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Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution

Magna Carta exercised a strong influence both on the United States Constitution and on the constitutions of the various states. However, its influence was shaped by what eighteenth-century Americans believed Magna Carta to signify. Magna Carta was widely held to be the people’s reassertion of rights against an oppressive ruler, a legacy that captured American distrust of concentrated political power. In part because of this tradition, most of the state constitutions included declarations of rights intended to guarantee individual citizens a list of protections and immunities from the state government. The United States also adopted the Bill of Rights, in part, due to this political conviction.

Both the state declarations of rights and the United States Bill of Rights incorporated several guarantees that were understood at the time of their ratification to descend from rights protected by Magna Carta. Among these are freedom from unlawful searches and seizures, a right to a speedy trial, a right to a jury trial in both a criminal and a civil case, and protection from loss of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

Many broader American constitutional principles have their roots in an eighteenth-century understanding of Magna Carta, such as the theory of representative government, the idea of a supreme law, and judicial review.
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