In 1215, the despotic King John of England was confronted by an assembly of barons demanding that traditional rights be recognized, written down, confirmed with the royal seal, and sent to each of the counties to be read to all freemen. The king agreed, binding himself and his heirs to grant “to all freemen of our kingdom” the rights and liberties described in the great charter, or Magna Carta. From 1215 through 1297, the king’s successors reissued Magna Carta. In 1297, to meet his debts from foreign wars, King Edward I imposed new and harsher taxes, provoking another confrontation with the barons. This resulted not only in the reissue of Magna Carta, but for the first time, its entry into the official Statute Rolls of England.
The 1297 document represents the transition of Magna Carta from a brokered agreement to the foundation of English law, establishing the idea that people possess certain unalienable rights that cannot be overruled, even by a king. Magna Carta also guaranteed due process of law, freedom from arbitrary imprisonment, trial by a jury of peers, and other fundamental rights that inspired and informed the Founding Fathers of our nation when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
Only four originals of the 1297 Magna Carta remain. Thanks to a generous loan from philanthropist David M. Rubenstein to the American people, the National Archives is now home to the only original 1297 Magna Carta permanently displayed in the United States. It is the centerpiece of the National Archives Museum’s latest permanent exhibition, “Records of Rights,” in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery.
Past Featured Records
In celebration of Alexander Hamilton and the Broadway musical inspired by his extraordinary story, the National Archives will showcase original records from the Founder’s life and legacy, paired with related Hamilton lyrics.
On display in the East Rotunda Gallery through September 18, 2018.
Remembering the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Business Information Surveys for the Civil Disturbance Report, June 1968.
In a turbulent decade filled with protests and social upheaval, the murder of the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, resulted in widespread civil unrest in many American cities, including Washington, DC. The riots resulted in millions of dollars in... Read more
Telegram Requesting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Testimony before the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee on the Proposed Voting Rights Act, March 18, 1965
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a driving force behind the march that began in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 to protest the violent denial of African Americans’ right to vote. On March 15, President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation in support of the Selma... Read more
Someone in the Office of War Information (OWI) News Bureau was having a jolly old time writing this memorandum on Christmas Eve 1942. It concerns rumors flying around (by way of a reindeer-led sled) about a “man in whiskers who…will come down many chimneys bringing gifts... Read more
Just in time for Halloween, the National Archives Museum shares a 1959 State Department memo about the Yeti, the long-feared Abominable Snowman (and relative of Bigfoot). Study this document carefully before planning a climbing expedition to find this creature!
Believed by some to live in the... Read more