The contexts acted as the crucial factors while signing the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. In the thirteenth century, King John took his own course in the result of the decline of feudalism, which clearly reflects the aim of Magna Carta. On the other hand, June 7, 1776 became the most important day in the American history. The signing of the Declaration of Independence set up the foundation of equality and liberty in the United States. Both of the documents were determined by the circumstances, which were identical or diverse economically, politically, socially and ideologically.
The essential reason of signing the Magna Carta was that barons wanted to give themselves rights and limit king’s power, especially King John’s. Since King John raised high taxes without the agreement of the barons and stopped all church activities for five years, people and barons got unsatisfied because of the inconvenient social life. Alexander Lock (2018, p. 101) claimed that “Magna Carta was used to champion press freedom and parliamentary reform, to challenge transportation and naval impressment, and in debates to regulate overseas trade and taxation.” Based on these severe problems, barons decided to get a reform and revolution without killing the king.
The Declaration of Independence was one of the most important documents in American history. The colonists in America did not get the equal rights as the English citizens, so they tried to rebel against the government of England and break the relationships between England and America. After Thomas Paine published Common Sense, the enthusiasm of the independence went to the peak. As a result, they initiated a war with England and published the Declaration of Independence. This document gained the acknowledgement of other countries and could be defined as the signal of the beginning of American history.
By analyzing the circumstances of signing the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence, we can find many similarities and differences and these similarities and differences indicate the importance of money, power, culture and social structures.
First of all, people care a lot about money because we can see that unreasonable taxes were both problems for these two events. In England, King John used the tax money to fight against France for lands and lost, which increased the burden of the peasants, about ninety percent of the population. And also, David Carpenter (2018, p. 21) claimed that “selfish baronial men looked after their own interests at the expense of the great bulk of the population.” It points out that higher class people tend to oppress lower class people by taxing for protecting their own interests, especially the king. While in America, England fought against French and Indians on their soil and they forced colonists to pay for the money for this reason. In both countries, most of the people suffered too much because of the unbearable taxes and finally they chose to reform it. What’s more, taxes related to almost everyone, so economic factor can be considered as the most important factor.
Secondly, pursing power will bring conflicts, either national (class) conflict or international conflict. According to Britannica (2018), “In the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands.” It indicates the way people connect with others will change during human events and conflicts may result from these human events. In the Magna Carta, barons who had knights (troops) wanted to have more power, but they cannot kill the king, so barons used specific items to restrain the king, which results in national (class) conflict. However, in the Declaration of Independence, Americans decided to get rid of England’s control and have their own government, thereby inspiring Americans and rejecting the king, which causes international conflict between England and America. In the process of balancing power and maintaining power, conflicts cannot be avoided. In order to solve the conflict, one reasonable way is to have contracts which are acknowledged by most of the people, like signing the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence.
Additionally, in terms of the society, the differences in social structures influence the signing of each document. Magna Carta, according to David Carpenter (2018, p. 23), was a “divided and divisive document”. In England the social structure was complex and fixed. Most of the power was held by the king. Barons and knights provided military service and worship to the king so that the conflict happened between king and barons. As a result, when king John overused his power, only the barons, 170 people of 2 million, rebelled and forced him to write the Magna Carta. By contrast, the colonists in America developed a different social structure from the one they had in Britain. Compared with the feudal system in 13th century in England, the truncated American system was simpler. As a colony of Britain, only colonists and slaves consisted the civil system; king was not involved. The conflict appeared internationally. Therefore, the way the society organized affects what conflicts there are.
Finally, as for the ideology, books can deeply shaped people’s minds. People tend to accept the ideas after thinking. The barons’ aim was just to restrain king’s power as well as maintaining the social hierarchy. And then they captured but not killed King John and forced him to sign the document. To hold the most power in their hands, they did not want to change the system in England, but to make the king a mere figurehead. On the contrary, people’s minds changed before the signing of Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was the result of persuasion. The publishing of Common Sense converted Americans’ thoughts profoundly. This book inspired American colonists to gain independence and equality against the feudal system, which Paul (2014, p. 198) considered as indicating “the origins of American nationhood, republicanism, and democracy”. Under the influence of the different cultures, people have different ways to change their minds, like books.
In conclusion, economics, power, social structure and ideology led to the signing of the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence. And also, from the similarities and differences of these causes, we can conclude that economics matters a lot and pursing power will bring conflicts. Also, it is easy to find out that the way the society organized and cultures will have great effects on people’s minds.
- Carpenter, D. (2018) “Magna Carta 1215: Its social and political context”. In Goldman L. (ed.), Magna Carta: History, context and influence. London: School of Advanced Study, University of London.
- Encyclopedia Britannica (2018) Declaration of Independence. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Declaration-of-Independence (Accessed: 24 November 2019).
- Lock, A. (2018) “Reform, radicalism and revolution: Magna Carta in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain”. In Goldman L. (Ed.), Magna Carta: History, context and influence. London: School of Advanced Study, University of London.
- Paul, H. (2014) “American Independence and the Myth of the Founding Fathers”. In The Myths That Made America: An Introduction to American Studies. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.