Boris Johnson's speech at the Tory conference yesterday poked fun at David Cameron not knowing what Magna Carta literally meant (see clip below where David Letterman exposes Cameron's lack of knowledge of British history). I found Cameron's lack of knowledge astounding for two reasons. First, as an Etonian, he would have studied the classical languages. Second, the signing of Magna Carta was one of the most important and defining events in England's history - we can trace our legal rights (such as the right to a trial by our peers) and checks on autocratic rule all the way back to the signing of Magna Carta.
Cameron's lack of knowledge is maybe not that surprising. I've been to Runnymede (where Magna Carta was signed) and the only memorial to the event was erected by the American Bar Association (see photo below)! Magna Carta is much more important to Americans than to the British. However, our lack of knowledge of the past endangers the freedoms we enjoy in the present. For example, in 2005, the British government got rid of double jeopardy laws (i.e., you can only be tried once for a crime), which had existed since the time of Magna Carta.
|American Bar Association monument at Runnymede|