A New Magna Carta for the Early Modern Common Law: An 800th Anniversary Essay

25 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2020

Date Written: 2015


This Article examines the influence of the Magna Carta on the development of rights and liberties in the Anglo-American common law tradition, especially in the seventeenth century. Originally issued by King John of England in 1215, the Magna Carta set forth numerous prototypical rights and liberties that helped to shape subsequent legal developments in England, America, and the broader Commonwealth. The Magna Carta served as an inspiration for seventeenth-century English jurists like Sir Edward Coke and Puritan pamphleteers like John Lilburne who advocated sweeping new rights reforms on the strength of the Charter. It also inspired more directly the new bills of rights and liberties of several American colonies, most notably the expansive 1641 Body of Liberties of Massachusetts crafted by Nathaniel Ward, which anticipated many of the constitutional rights formulations of 18th and 19th century America.

Keywords: Magna Carta, Sir Edward Coke, John Lilburne, Nathaniel Ward, John Winthrop, colonial New England, Body of Liberties of Massachusetts Bay

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, A New Magna Carta for the Early Modern Common Law: An 800th Anniversary Essay (2015). Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 30, 2015: 428-445, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3427421

John Witte (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)

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