Date added: 7 November, 2018
This Leveller tract is part of the 7 volume collection Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics (1638-1660), 7 vols. Edited by David M. Hart and Ross Kenyon (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2014-18). </titles/2595>.
It is part of volume 9 (addendum) and its full citation is:
For further information see:
T.104 [1647.07.26] (9.7) John Lilburne, Jonahs Cry out of the Whales belly (26 July, 1647).
John Lilburne, Jonahs Cry out of the Whales belly: Or, Certaine Epistles writ by Lieu. Coll. Iohn Lilburne, unto Lieu. Generall Cromwell, and Mr. John Goodwin: Complaining of the tyranny of the Houses of Lords and Commons at Westminster; and the unworthy dealing of divers (of those with him that are called) his Friends.
This tract contains the following parts:
26 July, 1647.
TT1, p. 538; Thomason E. 400. (5.)
John Lilburne (c.1615-1657) was one of the leading pamphleteers and organisers of the Levellers during the English Civil Wars and Revolution. This "Postscript" was written in July 1647 while he was in prison where he wrote some of his best known pamphlets and political documents. He had been arrested in July 1646 and imprisoned in the Tower of London for denouncing his former commander the Earl of Manchester as a traitor and Royalist sympathiser. He was eventually released on bail in November 1647 but rearrested in January 1648 with John Wildman for "sedition" for denouncing the House of Lords. His imprisonment between July and November 1647 was the 4th of 8 periods of arrest, imprisonment, and exile he was forced to endure for his beliefs and political activity.
The Postscript was appended to a collection of letters he had written to Oliver Cromwell denouncing him for having betrayed the revolution and for being corrupt (for receiving a payment of 2,500 pounds).
The year 1647 was a momentous one for the Leveller movement. The first phase of the civil war between parliament and the King had come to an end with Parliament’s victory over King Charles (I) (he would be arrested in June 1647, arrested again and tried in January 1649). Soldiers in the army had both political and personal demands (they wanted to be paid their back pay) and their representatives, the so-called "Agitators" (many of whom were Levellers or Leveller sympathisers), pressured the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Thomas Fairfax, to hold meetings so the army could discuss its demands. They refused to allow the Army to be disbanded until their demands had been met. When a group of Presbyterians invaded Parliament in July and forced it to make concessions (seizing control of the London militia and inviting the King to return to London for talks) the Army marched into London in August and occupied the city forcing Parliament to reverse its concessions to the Presbyterians.
In October 1647 the Agitators of the Army presented "The Case of the Army Truly Stated" to General Fairfax as a manifesto stating the army’s demands, which were subsequently debated at a meeting in Putney, known as "The Putney Debates," between 28th October - 11th November. The discussions resulted in a kind of proto-constitution known as "An Agreement of the People" (the first of three) which would be taken back to the various regiments by the Agitators for further discussion by the soldiers. The Putney Debates reveal a serious split between the radical "Levellers" (they are first called this derogatory name by their opponents among the senior officers (known as the "Grandees"), led by Oliver Cromwell (second in command of the army) and Henry Ireton. The Levellers were represented at the debate (Lieut. Colonel Lilburne was still in jail) by Colonel Thomas Rainsborough and the Agitators Edward Sexby and William Allen, and civilians John Wildman and Maximilian Petty. Some disgruntled Leveller soldiers attempt to stage a mutiny at Corkbush Field, near Ware (Hertfordshire), which is called off after appeals to the troops by Fairfax and Cromwell. One soldier was executed and the Leveller movement was left in turmoil and confusion.
This "Postscript" is interesting because in it Lilburne summarises the reasons why the army has taken up arms, first against the King and then against Parliament. In language strikingly similar to that used by Thomas Jefferson in the American Declaration of Independence of July 1776 when justifying the North American colonists' revolt against the British government, Lilburne states that because of the "unjust, tyrannicall, and unrighteous" actions of King and Parliament the "free borne" people of England had a right to change their government and to discuss what a new one might look like:
Yet now he (Fairfax) and his Army apprehending and beleaving that the wicked and swaying Faction in both Houses, would destroy them, and inslave the whole Kingdome, doe not onely dispute the two Houses orders and commands, but also positively disobey them, as unjust, tyrannicall, and unrighteous: And being now thereby dissolved into the originall law of Nature, hold their swords in their hands for their own preservation and safety, which both Nature, and the two Houses practices and Declarations teaches them to doe, and justifies them in, and now act according to the principles of Saifety, flowing from Nature, Reason, and Justice, agreed on by common consent and mutuall agreement amongst themselves; in which every individuall private Souldier, whether, Horse or Foot, ought freely to have their vote, to chuse the transactors of their affaires, or else in the sight of God, and all rationall men, are discharged from obeying, stooping or submitting to what is done by them.
Lilburne also believes that they are fighting a defensive war against an "invader" which has "invaded their rights" and subverted " their essentiall, fundamentall Lawes, Rights, and agreements expressed in their foresaid solemne Engagements." He concludes that all they "really, cordially, and heartily desire" is the settlement of all mens just interest in England, whose principles are not destructive to cohabitation and humane neighbourhood and society."
In our collection of "Leveller Tracts" we have 7 (possibly 8) pieces written by Lilburne in 1647:
We also have the following important political demands made by the Army that year:
It may be divers may demand to know the reason wherefore I write, and caused to be printed, the fore-going Epistles; unto whom at present I returne this answer. That because the Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax, is not now an Army acting by a Commission, either from the King, or the two Houses: for although they were raised by an Ordinance of the Lords and Commons assembled at Westminster, for the defence of the King and Parliament, the true Protestant Religion (not the Scotch, Iewish, Antichristian inslaving Presbytery) and the Lawes and Liberties of the Kingdome (not the Arbitrary wills of the Houses) as appeares by the Ordinance of the 15. Feb. 1644. 2. part. book Declar. fol. 599 which positively commands Sir Thomas Fairfax from time to time, to submit to, and obey all such orders and directions as he shall receive from both Houses of Parliament, or from the Committee of both Kingdomes. Yet now he and his Army apprehending and beleaving that the wicked and swaying Faction in both Houses, would destroy them, and inslave the whole Kingdome, doe not onely dispute the two Houses orders and commands, but also positively disobey them, as unjust, tyrannicall, and unrighteous: And being now thereby dissolved into the originall law of Nature, hold their swords in their hands for their own preservation and safety, which both Nature, and the two Houses practices and* Declarations teaches them to doe, and justifies them in, and now act according to the principles of Saifety, flowing from Nature, Reason, and Justice, agreed on by common consent and mutuall agreement amongst themselves; in which every individuall private Souldier, whether, Horse or Foot, ought freely to have their vote, to chuse the transactors of their affaires, or else in the sight of God, and all rationall men, are discharged from obeying, stooping or submitting to what is done by them.
And that they doe now act upon the foresaid Principles, is cleare by their printed ingagement of the 5. of July 1647. called, A solemne engagement of the Army under the command of his Excellency Sir Thomas Fairfax, read, assented unto, and subscribed by all Officers and Souldiers of the severall Regiments as the generall Rendezvous neer Newmarket, In which agreement, or solemn engagement, they say, “That the Souldiers of this Army (finding themselves so stopt (as before they there declare) in their due & regular way of making known their just grievances, and desires to, and by their Officers) were inforced to an unusual (but in that case necessary) way of correspondencie and agreement amongst themselves, to chuse out of the severall Troops & Companies, severall men, and those out of their whole number, to chuse two or more for each Regiment, to act in the name and behalfe of the whole Souldery of the respective Regiments, Troops, and Companies.
And a little further they expresse themselves thus: “We the Officers and Souldiers of several Regiments hereafter named, are now met at a general Rendezvouz, have subscribed unto the said solemne engagement, and doe hereby declare, agree, and promise, to and with each other, and to and with the Parliament, and Kingdome, as followeth.
“First, that we shall cheerfully and readily disband, &c. having first such satisfaction and security in these things, as shall be agreed unto BY A COVNCELL TO CONSIST OF THOSE GENERALL OFFICERS OF THE ARMY (who have concurred with the Army in the premises) WITH TWO COMMISSION OFFICERS, AND THE SOVLDIERS TO BE CHOSEN FOR EACH REGIMENT, who have concurred, and shall concurre with us in the premises, and in this agreement. And by the Major part of such of them who shall meet in Councell for that purpose, when they shall bee thereunto called by the Generall. Secondly, that without such satisfaction and security as aforesaid, we shall not willingly disband nor divide, nor suffer our selves to be disbanded or divided.
So that by these words in their agreement, you see the foresaid position proved, that they act by mutuall consent, or agreement. Now to have this agreement, or solemne ingagement invaded or broken, either by the subtilty, fraud, or power of the Officers, and a power assumed by themselves, to act all their chiefe businesse contrary to this Agreement, is an action that merits a kicking (if not worse) out of the Army, to all those Officers (be they what they will be) that were chiefe actors and contrivers of it.
For the most Divellish, subtile, undermining and destroying way that can bee taken by the greatest haters of the Army, Stapleton, Holles, or the Assembly, to destroy and overthrow them, and to have their wills not onely of them, but also of all that wish them well, is by their pecuniary charmes, flateries, gifts, bribes, promises, or delusions, to put the officers by their agents upon the invading and infringing the essentiall and common rights of the Army before expressed, which within a little while will beget such pride, scorne and contempt in the Officers against the Souldiers (who to their eternall praises be it spoken, did the work to their hands, and acted at the beginning like prudent and resolved men, when all or most of the Officers sate still like so many Drones and Snekes) as will breed unquenchable heart-burnings in the Souldiers against them, which will speedily draw them into discontents and factions against them, which of necessity wil speedily break out into civil broyls amongst them, & so undoubtedly destroy them: for what occasions all the warres in the world, but invading of rights? And what occasioned all the late broyles betwixt the King and the two Houses, but the invasion of rights? And what hath occasioned the present difference betwixt the two Houses and the Army, but the two Houses invading their rights, and endeavouring to make them slaves, by arbitrary Lording over them, by proclaiming them traytors, for endeavouring to acquaint them with their grievances, and invasion of the common and agreed of rights before mentioned of the privat Souldiers of the Army by the Councell of Warre, &c. will evedently and apparantly occasion the same betwixt the Officers and Souldiers of the Army: And therefore accursed be he that is the causer or contriver of it. For if it be treason in a Kingdome (as Strafford and Canterbury found it to be) to endevour the subversion of the fundamentall Lawes and Rights of the Kingdome; can it bee lesse then treason in the Army for any of their Officers to endeavour the subversion of their essentiall, fundamentall Lawes, Rights, and agreements expressed in their foresaid solemne Engagements. And truly, being more then jealous, that it was the study, labour and practice of some Officers in the Army, to invade the foresaid rights of the privat Souldiers of the Army, which it continued in, will destroy them, and so by consequence the whole Kingdome and my selfe: For if they doe not deliver us from vassalage, wee are perfect slaves, and so made by the treachery of our Servants, our Trustees in Parliament. And therefore out of love and affection to my native countrey, and my owne Being, I could doe no lesse then by my writing, &c. endevour the prevention of it, and also give a hint of those that my often intelligence told me againe and again, were like to be the most pernitious instruments in it, which is before named. And seeing my writing was to no purpose, nor took not any such effect as I hoped it would, but rather procured me menaces and threats, which I value no more then the wind that blowes, fearing no man in the world, nor caring for the favour or friendship of any in the world whatsoever he be, no further then I find him just and honest, at least morally so: And therefore in mercy to my own Being, and the well being of my native countrey, I can doe no lesse then publish the fore-going Letters as an Alarum to all the privat Souldiers in the Army, and to all their honest Officers, that really, cordially, and heartily desire the settlement of all mens just interest in England, whose principles are not destructive to cohabitation and humane neighbourhood and society, that they may awake out of their sluggish dreames, before their and the Kingdomes enemies surprize them, beat up and destroy them in their quarters; which I am confident will speedily and unavoidably be their portion, unlesse they have extraordinary watchfull eyes over Nico. Machiavils chiefe sonnes amongst them, and preserve their fore-mentioned agreement intire, and doe what they intend to doe quickly and resolvedly, their delayes already having amongst thousands that honoured them, shaken their reputation: And if any guilded or varnished Scribe or Pharisee, as tythe monging Noe or Marshall who were principall instruments to bring the Scotch, and the Divels Fetters (the Covenant) into this Kingdome, almost to the ruine (I am sure to the perjury) thereof find themselves agreiv’d, I desire to let them know, that Fiat justitia ruat Celum is my Motto, and if I perish, it shall be in the following of justice for justice sake.
16. of July 1647.
Last modified November 07, 2018