Magna Carta: 800 Years since Runnymede A. E. Dick Howard
On September 9, 2014, at noon, A. E. Dick Howard delivered a Banner Lecture entitled "Magna Carta: 800 Years since Runnymede."
In 2015 people on both sides of the Atlantic will mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. On June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, a reluctant King John agreed to the barons' terms in a document which came to be known as Magna Carta. Though the king never meant to keep his promises, Magna Carta survived. Down through the centuries, it has been a symbol of opposition to arbitrary government. Magna Carta came to America with the English colonies' first charters. In the years leading up to the Revolution, Americans framed their arguments against British policies by drawing upon the language of the early charters and upon Magna Carta as their birthright. Having declared independence, Americans turned to writing and implementing state constitutions and, ultimately, a Federal Constitution. Magna Carta left an indelible mark on these developments. At the core of this legacy is the rule of law—the thesis that no one, including those in government, is above the law. Another principle traceable to the Great Charter is constitutional supremacy—the idea of a superstatute against which ordinary laws are to be measured. Constitutional provisions guaranteeing due process of law derive directly from Magna Carta's assurance of proceedings according to the "law of the land." And the uses successive generations, in England and America, have made of the Charter have given us the idea of an organic, evolving Constitution, one that can be adapted to the needs and challenges of our own time.
A. E. Dick Howard is the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, he was a law clerk to Justice Hugo L. Black of the Supreme Court of the United States. A member of High Table at Christ Church, Oxford, Professor Howard has written extensively on constitutional law and history, including The Road from Runnymede: Magna Carta and Constitutionalism in America. Recently the University of Virginia conferred on him its Thomas Jefferson Award—the highest honor the University accords a member of the faculty.
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