Magna Carta: Our Legacy of Liberty

Any American celebrating President’s Day today would know that George Washington would turn 283 this year were he still alive but did you know that when he led the forces at Valley Forge that he was defending The Magna Carta?

Most people probably wouldn’t know either fact but journalist and historian John Robson plans to change the latter with a documentary that shows America’s love of liberty has roots that stretch back to the 800 year-old Magna Carta.

“George Washington and the other patriots were convinced that they were upholding British liberties. Their whole appeal in the revolution is to preserve the rights of Englishmen against a threat from the crown and they repeatedly appeal to the rights in Magna Carta,” said historian John Robson.

Magna Carta, the great charter, was signed on June 15, 1215 when English nobles forced King John to agree to certain principles he and his court had been violating. No taxation without representation, no unreasonable search and seizure and due process are all American ideals that trace their origins back to Magna Carta.

Robson is looking to produce a documentary celebrating the 800th anniversary of the great charter of liberties through a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter. He thinks there are plenty of reasons for Americans to get excited about an old English document.

“The United States is the best example of a country that has preserved English liberties. In the United States there is still far more citizen control of government, there is far more restraint,” Robson said.

For those that bristle at the suggestion that Washington saw himself as a defender of English liberties Robson points to The Grand Union Flag that the continental army fought under – a Union Jack in the top left corner and the red and white stripes of the American flag that we know today.

There are other American connections to Magna Carta as well. It wasn’t until 1957 when The American Bar Association paid for the installation of a monument that there were any proper markers at Runnymeade where the granddaddy of The Bill of Rights was signed.

An original copy of Magna Carta also spent the duration of World War II in the United States.

Originally sent over from England as part of a display for the 1939 World’s Fair, fighting in the fall of 1939 made it too difficult to return the document which then went on display at The Library of Congress alongside the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Once the United States joined the war all three documents were sent to Fort Knox.

The Kickstarter campaign runs until March 16, 2015 with plans for the documentary be ready by summer.


Brian Lilley is a broadcaster, journalist and author. Follow him here.


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