Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Facebook page

I've decided that this doesn't work as well as a blog. To facilitate better discussion, I've transformed it into a facebook page, which can be found here. I may decide to update this page with my final conclusions on each document, but I haven't decided yet. If you're totally outraged by this decision, feel free to voice you opinion. It may even sway mine.

Happy studying!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Constitutions of not particularly interesting

I can see why the Magna Carta was more influential than the Constitutions of Clarendon. Rather than defining rights and liberties, the Constitutions of Clarendon solidify already established processes. And, most importantly, this was an attempt to define the limits of the Church's power, not the limits of the king's power. Not exactly a step forward in liberty, but maybe it did have an influence in separating the powers of church and state.

Short post this week. For next week, study The Declaration of Arbroath.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Magna Spoiled-Tyrant Carta

How did you enjoy reading the Magna Carta? It's not to late to read it now if you're just joining us. And bring your friends.

I spent some time with my nose in the dictionary for some of those Medieval terms, that's for sure. My personal favorite was "disseisin," which according to dictionary.com means, "wrongful dispossession of one in the possession of real property." Isn't it easier just to call it theft? I think it's kind of like a Medieval version of eminent domain, minus the reimbursement part...so yeah, pretty much theft.

I was amazed at how many points in this document seemed self-evident to me, which goes to show exactly how significant this document was. Judging from the tone of the writing, before the Magna Carta, kings basically had free reign to do whatever they wish. There was no law except the law they gave to the people (which obviously didn't apply to them).

Which brings me to my main point. Most of us are familiar with the model showing a line with tyranny on one side and anarchy on the other with liberty somewhere in between. Looks something like this:

But where does our King John lie? I think that depends on who and when we ask. For King John, before this document was imposed on him, it is anarchy. There is no law restricting his actions. For the people before this document was written, there is tyranny, as absolute law is imposed on them at the whim of their King. After this document was written, I'm sure King John thought of it as tyranny, since it was the first time his rule had been restricted by written laws. But the people would call it liberty, as now there is a written law protecting their interests, while punishing criminals, including--for the first time ever--the king! To compensate for for this difference in perspective, I drew up this model:

After all, anarchy is really tyranny of a different kind, where the strongest make the rules.

That King John violated the Magna Carta as soon as his barons left is only evidence that a document's significance can't be judged entirely by its effectiveness. The ideas were out there now. And King John's violation of his oath served only to reinforce how essential a written law that applies to rulers as well as common citizens is to a free society.

Another interesting note is the creation of the council of twenty-five barons. While a far-cry from the elected citizens that form a parliament or congress, it was perhaps the first real check on a king's authority (besides the Church).

I also see a small semblance of a recognition of basic human rights. It's not strong, and not specifically mentioned as human rights, but they seemed to know that people have a right to property, and a right to liberty. I didn't see anything on life, but maybe it slipped my notice. Stolen (or "disseized") property was returned to its rightful owners and the king no longer had the authority to take without permission or payment. People wrongfully imprisoned were released, and the people now had a right to what is now called habeas corpus.

That the barons were successful in obtaining the king's oath to uphold this document to begin with is proof that a ruler can't rule without the consent of the governed. Though none of it stuck at first, it was a huge leap forward in the cause of liberty!

What do you think? Now begins the discussion. You are welcome to either comment on what I have written, or bring up points that I missed. Invite your friends to join the discussion as well. I'd also like some suggestions for what documents we should study in the future.

As for next week's assignment, I'm going to go back in time a little bit. I learned that King John's father King Henry imposed a law on himself called the Constitutions of Clarendon in 1164. I'm interested in what it said.

Friday, March 19, 2010

History From The Horse's Mouth

I'm tired of spoon-fed lies.

Aren't you?

Or maybe you are where I was a few years ago, and you still think everyone has your best interest at heart. I don't think I could say anything here to convince you otherwise, but you'll wake up someday. When you do, I'll be here to help.

As indicated in the title, this is a club designed to help me (and anyone who cares to join me) learn about the history of liberty--specifically, United States history, but a few other documents as well--from the horse's mouth. I want to hear history from the people who lived it, not from the people interpreting/whitewashing/erasing it and rewriting it into textbooks.

Each week (or so, give me a break, I'm a mom with 2 young kiddos) I want to read a primary source document (or a section of one) and discuss it here with you. I keep trying to find something to join locally, but let's face it, I live in a town with fewer than 10,000 people, and the nearest civilization is about a 2-3 hour drive, depending on which direction you head.

Moving right along, this week's assignment is The Magna Carta.

A few tips for reading primary source documents:

1. Don't be discouraged by the language.

Even if you're an excellent reader, reading old texts, you might wonder if what you're reading is really in English. Happens to everyone, just hold tight. It gets easier the more you do it.

2. Summarize every sentence in your own words.

You'll only have to do this at first, but it's a good practice to continue anyway. I sometimes find it helpful to actually write it out in a word document.

3. Recognize everyone has a bias.

It's called point of view. Anyone who claims to be unbiased is a liar. It's simply impossible to do, because everyone is influenced by their personal experiences. It may not always be easy to identify a person's bias, but if you can learn this skill, you're well on your way to becoming a historian.

4. So what, who cares?

This lovely mantra was oft repeated by an old history teacher of mine. After you read something, think why does it matter? Once you figure out why the document might matter historically, wonder why (or if) it matters today!

Meet back here in a week and we'll talk about it...okay, so I'll talk about it and you can post comments, but the hope is that The Magna Carta can inspire a healthy discussion in the comments section.

Vulgar comments will be removed (including comments containing the F-bomb and excessive swearing). Name calling defeats the purpose of this blog as well, so please refrain from doing it.

See you in a week!