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abstain from his invasion of the realm of England. The interdict was raised, and John was solemnly absolved at Winchester by the primate Langton, in June, 1214. But before the primate gave him absolution, he required the king to swear "that he would diligently defend the ordinances of Holy Church, and that his hand should be against all her enemies; that the good laws of his ancestors, and especially those of King Edward the Confessor, whose restoration had been promised by the charter of Henry I., should be recalled, and evil ones destroyed; and that his subjects should receive justice, according to the upright decrees of his courts." John also swore “that all corporations and private persons whom the interdict had damaged should receive a full restitution of all which had been taken away, before the time of the approaching Easter, if his sentence of excommunication were first removed. He swore, moreover, fidelity and obedience to Pope Innocent and his catholic successors, and that he would give them that superiority which was already contained in writing.”
John held his oaths but lightly, and months passed away without redress of grievances, without the abolition of oppressive laws and customs, and without that restoration of the ancient constitutions which had been promised by the charter of King Henry, and confirmed by John's oath.
It is probable that John was not aware of the importance of that charter. Certainly the barons were in utter ignorance of its provisions. But the patriotic Langton was as learned as he was heroic and discreet. Calling the barons to him, he informed them that he had a copy of the charter of King Henry, read it to them article by article, and, as he did so, showed them its immense importance, and the ease with which it might be applied to their existing circumstances.' Overjoyed at this discovery, and filled with hope, the barons joined in a confederacy, with the primate at their head, to force John to make good the oaths which he had taken; and the hands of the confederates were strengthened on the very threshold of their enterprise by an outbreak of the king's unbridled lechery.' Assembling at the abbey of St. Edmund, in Edmundsbury, on the 20th of November (St. Edmund's day), they swore before the high altar to stand by each other, and make war upon the king till he should by a solemn charter ratify their liberties, with provisions under which they might themselves be able to compel him to respect them. On Epiphany they came to him with such a military force as challenged his respect, and solemnly demanded that he would make good his oaths. John asked till Easter to consider their demands, in hopes that through the papal influence he might be able to dissolve the confederacy. The time was granted, but Jobn's hopes were disappointed. In the week succeeding Easter the confederates assembled at the town of Stamford with two thousand knights and their retainers.
Thence they marched to Brackly on the 27th of April. John held the town of Oxford, fifteen miles from Brackly, and despatched the archbishop with the earl of Pembroke to the camp of the confederates. When they returned, they brought an abstract of the articles demanded by the barons, which was subsequently made the basis of the charter, and announced their purpose to make war upon the king till he should grant what they desired. “And why,” said the excited monarch with a scornful sneer, “And why demand they not my kingdom likewise ? By God's teeth, I will never grant them liberties that will make myself a slave.” It was not long before he found it necessary to break this oath like the rest. London declared for the confederates, and it is said that London even then could muster 80,000 men-at-arms. The barons took possession of the capital on the 22d of May, and issued writs of summons to all the nobles who had not yet joined them. The effect was magical; and in a few days John was left at Oldham with but seven attendants, some even of whom, though they had not deserted him, were cordially in sympathy with the confederates. The king had no choice left but to comply with the demands of his revolted barons; and, after a few unimportant preliminaries, met them on the plain of Runnymede, beside the Thames, where they encamped apart, like enemies, from June 15th till June 19th, when the negotiations were completed. The articles embodied in the first demand of the confederates were, with some verbal alterations, made into a royal grant; and MAGNA CHARTA, the GREAT CHARTER of the Liberties of England, signed and sealed by the king's hand, was sol. emily declared, with grave formalities, to be, what it has ever since remained—the fundamental law of England. This time at least the people understood the meaning of the royal charter. The tyrannies of John had fortunately been so flagrant, so distinct, so universal among all classes of his subjects, that a bare recital of his acts, coupled with a prohibition of the like in time to come, was a complete protection to the people for the future. In the charter we find not one abstraction, theory, or maxim of government, but a distinct and sharp enumeration of things which the king sball and which he shall not do, that shows clearly both the wrongs he had committed and the rights he had denied." It is for this reason, doubtless that the charter has proved to be so good and fruitful. For having ever afterward been regarded as the root and ground of the whole English Constitution, the judges have from time to time applied to it for precedent as cases of a novel character arose; and in its multifarious clauses they have seldom failed to find one which contained a principle applicable to the cause in hand. To this directness, therefore, of the charter we must trace much of the equity and reason of the common law. A charter, however good, expressing abstract theories and maxims of laws or government, must inevita. bly have led to inextricable confusions : some judges straining the law to the utmost, and others restraining it to the least it could mean. But given as it was in direct application to existing facts, it became a chapter of judicial precedents from which there could be no escape, and being gradually developed in the course of ages only as new circumstances called for some new application of the principles of equity on which it was established, centuries have vindicated its claim to be known as the Great Charter of the Liberties of England.
As it is our purpose to give a translation of this venerable monument of freedom, with such copious notes as will make it perfectly intelligible to the ordinary reader, we shall not here enter largely into the provisions of the charter, but content ourselves with an enumeration of its chief heads. It granted, then, the freedom of the English church forever; it mitigated the chief burdens of the feudal system, by decreasing the king's power over his immediate tenants, or tenants in capite, and by extending these provisions to sub-feudatories; it did away, particularly, with the abuses of the feudal right of wardship and marriage, which had so oppressed the helpless; it defined and limited the aids which might be lawfully assessed by lords upon their vassals, and provided that in case of any further taxation, a parliament must be summoned to grant and assess it; it protected trade and commerce by a guarantee of safety to foreign merchants, and a recognition of the ancient rights, liberties, and free customs of all boroughs, towns, and cities; it provided for more regular administration of the laws by promising that the king's courts should henceforth be held at a fixed place, instead of following the royal person, thus at the same time removing judges from unwholesome influences; it declared that justice should neither be denied, sold, nor delayed to any man; that “NO FREEMAN SHOULD BE TAKEN, OR IMPRISONED, OR DISPOSSESSED, OR OUTLAWED, OR BANISHED, OR IN ANY WAY DESTROYED, BUT BY THE LAWFUL JUDGMENT OF HIS PEERS OR BY THE LAW OF THE LAND;” and that a urit of inquisition, equivalent in its effect to a writ of HABEAS CORPUS, SHOULD BE INSTANTLY AND GRATUITOUSLY GRANTED TO ACCUSED PERSONS WHO DESIRED A SPEEDY TRIAL; it provided that unlawful fines which had been levied by the king and bis immediate predecessors should be remitted or repaid, that the new forests should be disforested, that is, restored to cultivation, and that the king's foreign mercenaries should be banished. It concluded with a general amnesty to all who had taken part against the king in the discord between him and his barons, and with a SOLEMN RECOGNITION OF THE RIGHT OF REBELLION if the king should violate the charter. Five and twenty barons were appointed to compel him to fidelity. In case he injured any man, complaint was to be made to any four out of the twenty-five, who were to make a solemn application for redress, and if redress were not given them, the five and twenty barons were to make war on the king, to harass and distress him in every way possible, by taking his castles, lands, and possessions, saving harmless only the persons of the royal family, till the wrong should be redressed according to their verdict, after which they were to return to their allegiance as before. In security of these things John delivered to the barons the custody of London, and to Langton the Tower of London, to be held till his concessions should bave been fulfilled. Never was humiliation more complete; never was victory more perfect; but the victory was that of freedom over despotism, and the humiliation was that of a tyrant before freemen whose rights he had contemped, whose firesides he had sought to violate, and over whom he had attempted to usurp unlimited and irresponsible authority.
Thus, by a great rebellion of the barons, England's worst and weakest monarch was compelled to grant a charter which declared rebellion lawful, and provided means for lawfully conducting it. No great step in the onward march of constitutional government bas ever yet been made but by such righteous rebels as the barons of King John; and while it is a truth that an unjustifiable rebellion is a heinous crime, it is no less true that without rebellion constitutional freedom never could have been achieved in any country. Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution of these States, were all successively the offspring of rebellion; and if these States now abandon their free system to the hand of arbitrary power, the only hope for their posterity will be that they may follow the example of rebellion set them by our English and colonial ancestors.
The provisions of the charter of King John involve, as Hume says, “all the chief outlines of a legal government, and provide for the equal distribution of justice and the free enjoyment of property; the great objects for which the people have a perpetual and inalienable right to rebel ; and which no time, nor precedent, nor statute, nor positive institution ought to deter them from keeping ever uppermost in their thoughts.” Neither Hume nor the heroes of Runnymede appear to have been very firm believers in the doctrine of "unconditional loyalty." That article in the provisions of a constitutional government it was reserved for an American Republican to invent, in the year of grace-we had almost said disgrace-1863.
We cannot better end the present chapter than with the following quotation from Hallam :
“In the reign of John, all the rapacious exactions usual to these Norman kings were not only redoubled, but mingled with other outrages of tyranny still more intolerable. These too were to be endured at the hands of a prince utterly contemptible for his