COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | FRED SCHNAUBELT

You and the Magna Carta on its 800th anniversary

You and I owe our freedom, (American exceptionalism) to the Magna Carta — the inspiration for our Bill of Rights.

Before it was called The War for Independence, the Revolutionary War of 1775 was a civil war between England and its American colonies. One of the Founding Fathers, George Mason, stated, "We claim nothing but the liberty and privileges of Englishmen in the same degree, as if we had continued among our brethren in Great Britain." There was nearly no talk of independence before 1775.

Americans considered themselves British subjects enjoying all the “rights of Englishmen.” The Magna Carta had codified that Englishmen could not be deprived of their personal freedom or property or convicted of a crime without a jury of peers, that the king’s officers or sheriff without fair payment could not take guns, land, crops and horses, or be taxed without representation.

In Chapter 39, property was valued as highly as life and liberty, which may be the origin of our own concept of life, liberty and property. Some 38 of 63 chapters deal with property rights.

To be clear, the Magna Carta initially applied only to the nobility, but eventually accrued to all Englishmen,” until King George in effect said, “No!” British law and property rights emanating from the Magna Carta did not apply to America.

When the colonists decided to rebel, declare independence and establish a constitution, there was nothing in history to guide them regarding government “abuses and usurpations ... [which] reduced them to absolute Despotism” — other than the Magna Carta.

Imagine what an inconceivable historical reversal of fortune this was. For the first time, a government would be the servant and not own the people and their land. The genesis was indeed the Magna Carta Liberatum signed and sealed on June 15, 1215, the first written document of constitutional law and property rights.

The “Bundle of Rights” contained within the Charter states, among other things, that heirs would be entitled to their full inheritances (something President Obama opposed in January 2015). Widows would be entitled to “Community Property” and they would be “protected from their husband’s creditors” (evolving today to where women can have credit cards in their own name).

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and the Magna Carta had to be reissued in 1216, 1217, 1225 and confirmed again in1297. Vigilance requires all Americans to watch over our Bill of Rights as freedom of religion is under assault in schools and courts, freedom of speech in our universities, freedom of the press with assaults on Associated Press, CBS News, and Fox News. Chuck Todd, host of “Meet the Press,” said, “They [the government] want to criminalize journalism."

Additionally, the right to bear arms is continuously under assault by the Justice Department. The Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Protection Act under our dying Constitution have already superseded property rights once protected under the Fifth Amendment, the amendment that is the guardian of all other rights — rights that cannot exist without private property.

Thomas Jefferson warned, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground." To control people (religion, speech, press and assembly), you must control property, so through periods of evolution and devolution, private ownership of property has intermittently been in jeopardy.

The history of private property is the history of freedom, history of taxation and history of people rising up against government overlords.

Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of “Little House on the Prairie”), put it succinctly in her book, “The Discovery of Freedom”: “No man can act freely, if by merely living he is trespassing upon the property the government, the king, the squire or the people own.”


Schnaubelt, president of Citizens for Private Property Rights, has been a commercial real estate broker for 45 years and was a San Diego city councilman from 1977 to 1981.

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