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December, 1817. In order that it might appear that he did not feel any mortification on account of his own defeat, and that of the ministry, the judge, with an air of indifference for the hilarity of the passing throngs, stopped his carriage in the Strand to buy six red herrings. But six red herrings are a poor consolation for wounded pride and a troubled soul. Lord Ellenborough could not again look in the face the people whose liberties he had vainly attacked. The sounds of the ensuing Christmas rejoicings fell discordant on his ears. In the street, in the forum, in the lecture room, in the pulpit, in the press, freedom of speech remained unimpaired. Lord Ellenborough sent in his resignation, and not long afterwards died of vexation and chagrin.
The Great Charter was again victorious. Priests and kings, ministers and judges, had conspired against it without success. They might as well have tried to roll the world back to primeval chaos. Lord Coke tells us that before his time the Magna Charta “had been confirmed, established and commanded to be put in force by no less than thirty-two several acts of Parliament;' and up to this day no one has ever proposed to repeal a single one of its provisions.
In speaking of the Great Charter Mr. Hallam says:
“The constitution of England has indeed no single date from which its duration may be reckoned. The institutions of positive law, the far more important changes which time has wrought in the order of society during six hundred years subsequent to the Great Charter, have undoubtedly lessened its direct application to our present circumstances. But it is still the keystone of English liberty. All that has since been obtained is little more than confirmation or commentary; and if every subsequent law were to be swept away, there would still remain the bold features that distinguish a free from a despotic monarchy."
In the House of Lords on the ninth day of January, 1770, the great Earl of Chatham, in speaking of the barons, said:
“My lords, I think that history has not done justice to their conduct when they obtained from their sovereign that great acknowledgment of natural rights contained in Magna Charta. They did not say these are the rights of the great barons, or these are the rights of the great prelates. No, my lords, they said in the simple Latin of the time Nullus LIBER Homo, and provided as carefully for the meanest subject as for the greatest. These are uncouth words, and sound but poorly in the ears of scholars; neither are they addressed to the criticism of scholars; but to the hearts of freemen. These three words, NULLUS LIBER HOMO, have a meaning which interests us all; they deserve to be remembered; they deserve to be inculcated in our minds; they are worth all the classics.”
William Pitt, in 1782, in speaking of the ill-advised and disastrous war of Great Britain against the American colonies, referring to the Magna Charta, said that "every free state to maintain its liberty and the vigor of its constitution must frequently be brought back to its original principles." The Great Charter remains our exemplar yet.
No one can sum up the debt that we owe to the Magna Charta, the one great product of the Middle Ages. We look back with feelings of aversion and pity to that dark and troubled period; to its insane crusades, to its fanatical intolerance, to its pedantic and barren literature, to its scholastic disputes, to its cruelty, rapine and bloodshed. But the genius that presides over human destiny never sleeps; and it was precisely in that most sterile and unpromising age that the groundwork was laid for all that is valuable in modern civilization. As an unborn forest sleeps unconsciously in an acorn cup,
all the creations and all the potentialities of that civilization lay enfolded in the guaranty of personal liberty and of the supremacy of the law that was secured at Runnymede. The various bills and petitions of right, and the Habeas Corpus Act, while they have given new sanctions to liberty, are but echoes of the Great Charter; and our Declaration of Independence is but the Magna Charta writ large, and expanded to meet the wants of a new generation of freemen, fighting the battle of life beneath other skies.
“Worth all the classics!” Yes, the classics that have survived, and the classics that have perished. Dear as might be to us the lost books of Livy, whose pictured page is torn, just where its highest interest begins, or even some song of Homer, which, now lost in space, shall charm the ear and bewitch the human heart no more, we could not exchange for them a single word of those uncouth but grand old sentences, which, having taken the wings of the morning, have incorporated themselves with almost every system of laws in Christendom, and which still ring out in our American constitutions with a sound like that of the trampling of armed men, marching confidently up to battle; words which for ages have stayed the hand of tyranny, and which have extended their protection over the infant sleeping in its cradle, over the lonely, the desolate, the sorrowful and the oppressed. Uttered by unwilling lips, and believed by the wretch from whom it was extorted that it had scarcely an hour to live, the Magna Charta marks an epoch in the annals of mankind. It began a revolution that has never gone backward for a single moment; and was the precursor of that civilization the dawn of which our eyes have looked upon with joy and pride, and whose full meridian splendor can be foreseen by God alone.