Ben Franklin’s World Podcast Interview: Magna Carta and Its Gifts to North America

038-Harris (1) I am interviewed on this week’s episode of Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History. The interview, with fellow historian Liz Covart, is about Magna Carta and Its Gifts to North America, comparing the impact of Magna Carta on the United States and Canada. I also discuss how Magna Carta was imposed on King John by his rebel barons in 1215 and the legal rights – including rights for women – that were codified in the Great Charter.

Click here to listen to Magna Carta and Its Gifts to North America at Ben Franklin’s World

For more on Magna Carta, see my book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Friday Royal Read: Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada

King George III is remembered very differently in Canada, the United States and Britain. In the regions of British North America that became Canada, George III was a nation builder. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 served as the foundation for an enduring relationship between the Crown and Canada’s First Nations and the Quebec Act of 1774 guaranteed free practice of Roman Catholicism and use of French Civil Law for private disputes.

These acts were were not well received in the Thirteen Colonies that became the United States as the Royal Proclamation designated land west of the Appalachian Mountains as “Indian Territory,” restricting the colonists from the settling there. The American Revolution transformed George III’s image into that of a tyrant, whose government imposed taxation without representation. In Britain, George III was neither nation builder nor oppressor. Instead, he began his reign as “Farmer George,” the first Hanoverian King to be born and raised in England and ended his reign as “Mad King George,” suffering from what was most likely porphyria under the regency of his son, the future George IV.

The reign of King George III, and the monarchy itself, is far from the only issue to be viewed differently in Canada and the United States, two countries with a shared history of British settlement and governance. In Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada,  which will be published in September 2015, Robert Bothwell, the Gluskin Professor of Canadian History at the University of Toronto and author of The Penguin History of Canada and Canada and Quebec: One Country, Two Histories provides an accessible and engaging account of how Canada and the United States have related to one another since European settlement began in North America.

The American Revolution brought thousands of British, European African-American and First Nations loyalists to what is now Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.The promise of free land in British North America brought a second wave of “late loyalists” to Upper Canada who made clear during the War of 1812 that they were content with British rule. Bothwell details how generation after generation of American politicians in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries assumed that British North America would become part of the United States and were mystified when Canada continued to assert its independence and loyalty to the Crown and parliamentary system of government.

Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada is primarily a political and diplomatic history of Canada and the United States. There are references to common cultural influences from Charles Dickens novels in the 19th century to American television in the 1950s but it would have been interesting to read more about how literary and artistic ideas circulated around North America and beyond. American author Mark Twain admired the work of Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery and drew parallels between his most famous book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and her Anne Of Green Gables series.  Both authors achieved an international following that transcended their national origins.

Canada and the United States also developed very different attitudes toward the role of the government in national culture and discussion of this aspect of each country’s policy would fit in well amidst the comparison of Canadian and American attitudes toward health care and foreign policy. While the role of the Crown in Canada is discussed throughout the early chapters of the book, the monarchy is last mentioned in the context of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. Analysis of this key difference between Canada and the United States could have been extended to the present day.

At the beginning of his book, Bothwell states “If there were ever a prize for the most futile academic study, Canadian-American relations would be an earnest contender” observing how little known Canadian history and politics is in the United States. Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada demonstrates that the histories of Canada and the United States illuminate each other, revealing the different paths that were taken on the same continent.

Next Week: Katharine of Aragon by Patrick Williams

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Elizabeth Lee (Owen) Macdonald

Prince Edward Island Magazine 2My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is a profile of a little known Mother of Confederation. Elizabeth Lee (Owen) Macdonald was born into one of Prince Edward Island’s elite families and married Andrew Archibald Macdonald, a Father of Confederation. She assumed leadership positions in both Island society and women’s organizations within the Church of England. In later life, she wrote a nine-part series of articles on local history titled “Charlottetown Fifty Years Ago” for Prince Edward Island Magazine.

Click here to read my article on Elizabeth Lee (Owen) Macdonald in the Canadian Encyclopedia

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Mercy Anne Coles

Mercy Coles

Mercy Coles

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Mercy Anne Coles, a diarist and one of the key witnesses to the negotiations that preceded Canada’s Confederation in 1867. Mercy Coles was one of the daughters of George Coles, the first premier of Prince Edward Island. She attended the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences with her parents. Her diary, Reminiscences of Canada in 1864, is one of the most detailed sources about the events that preceded Confederation. The diary includes descriptions of the Fathers of Confederation and their personalities and brings light to the social politics of mid-19th-century Canada.

Click here to read my article about Mercy Coles in the Canadian Encyclopedia

Column in the National Post: Magna Carta established that nobody, not even the king, was above the law of the land


My column in today’s National Post discusses the history of Magna Carta and its continuing influence on politics and law today, including in Canada. King John was the first English monarch to accept limits on his powers imposed by his subjects, beginning the process that the led to the development of constitutional monarchy, Canada’s system of government. The legal rights codified in Magna Carta expanded in the scope during the 13th and 14th centuries. Magna Carta emerged from medieval times as a document that applied to people of varied backgrounds, not just the nobility, informing the Common Law system that would be employed throughout the English speaking world.

Click here to read “Magna Carta established that nobody, not even the king, was above the law of the land” in the National Post

Click here to purchase my book Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

Queen Victoria at the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897

Queen Victoria at the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Queen Victoria (who reigned from 1837–1901) was the first monarch to celebrate 60 years on the throne. Celebrations to honour the grand occasion — the first Diamond Jubilee — showcased the Queen’s role as “mother” of the British Empire and its Dominions, including Canada. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier led the Canadian delegation to the London ceremonies, while communities across Canada held their own civic celebrations in honour of the Queen.

Click here to read “Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – 1897″ in the Canadian Encyclopedia

Toronto Star Interview: King John known for murder and Magna Carta

My interview with the Toronto Star “King John known for murder and Magna Carta” discussed the notorious King and how his reputation has gone from bad to worse during the centuries following his death. I compare and contrast King John to Richard III, another controversial English king. While there is a debate about whether Richard III was unfairly maligned by Tudor historians, John is consistently presented as a villain in both the history books and popular culture.

Click here to read “King John known for murder and Magna Carta” in the Toronto Star

I also discuss the reputation of Richard I “the Lionheart” in another Toronto Star article, “Ten things you didn’t know about King John and Magna Carta

Click here to purchase my book Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Radio&TV Interviews for Monday June 15, the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta

Monday June 15 is the 800th anniversary of King John reluctantly affixing his seal to Magna Carta. I will be discussing my book,  Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, the history of Magna Carta and its impact on the modern world including Canada on radio and TV. Here’s the schedule for Monday:

CBC Syndicated Radio between 6-9am ET

6:00 Windsor
6:40 Ontario
7:00 Kitchener
7:20 Winnipeg
7:40 Edmonton
7:50 Whitehorse
8:10 Victoria
8:20 Saskatoon
8:40 Vancouver

CTV News Channel 11am ET

Newstalk 610CKTB, St. Catherines, 4:15pm ET

All these times are subject to change.

Book Excerpt in the Ottawa Citizen: Magna Carta and Women’s Rights

An excerpt from my book Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights about Magna Carta and women’s rights was published in the Ottawa Citizen today as part of a feature issue on the Great Charter. Magna Carta guaranteed noblewomen freedom from forced remarriage during their widowhood and set precedents future legal reforms that improved the position of women in society.

Click here to read “Magna Carta and Women’s Rights” in the Ottawa Citizen

My writing on Magna Carta is also quoted in this Ottawa Citizen article: “Magna Carta: The “essence” of the West or irrelevant scrap of parchment?”

CBC News Interview: Magna Carta: From King John’s lechery and treachery to our liberty

19th century representation of King John accepting Magna Carta in 1215

19th century representation of King John accepting Magna Carta in 1215

My interview with CBC News discusses Magna Carta and the Magna Carta Canada touring exhibition, which begins at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa this week. I talked about a variety of topics related to King John and Magna Carta including why there has only been one English king named John and why there is no mention of Magna Carta in William Shakespeare’s play about King John.

Click here to read Magna Carta: From King John’s lechery and treachery to our liberty at CBC.ca 

Click here to purchase my book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights