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Law Library News

Yankee Doodle Encounters Magna Carta

Posted by Jean Stephens on July 12, 2018

“Picture the scene. John Adams sits alone, his fellow committee members James Bowdoin and Samuel Adams having decamped to a local tavern. Spread out on the table before Adams are an assortment of sources–Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, Locke’s Second Treatise, Mason’s Declaration of Rights, and other tomes . . .”

IMG_1564Thus goes the process of funneling the rights and principles valued by constitutional thinkers circa 1780 into the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and ultimately into the US Constitution, according to A. E. Dick Howard in his essay Magna Carta’s American Journey which appears in Magna Carta, Muse and Mentor available in the Law Library.

Those with an eye for lexicographic oddities may find in the same volume essayist Bryan A. Garner’s use of the word “macaronic” to describe the plural form Magna Chartaes favored by the 1989 OED. Not familiar with the term macaronic? Think macaronicus–the Latinization of vernacular, often indulged as a verbal amusement around the time that Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his hat.

BTW, I got interested in the Magna Carta on a rainy day in London a few weeks ago, when one of those famous double-decker buses dropped me off at the British Library which houses one of the four copies still extant of the original sheepskin signed by King John in 1215. It’s a daunting treasure trove . . . and it’s right across the street from Platform 9 3/4 where Harry Potter caught the Hogwarts Express.

For a modern English translation of Magna Carta from the original Latin, go to:

www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-english-translation.

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