Home World Politics Magna Charta Anniversary Essay #2:  John Adams

Magna Charta Anniversary Essay #2:  John Adams



By Mary W Maxwell

“We have also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs … forever….

“No bailiff for the future shall, upon his own unsupported complaint, put anyone to his ‘law,’ without credible witnesses brought for this purpose. … To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice. … We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only such as know the law of the realm and mean to observe it well. …

In this essay celebrating the endurance, for 800 years, of a written set of rights, a “piece of paper,” I jump over five centuries and a bit to come to the then-newly independent (if it is indeed independent, don’t hold me to it) nation of the United States.

The 13 states, after saying Toodl-oo to King George the Third in 1776, got themselves united at least weakly, via Articles of Confederation, and then put more muscle into it with the Constitution of 1787. That is surely a piece of paper to admire, yet a Bill of Rights did not get added on for another two years.

The 1789 Bill of Rights lasted in America until, by my reckoning, around 2001(and I am not trying to be funny here). More in a later essay on how we are so pathetically giving up our “rights.”

By the way I confess I am not a rights man. I wholly disagree with Jefferson’s line “All men are created equal [just consider the variations in DNA] and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”  Jokes!

If A agrees to protect B from oppression, you might say B will enjoy that “right.” But, in my opinion, it is because they have contracted or covenanted. How can anything be a right other than as part of a mutual arrangement?

In this essay, I will pay homage to the Massachusetts Constitution, drafted by John Adams in 1779. Sometimes preambles are so much hot air, but I think Adams captured the biological reality of covenant-making.

john adamsJohn Adams

The only species whose members can volunteer to work together is H sapiens. A wolf pack is a strong entity, but the wolves do not have the option of selfishness. We do. But we don’t have to be a fool about it. We can covenant.

Adams’ preamble in the 1780 Massachusetts state constitution says:

“The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government is to secure the existence of the body politic, to protect it, and to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights and the blessings of life…. [Yay!]

“The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals; it is a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole people that all shall be governed …for the common good. …” [Dead right!]

Notice: you almost don’t need a list of rights if there really is community. People will treat each other fairly. It’s “good business” to proceed that way. Still, the committing of a few basics to words is a great idea.

No doubt Adams realized he was acting in the tradition that started with Magna Charta (if not with Adam and Eve and Steve). Herewith a few of the Massachusetts rights (most of which were copied into the US Bill of Rights):


Art. V. All power residing originally in the people, and being derived from them, the several magistrates and officers of government vested with authority, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, are the substitutes and agents, and are at all times accountable to them.

Art. VI. No man nor corporation or association of men have any title to obtain advantages, or particular and exclusive privileges distinct from those of the community….

Art. VII. … the people alone have an incontestable … right to institute government, and to reform, alter, or totally change the same when their protection, and happiness require it.

Art. VIII. In order to prevent those who are vested with authority from becoming oppressors, the people have a right … to cause their public officers to return to private life….

Art. X….. In fine, the people of this commonwealth are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent.

Art. XII. No subject shall be held to answer for any crimes or no offence until the same if fully and plainly, substantially and formally, described to him …And the legislature shall not make any law that shall subject any person to a capital … punishment…without trial by jury.

Art. XVII. The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence… and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority.

On that last one, and since I was recently outed by Commenter Ned as being not fully dinkum di, I may as well come clean on the fact that the Aussie objection to gun-ownership does not strike a chord with me. I am anti- government by birthright. I realize that this can be an Australian trait, too. With me it’s a religion.

In 2006, when I signed up to run for Congress, I got vetted by the local Republican council in Concord, New Hampshire, at their weekly meeting. They asked me to stand up and say where I stood in regard to the Second Amendment. (US right to bear arms). I said I thought “arms” must also include any arms that the government has, such as bioweapons and surface-to-air missiles.

Naturally I was hoping the group would gasp when I said that but they just nodded and moved onto the next item on their meeting agenda.

Now that I am recalling that 2006 episode, I see that I left out an important weapon: psy-war. Hmm. But I wouldn’t feel right emulating the practitioners of deception. Hell, this is an important problem! I’m allowing the enemy to have a weapon that I renounce! They unscrupulously put their messages directly into people’s brains. They mess up my plodding attempts persuading by sweet reason. Oh dear!

Please help me sort this out. Or tear to ribbons any of the above.



  1. Mary, I think the topics of The Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights are so deep and broad that they cannot be adequately discussed here. In fact, whole books still fail to adequately discuss all the implications of those three documents. Perhaps you should have listed the specific ways in which you think the current U.S. government is violating the Magna Carta, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, such as the suspension of habeas corpus and posse comitatus.

    Nevertheless, I would like to add a couple of thoughts here.

    Firstly, although I have not studied any of those documents in depth, I am impressed by the level of wisdom of the U.S. founding fathers, not just their “political wisdom” but their wisdom concerning human society in general. The sagacity of those founding fathers was certainly just as great, in fact greater, than what we see in the minds of the leading political science professors of today who have more of the benefit of hindsight in the study of politics and history. Obviously the New World of the early American colonies was an attractive destination for a certain type of well-educated, independent-thinking individual. (This is not to forget that thousands of convicts, virtual white slaves, were also shipped to the American colonies in the early years.)

    On the general topic of politics, I have read that, overall, the study of politics is the study of power. That is, the study of politics is more than simply the study of government and administration, as some people imagine. Furthermore, the ULTIMATE purpose of a police force is to enforce the power of the government, to enable the government to stay in power at those times when the people are in a state of rebellion, or to dissuade the people from even beginning to rebel. The purpose of a police force is not simply to protect the good citizens from the bad ones, as some people imagine. I think it was Mao Zedong who said, “Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun”.

    I could ramble on more but I would just like to add that I, an Australian, agree with you on the right to bear arms, especially for Americans. In my younger, more naïve (more brainwashed) days, I probably would have supported strict gun control on the argument that the Scandinavian countries have very low crime rates as well as very low gun ownership. But the question is more complex than that. Gun-related crimes were quite rare in Australia before the wholesale seizure of firearms in Australia following the Port Arthur massacre of 1996. This fact alone, as well as the spectacular nature of that incident, makes it highly suspicious.

    • Dear Baron Persecuted2, What a thoughtful letter! Maybe Madame Editor will run a full article of response when she gets back. The Magna Charta series of essays at Gumshoe is already set in concrete, with 5 topics: The Barons, John Adams, Strip Searches, Boat People (which is probably going to set the cat among the pigeons), and Tsarnaev’s Aunt.

      You are so right about power being power, and that we bog down by looking merely at the formal institutions of politics, mainly government. I recall, as a student, trying to construct a chart of the types of government such as fascist, communist, or democratic. I now see – even before factoring in the hidden presence of world government – that those are just local styles, and that I did not even come close to getting the point.

      I was helped, however, by Pierre van den Berghe, a Belgian-American who had lived in the Congo. He wrote “The Ethnic Phenomenon,” which is really a study of colonial power. You can buy that book for a song today, and I recommend it!

      And how did I discover van den Berghe? He was interviewed on an evening ABC radio book-review program in 1981. Oh, those halcyon days. Even the Adelaide Advertiser had a Saturday supplement, pre-1990, that featured thoughtful books. Today there are several sophisticated magazines handed out for free in Adelaide, but most are about food and fashion.

      Just think, Baron Persecuted2, of how we have yielded that weapon, our vocal cords, and it didn’t even require a Port Arthur massacre or gun buyback. People have simply fallen out of the habit of debating. Please put the name “Bezmenov” into the Gumshoe search engine and see how he, a Soviet psy-war man, was trained to condition us into stupidity. Maybe we can just as easily condition kids in the opposite direction.

  2. Sorry. Before anyone phones me to ask if I have gone Marxist, no. My skills in the graphic department, if you could even call them skills, caused me to grab a pic of the Paris Commune when what I wanted was the French Revolution. I first selected a Jeanne d’Arc but it was rejected for full-frontal, or in her case, half frontal n-ity. I don’t know how to download this painting, so please just enjoy the tricoloeur tones.

    By the way, Bill Windsor reports from his much-harassed site in US, where he awaits another court trial on Sept 28, 2015 for being an enormous help to mankind. He says his FB account has been shut down for “promoting nudity.” There is not so much as a baseball cap out of place on his site, so this goes to show how they can get you.

    I dasn’t mess up Dee’s website for “promoting Karl Marx.” Poor Karl. Did he even know who was in charge? Nesta Webster, in her 1924 book “Secret Societies,” swears that Bolshevism was a re-run of Babeuf. And so, I guess is Canada’s new C-51.

    Not funny, folks. To me the relevant graphic for this new censorship law would be Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” but is there a photo for that?

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