Proposal to celebrate Magna Carta Day in the British Empire


In 1947, a proposal to make 15 June a public holiday in the British Empire and United States was discussed by the British government. Suggested during the early stages of the Cold War, ‘Magna Carta Day’ was intended to emphasise Anglo-American co-operation and to champion the document as a symbol of Western liberty. However, some British civil servants opposed the scheme, fearing that the celebration of civil liberties might provoke opposition to British imperial rule. K W Blaxter, Assistant Secretary in the Colonial Office, dismissed the proposal in very strong terms:

In some Colonies where ill-disposed politicians are ever on the lookout for opportunities to misrepresent our good intentions, its celebration might well cause embarrassment and in general there is a danger that the Colonial peoples might be led into an uncritical enthusiasm for a document which they had not read but which they presumed to contain guarantees of every so-called ‘right’ they might be interested at that moment in claiming.

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Correspondence on the proposal to celebrate Magna Carta Day in the British Empire
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Zoë Laidlaw

The British Empire lasted more than 300 years and spanned the globe. During this time, Magna Carta was used by imperialists to justify global ambition and by indigenous people to demand liberty and justice. Dr Zoe Laidlaw considers the significance of Magna Carta in relation to imperialism.

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