The Magna Carta

Essential Question

What is the Magna Carta and why is it important?

The Magna Carta

In 1215 a group of English nobles decided to force the king to respect their rights. They forced King John approve a document listing rights the king could not ignore. This document was called the Magna Carta, or “Great Charter.” Among these rights was habeas corpus (HAY-bee-uhs KOHR-puhs), a Latin phrase meaning "you have the body." The right of habeas corpus meant that people could not be kept in jail without a reason. They had to be charged with a crime and convicted at a jury trial before they could be sent to prison. Before, kings could arrest people for no reason at all. It was the first document to regulate the power of the king and government. All people, even government leaders must follow the laws of the land.

The Magna Carta became a key principle of the English government and an important step in the development of democracy. The Magna Carta was a symbol of liberty and the natural rights of man against an oppressive or unjust government. The Magna Carta led to more changes. Faced with war and financial troubles, the kings turned to a council of nobles for advice and money. Before long, the council developed into Parliament, the elected demoratic lawmaking body that still governs England today and influenced the development of the United States Congress.

The English continued to work to secure and protect their rights. To ensure that everyone was treated fairly, people demanded that judges be free of royal control. Many people believed judges chosen by the king would always side with him. Eventually, in the late 1600s, the king agreed to free the courts of his control. This creation of an independent judicial system was a key step in bringing democracy to England.

America’s Founding Fathers took a lot of ideas from the Magna Carta when writing the nation’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Magna Carta was the first document to regulate the power of the king and government which inspired the U.S. Constitution to have all people even government leaders follow the laws.

Activity 1: Primary Source - Magna Carta

Define the vocabulary words, read the primary source excerpts, and answer the text-dependent questions.

Primary Source-The Magna Carta-7

Discussion Questions

  • What is the Magna Carta?

  • Why is the Magna Carta such an important document?

Activity 2: What were the effects of the Magna Carta on Europe and the World?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities