Before David M. Rubenstein owned the 1297 Magna Carta, it belonged to Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, who for decades generously loaned it to the National Archives. On September 17, 1985—Constitution Day—Perot came to the National Archives to visit his Magna Carta, and address new U.S. citizens. Sadly in July 2019, Ross Perot passed away at age 89 at his home in Dallas, Texas.
The provenance of the Magna Carta on display at the National Archives is murky—a couple centuries after King Edward I issued it in 1297, it ended up in the Brudenell family, the earls of Cardigan. After that, it seems the document simply sat in the Brudenell family’s holdings until the late 1970s, when it was discovered during an inventory of the family’s estate at Deene Park in Northamptonshire, England. The family subsequently put it up for sale, and while a variety of potential buyers sought to purchase the document, all bids fell through until Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot came on the scene.
Before his two unsuccessful Presidential bids, Perot had made his fortune selling his computer services company to General Motors. A true patriot, Perot’s love of country was one of the reasons he pursued Magna Carta—he could not believe a document so important to the founding of the United States was up for sale. He wanted a copy to display in the United States for all American citizens to enjoy. Citing Magna Carta as the “basis of our freedoms,” Perot hoped his purchase would show generations of Americans the inspiration of the country’s own Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
After Perot purchased Magna Carta in 1984, he loaned it to the National Archives for display in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, beginning in 1985. On Constitution Day that year, the Archives held a swearing-in of new citizens in front of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. There, Perot gave the principal address for the 30 new citizens who were naturalized that day.
After its initial showcase period, Magna Carta left the National Archives for a year-long tour of the United States, visiting a number of venues including Old City Hall in Philadelphia for the Constitution’s bicentennial celebration in 1987. At the conclusion of the tour, Magna Carta came back to the National Archives.
For the next 20 years, Magna Carta was on exhibit in the West Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building. In 2007, the Perot Foundation put Magna Carta up for auction, with proceeds funding veterans’ medical research. David M. Rubenstein purchased it and also agreed to loan Magna Carta to the National Archives—it’s currently on display in the “Records of Rights” exhibit in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery.
This year the National Archives continues its Constitution Day tradition by holding a naturalization ceremony in the Rotunda. Learn more about the National Archives and Constitution Day by visiting National Archives News.