History of the Levellers
The Levellers were an informal alliance of agitators and pamphleteers who came together during the English Civil War (1642-1648) to demand constitutional reform and equal rights under the law. Levellers believed all men were born free and equal and possessed natural rights that resided in the individual, not the government. They believed that each man should have freedom limited only by regard for the freedom of others. They believed the law should equally protect the poor and the wealthy. The Levellers were the social libertarians of the day (or classic liberals). "Leveller" was a term of abuse, coined by their opponents to exaggerate the threat of their ideas.
The main leader of the Levellers was John Lilburne (known as Freeborn John). Lilburne was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Parliamentarian Army. Through his extensive writing and publishing of pamphlets, he was able to gain wide support for his ideas among army soldiers and the common people.
-- Levy, Leonard W., Origins of the Fifth Amendment, New York: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 272.
In 1649, Lilburne published the Agreement
of the People, a manifesto for constituional reform in Britain
that gave birth to many of the ideas that are embodied in the U.S. Constitution
and Bill of Rights. This particular version was smuggled out of the Tower
of London, where Lilburne and the others were being held captive.
Included in the Agreement of the People (1649):
Although the Leveller movement ended, and John Lilburne eventually died in prison, the ideas of the Levellers live on.
In the spirit of John Lilburne, the Levellers, and their radical ideas: levellers.org is born.
Freeborn John would be proud!
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