Last Chance! The Magna Carta

Magna Carta 01

The Great Hall, Library of Congress

The Magna Carta, created in 1215, which became the foundation for the rule of law in England and much of the modern world, is on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.  As part of its 800th anniversary celebrations.   But there isn’t much time remaining.  The 10-week exhibit closes on January 19th.

Magna Carta 01A

The Magna Carta on Display

The star of the show is the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, one of only four existing manuscript copies of the Magna Carta that date to 1215.  It draws its name from its original home base, the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincoln, England where it was first placed in 1215.

The main principles guiding our democracy today, such as due process of law, the right to a jury trial, freedom from unlawful imprisonment (Habeas Corpus), and the theory of representative government can all be traced to this document, signed on Runnymede meadow alongside the Thames River on June 15, 1215.

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Original Documents Tracing American Democracy

The story of that influence, especially on the American Revolution, is described in the exhibit by more than 70 related artifacts such as the confirmation of the Magna Carta by King Edward I in 1297; George Washington’s copy of a draft of the U.S. Constitution; Jefferson’s copy of the Federalist Papers, a journal of the proceedings of the Continental Congress, and Chief Justice Earl Warren’s draft opinion of the Supreme Court’s Miranda Decision.

If you miss this exhibit, mark your calendars for President’s Day. Monday, February 16th,  one of only two days this year when the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress will be open to the public.

Library of Congress Reading Room

Main Reading Room, Library of Congress

18 thoughts on “Last Chance! The Magna Carta

    • Thanks very much. Yes, just standing there and looking at it was quite an experience. As it turns out, this is not the first time this copy has been to the Library of Congress. It was on display at the 1939 World’s Fair in NY City. When the Fair closed, the British decided to extend the stay rather than risk shipping it home during wartime. It was displayed at the Library of Congress opposite the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence. When the US entered the war in 1941, the Magna Carta, along with the Constitution, the Declaration, and other important documents were moved to Fort Knox, until late in 1944 when it was returned to the Library. After the war was over, the Magna Carta returned to its home in Lincoln Cathedral.

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  1. Gorgeous Kent! II’ve been to Washington, D.C. once and loved it, but I’ve never been to the Library of Congress. I’d like to go back some day. The highlight for me was the tour of our Capitol. I’m so glad I did that when I did. I’d love to bring my 14-24mm lens there!

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    • Thanks, Laura. When they built the new visitor center for the US Capitol, they included an underground tunnel that takes you directly to the Library of Congress. That way you can skip the security check going into the library. If you do plan on coming someday, give me a shout with any questions you might about photographing this town.

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      • Oh that’s wonderful about the tunnel. Funny thing happened to me. I was there on a VERY COLD April morning by myself, walking down the mall up the back steps of the capitol thinking I was going to just walk right in and view it. The guard said, um no miss, you have to wait in that line and pointed to a humonogus line. He said and oh by the way, that line is only 90 minutes, usually it’s at least three hours. I’m glad I toughed it out. It was one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen.

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      • Yes, things have changed a lot since then. Now you can sign up in advance online and there is an enormous underground room that you can wait in until the time comes for your tour (no cold weather issue). And they have a short video presentation prior to the tour in a nice theater (stadium seating) before the actual tour begins. The downside now is that the tours are much shorter than before and there several running simultaneously. If you come again, you can often arrange a longer tour if you contact your Representative ‘s office well ahead of time.

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  2. Nice Place to visit! I am glad I’ve been there by the time of my Washington DC trip. Unfortunately, the Main Read Room has been closed for some event preparation. I even could not resist to write the post about this gorgeous place. Thank you, Robin, for the memory refresh.

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    • Yes, the Main Reading Room is for the use of people doing actual research or “reading” as they call it. The central desk is where the researcher would go to request a book and/or receive one that was retrieved from the stacks by one of the librarians. Like any library,one is expected to be quiet in there. If you look at the view shown by my image, you can tell that it is from a high balcony overlooking the room. When you are touring the library on any given day, you can go to that spot but photographs are not allowed so as not to disturb the readers. The balcony has a large glass pane that helps muffle any sounds. Photographs from that spot are allowed, however, if you are there on one of the two open days. The other day is in October on Columbus Day. Obtaining a reading card is not terribly difficult and there is no charge. I’ve done it myself, just to get an idea of what’s involved. But even if you go in there with the Reader’s Card, you cannot take pictures. Tours of the rest of the library are free and you have access to the many other rooms and exhibits. You can wander around yourself or join a docent-led tour. The interior is beautiful and well worth a visit.

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    • Yes, it is amazing to see the actual object that has had such a great influence over the centuries,especially when one thinks about the colonials showing up at Plymouth Rock about 400 years after this document was created. Thanks for your thoughts.

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