England's Standard Advanced
A Declaration from William Thompson and the oppressed people of this nation, now under his conduct in Oxfordshire, dated at their rendezvous6, May 6th 1649.
Whereas it is notorious to the whole world, that neither the faith of the Parliament, nor yet the faith of the army (formerly made to the people of this nation, in behalf of their common right, freedom and safety) hath been observed, or made good. But both absolutely declined and broken, and the people only served with bare words and faire promising papers, and left utterly destitute of all help or delivery. And that this hath principally been by the prevalence and treachery of some prominent persons (now domineering over the people) is most evident.
The Solemn Engagement of the Army7 at Newmarket and Triploe Heaths by them destroyed, the Counsel of Agitators dissolved, the blood of war shed in time of peace. Petitioners for Common Freedom8 suppressed by force of arms, and petitioners abused and terrified. The lawful trial by twelve sworn men of the neighbourhood subverted and denied. Bloody and tyrannical courts (called a High Court of Justice, and the Counsel of State) erected, the power of the sword advanced and set in the seat of the magistrates, the civil laws stopped and subverted. And the military introduced, even to the hostile seizure, imprisonment, trial, sentence and execution of death, upon many of the free people of this nation. Leaving no visible authority, devolving all into a factious junta and Counsel of State9, usurping and assuming the name, stamp and authority of Parliament. To oppress, torment and vex the people, whereby all the lives, liberties, and estates, are all subdued to the wills of those men. No law, no justice, no right or freedom. No ease of grievances. No removal of unjust barbarous taxes. No regard to the cries and groans of the poor to be had while utter beggary and famine (like a mighty torrent) hath broke in upon us, and already seized upon several parts of the nation.
Wherefore through an unavoidable necessity10, no other means left under heaven, we are enforced to betake our selves to the Law of Nature. To defend and preserve ourselves and native rights, and therefore are resolved as one man (even to the hazard and expense of our lives and fortunes) to to endeavour the redemption of the Magistracy of England, from under the force of the sword. To vindicate the Petition of Right11, to set the unjustly imprisoned free, to relieve the poor, and settle this Commonwealth upon the grounds of common right, freedom, and safety.
Be it therefore known to all the free people of England, and to the whole world, that, (choosing rather to die for Freedom than to live as slaves) we are gathered and associated together upon the bare account of Englishmen. With our swords in our hands, to redeem ourselves and the land of our nativity, from slavery and oppression, to avenge the blood of war shed in the time of peace. To have justice for the blood of Richard Arnold13 shot to death at Ware, and for the blood of Robert Lockyer14, and many others who of late martial law murdered in London.
And upon this our engagement in behalf of the Commonwealth, we do solemnly agree and protest, that we will faithfully (laying all self respects aside) endeavour the actual relief and settlement of this distressed nation.
And that all the world may know particularly what we intend, and wherein we will particularly centre and acquiesce for ever, not to recede or exceed the least punctilio. We declare from the integrity of our hearts that by the help and might of God we will endeavour the absolute settlement of this distracted nation, upon that form and method by way of An Agreement of the People15. Tendered as a peace-offering by Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburn16, William Walwyn17, Thomas Prince18, and Richard Overton19, bearing date May 1st 1649. The which we have annexed to this our declaration as the standard of our engagement. Thereby owning every part and particular of the premisses of the said Agreement, promising and resolving, to the utmost hazard of our lives and abilities, to pursue the speedy and full accomplishment thereof.
A summary of The Leveller’s demands in,
‘An Agreement of the People’
To interpret Thompson’s pamphlet, it’s necessary to understand what The Levellers were asking for in, ‘An Agreement of the People’; which had arisen over a two-year period since the Putney Debates2.
Below is a very bare summary of the thirty points in the ‘Agreement’. As you can see, the ‘Agreement’ is a very recognisably ‘modern’ political model – which is undoubtedly why the aristocratic leaders of the Parliamentary forces rejected the Army’s call for these reforms.
- A Parliament of 400 representatives, elected by all ‘men’ aged 21 and over, from equally sized constituencies to ensure balanced representation.
- Majority voting by representatives.
- “And to the end all publick Officers may be certainly accountable, and no Factions made to maintain corrupt Interests”; i.e., no political parties to control Parliamentary business. No military officers may serve while active, and no lawyer to practise law privately while elected.
- No member of present Parliament to be allowed to stand in the new Parliament.
- Current Parliament to be disbanded in 1648.
- If Parliament does not disband, people will go ahead and elect local representatives anyway.
- Parliament to honour The Agreement when setting rules for the new system of governance.
- Parliament to be elected annually, and it will be unlawful for a representative to sit for more than a year without re-election.
- Parliament has the duty to ensure the “conservation of Peace and commerce” with foreign states, preservation of the liberties and rights of people through the ‘Petition of Right’, and the raising of taxes should work towards those ends.
- Freedom of religion.
- Parliament cannot force military service upon the public.
- Amnesty for all persons arising out of any conduct during the Civil War.
- Full equality before the law, irrespective of wealth.
- Full judicial independence, separate from the work of Parliament.
- All this is to be enacted to settle past grievances, arising out of the previously corrupt operation of Parliament.
- Right to silence, without risk of punishment.
- All legal proceeding to take place in English, and legal proceedings must not last longer than 6 months.
- No laws to restrict foreign free trade.
- Where customs duties are imposed, this should not last longer than 4 months.
- Abolishing debtors prisons, and the wealthy shall not be excused from paying their debts.
- Capital punishment to be abolished for all offences except murder, and practices of arbitrary seizure of property and ‘distressing’ of goods must stop.
- Free trials, with guarantees for witnesses and the conduct of the trial according to the Petition of Right.
- The ending of Tithes.
- Parishes to be free to choose their own priest, rather than having them imposed from above.
- Trials to be judged by a jury of twelve local people.
- No discrimination in standing for office on the basis of religion.
- Parliament cannot impose any public officer on the ‘Hundred’ (the local councils of that time); all must be elected by local people.
- Full transparency in the financial affairs of elected representatives.
- Parliament to set requirement for military forces from each local area, but those military forces will be raised, funded and the officers elected by the people from that area. And;
- No elected representative to undertake any action which destroys common rights, or The Agreement, or it will be considered an act of treason.
What’s interesting to reflect upon reading the list of demands from The Agreement, is how many of those have been won over the years since. But more importantly, from jury trials to the corruption of Parliamentary politics, how many of those hard-won freedoms are now under threat from political vested interests today.
And to our power, to protect and defend all such as shall assent or adhere thereunto. And particularly, for the preservation and deliverance of Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburn, William Walwyn, Thomas Prince, Richard Overton, Captain Bray, and William Sawyer, from their barbarous and illegal imprisonments. And we declare, that if a hair of their heads perish in the hands of those tyrants who restrain them, that if God shall enable us, we will avenge it seventy times seven fold upon the heads of the tyrants themselves and their creatures.
And that till such time as by Gods assistance we have procured to this nation the declared purpose of this our engagement, we will not divide nor disband. Nor suffer our selves to be divided nor disbanded. Resolving with soberness and civility to behave ourselves to the country, to wrong nor abuse any man, to protect all to our power from violence and oppression in all places where we come. Resolving to stop the payment of all taxes or assessments whatsoever, as of excise, tithes, and the tax of ninety thousand pounds per mensem, etc.
And having once obtained a new representative, according to the said Agreement, upon such terms and limitations therein expressed, we shall then freely lay down our arms. And return to our several habitations and callings.
And concerning the equity, necessity and justice of our undertaking, we appeal to the judgement of the oppressed, betwixt their destroyers and us. Whether by the law of God, of nature, and nations, it be not equally justifiable in us to engage for the safety and deliverance of this nation. As it was with the Netherlanders, and other people for theirs. And that upon the same principles that the army engaged at Newmarket and Triploe Heaths, both Parliament and army declaring, that it is no resistance of Magistracy to side with just principles, and law of nature and nations. And that the soldiery may lawfully hold the hands of that General, who will turn his Cannon against his Army, on purpose to destroy them. The sea-men, the hands of that pilot who wilfully runs his ship upon a rock.
And therefore (the condition of the Common-wealth considered) we cannot see how it can be otherwise esteemed in us. And upon that account we declare, that we do own, and are resolved to own all such persons, either of the army or countries, that have already, or shall hereafter, rise up and stand for the liberties of England, according to the said Agreement of the People. And in particular; we do own and avow the late proceedings in Colonel Scroop’s, Colonel Harrison’s, and Major General Skippon’s Regiments, declared in their resolutions published in print, as one man. Resolving to live and die with them, in their and our just and mutual defence.
And we do implore and invite all such as have any sense of the bonds and miseries upon the people. Any bowels of compassion in them. Any piety, justice, honour, or courage in their breasts. Any affections to the freedoms of England. Any love to his neighbour or native country. To rise up, and come in to help a distressed miserable nation, to break the bands of cruelty, tyranny, and oppression, and set the people free.
In which service, trusting to the undoubted goodness of a just and righteous cause, we shall faithfully discharge the utmost of our Endeavours. Not sparing the venture of all hardships and hazards whatsoever, and leave the success to God.
Signed by me, William Thompson, at our rendezvous in Oxfordshire, near Banbury, in behalf of my self and the rest engaged with me, May 6th 1649.
For a new Parliament, by the Agreement of the People.