Friday, June 19, 2015

Morgan Griffith Remembers the Magna Charta

This post should have appeared here on June 16, when I first opened Congressman Griffith's reflections on a great day in British history. Unfortunately the computer I'm currently using on Sundays through Thursdays, the Sickly Snail, can't keep up with the new version of Yahoo e-mail, so I wasn't even able to read the whole article until today:

"Robin Hood, King John, and the Magna Carta
Many people have heard Robin Hood, the fabled character of numerous ballads, tales, movies, etc.  Robin Hood roamed the Sherwood Forest in Nottingham while Richard the Lionheart, or King Richard I of England, was off fighting in a foreign crusade.  While Richard was gone, his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine and William Longchamp are said to have acted as regents.  Richard’s brother John is said to have conspired against them.  As you may recall, King Richard was king from 1189 until his death in 1199.

John reigned from 1199 until his death in 1216.  A representative of King John, the local Sheriff (or, “shire-reeve”), was responsible for seeing to it that the king’s will was done.  According to legend, the Sheriff of Nottingham was one of John’s allies.  He is often portrayed as a villain, as is King John.  According to legend, these two get their comeuppance at the hands of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Legends are often based on some truth.  In reality, many were critical of King John and his poor leadership.  Thus, a group of noblemen rose up against King John and forced a change in political philosophy.  At the field of Runnymede near the River Thames, King John was forced to affix his seal to the Great Charter – the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta is the basis to this day of English constitutional law and political life.  It set up the unique premise that the king is subject to the law, not entirely above it, and that people other than the king have rights.  Here is one passage I find to be particularly notable, translated to modern English by USA Today:  “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”  This section is the basis upon which our concept of due process originated and has evolved, as well as the jury trial system.  Thus, the language a jury of one’s “peers or equals.”

You might be wondering – why is this the focus of this column?

The reason is the Magna Carta was signed on June 15, 1215.  800 years ago this week on a lowly field so far away was born the philosophy that would ultimately lead to Englishmen and others in the Thirteen Colonies believing they had rights on which King George III could not trample.

This important Great Charter is one of the greatest historical documents, vital in the foundation and development of democracy and the modern judicial system.  Many years ago I had the opportunity to observe a copy of the Magna Carta, and our National Archives has one of the finest original copies of the Magna Carta in its collection because of its importance to the development of American political philosophy.

Its influence can be seen in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of our Constitution, the bedrock foundation of these United States of America.

For the reasons above, this week, I am proud to recognize Robin Hood, King John, and the Magna Carta.

Robin Hood, while mythical, stole from the rich to give to the poor.  The noblemen at the field of Runnymede probably didn’t recognize it at the time, but they were stealing power from the powerful to give to the weaker.  I am sure they intended that shift in power only to devolve to them as noblemen.  But in 1776 with the formation of these United States, it was clear that power has shifted not just from the king to the noblemen, but from the king and the noblemen to regular citizens.

This process of devolution of power would continue in this great country.  Let us hope that that power does not shift back to an elite who think they are entitled to rule because they are more noble than the average citizen.

For others, June 15 passes as just another day.  But for me, it is a recognition that the Great Charter, the Magna Carta, started our political emancipation.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671.  To reach my office via email, please visit my website at  Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives. "