A painstaking conservation effort to remove old patches and repair weak spots in a 714-year-old copy of the Magna Carta has revealed that the full text of that English declaration of human rights remains intact even though some words are faded and illegible to the eye, the National Archives said Tuesday.
A $13.5 million gift from philanthropist David Rubenstein -- owner of the handwritten document -- is funding the conservation effort as well preparations for an upcoming exhibit.
Thanks to the gift, the largest cash donation to the National Archives, the copy of the Magna Carta eventually will be shown as a forerunner to the freedoms imagined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Plans call for exhibiting it along with documents showing the struggle for rights of African Americans, women, immigrants and others.
The Magna Carta bears the seal of King Edward I and is dated 1297. It is one of 17 known handwritten copies of the text that established a tradition for the rule of law that even the king would honor. It is the only original version in the Americas, while 15 are held by British institutions and one is held by Australia's Parliament.
The original Magna Carta was, of course, signed by King John under duress in 1215. King Edward reissued it in 1297.
Magna Carta was, to a large extent, the product of a tax revolt -- the Proposition 13 of the thirteenth century. Most relevant to this blog is Article 39, the great-grandfather of the Due Process Clause:
No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way harmed -- nor will we go upon or send upon him -- save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.