Curator’s Picks: Magna Carta’s Legal Legacy

(The following is an article in the November/December 2014 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine. The issue can be read in its entirety here.)

Nathan Dorn, the Law Library’s curator of rare books, highlights five favorite pieces from the Library’s Magna Carta exhibition.

Statutes of EnglandStatutes of England
“Intricate colored-pen work graces this 14th-century miniature manuscript containing the text of Magna Carta, the Charter of the Forest and the 13th-century statutes of England. This is truly one of the Law Library’s most-treasured items.”





Statuta NovaStatuta Nova
“Magna Carta’s guarantees originally applied only to people from the top of the social hierarchy. ‘Statuta Nova,’ a medieval book of the statutes of England, contains a 1354 statute that extended those guarantees to ‘a man of any estate whatsoever.’ The first instance of the phrase ‘due process of law’ also appears in this statute.”





Institutes of Laws of England (r)Sir Edward Coke on Magna Carta
“For more than a century, colonial America learned English law from Sir Edward Coke’s ‘Institutes of the Laws of England.’ Coke claimed in this work that Magna Carta secured inviolable liberties for individuals. This copy belonged to Thomas Jefferson.”






John DickinsonMagna Carta, the Touchstone
“John Dickinson, chair of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Rights and Grievances for the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, rests an arm on Magna Carta in this engraving copied from the 1772 edition of ‘An Astronomical Diary.’ Coke’s ‘Institutes’ is placed prominently on his bookshelf above.”





Prints and Photographs Division.

Prints and Photographs Division.

Defying King John
“Heroic outlaw Robin Hood faces down King John in this lithograph advertising the 1895 play ‘Runnymede.’ Magna Carta makes an appearance in the play when an unhappy John finds that Chapter 39 prohibits him from murdering Robin Hood.”



All images from the Law Library of Congress, except where noted. 

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