- Published: 08 January 2012
Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede in 1215 by King John under the extreme coercion of the threat of death by the sword, upon demand by the assemblage of armed noblemen that he immediately sign this document. As stated in The Federalist number 84 by Hamilton, Magna Carta was "obtained by the Barons, sword in hand, from king John." This document was designed chiefly to clarify and make more formal and definite certain pre-existing, king-granted rights, of the noblemen themselves primarily; and it is a chief example of the application of the principle of king-granted rights--originally based upon the Old World concept of the divine right of kings. Magna Carta is, therefore, in keeping with--was an early expression of--Britain's traditional philosophy and system of Government-over-Man exemplified in modern times, as noted above, by the absolute supremacy of Parliament--now of the House of Commons alone.
Magna Carta's philosophy of king-granted rights stands, therefore, for the antithesis of the traditional American philosophy of Man-over-Government, based upon the uniquely American concept of God-given, unalienable rights safeguarded by a system of constitutionally limited government created by the sovereign people, under a written Constitution adopted by them, primarily to make and keep these rights secure.
The conflict between the philosophy underlying Magna Carta and the traditional American philosophy was noted in the address by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in celebration of the Fourth of July, 1821, in these words:
"The people of Britain, through long ages of civil war, had extorted from their tyrants not acknowledgements, but grants, of right. With this concession they had been content to stop in the progress of human improvement. They received their freedom as a donation from their sovereigns; they appealed for their privileges to a sign manual and a seal; they held their title to liberty, like their title to lands, from the bounty of a man; and in their moral and political chronology, the great charter of Runny Mead was the beginning of the world . . . the fabric of their institutions . . . had been founded in conquest; it had been cemented in servitude . . . instead of solving civil society into its first elements in search of their rights, they looked back only to conquest as the origin of their liberties, and claimed their rights but as donations from their kings. This faltering assertion of freedom is not chargeable indeed upon the whole nation. There were spirits capable of tracing civil government to its foundation in the moral and physical nature of man; but conquest and servitude were so mingled up in every particle of the social existence of the nation, that they had become vitally necessary to them . . ." (Runny Mead is also spelled Runnymede; emphasis per original.)
To repeat, the traditional American philosophy of Man-over-Govern-ment based upon the concept of God-given, unalienable rights is utterly antithetical to the philosophy of Magna Carta's Government-Over-Man, with its king-granted rights.