The Religious Foundations of Leveller Democracy

The Religious Foundations of Leveller Democracy

The Religious Foundations of Leveller Democracy

The Religious Foundations of Leveller Democracy

Excerpt

The First Civil War in England came to an end in 1646, and resulted in the defeat of the "arbitrary" Charles I. But the victors, having overcome a common enemy, found themselves in conflict over the disposition of Charles's power and the settlement of the issue of religious liberty. It is possible to divide the victorious elements roughly into four main groups. Three of the groups were motivated to a large extent by religious interests and may be called "Puritan." The fourth group, the Erastians, were secular and anticlerical and saw the problem of religious liberty only as a problem of political order.

The Presbyterian group was the most conservative Puritan element. This group was not committed to the overthrow of the monarchy--only to the limitation of its power by Parliament. "The people" were not to be a decisive factor in the national settlement. The Presbyterians were opposed to democracy in politics and to freedom in religion. But the power of the Presbyterian party, considerable at first, was effectively undone by Cromwell and the "Independents."

The Independents were not necessarily more democratic than the Presbyterians, but they became the party of religious toleration, toleration of the general types sought by the "Dissenting Brethren" of the Westminster Assembly. They sought to hedge the power of a restored king as the Presbyterians did, but they also demanded that the tyranny of Parliament (a Presbyterian Parliament, they feared) be guarded against in the future. Because of its stand against the Presbyterians, Independency attracted considerable support from the more radical groups, particularly those in the army. For a time at least, the Independents, led by Cromwell and his son-in-law, Henry Ireton, adopted some of the principles of the democratic "Level-

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