Context and Explanation for the Articles of Confederation

(Another one from before my citations epiphany.)

The decade following the Declaration of Independence saw an emerging need for large-scale organization among the thirteen American colonies now rebelling against England. The Articles of Confederation were a first attempt at a national government. The colonial legislatures realized that they needed to present a unified front in order for Parliament to take their grievances seriously. Forming an alliance, signified by a committee comprised of representatives from each colony, seemed like a natural way to proceed. Continue reading

The Magna Carta On Tour

Your angry friend visited the New York Historical Society today, something he had been meaning to do for a while now. My reason for choosing now, while I should still be recovering from my final week at Renfaire and preparing for What Comes Next, is because one of the four surviving copies of the 1217 version of the Magna Carta is on display. I had to see it in person.

As an item, the Magna Carta is not particularly impressive. It is a very old sheet of parchment densely hand-written in brown ink, a bit larger than standard printer paper. The Articuli super Cartas displayed next to it (containing instructions for local officials on how the document was to be enforced) is even less impressive– about the size of an index card. Both are written in medieval Latin, and between this and the hand-writing I was therefore unable to read any of it.

As a document, however, the Magna Carta’s importance is monumental. It was to form the basis of the concept of constitutional monarchy in Europe, and was the first attempt at the chipping away of the divine right of kingship. The idea of all people being entitled to fair treatment that was to form the basis of English law and give rise to the English claim of being the first free country had its origin in the Magna Carta, a document signed by a king at the behest of his subjects, in order to limit his powers and guarantee their rights. Five centuries later, another group of Englishmen were to air their grievances with another king, in a document we now refer to as the Declaration of Independence.

Ideologically, the American Revolution was inherently English. Most of the Founding Fathers were of English descent, steeped in English law and customs. Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense was to spark the country into organized military opposition, was a recently arrived English immigrant to the colonies. In this way, the American patriots were more English than the Loyalists, who were willing to waive their Magna Carta-given rights as Englishmen in order to show their loyalty to the king and his Parliament.