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The Magna Carta Returns - Prologue, Winter 2010

The Magna Carta Returns - Prologue, Winter 2010

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Published by Prologue Magazine
David M. Rubenstein recounts how he happened to purchase the only copy of the Magna Carta in the United States and keep it in the National Archives.
David M. Rubenstein recounts how he happened to purchase the only copy of the Magna Carta in the United States and keep it in the National Archives.

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Published by: Prologue Magazine on Feb 09, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Winter 2010
David Rubenstein talks to the press about his purchase o the Magna Carta on March 3, 2008.
The Magna Carta 
returns to the archives
Donor Buys Historic Document at Auctionto Keep It in the United States 
by david m. rubenstein
erendipity can play an important role in our lives.One o the more serendipitous occurrences in my own lie occurred in De-cember o 2007. On a return fight rom overseas, I happened to see in my maille an invitation to a pre-auction reception or a 1297 copy o the Magna Car-ta. Te reception happened to be that night in New York City, and I happenedto be landing in New York just in time to get to the reception. So I quickly decided to go, to see this most amous o all documents.When I arrived at the reception, I met the curator in charge o shepherd-ing the Magna Carta to a successul sale. She inormed me that the copy be-ing auctioned belonged to ormer presidential candidate Ross Perot, who was selling the document to enable his oundation to und Iraqi war veter-ans’ medical expenses. He had owned the document since 1984, when hepurchased it rom a British amily who had owned it or more than 500 years;he had subsequently lent it to the National Archives, where it had been gener-ally on display since the early 1980s.I was also inormed by the curator that Mr. Perot had not placed any constraintson the document’s sale. It was thus widely believed—and eared—that a wealthy in-dividual rom another country would likely purchase the document and remove itrom the United States. It turned out that, o the 17 copies o the historic documentstill in existence, this was the only one owned by a private citizen and the only 
The press surrounded the Magna Carta during a photo opportunity when the historic document returned to the National Archives.
one in the
United States. Fiteen copiesreside in British institutions, and the oth-er one is displayed in the Australian parlia-ment. None o these copies, I was told, islikely to ever be sold.Tese acts struck me as particularly unor-tunate, or the Magna Carta—while a prod-uct o the 13th century in England—actual-ly had a signicant impact on our governmentand on our basic rights.
 A Last-Minute DecisionTo Attend an Auction
Te Magna Carta’s principles o due pro-cess, trial by jury, habeas corpus, and norepresentation without taxation, amongothers, were central to British commonlaw. And that common law was the oun-returning the night o the auction, the cu-rator ushered me into a small unoccupiedroom and instructed me pick up a tele-phone to hear the auction and to commu-nicate any bids to her. Tis was a ar cry rom the bustling auction foor so oten de-picted in movies and on television. But Igathered that many o the bidders on par-ticularly valuable or newsworthy objects donot want to be seen bidding (or winning),and these private rooms are a solution.Te bidding soon commenced, and aterseveral rounds o competitive bidding, I wasdelighted—and surprised—to hear that my nal bid won the auction.I was then told by the auction house’s o-cials that I could slip out a side door andkeep the new owner and the new where-dation o our own democracy. For that rea-son, each o the colonies embodied mosto these principles in their governing struc-tures, and the Founding Fathers also placedthem in the heart o the Declaration o In-dependence and the Constitution (and,later, the Bill o Rights).So I thought it would be appropriateto try to keep this copy o the Magna Car-ta in the country—to ensure that Americanscould continue to see it, and to thereby becontinuously reminded o its importance toour country. I resolved that evening to returnto New York rom Washington, D.C. (my home), the next night and to win the auction.Having never been to a major auction inmy lie, I was not sure exactly how best toproceed. Imagine my surprise when, upon
Winter 201022

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