100 Fixing the Calendar 1582

  Seeds of Democracy 1215

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19  Seeds of Democracy 1215 
KING JOHN OF ENGLAND was a knave. He waged costly wars, sold legal judgments, imposed crushing taxes, seized hostages from his barons' households. Then in 1215 the barons rose against him, forcing John to sign the Magna Carta--and securing the unsavory king a place in the annals of human freedom. 

Most of the document simply held the monarch to his feudal obligations. But it also contained seeds of democracy. No free man was to be imprisoned without "the lawful judgment of his peers." Justice was not to be sold or impeded. No property was to be seized without compensation. Should the king renege on the charter, the barons had the right to revolt. John reneged, and died fighting in 1216. The Magna Carta lived on. Its promise of due process came to cover all social classes. Its requirement that the king consult the barons on decisions was used to justify parliamentary limits on the monarchy. It influenced Locke and Rousseau, who preached that governments must protect citizens' rights or perish--a notion central to the American and French revolutions. Its echoes persist in many constitutions. And when the U.N. adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, coauthor Eleanor Roosevelt called it the "Magna Carta of all mankind." 

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