Did the American Revolution of 1776 really start on June 15, 1215 when the Magna Carta was signed in England?
Most Americans have heard of the Magna Carta, but few have read it and fewer appreciate how a number of its provisions are reflected in our Constitution, adopted 574 years later.
On that day in 1215, a group of English nobles gathered in the fields near Runnemede and demanded certain rights from their monarch, King John.
Because he needed their support, King John agreed to their demands, and the Magna Carta (“the Great Charter”) was signed.
Below are some provisions of the Magna Carta and the corresponding concept in the Constitution. You can draw your own conclusions!
Paragraph 20: “For a trivial offense, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offense.”
Constitution, Eighth Amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required … nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Paragraph 34: “The writ … shall not in the future be issued … if a free man could thereby be deprived of the right of trial in his own lord’s court.”
Constitution, Sixth Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial … [in] the state or district wherein the crime shall have been committed which district shall have been ascertained by law …”
Paragraph 38: In the future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth thereof.”
Constitution, Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a … crime … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be witness against himself…”
Paragraph 39: “No freeman shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions….or deprived of his standing in any other way except by the lawful judgment of his equals …”
Constitution, Sixth Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury …”
Constitution, Eighth Amendment: “In suits at common law … the right of trial by jury shall be preserved…”
Paragraph 52: “To any man who we have deprived … of lands, castles, liberties or rights without the lawful judgments of his equals, we will at once restore these.”
Constitution, Sixth Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a … trial by an impartial jury…”
In light of these conceptual similarities, did the American Revolution start in 1776 or 1215?
The colonists who rejected British rule certainly knew the rights of British law that were influenced by the charter.
Today, a gold copy of the Magna Carta sits in the U.S. Capitol crypt as a symbol of its importance to American history.