American Minute with Bill Federer
Magna Carta – History of Limiting Government Power – “freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”
England was invaded by “Dane” Vikings from Scandinavia who destroyed churches, libraries and defeated all opposition except for 23-year-old King Alfred.
Forced into the swampy, tidal marshes of Somerset, Alfred, King of the Anglos and Saxons, began a resistance movement in 878 AD.
According to biographer Bishop Asser:
“Alfred attacked the whole pagan army fighting ferociously in dense order, and by divine will eventually won the victory.”
King Alfred’s battle song was:
“When the enemy comes in a’roarin’ like a flood,
Coveting the kingdom and hungering for blood,
The Lord will raise a standard up and lead His people ,
The Lord of Hosts will go before defeating every foe;
defeating every foe.
For the Lord is our defense, Jesus defend us,
For the Lord is our defense, Jesus defend.
Some men trust in chariots, some trust in the horse,
But we will depend upon the Name of Christ our Lord,
The Lord has made my hands to war and my fingers to fight.
The Lord lays low our enemies, but He raises us upright;
He raises us upright.
A thousand fall on my left hand, ten thousand to the right,
But He will defend us from the arrow in the night.
Protect us from the terrors of the teeth of the devourer,
Embue us with your Spirit, Lord, encompass us with power;
encompass us with power.
For the Lord is our defense, Jesus defend us,
For the Lord is our defense, Jesus defend.”
Alfred drove the Danes back to England’s coastal area of East Anglia, where he gave their King Guthrum the choice of sailing back to Scandinavia or converting to Christianity. He chose the latter.
Afterwards, King Alfred the Great wrote his Law Code, drawing from as far back in history as:
- Lucius King of Britons (c.156 AD) “prayed and entreated … he might be made a Christian”;
- St. Patrick’s Celtic “Senchus Mor” Laws (c.438 AD);
- Laws of Æthelberht of Kent (c.602 AD)-the first Saxon king in England to be baptized, by St. Augustine of Canterbury;
- Laws of Christian King Ine of Wessex (c.694 AD), and
Laws of Christian King Offa of Mercia (c.755 AD).
King Alfred the Great was credited with beginning the University of Oxford.
He included in the preface of his Law Code the Ten Commandments, passages of the Book of Exodus, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, and the Acts of the Apostles.
King Alfred wrote:
“These are judgments which Almighty God Himself spoke to Moses and commanded him to keep.
Now, since the Lord’s only begotten Son our God and healing Christ has come to Middle Earth (the Mediterranean World) He said that He did not come to break nor to forbid these commandments but to approve them well, and to teach them with all mild-heartedness and lowly-mindedness.”
King Alfred’s Law is considered the basis for English Common Law as it contained concepts such as liberty of the individual family and church, a decentralized government and equal justice for all under the law:
“Doom very evenly! Do not doom one doom to the rich; another to the poor! Nor doom one doom to your friend; another to your foe!”
Winston Churchill wrote in his Nobel Prize winning book, A History of the English Speaking Peoples (1956, vol. 1):
“King Alfred’s Book of Laws … as set out in the existing laws of Kent, Wessex, and Mercia, attempted to blend the Mosaic code with Christian principles and old Germanic customs.”
Around the year 911 AD, on the opposite side of the English Channel, “Norse” Vikings, called “Normans,” invaded an area that came to be called Normandy, in northern France.
The Normans eventually became Christians.
Beginning in 999 AD, Normans sailed down to the Mediterranean and drove the Muslims out of Sicily and Southern Italy.
In 1066, the Norman King, William the Conqueror, crossed the English Channel and invaded England.
William the Norman replaced King Alfred’s Law with a feudal system of government which concentrated power into the hands of the king.
This continued in England till the Magna Carta.
While England’s King Richard the Lionheart was away fighting the Muslims in the Third Crusade, his brother John was left in charge.
The legend of Robinhood is considered to have originated during this time period.
Richard the Lionheart returned to England in 1192, but was killed in 1199, leaving King John to rule.
Though the Normans had originally come from Normandy over a century earlier, King John lost Normandy and almost all the other English possessions to King Philip II of France by 1205.
England’s barons became so frustrated by this loss and by King John’s absolute and arbitrary despotism that 25 of the leading barons surrounded the king on the plains of Runnymede.
There they forced him to sign the Magna Carta, the Great Charter of English Liberties, on JUNE 15, 1215.
British judge, Lord Denning, described the Magna Carta as:
“the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”
The Magna Carta limited the unbridled centralized power of the king.
Winston Churchill stated in 1956:
“Here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general character is the great work of the Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it.”
Sir Edwin Coke stated: “The Magna Carta will have no sovereign.”
The Magna Carta began the process of redefining government’s purpose from dominating people’s lives into guaranteeing individual rights, culminating in the U.S. Constitution. Political power changed from top-down to bottom-up.
Sir Edwin Coke’s book, Institutes on the Laws of England, which emphasized the importance of the Magna Carta, was studied by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Sir Edwin Coke had written in a 1610 case:
“When an act of Parliament is against common right or reason … the common law will … adjure such an act void.”
When Britain imposed the hated Stamp Act on the American colonies, the Massachusetts Assembly responded that it “was against the Magna Carta and the natural rights of Englishmen, and therefore, according to Lord Coke, null and void.”
The Magna Carta, Clause 1: “the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired”
is reflected in the 1ST AMENDMENT:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”