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Magna Carta

Magna Carta is latin for "Great Charter," and was the first document imposed upon a King of England by a group of his subjects in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights. Many clauses of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights were inspired by Magna Carta, including religious freedom, local jury trials, notions of proportional punishment, and just compensation. The first version of Magna Carta was presented in 1215.

One of only 3 clauses of Magna Carta still in law, this clause protects London's ability to do such things as elect its own mayor, as well as appoint other officials. This ability to operate on a local level may be an early inspiration for the sort of federalism outlined in the federal Constitution. While the Constitution presupposes the existence of states as political bodies, and it goes a long way toward defining what the relationship between the state and federal governments will be (it names some areas where the federal government is supreme over the states; it names some areas where the states have limited or no jurisdiction; and it specifies some actions or conditions that are forbidden to them and some that are required of them), the Constitution, for the most part, does not dictate to the states how they must conduct their internal affairs. The sort of sovereignty enjoyed by the states nods to the sovereignty expressed to London to "enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs."Further, granting these liberties and free customs to "all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports" may be a precursor to Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which outlines that "Full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State..." in addition to Article IV, Section 2's provision that "The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States."
Annotated by jhowell on October 23, 2014
The clause, "...that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired..." can serve as one influence on the U.S. Bill of Rights' protection of freedom of conscience. It is a statement that religion is a liberty that should not be regulated or hindered by the state. While Magna Carta specifies the rights of the English Church, the U.S. Constitution takes this a step further, declaring that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
Annotated by jhowell on October 23, 2014
There is a direct connection here between Magna Carta and the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The 5th Amendment states, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury ... nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law..." The 14th Amendment incorporates this against the states: "...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..." Some go as far as to say that this is the most direct influence of Magna Carta on the federal Constitution. According to a Magna Carta commemoration essay in 1917: "Magna Carta’s contribution to the federal instrument, and to the State Constitutions, consists fundamentally in the adaptation of the famous chapter thirty-nine to meet American conditions. This chapter had been embodied in colonial law. By its incorporation in State Constitutions and in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution it still serves as the basis of the rule of law throughout the Republic."
Annotated by jhowell on October 23, 2014