Connecting the Magna Carta to the U.S. Constitution
We have had a strong connection to England since our country began. The liberties we have today had a beginning several hundred years ago in a document called the Magna Carta. It is considered the founding document which identified English liberties. It is also considered to be the first documentation for a constitutional way of government. Many of the liberties contained in this document became American liberties when our country first began. Some of them are even documented within our Constitution while others are part of the laws we now have in place.
The journey from the Magna Carta in 1215 until our country was found was almost three hundred years but in that length of time these liberties came to be something individuals expected to have. They became not just American liberties but liberties applied to all nationalities who came to this country to start a new life. When these liberties were threatened with the far away rule of England the colonists fought to retain those liberties and in so doing formed a country that has become the United States of America.
Some of the elements and the liberties we have today were brought about by the far thinking of those who created the Magna Carta which King John was forced to sign. One significant principle involves the freedom of the church. Today we can see this principle in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion. The Magna Carta also imposed limitations on the King of England and established a parliamentary form of government with powers to act on the citizens behalf. This aspect of government as contained created an organization of individuals to pass needed laws rather than the King imposing laws and rules as he chose. In this respect it is similar to our Constitutional form of government which established the three branches of government.
Taxes were another aspect of the Magna Carta which established rules and imposed requirements that taxes would be were to be levied except by the Great Council or Parliament. While we do not have a parliamentary type of government the concept of a body of government who levies taxes which in this case is Congress. As the country grew and states were created they required to have income to provide for the common good of their residents. In this respect state legislatures became the parliament at the state level.
Our judicial system was also not left out of the Magna Carta as it initiated the right to due process which led to trial by jury. This principle is included in the Constitution under Article 3 section 2 associated with the Judicial Branch. It directs the trial of all crimes shall be by jury with the exception of impeachment. If not committed within any state the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed. Another exception provides that the Supreme Court shall preside over cases involving Ambassadors, Ministers and Counsels in which a state shall be a party.
The concept of our weights and measures as they are today was first identified in the Magna Carta hundreds of years ago. It established the requirement that all weights and measures are to be kept uniform throughout the realm. Our system is also documented as one of the powers Congress has under the Constitution in section 8 under Article 1. The language states Congress has the power to coin money and regulate the value of and of foreign coin. In addition it identifies that Congress must fix the standard of weights and measures.
Other clauses of interests involve the concept of having a fine be associated with the degree of offence but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. This is identified in clause 20 of the Carta. This principle is interesting and one that should be put in place or included in laws if not already included. Crimes that are committed are not always given a sentence equal to the crime. In many cases which we have seen in news reports there are examples where the defendant is given a light sentence in direct contradiction to the crime. I am not saying that there may not be some exceptions but our system of justice needs to have the punishment fit the crime.
Other clauses also relate to other principles which we have in place including that no man will be placed on trial without producing credible witnesses. This principle is identified under clause 38 of the Magna Carta. It is one which is a vital part of our judicial system. Defendants cannot be imprisoned unless there are credible witnesses to the crime and/or evidence to prove the guilt or innocence of the defendant (s). Credible is the key word. Witnesses may come forth but whether they are considered reputable must be decided. In a jury trial this decision is placed in the hands of the jury.
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