06 Aug 2004 Robert Kennedy on History
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is not only not a serious environmentalist, as I noted below, nor a free-marketeer, as Jonathan Adler has just demonstrated on The Commons Blog, but he’s not much of a historian, either.
Note this Kennedy paragraph in Grist magazine:
When Roman law broke down in Europe during the Dark Ages, a lot of the feudal kings began reasserting control over the public-trust resources. For example, in England, King John began selling monopolies to the fisheries and he said the deer belonged to nobility. The public rose up and confronted him at the Battle of Runnymede and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, which of course was the beginning of constitutional government. In addition to having virtually all of our Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta has two other chapters on free access to fisheries in navigable waters. And those rights descended to the people in the States when we had the revolution. And virtually every state constitution says the people of the state own the waters and the fisheries, the wildlife, the air. They’re not owned by the governor, the legislature, the corporations. Nobody has a right to use them in a way that will diminish or injure their use and enjoyment by others.
There’s too much to address here for just a blog entry, but a few points:
1) King John was one in a long line of Norman/English/British Kings who believed that the nobility had the right to control hunting rights in “public” forests. William the Conquerer, King John’s grandmother’s grandfather, was a big believer in exercising the sovereign’s “right” to control the land, and the practice did not end with the signing of the Magna Carta (although that document does address the matter).
2) The Magna Carta does not “hav[e] virtually all of our Bill of Rights.” It was mostly about preserving the prerogatives of a small number of families against the power of the monarch.
3) Note Kennedy’s line “those rights descended to the people in the States when we had the revolution.” The the governmental philosophy of the United States is that rights descend to the public (actually, all individuals) from our Creator, not from some dude or dudette in London (“…all men are created equal… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”).
4) Kennedy’s timeline (“those rights descended to the people in the States when we had the revolution”) is baffling. The Revolution ended the authority of any British monarch and his/her governments over the American (ex)colonies. It was not a lobbying effort aimed at convincing King John’s heirs to grant Americans a few more “rights.”