Grassley commemorates 800th anniversary of Magna Carta

Chuck Grassley Floor SpeechBy The Iowa Statesman


U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) took to the floor of the Senate Monday to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, and to recognize its importance to the eventual founding of our own government.

“In the seventeenth century, the Magna Carta was increasingly cited to criticize the king’s exercise of arbitrary power in the tug-of-war for supremacy between the English Crown and Parliament.  It became a potent symbol of the inviolable liberties of Englishmen,” he said. “For instance, when William Penn was put on trial in England for practicing his Quaker faith, he used the Magna Carta in his defense.  He later wrote a commentary on the Magna Carta for a work printed in Philadelphia called “The Excellent Priviledge of Liberty and Property Being the Birth-Right of the Free-born Subjects of England”, which contained the first edition of the Magna Carta printed in the New World.  In this work, Penn explained the significance of the English tradition where the ruler is bound by the law in contrast to countries like France where the King was the law.”

Grassley said it was in that environment that the English philosopher John Locke developed his theory of natural rights, which was so influential in drafting the Declaration of Independence.  The natural rights philosophy went a step further than the ancient rights of Englishmen, positing that rights are God-given and self-evident, and that the very purpose of government is to secure these rights.

“However, you can clearly trace the lineage of the notion of limited government and consent of the governed to the Magna Carta.  In fact, the original version of the Magna Carta contained a clause limiting the ability of the King to levy certain taxes on the barons without first consulting them — an early version of ‘No taxation without representation,'” he said. “While that provision didn’t last, the custom of needing consent for taxation eventually led to the evolution of the Parliamentary system and representative government.  Still, it is important to note that representative government grew out of even more fundamental principles, like rule of law, limited government, and the notion that citizens retain rights that the government may not violate.  Our Founding Fathers thought that representative government was the best way to guard against tyranny and preserve the rights of citizens, but it isn’t sufficient.  Without a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law, even a duly elected government can descend into tyranny.”

Scroll down to see video of Grassley’s full speech.