(Placeholder: Text will be added later.)
T.250 [1659.02.16] Anon., The Leveller: Or The Principles & Maxims Concerning Government and Religion (16 February 1659).
Anon., The Leveller: Or The Principles & Maxims Concerning Government and Religion, Which are Asserted by those that are 12 July 2016, Levellers.
London, Printed, for Thomas Brewster, at the Three Bibles, at the West End of Pauls, 1659.
16 February 1659.
TT2, p. 223; E. 968. (3.)
WHen the Sect of the Christians first arose, the Tyrants wrapped them in Beasts skins, to provoke the Wild Beasts to rend them in pieces; and when Christ their Lord descended to Earth, the Priests and Pharisees, (finding his Doctrine and Holiness against their Interest) cast upon him all the dirt of Blasphemy, Drunkenness, and Confederacy, with the worst of Sinners; and to make sure of his life, they rendred him an Enemy to Government, and told Pilate, that he was no friend to Cæsar, if he let him go: It hath been the common practice of all Tyrants, to cover the face of honesty with the mask of scandal and reproach, lest the People should be enamoured with its beauty; ’tis a Masterpiece in their Politicks, to perswade the People that their best friends are their worst enemies, and that whosoever asserts their rights, and liberties, is factious and seditious, and a disturber of their peace; did not the Grachi in Rome by such policy perish by the Peoples hands, whose liberties they sought to vindicate. And do not some English men now suffer deeply upon the same account, from the Peoples hands for whose sakes they have prodigally hazarded their estates and lives; are not some lovers of their country defamed and esteemed prodigious monsters, being branded with the name of Levellers, whilst those that reproach and hate them, neither know their principles, or opinions concerning Government, nor the good they intend to their very enemies; those that have designed to prey upon the Peoples estates and liberties, have put the frightful vizard of Levelling, upon those mens faces, and most People are agast at them, like children at Raw-head and Bloody-bones, and dare not ask who they are, or peep under their vizard to see their true faces, Principles and designs; doubtless if the People durst but look behind them upon the Bug-bear from which they fly, they would be ashamed of their own childish fear of the Levellers Designs, to make all mens estates to be equal, and to devide the land by telling Noses, they would easily discern (if they durst consider it) that no number of men out of Bedlum could resolve upon a thing so impossible, that every hour would alter by the birth of some child, if it were possible once to make our equal shares; nor upon a thing so brutish and distructive to all Ingenuity and Industry, as to put the idle useless Droan into as good condition, as the laborious useful Bee: Neither could the people think that any number of men, fit to be feared (rather then scorned and pittied) could gain by Levelling estates, for they can never have power and interest enough to disquiet the nation, unless their estates be much greater, than they can be possible upon an equal devision; and surely ’tis a Bugbear fit for none but children, to fear any mans designs, to reduce their own estates to little better than nothing, for so it would be, if all the land were distributed like a three-penny-dole.
But to satisfie such as desire to know, what they are, who are now for destruction sake (though formerly by their enemies scandalously) called Levellers, and what their designs are; I shall tell you their Fundamental Doctrins or Maximes, concerning our Government, and from thence you may make a true Judgment of all their Plots, and either fear them, or favour them accordingly.
I. First, they Assert it as Fundamental, that the Government of England ought to be by Laws, and not by Men, they say, the Laws ought to be the Protectors and preservers under God of all our persons and estates, and that every man may challenge that protection as his right, without a ticket from a Major General, and live under that protection and safely, without fear of a Red-coat, or a Pursevant from White-Hall; They say, that English men ought to fear nothing but God, and the breach of the Laws, not to depend upon the will of a Court and their Council, for the security of themselves and their estates: They say, the Laws ought to Judge of all offences, and offenders, and all penalties and punishments to be Inflicted upon Criminals; and that the pleasure of his Highness, or his Council, ought not to make whom they please offenders, and punish and imprison whom they please, and during their pleasure.
They say also, that the Laws ought to decide all Controversies, and repair every mans injuries, and that the rod of the peoples supream Judicature, ought to be over the Magistrates, to prevent their corruption, or turning aside from the Laws; but that the Magistrates for executing the Laws should not hold their offices at the pleasure of a King, or Protector, lest the fear of displeasing him perverts Justice. In their opinions ’tis highly criminal, that a King, or Protector, or Court, should presume to interpose by letters, threats, or promises, to obstruct the due course of the Laws, or countenance and abet, or discountenance and brow-beat any mans cause whatsoever; In fine, they say, the Laws that are incapable of partiallity, interest, or passion, ought so to govern, as no man should be subject to the crooked will, or corrupt affections of any man.
II. The Levellers second Maxime or Principle about Government, is, that all the Laws, Levies of Monies, War and Peace, ought to be made by the peoples deputies in Parliament, to be chosen by them successively at certain periods of time, and that no Council Table, Orders, or Ordinances, or Court proclamations, to bind the peoples persons or estates; ’tis the first principle of a Peoples liberty, that they shal not be bound but by their own consent, and this our Ancestors left to England as its undoubted right, that no Laws to bind our persons or estates, could be imposed upon us against our wills; and they challenged it as their native right, not to be controuled in making such Laws as concerned their common right and intrests, as may appear by the Parliaments Records in the time of Edward the 2d. and Richard the 2d. The Levellers say, that those whose intrests are in all things one with the whole Peoples, are the only proper unintrested Judges of what Laws are most fit to preserve and provide for that common interest, such are the People in Parliament rightly constituted and methodized, and they may be depended upon, to provide remedies for the Peoples grievances, because they themselves are sharers in every common grievance, and they will be naturally led to study the common good, because they shall share in it; but if a Monarchs pleasure should controul the Peoples Deputies in their Parliaments, the Laws must be fitted for the interest of the Monarch and his family, to keep him in a condition to overtop the People, not for the common and equal good of the whole Nation; and then the Monarchs fears on the one hand, lest the People should be able to diminish his greatness, or that he should hold his greatness at their mercy; and the Peoples fears on the other hand, lest the Monarch should be able to make them slaves, and they come to hold their estates and lives at his mercy: These I say would set two opposite interests, alwayes at contention, in the composing of Laws; and the wisdome and industry of the Peoples Deputies, that should be spent in contriving the advancement of the Peoples common good in the Laws, would be taken up, endeavouring to defend and preserve the Peoples interests, against the Monarchs: Therefore say the Levellers, ’tis equal, necessary, and of natural right, that the People by their Deputies should chuse their own Laws; yet they conceive it would be of much greater good to our Country, if out Parliaments were moulded into a better form, and some Deputies were chosen by the People, only to give their consent or dissent unto Laws proposed; and other Deputies were chosen for Senators, that should consult and debate of the necessity, and conveniency of all Laws, Levies of Monies, War, and Peace, and then propose all to the great assembly of the Peoples Deputies, to resolve; that so the proposing, and resolving Power, not being in the same assembly, all faction and private Interests may be avoyded, which may possibly arise in a single Council, vested with the sole soveraign Law-making Power. This second doctrine of the Levellers, had been fit for all England to have asserted some years since, and then so many Fatherless and Widdows had not now been weeping for their lost Husbands and Fathers in Jamaica, and other forraign Countries, nor had so many families been ruined, nor England impoverished by the loss of Trades occasioned by the Spanish War, begun and prosecuted upon private interests or fancies, without advice or consent of the People in Parliament.
III. The Levellers assert it as another Principle, that every man of what Quallity or Condition, Place or Office whatsover, ought to be equally subject to the Laws; every man say they, high and low, rich and poor, must be Accountable to the Laws, and either obey them, or suffer the penalties Ordained for the Transgressors; there ought to be no more respect of Persons in the execution of the Laws, then is with God himself if the Law be transgressed; no regard should be had who is the offender, but of what kind, nature, and degree is the offence; ’tis distructive to the end of a Government by Law, that any Magistrate or other, should be exempt from the obedience or Justice of the Laws; it dissolves the Government, Ipso facto, and exposeth all the People to Rapine and Oppression, without security of their Persons and Estates, for which the Laws are intended; therefore say they, great Thieves and little must alike to the Gallows: and the meanest man as readily and easily obtain Justice and reliefe, of any Injury and oppression against the greatest, as he shall do against the lowest of the People; and therefore say they, it ought not to be in the power of any single person, to defend himself from the impartiall stroke of the Laws, or to pervert Justice by force; and that brings in their fourth Principle, viz.
IV. That the People ought to be formed into such a Constant Millitary posture, by and under the commands of their Parliament, that by their own strength they may be able to compell every man to be subject to the Laws, and to defend their Country from Forrainers, and inforce right and Justice from them upon all emergent occasions. No Government can stand without force of Arms, to subdue such as shall rebell against the Laws, and to defend there Territories from the Rapine and Violence of strangers, and the People must either hire Mercenary Souldiers to be the Guardians of their Laws and their Country, or take the care upon themselves, by disposing themselves into a posture of Armes, that may make them ready and able to be their own guard: Now say the Levellers, ’tis neither prudent nor safe, that the Peoples Armes should be put into Mercenary Souldiers hands; what reason can induce any People to beleeve that their Laws, estates, liberties and lives, shall be more secure in the hands of Mercenaries, than in their own? who can think his estate, his liberty, or his life in safety, when he knows they are all at the mercy and will of Hirelings, that are led by no other motive, then that of profit or pay, to serve them; and may be led by any proposal or temptation of greater profit or pay, to dissert them.
All ages have afforded sad experiments of trusting their strength in the hands of Mercenary Armies; most Nations who have kept them, (at lest in their own bowels) having been devoured by them; did not the Egyptian King by trusting the Armes in Hirelings hands, lose both his Crown and life, and brought the People to be slaves to the Mamulakes for neer two hundred years? Was not the famous Common-wealth of Rome, ruined, and Inslaved by their negligent permission of Julias Cesar, (upon his advantage of long continuing Genneral,) to form a Mercenary Army? Did not the Inhabitants of Rhegium, perish by the hands of the Roman legion left to be their Mercenary defenders? And were not our neighbours of Amsterdam lately very neer the loss of their estates and liberties, by their own Mercenary Army? And say the Levellers, the people have less reason to trust to Mercenaries to defend their Country from Forraigners, then they have to preserve their estates and liberties from Domestick Oppression; How can their valour or fidelity be depended upon, when a small stipend only obligeth them to either; and if they be Conquered one day, they are ready to serve the Conqueror next day, it being their professed principle, to serve where they can have best, and most certain pay. But say the Levellers, when the People which are owners of a Country, are disposed into a Military form, they fight Pro aris & focis, they are sensible that they have more at stake then a daily stipend, and are in no hopes to better their conditions, by division amongst themselves, or by betraying their Country to Forraigners, Thus say they, is it prudent and safe for the People to be masters of their own Arms, and to be commanded in the use of them by a part of themselves, (that is their Parliaments) whose interest is the same with theirs.
These four foregoing Maximes, contain the sum of all the Levellers Doctrine about our Government in externals; (whose Principles without naming one of them, have been rendred so prodigious, and of such dangerous consequence) but let the reader judge, whether the liberty, happiness, and security, of every English man be not sought in the endeavours, to establish those Foundations of equal Justice and safety; neither can they be charged herein with novelty or unconstancy, the same Fundamentals of Government, having been claimed by our Ancestors as their right, for many hundred years.
And the late long Parliament proposing the same to the People, as the things to be defended by the late Warre; alledging that the King had set up Courtiers to govern instead of Laws, by Imprisoning at pleasure, and during pleasure, and that he had attempted to make proclamations, and Council Table Orders, to be as binding as the Laws, that the People made by their Parliaments; and that the King had exempted himself and others from subjection to the Laws, and pretended a right to the Militia, to command the Peoples Arms without their consent; and in confidence of the Parliaments real intentions and fidelity in what they proposed, the People neither spared, neither treasure nor Blood to preserve themselves, and their declared native rights. And therefore those called Levellers, do now challenge their Principles of Justice and freedome as the price of their blood; and however, many of the Parliaments friends and Adherents, have since disserted their first pretences, yet the Levellers say, they can give no account to the righteous God of the blood they have shed in the quarrel, nor to their own Consciences, of their duty to themselves, their Families and Country, to preserve their Laws, rights, and liberties; if they should not persist in their demands and endeavours, to establish the Government in what form soever, upon the Foundation of the Principles herein declared; and therein they would acquiess, humbly praying the Father of all wisdome, so to direct their Law-makers and Magistrates, that all Gods People might enjoy their spiritual Christian Liberties, in worshiping God according to their consciences; and they heartily wish, that such a liberty may be setled as another Fundamental, or Corner-stone in the Government.
But the designers of oppression, having also thrown dirt in the faces of those, whom they have named Levellers, in the matters of Religion, and aspersed them sometimes as Jesuites, sometimes as Notorious Hereticks, and sometimes are licentious Athiests, men of no religion; ’tis necessary that I should acquaint the reader with their Principles that relate unto Religion; I do not mean to give an account of their faith, for the men branded with the name of Levellers, are and may be under several dispensations of light and knowledge, in spiritual things, in which they do not one judge the other; yet they are all professors of the Christian reformed Religion, and do all agree in these general Opinions about Religion, and the power of men over it.
First, They say, that all true Religion in men, is founded upon the inward consent of their understandings and hearts, to the truths revealed; and that the understanding is so free, that ’tis not in the power of men to compel it to, or restrain it from a consent; nothing but the irresistible evidence of a truth, can gain a consent, and when the evidence is clear to any mans understanding, he himself, (much less another howsoever potent) cannot so much as suspend an assent. Therefore no man can compel another to be religious, or by force or terror constrain the People to be of the true Religion.
Secondly, They say, that the last dictate of every mans understanding in matters of faith and Gods worship, is the last voice of God to him, and obligeth him to practice accordingly; if a man be erroniously informed, yet the misconceptions he hath of truth, bindeth him to practice erroniously, and should he resist that seeming light, (though it should be in truth darkness) his sin would be much greater, and of worse consequence, then if he follows by his actions, his erronious conceptions: Therefore the only means to promote the true Religion under any Government, is to endeavour rightly to inform the Peoples consciences, by whose dictates God commands them to be guided; And therefore Christ Ordained the preaching of the Gospel, as the outward means for converting souls: Faith coming by hearing; and he also Ordained spiritual Ordinances for the Conviction, Instruction, and punishment, of Erronious and Heretical Persons; the Scripture commanding the Erronious to be instructed with the Spirit of meekness, and admonished privately, publickly, &c. And Christ never mentioned any penalties to be inflicted on the bodies or purses of unbelievers, because of their unbelief.
Thirdly, Levellers say, That there are two parts of true Religion, the first consists in the right Conceptions and Receptions of God, as he is revealed by Christ, and sincere adorations of him in the heart or spirit, and the expressions or declarations of that worship outwardly, in and by the use of those Ordinances, that are appointed by Christ, for that purpose. The second part of it, consists in works of righteousness, and mercy, towards all men, done in Obedience to the will of God, and in imitation of his Justice and goodness, to the whole world.
The first part being wholly built upon the Foundation of revealed truths, doth in its own nature absolutely exclude all possibility of any mans being Lord of his Brothers faith, unless the understanding or faith of a Magistrate could constrain the faith or understanding of others, to be obedient to his, or rather to be transformed into the likeness of his: And therefore therein every man must stand or fall to his own Master, and having done his duty rightly to inform his neighbour, must give an account to God of himself only.
But the second part of Religion, falls both under the Cognizance or Judgment of man, and the Law-makers, or Magistrates power. Christ hath taught his followers to judge of mens Religion by their works, by their fruits, saith he, ye shal know them, for men do not gather Grapes of Thorns. Whosoever (be it a Court, or an Army, or a single Person) pretends to Religion, and yet remains treacherous wherein they are trusted, and continue in the breach of their promises, and are not conscientious to do to others as they would that they should do to them, but can without regard to Justice, seize by force of Arms upon the Peoples rights, due to them by Gods Law of Nature, and their Ancestors agreement; and subjects their Persons, and estates, to their wills, or their ambition and covetousness, and make themselves great by Oppressions out of the Peoples purses; those mens Religion men may clearly judge, being in vain by the Scriptures judgment, yea their prayers, and their preaching, as abominable in Gods eyes, as were the Fasts, New Moons, and Sabbaths of the Jewes, (which were then also Gods Ordinances) whilst their hands were defiled with blood, and oppression, and the works of Righteousness and Mercy neglected.
It properly belongs to the Governing Powers, to restrain men from Irreligion in this second part of Religion; that is, from injustice, Faith-breaking, Cruelty, Oppression, and all other evil Works, that are plainly evil, without the devine light of truths that are only revealed; and it is the duty of Governing Powers, to compel men to this part of Religion, that is, to the outward acts of Justice and Mercy; for the inward truth of mens Religion, even in these, is beyond the Mastgistrates Power of Judgement.
Fourthly, They say, that nothing is more destructive to true Religion, nor of worse consequence to humane Society, than the quarrels of Nations or Persons, about their difference of Faith and Worship, and the use of force and punishments, each to compel the other to be of his belief. It cannot be denied, that God in his infinite secret wisdom, is pleased to cause his Spirit to enlighten mens minds with several degrees of Light, and to suffer many to remain in darkness, which be afterwards also enlightened; and therefore their Faith and Worship, if it be sincere, must necessarily and unavoidably differ, according to the different root of Light upon which it grows. Surely Babes in Christ, and strong men, differ much in their apprehensions and comprehensions of the Objects of Faith, and much more those that are not yet born in Christ, though appointed unto Regeneration, and it may be instructed like Cornelius, in some things.
And, as to Opinions about Worship, the thoughts of men must naturally be different, as the mind of one exceeds another in clearness of Light, and capacity of Judging; Now when the most powerful party, seeks by force & punishments, to constrain the Governed or Conquered, to subscribe to their Faith and Opinions, without regard to their own Light or understandings; doth it not (as much as is in mans power) banish all dependance upon the Spirit of God for light, out of mens minds, and constrain them to put out the candle of God within them, that is the light of their own Understandings, and induce them for their worldly respects and safety, to profess a Faith, and practice a Worship, which they neither do, nor dare understand. And by continuence to contract a blindness of mind, and hardness of heart; And is it possible to practise a design more opposite to true Religion, and the propagation of it? And it is evident that those of false Religions, under a pretence of honouring God, by forcing men to be Religious, have blinded Millions of thousands with false Worships. And also, that such as have professed the true Religion in substance, have wickedly opposed the further inlightning work of the Spirit of God, and caused thousands for fear of punishments, to rest satisfied in the profession of a Faith and Worship, which they understand not, and therefore can have no true Religion in them. And Histories will tell plentifully, how pernitions the quarrels grounded only upon difference in matters of Faith, hath been to man-kind, an honest pen would tremble to relate the Murders, and Massacres, the dreadful Wars, and Confusions, and the Ruins, and Desolations of Countries, that have been upon this account; and the same must be to the worlds end, if difference in Opinions about Religions, Worship, and matters of Faith, should be admitted to be a sufficient ground of quarrels; Errors and differences in mens Understands, are from natural unavoidable infirmity, which ought not to be the objects of punishments, or mens angers; ’tis not more likely, that God should make all mens understanding equal in their capacity of Judging, or give to all an equal means or measure of knowledg, then that he should make all mens faces alike. Why then, say the Levellers, should any man quarrel at another, whose Opinion or Faith is not like to his; more then at him, whose Nose is not like to his; therefore say they, let us be unanimous in seeking an establishment of equal freedome and security to the whole People, of the best provisions for commutative and distributive Justice, without partiality; and of the best means of Instructing the whole People in the Spirit of love and meekness; and then true Religion will increase and flourish.
I have now faithfully related the sum of their Principles about Government and Religion, who have been usually called Levellers, and Scandalized with designs against Government and Religion, and Plots, to bring the Nation into Anarchy and Confusion; Let the reader Judge, what colour there is, to suspect those that are thus principled, of such ill designs; or rather, whether freedome, justice, peace, and happiness, can be expected in our Nation, if these Fundamentals of Government be not asserted, vindicated, and practised, and made as known and familiar to the People, as our Ancestors intended the great Charter of the Liberties of England should have been,Statute of 25. Edw. 1. C. 1. when they provided that it should be sent to every City, and every Cathedral Church, and that it should be read and published in every County, four times in the year, in full County.
I have only mentioned the Fundamentals, because they claim these as their Right, and humbly submit the Circumstantials, as to the number whereof Parliaments should consist, and the manner of their Elections, and the order of their debating and resolving of Laws, &c. to the wisdome of the Parliaments. But the reader may well enquire, how those that have asserted these Principles, came to be called Levellers, the People believing generally otherwise of them, then these Principles deserve. Truly the story is too tedious to relate at large; but the sum of it is, that in the year 1648, &c. the Army having been in contest with some members of the long Parliament, they constituted a general Council of Officers, and Agitators for the Souldiers, and then fell into debate of Proposals to be made to the Parliament for a settlement, and then some of that Council, asserted these Principles; and the reason of them, quickly gained the assent of the Major part; but being contrary to the designs of some that were then Grandees, in the Parliament and Army, (but most of them since dead) and had resolved of other things at that time even with the King, who was then at Hampton-Court; it fell into debate in a private Cabinet Council, how to suppress or avoid those that maintained these Principles, and it was resolved, that some ill name was fit to be given to the Asserters of them, as persons of some dangerous Design; and that their reputations being blasted, they would come to nothing, especially if that general Council were dissolved; then was that Council dissolved, and an occasion taken from that Maxime, that every man ought to be equally subject to the Laws, to invent the name of Levellers; and the King, who was to be frighted into the Isle of Wight from Hampton-Court, with pretences that the men of these Principles in the Army, would suddainly seize upon his person, if he stayed there, he was acquainted with those men by the name of Levellers, and was the first that ever so called them in print, in his declaration left on the table at Hampton-Court, when he secretly (as was thought) stole away from thence, and thence it was suddainly blown abroad, with as much confidence, as if they had believed it that first reported it, that a Party of Levellers designed to Levell all mens estates; and since then, the late Lord Protector, knowing these Foundations of Freedome, to be inconsistant with his Designs, hath often mentioned the Levellers Plots, with malice, scorn, and scandal; and now of late generally, whosoever asserts the Peoples Liberties and right of Government by Law, and not by Will, is branded as a Leveller, by the Flatterers.
Now I heartily wish, that my Country-men, may not be mistaken in my candid intentions, in giving them this account: I mean not to Court them as Absolum did his Fathers subjects, to make them believe, that those called Levellers, would use them better then others, if power were trusted in their hands; for our age hath given me experience, that power to inslave the People, ought not to be intrusted in any mens hands, upon the fairést pretences, and most solemn oaths, that that power shall be used to establish their freedome. And ’tis the Levellers Doctrine, that the Government ought to be setled upon such equall Foundations or common Right and freedome, that no man, or number of men, in the Nation, should have the power to invade or disturb the common Freedome, or the common course of impartial justice: and therefore that every Authority ought to be of small continuance, and the several Authorities, to be so ballanced each by other, that without such an agreement of men, against their own interest, as humane prudence, cannot think possible, the People cannot suffer any common Injury; but my meaning in this, is, only to prevent the division of my Country-men into parties, with Animosities each against others, by the couzenage of names or scandals, when it may be they would otherwise joyn hands and hearts for their common Rights and Liberties, if they understood each others minds, and could converse each with other without prejudice, because of the names whereby each hath usually called the others. ’Tis a thred bare plot of Tyrants to divide the People into parties, that they may the more easily master them; but I wish that my Country-men would unite in the equall Principles of common right, and hearken to reason with clearness of mind, whosoever offers it, not regarding whether he that speakes it, is called a Leveller, or a Sectaries or an Anabaptist, or a Presbiter, or a Cavileir, but considering what he sayes; and then the number of hands to defend our Liberties, and properties, would be so numerous, that the ambition of one, or a few, could not hope for successe in attempting a Tyranny over us. And if this poor Paper may have such an effect, that my Country men be not deluded with the idle scandal of Levelling, cast upon honest men, into an opposition of their own welfare, I and many that agree in the publication of this, shall have our ends.
Consider therefore what you here read, and the Lord make you understand the things that conduce to your Peace, and Freedom, and the glorifying his Name in righteousness, in this Nation.