The Levellers were a group of English reformers mainly active during the
period from 1645 through 1649, who originated many of the ideas that eventually
became provisions of the U.S. Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights.
Inspired by the Petition of Right of 1628, and led by John Lilburne,
beginning as a lieutenant of Oliver Cromwell, they initially supported the
Protectorate, but then turned against it when Cromwell failed to make the
reforms they demanded. The response was the prosecution of most of its leaders,
who were either imprisoned or executed. Their proposals continued, however, to
inspire political philosophers and future generations of reformers. They appear
to have influenced their contemporary, Thomas Hobbes, and later writers such as
James Harrington and John Locke. Their proposals were revived during the
Revolution of 1688 to produce the English Bill of Rights in 1689, which led to
the Whig party in Britain that supported many of the reforms for Britain sought
by the Americans during the War of Independence.
During the period of their greatest activity, the Levellers produced a
number of political documents, which have been gathered and published by
various editors. We present several of those collections here, which have some
overlap in their contents.
Andrew Sharp Collection
Published as The English Levellers by Cambridge University Press
in 1998, the following selections provide an introduction to some of the key
ideas of the Levellers and the debates their ideas provoked. For more on this
edition, see publication information.
Introduction: the English Levellers,
A note on the texts
John Lilburne, 'On the 150th page': An
untitled broadsheet of August 1645
William Walwyn, Toleration justified
and persecution condemned. 29 January 1646
John Lilburne, Postscript to The
freeman's freedom vindicated. 16 June 1646
Richard Overton with William Walwyn's
collaboration, A remonstrance of many thousand citizens. 7 July
Richard Overton, An arrow against all
tyrants. 12 October 1646
William Walwyn, Gold tried in the
fire. 4 June 1647
Several hands, An agreement of the
people for a firm and present peace upon grounds of common right and
freedom. 28 October 1647
Members of the New Model Army and
civilian Levellers, Extract from the debates at the General Council of the
Army, Putney. 29 October 1647
John Lilburne and others, The petition
of 11 September 1648
John Lilburne, England's new chains
discovered. 26 February 1649
William Walwyn, and on behalf of John
Lilburne, Thomas Prince and Richard Overton, A manifestation. 14 April
John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Thomas
Prince and Richard Overton, An agreement of the free people of England.
1 May 1649
John Lilburne, The young men's and the
apprentices' outcry. 29 August 1649
William Haller and Godfrey Davies
Published as The Leveller tracts 1647-1653 in 1944, the following
selections cover some of the later documents. For more on this edition, see
[These documents under construction.]
Don M. Wolfe Collection
Published as Leveller manifestos of the Puritan revolution in
1944, the following selections provide a comprehensive exposition of the
positions of the reformers. For more on this edition, see publication
[These documents under construction.]
John Lilburne: The First English Libertarian, by Peter Richards, March 29, 2008 — Biography.
The Resurrection of John Lilburne (1655) — Final letters.
Not properly part of the Leveller movement, there were some who sided
with their positions:
A Healing Question, Sir Henry Vane
(1656) — He was tried for writing this in a famous trial that tested the
right of free speech.
History and Commentary
Leveller Movement, Theodore Calvin Pease (1916) — A study in the
history and political theory of the English Great Civil War.
Short Hints upon Levelling — A Charge to the Grand Jury of Middlesex, William Mainwaring. (1791) — Reveals Tory-Mansfieldian linking of jury rights to fears of property re-distribution.
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