Leveller Movement


Levelers or Levellers, English Puritan sect active at the time of the English civil war. The name was apparently applied to them in 1647, in derision of their beliefs in equality. The leader of the movement and its most indefatigable propagandist was John Lilburne. The Levelers demanded fundamental constitutional reform—a written constitution, a single supreme representative body elected by universal manhood suffrage, proportional representation, and the abolition of monarchy and noble privilege. Their ideals, far in advance of their time, were those of complete religious and political equality. They were adept at the use of mass petitions and extensive pamphleteering to arouse the public. When the Long Parliament did not respond to their ideas, they tried to build support in the ranks of the army, with some success. They identified themselves with the army's demands for arrears of pay, and Lilburne's pamphlet The Case of the Army Truly Stated was presented (1647) to Thomas Fairfax (later 3d Baron Fairfax of Cameron). An expanded version, Foundations of Freedom; or, An Agreement of the People, describing the whole Leveler program, was discussed at the Putney debates (Oct., 1647) between the elected army council and their commanding officers. The Leveler proposals were totally rejected by Gen. Henry Ireton as subversive of property interests. A later pamphlet, England's New Chains, published after the execution of Charles I, and several Leveler mutinies (1649) resulted in severe suppression of the Levelers by Oliver Cromwell, who had constantly opposed them.

See T. C. Pease, The Leveller Movement (1916, repr. 1965); W. Haller and G. Davies, ed., The Leveller Tracts, 1647–1653 (1944, repr. 1964); J. Frank, The Levellers (1955, repr. 1969); N. H. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution (1961); C. H. Shaw, The Levellers (1968).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Leveller Movement: Selected full-text books and articles

The Religious Foundations of Leveller Democracy By D. B. Robertson King's Crown Press, 1951
Democracy: The Unfinished Journey, 508 BC to AD 1993 By John Dunn Oxford University Press, 1992
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "The Levellers"
Representing Revolution in Milton and His Contemporaries: Religion, Politics, and Polemics in Radical Puritanism By David Loewenstein Cambridge University Press, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. One "Lilburne, Leveller Polemic, and the Ambiguities of the Revolution"
A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution By Perez Zagorin Routledge & Paul, 1954
Librarian's tip: Chap. II "The Leveller Theorists" and Chap. III "The Leveller Party Programme"
Political Theorists in Context By Chris Sparks; Stuart Isaacs Routledge, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "The Levellers and the Diggers"
"Whatsoever Yee Would That Men Should Doe Unto You, Even So Doe Yee to Them": An Analysis of the Effect of Religious Consciousness on the Origins of the Leveller Movement By Grob-Fitzgibbon, Benjamin The Historian, Vol. 65, No. 4, Summer 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Concern for Social Justice in the Puritan Revolution By W. Schenk Longmans, Green and Co., 1948
Librarian's tip: Chap. Two "John Lilburne: The Agreement of the People" and Chap. Four "Were the Levellers 'Levellers'?"
Milton in the Puritan Revolution By Don M. Wolfe Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1941
Librarian's tip: Chap. IV "John Lilburne: Against Bishops, against Crown" and Chap. V "Leveller and Independent in Debate"
The Goths in England: A Study in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Thought By Samuel Kliger Harvard University Press, 1952
Librarian's tip: Appendix B "The Levellers: Climax and Crisis in the Gothic Tradition"
A History of Political Theory By George H. Sabine Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1961 (3rd edition)
Librarian's tip: "The Levellers" begins on p. 479
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