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The Magna Carta | Quotes


That the English Church shall be free and enjoy her rights in their integrity and her liberties untouched.

King John, Section 1

Section 1 begins with a declaration that the English Church has freedom from the king's interference, especially in the matter of electing and appointing its own officials. A good relationship with the Church was essential to any king's success, so King John first makes peace with the Church and with God.


We have also granted to all free men of Our kingdom ... all the liberties underwritten ... of Us and Our heirs.

King John, Section 1

Section 1 also sets out the purpose of the following agreements and declarations. It is to be a binding agreement in which the king grants certain liberties to "to all free men" of the kingdom. The king also makes the Magna Carta binding on his own heirs.


No scutage or aid shall be imposed ... unless by common counsel thereof ... and ... only a reasonable aid shall be levied.

King John, Section 12

The king agrees that he will not levy new taxes—scutage and aid—without the "common counsel" of certain people (whom he specifies in Section 14). This agreement paved the way for the future parliamentary system to provide their consent. It also established a norm by which America's founders claimed the king was levying illegal taxes on them, as the American colonists had no parliamentary representation.


To obtain the common counsel ... We will cause to be summoned ... archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and great barons.

King John, Section 14

This establishes the specific types of people who would meet together and provide the "common counsel" of Section 12. Britain's modern House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, is similarly made up of both Lords Spiritual (archbishop and bishops) and secular titled nobility (dukes, earls, barons, and other ranks).


Common Pleas shall not follow Our Court, but shall be held in some certain place.

King John, Section 17

Section 17 establishes the idea that a person has a right to settle a lawsuit at a fixed place, making the court system far more convenient. This removed unreasonable barriers (a constantly moving location and the need to travel a long distance) to settling legal disputes.


A free man shall be amerced for a small fault only according to the measure thereof ... saving his position.

King John, Section 20

This section establishes the concept that the fine for an offense should fit the offense. A fine should not make it impossible for the offender to lose his means of earning a living. There are echoes in modern justice systems that punishments should fit their crimes.


There shall be one measure ... throughout Our kingdom.

King John, Section 35

An irregular and unregulated system of weights and measures leads to cheating and corruption. This is an example of a government regulation meant to curtail corrupt trade practices. It also acknowledges the reality that buying and selling occur between distant geographic regions, and a standard system of measurement facilitates this.


[N]o bailiff shall upon his own unsupported accusation put any man to trial without producing credible witnesses to the truth of the accusation.

King John, Section 38

This section makes it impossible for an official to accuse, try, and punish a person without corroboration of the crime. It is clearly a measure taken to confront a problem with misuse of authority. The use of "credible witnesses" is a key part of modern justice systems.


No free man shall be ... imprisoned ... except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.

King John, Section 39

This is one of the sections of the Magna Carta that is still in effect. It decrees that people cannot be punished except according to "the law of the land." This places all people, including the king, under the rule of law. This section also mentions the "lawful judgment of his peers," an idea that persists today in trial by jury.


To no one will We sell, to none will We deny or delay, right or justice.

King John, Section 40

This brief statement ensures justice and rights for all, for free and in a timely fashion. The delay of justice and the taking of bribes for favorable trial outcomes are both confronted in this section.


We will appoint as judiciaries, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs, only such men as know the law of the land and will keep it well.

King John, Section 45

The appointment of incompetent and corrupt officials to dispense justice has an obvious flaw. To correct the problem, the king promises to appoint only those men who know and want to keep the law as court officials.


If anyone has been disseised or deprived by Us, without the legal judgment of his peers ... We will immediately restore the same.

King John, Section 52

The king agrees to make amends of various kinds for his past abuses of power. These include returning lands, castles, liberties, and rights he had taken away without "lawful judgment." This again reinforces the idea that even the king must abide by the law.


All the ... liberties aforesaid which We have granted to be enjoyed ... let all our subjects, whether clerks or laymen, observe ... toward their dependents.

King John, Section 60

This section ensures that the liberties and rights granted by the king in the Magna Carta are for all free men. "Free men" includes men of the Church (clerks or clergy) and those who are not (laymen). It also encourages the barons to extend this same treatment to those under them in the hierarchy.


If We ... fail to afford redress ... the twenty-five barons ... shall distrain and distress Us to the utmost of their power.

King John, Section 61

This remarkable wording of the Magna Carta gives the barons the right to hold the king accountable to the promises made in the document. If he does not abide by his promises, the barons are allowed to take action against him.


Wherefore We ... firmly charge ... that all men in Our kingdom shall have ... the aforesaid liberties ... in all things and places forever.

King John, Section 63

At the end of the Magna Carta, the king reiterates his commitment to rights granted all men in the preceding sections. He makes sure to specify that the agreement is for "all things and places forever." The barons did not want the king (or his heirs) to be able to return to his old ways. They wanted future generations to have these same rights and liberties.

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