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England's new chains discovered
[John Lilburne, 26 February 1649]

England's new chains discovered: or the serious apprehensions of a part of the people in behalf of the commonwealth; (being presenters, promoters and approvers of the Large Petition of 11 September 1648)

Presented to the supreme authority of England, the representers of the people in parliament assembled, by Lieutenant-Colonel John Lilburne and divers other citizens of London and borough of Southwark, 26 February 1649[1]

Whereunto his speech delivered at the bar is annexed

Since you have done the nation so much right and yourselves so much honour as to declare that 'the people (under God) are the original of all just powers',[2] and given us thereby fair grounds to hope that you really intend their freedom and prosperity; yet the way thereunto being frequently mistaken, and through haste or error of judgement, those who mean the best are many times misled so far to the prejudice of those that trust them as to leave them in a condition nearest to bondage when they have thought they had brought them into a way of freedom. And since woeful experience has manifested this to be a truth, there seems no small reason that you should seriously lay to heart what at present we have to offer for discovery and prevention of so great a danger. And because we have been the first movers in and concerning an Agreement of the People as the most proper and just means for the setting the long and tedious distractions of this nation occasioned by nothing more than the uncertainty of our government, and since there has been an Agreement prepared and presented by some officers of the Army to this honourable House,[3] as what they thought requisite to be agreed unto by the people (you approving thereof) we shall in the first place deliver our apprehensions thereupon.

That an agreement between those that trust and those who are trusted has appeared a thing acceptable to this honourable House, his excellency, and the officers of the Army, is much to our rejoicing, as we conceive it just in itself and profitable for the commonwealth, and cannot doubt but that you will protect those of the people who have no ways forfeited their birth-right in their proper liberty of taking this or any other agreement as God and their own considerations shall direct them.

Which we the rather mention, for that many particulars in the Agreement before you, are upon serious examination thereof dissatisfactory to most of those who are very earnestly desirous of an agreement; and many very material things seem to be wanting therein, which may be supplied in another. As:

1. They are now much troubled there should be any intervals between the ending of this Representative and the beginning of the next, as being desirous that this present parliament — that has lately done so great things in so short a time tending to their liberties — should sit until with certainty and safety they can see them delivered into the hands of another Representative, rather than to leave them (though never so small a time) under the dominion of a Council of State:[4] a constitution of a new and inexperienced nature, and which they fear as the case now stands may design to perpetuate their power and to keep off parliaments for ever.

2. They now conceive no less danger in that it is provided that parliaments for the future are to continue but six months, and a Council of State, eighteen. In which time, if they should prove corrupt, having command of all forces by sea and land, they will have great opportunities to make themselves absolute and unaccountable. And because this is a danger than which there cannot well be a greater, they generally incline to annual parliaments, bounded and limited as reason shall devise; not dissolvable, but to be continued or adjourned as shall seem good in their discretion during that year, but no longer, and then to dissolve of course and give way to those who shall be chosen immediately to succeed them; and in the intervals of their adjournments, to entrust an ordinary committee of their own members, as in other cases limited and bounded with express instructions and accountable to the next session: which will avoid all those dangers feared from a Council of State as at present this is constituted.

3. They are not satisfied with the clause wherein it is said that the power of the representatives shall extend to the erecting and abolishing of courts of justice, since the alteration of the usual way of trials by twelve sworn men of the neighbourhood may be included therein — a constitution so equal and just in itself as that they conceive it ought to remain unalterable. Neither is it clear what is meant by these words, viz. 'that the representatives have the highest final judgement', they conceiving that their authority in these cases is only to make laws, rules, and directions for other courts and persons assigned by law for the execution thereof; unto which every member of the commonwealth — as well those of the Representative as others — should be alike subject; it being likewise unreasonable in itself, and an occasion of much partiality, injustice and vexation to the people that the law-makers should be law-executors.[5]

4. Although it doth provide 'that in the laws hereafter to be made, no person by virtue of any tenure, grant, charter, patent, degree, or birth, shall be privileged from subjection thereunto, or from being bound thereby, as well as others', yet doth it not null and make void those present protections by law, or otherwise; nor leave all persons — as well lords as others — alike liable in person and estate, as in reason and conscience they ought to be.

5. They are very much unsatisfied with what is expressed as a reserve from the Representative in matters of religion, as being very obscure and full of perplexity, that ought to be most plain and clear — there having occurred no greater trouble to the nation about any thing than by the intermeddling of parliaments in matters of religion.[6]

6. They seem to conceive it absolutely necessary that there be in their Agreement a reserve from ever having any kingly government, and a bar against restoring the House of Lords, both which are wanting in the agreement which is before you.

7. They seem to be resolved to take away all known and burdensome grievances, as tithes[7] (that great oppression of the country's industry and hindrance of tillage), excise and customs (those secret thieves and robbers, drainers of the poor and middle sort of people, and the greatest obstructers of trade, surmounting all the prejudices of ship-money, patents and projects before this parliament); also to take away all monopolising companies of merchants (the hinderers and decayers of clothing and cloth-working, dyeing, and the like useful professions) by which thousands of poor people might be set at work that are now ready to starve, were merchandising restored to its due and proper freedom. They conceive likewise that the three grievances before mentioned, viz. monopolising companies, excise and customs, do exceedingly prejudice shipping and navigation and consequently discourage sea-men and mariners, and which have had no small influence upon the late unhappy revolts[8] which have so much endangered the nation and so much advantaged your enemies. They also incline to direct a more equal and less burdensome way for levying monies for the future — those other forementioned being so chargeable in the receipt as that the very stipends and allowance to the officers attending thereupon would defray a very great part of the charge of the Army, whereas now they engender and support a corrupt interest. They also have in mind to take away all imprisonment of disabled men for debt and to provide some effectual course to enforce all that are able to a speedy payment, and not suffer them to be sheltered in prisons where they live in plenty whilst their creditors are undone. They have also in mind to provide work and comfortable maintenance for all sorts of poor, aged and impotent people, and to establish some more speedy, less troublesome and chargeable way for deciding of controversies in law (whole families having been ruined by seeking right in the ways yet in being): all which, though of greatest and most immediate concernment to the people, are yet omitted in their agreement before you.

These and the like are their intentions in what they purpose for an Agreement of the People, as being resolved (so far as they are able) to lay an impossibility upon all whom they shall hereafter trust of ever wronging the commonwealth in any considerable measure without certainty of ruining themselves, and as conceiving it to be an improper, tedious, and unprofitable thing for the people to be ever running after their representatives with petitions for redress of such grievances as may at once be removed by themselves, or to depend for these things so essential to their happiness and freedom upon the uncertain judgements of several[9] Representatives, the one being apt to renew what the other has taken away.

And as to the use of their rights and liberties herein — as becomes and is due to the people from whom all just powers are derived — they hoped for and expect what protection is in you and the Army to afford. And we likewise in their and our own behalves do earnestly desire that you will publicly declare your resolution to protect those who have not forfeited their liberties[10] in the use thereof — lest they should conceive that the Agreement before you, being published abroad and the commissioners therein nominated being at work in pursuance thereof,[11] is intended to be imposed upon them: which, as it is absolutely contrary to the nature of a free agreement, so we are persuaded it cannot enter into your thoughts to use any impulsion therein.

But although we have presented our apprehensions and desires concerning this great work of an agreement and are apt to persuade ourselves that nothing shall be able to frustrate our hopes which we have built thereupon, yet have we seen and heard many things of late which occasion not only apprehensions of other matters intended to be brought upon us of danger to such an agreement but of bondage and ruin to all such as shall pursue it.

Insomuch that we are even aghast and astonished to see that notwithstanding the productions of the highest notions of freedom that ever this nation — or any people in the world — have brought to light, notwithstanding the vast expense of blood and treasure that has been made to purchase those freedoms, notwithstanding the many eminent and even miraculous victories God has been pleased to honour our just cause withal, notwithstanding the extraordinary gripes and pangs this House has suffered more than once at the hands of your own servants, and that at least seemingly for the obtaining these our native liberties.

When we consider what rackings and tortures the people in general have suffered through decay of trade and dearness of food, and very many families in particular (through free-quarter, violence, and other miseries incident to war) having nothing to support them therein but hopes of freedom and a well-settled commonwealth in the end: that yet after all these things have been done and suffered, and whilst the way of an agreement of the people is owned and approved — even by yourselves — and that all men are in expectation of being put into possession of so dear a purchase, behold, in the close of all, we hear and see what gives us fresh and pregnant cause to believe that the contrary is really intended and that all those specious pretences and high notions of liberty, with those extraordinary courses that have of late been taken (as if of necessity for liberty, and which indeed can never be justified but deserve the greatest punishments unless they end in just liberty and an equal government) appear to us to have been done and directed by some secret, powerful influences, the more securely and unsuspectedly to attain an absolute domination over the commonwealth — it being impossible for them, but by assuming our generally approved principles and hiding under the fair show thereof their other designs, to have drawn in so many good and godly men (really aiming at what the other had but in show and pretence) and making them unwittingly instrumental to their own and their country's bondage.

For where is that good, or where is that liberty so much pretended, so dearly purchased, if we look upon what this House has done since it has voted itself the supreme authority and disburdened themselves of the power of the Lords?[12]

First, we find a High Court of Justice erected for trial of criminal causes, whereby that great stronghold of our preservation — the way of trial by twelve sworn men of the neighbourhood — is infringed. All liberty of exception against the triers is over-ruled by a court consisting of persons picked and chosen in an unusual way: the practice whereof we cannot allow of, though against open and notorious enemies,[13] as well because we know it to be an usual policy to introduce by such means all usurpations, first against adversaries, in hope of easier admission; as also, for that the same being so admitted, may at pleasure be exercised against any person or persons whatsoever. This is the first part of our new liberty.

The next is the censuring of a member of this House for declaring his judgement in a point of religion,[14] which is directly opposite to the reserve in the Agreement concerning religion. Besides the Act for pressing of seamen,[15] directly contrary to the Agreement of the officers. Then the stopping of our mouths from printing is carefully provided for, and the most severe and unreasonable ordinances of parliament that were made in the time of Holles and Stapleton's reign to gag us from speaking truth and discovering the tyrannies of bad men are referred to the care of the General, and by him to his Marshal, to be put in execution in searching, fining, imprisoning, and other ways corporally punishing all that any ways be guilty of unlicensed printing:[16] as they dealing with us as the bishops of old did with the honest Puritan, who were exact in getting laws made against the papist, but really intended them against the Puritan — and made them feel the smart of them — which also has been, and is daily exercised most violently, whereby our liberties have been more deeply wounded than since the beginning of this parliament — and that to the dislike of the soldiery, as by their late petition in that behalf plainly appears.[17] Then whereas it was expected that the Chancery, and courts of justice in Westminster, and the judges and officers thereof, should have been surveyed, and for the present regulated till a better and more equal way of deciding controversies could have been constituted, that the trouble and charge of the people in their suits should have been abated: instead hereof, the old and advanced fees are continued, and new thousand pounds' annual stipends allotted (when in the corruptest times the ordinary fees were thought a great and a sore burden). In the meantime, and in lieu thereof, there is not one perplexity or absurdity in proceedings taken away.

Those petitioners that have moved in behalf of the people, how have they been entertained? Sometimes with the compliment of empty thanks — their desires in the meantime not at all considered. At other times meeting with reproaches and threats for their constancy and public affections, and with violent motions that their petitions be burnt by the common hangman, whilst others are not taken in at all: to so small an account are the people brought, even while they are flattered with notions of being the 'original of all just power'.

And lastly, for completing this new kind of liberty, a Council of State is hastily erected for guardians thereof, who to that end are possessed with power to order and dispose all the forces appertaining to England by sea or land, to dispose of the public treasure, to command any person whatsoever before them, to give oath for the discovering of truth, to imprison any that shall disobey their commands, and such as they shall judge contumacious.[18] What now is become of that liberty 'that no man's person shall be attached or imprisoned, or otherwise disseised of his freehold, or free customs, but by lawful judgement of his equals'?

We entreat you give us leave to lay these things open to your view and judge impartially of our present condition — and of your own also, that by strong and powerful influences of some persons, are put upon these and the like proceedings, which both you and we ere long (if we look not to it) shall be enforced to subject ourselves unto.

Then we have further cause to complain when we consider the persons.[19]

As first: the chief of the Army — directly contrary to what themselves thought meet in their Agreement for the people.[20] Secondly, judges of the law and treasurers for monies.[21] Then five that were members of the Lords' House — and most of them such as have refused to approve of your votes and proceedings, concerning the king and lords[22] — two of them judges in the Star Chamber, and approvers of the bloody and tyrannical sentences issuing from thence.[23] Some of your own House, forward men in the treaty, and decliners of your last proceedings.[24] All which do clearly manifest to our understandings that the secret contrivers of those things do think themselves now so surely guarded by the strength of an army, in their daily acts and stratagems to their ends inclined, and the captivation of this House, that they may now take off the veil and cloak of their designs as dreadless of whatever can be done against them.

By this Council of State, all power is got into their own hands — a project which has been long and industriously laboured for, and which being once firmly and to their liking established, their next motions may be (upon pretence of ease to the people) for the dissolution of this parliament, half of whose time is already swallowed up by the said Council now — because no obstacle lies in their way to the full establishment of these their ends but the uncorrupted part of the soldiery that have their eyes fixed upon their engagements and promises of good to the people and resolve by no threats or allurements to decline the same, together with that part of the people in the city and countries[25] that remain constant in their motions for common good and still persist to run their utmost hazards for procurement of the same — by whom all evil men's designs both have, and are still likely to, find a check and discovery.

Hereupon the grand contrivers forementioned (whom we can particular by name) do begin to raise their spleen and manifest a more violent enmity against soldiers and people, disposed as aforesaid, than ever heretofore — as appears by what lately passed at a meeting of officers on 22 February last at Whitehall, where, after expressions of much bitterness against the most conscientious part of the soldiery and others, it was insisted upon (as we are from very credible hands certainly informed) that a motion should be made to this House for the procurement of a law enabling them to put to death all such as they should judge by petitions or otherwise to disturb the present proceedings. And upon urging that the civil magistrate should do it, it was answered, that 'they could hang twenty ere the magistrate one'. It was likewise urged that orders might be given to seize upon the petitioners, soldiers, or others at their meetings — with much exclamation against some of greatest integrity to your just authority, whereof they have given continual and undeniable assurances. A proclamation was likewise appointed, forbidding the soldiers to petition you, or any but their officers, and prohibiting their correspondences; and private orders to be given out for seizing upon citizens and soldiers at their meetings.[26]

And thus after these fair blossoms of hopeful liberty breaks forth this bitter fruit of the vilest and basest bondage that ever Englishmen groaned under, whereby this, notwithstanding, is gained viz. an evident and (we hope) a timely discovery of the instruments from whence all the evils, contrivances, and designs (which for above these eighteen months have been strongly suspected) took their rise and original — even ever since the first breach of their promises and engagements made at Newmarket and Triploe Heath with the agitators and people. It being for these ends that they have so violently opposed all such as manifested any zeal for common right or any regard to the faith of the Army: sentencing some to death, others to reproachful punishments,[27] placing and displacing officers according as they showed themselves serviceable or opposite to their designs, enlisting as many as they thought good — even of such as have served in arms against you. And then again, upon pretence of easing the charge of the people, disbanding supernumeraries, by advantage thereof picking out such as were most cordial and active for common good, thereby moulding the Army as far as they could to their own bent and ends premised; exercising martial law with much cruelty, thereby to debase their spirits and make them subservient to their wills and pleasures; extending likewise their power (in many cases) over persons not members of the Army.

And when, in case of opposition and difficult services, they have by their creatures desired a reconciliation with such as at other times they reproached, vilified, and otherwise abased, and through fair promises of good (and dissembled repentance) gained their association and assistance to the great advantage of their proceedings, yet — their necessities being over and the common enemy subdued — they have slighted their former promises and renewed their hate and bitterness against such their assistances, reproaching them with such appellations as they knew did most distaste the people, such as 'Levellers', 'Jesuits', 'anarchists', 'royalists' — names both contradictory in themselves and altogether groundless in relation to the men so reputed; merely relying for belief[28] thereof upon the easiness and credulity of the people. And though — the better to insinuate themselves and get repute with the people, as also to conquer their necessities — they have been fain to make use of those very principles and productions the men they have so much traduced have brought to light, yet the producers themselves they have and do still more eagerly malign than ever, as such whom they know to be acquainted to their deceits and deviations and best able to discover the same.

So that now at length, guessing all to be sure and their own — the king being removed, the House of Lords nulled, their long-plotted Council of State erected and this House awed to their ends — the edge of their malice is turning against such as have yet so much courage left them as to appear for the well establishment of England's liberties. And because God has preserved a great part of the Army untainted with the guilt of the designs aforementioned, who cannot without much danger to the designers themselves be suppressed, they have resolved to put this House upon raising more new forces (notwithstanding the present necessities of the people in maintaining those that are already); in doing whereof, though the pretence be danger and opposition, yet the concealed end is like to be the over-balancing those in the Army who are resolved to stand for true freedom as the end of all their labours, the which (if they should be permitted to do) they would not then doubt of making themselves absolute seizures,[29] lords and masters, both of parliament and people; which, when they have done, we expect the utmost of misery. Nor shall it grieve us to expire with the liberties of our native country. For what good man can with any comfort to himself survive then?

But God has hitherto preserved us; and the justice of our desires, as integrity of our intentions, are daily more and more manifest to the impartial and unprejudiced part of men; insomuch that it is no small comfort to us that — notwithstanding we are upon all these disadvantages that may be, having neither power nor pre-eminence (the common idols of the world) — our cause and principles do through their own natural truth and lustre get ground in men's understandings; so that where there was one, twelve months since, that owned our principles, we believe there are now hundreds: so that though we fail, our truths prosper.

And posterity we doubt not shall reap the benefit of our endeavours whatever shall become of us. However, though we have neither strength nor safety before us, we have discharged our consciences and emptied our breasts unto you, knowing well that if you will make use of your power and take unto you that courage which becomes men of your trust and condition, you may yet through the goodness of God prevent the danger and mischief intended and be instrumental in restoring this long-enthralled and betrayed nation into a good and happy condition. For which end we most earnestly desire and propose, as the main prop and support of the work:

1. That you will not dissolve this House nor suffer yourselves to be dissolved until as aforesaid you see a new Representative the next day ready to take your room; which you may confidently and safely insist upon, there being no considerable number in the Army or elsewhere that will be so unworthy as to dare to disturb you therein.

2. That you will put in practice the Self-denying Ordinance — the most just and useful that ever was made, and continually cried out for by the people — whereby a great infamy that lies upon your cause will be removed, and men of powerful influences and dangerous designs, deprived of those means and opportunities which now they have to prejudice the public.[30]

3. That you will consider how dangerous it is for one and the same persons to be continued long in the highest commands of a military power, especially acting so long distinct and of themselves as those now in being have done, and in such extraordinary ways whereunto they have accustomed themselves — which was the original of most regalities and tyrannies in the world.

4. That you appoint a committee of such of your own members as have been longest established upon those rules of freedom upon which you now proceed to hear, examine, and conclude all controversies between officers and officers, and between officers and soldiers, to consider and mitigate the law-martial, and to provide that it be not exercised at all upon persons not of the Army; also to release and repair such as have thereby unduly suffered, as they shall see cause; to consider the condition of the private soldiers, both horse and foot, in these dear times, and to allow them such increase of pay as wherewithal they may live comfortably, and honestly discharge their quarters.[31]

That all disbanding be referred to the said committee, and that such of the Army as have served the king may be first disbanded.

5. That you will open the press, whereby all treacherous and tyrannical designs may be the easier discovered and so prevented, which is a liberty of greatest concernment to the commonwealth, and which such only as intend a tyranny are engaged to prohibit: the mouths of adversaries being best stopped by the sensible good which the people receive from the actions of such as are in authority.

6. That you will (whilst you have opportunity) abate the charge of the law, and reduce the stipends of judges and all other magistrates and officers in the commonwealth to a less, but competent, allowance, converting the over-plus to the public treasury, whereby the taxes of the people may be much eased.

7. But above all that you will dissolve this present Council of State, which upon the grounds fore-mentioned so much threatens tyranny, and manage your affairs by committees of short continuance and such as may be frequently and exactly accountable for the discharge of their trusts.

8. That you will publish a strict prohibition and severe penalty against all such — whether committees, magistrates, or officers of what kind soever — as shall exceed the limits of their commission, rules, or directions; and encourage all men in their informations and complaints against them.

9. That you will speedily satisfy the expectations of the soldiers in point of arrears, and of the people in point of accounts, in such a manner as that it may not (as formerly) prove a snare to such as have been most faithful, and a protection to the most corrupt in the discharge of their trust and duties.

10. That the so-many-times complained of Ordinance for Tithes upon treble damages[32] may be forthwith taken away.

All which, together with due regard showed to petitioners — without respect to their number and strength — would so fasten you in the affections of the people and of the honest officers and soldiers, as that you should not need to fear any opposite power whatsoever, and for the time to come of yourselves enjoy the exercise of your supreme authority whereof you have yet but the name only, and be enabled to vindicate your just undertakings: wherein we should not only rejoice to have occasion to manifest how ready we should be to hazard our lives in your behalf, but should also bend all our studies and endeavours to render you honourable to all future generations. 26 February 1649[33]

Being ushered in by the Sergeant-at-Arms, and called to the bar, with all due respects given unto the House, Lieutenant-Colonel John Lil-burne, with divers others coming to the bar next the Mace, with the address in his hand, spoke these words — or to this effect — as follows:

Mr Speaker,

I am very glad that without any inconvenience unto myself and those that are with me, I may freely and cheerfully address myself to this honourable House as the supreme authority of England. Time was when I could not. And it much refreshes my spirit to live to see this day that you have made such a step to the people's liberties as to own and declare yourselves to be (as indeed you are) the supreme authority of this nation.

Mr Speaker, I am desired by a company of honest men living in and about London, who in truth do rightly appropriate to themselves the title of the contrivers, promoters, presenters, and approvers of the late Large London Petition of 11 September last — which was the first petition I know of in England that was presented to this honourable House against the late destructive personal treaty with the late king — to present you with their serious apprehensions. And give me leave (I beseech you) for myself and them to say thus much: that for the most part of us, we are those that in the worst of times durst own our liberties and freedoms in the face of the greatest of our adversaries, and from the beginning of these wars never shrunk from the owning of our freedoms in the most tempestuous times, nor changed our principles. Nay sir, let me with truth tell you that to the most of us, our wives, our children, our estates, our relations, nay our lives, and all that upon earth we can call ours, have not been so highly valued by us as our liberties and freedoms; which our constant actions (to the apparent hazard of our blood and lives) have been a clear and full demonstration of for these many years together.

And Mr Speaker, give me leave to tell you that I am confident our liberties and freedoms (the true and just end of all the late wars) are so dear and precious to us that we had rather our lives should breath out with them than to live one moment after the expiration of them.

Mr Speaker, I must confess I am to present you with a paper, something of a new kind. For we have had no longer time to consider of it than from Thursday last; and warrants (as we are informed) issuing out against us to take us — from those that have no power over us — we durst not well go our ordinary way to work to get subscriptions to it, lest we should be surprised before we could present it to this honourable House, and so be frustrated in that benefit or relief that we justly expect from you; and to present it with a few hands, we judged inconsiderable in your estimation, and therefore choose in the third place (being in so much haste as we were to prevent our eminent and too apparent ruin) in person to bring it to your bar, and avowedly to present it here. And therefore without any further question, give me leave to tell you I own it, and I know so doth all the rest of my friends present; and if any hazard should ensue thereby, give me leave resolvedly to tell you I am sorry I have but one life to lose in maintaining the truth, justice, and righteousness of so gallant a piece.

Mr Speaker, we own this honourable House as of right, the true, guardian of our liberties and freedoms; and we wish and most heartily desire you would rouse up your spirits (like men of gallantry) and now at last take unto yourselves a magnanimous resolution to acquit yourselves without fear or dread like the chosen and betrusted trustees of the people, from whom (as yourselves acknowledge and declare) all just power is derived, to free us from all bondage and slavery and really and truly invest us into the price of all our blood, hazards, and toils: our liberties and freedoms, the true difference and distinction of men from beasts.

Mr Speaker, though my spirit is full in the sad apprehension of the dying condition of our liberties and freedoms, yet at present I shall say no more, but in the behalf of myself and my friends I shall earnestly entreat you to read these our serious apprehensions seriously and debate them deliberately.

Friends,

This we have adventured to publish for the timely information and benefit of all that adhere unto the common interest of the people, hoping that with such, upon due consideration, it will find as large an acceptance as our late petition of 11 September 1648. And we thought good (in regard we were not called in to receive an answer to the same) to acquaint you that we intend to second it with a petition sufficiently subscribed — we doubt not with many thousands — earnestly to solicit for an effectual answer.

FINIS


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