Magna Carta Digital Exhibit > 1763 Magna Carta Print

The 1763 Magna Carta at the Harris County Law Library

The 1763 Magna Carta is part of the Harris County Law Library Historical Collection. The document is the first of several English statutes in the book The Statutes at Large from Magna Charta to the End of the Reign of Henry the Sixth, also know as Ruffhead's Statutes at Large after the work's compiler, Owen Ruffhead, Esq. Although not an original copy from the thirteenth century, the colonial-era work is significant in that it was produced when America's founding fathers were developing notions of individual freedoms that would later be included in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The undeniable influence of the Magna Carta on America's founding documents suggests that the founding fathers were reading from the 1763 edition while working on the ideas that protect life and liberty even today.

On this page, you can explore the history of the volume that will be on display at the Law Library from Law Day, May 1, 2015, until June 15, 2015 -the 800th anniversary of the day the original Great Charter was issued in Runnymede, England.


The Founding Fathers' Magna Charta

1775 Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

1775 Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Perhaps the most illustrative example of the importance of the Magna Carta to the founding fathers is the 1775 Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Designed by Paul Revere and adopted shortly after battles at Lexington and Concord, the seal features a colonist holding a sabre and the Magna Carta. The motto in Latin encircling the man can be translated, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty." As was clear to all who were preparing to fight for America, the Magna Carta stood as the symbol of freedom.

As the American Revolution erupted in Massachusetts, a copy of Ruffhead's Statutes at Large occupied an important place on the shelf of John Adams' library in Boston. The title page of the future president's copy - which is now owned by the Boston Public Library - bears a familiar signature that also appears on the Declaration of Independence. Although it cannot be known how often Adams consulted the volume, correspondence sent by fellow founding father, Joseph Hawley, suggests the book was well known among Adams' extensive collection by his contemporaries. On September 23, 1775, Hawley wrote to Adams' wife, Abigail, to request the copy, promising to ensure its speedy and safe return. As Adams served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, he likely read the text of the Magna Carta from the 1763 edition of Ruffhead's Statutes at Large and loaned the volume to his fellow founding fathers.

John Adams' copy of Ruffhead's Statutes at Large - Click to see a digital copy.

John Adams' copy of Ruffhead's Statutes at Large - Click to see a digital copy.

Magna Carta or Charta?

Title page showing Carta spelled C H A R T A

One striking feature of the founding fathers' Magna Carta is the alternative spelling of the title. With the additional "H," "Magna Charta" was the preferred spelling in the eighteenth century. In addition to appearing in Ruffhead's Statutes at Large, the "H" also appeared in the statutory collection of Ruffhead's major competitor, Danby Pickering. Today, however, the generally accepted spelling is without the "H." See, Black's Law Dictionary 1095 (10th ed. 2014).


See it for Yourself

Take a virtual tour of the founding fathers' Magna Carta! Click through the pages below to see page of this iconic document found in the same edition read by John Adams more than 200 years ago. Visit Harris County Law Library between Law Day, May 1, 2015, and June 15, 2015 - the 800th anniversary of the day the original Magna Carta was issued in Runnymede, England - to see the original on display.