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Refuge, Remembrance, and Renewal

This past week has provided disturbing footage of refugees fleeing and defending their homes in Ukraine. At the same time that these images floated in the periphery, I happened to note that our three academies are now approaching 5,000 refugees on the waitlist to enroll– with a current population of 4,000 scholars already inhabiting the sturdy fort known as John Adams Academy. As I exchanged an email with an educational mentor of mine, he pointed out the following related to our time: “We are, both of us, standing atop the gate of a fort watching refugees stream toward us. Behind them is the enemy that drives them.”

There are refugees of life everywhere. So, who is driving the educational and displaced war-torn immigrants? The power hungry, the avaricious and special interests. What are the evacuees seeking? Safety, opportunity and freedom for themselves and their families.

Remember and Renew

Memorials provide a way to recognize, remember and renew principles of our heritage and allow us to be repeatedly reborn as citizens of a nation when we lose our way or forget our past. G.K. Chesterton is credited to have said, “Every revolution is a restoration of something that once guided and inspired people in the past.” 

In the year 1215 King John put his seal on Magna Carta (The Great Charter) at Runnymede. England was in political turmoil. King John had bitter disagreements with the church and had established unpopular taxes on land barons to fund an ongoing war with France. This fostered an alliance between feudal barons and key members of the clergy. By the start of 1215 the barons seized control of London – the seat of government.

In early June, King John met to hear their demands, and on June 15th he agreed to seal the proposed “Great Charter of Liberty,” enshrining their rights into law. What were these liberties?

The charter addressed unalienable rights, including 63 clauses covering law, liberty, and the church. The most important of these clauses enshrined the rights of “free men” to justice and a fair trial.

At the outset, Magna Carta had very little legal impact. At King John’s request it was repealed by the Pope, who emphatically declared the document “null and void of all validity forever.”

After time and successive kings, The Great Charter began to have real consequences. King Henry III released three revised versions of Magna Carta during his reign, and over the years it began to take on legal and symbolic status. This document also became foundational to our Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was signed into law on December 15, 1791. Do you think it coincidental that John Adams signed the Bill of Rights into law and the Constitution on that particular day in 1791? Consider the preamble to this document. Its purpose was clear. While the Constitution listed the powers of government, the Bill of Rights listed what powers the government did not possess as a way of preventing arbitrary actions. Consider the preamble. 

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

While visiting England in June of 2015, on the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, we saw a memorial to The Great Charter of Liberty. Here is what we read:

Memorials at Runnymede: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/memorials-at-runnymede
  • At the front of the plinth/wall: This memorial was dedicated on 28th July 1957.
  • On the central pier: To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of freedom under law.
  • On an inner frieze, just above the pillars: Erected by the American Bar Association – a tribute to Magna Carta – symbol of freedom under law.
  •  Three of the stone flags in the floor outside the pavilion have been inscribed:
    • 18 July 1971 – on this day the American Bar Association again came here and pledged adherence to the principles of the great charter.
    • On 13 July 1985 the American Bar Association returned to this place to renew its pledge of adherence to the principles of the great charter.
    • 15 July 2000 – the American Bar Association returns this day to celebrate Magna Carta – foundation of the rule of law, for ages past and for the new millennium.

So here we have a memorial of perhaps the greatest foundational document for freedom on British soil where the American Bar Association recognizes The Great Charter.

Will you assure the success of liberty?

Guess what else? Next to this site an acre of English ground was given to the United States of America by the people of Britain in memory of John F. Kennedy. Written on this monument are his words: 

Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, or oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.

John F. Kennedy, Inaugural address of President Kennedy, 20 January 1961. 

Are we as Americans and citizens of the world still willing to do that?

The designer, Geoffrey Jellicoe, wrote that he had based his ideas on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and that the piece is intended to be seen as a point in a journey through the landscape. Behind the memorial stone is an American scarlet oak, which turns red in November, the month of Kennedy’s death. You continue a paved walk or “Jacob’s ladder” through the wild woods of human existence along a stepped cobbled path. The cobbles symbolize people met along the way and the 50 unique different sized stone steps represent the American states.

With this memorial being contained within an acre of British land, and gifted by the people of Britain to the people of America in perpetuity, it is poetic to notice that virtually the same location commemorates both John F. Kennedy and Magna Carta.

My discovery of these two memorials during the commemoratory month of June in 2015 energized me! I felt reborn and renewed again in the ancient principles of freedom. In the words of another father of freedom Abraham Lincoln. 

The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—….that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address” 1863.

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

One thought on “Refuge, Remembrance, and Renewal

  1. What a great read Dean. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants. Exceptional men and women who came before us who penned these documents ensuring our God given liberties! May we be diligent in teaching our children so that these traditions will live on.

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