Tuesday, 1 December 2009


The quotes from the Columbia University President in 1915 are not surprising, but references in 1957 to Americans and the British sharing a ‘common blood line’ are, at least from someone representing the American Bar Association. I wonder if anyone knows of an American of equivalent or higher public status saying something similar in later years?

From Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008):

In 1915 Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, lectured the New York politicians in Albany on the seven hundredth anniversary of Runnymede. It was a gushing, pompous address linking race, blood, liberty, nationality, and personal effort. In his opening he refers to “the intermingling of the two bloods,” Saxon and Norman, to form “the English-speaking race.” Anglophonophilia again. This race sent “colonial offshoots of the parent stock” around the world. Boyd Barrington in his 1900 study of Magna Carta also referred to “the Anglo-Saxon race.”

Kipling wrote lines meant to raise goose bumps on white skins:

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissome reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break.
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.


In God We Trust was declared the national motto in 1957 and was also placed on American paper money. In that year the American Bar Association (ABA) opened a memorial to Magna Carta at Runnymede, surrounded by a landscape dense with ruling-class symbolism. The architect of the graceful rotunda was Edward Maufe, an Establishment figure who designed country houses and tasteful churches and college buildings, whose pastel inte-


riors of pink, mauve, and cream helped set interwar taste in England in a style called “modernity with manners.” In the center of the rotunda is a plinth. On it is a five-pointed star within a blue circle, a mark of identification of the U.S. Air Force, an insignia with no significance in English heraldry or semiotics.

The queen was present and the speeches were broadcast on the BBC. Prince Philip rode up to the ceremony on his horse from a polo match. Five thousand dignitaries came for the “rites” upon the “hallowed ground,” to hear Smythe Gambrell, past president of the American Bar Association, speak on how each “man is a creature of divine will” and how the truths of Magna Carta “are universal and eternal.” “There flows within our veins a common blood line, commingling Celt and Saxon, Dane and Norman, Pict and Scot.” A “temple” was dedicated, “a shrine,” or “an altar,” where “all mankind may worship.” *

The next speaker was Lord Evershed, master of the rolls, who concluded his remarks by saying the burden of leadership “under God of the free peoples of the earth” now rested on American shoulders. After Lord Evershed came Charles Rhyne, the ABA’s incoming president, the legal counsel to President Eisenhower, and the person who had suggested the Magna Carta memorial in the first place. He explained the meaning of the expression freedom under law carved in the Portland stone. This truth, he asserted, “has made mighty nations of both Britain and America,” adding that it is the truth against “the alien tyranny of Communism.”


* These speeches are printed in Journal of the American Bar Association (October 1957): 900–907.

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