The Magna Carta: The origins of limited government in English culture



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the Magna Carta: The origins of limited government in English culture

The United States did not invent the idea of limited government. In fact, when the English colonists came to America 400 years ago, they brought the idea with them from England. Since the 13th Century, England has had limited government. It all started in 1225, when the King of England thought he could do anything he wanted. He took away people’s land. He took away farmers’ crops without paying them. He even put people in jail without a trial. This made some English people angry. They fought against the King and won. Once they had beaten him, they forced him to sign a document called the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta was a promise that he would never do those things again. It said what the King could do, and what he could not do. It put limits on his powers. In that sense, the Magna Carta was just like the U.S. Constitution. It even made some of the same promises.



Read these excerpts from the Magna Carta and label them.

  1. Which ones guarantee a right to life?

  2. Which ones guarantee a right to liberty?

  3. Which ones guarantee a right to property?

  4. Explain each one in your own words. Tell what protections each one offered the people and what limits they placed on the King.

  5. Finally, tell how the Magna Carta is similar to the Constitution of the United States.

(1) the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired.

(9) Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient to discharge the debt.

(23) No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so.

(28) No constable or other royal official shall take corn or other movable goods from any man without immediate payment, unless the seller voluntarily offers postponement of this.

(30) No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent.

(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.



(42) In future it shall be lawful for any man to leave and return to our kingdom unharmed and without fear, by land or water, preserving his allegiance to us, except in time of war, for some short period, for the common benefit of the realm. People that have been imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the land, people from a country that is at war with us, and merchants - who shall be dealt with as stated above - are excepted from this provision.

(63) IT IS ACCORDINGLY OUR WISH AND COMMAND that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fulness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever.


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