800 Years of Magna Carta

Perhaps more than any other document in human history, Magna Carta has come to embody a simple but enduring truth: No one, no matter how powerful, is above the law.

From its 13th Century roots in the English meadow of Runnymede, Magna Carta has transcended its original time and place to become one of the world’s most recognized and enduring symbols of liberty under law.

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Join us to commemorate this “Great Charter of Liberties,” and rededicate ourselves to advancing the principle of rule of law here and abroad.

Leave a Reply

History of the Magna Carta

The story of Magna Carta begins at Runnymede in England in 1215, but it does not end there. It is a story that runs 800 years forward and is still unfolding. It is the story of our rule of law tradition and of how our American system of government is derived from our English legal heritage.

Significance Today

The story of Magna Carta began in 1215, but it continues eight centuries forward and is still unfolding. It is the story of modern constitutional government and its associated rule-of-law values. Today we connect Magna Carta to fundamental legal principles, including due process, speedy trials, the right to travel and trial by jury.

Trial by Jury
Magna Carta provides that a free man cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property “except by lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.” The idea of a verdict rendered by one’s equals (or peers) is evident today in the constitutional right of every U.S. citizen charged with a serious crime to have a trial by jury.

Right to Travel
Magna Carta provides for a basic right of free men to travel in and out of the kingdom. In a 1958 case, Kent v. Dulles, the U.S. Supreme Court cited Magna Carta to demonstrate the ancient roots of the right to travel freely. The court went on to find: “The right to travel is a part of the ‘liberty’ of which a citizen cannot be deprived without the due process of law of the Fifth Amendment.”

Individual Rights
Because Magna Carta included a recitation of certain basic rights to be accorded all free men, it has over the years become shorthand for any declaration of human rights. For this reason, in introducing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the United Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt referred to it as a Magna Carta for all mankind.

Due Process
Magna Carta provides guarantees against arbitrarily denying “free men” of their life, liberty, or property without legal process. This basic, but important principle, is the foundation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of the right to due process, a speedy trial, trial by jury and representation by counsel. It is also the basis of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment.

Significance Today
Traveling Exhibit

Traveling Exhibit

In celebration of the 800th anniversary of the document at the historic heart of English and American Constitutional Law, “Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015,” a national traveling exhibit, was curated by the Law Library of Congress and produced by the American Bar Association.

“Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015” was brought to the State of Missouri by the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Foundation and hosted by Missouri State University.

The Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association (SMBA) was recognized with a Community & Educational Outreach Award from the National Association of Bar Executives and NexisLexis at the American Bar Association’s 2017 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California. The annual awards honor state and local bars for innovative projects that serve as national models for ingenuity and public outreach. Over the course of seven months, SMBA teamed up with community partners to offer a variety of Magna Carta-focused activities at seven venues across the city, including a “Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015” exhibit that was toured by 2,256 individuals. SMBA also hosted poster, essay, video and social media contests related to the theme.

For further information about ABA’s “Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015,” visit http://ambar.org/mctravelingexhibit.



Lesson Plan
The Missouri Bar Citizenship Education Program provides a lesson plan on the significance of the Magna Carta for students in grade 7 – 12. Find historical background of the Magna Carta, influence of the Magna Carta on the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and more in the lesson plan.

Icon of Liberty Website
The ABA Division for Public Education, with support from the Magna Carta Trust, launched a website called Magna Carta: Icon of Liberty. The site tells the story of the significance of Magna Carta through images and multimedia components, including an interactive timeline and a video interview with Magna Carta scholar Nicholas Vincent.

Magna Carta and the Rule of Law
This book, written by a distinguished international group of scholars and published by the ABA Section of International Law, marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta with an exploration of its background and the profound impact it has had various important issues and the rule of law.

Law Day 2015
A compilation of resources and links for implementing the 2015 Law Day theme, “Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom.”

British Library Treasures: Magna Carta
Highlights the British Library’s Magna Carta collection items and explores its history and legacy.

Library of Congress Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor
Virtual companion to Library of Congress 2014-2015 exhibition on “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor.”

The Magna Carta Project
Scholarly investigation into the historical context, production and reception of the 1215 and 1225 issues of Magna Carta. Features text, translations and expert commentary.

Magna Carta 800
UK-based Magna Carta trust’s 800th Anniversary Committee’s web portal for commemorative activities and Magna Carta resources.

ABA Magna Carta Commemoration
Highlights American Bar Association activities and resources for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

Magna Carta in the United States
Professor Ralph Turner traces the connections of the Great Charter to American history.

Visual Representations of Magna Carta
Professor Anthony Musson discuss how visual representations of Magna Cart’s attestation, presentation and proclamation, contribute to an understanding of its cultural significance.

“What is an original Magna Carta?”
This article provides an excellent overview of Magna Carta as a document, tackling the tricky question of when a charter that has been issued over multiple periods but multiple sovereigns, which are entitled to the designation “original?”

Back to Top