When King John affixed his seal to the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215, he met the demands of rebellious English barons in the hope of averting civil war. Although the pact failed to resolve that conflict, it laid the foundation for modern democracies.

“The enumerated rights and bedrock principles set down in Magna Carta remain as contemporary as any challenge we now face — standing at the center of our modern societies and our systems of government,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at the Global Law Summit in London during a February 23  event celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

This bound copy of the Magna Carta was once owned by American statesman Benjamin Franklin. (© AP Images)

“From the reigns of successive monarchs to the fires of revolution; from the birth of modern democracy to the global movement for civil rights — our dedication to these principles has been repeatedly challenged, and rigorously tested, over the last eight centuries. Our collective history has been shaped by our fidelity to these essential tenets. And our future will be determined, in no small measure, by our ongoing efforts to venerate their spirit — and vindicate their promise.”

During the American Revolution, the Magna Carta inspired and justified action in defense of liberty. The colonists asserted they were entitled to the rights guaranteed in the Magna Carta. After gaining independence, they embedded those rights in their own laws.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (“no person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”) is a direct descendent of the Magna Carta’s guarantee of proceedings according to the “law of the land.”