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
Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to serve in Congress when she took office in January of 1969. During her seven Congressional terms, “Fighting Shirley” was an outspoken champion for racial and gender equality, and economic justice. To mark the 50th anniversary of Chisholm’s... Read more
Watch telecast footage of the 1968 Apollo 8 Mission, the first manned spacecraft to reach the Moon and safely return. This multimedia presentation features photos of the Moon’s surface taken from the spacecraft and an audio recording of the astronauts’ description of the lunar surface.
On display... Read more
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest operation of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I and the deadliest military campaign in American history. Fought from September 26 – November 11, 1918, by over a million American soldiers, the Meuse-Argonne operation was part of the final Allied offensive... Read more
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