The Levellers

Published: 2021-06-29 06:53:17
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Category: American History

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In 1645 a new political party was formed, the Levellers. They were the first prearranged activist political movement to develop in England. Equality before the law, religious freedom for all, annual elections and the dissolution of the monarchy and the House of Lords were just some of their political aims. Their party gradually grew and by the start of the second civil war they were a highly influential group. In the beginning the levellers were denied support from the parliaments on their ideas for more radical reforms and they therefore turned towards the army, in which many where willing to support their aims. Though the levellers were never fully unified the main figure heads of the movement were John Lilburne, Richard Overtone and William Walwyn. They all had different views on how the party should be run and it has been argued that Overtone and Walwyn were far more radical than Lilburne, who argued that Parliament's own power should be limited by law to protect individual right. Lilburne was also described as the most religious out of the three, were as Walwyn was more idealistic and Overtone the most rational minded. Although some of their political tactics were peaceful, many showed extremism, aiming to stand out to their opponents and following. These plans included influencing decisions made by parliament, mass demonstrations and large scale petitioning. Arguably one of the most significant documents drawn up by the levellers was the Agreement of the people, a list of demands sent to parliament, three different versions were presented between 1647-1649. Despite their years of dedication to the cause, the levellers were unsuccessful in their aims to form the government into a democracy. This was due to the fact that under Cromwell's rule the same problems of disparity and prejudice existed, just in different ways and the government eventually condemned the Levellers. Cromwell used propaganda to portray the levellers to be merely seeking the demise of law, order and property. After this the Levellers began to lose Leaders, such as Lilburne who died in prison in 1657 and Walwyn who left politics. Without strong leadership and guidance the Leveller party could not pull through the accusations of the government and they were essentially doomed. It could be argued that one of the reasons for their demise is their concentration in trying to strike fear in the rich, whilst disregarding the poor and showing little interest in the middle classes.

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