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I was not a popular king.  How could I be, living in the shadow of my older brother, Richard?  Richard was popular.  The people loved him.  They loved him even though he made them pay lots of taxes.  Then Richard died, and I became king.  The people hated me.  Maybe it's because I lost so many battles.  Or maybe it's because I tried to make the English people pay lots of taxes for those battles.  But what no one ever seems to notice is that without the things I've done, the world may not have become a place where many people can vote for their leaders.  (Even if I did have to do it against my will.)  It isn't easy being king.  You must recognize that being a liked king doesn't mean being a good king.  Don't understand what I mean?  Then listen to my story.  My name is King John.  

There are parts of your life that you enjoy today that you probably don't think about.  Simple things, like the fact that if you buy something, you get to keep it.  Your rights are the things you are allowed to do under the law and also ways that the law protects you.  You have these rights because of a set of rules written by the leaders of your country . . . although some believe that all people should just have these rights, no matter what is written down by their leaders.  Believe it or not, some of protection the law gives you now is based on the Magna Carta, which I was forced to sign in 1215.  Of course, it was written in Latin, so I don't expect you to read it.  I can tell you how it came to be though, and how your rights came to be with it.  

It is a king's job to keep his land rich, large, and safe so that he holds more power and can take better care of his people.  That's how I saw things anyway.  It was a rough time when I ruled England.  I fought to win back land that England once held in France . . . and I lost the fight.  Battles are very expensive and they cost the kingdom a lot of money.  Where else was I supposed to get it back?  A tax is a something people pay to their government.  I asked the people to help the kingdom by paying a lot of taxes . . . but they did not want to.  Why did I ask them to pay?  They live in my kingdom; they should help pay for it!  Yes, yes, I know now they were mad because I was trying to take too much money from them, but . . . well . . .

It was those barons, the leaders of the people, who said I was taking too much money.  They said they would fight me if I tried to ask for any more taxes.  I, King John, being a good king, did not want a civil war.  I didn't want the Magna Carta either, but they wrote it up and they forced me to sign it.  Again, it was against my will.  The paper said I should not be able to take money from the people without their having some rights, those lovely things that you enjoy in the U.S. today.  The people now had representation.  Representation in government is when someone speaks for you when the government makes decisions.  Some barons in England didn't think the decisions I made to tax the people were what the people wanted.  Now they would represent the people and help me make decisions, but I didn't like this at all.  It took away my power!  Just remember, it was my seal that made the Magna Carta official.  I may not have been happy about signing it.  But now that I see it makes people very happy, I just want you to know that it was I.  King John.  

There's a part in the Magna Carta that the people seemed to really like.  One freedom that the people have kept and fought for ever since.  Habeas Corpus is a law that says a person who has is arrested must go before a court that will decide if that person should go to jail or not.  This was made so that people would not be thrown behind bars and kept there for no reason.  No one seems to thank me for it, but that's because I fought against it.  Sometimes when you don't like someone, it's just easier to throw them in jail . . . forever . . . right?

You may say that it wasn't me who gave you your rights.  It was the barons who revolted.  It was the people would have started a civil war.  You may say it was the barons who wrote the Magna Carta and made me sign it so they could have rights and pass them down to you.  You may say that it was because I was a terrible king who lost all of my battles and tried to make up for it with high taxes.  You may say that the people forcedme do something good.  But . . . without me, would the rights ever have been made?  Would the first version of the constitution that gives you so many rights have been made in 1215?  The answer is no.  But no one ever seems to thank King John.  


History.  "Magna Carta", 2013.  <>

National Archives and Records Administration.  "The Magna Carta", 2011.  <>