The petition of 11 September 1648

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The petition of 11 September 1648

To the right honourable, the Commons of England in parliament assembled. The humble petition of divers well-affected persons inhabiting the City of London, Westminster, the Borough of Southwark, Hamlets and places adjacent With the Parliament's Answer thereunto[1]

Shows,

That although we are as earnestly desirous of a safe and well-grounded peace and that a final end were put to all the troubles and miseries of the commonwealth as any sort of men whatsoever, yet, considering upon what grounds we engaged on your part in the late and present wars and how far by our so doing we apprehend ourselves concerned, give us leave before you conclude (as by the treaty in hand)[2] to acquaint you: first with the ground and reason which induced us to aid you against the king and his adherents; secondly what our apprehensions are of this treaty; thirdly, what we expected from you and still do most earnestly desire.

Be pleased therefore to understand that we had not engaged on your part but that we judged this honourable House to be the supreme authority of England, as chosen by and representing the people and entrusted with absolute power for redress of grievances and provision for safety, and that the king was but at the most the chief public officer of this kingdom and accountable to this House, the representative of the people, from whom all just authority is or ought to be derived for the discharge of his office. And if we had not been confident hereof, we had been desperately mad to have taken up arms or to have been aiding assisting in maintaining a war against him — the laws of the land making it expressly a crime no less than treason for any to raise war against the king.

But when we considered the manifold oppressions brought upon the nation by the king, his Lords and bishops, and that this honourable House declared their deep sense thereof, and that — for the continuance of that power which had so oppressed us — it was evident the king intended to raise forces and make war, and that if he did set up his standard it tended to the dissolution of the government: upon this, knowing the safety of the people to be above law and that to adjudge thereof appertained to the supreme authority and not to the supreme magistrate, and being satisfied in our consciences that the public safety and freedom was in imminent danger, we concluded we had not only a just cause to maintain, but the supreme authority of the nation to justify, defend and indemnify us in time to come in what we should perform by direction thereof — though against the known law of the land, or any inferior authority, though the highest.

And as this our understanding was begotten in us by principles of right reason, so were we confirmed therein by your own proceedings: as by your condemning those judges who in the case of ship-money had declared the king to be judge of safety;[3] and by your denying him to have a negative voice in the making of law, where you wholly exclude the king from having any share in the supreme authority;[4] then by your casting the bishops out of the House of Lords, who by tradition also had been accounted an essential part of the supreme authority;[5] and by your declaring to the Lords that if they would not join with you in settling the militia (which they long refused) you would settle it without them — which you could not justly have done and they had[6] any real share in the supreme authority.

These things we took for real demonstrations that you undoubtedly knew yourselves to be the supreme authority — ever weighing down in us all other your indulgent expressions concerning the king or Lords — it being indeed impossible for us to believe that it can consist either with the safety or the freedom of the nation to be governed either by three, or two, supremes, especially where experience has proved them so apt to differ in their judgements concerning freedom or safety that the one has been known to punish what the other has judged worthy of reward, when not only the freedom of the people is directly opposite to the prerogatives of king and Lords, but the open enemies of the one have been declared friends by the other (as the Scots were by the House of Lords).[7]

And whenas most of the oppressions of the commonwealth have in all times been brought upon the people by the king and Lords, who nevertheless would be so equal in the supreme authority as that there should be no redress of grievances, no provision of safety, but at their pleasure: for our parts, we profess ourselves so far from judging this to be consistent with freedom and safety, that we know no great cause wherefor we assisted you in the late wars but in hope to be delivered by you from so intolerable, so destructive a bondage, so soon as you should through God's blessing upon the armies raised by you be enabled. But to our exceeding grief we have observed that no sooner God vouchsafed you victory and blessed you with success, and thereby enabled you to put us and the whole nation into an absolute condition of freedom and safety, but, according as ye have been accustomed — passing by the ruin of the nation and all that blood that has been spilt by the king and his party — ye betake yourselves to a treaty with him, thereby putting him that is but one single person and a public officer of the commonwealth in competition with the whole body of the people whom ye represent, not considering that it is impossible for you to erect any authority equal to yourselves, and declared to all the world that you will not alter the ancient government from that of king, Lords and Commons — not once mentioning (in case of difference) which of them is supreme, but leaving that point (which was the chiefest cause of all our public differences, disturbances, wars and miseries) as uncertain as ever.

Insomuch as we who upon these grounds have laid out ourselves every way to the uttermost of our abilities — and all others throughout the land, soldiers and others who have done the like in defence of our supreme authority and in opposition to the king — cannot but deem ourselves in the most dangerous condition of all others: left without all plea of indemnity for what we have done, as already many have found by the loss of their lives and liberties either for things done or said against the king, the law of the land frequently taking place and precedency against and before your authority, which we esteemed supreme, and against which no law ought to be pleaded. Nor can we possibly conceive how any that in any ways assisted you can be exempt from the guilt of murders and robbers by the present laws in force if you persist to disclaim the supreme authority, though their own consciences do acquit them as having opposed none but manifest tyrants, oppressors and their adherents.

And whereas a personal treaty, or any treaty with the king has been long time held forth as the only means of a safe and well-grounded peace, it is well known to have been cried up principally by such as have been disaffected unto you. And though you have contradicted it, yet it is believed that you much fear the issue — as you have cause sufficient except you see greater alteration in the king and his party than is generally observed, there having never yet been any treaty with him but was accompanied with some underhand dealing, and whilst the present force upon him (though seeming liberty)[8] will in time to come be certainly pleaded against all that shall or can be agreed upon. Nay, what can you confide in[9] if you consider how he has been provoked, and what former kings have done — after oaths, laws, charters, bonds, excommunications and all ties of reconciliations — to the destruction of all those that had provoked and opposed them; yea when yourselves so soon as he had signed those bills in the beginning of this parliament saw cause to tell him 'That even about the time of passing those bills, some design or other was one fact which if it had taken effect would not only have rendered those bills fruitless but have reduced you to a worse condition of confusion than that wherein the parliament found you.'[10]

And if you consider what news wars, risings, revolting invasions and plottings have been since this last cry for a personal treaty, you will not blame us if we wonder at your hasty proceedings thereunto, especially considering the wonderful victories which God has blessed the Army withal. We profess we cannot choose but stand amazed to consider the inevitable danger we shall be in, though all things in the propositions were agreed unto: the resolutions of the king and his party have been perpetually, violently and implacably prosecuted and manifested against us, and that with such scorn and indignation that it must be more than ordinary bonds that must hold them. And it is no less a wonder to us that you can place your own security therein or that you can ever imagine to see a free parliament any more in England.

The truth is — and we see we must now speak it or for ever be silent — we have long expected things of another nature from you, and such as we are confident would have given satisfaction to all serious people of all parties.

1. That you would have made good the supremacy[11] of the people in this honourable House from all pretences of negative voices either in king or Lords.

2. That you would have made laws for election of Representatives yearly and of course without writ or summons.

3. That you would have set express times for their meeting, continuance and dissolution — as not to exceed 40 or 50 days at the most, and to have a fixed, expressed, time for the ending of this present parliament.

4. That you would have exempted matters of religion and God's worship from the compulsive or restrictive power of any authority upon earth, and reserved to the supreme authority an uncompulsive power only of appointing a way for the public — whereby abundance of misery, prosecution and heart-burning would for ever be avoided.

5. That you would have disclaimed in yourselves and all future Representatives a power of pressing and forcing any sort of men to serve in wars, there being nothing more opposite to freedom, nor more unreasonable in an authority empowered for raising monies in all occasions, for which (and a just cause) assistants need not be doubted — the other way serving rather to maintain injustice and corrupt parties.

6. That you would have made both kings, queens, princes, dukes, earls, lords and all persons alike liable to every law of the land, made or to be made; that so all persons, even the highest, might fear and stand in awe, and neither violate the public peace nor private right of person and estate — as has been frequent — without being liable to account as other men.

7. That you would have freed all commoners from the jurisdiction of the Lords in all cases; and have taken care that all trials should be only of twelve sworn men, and no conviction but upon two or more sufficient, known, witnesses.

8. That you would have freed all men from being examined against themselves, and from being questioned or punished for doing of that against which no law has been provided.

9. That you would have abbreviated the proceedings in law, mitigated and made certain the charge of all particulars.

10. That you would have freed all trade and merchandising from all monopolising and engrossing by Companies or otherwise.

11. That you would have abolished excise and all kinds of taxes except subsidies, the old and only just way of England.

12. That you would have laid open all late enclosures of fens and other commons, or have enclosed them only or chiefly for the benefit of the poor.[12]

13. That you would have considered the many thousands that are ruined by perpetual imprisonment for debt, and provided to their enlargement.

14. That you would have ordered some effectual course to keep people from begging and beggary in so fruitful a nation as through God's blessing this is.

15. That you would have proportioned punishments more equal to offences that so men's lives and estates might not be forfeited upon trivial and slight occasions.

16. That you would have removed the tedious burden of tithes, satisfying all impropriators and providing a more equal way of maintenance for the public ministers.[13]

17. That you would have raised a stock of money out of those many confiscated estates you have had for payment of those who contributed voluntarily above their abilities before you provided for those that disbursed out of their superfluities.

18. That you would have bound yourselves and all future parliaments from abolishing propriety, levelling men's estates or making all things common.[14]

19. That you would have declared what the duty or business of the kingly office is, and what not, and ascertained the revenue past increase or diminution, that so there might never be more quarrels about the same.

20. That you would have rectified the election of public officers for the City of London[15] and of every particular Company therein, restoring the commonalty their just rights most unjustly withheld from them, to the producing and maintaining of corrupt interest opposite to common freedom and exceedingly prejudicial to the trade and manufactures of this nation.

21. That you would have made full and ample reparations to all persons that had been oppressed by sentences in High Commission, Star Chamber and Council Board, or by any kind of monopolisers or projectors — and that out of the estates of those that were authors, actors or promoters of so intolerable mischiefs (and that without much attendance).[16]

22. That you would have abolished all committees and have conveyed all business into the true method of the usual trials of the commonwealth.

23. That you would not have followed the example of former tyrannous and superstitious parliaments in making orders, ordinances or laws, or in appointing punishments concerning opinions or things supernatural, styling some 'blasphemies', others 'heresies', whenas you know yourselves easily mistaken and that divine truths need no human helps to support them — such proceedings having been generally invented to divide the people amongst themselves and to affright men from that liberty of discourse by which corruption and tyranny would soon be discovered.

24. That you would have declared what the business of the Lords is, and ascertain their condition, not derogating[17] them the liberties of other men, that so there might be an end of striving about the same.

25. That you would have done justice upon the capital authors and promoters of the former or late wars, many of them being under your power, considering that mercy to the wicked is cruelty to the innocent and that all your lenity doth but make them all the more insolent and presumptuous.

26. That you would have provided constant pay for the Army now under the command of the Lord General Fairfax, and given rules to all judges and all other public officers throughout the land for their indemnity and for saving harmless all that have any ways assisted you, or that have said or done anything against the king, queen, or any of his party since the beginning of this parliament — without which, any of his party are in a better condition than those who have served you, nothing being more frequent with them than their reviling of you and your friends.

The things and worthy acts which have been done and achieved by this army and their adherents — however ungratefully suffered to be scandalised as sectaries and men of corrupt judgements — in defence of the just authority of this honourable House and of the common liberties of the nation and in opposition to all kind of tyranny and oppression, being so far from meriting an odious Act of Oblivion[18] that they rather deserve a most honourable Act of Perpetual Remembrance to be a pattern of public virtue, fidelity and resolution to all posterity.

27. That you would have laid to heart all the abundance of innocent blood that has been spilt and the infinite spoil and havoc that has been made of peaceable, harmless people by the express commissions of the king, and seriously to have considered whether the justice of God be likely to be satisfied or his yet-continuing wrath appeased by an Act of Oblivion.

These and the like we have a long time hoped you would have minded, and have made such an establishment for the general peace and contentful satisfaction of all sorts of people as should have been the happiness of all future generations, and which we most earnestly desire you would set yourselves speedily to effect, whereby the almost dying honour of this most honourable House would be again revived and the hearts of your petitioners and all other well-affected people be afresh renewed unto you. The freedom of this nation (now in perpetual hazard) would be firmly established, for which you would once more be so strengthened with the love of the people that you should not need to cast your eyes any other ways (under God) for your security. But if all this avails nothing, God be our guide — for men show us not a way for our preservation.

The House received this petition, and returned answer thereunto which was to this effect, viz. that the House gave them thanks for their great pains and care to the public good of the kingdom, and would speedily take their humble desires into their serious consideration.[19]


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