North Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa’s 1st Place High School Essay…

Abriana McMath

Pace High School

How the Magna Carta Lit Liberty’s Torch:

An Examination of the Magna Carta’s Influence on Our Founding Fathers and Current Policies

“A republic, if you can keep it.” This was Dr. Benjamin Frankin’s response to a query about what type of government the United States would have. After the failure of the Articles of Confederation, a Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May 14 to September 17,1787, to determine the future of this great country. Though the Founding Fathers drew from many different documents and ideas, the one that most impacted their decisions was the Magna Carta, a charter drawn up in 1215 by delegates from the English people. While the Magna Carta was an imperfect document with some degree of hypocrisy, it introduced revolutionary political concepts that played key roles in American independence and continue to influence the lives of Americans today.

Many of the principles introduced in the Magna Carta are those typically embraced by a modern democratic society, but they were groundbreaking at the time. For instance, the Magna Carta states that “no ‘scutage‘ or ‘aid’ may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent.” This likely inspired the former British subjects who penned Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which states, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes.” As the members of Congress are elected by American citizens, citizens do essentially have control over their taxes today. Taxation was a major point of tension between England and the thirteen colonies during our country’s inception. England had fought the French and Indian War to protect her colonies from invasion, so British lawmakers thought it was only fair that the colonial citizens pay for it. They set a series of taxes upon the Americans. Each was met with outrage and protest. The Americans felt as if they were being taxed unfairly. The colonies had no delegation in Parliament. Therefore, they were being taxed without representation, which clearly went against the rules outlined in the Magna Carta. This issue contributed to a feeling of general distrust and unease towards the British Parliament and Crown. The Declaration of Independence briefly addressed the issue, accusing King George III of “imposing taxes on us without our consent,” which was a blatant violation of the Magna Carta, the law of the land at the time.

How decisions are made about taxation and who has the power to make those decisions impacts Americans and their wallets daily. Taxes often influence what people buy and where they buy it. For instance, if someone lived in Brewton, Alabama, but went to church in Jay, Florida, and was planning to pick up some groceries, he or she would be more likely to buy them in Florida, where groceries are tax-exempt (see “Exemptions from the Florida Sales Tax” by SalesTaxHandbook.com). On a larger scale, this also relates to tariffs, or taxes on imported goods. To encourage manufacturing within the United States, the government often charges international companies for shipping products into the U.S. This drives up the prices of these items, encouraging consumers to purchase cheaper, American-made goods. States can also encourage economic growth by adjusting taxes. States with more revenue resulting from agriculture might give tax breaks to farmers to encourage participation in this occupation. In Florida, for example, seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides are tax-exempt. Tax-free weekends also encourage growth. In Foley, Alabama, people come from hours away to shop at their outlets during tax-free weekends. While they are there, shoppers might get lunch at a local eatery. These weekends provide economic boosts to many areas of the economy, not just the outlet stores.

Americans’ varying beliefs about the amount of taxes that should be levied are often displayed in debates between Democrats and Republicans. While the Democrats argue for “big government” and more social welfare programs, Republicans agree that it is best for government to be kept out of people’s everyday lives. Its power should be limited, and social welfare programs should be minimalistic. What is not as frequently discussed is how the issue of taxation is integral to both these ideas. To implement said welfare programs, the government needs funding, most of which comes from taxes. Therefore, Democrats believe it is best for everyone to pay higher taxes so the government can provide more social welfare programs to those in need. While this sounds logical, Republicans contend that a high taxation of the middle class, as is occurring currently, could lead to the elimination of that class altogether. This has happened in many other countries. In the United Kingdom and Sweden, for instance, taxes were raised too high and the only people who could keep paying them were those in the high upper class. Middle class citizens either emigrated or became a part of the lower class, where they ended up qualifying for the benefits of many welfare programs. This put tremendous strain on the government since so few people were able to pay the exorbitant taxes. Both nations ended up reverting to more capitalistic policies. The idea of “no taxation without representation” was conceived in 1215. The phrase was coined in the 1760s, and its relevance continues to this very day.

Equal treatment under the law is another important aspect of the American identity introduced in the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta dedicates much time to the subject of equality, establishing four things people of higher socioeconomic status cannot do to those of lower socioeconomic status. The shortest yet most comprehensive of these laws states, “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.” This is a monumental statement. It establishes an idea foreign to many people of that era: equality. This is the turning point in history whence the foundation of royalty starts to crumble; peasants gain a sense of dignity; democracy is established. The seed of equality is planted. That tree might have been cut down, dug up, and burned with the rejection of this document by King John in the very same year of its writing, but the ideas it presented could not be silenced. They grew like an unquenchable fire, lighting the torch of liberty for generations to come. It lit the torches of the Sons of Liberty as they carried out their midnight tea party.It lit Paul Revere’s lantern as he raced to warn the troops at Lexington and Concord of the British attack. It lit the candle on Thomas Jefferson’s desk as he worked late into the night establishing the framework of our great nation. In Jefferson’s own words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” The Founding Fathers did what England and even Athens, the birthplace of democracy, could not: they created a place where everyone has natural, “unalienable rights.” Even in Athens, only men were considered citizens. Now, every single American over the age of eighteen can enjoy all the rights and privileges of citizenship.

At its founding, the United States’ government did not fully embrace this lofty ideal of equal treatment as laid out in the Magna Carta. In 1776, only landowning white men could vote. This injustice was not righted until the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” However, Congress did not enforce this until 1965, when it passed the Voting Rights Act. Though African Americans could vote before this, they were often prevented from doing so due to literacy tests and the threat of violence. Women were also barred from voting until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919. This Amendment forbade voting rights discrimination “on account of sex.” The Constitution was further amended in 1971 with the passage of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which lowered the legal voting age to eighteen. A debate over whether formerly convicted felons should be able to vote is currently transpiring in some states. According to a Politico article titled, “States Moving Fast after Congress Failed to Expand Felon Voting Rights” by Zach Montellaro, 5.2 million Americans cannot vote due to a felony conviction. The same article notes that only twenty-one states automatically restore full voting rights to convicted felons after they complete their sentence. This problem disproportionately affects African Americans. Shockingly, one in every sixteen African American adults has been disenfranchised, according to thecrimereport.org as well as multiple other organizations. Many activists are working to pass legislation in their states to allow former convicts charged with lesser, nonviolent crimes to vote. This is a current issue in which many people are deeply invested, so the equality debate continues.

Yet another aspect that makes America unique is its education system. Completely funded by tax dollars, it affords children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds the same opportunities as those from upper-class families. It is not discriminatory based on race, gender, religion, or national origin. Public schools give kids the opportunity to learn and grow. This is an integral part of the American Dream concept. The U.S. was one of the first countries to institute public schooling. It puts all kids on a level playing field. Those of a higher socioeconomic background have minimal advantage over those in families with lower income levels. Education is the key to success later in life. As the government provides a free high school education to all its citizens, it is easier for people to control their own future rather than their family’s background controlling them. If one works hard enough, anything can happen!

In medieval times, those who controlled the government could do whatever they wanted. They did not have to fear the law; they were the law. The Founding Fathers saw how badly this turned out in England, so they made sure it could never occur in the United States. American politicians today can be tried and convicted of crimes, just like any other citizen. In fact, three U.S. Presidents have been impeached (formally charged with a crime by Congress) and one other, Richard Nixon, resigned before he could be impeached. While some countries have a system in which politicians are immune from charges, the United States treats all its citizens equally under the law, just as the Magna Carta proposed eight hundred years ago. This nation has chosen to uphold the value of equality above all else, which is why the “great experiment” of American democracy, as George Washington put it, has succeeded.

The Magna Carta also introduced the idea of freedom of religion. It requests of the King “that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired.” The government, which had forced the English people to worship only in the Anglican Church, further restricted the people’s right to worship freely by controlling what the English Church was allowed to teach. Many of the first American settlers came to escape religious persecution. America has long been considered a place where people can worship freely. This right was officially established in the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment to the Constitution declares, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, orprohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The United States has always been considered a haven for those who wish to worship however they please. The government cannot prevent people from worshipping, nor can they force them to worship in any certain way. Our nation is one of great freedom, and this is the greatest freedom of them all: that man can choose the eternal destiny of his immortal soul.

A patchwork of religions and varying expressions of faith make up the very fabric of American society. The numbers show that the freedom to worship in one’s own way is valued in the United States. In an article titled “Why Does Christianity Have So Many Denominations?” author Donavyn Coffey claims that “there are more than 200 Christian denominations in the U.S.” alone. Other religions practiced in the U.S. include Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. America is a diverse nation, filled with many people of contrasting viewpoints. The beauty of our country is that it allows people from different viewpoints, creeds, and religions to come together, united under the freedoms provided to all citizens of the United States of America.

This idea that churches, synagogues, and mosques, as well as their parishioners, should be able to operate and worship without government control has been challenged many times over the years, though. The most recent example of this was in the case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. In this lawsuit, high school football coach Joseph Kennedy was fired for silently praying at the fifty-yard line after football games. He sued the school district and the case ended up in the Supreme Court, where a six to three majority voted in favor of Kennedy. The majority opinion, penned by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, noted that “a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected” by the Constitution. This ruling sets an important precedent that will protect religious freedom for years to come.

The theme of religious freedom has even made its way into the general culture through the silver screen and other art forms. Movies such as God’s Not Dead and its sequels have sparked countless conversations about the true meaning and scope of religious freedom. It posits that students should not be forced to leave their religious views in their dorms or homes. Rather, they should be allowed to freely express themselves in the classroom setting. Many public-school students encounter this issue daily. They often feel their voices are suppressed by teachers and peers, especially in science and philosophy classes, where views that question or diverge from the textbook are rarely encouraged. Authors, poets, and musicians have also expressed their exasperation with the lack of tolerance for religious diversity, echoing the authors of the Magna Carta even eight hundred years after its inception.

As our nation continues to face new challenges, it should reflect on the documents and ideas that have shaped its current policies. Many of America’s core values are drawn from the Magna Carta. You can see its imprint on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and even several amendments. The same ideas that inspired our Founding Fathers continue to light the fire of liberty that burns in the hearts of Americans today. The next generation must carry the torch onwards, advancing the cause of liberty until the whole world feels the warmth of its flame.

Abriana McMath

Pace High School Class of 2024

Posted by on Nov 12 2022. Filed under Announcements, Local, People on the Move, Politics/Local Govt., Top News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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