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Meeting Magna Carta: Primary Sources about a Historic Charter

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The Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, 1215. Courtesy of Lincoln Cathedral
The Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, 1215. Courtesy of Lincoln Cathedral

The Library of Congress has been preparing for months for a visit by a distinguished ancestor–an ancestor of the U.S. Constitution, that is. Magna Carta, the British Charter of Liberties, had a powerful influence on the founding documents of the United States. To mark its 800th anniversary, one of only four existing manuscript copies of Magna Carta has arrived at the Library on loan from Lincoln Cathedral in Britain, and is at the center of a new exhibition in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building. “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor” will be open until Jan. 19.

The online version of the exhibition offers teachers everywhere ample opportunities to explore this world treasure, as well as countless books, letters, newspapers, and images that trace the charter’s long history, its appearances in popular culture, and its ongoing importance in U.S. constitutional law.

These objects will provide ample opportunities for student analysis using the Library’s primary source analysis tool, and can provide springboards for discussion of the core ideas of the U.S. system of government.

As background to the exhibition, you might also explore some of the many posts on Magna Carta published by our colleagues at the Law Library of Congress in their blog, In Custodia Legis.

What connections can your students discover between this 800-year-old document and present-day political ideas?


  1. I find this information about the Magna Carta and its display in the Library of Congress rather fascinating. My husband and I got to see a copy of it on display two years ago on our trip to D.C. where it was in the same building as the U.S. Constitution. It was definitely chilling to see both historical documents under the same roof. Both “pieces of paper” are truly important building blocks of how our country began.

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