THE GREATNESS OF THE GREAT CHARTER. I think that—contrary to the views of scholars that I cited in my post here on its 800th anniversary— the importance of Magna Carta has been underrated. That a written document could bind a king or dictator or ruler is an idea that is novel in many parts of the world even today.

The fundamental idea of due process of law was written down 800 years ago in Clause 39 of the Magna Carta: “No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Magna Carta’s concept of a national market went beyond the provisions I cited yesterday on free navigation on English rivers and uniform weights and measures. The first sentence of Clause 41 provides: “All merchants shall have safe and secure exit from England, and entry to England, with the right to tarry there and to move about as well by land as by water, for buying and selling by the ancient and right customs, quit from all evil tolls, except (in time of war) such merchants as are of the land at war with us.”

Magna Carta expresses the concepts of due process of law and of a national market in general terms. The applications of these concepts were to be worked out over the next 800 years and more.

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