"If Government Doesn't Obey The Constitution, What's Treason?" Bumper Sticker
London's summer was tense and hot, in 1215. The unpopular King John had been steadily making himself more unpopular of late, losing wars abroad and raising taxes to unimaginable levels to pay for them, and the long-suffering English had had enough. Pushed to their breaking point, a troop of barons gathered and rode to London in open rebellion. The city, owing no loyalty to its cruel king, opened its gates to them without hesitation. Held at the medieval equivalent of gunpoint, the outnumbered king was forced to agree to the ‘Articles of the Barons’ they presented, and to affix his royal seal. One month later, the royal chancery created the formal document recording the agreement, and they called it the Magna Carta.
It was the first of many versions to follow, and the beginning of the end for unlimited monarchical power. What John had signed was a contract, binding him to respect the rights of Englishmen and freedom of the church. Several clauses protected habeas corpus, providing due process for the accused. King John was, most unwillingly, bound to the law of his land. And in case he should forget, copies were sent to bishops and royal sheriffs across the country. Although John never held himself to his contract, and mired the country in a civil war until his death, his young son Henry III reissued the charter after inheriting the crown. The Magna Carta wove its way into English common law and stayed, a legal precedent for the rights of Englishmen. Five and a half centuries later, its ideals would be reproduced in our American Constitution.