but there was no doubt that the Jews and their religion still bore the guilt of the blood libel.

As the charges flourished, so did the accompanying literature, further validating the authenticity of these attacks. One theory, published by a Dominican monk in 1263, purported the Jews would have to commit this crime on a yearly basis, because as a punishment for having shed the blood of the Christian savior, they were afflicted with a terrible disease that could only be treated with innocent Christian blood. The ritual lie and the portrayal of the Jew as a bloodthirsty demon to be hated and feared had become an accepted part of Christian dogma. Holy shrines were erected to honor innocent Christian victims, and well into the twentieth century, churches throughout Europe displayed knives and other instruments that Jews purportedly used for these rituals. Caricatures of hunchbacked Jews with horns and fangs were depicted in works of art and carved into stone decorating bridges. Proclaimed by parish priests to be the gospel truth, each recurrence of the blood libel charge added to its credence, thus prompting yet more accusations. This vicious cycle continued to spiral. 

But, for sure over the next number of centuries, the Magna Carta influenced generations of free people.It has influenced international law as well: Eleanor Roosevelt referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “a Magna Carta for all mankind.” The signing of the Magna Carta is thought to be that pivotal point in history where the effort to establish freedom becomes the essential element in the relationship between men/women and government. When Englishmen left their home and hearth to settle in the new world, they brought with them the traditions that were guaranteed first by the Magna Carta. These charters guaranteed that they and their progeny would “have and enjoy” all the natural “rights of Englishmen.” In 1606, Sir Edward Coke, who drafted the Virginia Charter, incorporated the values and themes into their colonial document. Colonists understood clearly the tradition of rights articulated in the Magna Carta. When American colonists objected to their treatment from the Crown, they were fighting, not so much for new freedom, but for the “rights of Englishmen” that dated from the 13th century Magna Carta. In 1787, when American representatives met at Philadelphia to draft a constitution, they certainly took into account the legal system they knew, understood and admired from English common law that had evolved from Magna Carta.

The United States Constitution is the “supreme law of the land,” recalling the manner in which Magna Carta had come to be regarded as fundamental law. This heritage is quite apparent. In comparing the Magna Carta with the Bill of Rights: the Fifth Amendment guarantees: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” In addition, the United States Constitution included a similar writ in the Suspension Clause, article 1, section 9: “The privilege of the writ habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.” Written 575 years earlier, Magna Carta states, “No free man shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, not will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.” Each of these proclaim, “No man may be imprisoned or detained without proof that they did wrong.” The connection is obvious, and the tradition is sound. We are a nation of laws, and when our laws are compromised our freedoms are challenged.

It would take centuries more of blood-letting, revolution, and World Wars along with the Petition of Right, the English Glorious Revolution. The American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the ratification of the United State Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Four Freedoms articulated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his January 6, 1941, State of the Union address, the Atlantic Charter signed by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the creation of the United Nations and the authorship by Eleanor Roosevelt of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  to articulate and broaden these freedoms to where they are today.









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