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Magna Carta: the Basis for English and Legal Rights

By Tom Hogan, Jr.

April is a significant month in the history of American law because it was in April 1199, that King Richard, the Lionhearted of England, died and his brother, King John, took the throne.  This set into motion a series of events that led to the Magna Carta—the basis for English and Legal Rights.

In addition to my membership in the Florida Bar, I am also a member of the Alabama Bar Association.  As such, I receive a monthly magazine titled:  “The Alabama Lawyer.”  Recently, in the publication, I read an article by Paul M. Pruitt, Jr. titled: “King John, Magna Carta and the Origins of English Legal Rights.”

Mr. Pruitt carefully describes the events leading up to the adoption of the Magna Carta.

Anyone who remembers the 1938 full color film version of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn (as “Robin Hood”) and Claude Rains as King John will recall how evil King John is portrayed. According to Mr. Pruitt’s article, the movie version was fairly accurate. It Mr. Pruitt’s article he states,

“King John: treacherous, tyrannical, mercurial, malicious . . . ruler of (England). “John ruled England . . . from in the death of his brother, Richard Coeur de Lion, in April 1199, until his own death in October 1216.”

“One historian observed: “The legend of his awfulness as a person as well as a ruler dates from his own lifetime.

King John may have possessed good qualities – brilliant strategist, firm administrator, fiercely determined, but it was his tyranny that caused English barons to revolt against him. That clash led to a settlement, a peace treaty, Magna Carta.

Thus, it was a tyrant king who, forced to deliberate with rebellious nobles, put his seal to Magna Carta, a foundation stone of English and American legal rights.

In our own country, somewhere around 5% of the taxpayers pay 90 some odd percent of the taxes. These taxpayers could be compared to the noblemen who rebelled against King John. If you recall, it was “taxation without representation” that led to the American Revolution as taxpayers feel more and more disenfranchised, we may find ourselves returning to another negotiation and a new Magna Carta, who knows?