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The Magna Carta: A look back as to how we got here

Lead Summary
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

For many of us, we do not give much thought to where we are or how we got here. When I say this, I am speaking in the largest sense, over a long period of time.

I have concluded it is time we give this some thought, and hence, this series of columns. I will be covering people and events that I have chosen and think germane. That is the privilege of the writer, and I will exercise it.

You may notice a preponderance of white males in this series. If an apology is needed for that, I apologize now; but I think you will see that these people did, indeed, have an outsized effect on where we are now – for better or worse.

You will also note, as we go along, that I will not be discussing anyone born after 1890. We are staying with the "big picture." I think it is too early to tell the long-term impact of anyone born later than that. Also, I will be leaning heavily on Wikipedia and at times, if you do your own due diligence on my work, you may see some familiar results from consulting that online reference. For that, I will not apologize; but again, give all due attribution to Wikipedia and other sources as referenced.

Let us begin.

We will start with the Magna Carta. Its full name is “Magna Carta Libertatum” or in English, the Great Charter of Freedoms.

A document, it was signed by its principals on June 15, 1215 (Julian Calendar) at Runnymede in England. What was this about? Well, in merry old England, there was this king, John, who was not very popular. Opposing him were a group of rebellious barons. Sounds almost like today, doesn’t it?

Now, before this time, the way these matters were often resolved was everyone donned their armor, mounted their trusty steeds and went to war. However, in this case, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, drafted the Magna Carta, which promised “protection of church rights, protection from illegal imprisonment, swift access to justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown (taxes in our parlance).”

The Magna Carta is significant, for it is the first time in modern times that a serious political argument was settled diplomatically. Down through the years, first in England, then in the U.S., and now internationally, one will see the elements of the Magna Carta woven into constitutional documents and manifestos up to this time.

It is a very important document, imparting ideas of fairness and balance among the rulers and the ruled. There are four original copies still in existence today and on Feb. 3, 2015, the British Library displayed them together for one day to mark the 800th anniversary of this noteworthy document. For more on the Magna Carta, visit

When we meet again, we will jump ahead nearly a quarter of a millennium, actually 236 years, to the birth of an important but controversial person in 1451. We are not even completely sure of his name or where he was born, but today, he is often looked on with disfavor.

See you next time.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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