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"Let the word go forth from this time and place,

to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed

to a new generation of Americans, born in this century,

tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace,

proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit

the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation

has always been committed, and to which we are committed today

at home and around the world. Let every nation know,

whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price,

bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend,

oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Let us never negotiate out of fear,

but let us never fear to negotiate.

And so my fellow Americans,

ask not what your country can do for you;

ask what you can do for your country."

John F. Kennedy - Inaugural Address - January 20, 1961


(after many replaced monarchs)
December 1689

1. Suspending or executing of laws by a king without Parliament's consent is illegal.
2. Church and other royal courts of law are illegal.
3. Raising taxes without Parliament's consent is illegal.
4. Subjects can petition (put a request to) their king without fear of imprisonment.
5. The raising of an army in peace-time without Parliament's consent is illegal.
6. Protestant subjects may bear arms to defend themselves.
7. Election of Members of Parliament must be free.
8. Freedom of speech in Parliament.
9. There should be no excessive, cruel or unusual punishments.
10. Courts must have free juries, even in cases of high treason.
11. Nobody can be punished before conviction and trial.
12. Parliaments must be held frequently.

The English Magna Carta (1297)
& the US Constitution

When representatives of the young republic of the United States gathered to draft a constitution, they turned to the legal system they knew and admired--English common law as evolved from Magna Carta. The conceptual debt to the great charter is particularly obvious: the American Constitution is "the Supreme Law of the Land," just as the rights granted by Magna Carta were not to be arbitrarily canceled by subsequent English laws.

This heritage is most clearly apparent in our Bill of Rights. The fifth amendment guarantees "No person shall...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law"

Written 575 years earlier, Magna Carta declares "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned,...or in any other way destroyed...except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to none will we deny or delay, right or justice."

In 1957 the American Bar Association acknowledged the debt American law and constitutionalism had to Magna Carta and English common law by erecting a monument at Runnymede. Yet, as close as Magna Carta and American concepts of liberty are, they remain distinct. Magna Carta is a charter of ancient liberties guaranteed by a king to his subjects; the Constitution of the United States is the establishment of a government by and for "We the People."

The Magna Carta confirmed by Edward I in 1297.

David M. Rubenstein is involved in donating the historic Magna Carta (authentic copy).

National Archives & Records Administration Featured Document

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