The tie that binds: Why the United Kingdom, United States & Magna Carta matter to each other

Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Andrew Millar, British Consul General in Houston, Texas.

Andrew Millar - PhotoI spend a lot of time in this job talking about the core values that the UK and the U.S.A. share.  These values underpin the closeness of our bilateral relationship and provide the foundation for what President Obama called “one of the greatest alliances the world has ever known.” 

Our relationship with Texas is especially close. We appointed my first predecessor in 1842, accredited to the newly formed Republic of Texas. That seems like a long time ago, but that span of time is dwarfed by the recently arrived copy of the Magna Carta dating from 1217. There is a real sense of vertigo when looking at this small piece of vellum: both because of its age (nearly 800 years) and its significance in defining those core values that bind our nations together. 

When King John signed the document in 1215, no monarch had ever before ceded absolute power to the rule of law. The Magna Carta is the first legal document to protect the rights of citizens and limit the power of the monarchy — the end of the tyranny of Kings etched on to a piece of sheepskin. 

Of course, it took many years for its values to become entrenched and some Kings were less bound by it than others, but it remains the stuff of legends. Even today, every British child knows the story of bad King John, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood. It was the punitive taxes imposed by King John and enforced by his Sheriffs that drove the Barons into rebellion and forced a weak King to sign away his absolute power.  We have not had a King named John since.

The Magna Carta has been universally recognized as a key milestone in the global history of democratic governance, and its impact extends well beyond the UK’s borders. The Magna Carta’s message of liberty and human rights has served as a foundation for the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the European Union Charter of Human Rights, and it has also inspired the constitutions of countries all over the world — including the United States Constitution.  

When America’s founders first drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they looked to English law and the Magna Carta as a template for guaranteeing freedom and justice in the new nation. Many basic legal concepts that are held dear by Americans today, such as the right to a free trial, can be originally traced back to the Magna Carta.

Today the UK also proudly maintains a tradition of promoting civil liberties and the rule of law throughout the world. In its recently released Human Rights and Democracy Report, the British government has outlined its goals to continue working with the U.S. and others to end discrimination, censorship, and other undemocratic practices internationally. This reflects a strong worldwide commitment to upholding the values that were enshrined in British law nearly 800 years ago.

I hope that readers living in Texas or close enough to visit the Museum of Natural Science in Houston will go and reflect on this magnificent piece of history.

 
About Andrew Millar, British Consul General in Houston
Andrew Millar has served as the British Consul General in Houston since August 2011. He joined the Civil Service in 1994 working as a regulatory economist within the Office of Gas Supply and joined the FCO in 1996, as a regional economist for the Americas and Caribbean. In 1998, was promoted to cover the Asia regional economy portfolio.

Andrew was posted as First Secretary to Pretoria (2000-05). On return to London, he took over as Team-Leader for Energy Security in the Climate Change and Energy Group within the FCO. He also served as UK representative on the non-member country committee in the International Energy Agency and was a member of the G8 Energy Experts Group in the run up to the St Petersburg Summit.

He moved into Human Resources in 2007, as Team Leader – Training and Development, before being pulled back into energy security. He was appointed lead within the FCO on preparations for the London Energy Meeting in December 2008.

Andrew started work in the Health Physics department at Torness Nuclear Power Station in 1983. He left in 1990 and obtained a Degree and Master in Economics from the University of East Anglia. Andrew is married with two children.

 

Happy Magna-tine’s Day: Magna Carta exhibit now open

It’s finally here, folks – our Magna Carta exhibit is open to the public! For the first time ever, this document has traveled from its home in Hereford Cathedral to come to Houston.

HMNS hosted a press event yesterday, with presentations by Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Reverend Canon Chris Pullin of Hereford Cathedral, and British Consul General Andrew Millar. Here are some highlights:

Mayor Parker opened the event remarking that “Magna Carta is one of the most important documents in the world.” Saying that she was glad to come to the event not just as mayor of Houston, but as a Museum member, she continued, “It’s an exciting time for the City of Houston and a wonderful, wonderful day for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.”

Next the Reverend Canon Chris Pullin, Chancellor for Hereford Cathedral, spoke. With cheerful excitement, he mentioned how it was quite likely that more people would see Magna Carta at HMNS in the next six months than would at Hereford in the next “20 or 25 years.” He went on to describe Houston as a fitting destination for Magna Carta, in part because of the role Houston had in building America’s space program. While these events may not seem related, he drew comparisons between “an American project that did something for the whole world” and a British document, which has come to “represent a step forward for the whole of humanity,” laying out ideas for “what it is to live properly with respect to one another in this world.”

British Consul General Andrew Millar called it “a momentous day,” speaking on the role Magna Carta continues to play in the modern quest for justice, calling it “the foundation of human rights.” Underscoring how important it is for today’s youth to have an understanding of rights and justice, he continued, “I will definitely be bringing my children. I hope everybody else brings theirs as well.”

And it seems that many children, in fact, will get to see the document. According to Joel A. Bartsch, President and CEO of HMNS, over 4,000 students already have tickets to come see Magna Carta on field trips.

IMG_20140213_133601We were also fortunate to have several descendants of the barons (the 25 barons who forced King John to accept Magna Carta) at the press conference. These descendents are a few of over 100 living in the Houston area. Margaret Gene Harris, descended from 14 barons, said, “To bring [Magna Carta] to the Houston area … that is magnificent.” On learning about her heritage and connection with the document, she remarked that when she was younger, “I didn’t care a whit and feather about genealogy,” but now has deep-held respect for her ancestors. “You find out they are human beings,” which gives Gene Harris a new perspective on the document.

Another descendent, Nedaye G. Potts, said that seeing Magna Carta in person was, “in a word, awesome.” Bill Griffith, descended from 16 barons, shared this sentiment, stating, “It’s very exciting to see it in person. There’s a big difference in seeing the actual document.”

IMG_20140213_133944“It’s a privilege to be able to see it,” remarked Susan Tillman. “It takes the abstract and makes it concrete. There are very few documents that have been produced through the lifetime of man that have held relevance right up to today, and this is one of them.”

So there you have it! Magna Carta at HMNS is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the most influential documents in history. So don’t wait, join the British sensation today!