... Slowly the heavy, bright-decked barges leave the shore of Runningmede. Slowly against the swift current they work their ponderous way, till, with a low grumble, they grate against the bank of the little island that from this day will bear the name of Magna Charta Island. And King John has stepped upon the shore, and we wait in breathless silence till a great shout cleaves the air, and the great cornerstone in England's temple of liberty has, now we know, been firmly laid."
- Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men In A Boat
The Magna Carta, or Great Charter, was signed on June 15, 1215 by King John, who was forced into it by his rebellious barons. In this document are enshrined many of the rights which are fundamental to those of us in the free world: property rights, freedom of the press, equality before the law, trial by jury, and regular elections, to name a few. The ripples from this event are still felt today, effecting the political systems of nations all over the world- members of the Commonwealth such as my own country, Canada, for example- and also the United States. The American Revolution occurred because Britain denied the rights outlined in the Magna Carta to the Colonies- for example, "no taxation without representation" can be traced back to the Charter:"No scutage or aid is to be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our realm." It was because they recognized the importance of the Magna Carta that the American Bar Association erected the Memorial at Runnymede in 1957, and in 1985 added a plaque which reads: "13 July, 1985; The American Bar Association returned to this place to renew its pledge of adherence to the principles of the Great Charter".
Eight hundred years on, let's celebrate a document which put down on paper many of our rights as free-born people and gave us a foundation for liberty to build upon. In the words of Jerome K. Jerome, it is "the great cornerstone in the temple of England's liberty".