Magna Carta, English Great Charter, the charter of English liberties granted by King John in 1215 under threat of civil war and reissued with alterations in 1216, 1217, and 1225.
The charter meant less to contemporaries than it has to subsequent generations. The solemn circumstances of its first granting have given to Magna Carta of 1215 a unique place in popular imagination; quite early in its history it became a symbol and a battle cry against oppression, each successive generation reading into it a protection of its own threatened liberties. In England the Petition of Right (1628) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1679) looked directly back to clause 39 of the charter of 1215, which stated that “no free man shall be…imprisoned or disseised [dispossessed]…except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” In the United States both the national and the state constitutions show ideas and even phrases directly traceable to Magna Carta.
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