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
Thursday, April 1, 2021 – Thursday, June 17, 2021
“— were dead. Figures are omitted [because] NO ONE KNOWS.” —Red Cross Report
On Memorial Day 1921, a Black shoe shiner named Dick Rowland rode in an elevator with white operator Sarah Page. The next day,... Read more
World War II, the bloodiest conflict in history, came to an end in a 27-minute ceremony on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, six years and one day after the war erupted in Europe. On that September morning in 1945, Japanese officials signed a... Read more
To celebrate National Inventors’ Day, learn about Marjorie S. Joyner and her groundbreaking permanent wave machine, an innovation that revolutionized the time-intensive task of curling or straightening women’s hair. Over her 50-year career, Joyner trained thousands of students and helped write the first cosmetology laws in... Read more
Seventy-five years ago on January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Russian soldiers discovered thousands of sick, dying, and dead prisoners when they entered the complex of concentration camps, forced labor camps, and a killing center abandoned by the... Read more
To mark the 50th anniversary of the end of Project Blue Book, the National Archives will display records from the Air Force’s unidentified flying objects (UFOs) investigations.
Report of a “flying saucer” over U.S. airspace in 1947 caused a wave of “UFO hysteria” and sparked... Read more