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Magna Carta Original on Display at Library of Congress
November 12, 2014

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Magna Carta

The Library of Congress is now displaying an original copy of Magna Carta, the historic 1215 charter in which King John agreed to limit his power.

Four original copies survive. The British Library has two. Salisbury Cathedral has one. Lincoln Cathedral has the other. And it is the Lincoln Cathedral copy that has been loaned to the Library of Congress.

The British Library is commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta with a three-day display of all four original copies in June 2015. Before then, however, the Lincoln Cathedral copy will be the centerpiece of a 10-week exhibition titled "Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor." The exhibit closes on January 19, 2015.

King John affixed his royal seal to Magna Carta (Latin for "The Great Charter") on June 15, 1215, at the behest of many powerful English barons who wanted more protection for their rights and their property. Magna Carta is widely regarded as one of the inspirations for the U.S. Constitution and for British common law and civil liberties. The document, to which King John agreed in the presence of 25 nobles in a field at Runnymede, stipulates that the king is subject to law, not above it, a significant concession from a monarchy that had long held that kings ruled with ultimate authority.

The Lincoln Cathedral copy of Magna Carta was on display at the British Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair, in New York. When World War II began later that year, the British Ambassador took the Magna Carta copy to the Library of Congress for safekeeping. U.S. Government officials kept the historic document in Fort Knox during the war.

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