Happy 800th Birthday Magna Carta

Newcomers to Toastmasters (and members of corporate clubs which often don’t have business sessions at each meeting) question why we use parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order. Some even question why we have business meetings.

In a five-part series, The National Post tells all.Magna_Carta_(British_Library_Cotton_MS_Augustus_II.106)

Today’s excellent article by Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative member of the European Parliament and author of “Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World, explains why we have business meetings in Toastmasters.

Really 🙂 I kid you not!

Magna Carta, the great charter, forced upon a reluctant King John by his barons who had congregated in a “parliament” (to talk) on the fields of Runnymede near Windso on June 15, 1215 to end the royal use of “force and will” to make the law.

The barons were especially upset with John’s adventures in Europe and they wished to end funding for such follies. They marshalled themselves into an organized military faction that challenged John’s ability to continue to rule.300px-King_John_from_De_Rege_Johanne

John, seeing an unhappy future in the making, signed Magna Carta 800 years ago.

So what does this mean to us today?

It means that the king (or in the case of Toastmasters the chairperson) is not above the law.

Hannan quoted from England’s 18th century prime minister Pitt the Elder who called Magna Carta “England’s Bible” and said:

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the storms may enter, the rain may enter – but the King of England may not enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.”

What does this astonishing statement mean?

It declares that for all time, in British common law, the king is not the supreme leader or authority. It is the law of the people and thus for a king or his forces to force an entry into a home of the most common person, a judge must issue a warrant.

Some years ago someone at our Toastmaster club suggest meetings should end at 10 p.m. so we’d have sufficient time to hear our speakers and do our evaluations more fully. It sounded like a good idea.

A motion was moved during a business session and a seconder supported the motion and a debate and vote followed and the 10 p.m. idea failed as many Toastmasters didn’t want to stay so late. Since we use Robert’s Rules of Order the decision was open and transparent and abided by the members.

Pretty simple stuff but the methodology goes back 800 years when a powerful king was forced by the will of the people to sign a piece of parchment.

New Toastmasters and others who object to our business sessions and the use of parliamentary procedure do not understand what is at stake or worse perhaps they do and they are uncomfortable trusting in the protection of The Great Charter.

It’s all about learning how to work and live together as a society.

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