Comparasion of the Circumstances Which Led to the Signing of the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence
Long regarded as fundamental documents that laid democratic ideals of rights and liberty in Britain and United States, Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence enjoyed high reputation in both countries. But the circumstances that led to the two documents may be unknown to many students. In fact, disputes over taxation and the following social discontents in the two events all contributed to the struggle between English kings and their subjects, but the political interests of the subjects and the signing processes were different.
Firstly, anger over tax issues sparked the conflicts in the two events. In 1203, King John lost his Continental dominions, and was driven back to England. John planned to recover his lost inheritance in France. However, he was faced with an unusually high rate of inflation which meant that many families and religious houses were in financial difficulties. John was blamed by people for the inflation. At the same time, inflation tended to erode the real value of royal revenues. As a result, John levied frequent taxes, outraging barons and peasants(Morgan, 1988). Similarly in America, in 17th century, British government levied heavy taxes on New England but granted no say for American residents in British parliament. As time went by, there were increasing resentment, and one of the slogans in this period was “no taxation without representation!” A more direct factor that kindled American residents’ anger was that, in order to compensate the enormous loss and debts in wars with other countries, mainly France, King George III started ‘’collecting more than ten times as much annual revenue from America as before 1763” (Brinkley, 1999).
However, major participants in the two events had different political interests. In England, the conflict started from barons’ discontent with the weak and arbitrary England monarch, King John, for the loss of battles and tax; whereas in America it started from colonists’ seeking their rights to be represented in British government. King John failed to perform his role in many ways. First, during his reign, John was eager to conquer lands and thus fell into wars with other European counties, but he failed in most of the wars. Such failure meant taxes raised from barons were wasted. For instance, the failure of reclaiming his France fief wasted all the taxes they paid. Barons paid tax, but King John didn’t pay victory to his barons. In American history, British parliament did not give American colonists representation in British parliament. They insisted that a Member of Parliament virtually represented every person in the empire and there was no need for a specific representative from an American colony. The Americans supported that in order to be taxed by Parliament, the Americans rightly should have actual legislators seated and voting in London. (United States History, no date) No representation meant that American colonies would be very passive when faced with acts for taxations like the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act. Americans had no better solution but to take the economic pressure. In order to get out of economic pressure, American colonists needed actual representation in British Parliament, which Britain refused to grant them.
Before the two documents were signed, there were huge social discontents against English monarchs. In England, peasants were angered because churches were closed for five years due to King John’s dispute with Pope Innocent III. In medieval England, churches were an important part of peasants’ life, in which they worshipped and socialized (Grant, 2014). However, in 1205, King John argued with the pope over the candidate to the archbishop of Canterbury, which led to the pope’s decision to place England under an interdict, forbidding all religious services, thus making King John unpopular among his subject. In America, people’s resentment against King George III grew steadily and this was strengthened by Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Americans had long complained their lack of representatives in British Parliament given that they paid large tax to the king. For instance, the Stamp Act of 1765, which demanded new tax from American colonies, was regarded as “a direct attempt by England to raise revenue in the colonies without the consent of the colonial assemblies.’’(Brinkley, 1999) Then in 1776, Tomas Paine argued in Common Sense that a corrupted King George III and the government he led that brutally treated people in colonies were no fit to govern America (Brinkley, 1999). With 100,000 copies sold in three months, the book was an instant success, taking colonial residents’ anger as well as patriotism to a new level (Hitchens, 2008).
Another difference lies in how these two documents were issued. Magna Carta was the product of King John’s compromise to barons; in contrast, colonial leaders unilaterally announced the Declaration of Independence with no regard of King’s thoughts. (Grant, 2014 and Brinkley, 1999) This was because the initial aims of the two documents were different. In 1215, barons rebelled against King John and forced him to sign Magna Carta at Runnymede to limit monarchs’ power in levying taxes and depriving their subjects’ liberty. While in 1770s, the tension between colonies and British government was very intense, and it was expected that the war would break out (Brinkley, 1999). It did in 1775, but colonial leaders had to justify their rebellion against the British monarch and win supports both in New England and overseas. Declaration of Independence was their answer.
Economic problems such as unreasonable taxes and inflation always have the potential to spark social conflicts or even wars, as were the cases in Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence and is the case in “Yellow Vet” riot in France recently where angry French demonstrated in Paris against the rise of price on gas. But seen from the bottom, the fundamental problem was that political participants’ interests were not guaranteed or even hurt. And when they believe that their basic interests are under threat, the only option is to oppose the government.
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Long regarded as fundamental documents that laid democratic ideals of rights and liberty in Britain and United States, Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence enjoyed high reputation in both countries. […]