Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta was a document drawn up in 1213 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury , one Stephen Langton. His intention was probably to secure his church from attacks by King John rather than purely humanitarian or democratic ideals. The barons of the day, sick of Johns demands for money and failed foreign policies, supported his intentions and forced John to agree to limit his powers and sign the document at Runnymede. This document was revised on occasion and for some time considered irrelevant. Later parliamentarians rediscovered the ideals contained therein and brought it back to prominence - for their own sake. True humanitarian gestures are rare, and the nobles who signed the original were in no hurry to let their vassals force them into similar gestures! In Cromwell's day his middle class landowner attitudes affected his understanding of democracy also.

The Magna Carta is seen by some as the first statement of democracy, no matter how limited. But it was not the only such statement of freedoms in those distant days. In 1320 The Scots nobles, no doubt aware of Magna Carta also made clear their free state in the Declaration of Arbroath. Although how many of the common people knew, or cared, about this is unclear.

Whether the French understood the principles in Magna Carta or not, they did have themselves a revolution in the eighteenth century which some like to see as walking in the same footsteps. This in turn is seen as the precursor of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. The American dream is in many hearts based on the Pilgrim fathers and the Declaration of Independence, Life, Liberty and filling your pockets with cash! The idea of bullying other nations and invading them when it takes your fancy appears to be an 'add on.' The Yanks were of course to busy killing Indians, oops sorry, 'Native Americans,' after they found their freedom and taking their land, or ensuring black men, oops 'African Americans,' stayed as slaves, to bother about other nations. Once of course they had grabbed all they could and released the slaves, and kept the 'Jim Crow' laws, they cleared the Spanish out of the Philippine's and then grabbed it for themselves. It takes more than a document or two and a 'myth' of a nation to bring freedom.

However, the Americans do look to the Magna Carta with admiration as the basis on which their nation is founded. Those that have not been spending their time drinking Coca Cola or shooting one another have of course been worshipping at the throne of Mammon! As such one chap has spent £10.6 million (that's $21.32 to you) on the only copy in private hands. It had belonged to Ross Perot the one time presidential candidate, and you will be pleased to hear, now is in ownership by David Rubinstein, whoever he is!

This leaves me wondering, what would you spend £10.6 million on? A rare important document, or something substantial? I like things. I like expensive things that are worth the money, but for a document that you cannot touch because of its age, not keep in the house because of its value, not do anything with except say,"Hey. it's mine!" No thanks. Stick it in a museum and let the folks see it. Tell the kids its history, even if they are bored, but spend your money on something useful. Perot will use the money on wounded veterans and medical research, which sounds more useful. I wonder what Rubinstein does with the rest of his cash?

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