One of the keepsakes given at the Library of Congress’s pre-inaugural black-tie gala for the ongoing Magna Carta exhibition was the commemorative coin depicted below. The coin’s obverse shows the name of the exhibition, Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor. Its reverse shows a reproduction of a medallion that appears on the title page of a 1774 imprint of the Journal of the Continental Congress.
When the First Continental Congress met in September and October of 1774, it drafted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances to clarify the colonists’ position on the rights of British Americans. Claiming all the liberties and privileges of Englishmen under “the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts,” the delegates sought the preservation of their democratic self-government, freedom from taxation without representation, the right to a trial by a jury of ones countrymen, and their enjoyment of “life, liberty and property” free from arbitrary interference from the Crown.
The Congress adopted the figure that illustrates the title page of the 1774 Journal of the Continental Congress as a symbol of unity: in a circle, twelve arms reach out to grasp a column which is topped by a liberty cap. The base of the column reads “Magna Carta.” The twelve arms represent the twelve colonies that sent delegates to the Congress (Georgia, which would have been the thirteenth colony, did not participate). Around the border can be seen a slogan in Latin: “Hanc Tuemur, Hac Nitimur,” which means, “This we defend, this we lean upon,” referring to Magna Carta and the Rights of Englishmen.
The Library of Congress is commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta with an exhibition – Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor, a symposium, and a series of talks starting this year. Through January 19, 2015, the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, one of four remaining originals from 1215 is on display along with other rare materials from the Library’s rich collections to tell the story of 800 years of its influence on the history of political liberty.