I’m proud of America. I really am. I think we have a lot of interesting social and cultural traditions, and a lot of good laws. But it makes me crazy when people who know nothing about history talk about America being the “first” to have freedom or being the ones who “invented” individual rights. So, just to honor and celebrate the fact that American freedoms and rights come from a very, very long cultural tradition, I’d like to tell you a little about the bastide of Monflanquin.
Monflanquin was set up as a semi-fortified town in the year 1256. In their Charte des coutemes de Monflanquin (Charter of the customary laws of Monflanquin), granted by Alphonse de Poitiers, contained 37 clauses that laid out the basic groundwork of the law there. It was, in effect, the “constitution” for the town. Some examples of rules outlined by these clauses included:
Taxes would not be imposed without the consent of the inhabitants.
The inhabitants would have the right to buy and sell goods and to marry whom they chose.
Neither the seneschal (the chief administrative officer of the noble’s household) nor the bailiff could arrest anyone or seize their goods unless a serious crime had been committed.
No matter what the provocation, no inhabitant was permitted to engage in a duel or trial by combat. If a man were challenged and refused to fight, he would not be considered guilty but could seek legal remedies, which would include calling witnesses.
Before taking up their duties, the seneschal and the bailiff had to swear before the village assembly that they would behave honorably, and would render justice impartially.
Adulterers, both men and women, would have to choose one of two punishments: either pay 100 solidi each or run through the village naked.
So maybe not all of the provisions are applicable today. (Although who wouldn’t want the return of a law that involved running naked through the streets as punishment, though, am I right?) But the fact is some of the basic elements that Americans like to think of as “American rights” can already be seen here: no taxation without representation, right to a trial, and even the freedom to engage in free market capital enterprise!
So go ahead: be proud of America! We deserve it. But while we’re at it, let’s take a moment also to be proud of the 1000 years of history and tradition that allowed us to get to where we are now.