The Baron’s Day – November 5th – Why Should Americans Care?

November 5th, The Baron’s Day, is a little known holiday designated to honor those twenty five renowned Sureties responsible for enforcing observance of the statues contained in Magna Carta.

Why should Americans care? Perhaps Professor A.E. Dick Howard summed it up best in his article which first appeared in North Carolina Law Review (Vol. 94, No. 5 June 2016).

aamilne2“When I was very small, one of the authors whose books I came to love was A. A. Milne. You Winnie the Pooh buffs will know about Milne. Perhaps you know Milne’s Now We Are Six. One of the poems in the collection is “King John’s Christmas.” It begins,

King John was not a good man –
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.

For a little kid, the idea of being shunned – that nobody will speak to you – is really terrible. How could you be so awful that people won’t even talk to you?

Well, I grew up and read some more about King John. I discovered that he was that bad – maybe worse. Not only was he bad in moral terms, he was also a bad king. John managed to make enemies throughout the realm and beyond…

The Barons had particular cause to be unhappy with King John. He imposed harsh demands for revenue on the barons in ways that were clearly not acceptable to them. At length, all these misadventures piled up on King John, resulting in a meeting (with the Barons) at Runnymede on the fifteenth of June 1215…

magnacartaWhat is the legacy of Magna Carta in American constitutionalism? I would suggest the following.

First, Magna Carta is the iconic way of talking about the rule of law, not only in America and England but around the globe…

Magna Carta’s second legacy is the articulation of fundamental rights…

Thirdly, there is the idea of a written constitution. Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution – are all examples of putting it in writing…

Fourthly – here we’re getting to the nub of the matter – Magna Carta has a lot to do with putting us on the road to constitutional supremacy. This entails the notion of a constitution that is a super statute and not ordinary law…The Constitution and all laws ‘made in pursuance thereof’ shall be ‘the supreme law of the land’.

Finally, summing up Magna Carta’s legacy, I think that the tradition of organic, unfolding, evolving constitutional law flows from Magna Carta…

magnacarta2We do not live in feudal times. I don’t think even the worst of our public officials can match King John. We’re not worried about the pretentions of monarchs. But we are pursuing in our day and time our own quest for ordered liberty, a quest that invokes the values and aspirations that lie at the heart of Magna Carta’s legacy.”

Please join us along with our friends across the pond in celebrating those brave Barons who recognized the grave importance of liberty and who risked their lives and those of their families to reduce King John’s abuse of power and the subsequent suffering of English citizens. In so doing, these men also made a lasting contribution to the liberties we enjoy in the United States today.

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