World Stamps

Quote from U.S. Bill of Rights on new British stamp

May 3, 2021, 5 AM


Words from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution are inscribed on a stamp to be issued June 2 by Great Britain’s Royal Mail.

This £1.33 stamp is part of a set of six commemorating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, signed by King John of England in Runnymede on June 15, 1215.

Meaning “Great Charter,” the Magna Carta is a pioneering document in the history of human rights that has inspired constitutions, declarations and charters through the centuries that protect civil liberties and rights.

Five of these other documents, including the American Bill of Rights, are featured along with the Magna Carta on the new stamps.

Royal Mail worked with the Magna Carta 800th Committee to produce the six stamps.

Howard Brown, who has been designing British stamps for more than two decades, created the designs.

Each stamp includes a woodcut illustration by Andrew Davidson on the left, and the silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II and the denomination or service inscription in the upper right.

Inscribed in the center of each design is text from the document being honored with its name and date below it, for example “American Bill of Rights, 1791.”

The text “Magna Carta, 1215 ~ Foundation of Liberty” appears at the bottom of each design.

The quote on the American Bill of Rights stamp comes from the Fifth Amendment, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Written by James Madison, the Bill of Rights includes the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.

The website of the nonprofit organization, the Bill of Rights Institute, summarizes: “The Bill of Rights is a list of limits on government power. For example, what the Founders saw as the natural right of individuals to speak and worship freely was protected by the First Amendment’s prohibitions on Congress from making laws establishing a religion or abridging freedom of speech. For another example, the natural right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion in one’s home was safeguarded by the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirements.

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“Other precursors to the Bill of Rights include English documents such as the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the English Bill of Rights, and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties.”

The illustration on this stamp shows a Colonial-era man in a jail cell with an open door.

The Magna Carta is represented on one of the two nondenominated first-class stamps in the set. The current first-class rate is 63 pence.

Royal Mail said of this document,

“ … Written in Latin on a single parchment and comprising a total of 63 clauses, Magna Carta established for the first time that the king was subject to the law rather than above it. It was effectively a peace treaty between the king and a group of barons.”

The quote on the stamp, “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned … Except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land,” is from clause 39.

The illustration shows a 13th-century farmer tying a bundle of wheat.

The other first-class stamp commemorates Simon De Montfort’s Parliament of January 1265, and includes the following quote from the summons to this Parliament, “We command you … To give your advice on the said matters with the prelates and barons whom we shall summon thither.”

The website of the Magna Carta 800th Committee explains the significance of this event, which occurred 50 years after the Magna Carta: “Simon de Montfort, Anglo-Norman rebel noblemen, convened a ‘parley’ in a field near Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire on 14th December 1264. It was not only in defiance of King Henry III, but was radical in having democratically elected knights and borough representatives from throughout the kingdom. The de Montfort Parliament was the first example of its kind in England.”

Like the American Bill of Rights, England’s Bill of Rights is honored on a £1.33 stamp. Passed by Parliament in 1689, it limits the power of the monarch, making Parliament the superior branch of government.

Among the civil rights addressed in this document were freedom of election, freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. It also included an excessive bail clause, which is quoted in part on the stamp, “That excessive bail out not to be required … nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Documents of the 20th and 21st centuries are honored on the two £1.52 stamps: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; and the Charter of the Commonwealth, adopted in 2012 and signed by Queen Elizabeth II in March 2013.

As a response to World War II, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Dec. 10, 1948.

In providing a history of the declaration on its website, the United Nations, said: “With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict happen again. World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere.”

The declaration comprises 30 articles. The text on the stamp is from the seventh, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”

The Charter of the Commonwealth declares 16 core values of the 54 member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, including democracy, human rights and environmental protection.

The 12th core value is gender equality, and the text on the stamp reads, “Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights.”

International Security Printer printed the stamps by lithography in sheets of 50 (sold in panes of 25 in most postal outlets). Each stamp measures 60 millimeters by 30mm and is perforated gauge 14.5.

Among the other Royal Mail products for the Magna Carta issue are first-day covers; a cover bearing a set of stamps and a £2 coin depicting King John ratifying the charter; six postcards reproducing the designs of the stamps; and a presentation pack containing the stamps, illustrations of some of the documents, and text by Nigel Saul, an expert on medieval England.

The stamps will be available from Royal Mail’s shop on the Internet. Ordering information also is available from Royal Mail, Tallents House, 21 S. Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB, Scotland.

Royal Mail’s two agencies in the United States are Interpost, Box 420, Hewlett, NY 11557; and the British Stamp Service in North America, 1 Unicover Center, Cheyenne, WY 82008.

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