Magna Carta sold for $21.3M to U.S. businessman

A Washington businessman paid $21.3 million US on Tuesday for a rare 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta.

A Washington, D.C., businessman paid $21.3 million US on Tuesday for a rare 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta at a Sotheby's auction in New York.

David Rubenstein, a lawyer and founder of private investment firm The Carlyle Group, said he was determined to see the document remain in the U.S.

The Magna Carta, one of 17 copies known to exist and the only one in private hands, was sold by the Perot Foundation, which had displayedit at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington since 1988.

"It's a good day for our country," said Rubenstein after buying the document. "I was determined to do what I could to see that the National Archives can continue to display this."

The Magna Carta is the first document to limit the monarchy and enshrine the rights of the people, and is considered a foundation of modern democracy.

The first Magna Carta, or Great Charter, was signed by King John in England in 1215. A group of rebellious barons forced him to sign the document, in which he agreed to renounce certain rights and accept that the king's will could be bound by the law.

The Magna Carta was ratified and reissued by each monarch who succeeded John in the 13th century. The copy on auction Tuesday in New York was a 1297 version signed by King Edward I.

Former presidential candidate Ross Perot paid $1.5 million US for the document in 1984 and Sotheby's had estimated an auction price of up to $30 million US.

It is the only copy of the Magna Carta in the U.S.

Rubenstein, whose Washington office is steps away from the National Archives, said he would consult with the archives about a tour to display it.

"I am really just a temporary custodian of it," he said, adding that he would like the document to be seen by as many people as possible.

The U.S. Constitution includes ideas and phrases taken almost directly from the charter.

With files from the Associated Press