the Levellers

a 17th century group for political reform in England

The Levellers were a 17th-century English political group. During the English Revolution pushed the Levellers for an extention of the right to vote and also government reforms based on undeniable individual rights and the principle of governmental power based upon public mandate. The Levellers first figured as a distinct group in 1647, during the conflict between King Charles I and Parliament. The Levellers enjoyed wide-spread support in the army. Headed by political agitator John Lilburne, the Levellers presented to their commander a petition, The Case of the Armie Truly Stated, calling for the dissolution of Parliament and for changes in the structure of future parliaments. In the same year, Levellers in several regiments ordered to Ireland mutinied on the ground that no soldier should serve abroad without his consent. The movement was suppressed in 1653, and the political influence of the group faded.

Known by their emblem, a sea-green ribbon, the Levellers anticipated the philosophical ideas of the American Revolution in many respects. Their philosophy, expressed in a pamphlet by Lilburne, The Foundations of Freedom, or an Agreement of the People, was presented to Parliament in 1649. The philosophy had three principal tenets: the existence of certain inalterable rights of man beyond the jurisdiction of any government; the idea that governmental authority derived from the people; and the doctrine of separation of powers, directed especially against the contention that the Law makers should be Law executors. The Levellers advocated a representative assembly to meet biannually, based on a redistribution of seats according to density of population, and with the franchise extending to all Englishmen 21 years of age or over and wealthy enough to be "housekeepers". They also urged abolition of capital punishment for all crimes except murder. The Levellers are sometimes confused with the Diggers, a strongly religious and pacifist group that advocated the abolition of private ownership of land.

"Levellers," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.
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the Diggers

a Religious Pacifist group for Political reform in England in 1649

Diggers, members of a communistic movement that flourished during the English Commonwealth (1649-60) and favored the abolition of private ownership of land. The Diggers were deeply religious pacifists, and their doctrines were social and economic, not political. They are often incorrectly identified with the Levellers, whose program was chiefly political.

In April 1649 a band of about 40 Diggers, led by Gerrard Winstanley and William Everard, began to dig uncultivated common land on Saint George's Hill in Cobham, Surrey. They worked for a week and erected tents for dwellings; as they prepared to cultivate a second hill, they were dispersed by government troops. Everard and Winstanley were arrested, tried, and sentenced to pay large fines. Despite government opposition to the experiment, the Cobham colony lasted until 1651. The Diggers founded other colonies, none of which endured.

Winstanley wrote several pamphlets explaining the principles of the Diggers. Although he was devoutly Christian, he was against organized religion and the clergy, claiming that they supported the class structure of society. His last work, The Law of Freedom in a Platform (1652),explains his theory of a social system founded on communistic principles. The Digger movement was one of the influences leading to the development of 19th-century radical thought in Great Britain and of modern socialism.

"Diggers," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

This page was compiled on December 18, 1995 by
Patrick Fleming
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