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November 17, 2016

Magna Carta’s American Adventure

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By Prof. A. E. Dick Howard. First appeared in North Carolina Law Review (Vol. 94, No. 5 June 2016)

I spent a good part of the summer of 2015 in England, lecturing on aspects of Magna Carta. It seemed that every town, village, or crossroads with any connection to Magna Carta was celebrating the Charter’s eight hundredth anniversary. It’s not surprising to hear about celebrations in the country that gave birth to Magna Carta. But the question I want to put before you tonight is: why should Americans care? After all, Magna Carta’s origins were a long time ago, in a very distant place, born of a struggle between King John and the barons. Why would an American remember Magna Carta?

When I was very small, one of the authors whose books I came to love was A. A. Milne. You Winnie the Pooh buffs will know about Milne. Perhaps you know Milne’s Now We Are Six. One of the poems in the collection is “King John’s Christmas.” It begins,

King John was not a good man –
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.

For a little kid, the idea of being shunned – that nobody will speak to you – is really terrible. How could you be so awful that people won’t even talk to you?

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