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POLI 365 - Lecture: English Levellers (Jan. 28)

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McGill University
Political Science
POLI 365
Jason Scott Ferrell

The English Levellers − pejorative term − reputation for attacking property right − fought for political and religious freedom for lower classes − influenced communism (Diggers) and liberalism − spoke for average citizen (popular sovereignty) − contrasted with those that spoke for Parliament and for the Crown − also pamphleteers − pitched arguments to the public − arose spontaneously − articulated broad sentiment shared by a large segment of the population − far ahead of their times Historical Context − English Civil War (1642-1651) − three stages − three groups of actors: − King and Royalists (cavaliers) − Parliament − New Model Army − King Charles I justified thght to rule based on divine right of kings − novel justification for 17 century − prior arguments (medieval/Renaissance) claimed King was bound by law − held King could be checked by other officials (nobility) − nobility could hear complaints from peasants before Crown − King's power was not unlimited, but bound by rights of other officials − held King's prerogative was unlimited − and that legal legitimacy came from King's prerogative − prerogative ultimately grounded on religion (God given kings the right to rule) − analogy between paternal rule and political rule − King head of state and head of religion − first appeared in England under Charles' father − controversy centred on taxation − previously amount monarch may be taxed set by Parliament − for duration of his reign; cannot be changed − becomes problematic when Kings began fighting wars; had financial need − Parliament was okay with this, but demanded conferred rights − Charles refused − thus, disagreement centres on whether King can raise taxes without Parliament's permission − Charles also tried to split Parliament; play religious factions against each other − schism within Anglican Church (Puritans and traditionalists) − Charles attempts to arrest Puritan leaders; fails − Levellers themselves composed of dissident religious groups Parliament − House of Lords and Commons − initially, King theoretically source of law; Parliament was advisory capacity − over time, Parliament begins to assert more power; begins to approve certain acts of Kings (consultation and consent) − Kings agree to process, because: − it conveys amount of legitimacy − King loses wars; weakened; forced to accept arrangement by Parliament − in response to divine right of Kings, Parliament begins to assert principle of Parliamentary supremacy − 'fundamental constitution' that governs society, provides certain rights − looks to certain precedents; norms − Parliament also begins to assert right to co-legislate with King − claim of equal sovereignty − claims final word over financial matters − extra-legal institutions must be dissolved Division between various groups not just socio-economic, but also religious and geographical. New Model Army − Parliament's army − created when King allied himself with certain nobles − army composed of professional soldiers who were led by trained generals − contrasted with King's army, which is led by aristocrats − promotion based on action/service, not social class − mixed composition, religiously and socio-economically − beats King − eventually led by Cromwell, who was also an MP − helped/assisted by son-in-law, Ireton − tries to establish Republican government − pressing issues: − payment for soldiers − what to do with soldiers − indemnity; would soldiers be held accountable for crimes committed? − religion − issues of representation − restoration of King − substantial portion of Parliament wanted to re-state Charles These last three provoked much of the Levellers, who asked, “what was the point of the war?” Levellers − assumed spokesman for population, average soldier, against officers − Cromwell speaking for Parliament Putney Debates
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