Student Activity

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta of 1215, written in iron gall ink on parchment in medieval Latin.
Photo caption

The Magna Carta of 1215, written in iron gall ink on parchment in medieval Latin.

Activity 1—Introduction to Magna Carta

Read the brief description of Magna Carta from the British Library below. An annotated translation is provided and will be useful in identifying issues listed in the chart below. Focus on the sections that include annotations:

Now identify the chapters and evidence for four key themes covered in the Magna Carta. Find at least one or two examples for each theme.

Use the linked PDF chart below to complete this exercise.

  • Introduction to Magna Carta [PDF]
  • What do you think is the importance of these four themes as addressed in the Magna Carta for individual rights and liberties?

Activity 2—The Evolution of the Magna Carta

Read the essay: "The Rhetoric of Rights: Americans are 'Englishmen' and Englishmen Have Constitutional Rights," which appears on the EDSITEment-reviewed website E Pluribus Unum, keeping in mind the questions below.

  • What does John Allen mean when he states that the king is "as much under a law . . . as the people are under the oath of allegiance to him"? What basic concept of government is indicated by this assertion?
  • Colonists claimed that the colonial charters, such as those of Virginia and Massachusetts, guaranteed them the rights granted in Magna Carta. Explain their reasoning. What evidence do we have that the king believed that the American colonists had a legitimate claim to the rights of Englishmen?
  • What was the basic argument used by Coke to challenge the powers of King James I. In what respects was his argument based on the Magna Carta? Of what relevance were Coke's ideas to the Americans in the period leading up to the Revolution?
  • What evidence is presented in this essay of the importance of Magna Carta to the American colonists who challenged King George III?
  • Were the references to Magna Carta made by patriot leaders correct? Defend your answer.
  • Based on the use of Magna Carta by the American Revolutionary leaders, what do we learn about the significance of this document and how its meaning had changed over time?