Many consider the Magna Carta issued in 1215, annulled a short three months after it was enacted, to be the basis of the United States Constitution. However, it is the 1297 version of the Magna Carta that America’s forefathers most referred to when drafting the original United States Constitution.
The original 1215 version was a different beast and would certainly have made a different effect on the colonists had they adhered strictly to it. The charter was originally an attempt by Barons of that time to limit the power of the king (and the influence of the Pope) and ensure the other nobles’ liberties and power were absolute, in effect giving them the power of governance rather than the king. Many people, even in English history, attribute the Magna Carta with a granting of liberties to the common man; in reality, it was a guarantee that nobility would retain their liberties and meant nothing for those who weren’t the Church or English Nobility.
King John of England was essentially forced to put his seal on a document that limited his power and preserved the Barons’ privileges. It preserved the status of the Church, but by limiting the power of the king, it also limited what the church could influence through him. This, ultimately, led to it being annulled shortly after King John was no longer in immediate danger from being physically overthrown by the Barons.
In a way this is a lot like politics today. There are those who are in power -- with wealth and influence -- who seek to preserve their own privileges and status. In A similar way religion also plays a heavy role in politics; although, the role of the Pope is not nearly what it was in those days. Now most politicians are compelled by their religious beliefs rather than a central religious authority figure.
But has today’s society become too analogous to the feudal society of medieval times? Is the role of the mighty corporation too strong in today’s politics, financially influencing policy and decisions in their own favor at the expense of the common man? Does common man still have a say in today’s politics? When it requires millions of dollars to run a political campaign, does that shut out normal people from participating in government to the fullest extent they should?
In the spirit of the Magna Carta, our government was designed with checks and balances; but just like most of the Magna Carta’s influence on English law has been repealed, so too our own laws can be changed or repealed by an overwhelming vote in Congress. If those Barons’ from the 13th century were alive today, would they be the equivalent of the powerful, rich corporations in America? Can they force our own government – have they forced our own government – to sign laws that diminish the government’s power in deference to the corporations’ power and privileges?
One of the things the Barons’ most objected to were taxes levied on them by the king. The only way they allowed the tax to continue was to barter for the king to have less power.
Have American corporations managed to best the barons?
By reducing both taxes and government regulations, the balance of power appears to have shifted away from the government to the corporations.
Billionaires, corporations, and very little paid in taxes
Look at the amount of taxes a large international corporation like Google paid last year – they had a zero tax bill in the United States. Other corporations have full cadres of lawyers and accountants trying to reduce their tax liability to zero, even though they make billions of dollars in profits. The tax bill for Warren Buffet last year was just under $7,000 and he’s one of the richest men in America. He made 1000% more money than 99% of America, yet he paid only a little more than most of them in taxes – less than 20% more than most Americans. He was the only billionaire brave enough to point out the egregiousness of it all.
If the few and the powerful are calling the shots for all of America, it’s as if we’re living under the original Magna Carta from 1215.
Welcome to medieval Britain, America.