This chapter discusses the Magna Carta, which claims a unique place in Anglo-American legal and constitutional tradition, and which has assumed different roles on either side of the Atlantic due to the divergent paths taken by British and American constitutionalism from a point of common departure in the seventeenth century. In Britain, the Magna Carta was a comprehensive concession of rights wrung from a reluctant monarch by a baronage in open rebellion. The concessions were the price of civil quiet, the cost paid by John for his continuation upon his throne, the settlement of a revolutionary situation, which, in the event, failed to avert civil war. In the English colonies, Magna Carta became fundamental law. Americans never retired it to a pantheon of past blessings of slight current utility. As the Great Charter waned in practical applicability in eighteenth-century Britain, it gathered strength in the American colonies as a bulwark against imperial abuses.
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