The effects of the Magna Carta on the development of Modern Civilization. The Magna Carta is on of the most famous and most important documents ever written. It is a phrase written in Latin, and it means GREAT CHARTER. The Magna Carta granted liberties to Englishmen under the rule of King John, in 1215. John signed it under the threat of civil war and reissued it with alterations in 1216, 1217 and 1225. Our own national and state constitutions show ideas and even phrases directly traceable to the Magna Carta.

Though people of the time may not have understood it's power, early in it's history it became a symbol and a battle cry against oppression. In England, the Petition of Right in 1628 and the Habeas Corpus Act in 1679 looked directly at clause 39 of the Magna Carta, which stated :

"No free man shall be arrested or imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled or in any way victimised, neither will we attack him or send anyone to attack him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land."

Earlier "Magna Cartas"

Though earlier kings of England, such as Henry I, Stephen, and Henry II, had issued charters that also made promises or concessions to their subjects, these charters were very generally phrased and the promises were granted by, not exacted from, the king.

In order to understand how civilization was affected by the Magna Carta, we first have to understand how the Magna Carta was affected by civilization. What I mean by this is that certain aspects of life effected the content of the Magna Carta. For example, obviously, no clause was necessary for, like modern times, constrict campaign spending, because that was not an issue in thirteenth-century England. All great documents are affected by the contemporary times in which they are written.

John, King of England

As the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane, John, born on December 24, 1167, succeeded his brother Richard I to the throne on May 27, 1199. John was not the typical king of the time. Unlike most kings, he was suspicious, personally unstable, mercurial and unforgiving. However, his greatest shortcoming was that he was not a warrior, during a time when kings were expected to be warriors.

John had many problems with the Church and his barons, but it was his trouble with the barons that led to the writing of Magna Carta. In 1214, John made an expedition to Poitou . However, his defeat, along with his quarrels with the church, the defeat of his ally, Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV, in the Battle of Bouvines, and the bankruptcy caused by his brother, gave the baron's an excuse to rebel. He died in October 1216 with the civil war still at an inconclusive stage.

Revolt of the Barons

On June 15th, 1215, the rebellious barons met John at Runnymede on the Thames. The king was presented with a document known as the Articles of the Barons, on the basis of which Magna Carta was drawn up. For a document hallowed in history during more than 750 years and frequently cited as a forerunner of the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, it is a singularly undramatic document. It is filled with problems of feudal law and custom that are largely untranslatable into modern idiom. Still, it was remarkable in the fact that it protected the rights of all freemen and not just the authorial barons.

Immediate Effects of the Magna Carta

In immediate terms Magna Carta was a failure, for it was no more than a stage in ineffective negotiations to prevent civil war. John was released by the pope of his obligations under it. The document was, however, reissued with some changes under John's son, Henry III, with papal approval, and so it became, in its 1225 version, a part of the permanent law of the land.

Dividing the Magna Carta

Though it was written continuously, the Magna Carta has been subdivided into 63 clauses and 9 groups. The first group concerned the church, asserting that it was to be "free." The second group provided statements of feudal law of particular concern to those holding lands directly from the king. The third assured similar rights to subtenants. The fourth group referred to towns, trade and merchants.

The fifth group concerned reform of the law and justice. The sixth group controlled the behavior of royal officials. The seventh group concerned the royal forests, and another dealt with immediate issues, requiring, for example, the dismissal of John's foreign mercenaries. The final groups dealt with providing a form of security for the king's adherence to the charter, by which a council of 25 barons should have the ultimate right to levy war upon him should he seriously infringe it.

The Reissuing of the Charter

Councilors for the young Henry III reissued the charter in 1216 and 1217, omitting all matters relating only to the political situation of 1215. In 1217, clauses relating to royal forests were transferred to a separate forest chapter. In 1225, having come of age, Henry III reissued the charter, though it was not very different from the issue of 1217

There are four "originals" of the charter of 1215, one in Lincoln Cathedral, one in Salisbury Cathedral and two in the British Museum. Durham Cathedral Possesses the charters of 1216, 1217 and 1225.

Remnants of the Magna Carta in the United States Constitution

The Constitution is in many ways like the Magna Carta. One of the key themes of the Constitution that the Magna Carta indirectly implied was Habeas Corpus. Habeas Corpus (Latin, "you are to bring the body") is a writ issued by a court, requiring a person in custody to be brought before it. Although the writ is issued for various purposes, it is usually issued in criminal cases in order to determine whether a prisoner is lawfully being held by the police, and if so, what the charges are.

Habeas Corpus is also used in civil cases, such as those which require the presence of a minor in court to determine rightful custody. In England, Parliament has the power to suspend the writ of Habeas corpus, an act that occurred in 1794 in reaction to the Reign of Terror in France. The US Constitution failed to specify who may suspend Habeas corpus, a cause of much controversy during the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln suspended it. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney challenged Lincoln by ruling in Ex parte Merryman (1861) that Congress alone could suspend Habeas corpus and try disloyal persons in military courts. In Ex parte Milligan (1866), the Supreme Court held that neither Congress nor the president could suspend Habeas corpus in areas not in rebellion or where federal courts were not open. This clause stems from the Magna Carta's author's fear of military rule.

Affects on Society in England

The Magna Carta had many effects on the society in England. It changed the ultimate rule of the king. People no longer looked at the king as the uncontested ruler of England who could do whatever he pleased. Now he could be challenged, and even defeated.

Even the feudal system was affected by the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta gave rights to all under the feudal system, even the lowliest serfs. In my opinion, the Magna Carta led to the downfall of the feudal system all across Europe and not just in it's native land of England. It gave rights to women also, as stated in Clauses 7 & 8 :

Clause 9 : "A widow shall have her marriage portion and inheritance forthwith and without difficulty after the death of her husband; nor shall she pay anything to have her dower or her marriage portion or the inheritance which she and her husband held on the day of her husband's death; and she may remain in her husband's house for forty days after his death, within which time her dower shall be assigned to her."

Clause 8 : "No widow shall be forced to marry so long as she wishes to live without a husband, provided that she gives security not to marry without our consent if she holds of us, or without the consent of her lord of whom she holds, if she holds of another."

The Long-Term Effects

Though the actual text of the Magna Carta does not much have much influence on the world today due to its medieval origin, however. the concept of a document that restricted what a ruler could and could not do, actually, in my opinion, gave birth to the modern form of democracy. A stable government needs something set down, "written in stone," that can control it.

The Magna Carta is one of the greatest documents in history, paralleled only by such documents as the Constitution, the Ten Commandments and the Declaration of Independence. It created the first society of democracy since the fall of Athens. The democracy that I am referring to is not the form that we view it with elections and Presidents and governors. I am referring to the true meaning of the word democracy- "people power."

The Magna Carta led to the creation of the British Parliament. The idea of a representative body spread all over the world because of Britain's imperialism. The United States Congress, as well as the representative bodies of it's states, is a direct descendant of the British Parliament with it's House of Lords (the Senate) and the House of Commons (the House of Representatives).

In closing, I would just like to conclude that the Magna Carta has greatly affected history, government and society throughout the world.

Related Essays on History: European