BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Magna Carta[22]: 1215AD

We all now that King John was always into pushing the envelope a little too much in one direction or the other and finally, the people just became fed up with his dithering and gave him an ultimatum. Either shape up your act or your are going to be outed. He was a shifty character and would not be pinned down as to doing the right thing. In this case, it was to stop taxing the people until they were too pooped to pop for any more. However, John was a bad loser and had tried to regain some land in France that he thought of as somewhat of a birthright and had his handed to him. He had put just about everything that he had into this battle and having been soundly trounced[23] was now licking his wounds with a barren treasury. More often than not, this was not a severe problem because all evil King John had to do was to increase taxation.

However, to his surprise, the barons and the other people wore fancy duds decided that they just weren’t going to take it anymore and effectively told him so. This really enraged John who since birth had been a spoiled child and really threw a tantrum when he didn’t get his way. He gathered together his army and started moving into the Northern part of England where the naysayers resided. That turned out to be a bad move on John’s part, as while was thumping along in Northern England looking for the bad guys, they were capturing London, his home.

This was not to John’s liking, but facts were facts and he decided to negotiate. The guys wearing the frilly stuff from the cold country indicated that they had a number of bones to pick with the king. They didn’t want him messing into religious affairs, they weren’t going to allow him to unfairly tax the people, they wanted fair habeas corpus regulations put into effect and most important of all, freemen were not allowed to be imprisoned without a court of his peers passing judgment. Moreover, John also had to toe the mark as well. All new laws had to become public record, something like nailing a piece of parchment to local trees letting everyone know what was going on. Whatever was sauce for the goose would be sauce for the king as well.

A lot of people that were hanging out in England during this period, really felt that the noblemen from the North had stuck it to the king big-time. However, when they read the fine print in the agreement , they couldn’t identify any freemen other than the nobles. It appears that for the most part, the nobles had put one over on the common people and made them think that they were part of an overall settlement with the king. Hardly. Moreover, the king tried to back out of the deal as soon as it had been codified. He started adding a little to this line and taking a little from that line and soon, the Magna Charta seemed more like the same old stuff only more of it. However, the concept was first class even though it didn’t do much for many people. The founders of the United States copied various parts of the document because it made sense:

This heritage is most clearly apparent in our Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment guarantees:

No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

And the sixth states:

…the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.

Written 575 years earlier, Magna Carta declares:

No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, or in any other way destroyed…except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the allow of the land. To no one will we sell, to none will we deny or delay, right or justice.

In 1957, the American Bar Association acknowledged the debt American law and constitutionalism had to Magna Carta and English common law by erecting a monument at Runnymede (England). Yet, as close as Magna Carta and American concepts of liberty are, they remain distinct. Magna Carta is a charter of ancient liberties guaranteed by a king to his subjects; the Constitution of the United States is the establishment of a government by and for “We the People.”[24]

Once again, because of the fact that we are only attempting to display the essence of Magna Carta we will keep our quotes to a minimum. However, these few should give you the essence of the agreement:

1 First, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for us and our Heirs for ever, That the Church of England shall be free, and shall have her whole rights and liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the freemen of our realm, for us and our Heirs for ever, these liberties underwritten, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of us and our Heirs for ever.

The city of London shall have all the old liberties and customers, which it hath been used to have. Moreover, we will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns and the Barons of the Five Ports, and all other Ports, shall have all their liberties and free customs.

22 We will not hold the Lands of them that be convict of Felony but one year and one day, and then those Lands shall be delivered to the Lords of the fee”. [25]

As in everything else in life, what you see is not necessarily, what you get and the paragraphs listed above were really a set of baronial stipulations and known as the “Articles of the barons.” Later, some of the wording was reworked at on June 19, 1215, four days after the first document was issued, Magna Carta was approved. While Magna Carta or more realistically, English law was later changed to include everyone, this document was pure fop and didn’t do much for anyone other than the noblemen that always had their oars in the water. Moreover, even this document was dismembered when Pope Innocent II, on John’s payroll, let loose a broadside. He said that Magna Carta was “shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the king by violence and fear.”

This cause the merry-go-round to jerk into motion once again and a civil war began that only ended when John conveniently died the following year. The new monarch was John’s son, Henry, a mature 9-year-old. However, Henry could not read at that point so his regents reissued the decree and somehow left out many important words that destroyed the original intent altogether. The fact that kings don’t fight fair is part and parcel of history and if they did, they wouldn’t be kings anyway. The whole thing became rote and everyone was happy that someone in England had created a masterful and historic document. They could point to its words and not its result throughout the next 800 years.



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