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January 7, 2015

Magna Carta on view at Library of Congress through January 19

The Washington Post, 6th January, 2015

‘By the year 1215, King John had ruled over England for 15 years. But they were troubled years. John lived in the shadow of his older brother, King Richard I. Known as Richard the Lionheart, he was killed in battle in France in 1199.

John and his nephew battled for the throne. John won and restarted the war with France. He demanded money and men from his nobles. But within five years, French forces had routed the English. To pay for this stinging defeat, King John had to raise taxes — as unpopular in his day as ours. When more military losses followed, the king raised the nobles’ taxes again.

At the same time, John was having a disagreement with the pope, head of the Catholic Church, headquartered in Rome. England was a Catholic country. Many in England were loyal to the pope and the church. Pope Innocent III decided to punish John and his subjects by barring them from important church ceremonies. This, too, angered some of the barons

The powerful nobles rose up against the king. To stay in power, John was forced to sign a document called Magna Carta (Latin for “great charter”). This peace treaty limited the king’s power and set in writing the idea that no one, not even the king, was above the law. All free men have the right to justice and a fair trial, the document said.

Sound familiar? Magna Carta was the first charter to support the rights of the individual. And although it was signed in another time and place, it was embraced by the Founding Fathers of the United States more than 550 years later as they wrote the new nation’s Constitution and Bill of Rights.’

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