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Magna Opus

To the Editor:

I must correct Erin Sullivan’s corrections of my letter involving the historical reality of King John (hiss! hiss!) and the Magna Carta [Letters, March 7]. Echoing Ron Loeber’s fantasy, Ms. Sullivan insists on the historical reality of, at least the statement that the rebel barons “threatened to skewer King John.” I have read (in translation) all the primary sources about King John—and they are all hostile to him—but none of them say this. There was never any face-to-face confrontation between John and the barons, thus no opportunity for skewering. The protracted negotiations which produced the Magna Carta were mediated by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who engaged in short-range shuttle diplomacy. Incidentally, Pope Innocent III (John had made England a papal fief) soon invalidated the Great Charter precisely because it was extracted by coercion.

Ms. Sullivan says that this fairy tale about skewering is a common one, but that doesn’t make it true. She claims that Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 84 supports the skewering story. Even if he did, that only shows that, more than 500 years later, somebody believed the story, and I have already mentioned the power of myth in the last paragraph of my letter. But No. 84, which I have now read for maybe the 10th time, does not even do that. All Hamilton says is that “Magna Charta [was] obtained by the barons, sword in hand, from King John.” Nothing about skewering. Undoubtedly Hamilton didn’t mean what he wrote literally, but whether he did or he didn’t proves nothing about what really happened at Runnymeade.

The Magna Carta is important not for what it originally provided for, but for the use made of it much later by English opponents of Stuart absolutism in the 17th century and by American opponents of British absolutism in the 18th century. Since then, though, historians have set forth the real history of the charter, and there is no excuse for reiterating the old mythology for causes which don’t require lies for their merit.

Bob Black
Albany

Erin Sullivan replies:

Perhaps Mr. Black did not read the first sentence in my reply to his letter to the editor, in which I acknowledged that the myth about King John was not historical fact but a story that has been told numerous times—even by such respected figures as Alexander Hamilton. I was not trying to pass off the old tale as truth (or, as Black would have it, “reiterating the old mythology for causes which don’t require lies for their merit”). Rather, I was supplying some context for readers as to why Ron Loeber would use that particular account of the signing of the Magna Carta in “Who’s to Judge? [Feb. 28],” against Black’s characterization of Loeber as a “delusive” with an eccentric view of legal history.

To the Editor:

As a U.S. citizen who prefers to hold my life, liberty and property under the protection of law, I take offense at Mr. Bob Black’s mischaracterization of Magna Carta as being the basis of “only” a “mythical Constitution” [Letters, March 7]. According to his writings posted on the Internet, Mr. Bob Black of Albany is apparently an avowed “anarchist” and an atheist who naturally despises all the attempts of God and man to establish and maintain a Government of Laws on Earth. (See http://www.spunk.org/library/writers/black/sp001646.html or http://www. spunk.org/texts/writers/black/sp001648.html.)

The “Constitutionalists” who, in 1215 AD, 1789 AD and 1868 AD, codified the principles of Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (Instructions Concerning a King) within Magna Carta, and in the U.S. Constitution, were determined to establish or restore law (e.g., the Consent of the Governed) as a limitation upon executive and judicial power.

“Constitutional government is a government by law. The office of the state is to establish and maintain laws,” wrote Henry Campbell Black, American Constitutional Law §70 (4th ed., West Pub. 1927).

“Magna Charta . . . is the origin of the provision, embodied in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, that no man shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” (106 U.S. 196, 228; 211 U.S. 78, 102). “The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, later incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment, was intended to give Americans at least the protection against governmental power that they had enjoyed as Englishmen against the power of the Crown” (430 U.S. 651, 672-3).

“Fairly construed the Fourteenth Amendment may be said to rise to the dignity of a new Magna Charta. . . . ‘Due process of law’ is the application of the Law as it exists, in the fair and regular course of administrative procedure. ‘The equal protection of the laws’ places all upon a footing of legal equality and gives the same protection to all for the preservation of life, liberty, and property, and the pursuit of happiness” (83 U.S. 36, 125-27; 92 U.S. 90, 93; 211 U.S. 78, 102; 18 Fed. 385, 429).

“Due process of law requires, first, the legislative act authorizing the [depriv]ation, pointing out how it may be made . . . and, second that the parties or officers proceeding to make the [depriv]ation shall keep within the authority conferred” (166 U.S. 226, 241).

“These principles grow out of the proposition universally accepted by American courts on the authority of [England’s Lord] Coke, that the words ‘due process of law’ are equivalent in meaning to the words ‘law of the land,’ contained in that chapter of Magna Charta, which provides that ‘no freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseised [of his property], or outlawed, or exiled, or anywise destroyed . . . but by . . . the law of the land’ ” (Twinning v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 1908).

Lord Coke instructed that “[e]very oppression against Law, by colour of any usurped authority is a kinde of destruction [prohibited by Magna Carta], for quando prohibetur, prohibetur et omne per quod devenitur ad illud” (2 Coke, Institutes 53). The American colonists established this principle in their earliest constitutions, such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s 1641 Body of Liberties, which translated Magna Carta as follows:

“No man’s life shall be taken away . . . no man’s goods or estaite shall be taken away from him nor in any way indamaged under Color of Law or Countenance of Authoritie, unlesse it be by vertue of equitie or some express law of the Country warranting the same, established by the [People’s Legislature] and sufficiently published” (as quoted in Mott, Due Process of Law at § 4, pp. 9-10, n.31).

Thus, according the to the U.S. Supreme Court, the framers of the U.S. Constitution were among those “delusives” whom Mr. Black derides in his diatribe, for demanding that judges and executive officials keep within the limits of their lawful authority.

Mark Ferran
Grafton

Lark Follies

To the Editor:

In a recent issue, RA DePrima criticized my involvement as a merchant/property owner on Lark Street [Letters, March 21]. Apparently, he is unaware that the benches in front of my store were the last to be removed on the street.

We merchants supported the idea of benches for the handicapped and elderly; certainly we all understand the pedestrian-friendly streetscape that Lark Street has strived for. Unfortunately, the benches attracted homeless people who stretched out to sleep, with their belongings strewn on the sidewalk. In addition, intoxicated people often collapsed on or under the benches. The police were frequently called to deal with these situations. Often neighborhood residents were not comfortable walking and being approached by panhandlers on the street. Such an environment is not conducive to attracting customers to the stores that are in the area.

I would like to clarify that I was not named “Mayor of Lark Street,” but rather “Father of Lark Street.” The former denotes something frivolous, the latter, a person who was involved in the founding of the mystique of Lark Street—a designation that makes me proud.

I hope Mr. DePrima and his “reliable sources” are more accurate in the future.

John J. Wagner
Albany

Thank You for Your Support

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to the article titled “Rabbit Eeriness” written by Peter Hanson [Picture This, March 28]. I was extremely happy to see recognition given to Donnie Darko, one of the most intriguing and under-seen movies of last year. I couldn’t agree more with Peter when he states “Donnie Darko might well be the best David Lynch film that David Lynch didn’t make.” In many cases, this is more focused and creatively successful than the Lynch of recent years.

Being a movie buff, I had followed strong buzz on the movie for quite some time before its release, and was very disappointed when not even the Spectrum 7 carried a print. When I finally saw it on DVD, the movie completely took me by surprise (a rarity nowadays). First-time writer/director Richard Kelly has talent to spare, and I hope the right people see it so that he has the proper funding for future projects. Donnie Darko has huge potential for cult status; it just needs to find its audience over the years to come. The article you printed has made that process a little easier, and as a lover of film, I thank you for it.

J.D. Funari
Albany

Metroland welcomes typed, double-spaced letters (computer printouts OK), addressed to the editor. Or you may e-mail them to: metroland@metroland.net. Metroland reserves the right to edit letters for length; 300 words is the preferred maximum. You must include your name, address and day and evening telephone numbers. We will not publish letters that cannot be verified, nor those that are illegible, irresponsible or factually inaccurate.

Send to:
Letters, Metroland, 4 Central Ave.,
4th Floor, Albany, NY 12210
or e-mail us at metroland@metroland.net.


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