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Magna Carta: Rules for Kings

In the first chapter of my book, The Constitution – I’m Not Kidding and Other Tales of Liberal Folly, I spend some time comparing the relatively few pages contained within the Constitution of the United States to the girth of the eyesore known as he Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. The Constitution (including all amendments) comes in less than 30 pages; the Obamacare law lumbers along at over 2,000 pages. The former document provides a blueprint for freedom, liberty and hope. The latter presents over-burdensome, expensive and slothful bureaucracy, a bigger IRS, limitations on employers and hearts-a-flutter for the big government crowd. In this space I’d like to spend some time on a document that played a part in influencing the Constitution, the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta, contrary to what some think, does not translate to “Big U-Haul.” Although, in reality, a big U-Haul is what is needed to transport the Obamacare regulations (seven feet high and counting) around. Like the Constitution, the Magna Carta is also a slim document, but is packed with so much that it guided the framers as they debated and crafted the Constitution some 560 or so years later. We may recall that community organizer extraordinaire, Saul Alinksy, wrote “Rules for Radicals.” (reviewed here.) Well, think of the Magna Carta as “Rules for Kings.”

kingjohnIn 1215 a group of feudal barons had had their fill of King John. They really wanted to overthrow the King of England but had no ready replacement in mind. Sort of like when an owner of a professional sports franchise fires the head coach, but has no idea whom to hire in his place. The barons had a number of longstanding grievances within the feudal system and wanted to document what they believed should be the limits on the King’s authority so to eliminate his tyranny, abuse and extortion within that system. No more rule by royal whim. The document turned out to be, in fact, a method to protect the rights and property of the English barons and in the process created a charter of liberties that would come to serve as the foundation of the English legal system.

Some of the clauses (there were originally 63 of them) have actually hung around. For example, Clause 39 states that no man can be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights, except by lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. Clause 20 says, in effect, that any punishment must fit the crime. Clause 35 was interesting in that it set standard measures for wine, ale and corn and standard widths for dyed cloth (as opposed to un-dyed cloth, I presume), russett and haberject (whatever the heck those are, but I guess they were big deals back in the 13th Century). So, the feudal equivalent of 32 ounces would be the same in Ipswich as in Great Yarmouth. King John may have been a tyrant, but even he did not try to limit ale consumption to no more than 16 ounces, ala Michael Bloomberg.

And then there is Clause 61, the lengthiest clause in the document. This established a committee of 25 barons that could meet and overrule the King if they believed he defied the provisions within the document. If so judged, they could seize the King’s possessions and even his castles. I love this one. The barons could punish the King by taking his castle, forcing him to move in with mom and live in her basement, where she probably only had basic cable TV. Ouch!

King John reluctantly consented to the demands of the barons and signed the Charter. Pope Innocent III annulled the Magna Carta within weeks (Popes did that sort of thing back then), although the barons generally tried to ignore that. The Charter was reissued several times after that.

The American colonists believed they were entitled to have the same rights as Englishmen, those established in the Magna Carta. It’s sort of like the belief that the North Biloxi Tea Party ought to be treated the same by the IRS as the Erie County Organization for Progressivism. (Imagine that!) The Constitution embodied many of those thoughts and sought to address ways to, if not eliminate, at least discourage tyranny. (Although it left weights and measures to others.) And both documents, said much in a short space. Both were succinct and to the point. Obamacare is neither succinct, nor to the point. Rather, it’s like the uncle who asked to spend the weekend at your house and 13 months later is still sleeping on your couch, yet tells you that you’ll like him better the longer he stays. You, on the other hand, weren’t real fond of him to begin with. Now, you loathe him – and you need a new couch. Sounds like Obamacare.

Curtice Mang is the author of the book, The Constitution – I’m Not Kidding and Other Tales of Liberal Folly. He can be contacted at www.mangwrites.com, where one can also purchase his book; or contact Curtice at mangwrites at cox.net.

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