Puritanism and Liberty by Woodhouse

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Source: Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited with an Introduction A.S.P. Woodhouse, foreword by A.D. Lindsay (University of Chicago Press, 1951). INTRODUCTION.

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The object of this volume is to exhibit, in certain aspects, the political thought of the Puritan revolution. Its attention is focused on the Army Debates about the constitutional settlement, commenced in the autumn of 1647, interrupted by the suppression of the General Council of the Army and the preoccupations of the Second Civil War, and resumed on the eve of Charles’ trial and execution. But it looks before and after in order to illustrate and supplement what they yield.

The Debates have a special value, even beyond the pamphlet literature of the day, in giving us a spontaneous and unconscious revelation of the Puritan mind as it wrestles with its problems, practical and theoretic, in an effort not merely to justify a policy and battle down opposition, but to arrive at truth and agreement. There are the sharpest cleavages of opinion between the Independents and their allies to the Left, and they sometimes develop an acrimony in debate that suggests outlooks absolutely alien from each other. But even where they differ most markedly, they talk a common language very foreign to our ears; and all their differences are at last reducible to one: the point at which a revolutionary ideal must compromise with the demands of actual life, including those of order, tradition, sentiment, and vested interest. If the leaders on both sides came to the debate with a policy to advance, and with their minds largely closed, the other participants (who also reveal the Puritan temper and ideology) came both to convince and to be convinced; their presence and intervention are the necessary links between the opponents.

To provide an easily accessible text of these Debates was the first aim of the present volume, the only existing text (the late Sir Charles Firth’s in his Clarke Papers1 ) having been long out of print and increasingly difficult to procure. On other grounds a new edition, based on a careful collation of Firth’s text with the manuscript, seemed desirable, especially for the general reader. The debates were taken down in shorthand, presumably by William Clarke (then assistant to John Rushworth, the secretary to the General and the Council of War), and were probably not deciphered and copied in a fair hand1 till after the Restoration. The original notes were doubtless very defective. At some points the manuscript appears to be relatively correct and complete. At others it presents little more than a series of isolated phrases. Occasionally the order of the speeches is confused, owing (as Firth plausibly suggests) to the pages of the shorthand notes having got into the wrong order. What is less easy to explain is how sentences and clauses within a single speech have been wrested from their correct positions: we can only assume that it was due to a frenzied effort on the part of the stenographer to catch up with the speaker. But by far the commonest type of error is precisely the one that would be expected when an unskilful reporter is trying to copy verbatim the speeches in an excited argument: namely, the omission of words and phrases and the telescoping of sentences. No speech of any length is wholly free from this defect, and what appears at first sight to be an error in order sometimes turns out to be more easily explicable and remediable as an error of omission. The punctuation, which consists mainly of commas, serves in many instances rather to obscure than to clarify the sense. I have adopted modern punctuation,2 spelling, and capitalization, since those of the original merely set an obstacle between the reader and the idea. Every other departure from the manuscript I have recorded in ‘Notes on Text’ (pp. 479 ff.), so that the student may at any given point check the text with the manuscript’s reading if he chooses, in a way impossible in Firth’s edition. Wherever feasible, I have restored the order of the manuscript. Finally I have tried (at the cost of a great deal of time and labour) to leave no speech and no sentence unintelligible. Assuming the presence of an error of omission wherever the manuscript gave no clear sense, I have added in square brackets such words as seemed necessary to link up the broken fragments and to present in an intelligible form the argument deducible from the speech itself and from the answers that it received. The result is a text which yields the speaker’s sense much more readily than does that printed in the Camden Society’s volumes. Nor do I think that it can justly be described as a less conservative text. It adopts many of Firth’s emendations; it rejects some of his deviations from the original, especially his transpositions and omissions; its new departures consist almost wholly in additions, set in square brackets, which have only to be passed over in order to exhibit the reading of the manuscript (unless a letter indicates some further departure, precisely recorded in the notes). The general reader who is willing to accept my judgment, can ignore square brackets and letters; the special student has before him the materials with which to construct at any moment his own reading. Firth has spoken of the extraordinary difficulties presented to an editor of these reports by the state of the original. I can only in my own excuse emphasize these difficulties once more, and then record my constant debt to—for it would be impertinence to praise—his editorial labours: his many valuable emendations, and, where he has not ventured to emend, his luminous footnotes on the argument.1

It is singularly fortunate that the debates reported (or those whose reports have survived) deal with two of the most significant issues of Puritan political thought: democracy, or the proposed reform of the constitution in the direction of liberty and equality, with its attendant break with the past; and the question of religious liberty. Thus they form an ideal point of departure for studying these two major and closely related themes, to whose illustration I have devoted Part III of the volume. The selections there presented are not the sources, but representative analogues, of the arguments advanced in the Debates. As such they often serve to clarify the meaning of those arguments, and at the same time to illustrate the habit of mind from which the arguments spring. Less intimate in their revelation than the Debates, they have their own value in exhibiting the Puritan temper and ideology, and are worthy of inclusion on their independent merits since many of them are available to the modern reader only in the largest or most highly specialized library. Finally the Debates refer to some other documents, intrinsically less interesting perhaps, but essential to an understanding of what is said. These I have placed in an Appendix, together with some evidence on the religious and political enthusiasms of the New Model, and some material, from the Clarke MSS. and other sources, on the activities of the Agitators and the Council of the Army.2

The chief interest of the Debates, and of the Supplementary Documents, is the light they throw on the Puritan mind. But if they are not to be misinterpreted they must be studied in connection with the situation in which the Puritans find themselves.


Among the victors in the First Civil War (with their history of conflicting principles and interests temporarily controlled by the necessity of defeating the enemy) only one point was held in common: the restored King must be so bound that he could never again exercise the arbitrary rule, civil and ecclesiastical, for whose overthrow the war had been fought. Beyond this general principle, disagreements at once emerged: first, as to the means of achieving the desired end, and what constituted satisfactory guarantees of its endurance; secondly, and more fundamentally, as to the disposition of the effectual sovereignty, taken from the King. Had that sovereignty been civil alone the problem would have presented enormous difficulties, but it was also ecclesiastical. In the Puritan revolution the religious problem may not have been—was not, in fact—more important than the civil, but in itself it was certainly the more difficult of solution, and it so combined with the civil problem as to render it, too, well-nigh insoluble.

Among the victors four main groups may be roughly distinguished. Each has a particular set of principles to advance, and a particular set of interests to guard, in the proposed religious settlement; and each is not only influenced in its whole policy by the interests, but, in varying degrees, takes the colour of its political thinking from the principles. Three of the groups fall under the general designation of Puritan; the fourth stands apart, for its guiding principle is secular, not religious, and its interest in the ecclesiastical settlement, while lively, is negative. This fourth group, known in the Long Parliament as the Erastians, is ineffectual in so far as it lacks the party organization which the two main Puritan groups possess, but influential through its power to combine with either of them and because it fully expresses the secular and anti-electrical spirit of the nation, the spirit which will accept passively any settlement in the church so long as that settlement is powerless to tyrannize or to endanger the peace.

The first of the three religious groups, the Presbyterian, had led the attack on absolutism and dominated the earlier phases of the struggle with Charles. Though it had lost the military ascendancy it once possessed, it could still generally command a majority in Parliament, and it hoped (with or without Scottish aid) to effect a settlement of the kingdom in its own interests. It stood for adherence to the Covenant, the establishment of Presbyterianism on the general lines laid down by the Westminster Assembly, and the suppression of every other doctrine and order. It was opposed to toleration, and was in general less interested in liberty than in reform. Its alliance with the Scots was its potential military strength and its actual political weakness, for in moments when national feeling ran high its majority in Parliament became a minority. But English Presbyterianism is not to be confounded with Scottish. Few indeed wished to see the Scottish church duplicated in England. Not only did the Presbyterian Party in Parliament rely on the Erastians to make its majority effective; its own adherents (as Baillie and his fellow Commissioners had lamented) were tainted with Erastianism. They would have a national Presbyterian church, and would suppress its rivals, but the church should be controlled by the state. In civil matters the Party was the most conservative of the revolutionaries (agreeing well enough with the Erastians herein); it was the Party of the Right in the Puritan coalition, finding its chief support among the aristocrats who had adhered to the Parliamentary cause, and the wealthy merchants of London, and fearing and hating the Parties of the Left for their civil, quite as much as their religious principles. The Presbyterians wished to limit the objectives of the revolution: to assert the effectual sovereignty not of the people but of Parliament, and to preserve at all costs the sanctity of property, whether real, personal, or political (the historic rights of the Crown and the material possessions of the Church alone excepted). The monarchy, shorn of its power, they would cherish in the interests of a lasting settlement—an assurance that the revolution had not been so very revolutionary after all, and a guarantee that it should go no further. (Had not God given the Israelites kings, and whenever they could do so with impunity, had not that model people knocked them about?) The King was indeed essential to their scheme, and the time was to come when they would sacrifice almost anything but the church settlement to gain him. He refused their terms and ruined himself and them. The Party of the Right is unrepresented in the Army Debates except in so far as the Independent officers agree with its civil policy or regard its opinion as something to be opposed only with caution.

To the spirit of this civil policy, the Independents, or the Party of the Centre, as we may call them,1 did not at first demur. But they were alarmed at its conjunction with an ecclesiastical ideal at variance with their own. The Independents were the heirs of the Presbyterians’ former military ascendancy, and between winning victories and opposing the hated Scots, they were sometimes able to gain a majority in Parliament. A common distrust of Presbyterian clericalism also enabled them to rely up to a point on the support of the Erastians.2 But even more than the Presbyterians’, their majority, when achieved, was highly precarious. Being astute politicians they knew that Parliament (or at all events this Parliament) would never settle the religion of the nation on their plan. Accordingly they were (or pretended to be) satisfied with a state-controlled Presbyterian establishment, so long as a toleration, of the general kind demanded by the Dissenting Brethren in the Assembly, were assured; and even for this they seemed content to wait, evidently sharing to some extent Cromwell’s comfortable assurance that heaven was on their side and would presently afford them an opportunity of taking what they wanted. Thus, partly through force of circumstances, but partly through a logical development of their own basic doctrines, the Independents became the party of toleration. This fact gave them an immense advantage outside Parliament; for it enabled them to draw support from the Parties of the Left, almost unrepresented in the House of Commons, but strong in the Army, on which in the last analysis the Independents relied. As time went on an increasing rift between Independents and Presbyterians became apparent in the matter of the civil settlement. Like the Presbyterians (and Erastians), the leaders retained their respect for property, real, personal, and political. This is the burden of Ireton’s impassioned argument at Putney: ‘All the main thing that I speak for, is because I would have an eye to property’ (p. 57). But they grew progressively less attached to the notion of the effectual sovereignty of Parliament, progressively more sensible of its tyranny; and, while loath to break with the existing Parliament, they sought a settlement which should put a definite limit to its life, and provide securely not only against the power of the restored King but also against the self-perpetuating tyranny of Parliaments in future. They discovered that if new presbyter was but old priest writ large, new Parliament also bore a striking resemblance to old King. To the monarchy itself they were certainly prepared to be not less generous than the Presbyterians, provided the King could be brought to their policy of discountenancing ecclesiastical tyranny, of ending the present Parliament, and of accepting the principle of biennial Parliaments—from whose power (as also from the King’s) certain fundamental matters should be reserved, and whose institution should be preceded by certain electoral reforms. These are some of the provisions of the Independents’ scheme of settlement, the Heads of the Proposals (pp. 422-6). But their attachment to monarchy was, like their attachment to Parliament, less deeply grounded than the Presbyterians’; it was more a matter of policy than of principle. The Independents could divest themselves of it when the moment came—when heaven (to adopt their own language) held forth the opportunity of other things; the Presbyterians could not. Independency is inherently the more radical creed. This does not mean that it is necessarily more democratic. In drawing support from the Parties of the Left, Independency allied itself with the one genuinely democratic party thrown up by the Puritan revolution, the Levellers, and temporarily even adopted some of their principles. But its immediate purpose served, the alliance dissolved, leaving the Levellers sadder and (as regards the Independents at least) wiser men. To gauge the cleavage between the Independents and their allies one has only to read the Putney Debates.

The Parties of the Left, the sectaries, religious and political, were a heterogeneous company among whom the winds of doctrine assumed the proportions of a tempest. They were descended from the Separatists and Anabaptists, as the Independents were from the more sedate Congregationalists, and were, so to speak, the Independents’ poor relations.1 Among themselves they agreed in little save the belief in a total separation of church and state and the demand for liberty of conscience, both which tenets are logical developments of parts of the Independents’ own creed, and the latter of them a main ground of the alliance between the sects and the Independent Party. Two significant types of opinion emerge among the sectaries. The one is recognizable as predominantly democratic in tendency, and ultimately secular in aim, though it maintains its emphasis on liberty of conscience and at times adopts the language of religious enthusiasm. This is the opinion of the Levellers (already mentioned), the political doctrinaires, led by Lilburne, Overton, Wildman, and others. It appealed more or less definitely to many of the rank-and-file in the New Model, to the Agitators (old and new), and even to some of the higher officers such as Colonel Rainborough. The second type of opinion is at bottom neither democratic in tendency nor secular in aim. It emphasizes not the rights of the people, but the privileges of the Saints, and it looks forward to the millennium (which always seems to be just around the corner) when the Saints shall inherit the earth and rule it with, or on behalf of, Christ (pp. 232-47, 390-6). This is the type of opinion held by the Fifth Monarchy Men, the religious doctrinaires (if the title may be awarded to one group when there are so many highly qualified claimants). Much less effectively organized in 1647-9 than the Levellers, this party had an advantage in the experience of victorious warfare through which the Army had passed, and in the Army’s susceptibility to religious enthusiasm. One cannot gauge the precise extent of its influence in the lower ranks. Probably that influence was very considerable, for up to a point it could coalesce with democratic opinion. Among the higher officers Colonel Harrison and Lieutenant-Colonel Goffe are definite adherents, and others, including Cromwell himself, are not untouched by its spell.

Such, in brief, are the main groups into which the Puritans fall. As political forces these parties operate in three corporate but not homogeneous bodies, the Parliament, the City, and the Army;1 and membership in each of these bodies partially, though only partially, cuts across party alignments and loyalties. (1) The Presbyterians’ majority in Parliament (even after they were relieved of the odium of a Scottish army on English soil) was always insecure. Yet in a less overt way the Presbyterian Party dominated Parliament up to the very moment of Pride’s purge; for they, with the Erastians, were in a special sense the Parliamentary party, insistent on the sovereignty of Parliament, determined that the regal powers and functions should be transferred to it, and that there should be no dissolution of the existing Parliament till all was settled and the kingdom safe—if ever. In these views the Parliament as a whole acquiesced, and even the Independent Party in Parliament (as distinct from the Independents of the Army and their allies) were influenced by the ‘interest’ of Parliament and of themselves as members of that august body: they could be induced to submit to Pride’s purge, but nothing could persuade the resulting Independent House of Commons to dissolve. Equally instructive to contemplate is the long struggle in Cromwell between the leader of the Army and the member of the House of Commons. (2) In the oligarchy which ruled the City the power of the Presbyterians was far more secure than in the House of Commons,2 and it was therefore a special object of the Army’s distrust. It generally acted in collusion with the Presbyterian leaders in Parliament. But the City, like the Parliament, was jealous of its independence and had its own special interests, material and political, to guard, and on occasion these interests conflicted with the needs of the Parliamentary party and the Presbyterian cause. (3) The Army was a corporate body in a sense somewhat different from Parliament and City, but no less real. Its ethos was as pronounced as theirs. All that it lacked was appropriate organs of expression, and these, with a remarkable initiative, it proceeded to create. The Army became, indeed, at once a sort of fourth estate in the realm, and a body not less representative than the (not very representative) Parliament at Westminster. It contained men of every shade of Puritan opinion, and no doubt a substantial number quite indifferent to the special ideals of the various Puritan parties and intent only on the soldiers’ material needs and grievances. But the political activities of the Army were dominated by two groups working in uneasy co-operation, the Independents, including many of the higher officers, and the Parties of the Left, finding their chief strength in the lower officers and the common troopers. These, and especially the leading Independents (Cromwell and Ireton, with a group of loyal colonels) shaped for the Army a policy which was in general harmony, but certainly not identical, with the policy of the Independent Party in Parliament. The Army had its own sense of corporate being and its own special needs and interests, in which officers and men of no close party affiliations could share. At the head of the Army, a symbol of its existence as a separate entity, stood Fairfax, of whom Gardiner remarks: ‘Most likely no one in England—probably not Fairfax himself—knew whether he was a Presbyterian or an Independent.’

A Parliament insecurely, but until Pride’s purge fairly constantly, dominated by the Presbyterians; an Army increasingly dominated by the Independents; the City where the Presbyterian interest prevailed; at a distance the Scots, and at home a vast but relatively unorganized mass of Royalist and Anglican discontent, and a smaller but more articulate body of popular and radical discontent; and finally, the endless and futile machinations of Charles—this (with a brief interruption, of the Second Civil War) is the general scene presented by the two years between February 1647 and January 1649. With this general scene in mind, our attention must turn more definitely to the activities of the New Model.

The plan of Parliament to rid itself of the New Model was highly alarming to the leading Independent officers, to the sectaries in the ranks, indeed to the whole Army. It was proposed to disband the force piecemeal, with, as an alternative, enlistment for service in Ireland under different commanders; and the plan did not include any adequate guarantees for long arrears of pay, for an Act of Indemnity covering deeds in the past war, or against being pressed for service outside England. On these defects, and the Parliament’s angry and threatening rejection of the soldiers’ protests, the whole scheme broke down; for the manifest injustice and ingratitude welded the Army into a unity of resentment, placed its disbanding completely beyond the Parliament’s power to effect, prepared it to become the political force which the Presbyterians dreaded, and fostered revolutionary propaganda in its ranks to the embarrassment of its commanders as well as to the danger of Parliament and nation. The soldiers looked to their officers for guidance, and towards the end of March these drew up a petition to Parliament, which confined itself to demanding guarantees for the soldiers’ material welfare and scrupulously avoided all reference to larger issues, political and ecclesiastical.1 But the men were also ready to organize in their own behalf. ‘Though the Army differ in religion,’ wrote an observer of Ireton’s regiment, ‘they all agree in their discontented speeches of the Parliament. . . . As for the petition, they now speak it openly that they will send it up with two out of every troop.’2 Here is the first hint we have of the plan of appointing Agitators.

By the end of the month it had been carried into effect by eight regiments of horse, to be followed by the remaining horse and by the foot. Thus the rank-and-file created their own leaders, and opened a channel of communication with the high command, the Parliament, and public opinion in the country. It is a more striking achievement of democratic organization than the forming of the General Council of the Army early in June. For the latter was prompted by the higher officers and would never have been adopted had not the regiments elected their Agitators first; and the Agitators remained in fact a more potent force outside the Council than they ever became in it. Some of them were men of undoubted energy and ability. Sexby, Allen, and Lockyer figure in the debates at Reading and Putney. Allen describes them as young in statecraft (p. 421), but they show a natural aptitude for politics. Questioned at the Commons’ bar, on 30th April, for their first official act, the presentation of the soldiers’ grievances, Sexby, Allen, and Shepherd answer with all the astuteness of Lilburne himself.1 The scope of the Agitators’ plans is best realized from ‘Advertisements for managing the counsels of the Army,’ dated from Saffron Walden, 4th May (p. 398). They aim at the penetration and effective guidance of the whole Army. They know the power of the press and propose to utilize it in their meditated struggle for public favour. They grasp the need of circumspection and an orderly procedure: in their pleas for liberty and reform they will invoke ‘the declarations of Parliament put forth to engage us in blood,’ and when they ‘call for public justice . . . upon all offenders’ (or in other words the Presbyterian leaders in Parliament), it shall be ‘according to the Covenant’! The immediate needs of the soldiers (arrears and indemnity) are still emphasized, but the minds of the Agitators run on to the settlement of the kingdom upon principles of justice and common right.

Next to arrears and indemnity, the question most likely to move numbers in the Army was liberty of conscience. Here, too, the Presbyterian Party seemed determined to alarm and exasperate the soldiers by attacks on heterodoxy and threats of suppression. The extension of the soldiers’ demands to include, above all, liberty of conscience, but also other reforms, is evident in the grievances forwarded from various regiments to be presented to the Parliamentary Commissioners at Saffron Walden, on 13th-14th May (p. 399). Thus the principles of the Levellers (who stood, among other things, for complete religious toleration) made progress in the ranks. No doubt the Agitators were in their debt for doctrine and method, and advanced their cause; but it is also probable that the first movement to elect Agitators was itself a result of the infiltration of Leveller principles. We hear of their presence in April: ‘Some of the soldiers do not stick to call the Parliament-men tyrants; Lilburne’s books are quoted by them as statute laws’; and again (with patent exaggeration), the whole Army ‘is one Lilburne throughout, and more likely to give than to receive laws.’1

Be this as it may, the hotter spirits were preparing to take the law into their own hands. By the middle of May an elaborate organization (compiete with theatrical properties—secret agents and code numbers) had been developed by the Agitators and their friends (p. 400). It was soon to be put to the test; and if we cannot restrain a smile at the evident enjoyment of No. 102 (‘Now, my lads, if we work like men we shall do well. . . . Yours till death, 102’), we must admit that in one instance it achieved a coup which left a mark on all future happenings. In the first days of June Cornet Joyce, acting in close collusion with the Agitators, and under (though perhaps also beyond) the secret orders of Cromwell and Ireton, seized the person of the King. This is not the place to tell again the familiar though problematical story, but we recall the significance of the hard-pressed cornet’s answer to Charles’ demand for a sight of his commission: ‘Here is my commission’ (pointing to his five hundred troopers). The Army had assumed the direction of events; its duel with a hostile majority in Parliament had entered on a new phase which was to culminate in Pride’s purge; and beyond that a dozen years of military rule were heralded in Joyce’s reply. But so far the soldiers’ action was unofficial, agreeable in this instance to the real commanders of the Army, Cromwell and Ireton, but not satisfactorily subject to their control. And a pressing problem faced them: to devise some means of preserving discipline and unity of action in face of the dubious (though at present friendly and potentially useful) forces emerging from the ranks. The solution of the problem—or more strictly the first step in its solution—was taken with the drawing up of the Solemn Engagement of the Army, and the organization of the General Council which it created.

The Solemn Engagement of the Army (pp. 401-3), accepted at a general rendezvous at Newmarket on 5th June, was a sort of military covenant made among the soldiers and with the kingdom. It set forth the soldiers’ grievances and the conditions on which they would disband, or enlist for service in Ireland, binding them to do neither until a council (called into existence for that purpose) should declare the conditions to have been fulfilled. It also demanded the exclusion from power of the Presbyterian leaders (the eleven members soon to be impeached in the name of the Army) who had sought to destroy the New Model and Kindle the flames of a fresh war. The Engagement disavowed all intention of serving the ends of any particular persons or party, of attempting to set up Independency in the place of Presbyterianism, of introducing ‘a general licentiousness under pretence of liberty of conscience,’ or of seeking to undermine the principle of magistracy; it glanced at the settlement, the securing of the liberties of citizen as well as soldier, the ‘establishment of common and equal right, freedom, and safety’ for all ‘that do not by denying the same to others render themselves incapable thereof’; and it invoked God’s blessing on the Army’s covenant and effort. The General Council, which the Engagement called into being, accepted the election of Agitators as an accomplished fact, balanced them with two commissioned officers from each regiment, and tipped the scale in favour of authority by associating them with the General, with the other general officers, and (though the document does not mention this) with the commanders of regiments.1 Thus was secured that precarious unity of the Army, which Cromwell was determined at all costs to preserve. Thus too was established what we may perhaps describe as the Putney Debating Society.

The Solemn Engagement, according to its promise, was followed, on 14th June, by a more detailed statement of the Army’s principles and its desires for the settlement of the kingdom. A Representation from Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Army under his command (pp. 403-9) is an able document, probably, like the Engagement, the work of Ireton. After setting forth once more the soldiers’ grievances and demands, it justifies the Army’s concern in larger issues and its right to resist, if need be, the orders of the Parliament, ‘considering that we were not a mere mercenary army hired to serve an arbitrary power, but called forth and conjured by the several declarations of Parliament to the defence of our own and the people’s just rights and liberties, and so we took up arms in judgment and conscience to those ends.’ This appeal to the declarations of Parliament is reinforced by one to ‘the law of nature and nations’ as manifested in Scottish and foreign precedent, and to the final and highest test: ‘Nor is that supreme end, the glory of God, wanting . . . to set a price upon all such proceedings of righteousness and justice, it being one witness of God in the world to carry on a testimony against the injustice and unrighteousness of men and against the miscarriages of governments when corrupted or declining from their primitive and original glory.’ And so, on to the settlement of the kingdom: the termination of the present House of Commons, biennial Parliaments, and more equal representation (later to be elaborated in the Heads of the Proposals); the right of free petition, the right of speedy trial, toleration for those unable to accept the religious settlement imposed by the Parliament (here the influence of the Parties of the Left); these things guaranteed, a willingness ‘freely and cheerfully [to] commit our stock or share of interest in this kingdom into this common bottom of Parliaments,’ and finally the promise to restore the King to his rights ‘so far as may consist with the right and freedom of the subject and with the security of the same for the future.’ The Representation of the Army, and especially this last-named clause, is one of the prior engagements so earnestly debated at Putney four months later.

Documents like the Representation were very well, but the more radical elements in the Army, while passionately addicted to declarations, were also eager for a march on London as the swiftest way of bringing Parliament and the City to their senses. On 24th-25th June the commanders, already at St. Albans, tried the experiment of advancing to Uxbridge (where they could easily cut off the City’s supplies) with a view to securing effective measures against the eleven members, and the cessation of the attempts to break down the Engagement by bribing desertion with the payment of arrears, and to provide forces that could, if necessary, be used to oppose the New Model. The voluntary withdrawal of the eleven members, and the submissive attitude of the City, satisfied the commanders, and the Army retired to Reading. Thus was demonstrated the power of the New Model to coerce Parliament and City. But the retirement was perhaps premature. While commissioners were engaged on a treaty between Parliament and Army, and Ireton was busy on the Heads of the Proposals, the Presbyterians continued their machinations. The purging of Independents from the London militia (contemplated by an ordinance passed in May) was effected. In the process a mystified lieutenant-colonel was ordered ‘to take notice he must fight against all malignants, sects, and sectaries, and all godly persons that shall come to oppose the City. To which the lieutenant-colonel replied: “Gentlemen, I had thought you all of you professed godliness. For my part I do, and therefore I shall not engage against any godly man. Whereupon Mr. Alderman Gibbs . . . answered that their meaning was . . .: if any, out of pretence of godliness, should come to oppose them, that he should fight against such. . . .” ’1 Nothing could better reveal the state of parties, or the notorious religiosity of the Army. News of these doings reached Reading. To the Agitators it appeared that Parliament and City had relapsed into their old wicked ways and were preparing for a fresh appeal to arms. They drew up new demands, and urged an immediate march on London. The policy of the Army’s commanders, to avoid an open break with the Parliament and the sacrifice of its commission (the Army’s only legal ground of existence), was being assailed on two sides, by the recalcitrance of the Presbyterian Party and by the impatience of the soldiers. On 16th July the Agitators’ proposal was the subject of a great debate in the Council of the Army, the first to be reported in the Clarke MSS. Much less interesting in subject than the later debates, it is still highly significant of tempers and policies, and an excellent example of the sort of discussion that must frequently have arisen in the Council. Accordingly, I have prepared for the Appendix a summary of the arguments, with all the more striking passages quoted in full (pp. 409-20).2 In the debate Cromwell and Ireton, careful of appearances, as the extremists never were, insisted that the occasion offered for a show of force was insufficient. Heaven would provide a better opportunity. It did, before the month was out. With the Army at a distance, renewed pressure from the London mob forced the Speakers of both Houses, and the leading Independent members, to flee. To restore them to their places, and Parliament to its liberty, the Army entered London on 6th August. But so short-lived was the effect of this demonstration that by 14th August the Agitators were petitioning Fairfax for a purging of the House of Commons, and a new march on London for that purpose. The question was debated, and this time Cromwell was on the side of the Agitators. The calculated procrastination of Fairfax prevented the desired march; but Cromwell, not to be thwarted, made a show of force with his cavalry, and the leading Presbyterians retreated, leaving the Independents for the time masters of a small majority in the House.1

Soon, however, a new danger threatened, a widening rift between the Independent leaders and their allies of the Left. The leaders hoped for a speedy settlement of the kingdom on the basis of the Heads of the Proposals. The method they advocated was a series of bills securing the liberties of the subject, the privileges of Parliament, and the settlement of the militia, to be followed, when these had received the royal assent, by others securing the rights of the King. On 16th September, the Council of the Army met at Putney after a sermon by Hugh Peter, and Cromwell was able to get this plan accepted, but in the teeth of a vigorous opposition led by Rainborough.2 The theoretic republicans found their opportunity in the growing impatience with the disingenuousness of Charles, and exploited it to the full. In Parliament too the rift appeared. On 22nd September, Marten moved for no further addresses to the King. He was easily defeated by aid of the Presbyterian vote, but it is significant that the Centre Party had to call upon the Right in order to correct the exuberance of its allies. Discontent in the ranks of the Army could think of no better expedient than to elect new Agitators. There were dark hints that those formerly appointed ‘did [now] more consult their own advancement than the public interest’; and they were supplemented in five regiments of horse (later in four more of horse and seven of foot) by new Agents. Whether or not this action was inspired by Levellers outside the Army, Ireton credits Wildman with composing the manifesto of the new Agitators, The Case of the Army Truly Stated (pp. 92, 95, 429-36), and the Proposals submitted by them are for an Agreement of the People (pp. 443-5). This, then, is the immediate background of the Putney Debates, with the documents that furnished their point of departure.

The debates reported took place on 28th and 29th October, and 1st November. It is unnecessary to summarize them since I print the text in full (pp. 1-124). Here for the first time the Levellers are represented, and the Agitators supported, by civilians whose presence has been invited. At the first debate Cromwell urged ‘that they should not meet as two contrary parties, but as some desirous to satisfy or convince each other.’ The wish was not fulfilled. The relative harmony of 5th June, or even of 16th July, was gone beyond recall, destroyed by the increasing rift between the Independent leaders and the Parties of the Left.

Though greatly superior in general interest to the discussion of 16th July, these debates are much less impressive as an example of truth and agreement reached through free discussion. They open with a personal attack on Cromwell and Ireton, and a frank commentary on their blasted reputations, which reflects the distrust of them coming to be entertained by Lilburne and his friends, and also suggests that as a means of preserving unity and discipline in the Army the Council has not been an unqualified success. Their defence leads into a discussion of the Army’s engagements. And here a new difference emerges: Cromwell and Ireton hold that, though the situation may have altered, the principles set forth in the declarations of the Army are binding; the radicals, that nothing is binding if it conflicts with reason, justice, and the safety of the people. ‘Rationalizations’ the arguments of both parties may be—what arguments are not?—but they are rationalizations which employ the deepest convictions, the most characteristic ideas, of those who adopt them. What the Independents are contending for on the practical level is, first, the settlement of the nation by treaty with the King; secondly, the preservation of unity and discipline in the Army: both alike forbid the acceptance of an Agreement of the People. In one respect, Cromwell and Ireton’s insistence on engagements is an example of what we may call the lower tactics of debate. Part of their object (Cromwell’s rather ingenuous disclaimers notwithstanding) is to kill time and prevent an irrevocable decision; they have discovered that the Council of the Army, however defective it may be as an organ of truth and agreement, is a thoroughly reliable instrument of delay, and in a select committee truth and agreement may have a better chance (pp. 13, 17). Even the seizing on Lieutenant-Colonel Goffe’s motion for a prayer-meeting is not quite free from suspicion, and, the prayer-meeting over, Cromwell and Ireton return to ‘engagements,’ to relinquish the subject only when it is patently exhausted and they must pass on to a new one, the provisions of the Agreement of the People. Here the same problem of interpretation arises: to distinguish clearly between profound convictions and the lower tactics of debate. Indeed the whole thing parallels closely the previous discussion of engagements, with the Levellers cutting through all obstacles to reason, justice, and natural right, and the Independents insisting on the claims of precedent and established interests. In two ways the Putney Debates mark the gulf that is widening between the Independents and their allies of the Left: first, in the frank irreconcilability of the principles advanced; secondly, in the atmosphere of tension, and in the necessity for the tactics which Cromwell and Ireton use. Yet the spirit of a lost unity reasserts itself at moments. Cromwell may reprobate the policy and arguments of the Left, but he is not wholly unsympathetic to their aspirations and ideals; and up to a point they share his conviction that to divide is to perish, and are frightened by his threat (skilfully concealed as an offer) to withdraw and leave them to their own devices. The last fully reported debate closes on a curious blend of acquiescence and irony. ‘It will be thought boldness in me not to agree with you,’ says Wildman to Ireton, and goes on to wish that provision might be made for the safety of the people and their champions when the King is restored. ‘But if not, I am but a single man; I shall venture myself and my share in the common bottom.’ The words are adapted from Ireton’s own Representation of the Army. The ‘common bottom’ had sprung a good many leaks since they were written.

But this was not the end. In the meetings of the Council on 4th and 5th November, and of its committee on 4th November (none of them, unfortunately, reported by Clarke), the Levellers would seem from the brief account available (pp. 452-4) to have defeated the Independent leaders, and carried a resolution in favour of manhood suffrage, a letter to the House of Commons virtually disclaiming any desire for further addresses to the King, and a demand for a general rendezvous (at which they intended to appeal from the officers to the Army and from Parliament to the people). But Cromwell had not played his last card. By 8th November he decided that the Council of the Army must be made to undo its recent work and then be placed beyond the possibility of further mischief (pp. 454-5). Somehow he managed to obtain from the Council a second letter to the Parliament explaining away that of the fifth, the dismissal of the representatives (Agitators and officers) to their regiments on the pretext of preparing for the forthcoming rendezvous, and a fresh committee of officers to examine the engagements of the Army and the Agreement of the People, whose findings were to be reported to ‘the several regiments at their respective rendezvous’ (ominous phrase). Simultaneously Fairfax sought from Parliament a further provision for the troops, ‘that so your care of the Army may appear, and myself and my officers be thereby enabled to let the soldiers see we take such consideration of them as becomes us and [as we] have engaged ourselves unto.’1 Three separate rendezvous were substituted for the general rendezvous demanded by the Council of the Army. At that of the first brigade, on 15th November, Rainborough presented a petition in favour of the Agreement of the People, and some copies of the Agreement were distributed among the soldiers, with incitements to stand by it and defy their commanders. Only two regiments gave any trouble (and that easily quelled by the prompt action of Cromwell), Colonel Harrison’s, which had assembled against orders, wearing papers inscribed ‘England’s Freedom; Soldiers’ Rights,’ and Colonel Robert Lilburne’s, which had mutinied against its higher officers and driven them away. The rest readily accepted a new engagement to unite for the prosecution of specified aims and to yield obedience to the orders of the General (sent forth with the advice of the Council of the Army as regarded these aims, but of the Council of War as regarded all other matters).2 Thus discipline (which had been threatened by the very device created to sustain it) was once again restored, but at the price of the Independents’ alliance with the Parties of the Left. That this was possible offers a strong indication that while the Army as a whole was insistent on ‘soldiers’ rights,’ only a minority cared for ‘England’s freedom’ as the Levellers interpreted that phrase. The Levellers’ discontent with Cromwell and Ireton is voiced in Wildman’s Putney Projects and other pamphlets. Soon, however, the breach was partially healed by the Independents’ decision to terminate negotiations with the King.

Between 25th November and 8th January the Council of the Army met at Windsor to arrange with Parliamentary Commissioners the final settlement of the Army’s demands for arrears, indemnity, and a present and future provision. This business concluded, ‘the agreement was sweet and comfortable, the whole matter of the kingdom being left with the Parliament.’ On one practical issue the Centre Party was moving rapidly towards the Left. Charles’s rejection of the Four Bills confirmed the fear of a renewed intrigue for restoration by means of a Scottish invasion, and at last convinced the Independent leaders in Parliament and Army of the probable necessity of settling the kingdom without him, a conviction which was embodied in the Commons’ vote of no addresses on 3rd January. In the Council of the Army there were ‘many exhortations to unity and affinity, and motions made for passing by offences that had, through weakness, come from brethren’: the Leveller mutineers were tried, but, on submission, immediately restored to their places. The recaptured unity was signalized by a fast and a feast: Cromwell, Ireton, and others ‘prayed very fervently and pathetically,’ and Fairfax entertained the Council at dinner on the eve of its dispersal. At its final meeting the Council declared its unanimous approval of the vote of no addresses and its determination to support the Parliament in its effort to settle the kingdom without, and if need be, against the King.1 This unanimous declaration was possible because on one issue the Independents had come into line with the Parties of the Left. But it represents the triumph not of their principles but of Cromwell’s policy: the achievement of at least a sufficient unity in the Army and the restoration of discipline; the adoption, furthermore, of a plan for settling the kingdom in harmony with the Independents’ wishes, and through the forms of Parliamentary action, not by the intervention of the Army (as the extremists had been always too ready to urge) or on the basis of an Agreement of the People (as one group of them had hoped). The triumph was temporary. Before all was done the Independents of the Army, under stress of circumstances, had to move much further to the Left in practical policy if not in principle.

When the work of settling the kingdom was resumed after the Second Civil War, it was without the Council of the Army, a Council of Officers having taken its place. But Ireton and other Independent leaders had moved sensibly nearer to the policy of the Left. They lost thereby the wholehearted support of part of the Independent following in both the Council of Officers and the Parliament, but were able to outweigh the loss, and capture the control of events, by a new alliance with the Left. Their policy was set forth in the Remonstrance of the Army (pp. 456-65). This was submitted to the Council of Officers at St. Albans on 10th November 1648, and finally accepted for forwarding to Parliament on 18th November; but Parliament evidently determined to postpone its discussion—if possible until the kingdom had been settled without it. Once more the Parliament was ranged against the Army, and once more membership in either body cut in some degree across party loyalties. Once more an alliance with the Parties of the Left became essential to the Independent leaders in the Army if they were to impose their will on Parliament. While the Council of Officers was hesitating to accept the Remonstrance, Ireton, already working in somewhat uneasy alliance with Harrison and his Millenarian group, entered into conference with the Levellers. The first result was the influence of Lilburne in the final revision of the Remonstrance; the second, Ireton’s reluctant acceptance of the Levellers’ most cherished principle, settlement by means of an Agreement of the People, in return for the Levellers’ reluctant acceptance of the immediate steps proposed by Ireton and Harrison. These steps were, to put an end to the existing Parliament and bridge the interval till the new constitution could be framed, and the new Parliament elected, by creating their supporters in the House of Commons a committee to administer the kingdom. Meanwhile a committee of sixteen (four from each of the Army, the Parliament, the Levellers, and the, Independents unconnected with any of these bodies)1 was to draw up the proposed Agreement of the People (see pp. 342-9). The new alliance, however insecure, gave Ireton and his supporters effective control of the Army, which, in addition to the radicalism in its ranks, had an incentive to intervention in the withholding by Parliament and City of its promised pay. On 30th November, the Council of Officers issued a declaration calling upon the Parliament voluntarily to dissolve, and, in case the majority remained obdurate, upon the honest party to dissociate themselves from the rest, when the Army would support them in an effort to establish a just and lasting settlement by means of a constitution guaranteeing a succession of free Parliaments and ratified by an agreement and subscription of the people. To further that end, the Army was marching towards the capital, ‘there to follow Providence as God shall clear our way’ (p. 467). On 2nd December, it entered London, only to encounter opposition from the Independent Party in the House, which would consent to a purge, but not to a dissolution. The result was Pride’s purge on 6th December.2

Four days later the work of Lilburne’s committee was finished and the Agreement ready for presentation to the Council of Officers. This body had no intention of adopting it without due consideration. On its civil provisions there seems to have been little disagreement. Not so on the reserve in matters of religion. When that question was debated, on 14th December (for the full text see pp. 125-69), all the differences among the Independents and their allies came to light. Clerical advice was not wanting. Philip Nye supported the Independent belief in the Christian magistrates’ carefully delimited powers in matters of religion; John Goodwin supported the claim of the Parties of the Left that the magistrates’ functions and responsibilities were purely secular; Sprigge and others declared for the privileges of the Saints, and, as essential to their realization, for the withholding from magistrates of all power to tyrannize. The religious (we have said) may not have been the most important problem in the Puritan revolution, but it was certainly the problem most difficult of solution. The fact is important for understanding the Puritan mind, and it is amply confirmed and illustrated by this long and heated argument. No final decision could be reached. The question was referred to a committee, and the officers turned to less controversial matters. But discontent with the suggested compromise flared up in the final discussion of the Agreement (pp. 175-8). There was nothing that the Parties of the Left held with more tenacity than liberty of conscience.

Their dissatisfaction with the Agreement as modified by the Independent officers, is plain to read. It was no great matter: the radicals had served their turn. From the final debates Lilburne was certainly, and the other Levellers presumably, absent. They could not approve either of the officers’ interference or of their leaving the final settlement in the hands of the now quite unrepresentative Parliament. They had always desired a direct appeal to the people. For such an appeal Lilburne had in some degree provided by publishing the original text of the Agreement in his Foundations of Freedom (pp. 356-64). The Millenarians and their sympathizers brought forward different grounds of complaint: (1) What was needed was not a new constitution and a new Parliament, but a dozen or two conscientious and able men who would set about the reform of existing abuses; (2) the Agreement, professing to set men free, in reality imposed new restrictions upon them by extending, and grounding more firmly, the magistrates’ powers; (3) God had providentially put the settlement into the hands of the Army for the nation’s good and they had no right to surrender their power and abandon the task. Nothing is more remarkable than Ireton’s answer to the second objection—unless it be Harrison’s to the third. Ireton declares that magistracy will continue to exist until God, by the breaking forth of his power among men, shall render all government needless, that meanwhile the chief object should be to restrain the magistrates’ power within fixed limits, and that this end the Agreement (so far from extending the scope of magistracy) clearly serves. Harrison has ceased to expect much good from the Agreement. It must be presented to Parliament and people because the Army stands pledged to that course. It will establish some measure of liberty for the people of God, but not enough effectively to safeguard them. God intends its failure: for it is not the final Agreement which shall establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. That will come from God, and in God’s good time. One may suspect a touch of disingenuousness in both officers. But their arguments prevailed.

The Whitehall debate on the reserve in religion has its own special background in the divergent views of the Puritans regarding the power and duty of the magistrate, and in the history of toleration; and these, in turn, clarify the division into Right, Centre, and Left. The Presbyterians (unrepresented in the debate save in so far as Ireton and Nye agree with their view of the magistrate’s power and duty or wish to leave a door open for compromise with them) expect a reform of the whole ecclesiastical polity, by the magistrate and in accordance with the scriptural model as they interpret it. On the other hand, the sectaries, however much they differ among themselves, agree in demanding the total separation of church and state (in the interests of the former) and the establishment of liberty of conscience—though the Millenarians of course intend the ultimate rule of the state itself by the Saints. The Centre Party occupied the whole interval between these opposed positions. It does so in virtue partly of its own composite character, partly of the historical situation in which it is placed. The party embraces both non-separating Congregationalists (who differ from the Presbyterians on but two points, though these are fundamental: the character of the scriptural model, and the question of a limited toleration) and separating Congregationalists, who are, indeed, sectaries of a kind, and approximate fairly closely to the Parties of the Left. The former group is represented in the debate by Ireton and Nye; the latter, by John Goodwin. At least a limited toleration had been rendered necessary for the Independent Party, first by the imminence of a Presbyterian settlement, secondly as a means of contenting its own left wing and of drawing in the Parties of the Left. In the Whitehall debate one must neither exaggerate nor minimize the divergence of opinion. Ireton and Nye say no word in defence of toleration, but in the Apologetical Narration (1644) Nye had pleaded for a limited toleration, and in Ireton’s manifestos of the Army the demand had been put forward in no uncertain terms. Now they are faced to meet the arguments not of the Right, but of the Left, and, without inconsistency, they speak for the right wing of the Centre Party. The divergence between that right wing and the exponents of the separation of church and state and of a thorough-going liberty of conscience, is nevertheless emphatic. The ground that is fought over had been mapped out in 1644, when Roger Williams1 repudiated the Apologetical Narration because it allowed the magistrate’s interference in religion and demanded at most a strictly limited toleration. But the considerable advance towards liberty of conscience which could be made from the fundamental position of Ireton and Nye is attested by the anonymous Ancient Bounds a year later (pp. 247-265), and by the practice of Cromwell’s state church. Less thorough-going, and above all less logical, than the great Separatist and Baptist pleas for liberty of conscience—those of Milton, The Bloody Tenent (pp. 266-92), Robinson’s Liberty of Conscience,2John the Baptist, The Compassionate Samaritan, A Paraenetic for not loose but Christian Liberty, The Arraignment of Persecution, and Richardson’s Necessity of Toleration—they still ensure a large measure of practical freedom.


These divergences of opinion may be allowed to raise here a question of definition. Can such divergences be profitably embraced under a single term? What does one mean by Puritanism?

Puritanism is an entity.3 It is to be understood neither as a resurgence of medieval thought (though there is some force in Acton’s description, ‘the middle ages of Protestantism’) nor simply as a harbinger of the modern world, of naturalism and democracy (though it actually advanced them both). It is to be studied in itself—and the penalty of disregarding this counsel is to misunderstand not only the movement, but its relation to past and future. One’s definition must be eclectic and must ignore no fact that is prominent in the period under consideration.

It is possible to extend the term Puritan to cover all the varied forces generated by the Protestant Reformation, and given their opportunity of expression and action by the revolt against the Crown and the Church in the first half of the seventeenth century; and this is probably still its commonest use.1 Again, it is possible to subdivide these forces and relegate the term Puritan to the more conservative, to those that remain strictly Calvinistic, adhering not only to the doctrine of predestination but also to the Genevan pattern in church and state, and opposing religious, while setting severe limits to political, liberty—or in other words to make Puritan practically synonymous with Presbyterian; this practice has some historical foundation and has been adopted by one or two modern historians.2 The cleavage between the Presbyterians and the sectaries is indeed marked; and it is tempting to adopt and enforce Troeltsch’s distinction between the church-ideal and the sect-ideal. But the problem is the Centre Party, the Independents, who increasingly dominate the situation in and after 1647. They occupy (as we have observed) the whole interval between the Right, where the Puritan church-type is dominant, and the Left, where the Puritan sect-type is not less supreme. No fact is more prominent than the existence of the two types side by side, or than their mutual influence particularly in the Centre Party, where indeed they merge.

The reason is this: Calvinism itself, the main seed-ground of the Puritan movement, is (as Troeltsch has made clear) deeply influenced by the ‘sect ideal.’ In especial, Calvin adopted the ideal of the ‘holy community.’ And as a result, Calvinism ‘was obliged to make the bold attempt of constituting its national church as a church of professing believers, and of constituting its unity of church and state as a Christian society in the strict sense of the personal faith and character of each individual member.’3 In some form the ideal of the ‘holy community’ remains constant among all the Puritan groups. And the Calvinistic, or Presbyterian, is but one of the possible inferences therefrom. If the primary effort is to erect the holy community among the Saints (as the sect ideal in its simplest form demands), one of two inferences may be drawn: the world may be left to perish in its own fashion, which means temporarily to live and order itself by its own standards; or the Saints, constituted as a holy community, may seek to impose their will upon the world and to inaugurate an outward conformity to their standards—a result which approximates to the course taken by Calvinism as a church-type, but must still be distinguished from it. The active presence of this ideal of the ‘holy community’ (however divergent the inferences in theory and practice therefrom) appears to me to furnish the only satisfactory basis for a working definition of Puritanism in its social and political aspects. Puritanism means a determined and varied effort to erect the holy community and to meet, with different degrees of compromise and adjustment, the problem of its conflict with the world. The acceptance of the ideal bespeaks a common element in all Puritan thought. The rival modes of application denote wide differences. One’s definition of Puritanism must be broad enough to include them both, with the specific ideas and the habits of mind from which they spring. Nor must one forget that the differences, inherent in the creeds of Presbyterian and Congregationalist, of Separatist and Anabaptist, from the beginning, are brought in our period into sharp relief by the pressure of swiftly moving events, or that the interval between the extreme positions is always occupied by the composite Centre Party. It is unnecessary to posit a unity in all Puritan thought; it is sufficient to recognize a continuity. Such a continuity is apparent in the documents here collected, even where the divergences of interest and opinion are most acute.

For the purposes, then, of the present volume, I have adopted the popular definition of Puritanism. But I have tried to render the divergences within Puritanism thus conceived, at once clear-cut and intelligible by discriminating between the Parties of the Right, the Centre, and the Left—and where necessary, still further between the components of these large divisions. And in my effort to isolate the elements in Puritan thought which bear, positively or negatively, upon the problem of liberty, I have been careful to set down nothing which cannot be found in the Debates and illustrated abundantly from other documents in the period. It is scarcely necessary to observe that all the generalizations are not equally applicable to all sections of Puritanism, but the difference (unless attention is specifically called to it) is usually one of emphasis only. As is natural, the stage is mainly occupied by the Parties of the Centre and the Left. The Right, which is unrepresented in the Debates, receives only occasional reference. But it has some share in the discussion and illustration of principles of resistance; and extracts not only from Prynne and Rutherford, but from Calvin and Luther (in the form in which the Puritans read them), are included in order to remind the reader of the continuity of Puritan thought. Beyond the Puritan Left, as it appears in the Debates and in the Supplementary Documents, there lie reaches to which again we can afford only occasional references: they are marked by the break-down of traditional dogma and the emergerce of habits of mind which belong rather to Quakerism than to Puritanism proper. To penetrate farther into this subject would be to forsake the centre afforded by the Debates; but one must not ignore in Puritans like Saltmarsh and Dell, Collier and Erbury, Lilburne and Winstanley, trains of thought and feeling which finally led some of them into association with the despised followers of George Fox.1

There are certain defects in analysis, considered as a method, which cannot be escaped. In one sense it is possible too successfully to isolate the elements in the Puritan mind which bear upon the problem of liberty: we murder to dissect. But the documents may be relied upon to correct the deficiencies of the Introduction, and to restore to their proper complexity and animation the elements which we have isolated in order to explain. The Puritans (though in different degrees) were men who had undergone a religious experience, whose effect was to bestow a new unity of feeling upon their thoughts. Thus (to take a single example) it will be necessary for us to distinguish between the emphasis upon dogma and scripture and the emphasis upon experiential religion; but in very many cases these are not two things, but one, dogma furnishing the framework within which the experience is enjoyed, and scripture confirming the experience by the record of Moses, of Elijah, of St. Paul. ‘This,’ says Thomas Collier, preaching to the Army at Putney, ‘I shall for your satisfaction confirm unto you from scripture, although I trust I shall deliver nothing unto you but experimental truth’ (p. 390).

The first feature of the Puritan mind to strike a reader of the Debates is the dominant place held in it by dogmatic religion, and the tendency to carry inferences from dogma into secular life. It is true that this character is peculiar to the Puritan rather in degree than kind. Grotius observed the addiction of the English as a nation to theology; and, with certain notable exceptions (Hobbes, Harrington, Selden), the cast of its political thinking in the first half of the seventeenth century is definitely theological. Yet, despite some common ground, the distinction between the Anglican and the Puritan mind is valid; for Anglican dogmatism was continually moderated by the tradition of Hooker, with his appeal to philosophy and history to supplement and correct a reliance on the bare letter of the scripture. More important as qualifying our generalization is the evident beginning of a movement among the Puritans of the Left, away from dogma and towards humanitarianism. This is the Puritan counterpart of the Latitudinarian current already becoming apparent in Anglican thought, the Puritan premonition of that general secularizing of the English temper, the date of whose beginnings is conventionally placed in 1660. But even in his movement away from dogma the Puritan retains his identity and carries with him the lessons learned in the conventicle. Almost to our own day the difference of the Anglican and the Nonconformist outlooks was a fact to be reckoned with in English life. To the growth of a secular spirit which leaves the Puritan identity still easily recognizable, we shall return. Our present interest is in the more obvious features of Puritanism during the decade of the Debates; and of these the dominance of dogmatic religion is easily the most obvious, together with the tendency to carry the implications of dogma into secular life, into the fighting of civil wars and the subsequent reform of institutions.

The Puritan turned to the theological aspects of a question as naturally as the modern man turns to the economic; and his first instinct was to seek guidance within the covers of his Bible—or was it rather to seek there justification for a policy already determined on other, on political and economic, grounds? Our own answer to the query has been suggested above in discussing the tactics of Cromwell at Putney, and need not be repeated here. Granted the theological mode of argument is in some sort a ‘rationalization,’ granted even the disingenuousness with which it is often pursued; that does not dispose of the matter. The terms in which the Puritan insists that the argument shall be carried on, are real to him, and of first-rate historical importance because they are the terms in which he views his world. Ignore the terms, or misunderstand them, and the Puritan mind has eluded you. The Puritan viewed the world as a twofold system, a scheme of nature and a scheme of grace. The two were interrelated: because God was the creator and supreme ruler of them both, and because they had a common subject-matter in man, and a common object, the good. Man as man belonged to the natural order; the elect belonged also to the order of grace. The author of The Ancient Bounds writes (pp. 247-8):

Christ Jesus, whose is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, both in nature and in grace, hath given several maps and schemes of his dominions . . .: both of his great kingdom, the world, his dominions at large which he hath committed to men to be administered in truth and righteousness, in a various form as they please; . . . and also his special and peculiar kingdom, the kingdom of grace. Which kingdoms though they differ essentially or formally, yet they agree in one common subject-matter (man and societies of men) though under a diverse consideration. And not only man in society, but every man individually, is an epitome, either of one only or of both these dominions: of one only, so every natural man (who in a natural consideration is called microcosmus, an epitome of the world), in whose conscience God hath his throne, ruling him by the light of nature to a civil outward good and end; of both, so every believer who, besides this natural conscience and rule, hath an enlightened conscience carrying a more bright and lively stamp of the kingly place and power of the Lord Jesus, swaying him by the light of faith or scripture, and such a man may be called microchristus, the epitome of Christ mystical.

There was a goodness appropriate to the natural order; and there was a goodness appropriate to the order of grace, which, while it included the natural goodness, also (because spiritual) transcended it. The views taken of the precise relation of these scparate, yet interrelated orders, colour the Puritans’ thought, and condition the terms—and perhaps more than the terms—of their particular and practical demands, as, for intance, that of Roger Williams for the absolute separation of church and state (the social organs of grace and nature) with complete liberty of conscience, or again the demand of others for the subjection of the natural man, and his institutions, to the church—or the Saints (pp. 241-7). God was the lawgiver of the two orders. Israel was a model (so ran the simpler view), and in the Bible might be read the precepts by which all men ought to be governed: ‘Though the laws be few and brief, yet they are perfect and sufficient, and so large as the wisdom of God judged needful for regulating judgment in all ages and nations. For no action or case doth, or possibly can, fall out in this or other nations . . . but the like did, or possibly might, fall out in Israel.’1 If one was to escape the conclusion which the Old Testament enforced in a particular issue (as, for example, in the question of the magistrate’s power in religion), it could be only by an appeal to the New Testament, with an elaborate argument tending to prove that Israel was ‘typical,’ that its law (or some part of its law) was abrogated by the appearance of Christ, who was the ‘antitype,’ and that Israel furnished, therefore, no literal model for life under the Gospel. Beside precept and model, there was prophecy. Daniel and Revelation afforded a key to events, past and present, and a vision of the future. From these books the Millenarians derived a view of history and a motive of revolution. And the pattern exhibited coloured the thought of many who could not be described as active adherents, so that one may speak of Millenarian doctrine as in a sense typical.

The cultural and disciplinary value to the Puritan mind, of all this biblical study, formal theological reasoning, and eager and disputatious searching into the purposes of God, is rarely, I think, appreciated to the full. It was on such studies that the logical faculty of Roger Williams was formed. Narrow and one-sided as the Puritan mind is apt to be, it is never flaccid. In their attitude toward reason the Puritans differed widely among themselves, ranging from the extremes of voluntarism and obscurantism to almost pure rationalism; but whatever the avowed attitude, their tacit reliance in the exposition of dogma and text was on logical thought: no one was ever more insistent on hearing a reason for the faith that was in you. That is why Puritanism carried its own special mental discipline. The Debates furnish abundant illustration of the dominance of dogmatic religion and scriptural reference; it appears in connection with every subject discussed, and (though in varying degrees) in all the participants. Unbelievably remote as the argument often seems, its general level attests the bracing effect of the Puritan discipline on ordinary minds. Nor must the limits which it set to inquiry be exaggerated. Dogma, brought into hourly relation with life, led men beyond dogma. Especially is this true of the group who separated most sharply the two orders of nature and grace. But this is to anticipate.

According to the Puritan notion, God spoke in the first instance through his word—the dominance of dogmatic religion means Puritan scripturism; but there were two other modes of learning his will. There was the mode of immediate religious experience. If dogmatic religion is heavily represented in the Debates, so is experiential. There are moments when one could hardly parallel the atmosphere at Putney outside the walls of Little Bethel. Yet to the Puritans it seems perfectly natural. They listen to each others’ experiences and are duly edified and impressed. Even the hard-headed Ireton is strangely moved (pp. 21-2). The exposition of dogma and text make their claim upon reason, but in these experiences imagination and emotion have their play: the Puritan imagination is fired, and the passions necessary to great, and sometimes desperate enterprises, are kindled. And there is a community of feeling not less important than intellectual agreement; this, too, religious experience, enjoyed in common, fosters. But the thing has its dangers. Cromwell finds that he is without anything to report ‘as in the name of the Lord’ (p. 102), and is a little fearful lest ‘carnal imaginations’ may pass themselves off as promptings from heaven (p. 104). He prefers, because it seems more objective, the testimony of events. That is God’s third mode of revealing his will. The Puritan lives in a world of particular providences. God has ‘owned’ the Army by the success he has vouchsafed.1 Let the Army pursue its course, but let it not outrun its commission or seize an opportunity before God has given one; and guidance will not fail. We have seen the Army on its momentous march to London, ‘there to follow Providence as God shall clear our way.’ The way was cleared to Pride’s purge and the judicial murder of the King.

The sense of special insight into, and co-operation with, the purposes of God, is a distinguishing mark of the Puritan, and it sets him at a distance from other men. It is both a strength and a weakness. At its worst it issues in self-righteousness. (All the publicans and sinners were on one side, said Chillingworth, all the scribes and Pharisees on the other.) But it nerved the arm and brought an access of courage, which on any other premise, would have been reckless. Like everything else in the Puritan’s outlook, the separation from his fellows rested on a dogmatic basis: the doctrine of predestination taught him that it was from the beginning. The Saint alone belonged to the order of grace, with its special equipment, its privileges, and its duties. The possible inferences from this fact were various, but so long as the dogma remained unimpaired, or uncircumvented, the attitude towards the natural man was constant. ‘Men as men,’ said Ireton, ‘are corrupt and will be so’ (p. 174).

If this account of the dominant place held by religion in the Puritan mind is even approximately correct, no wonder the religious issue bulked so large in the Civil War and the subsequent settlement. ‘The interest of England is religion,’ said Hugh Peter (p. 138). ‘Kings, and Armies, and Parliaments,’ said another speaker, ‘might have been quiet at this day if they would have let Israel alone’ (p. 147). And the religious issue is not isolated. It complicates, and is complicated by, the civil.1 Nor does the connection depend merely on the fact observed above, that each section of the Puritan Party has both religious and civil interests to guard, and religious and civil aims to secure. There is perpetual interaction between the two struggles. Passion generated in the one is available for the prosecution of the other. And here the primacy of the religious struggle appears: in it Puritan idealism burns with its steadiest flame, and religion exercises its influence not only directly by intrusion into the civil sphere, but indirectly by analogy. Milton speaks of ‘the best part of our liberty, which is our religion’; and the Puritan’s whole conception of liberty is (as we shall see) deeply coloured by his religious thought, while the second and partially incompatible object of his concern, positive reformation, is equally so coloured.

The zeal for positive reform2 is one of the most constant and indisputable notes of Puritanism. ‘Reform the universities. . . . Reform the cities . . . the countries, . . . the sabbath, . . . the ordinances, the worship of God. . . . Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.3 Alike in Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and the sects, the ideal of the ‘holy community,’ pure in doctrine and exemplary in life, is dominant; but with very different effects upon political thought and action. By the strictest and most logical of the Separatists the ideal is recognized as applicable to, and attainable by, the elect alone; and it operates within the limits of a voluntary religious community made up of visible Saints, with no attempt to influence the state save by exhortation and example. Wherever, on the other hand, the ideal is combined with that of a national church, an attempt will be made to bring the nation into outward conformity with the standard of the godly. The non-elect and the unbelievers are (as Troeltsch puts it) disciplined for the glory of God and the peace and welfare of the church. Thus the effect of what is at bottom the same motive would appear to be totally different in the Puritans of the Right and of the Left, with those of the Centre occupying the interval between them. But this does not exhaust the possibilities. A further distinction has to be drawn among the Puritans of the Left, where the idea of a national church, at least in its Presbyterian form, has no place. It is among some of the sectaries, whose church organization is Separatist and who (for their own purposes) join in the plea for liberty of conscience, that the ideal of the ‘holy community’ assumes its most menacing aspect, the doctrine of the rule of the Saints. And the rule of the Saints means the enforcement of the standards of the ‘holy community’ upon the nation at large, as the Millenarians frankly avow. If the idea of toleration is one ground of alliance between the Parties of the Centre and Left, this opposing idea is certainly another. Puritanism was not only committed in all sections to the ideal of the ‘holy community,’ but, in most of them, strongly drawn to the establishment of its reign outside the body of the elect, where, since persuasion could be of no avail, reform must be by coercion.

Its zeal for reformation results in part from the fact that the Puritan temper is in general active rather than contemplative. Though its official creed repudiates works as a means of salvation, it emphasizes them as a sign; and the Puritan has an overwhelming sense of one’s responsibility to use every effort for advancing the kingdom of God. ‘It is action,’ says Baxter, ‘that God is most served and honoured by.’1 And the predilection comes out repeatedly in different forms. There is a vein—even here it is not the dominant vein—of pure contemplation in Anglican literature. The Puritans on the other hand, despite their addiction to experiential religion, seem very often deficient in the higher and more disinterested kinds of mysticism. Milton is the least mystical of all great religious poets. And in his hands spiritual concepts like ‘Christian liberty’ are capable of being wrested from the contemplative to the active sphere. This is not to deny an element of mysticism in some of the Puritans. Cromwell can remind the Council of the Army, eager to dictate the settlement of the kingdom, that the best government ‘is but a moral thing; . . . it is but dross and dung in comparison of Christ’ (p. 97). They appear to disagree with him—and when the time comes Cromwell too will act. In Roger Williams a more unfaltering sense of the mystical quality of religious experience tends to set it apart, thus assigning religion to the contemplative spirit, but to the active reserving all the rest of life. Where no such separation occurs the strong Puritan impulse to action results in the constant intrusion of religion into the secular sphere in an effort to enforce the standards of the holy community upon the world, and in a marked tendency to press on, in the name of that ideal, from the quest for religious liberty to the quest for political power.

Within limits the spirit of Puritanism is not only active, but experimental. Naturally the experimental spirit will be operative only in those sections of the party which conceive that the necessary point of compromise between the ideal and the demands of actual life has not yet been reached. For the rest, and notably for the Presbyterians, the period of its operation is already past. For the Independents, and much more markedly for the sects, the point is not yet reached.1 The Bible embodies a revelation complete and unalterable; but there is still room for progressive comprehension, progressive interpretation;2 and it is here that free discussion can (as Milton maintains in the Areopagitica) minister to the discovery of the truth and to agreement in the truth. ‘I am verily persuaded,’ said John Robinson to the departing Pilgrims, ‘the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of his holy word. . . . I beseech you remember it is an article of your church covenant that you be ready to receive whatever truth shall be made known to you from the written word of God. . . . It is not possible that the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick Antichristian darkness and that perfection of knowledge should break forth at once.’3 The Apologetical Narrators, the most moderate of Congregationalists, resolve ‘not to make our present judgment and practice a binding law unto ourselves for the future’ and could wish that this principle ‘were (next to that most supreme, namely to be in all things guided by the perfect will of God) enacted as the most sacred law of all other . . . in Christian states and churches throughout the world.’1 The Christian, Henry Robinson urged, ought continually to grow not only from grace to grace, but from knowledge to knowledge.2 ‘The true temper and proper employment of a Christian is always to be working like the sea, and purging ignorance out of his understanding and exchanging notions and apprehensions imperfect for more perfect, and forgetting things behind to press forward’ (p. 259). ‘To be still searching what we know not, by what we know,’ said Milton, ‘still closing up truth to truth as we find it . . .: this is the golden rule in theology as well as in arithmetic.’3 The exponents of toleration, says another writer, ‘count not themselves perfect but stand ready to receive further light, yea though from the meanest of the brethren.’4 This experimental spirit, this eager quest of truth (whether adequately or inadequately conceived), with the attendant confidence in truth’s power to guard itself and to prevail if given an open field, is the deepest and most abiding element in the Puritan campaign for liberty of conscience. There it joins hands with other traditions of free inquiry coming down from the Renaissance, as appears in quotations from Charron (pp. 260-1), and in John Goodwin’s argument:

If so great and considerable a part of the world as America is . . . was yet unknown to all the world besides for so many generations together, well may it be conceived . . . that . . . many truths, yea and those of main concernment and importance, may be yet unborn and not come forth out of their mother’s womb—I mean the secrets of the scripture to see the light of the sun. . . . [No] man is completely furnished for the ministry of the Gospel . . . who is not as well able to make some new discovery, and to bring forth something of himself in the things of God in one kind or other, as to preach the common and received truths. . . . That is neither new nor unjustifiable by the practice of wise men, to examine, yea and to impugn, received opinions. He that will please to peruse the first book of Doctor Hakewell’s learned Apology of the Power and Providence of God &c., shall meet with great variety of instances . . . in divinity, philosophy, in ecclesiastical history, in civil or national history, in natural history, of opinions which had a long time been received, and yet were at last suspected, yea and many of them evicted and rejected upon due examination. . . . There are many errors (erroneously so called) in the Christian world which are made of the greatest and choicest truths; yea and which doubtless will be redeemed from their captivity and restored to their thrones and kingdoms by diligence, gifts and faithfulness of the approaching generation.1

Transferred to the political field, the experimental spirit manifests itself chiefly in the Levellers. But it is shared in some degree by the official body of the Independents and underlies the idea of the Debates.

An attitude tentative, yet confident and expectant, was further fostered by the rapid march of events. The break in the ordered procession of the traditional in church and state seemed to the more visionary to place the ideal within their reach. ‘God,’ wrote the Leveller leaders, ‘hath so blessed that which has been done as thereby . . . to afford an opportunity which these six hundred years has been desired, but could never be attained, of making this a truly happy and wholly free nation.’2 ‘God’s people, as well as worldlings,’ said Henry Robinson, ‘have their times to fish in troubled waters.’3 The circumstances of the period fostered in those whose minds already contained the germs, both utopianism and the iconoclasm which, for the active temper, is inseparable from it.

Already in the Grand Remonstrance there is a suggestion of the utopian spirit in the programme of reforms which its framers outline;4 Charles, indeed, specifically complains of ‘that new Utopia of religion and government into which they endeavour to transform this kingdom.’5 Here again Puritanism met other currents of thought: the still-living tradition of Renaissance utopianism (always more academic than the Puritan), embodied in the work of a More and a Campanella; the teaching of Bacon, now commencing to find eager disciples and to shape its own august memorial, the Royal Society (a dream of the New Atlantis come true); the cult of Comenius, assiduously fostered by Samuel Hartlib, who had plans for the reform of everything from beehives to the state, not to mention a scheme, the special department of his friend John Dury, for the reunion of Protestant Christendom. Whatever the intentions of the Long Parliament, there were plenty of persons ready to point the way to Utopia: in education (to mention only the most important examples), Hartlib, Dury, Milton, Petty, John Webster, and William Dell; in the organization of society and the state, Hartlib, Harrington, Milton, Vane, Baxter, Hugh Peter, Henry Robinson, the Levellers in general, and Richard Overton in particular (see pp. 335-8), the Millenarians with their vision of rule by the Saints, and Gerrard Winstanley with his communist Law of Freedom in a Platform. All these writers, with the exception of Harrington and Petty, definitely belong to the Puritan parties (and even they have connections with the Puritans). Up to a point the outcropping of utopianism may further illustrate the beginnings of a trend away from dogmatic and towards humanitarian religion, or, in the case of the Levellers, Harrington, and Petty, a definite process of secularization; but Baxter, Vane, Dell, and the Millenarians certainly manifest no drift from dogma, on whose acceptance, indeed, their utopias depend. And all exhibit qualities recognized elsewhere in the products of the Puritan mind—above all the Puritan impulse to action; for these are not utopias in the sense of Sir Thomas More, but somewhat visionary schemes of reform to be actually attempted, utopias in the sense of Charles I’s indignant protest. They may, like the Areopagitica, even repudiate ‘Atlantic and utopian politics.’ Typical is John Cook’s Unum Necessarium, which pleads for the control of the drink trade and the relief of the poor (including free medical service): ‘I am not of their opinion that drive at a parity, to have all men alike. ’Tis but a utopian fiction. The scripture holds forth no such thing: the poor ye shall have always with you. But there ought to be no beggar in England, for they live rather like beasts than men.’1 Fostered by the unsettled state of English institutions, and supplemented by various intellectual influences, this utopianism takes its rise in the Puritan mind and temper, and constitutes an important element in the Army Debates.

Hand in hand with utopianism goes iconoclasm. The common effort to destroy religious institutions of a thousand years had confirmed this trait in the Puritan mind, even when the purpose was to replace them with a sterner rule and ‘not to loose the golden reins of discipline and government in the church.’1 ‘And for the extirpation of prelacy,’ wrote John Saltmarsh, ‘though it be a government riveted into our laws and usages . . . yet let us not like the Jews lose our Gospel with holding our Laws too fast. I know this kingdom hath ever been a retentive nation of customs and old constitutions. . . . And hence it is that reformation . . . hath been with such little power and duration. . . .’2 Though fostered by the revolution in the church the triumph of iconoclasm was but partial in the end; for some of the deepest instincts of the national temper (as Saltmarsh hints) were ranged against it, and these kept cropping up—in the Puritans themselves. Only in the Parties of the Left is iconoclasm willingly adopted and unhesitatingly pursued. Beyond a certain point, the Independents are drawn into it not by choice, but by the force of circumstances. In November 1647, Ireton defends ‘the fundamental constitution’ from Leveller attacks. By November 1648, he has had to retreat from this position: ‘the fundamental constitution’ gives too little ground for beheading monarchs and establishing republics in their place.3 The subject leads into a consideration of the appeal to natural rights, which must be reserved for our consideration of liberty; but we may glance at the Puritan attitude to custom, precedent, and history, taking Milton as our example.1 No sooner has he attacked the problem of religious liberty and reform than he decides that change cannot be too ‘swift and sudden provided still it be from worse to better.’ Custom, he discovers, is ‘a natural tyrant’ in religion and in the state, a tyrant which has an ally in man’s fallen nature—‘a double tyranny of custom from without and blind affections within.’ Custom, it is assumed as self-evident, always enters into alliance with error, never with truth: ‘. . . Error supports custom, custom countenances error, and these two between them would persecute and chase away all truth and solid wisdom out of human life, were it not that God, rather than man, once in many ages calls together the prudent and religious counsels of men, deputed to repress the encroachments and to work off the inveterate blots and obscurities wrought upon our minds by the subtle insinuating of custom and error.’ In this passage is implied the Puritan view of history (the view which informs Adam’s vision in Paradise Lost): deterioration is its note, but deterioration relieved by sudden interventions of God in behalf of truth and righteousness, as seen in the prophets of old, pre-eminently in the earthly ministry of Christ, and recently, after twelve hundred years of increasing darkness, in the Reformation, whose work England was called on to complete, ‘even unto the reformation of reformation.’ The view can best be characterized as the direct antithesis of Burke’s: history is not ‘the known march of the ordinary providence of God’; it is a protracted wandering from the way, relieved by sudden interventions of God’s extraordinary providence. The common elements of theism and idealism in the two thinkers make the comparison legitimate and significant. For Milton theism does not validate the actual, does not dispose him to seek for evidences of the ideal in the actual, or in history which is the record of the actual. Though other influences contribute to form his mind, there is strong indication that in this he speaks for Puritanism: and he is at one with the Independent John Cook, who repudiates ‘the puddles of history,’2 and with the Levellers, who dismiss the past as vicious and irrelevant: ‘. . . Whatever our forefathers were, or whatever they did or suffered, or were enforced to yield unto, we are men of the present age and ought to be absolutely free from all kinds of exorbitancies, molestations, and arbitrary power.’1 It is in connection with the plea for liberty that Puritan iconoclasm most frequently appears; but the attitude was learned in connection with church reform. ‘Let them chant while they will of prerogatives,’ said Milton, ‘we shall tell them of scripture; of custom, we of scripture; of acts and statutes, still of scripture.’

With the Puritan concern for liberty we come to a trait immensely important in itself and for our purposes, but also problematical as those previously enumerated are not. It is the subject of the concluding section of this essay, but the question of its status must be broached at this point. The problem is raised by two facts: that a concern for liberty does not appear to be a constant feature of the Puritan mind, and that it runs counter to another and the most universally recognized of traits, the passionate zeal for positive reform, with the will, if necessary, to dragoon men into righteousness—or the semblance of righteousness. If we confine our attention to the Puritans of the Right we shall find as time goes on little enthusiasm for liberty as an ideal, and many hard sayings regarding it. Preaching before the House of Commons on 26th May 1647, Thomas Case denounced liberty of conscience as opening the floodgates of anarchy. Publish liberty of conscience as one of the people’s rights, he said, ‘and see . . . how long your civil peace will secure you when religion is destroyed. . . . For no doubt if this once be granted them . . . they may in good time come to know also—there be them that are instructing them even in these principles, too—that it is their birthright to be freed from the power of parliaments and . . . kings. . . . Liberty of conscience (falsely so called) may in time improve itself into liberty of estates and . . . houses and . . . wives, and in a word liberty of perdition of souls and bodies.’2 Here speaks the outraged Puritan ideal of righteousness, reinforced by a sense that the moment of a necessary compromise between the impulse towards liberty and the demands of actual life is long overdue. The protest is thoroughly typical and could be paralleled by dozens of others. If, on the contrary, we turn to the Puritans of the Centre, and more particularly of the Left, we find not only the utterances of the Levellers, but the official declarations of the Army, exalting liberty to the position of the main motive in the Puritan revolution, and Overton (typical in this at least) championing the ideal of liberty against what he chooses to regard as the pseudo-ideal of reform.1 The conflict between the two ideals is, or may become, real enough. But the contrast between the Puritans of the Right and the Left is apt to be misleading. The desire for liberty was not (or rather had not always been) absent as a motive from the Party of the Right. In the hour of oppression it had been a main plea of every group. In the matter of liberty of conscience, one of the chief indictments against the Presbyterians was that they withheld from others what they had demanded for themselves. Nor can one fail to recognize in such a document as Rutherford’s Lex Rex (pp. 199-212) a genuine (if limited) passion for liberty and a host of arguments in its behalf. Again the concern for liberty is by no means equally manifested in the different groups which form the Puritan Left. The ideal of reform in the interests of righteousness is certainly not less dominant in the Millenarians than in the Presbyterians. Finally, in seeking to determine which of the two constitutes the authentic Puritan ideal, it is an error to concentrate on the Right and Left to the exclusion of the Centre. In the Independents the two ideals are constantly present, and the conflict between them is unmistakable. The principal Whitehall debate is very largely a record of that conflict. So much for the attitude towards liberty and reform manifested by different Puritan groups. There is another way of viewing the problem. One may ask what bearing the basic theological dogmas adopted by Puritanism have upon these issues. Of the reforming spirit, the zeal for righteousness, and the willingness to coerce if need be, the theological foundations have been sufficiently explored above. These things, there is no denying, are of the essence of Puritanism. In the case of the concern for liberty, the theological foundations, which have not perhaps been so fully understood, will be discussed in some detail below. For the moment it is enough to indicate their existence by a single sentence from Milton (p. 228), who is pleading for liberty of conscience but is ever ready to extend the demand from religion to politics: ‘Ill was our condition changed from legal to evangelical and small advantage gotten by the Gospel, if for the spirit of adoption to freedom, promised us, we receive again the spirit of bondage to fear. . . .’ Basic Puritan theology and the history of the revolution suggest the same answer to our problem. The motives are equally authentic: the passionate concern for liberty and the passionate zeal for reform in the interests of righteousness. Capable of co-operation up to a certain point, they finally remain, somewhere near the heart of Puritanism, in a state of potential and unresolved conflict.

More or less closely connected with the feeling for liberty are Puritan individualism and Puritan equalitarianism, each with its appropriate dogmatic basis, whose fuller discussion may also be postponed. Here one must recognize, however, counter-tendencies and counter-associations in the Puritan mind. Puritan individualism speaks most significantly of all in the voice of conscience. The Puritan asserts the right and duty of thinking for himself. Those in authority (the Agents observe to Fairfax) may demand an unquestioning obedience, but a man is finally answerable to his own conscience (p. 436 n.)—that is (in Ireton’s phrase) to ‘conscience obliging above or against human and outward constitutions’ (p. 459). The consciences of common men were a new phenomenon in politics, and one that has never since disappeared. Ideally, to assert one’s right of private judgment should be to concede the same right to every one else. But it is not always thus that the celebrated Nonconformist conscience has reasoned—and we understand the Puritan conscience the better if we give it its later name. Some of its associations are with liberty, but not all. For it can argue that all it pleads for is the autonomy of the illuminated conscience and that this it denies to no man. Again, in regard to Puritan equalitarianism it is sufficient to observe that the equality of believers implies their superiority to unregenerate men. And this superiority, so long as dogma is unimpaired, or in the secular field uncircumvented, will continue to oppose an effective barrier against a wider equalitarianism.

The two processes, the impairing of dogma and its circumvention, must be clearly distinguished. Both are present in Puritanism of the Left, and each has its place in the history of liberty and equality.

Of the forces counteracting, and ultimately impairing, the dogmatic attitude we have noticed one, the principle of the progressive interpretation of truth. With its operation (as also with the ineptitude of amateur theologians) may be associated the rapid multiplication of sects and heresies which Thomas Edwards deplores.1 Standing in varying relations to the Puritan movement, the new opinions consist either in some exaggeration of the dominant Calvinistic creed (a repudiation of some compromise which it had sanctioned) or in a reaction, theological or ethical, against some part of that creed and its inferences. For our present purpose the latter type alone is directly important, though the very multiplication of opinions, whatever their character, would do something to weaken the authority of dogma as such. Most significant of all is the reaction against the Calvinistic dogma of predestination as that dogma is set forth by Prynne (pp. 232-3) and others. The reaction, which extends far beyond the ranks of the Puritans, represents a shift towards a rational theology and a humanistic, even a humanitarian, religion. As the Cambridge Platonists were to demonstrate, Arminianism was preeminently the doctrine of Christian rationalism1 and Christian humanism, re-reading the stern pronouncements of the Reformation in the mellow light of the Renaissance. The Calvinists were quick to point out its affinities with the Pelagian heresy, whose effect was to eliminate divine grace and substitute a gospel of self-help. This is a gospel comfortable to human nature (All men, said Culverwel, are naturally born Pelagians), and one whose role in the making of the modern mind is self-evident.2 It is not surprising then to find some of the sectaries going far beyond the Arminian position proper, hinting the sufficiency and the natural goodness of human nature and calling in question the doctrine of original sin. But apart from these dubious inferences, and by its central attack on the extreme form of the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, of absolute election and reprobation, Arminianism weakens the theological basis of Puritan inequalitarianism, of the conception of an aristocracy of the elect, and thus undermines the most formidable of the barriers separating Puritanism from democracy.

Other forces are at work among the sectaries to a similar end. Two may be distinguished, though not so as to exclude their mutual influence. For, as Chesterton observes, heterodoxies, often of the most opposite kinds, will flock together. In seventeenth-century England (as in the Europe of the Reformation) currents which in spirit belong to no religious tradition but rather to libertinism, seek a temporary alliance with radical Protestant thought. In Overton there is a militant naturalism and a thinly veiled hostility to dogmatic religion. He champions the mortalist heresy in the name of scripture and reason and advances a materialistic view of man and the world.1 He claims to have attempted a proof of the main truths of revelation from nature and reason;2 it is difficult to judge of his motives, but the method seems to link him with the beginnings of Deism. He is perfectly familiar with Puritan doctrine and can use it on occasion. He talks of the order of nature in terms reserved by the more orthodox for the order of grace, by the simple expedient of omitting all reference to the Fall (p. [69]). He seizes upon the radical plea for liberty of conscience put forward on religious grounds by Roger Williams and others, and gives it his own emphasis.3 Wildman can also speak the language of the Saints:4 on the most extreme Separatist ground, he argues against the magistrate’s power in matters of religion, developing the doctrine of the two orders in a direction which might lead to either scepticism or fideism, and incidentally in one diametrically opposed to Overton’s boasted effort to deduce the truths of revelation from nature (pp. 168-9). By Walwyn a subtler method is used. His aim is to inculcate a sentiment. He adapts (sometimes almost out of recognition) such parts of Puritan doctrine as he can use, while undermining, rather than openly assailing, the rest. The doctrine of Christian liberty, detached from its dogmatic basis, becomes an invitation to free oneself from the oppression of religious ordinances; Eden is approximated to the life of the golden age, and of Montaigne’s happy savages; the Fall is thus interpreted as a forsaking of nature for human ‘inventions,’ and the rule of the Gospel as an injunction to return to a natural simplicity; the genuine (and at this time somewhat neglected) humanitarian element in Christianity is emphasized at the expense of every other, and, more dubiously, it is presented as a militant and revolutionary creed. It is not without significance that Walwyn here affects to be expounding the doctrines of the Familists.1 Such teaching carries us over from the sceptics to the mystics, who tend to undermine dogma in the act of reinterpreting it. This is the second force to which we referred above. The influential teaching of Winstanley may serve as an example, whose blend of the practical with the mystic points on to Quakerism. His method of interpreting the Bible is frankly allegorical. The unfallen state is one in which the indwelling God (variously described as Reason and as Universal Love) rules the life of man. The Fall means the intrusion of self-love, which is followed by the curse. This, however, can be but temporary; for Reason or Universal Love must triumph, and mankind be restored to its primal perfection (pp. 375-89).2 By this and other such reinterpretations of the Christian scheme (in which some of the essential dogmas of Calvinism are omitted and the whole takes on a universalist colouring) Winstanley builds the theological foundations of his social teaching.

A fourth influence is less theoretic. Apart from the varying notes of naturalism and scepticism detected in some of their leaders, there was among the Levellers a marked transfer of interest from religion to the world. But even in the leaders the drift from Puritan belief and sentiment is by no means constant. There appears to have been no such drift in John Lilburne, the most influential of them all. His earliest sufferings had been in the cause of liberty of conscience, and eight years later he published an account of his religious experience at this time.3 Increasingly preoccupied with secular concerns, and thrown into association with Overton and Walwyn, he seems, nevertheless, to have remained a religious enthusiast to the end. And wherever he deals with religion he appears as a rigorous Separatist who could readily subscribe to all the teachings of Williams’s Bloody Tenent.1 More significant still is the fact that all the Levellers, when arguing in favour of religious liberty, do so on the grounds set forth in that great book, which is as orthodox as it is radical.

For the undermining of dogma is not a necessary prelude to a contribution by Puritanism to liberty or even equality. While there are enemies to be encountered, an uncritical religious enthusiasm, not too careful of logical consequences, may do yeoman service. But before the contribution can be one of ideas, and unequivocal in its logical bearings, limits must be set to the drawing of inferences from religious dogma in the secular sphere. The way actually taken by true Puritans depends on no serious undermining of dogma itself, but on quite another process which leaves the reign of dogma in religion unimpaired. With this we come to the final characteristic of Puritan thought. If it is ignored, one cannot gauge correctly the relation of Puritanism to political liberty and secular progress. That characteristic is a tendency, already hinted, to distinguish sharply between religion and the rest of life, to segregate the spiritual from the secular, and to do this, in the first instance, for the sake of religion, though with momentous consequences for the life of the world. As in the case of the Puritan concern for liberty itself, the characteristic is of the utmost importance; and, once more, it is problematical because it manifests itself only in some of the Puritans, and those not the majority, and because it would seem to run counter to one of the characteristics already fully established: the tendency of the Puritan mind to carry the implications of dogma into secular life. Like the Puritan concern for liberty, it obviously requires to have its status examined and vindicated.

The groups in which the new characteristic appears are roughly identical with those already cited as exhibiting most clearly the Puritan concern for liberty and as setting limits to the Puritan zeal for positive reform. In the Party of the Right, the Presbyterians, the new characteristic is absent;2 but so is it also in the Millenarians, and in the other groups (of the Centre and Left) who share in any appreciable degree their vision of the future. On the other hand, in those groups of the Left who are most deeply devoted to liberty of conscience and from whom proceeded the main Puritan argument and effort in behalf of political liberty, the new characteristic is very strongly marked. In the Independents, the Centre Party, it clearly emerges, but less decisively than in these. From the facts thus baldly set forth, one might predict a close relation between the new characteristic—the tendency to segregate the spiritual and the secular—and the effective emergence of the Puritan concern for liberty. The segregation of the spiritual and the secular is indeed the means by which the concern for liberty frees itself in the secular sphere from other and countervailing impulses, and disposes of all those particular inferences from dogma which are inimical to liberty. If the concern for liberty is an authentic characteristic of the Puritan mind, so also is this, the necessary mode of its transfer to the secular field. But the proof need not rest here. As in the case of the concern for liberty, the separation of the spiritual and the secular (or what we may for brevity call the principle of segregation) is traceable to the foundations of Puritan thought. In discussing the Puritan conception of man and the world, we observed as a constant feature, the recognition of a twofold system, an order of nature and an order of grace, and we remarked on the extent to which the different views taken of the precise relation subsisting between the two orders coloured Puritan thought. It is upon an extreme interpretation of this dogma of the two orders that the principle of segregation depends. The two orders are separate and opposed. God indeed is the creator and ruler of them both, but he rules them by different dispensations, and the goods which pertain to them are totally different (for, though spiritual goodness no doubt assumes all the natural virtues, it also transcends them). What God has thus divided, the Christian may not seek to join. He must not (for example), through mistaken zeal, try to bring the natural man under a rule meant only for the elect. In all his thinking, indeed, he must be mindful of the distinction of the two orders. This principle, thoroughly applied, imposes severe limits upon the intrusion of dogma into secular life. In other words, it completely secularizes one division of existence. But the principle is derived not from any conscious reaction against dogma as such, but from a confident and extreme appeal to one of the basic dogmas of the Puritan creed. The correctness of this interpretation is, I think, confirmed by the fact that for many who apply the principle of segregation the reign of dogma in the spiritual sphere remains (for a long time at least) unassailed.

The practical manifestations of this principle, and its less immediate results, are far-reaching indeed. The most obvious manifestation, the perfect example in action, is the insistence by Puritans of the Left on the absolute separation of church and state, the social organs of grace and nature respectively. That this insistence becomes the groundwork of a plea for complete liberty of conscience illustrates the close connection between the principle of segregation and the Puritan concern for liberty. But the alliance does not stop short with religious liberty; the reasoning which issues in a purely spiritual view of the church issues just as certainly in a purely secular view of the state. This in itself invites a reconsideration of the state’s origin, function, and sanctions. It does not follow that the reconsideration will be democratic in tendency; but it may be so, and the invitation is the first service of the Puritan principle of segregation to the cause of liberty and equality. There is a second service. We have seen that Puritanism nourishes both a concern for liberty and a sentiment of equality (and this it does without reference to the principle of segregation). But both terms require to be qualified: it is Christian liberty, and it is the equality of believers. The natural man can claim no share in these privileges, which belong to a higher order, the order of grace. The sense of a fundamental inequality underlies both the concern for liberty and—the paradox is only seeming—the sentiment of equality itself. In other words: when the order of nature and the order of grace are considered together, the superiority of the latter will always assert itself. The principle of segregation enters to insist that they must be considered apart. That is its second service. But there is a third. Puritanism fosters the impulse to reform in the interests of righteousness, and this impulse (we have seen) runs, or may run, counter to a concern for liberty. Viewing Puritanism as a whole, we detected a potential and unresolved conflict between these two motives. The incentive to reform belongs to the order of grace, but it may be translated into action in the order of nature. To such a passage from one order to the other the principle of segregation once more opposes a barrier. At least it insists that the attempt to reform the world shall be in the terms appropriate to the world, the terms not of religion but of natural ethics. Indeed where the principle is carried to its logical conclusion, as it is in Roger Williams, it resolves the conflict between the two motives of liberty and reform. This is the third and final service.

But is not the principle of segregation a two-edged sword? Will it not, logically applied, cut off from the secular sphere the liberalizing as well as the reactionary influences of Puritanism, at least in so far as these are grounded in dogma? Theoretically it should. Indeed, in so far as the principle is anticipated by Luther it has precisely that result: Christian liberty, he reiterates, has no bearing on politics. Furthermore, Separatism in essence means separation from the world and its cares. But the predominantly active character of the Puritan temper—not to mention the instincts of human nature, even when sanctified—may be depended on to forestall that result. And the segregation of the spiritual and the secular cannot in practice mean that all influence of the one upon the other will cease. The lessons learned in the conventicle will not be forgotten in the forum. But we may look for a new mode of influence: not the direct influence of intrusion, but the indirect influence of analogy. There is a spiritual equality in the order of grace: is there not an analogous equality in the order of nature? This is but one of a dozen points at which analogically Puritanism could reinforce the cause of liberty and equality.

In briefest outline, and too abstractedly perhaps (but illustration will follow), we have suggested the importance of the principle of segregation in its bearing on liberty. The principle opened to the Puritan other developments in the secular field: it enabled him to adopt Baconian ideas in education as readily as democratic ideas in politics, and in the next century it contributed to make some of the Dissenting academies outposts of the Enlightment and of radical thought. With the true Puritan, religion remains the first concern: the principle—one might almost call it the device—of segregation prevents (or rather, as the subsequent history of Dissent seems to show, postpones) the repercussion upon his dogmatic creed, of radical and naturalistic ideas adopted in a secular sphere.


The service of Puritanism to the cause of liberty is not bounded by its disinterested attachment to liberty as an ideal. If this attachment had been wholly absent, if Puritanism had advanced no theological doctrine of liberty, elaborated no theory of religious toleration, pointed no analogies between the economies of grace and nature or between a free church and a free state, it would still have been, in the circumstances, a potent engine of destruction and the most effective school of revolution then available. It is a truism that the years between 1640 and 1649 saw the overthrow of a system of absolutism in church and state, which if it had been allowed to prevail, might radically have altered the whole subsequent course of English political development: in so far at least the ‘Whig view of history’ is correct. Nor is it easy to conceive of this overthrow without the powerful incentive and example of Puritanism, not at one stage merely but at point after point of its course. Nothing could dissipate the divinity that hedged a king save the divinity of religion itself when religion was ranged against him. The analogies between Puritan and Jesuit thought seized on by the Royalists are not all fanciful: Puritanism effected in Protestant England what even the Church could not (or would not) effect in the Roman Catholic countries of Europe. . . .

It is true that in the twin sources of Protestant thought, Calvin and Luther, there was impressive authority for passive obedience even to ungodly magistrates. But the oracles were not altogether consistent: Milton was able to quote from the Reformation divines in order to round out a universal testimony against tyrants—and if they sometimes spoke in another sense, so much the worse for their authority!1 On the Puritans of the Right Calvin was the dominant influence. Notably more reticent than Luther on Christian liberty and the privileges of the Saints, Calvin does not, like Luther, limit the application to the spiritual sphere; and he writes between the lines of his injunction to passive obedience a prescription of strictly limited disobedience, which in the emphatic closing sentences of the Institutes becomes perfectly specific:

But in that obedience . . . due to . . . rulers we must always make this exception . . .: that it be not incompatible with obedience to Him to whose will . . . kings should be subject, to whose decrees their commands must yield, to whose majesty their sceptres must bow. And indeed how preposterous were it, in pleasing men, to incur the offence of Him for whose sake you obey men! . . . If they command anything against Him, let us not pay the least regard to it, nor be moved by all the dignity which they possess as magistrates—a dignity to which no injury is done when it is subordinated to the special and truly supreme power of God.2

Calvin enjoins Christian obedience and fixes its limits. Nor does he leave active resistance without recognition or a means of becoming effective: private citizens may not actively oppose their prince; but the inferior magistrates may, and when godliness is menaced, must (pp. 197-8). Here Calvin is at one with the more liberal thought of the Renaissance. His prescription might have been written for the Presbyterian Party of the First Civil War. Charles is cast for the role of prince, and Parliament for that of the inferior magistrates; they fight by the book. In practice Calvinism imposes little restraint upon the rebels: they are not to destroy monarchy, but they are to discipline it and render it wholly subservient to the higher ends of government. Once the inferior magistrates have declared against the prince, and freed opposition from the stigma of rebellion, so staunch a Calvinist as Rutherford can forge in Lex Rex almost every argument of revolution later to be employed by the Levellers, can invoke the law of nature and the ultimate sovereignty of the people (pp. 203-211).1 It is thus that one side—on the face of it the more emphatic side—of Calvin’s teaching is sunk in favour of the other, the revolutionary. ‘We can pick and choose from a Reformer,’ says Saltmarsh in another connection, ‘what fits to the standard of our own light and reformation, and cast the other by. . . .’2

There was a point in action beyond which the Presbyterians would not go. With the end of the First Civil War the side of Calvin’s teaching neglected in the heat of the struggle began to reassert itself. But by this time an increasing body of Puritans were quite ready, as we have seen, to run counter to Calvin’s views on magistracy as also on church polity, while they held for the most part by his fundamental doctrine of predestination. The Presbyterians, not without chapter and verse in the Institutes, had sown the wind: the year 1647 marks the beginning of the whirlwind. On the basis of the doctrine of predestination had been erected the ideal of the rule of the Saints. With many this ideal swept away every other theory of government. For many others the belief in the sovereignty of the people no longer required such dubious underpinnings as Calvinistic theology could be made to yield. It appeared self-evident. One might even go so far as to secularize the Civil War—might decide that it was never legitimate to take up the sword for religion, but only for the gaining of civil rights:3 the revolution could proceed under its own power.

For others no authority was left but the sword: the conquerors should distribute the spoils whether in terms of the rights of the people or the privileges of the Saints—two standards which seemed less incompatible in practice than they now appear in theory. In this later period of conflicting doctrines, however, Puritanism is still—indeed more unconditionally than ever before—a mighty revolutionary agent; for its radical elements are liberated to act by themselves. If the Calvinistic view of the limits of Christian obedience is one of the chief impelling forces in the First Civil War, the confused ideals of Christian privileges and human rights then take its place, all but sweeping away the authority of Calvin’s inferior magistrates, the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, and substituting the rule of the Army in its stead.

This fact raises an issue of fundamental importance. From the vantage ground of a later century no one will doubt that the most important political doctrine to emerge from the revolution was one temporarily defeated, but destined to ultimate triumph, the sovereignty of Parliament, a doctrine whose assertion altered the character of that body, and vastly extended its powers.1 The direct debt of this doctrine to Puritanism does not appear to be great. Its indirect debt is, on the other hand, immense; for Parliament allied itself with the forces of Puritanism and asserted its own sovereignty by claiming its right to undertake the reform of religion. The doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty is not necessarily a doctrine of liberty or of democracy. It is significant that we find arrayed against it, in the Debates, the most extreme forces of Puritanism, both democratic and anti-democratic. In order that the sovereignty of Parliament may become a doctrine of liberty and democracy, and their most effective safeguard, Parliament must be democratized and its general conformity to the will of the nation must be ensured. These are the hard-won achievements of a later day. But they are implicit in the Levellers’ opposition to the sovereignty claimed by the existing Parliament; and that opposition draws sustenance from the Puritan belief in liberty of conscience and, more generally, from the habits of thought which directly and indirectly Puritanism inculcates.

It is not on particular issues, however fundamental, that the influence of Puritanism in the revolution alone depends. The contemporary view is best given in such a retrospect as the Declaration of the English Army now in Scotland (pp. 474-8), which unhesitatingly assigns the chief place to religion, and exhibits Puritanism’s marshalling of its forces as a continuous and divinely appointed process, extending from the outbreak of the Bishops’ War to Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland eleven years later. The constant operation of the ideal of godliness is also the burden of Ireton’s masterly account of the revolution, written at the end of 1648: the object of the struggle was the establishment of ‘common right and freedom’; but true religion alone can make men free, and godlessness and superstition are equally the allies of the tyrant (pp. 458-9). It is thus that Puritanism visualizes its role in the revolution and stakes its claim to have fought for emancipation.

In part that claim must be allowed, but without confusing the service of liberty with its disinterested and unqualified service. If the cause of emancipation had depended alone on disinterested and unqualified believers in liberty as an ideal, it would have made but a sorry showing in the world. For objectives in practical politics are always limited and generally selfish. But those who start revolutions build—and destroy—better than they know. The pressure of events bears them along and forces them to develop ever more extreme inferences from their original premises (witness the Presbyterian Rutherford and the Independent Ireton). And when they reach the point beyond which they will not go, the moment of imperative compromise, there are others who will complete the last syllogism—or finish the final furrow: Rutherford has declared the right, and Goodwin will acclaim the meeting of right with might (pp. 212-20); the Independents invoke the purposes of God and the duties of the Saints, and the Millenarians will define those purposes and duties with a terrifying literalness; or the Independents invoke the sovereign people, and the Levellers will demand the reforms to which the invocation points—and get them if they can. . . .

All or much of this might have been true even if Puritanism had not evolved from its theological consciousness ideas of liberty, of equality, of individualism, of government by consent and agreement, and of a species of privilege which had nothing to do with worldly possessions or existing class distinctions. But these very ideas Puritanism did evolve. They come into strongest relief in the struggle for religious freedom and reform, and thence, by processes already glanced at, are transferred to the political field. The foundation of each is some Protestant doctrine pushed to an extreme.

Most fundamental for our discussion is one which has received little attention—we might almost say none—from students of Puritanism: the doctrine of Christian liberty. Its sources in the New Testament, particularly in St. Paul, are rehearsed in Luther’s exposition of Galatians (pp. 221-5) and in Milton’s practical applications of the doctrine (pp. 226-8). In simplest terms, the Gospel frees men from the burden of the Law. The essence of the old dispensation is bondage: men were slaves of an outward law. The essence of the new dispensation is freedom: believers are sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Theirs is a voluntary service—and in the spirit, not to the letter.1Deo parere libertas est. The idea was familiar to every Protestant, and, with varying emphasis, was accepted by them all. Its revolutionary influence turns chiefly on two questions: (1) What portion of the Mosaic Law (Ceremonial, Judicial, and Moral) is abrogated by the coming of the Gospel? (2) How far is the liberty conferred a purely spiritual gift without applications beyond the religious experience of the individual? To the first question Luther and Milton return the same extreme answer: Not the Ceremonial Law merely, but the whole Mosaic Law is abrogated (p. 224).2 Their answers to the second question differ widely: Luther limits the application to the spiritual life and experience of the believer, a decision characteristic of his theological radicalism and practical conservatism. Milton, on the contrary, makes Christian liberty the very corner-stone of his theory of toleration (pp. 226-8);3 and from the ecclesiastical sphere he presses on boldly to the civil (pp. 229-30). In many of his contemporaries the doctrine has its influence even when it is not set forth in detail. Wherever in the struggle for toleration one encounters the phrase Christian liberty—and it is everywhere—this theological basis is implied.1

Christian liberty itself the Presbyterians do not deny; but they seek to limit the inferences drawn from it and to counteract them by an appeal to the Old Testament, to other theological doctrines, and to common sense. Thomas Edwards would have the issue squarely faced: ‘Whether the commanding men by the power of laws to do their duties, to do the things which God requires of them, with the using outward means to work them to it when unwilling, be unlawful for the magistrate, and against Christian liberty, yea or no?’2 George Gillespie states the Presbyterian position in Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty (1645); and the Westminster Confession of Faith significantly concludes its chapter (chiefly devoted, in the manner of Calvin,3 to explaining what the doctrine is not) with the declaration that ‘they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power . . . whether . . . civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God,’ while whoever disturbs the peace of the church may be proceeded against not by ecclesiastical censures only, but by ‘the power of the civil magistrate.’ With this view the moderate Independents at Whitehall do not disagree in principle, but rather in its application. They believe that it is a Congregational polity that the magistrate is authorized to set up and defend, and they are willing to concede to allies, past and present, a measure of toleration under the new system. No such compromise will satisfy their allies of the Left. They are for Christian liberty in its widest range.

With those who emphasize Christian liberty and plead for freedom of conscience as the Christian’s birthright, the doctrine is a genuine and perennial source of emancipation. It is closely associated with—is indeed an aspect of—that appeal from the Old Testament to the New, which is a feature of liberal Puritan thinking. In Milton’s interpretation the note of the old dispensation in general is the note of bondage; that of the new, the note of freedom: Christ came to set men free (p. 229). In Roger Williams the matter is put in another way. The Old Testament is prophetic and symbolic: it is the type of which the New Testament supplies the antitype, and its models and precepts are not, under the Gospel, to be taken literally. Israel’s church-state does not countenance a church-state to-day, but merely foreshadows the true Church, God’s mystical Israel; so the injunctions to purify Israel of idolater, heretic, and blasphemer, with the civil sword, prescribe no such duties to the Christian magistrate, but hold forth the purity of the true and voluntary church of Christ, and the spiritual censures by which that purity is maintained (pp. 288-92). Thus in their different manners Williams and Milton try to nullify the arguments from the Old Testament for the magistrate’s power and responsibility in religion, the arguments which will be advanced so long as Christian liberty is interpreted as the abrogation merely of the Ceremonial Law, and which are actually advanced at Whitehall, and countered straight out of The Bloody Tenent (pp. 150-69). In both Milton and Williams there is really more than an appeal from the Old Testament to the New; there is an effective application of what I have called the principle of segregation. Like Luther, Williams, and in measure, also, Milton,1 insist on the purely spiritual character of all that pertains to the Christian religion, but, unlike Luther, they do not infer from this that the organization of the church and the relation of church and state are things indifferent and at the discretion of the civil magistrate. On the contrary, they insist that by the Gospel these things are prescribed, and that, with the Separatists, one must interpret the autonomy of the spiritual sphere as including the freedom of the church.

Though this is the most notable achievement, and the clearest practical result to which it ministers, the doctrine of Christian liberty extends its influence on Puritan thought in various, and (it must be admitted) sometimes contrary directions; three of which may be briefly indicated at this point. (1) Despite the spiritual character of Christian liberty the doctrine was actually pressed into the service of revolution, as Milton, no doubt speaking the language of the military Saints whom he was defending, clearly illustrates; and for the Millenarians in particular it was obviously quite compatible with a rule of the elect won and exercised by the sword. (2) The very fact of grounding one’s appeal for freedom on Christian liberty restricts the direct benefits of that appeal to the regenerate: Christian liberty freed you for, not from, the service of God. It is thus that the Millenarians conceive of freedom, and that Milton comes increasingly to conceive of it; and they are so far typical, at least, that the freedom of the regenerate is the primary concern of all genuine Puritans: here Presbyterians, Independents, and sectaries stand on common ground, differing only in their definition of the regenerate and their conception of the kind of liberty to be sought. But two forces counteract this restrictive emphasis: the first is the impossibility, recognized alike by Milton, Williams, and the Levellers, of guaranteeing the liberty of the regenerate without guaranteeing the liberty of all, and on this fact at last depends the direct contribution of Puritanism to general liberty; the second counteracting force is a consistent and thorough-going application of the principle of segregation, whereby the idea of Christian liberty is freed to operate by analogy in the natural order: Christian liberty for the regenerate, natural liberty for man. (3) There are other ways in which the doctrine of Christian liberty may operate by analogy. Christian liberty is conceived in terms of the abrogation of outward law, and the influence of this conception is apparent in one dominant Puritan attitude to the state and its enactments. But to these questions we shall return.

Not less clearly than the idea of liberty, that of equality rests on a theological foundation. The priesthood of the believer and the doctrine of election established an equality in the spiritual sphere. This equality is, strictly speaking, quite independent of worldly rank and possessions and has no bearing upon them. But it is susceptible of an extension precisely similar to that observed in the case of Christian liberty: the equality of believers may be thought of as a spiritual condition which carries certain definite implications for the church. The demand is not for a free church only, but for a church of equals. The equality of believers is used to assail first the ecclesiastical hierarchy and then the distinction between cleric and lay (pp. 312-13). It is a levelling principle of no little potency, and it may be extended outside the ecclesiastical sphere in one of two ways, and with results diametrically opposed. (1) It may give effect not to absolute equality but to a new species of privilege. The equality of believers is an equality in their superiority to other men. This is a view discernible in the thought of Presbyterians and Independents; and it reaches its logical consequences in the creed of the Millenarians, the full doctrine of the privileges of the Saints. But (2) where the principle of segregation is applied, this result is prevented, and the doctrine of the equality of believers operates in the natural sphere by analogy alone. As in the order of grace all believers are equal, so in the order of nature all men are equal; as the church is composed of believers all equally privileged, so the state should be composed of men all equally privileged. The premise was the lesson taught by the sects; the conclusion was the inference drawn in politics by the Levellers and in economics by the Diggers.

Their position had its secular sources in the ideas of the law of nature and of natural rights; but these ideas were, for men bred in the conventicle, enormously reinforced, and given a sort of religious sanction, by the parallel presented between the order of nature and the order of grace, and between the ideals of liberty and equality as they appeared in state and in church. It is the sectaries whom Overton is really addressing when he writes:

For by natural birth all men are equal, . . . born to like propriety, liberty and freedom, and as we are delivered of God by the hand of nature into this world, every one with a natural innate freedom and propriety, . . . even so we are to live, every one equally . . . to enjoy his birthright and privilege, even all whereof God by nature hath made him free. . . . Every man by nature being a king, priest, prophet, in his own natural circuit and compass, whereof no second may partake but by deputation, commission, and free consent from him whose right and freedom it is.1

This is virtually a statement of the doctrines of Christian liberty and equality, with man written over the word ‘believer,’ and nature written over the word ‘grace.’ . . .

In close connection with its ideals of liberty and equality, Puritanism developed its own pronounced note of individualism. Once more the main theological basis is to be sought in the doctrines of election and of the priesthood of the believer, with their enormous emphasis on the value of the individual soul, chosen by God before time was. Beside that, the organized forces of society must seem a trivial thing. Moreover the priestly function included, with ever-increasing emphasis, the prophetic. Here the experiential side of Puritan religion—manifested in ‘prophesyings,’ disputations, and harangues such as Lilburne’s from the pillory2 —played its part in fostering and expressing individuality and perhaps an overweening sense of the individual’s importance. There are, of course, considerations which limit the action of Puritan individualism. One is the element of stern repressiveness in the Puritan creed, but this is mitigated wherever the doctrine of Christian liberty is emphasized, by some sense of having risen superior to all outward law. Another is the necessity (nowise peculiar to Puritanism) of subordinating the individual to a group and a cause: under pressure from without, the Puritans manifest remarkable powers of association and temporary cohesion, but the inherent individualism, with its disruptive force, remains, and is written large in the history of the sects. A true church, said Milton, may consist of a single member.

In politics we have already noticed the force of individual judgment, or the Puritan conscience. It remains to observe another important result, in an attitude towards the state which anticipates the individualism of a later day. Burke remarked the similarity in language between the revolutionaries of 1649 and of 1789, with their talk of natural rights and the sovereignty of a free and equal people; and some historical connection can be traced, mainly through the leaders of American thought. Not less striking, and perhaps more significant, is the anticipation of Bentham and James Mill. Up to a point Independents and Levellers agree in advancing a laisser-faire ideal of the state. One tendency of all the Agreements of the People is clearly to circumscribe the activity of government as such. This they do by placing certain matters for ever beyond its power, by limiting the duration of Parliaments, and otherwise reducing to a minimum their possible independence of the nation’s will. Like the famous essay On Government, they set forth a scheme of democratic reform whose motive was quite as much the provision of satisfactory guarantees against interference with the individual as any sentiment of abstract equality. Human nature being what it was, a measure of democracy was the best protection against tyranny. Economic motives mingle with political, and, as in Mill, the underlying philosophy is individualist, not socialist, in character. Recent history had done much to foster individualism. Under the absolutist system of Charles I, government had been everywhere; and under a self-perpetuating Parliament the old menace had assumed a new guise.

Though they differed as to the degree of institutional reform needed, many of the Independents were at first hardly less determined than the Levellers to end it. It is obvious that the reforms contemplated by the Independents (pp. 424-6) and by the Levellers (pp. 318-22, 335-42, 433-5) are in the main negative reforms, the removal of restrictions. An example is the effort to abolish state-granted monopolies and to establish what they called freetrade. Their ingenuity runs much to the erection of political machinery to compass these ends; and in this they remind the modern reader of Bentham. Added to the practical motives were some more theoretic. Government, said Ireton, was a necessary evil, the result of man’s fallen condition; it could not be abolished; but it could be restricted, and the individual safeguarded; the merit of the Agreement of the People was that it achieved these results. Milton, a little remote from the tumult of practical politics, formulates the position with perfect clarity: the function of the state is to preserve peace and order and to guarantee the freedom of the individual; a wise government will be more willing to repeal old laws than to enact new ones, for the intention of laws is to check the commission of vice, but liberty is the best school of virtue (p. 230). Here in the implied conceptions of both law and liberty, the supporting influence of the doctrine of Christian liberty can be seen. Outward laws are a mark of bondage, a burden to the good; and liberty is conceived in terms of their abrogation, whereby individuals are freed to follow the inner law, which, according to Milton, is the law of nature written in the heart.1 The ideal condition is to be able to live without laws because ‘our reason is our law.’2 Too extreme to be wholly typical, this view is at least symptomatic.

For the safeguarding of the individual, the restriction of the state to its proper sphere, and the founding of necessary government on an equitable basis, the Levellers relied on an Agreement of the People whose simple philosophy must at this point be recalled. The social contract was, in the first instance, a voluntary covenant, based on, and expressive of, the fundamental law of nature. Custom had thwarted its intention and obscured its meaning. The Agreement would restore them. It would reserve to the individual his inalienable rights; it would give effect once more to the principle of government by the consent of the governed, and provide, through universal suffrage, for the renewal of the consent as each succeeding Parliament was elected. The elements of which the Agreement was compounded were none of them new. The fundamental law of nature, known to reason, conformity to which must furnish the final sanction of every positive law; the notion of inalienable rights embodied in Magna Charta and other grants or established in the courts of law; and even the idea of a social contract originally voluntary in character—all these had been rendered more or less familiar by the long struggle with the Crown. But an Agreement of the People turned on something more than an elaboration and weaving together of these notions. Behind the idea of a free state lay the model of a free church. In the Ready and Easy Way Milton points the basic analogy. Those who would reform the state, he remarks, are

not bound by any statute of preceding Parliaments but by the law of nature only, which is the only law of laws truly and properly to all mankind fundamental, the beginning and end of all government, to which no Parliament or people that will thoroughly reform but may and must have recourse, as they had (and must yet have) in church reformation . . . to evangelic rules, not to ecclesiastical canons though never so ancient, so ratified and established in the land by statutes which for the most part are mere positive laws, neither natural nor moral. . . .1

The model of ecclesiastical excellence, says another writer, is founded on the law of God set forth in the New Testament and received by faith; that of civil excellence is ‘founded on the law of God engraven in nature and demonstrated by reason.’2 In each case there is a fundamental law and a primitive model of excellence; and in each case the injunction is to depart from, and if need be destroy, whatever conflicts with the law or fails to conform to the model. In the church Puritan scripturism is a mighty agent of destruction and reform. And whether operating directly or, as in the case of the Levellers and of the writers cited above, analogically, it is capable of having a similar effect in the state. But the analogy can be carried further. If the Leveller emphasizes the contract on which the authority of just government depends, and insists on the principle of consent, he has had, in his church, experience of a community organized on these very principles. Not the idea of the social contract, but the hold which it took upon the Puritans of the Left, may with some confidence be attributed to the covenanted and more or less democratic Puritan churches.

The idea of a covenant, derived ultimately from the Old Testament, appears in different forms in the more extreme Protestantism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, where its vogue is associated with that of ‘covenant’ theology in general. First found among the Anabaptists of Germany (in what was to be its dominant ‘congregational’ form), the idea passes, about the middle of the sixteenth century, into Scotland; and there, characteristically, it adheres more closely to the Old Testament model and produces a series of national covenants, destined in a later day to be opposed to the congregational church covenant, but at the same time to reinforce the covenant idea. In England the first exponent of the congregational covenant is Robert Browne, whose True and Short Declaration of the Gathering and Joining Together of Certain Persons recounts:

A covenant was made and their mutual consent was given to hold together. There were certain chief points proved unto them by the scriptures; all of which being particularly rehearsed . . ., they agreed upon them, and pronounced their agreement to each thing particularly, saying, ‘To this we give our consent.’ First therefore they gave their consent to join themselves to the Lord in one covenant and fellowship together and to keep and seek agreement under his laws and government. . . . Further they agreed of those which should teach them . . . whom they allowed and did choose as able and meet for that charge. . . . So they prayed for their watchfulness and diligence and promised their obedience. Likewise an order was agreed on for their meetings together for their exercises . . . as for prayer . . . exhortation and edifying either by all men which had the gift or by those which had a special charge before others; and for the lawfulness of putting forth questions to learn the truth, as, if anything seemed doubtful and hard, to require some to show it more plainly, or for any to show it himself and cause the rest to understand it. . . . Again it was agreed that any might protest, appeal, complain, exhort, dispute, reprove, &c., as he had occasion, but yet in due order, which was then also declared. . . . Furthermore they particularly agreed of the manner how to watch to disorders and reform abuses, . . . for gathering and testifying voices in debating matters and propounding them in the name of the rest that agreed, for an order of choosing teachers, guides and relievers . . .; for separating clean from unclean, for receiving any into fellowship, for presenting the daily success of the church and the wants thereof, . . . for taking an order that none contend openly, nor persecute, nor trouble disorderly, nor bring false doctrine nor evil cause, after once or twice warning or rebuke.1

The basic ideas of agreement and covenant persist in English Separatism, whether in England or Holland, and are transferred to New England. The distinguishing mark of Congregationalism, Robert Baillie (who is not concerned with nice distinctions between separating and non-separating varieties) finds in ‘an explicit covenant, wherein all and every one of the members by a voluntary association . . . do bind themselves under a solemn oath to walk in the ways of the Gospel.’1 Among the non-separating Congregationalists, and among some of the Separatists, less power was conceded to the people than in Browne’s scheme; and the former would allow of an implicit covenant when an explicit could not be achieved. But it remains broadly true that Congregationalism, in its different forms, by emphasizing the idea of the covenant, preserved the possibility of a free and democratic church order, and of its influence in the civil sphere, between which and the ecclesiastical there is constant interaction. The classic example of a social contract modelled on a church covenant is the civil covenant of the Pilgrims, and the charter and constitution of the Providence Plantation, with other colonial documents, furnish instances no less striking of the idea of agreement, and the principle of government by consent, transplanted into the civil life. On the other hand, the church covenant itself could be defended by a reference from the ecclesiastical sphere to the civil. ‘All voluntary relations,’ wrote Richard Mather in his Apology for Church Covenant, ‘[that is] all relations which are neither natural nor violent, are entered into by way of covenant’ (p. 300). The ultimate consequence of such a theory had already been hinted by Robert Browne in his Book Concerning True Christians; he finds in church ministers, and in civil magistrates, an authority, derived from God, but bestowed on them respectively by the consent and agreement of the congregation and the people.2

In trying to estimate the influence of the church covenant on Puritan political thought, and especially on the ideals and practice of the Army, it must be made clear that among the sectaries the Baptists seem to have discarded the covenant. Hanserd Knollys speaks of churches gathered in London ‘without urging or making any particular covenant with members upon admittance,’ for their conditions were ‘faith, repentance and baptism, and none other.’3 And William Dell, manifesting the extreme Puritan tendency to approximate the Visible to the Invisible Church, and to discover new distinctions between the spiritual and the secular, repudiates the covenant as belonging to the light of nature merely, whereas the true Church has a higher and purely spiritual bond of union; the use of a covenant, then, is the mark not of the true Church, but of the churches of men (pp. 304-5). It would be a mistake, however, to exaggerate the importance of these facts. The churches which retained the covenant idea embraced the Puritans of the Centre, and possibly the majority of the Puritans of the Left. And in the minds of those who came to repudiate the covenant as essential to the constitution of a church, the idea had already done its work and become firmly established as the only mode of association in civil things. There is no reason to suppose that the Baptist churches were less democratic in their practices than the congregation described by Browne in the preceding century (see pp. 307-14). If the absence of a covenant withdrew the formal dependence of the ministry on the laity, this was more than offset by the progressive disappearance of the distinction between the two orders. Finally, all the churches remained in fact voluntary associations with power over the individual only after he had conceded it and only for so long as he continued to acquiesce in its exercise. Thus the results of the church covenant were preserved even among the sectaries who had pressed beyond its formal employment. Familiarity with the idea of the covenant, and with the principles that it embodied, gave a common ground for agreement—and for argument—among the Puritans of the Centre and the Left. By analogy it had helped to establish in the civil sphere the doctrine of the social contract and government by consent. And it provided in the covenanted churches models of organization in different degrees democratic. Its influence is widespread and pervasive.

To that influence the beginning and the end of the General Council of the Army alike testify. The Solemn Engagement of the Army was a contract of voluntary association, a covenant among the soldiers, with the nation, and before God. As such it suggests a linking of two forms of the covenant idea. It is a simple and almost perfect example of the church covenant transposed to secular ends, based on and embodying the law of nature as the church covenant is based on and embodies the law of Christ, and elaborating, as do the early church covenants, its own organs of expression and administration. At the same time it derives something from the Solemn League and Covenant, which it is in measure designed to offset; and in its quasi-national character, as in other respects, it marks a step on the way to the Agreements of the People. But the covenant idea is potent in defeat as well as in victory. When Fairfax is able to undo the work of the Solemn Engagement and insist on the Army’s retirement from ‘England’s freedom’ to ‘soldiers’ rights,’ he can effect those purposes only by a new engagement (p. [30]).

It is, of course, the Agreements of the People that mark the apotheosis of the covenant idea and its complete and triumphant translation to the civil sphere. In the Agreements the covenant’s every principle is represented: the recognition of a fundamental law (the law of nature for the law of Christ), which the terms of the contract must embody and by which alone they are conditioned; the ideas of voluntary association and government by consent; the reservation of the individual’s inalienable rights, implicit in the church covenant and safeguarded by the power of withdrawal, but necessarily explicit in the Agreements (since the power of withdrawal is virtually non-existent in the civil state); the delegation of power, under due safeguards, to those who must act for the community; the elaboration of an ‘order,’ or the necessary machinery of administration and of popular expression; and the whole thing extended and raised to a national scope and level, thus assimilating, and subordinating to the principles of the church covenant, the model of its deadly rival from beyond the Scottish border. Such was the final object of the Agreements, but on the way to that object they exemplify yet another ideal recognized in some of the church covenants. The reader will recall what was said at an earlier point about the Puritan belief in the progressive interpretation of truth and will remember that this principle was written into the covenant of the Pilgrims’ church (p. [45]). It is not written into the Agreements, but it is recognized in the fact that, as issued by the Levellers, and perhaps also by the Independents, they were designed to furnish a basis for discussion, and to serve as explorations leading to truth and consent. Behind the Agreements lies the belief in free and equal discussion which seems to have been nourished by the more liberal forms of Puritanism, and which dominates the proceedings of the General Council of the Army.

Considered in themselves those proceedings are sufficiently remarkable; and one would wish to know more, and with greater certainty, of their models. Mr. A. D. Lindsay1 has suggested that the congregation was the school of democracy. There the humblest member might hear, and join in, the debate, might witness the discovery of the natural leader, and participate in that curious process by which there emerges from the clash of many minds a vision clearer and a determination wiser than any single mind could achieve. To the congregation we may look for the source and model of that democratic organization and practice of which the recorded proceedings of the General Council of the Army are the most striking examples. To this suggestion may be added certain others, in no way incompatible with it. By the soldiers at large, the Council of the Army would be most naturally regarded as a sort of extension, to include their representatives, of a body already instituted by Fairfax: the Council of War,1 in which the General placed his plans of campaign before the higher officers and sought their criticism and advice. And it is observable, in contrast with its later developments, that the first object of the General Council was also to reach decisions on particular and practical issues like those presented in the Reading debate (pp. 409-21). But the Council of War, as Fairfax used it, was itself an innovation whose origin has not been fully explained, a remoter product of the zeal for discussion and agreement whose more striking example is the General Council; so that we succeed merely in forcing the question one step back. There is, however, another parallel with the General Council which seems unescapable though it has never been noticed: the House of Commons itself. And actually the General Council is referred to as ‘the Representative of the Army’ (p. 48). Though it might be at odds with its masters, this was the Army of the Parliament, pledged at first to maintain the liberties of Parliament, on which those of the nation were supposed to depend. What more likely than that it should take the Parliament for its model? The parallel extends to details. Like the Parliament the Army bids for public support by issuing its declarations; like the Long Parliament the General Council makes extensive use of committees; nor is it fanciful to see in the added deliberations of Fairfax and the higher officers, the ‘meeting in the inner room’ to which Cromwell refers (p. 412), something which stands to the General Council in the double relation of executive and second chamber. But more important is the view taken by the Puritans of the object and method of Parliamentary debate. Two years before the founding of the General Council a pamphleteer wrote (p. 264):

And what reformation this kingdom had in the late days, it did consist in the . . . spontaneousness of it in the Parliament . . . as one reports of it: ‘For in the senate . . . all had the opportunity to speak, nor was leave denied any kind of man to speak in opposition and utter his own belief, to argue and contend with free exchange of opinions; wherein shines forth greatly the justice and moderation of the rulers that have sought to allure, to lead, to persuade, and not to force, to drag, or to command. So that it is a shameless falsehood if any shall say that it was the power of authority that won the day, and not truth. . . .’ I quote the words because if they had never been realized, yet the idea of such a carriage when men are seeking out the truth is lovely as being very equal and rational.

It would not be easy to find a better formulation of the ideal at which the Army Debates also aim than this (confessedly idealized) account of the proceedings in the Parliament. At the least, those proceedings supplement for the Puritan the lessons learned in the congregation.1 The sum of the matter seems to be that a common ideal of truth and agreement through free debate comes into special prominence in the seventeenth century, and that it informs the proceedings of congregation, of Parliament, and of General Council alike, in part at least because it finds in the Puritan mind and temper a peculiarly congenial ground. But due recognition of the Parliamentary model brings one’s understanding of the Council into line with another fact. The principles advanced in the Debates (as in the Agreements and other pamphlets of the Levellers) are not altogether new. They are the principles advanced by the Parliament in its struggle with the King, carried to their logical conclusion, and that conclusion is democratic. Repeatedly in support of their own contentions, the Independents and their allies of the Left turn to the declarations of Parliament. And so with the organization and practice of the Council itself, if the Parliament furnishes one of its models, it is the Parliament democratized.2 To explain the impulse towards democracy is clearly the ultimate problem.

It is widespread and can be seen working not only in the democratic idealism of the Agreements of the People and in the General Council of the Army, but less conspicuously, though with a curious exactness of parallel, in the London companies and in agitations for a reform of the City’s government. Like the soldiers the commonalty of the companies assert their rights, demand to be heard in free debate, and carry the question back to first principles, not without allusions to the changes in the national government. In the Clothworkers’ Company, for example, there were debates between representatives of the commonalty and of the Court of Assistants, whether by the letter of the charter the commonalty had not a voice in the election of officers; this the Court refused to concede, but was willing to discuss less drastic changes which might safeguard the interests (and, it was hoped, satisfy the demands) of the commonalty; but new popular leaders emerged, and the question had to be referred to the Parliament. The Saddlers trace their woes to that common source of tyranny, the Norman Conquest; and the commonalty of the Founders, admitting that ‘men in all ages have, through their supine carelessness, degenerated from the righteousness of their first principles,’ demanded the restoration of their ‘primitive rights and privileges’ in the name of ‘the law of God, of nature, and of nations.’1 The Leveller leadership which such language plainly attests, also appears in the agitations regarding the City’s government. There the issues are complicated by the City’s importance in national politics and by the dominance of the Presbyterian interest in the oligarchy; and Independents, as well as Levellers, raise their voice. Lilburne, who enjoyed some popularity in the Common Council, writes on London’s Liberty in Chains (1646). A Moderate Reply to the City Remonstrance (1646) distinguishes between the ‘city representative’ and the ‘city collective,’ and anticipating the arguments to be used by the Army against the Parliament, maintains that the ‘city collective’ owes no obedience to commands of the ‘city representative’ which contravene ‘the will and word of God,’ ‘the good of the kingdom,’ ‘the proper end’ of the representative’s being, i.e., ‘the city’s welfare,’ or the limits set to the representative’s power.2 And Wildman, with John Price, upholds in debate the right of the citizens to elect the City’s officers, quoting Parliament’s declaration that ‘the original of all just power under God proceeds from the people’ (pp. 369-78).

Against this background of democratic agitation the Debates are to be read. The ideas advanced and the methods adopted are everywhere the same: a primitive model of excellence to which institutions, corrupted by custom, must be restored, or a fundamental law into conformity with which they must be brought; the possibility of arriving through discussion at truth, that is, at a free and unconstrained recognition of what model and law demand, and hence of agreement therein; government resting on a contract and on consent; and implicit in it all—becoming explicit when necessary—the idea of equal rights, which is the distinguishing idea of democracy. How do these things relate themselves to Puritan thought and experience? The materials for answering that question have been set forth above, and hints towards an answer have been given. It remains to bring them together, to bring together also what has been said of the obstacles to secular democracy which Puritanism presents, to suggest once more the way in which those obstacles were partially overcome, and to estimate the contribution of Puritanism to democracy. We need not further consider the Puritans of the Right, or the Puritans of the Centre in the points where they differ from those of the Left: on the Puritans of the Left we may concentrate our final attention.

In some of them the concern for liberty as an authentic feature of Puritanism most unequivocally appears. They emphasize the doctrine of Christian liberty, and (as one would expect from the active Puritan temper) they use it to support a campaign for religious liberty. But to demand liberty as the Christian’s birthright is, strictly, to demand it only for Christians, or (as the Puritan would phrase it) for the Saints: it is the truth that makes you free, and only for the truth can liberty be challenged. This is the source of the reproach so often uttered against the Puritan (and in fact rather exaggerated), that he believes in liberty for himself but not for other people, and it is one source of the policy of partial toleration or toleration in indifferent things for those who are sound in essentials. In its extension beyond toleration to revolutionary politics Christian liberty may manifest the same limitation, may support an idea of the privileges of the Saints. But the fact that there is a Puritan doctrine of liberty, whatever its limitations, is immensely important. Repeatedly Puritanism brings the question of liberty up for discussion, and this is a major service. While operating within the prescribed bounds of ‘Christian’ liberty, Puritanism, further, does a great deal to foster the notion of individuality, and an individualistic outlook, with results partially, though not wholly, favourable to democracy.

Puritanism also fosters equality within the ‘Christian’ scheme: there is a Christian equality as well as a Christian liberty. In the more extreme sects truth may come from the meanest of the brethren (p. [46]), and, in the spirit of the Gospel, which weights the scales against the rich man, Williams finds that God has ‘chosen a little flock out of the world, and those generally poor and mean’ (p. 282). Within the sects, clearly, a levelling principle of great potency is at work. But what Christians enjoy is an equality of superiority to other men. To describe the congregation as a model democracy in little, is true of the congregation considered in itself. But considered in relation to the world in which it subsists, it is an aristocracy of grace. Liberty and equality for the privileged is the ideal of an aristocracy, though there is certainly some wider significance in the fact that Christian privilege has nothing to do with (or is even thought of in contrast to) privilege as the world understands it. In the Millenarians’ view the Saints constitute an aristocracy of grace whose divinely appointed destiny is to conquer and rule the world. And they question whether the natural man has really any rights at all (p. 246).

A measure of practical equality was, however, forced upon the Puritans in the struggle for religious liberty. (In a careful discussion equality must be distinguished from liberty; but the distinction is always breaking down.) The Puritans of the Left discovered that you cannot effectually guarantee the liberty of the Saint without guaranteeing the liberty of all men—without adding, in this one department at least, equality to liberty. The Levellers, and also Cromwell, record their frank recognition of this fact when they make liberty of conscience not the birthright of the Christian, but one of the natural rights of man (p. 444).1 The amazing importance of the struggle for religious liberty is due partly to the momentous issue with which it deals;2 but beyond that is the fact that it holds, as it were in solution, within itself all the rest of the struggle for liberty and equality. ‘Where civil liberty is entire,’ said Harrington, ‘it includes liberty of conscience; where liberty of conscience is entire it includes civil liberty.’1 It also includes equality. When the Puritans of the Left are forced by the hard logic of facts to champion liberty of conscience for others as well as for themselves, we see the thin end of the wedge. But until it becomes, with Williams and the Levellers, something more than a grudging concession to facts, the wedge will not get much further.2

Before turning to the Levellers, and considering again the process by which the forces of democracy, of liberty and equality, in Puritanism are released to operate in the secular sphere, it will be well to take a final view of the group, sometimes associated with them in action, in whom the release is not finally effected. The importance of the Millenarians resides in the fact that they carry to an extreme one set of principles found in the Independents of the Army, just as the Levellers carry to an extreme another set of principles. In their church order the Millenarians do not differ from other Puritans of the Left. Their churches are voluntary and democratic congregations (pp. 241, 245), though some form of national union may be necessary before they can rule the world (p. 245). Meanwhile they join in the demand for liberty, and above all for liberty of conscience (because without it the churches cannot exist and increase, as they must if they are ever to rule). The resort to violence, the effort to establish and exercise the rule of the Saints by force, is not perhaps an essential of the Millenarian creed, but rather a character impressed upon it by a revolutionary era. In the inevitability of the process by which the Saints shall inherit the earth they have a strong incentive to patience, but in the supposed plotting of that process in scripture, and in the definite role assigned to the Saints, they have a strong temptation to direct action. They are dimly conscious of the problem (pp. 39-42). In the result, they are like the Levellers, who should be willing to wait till reason has wrought conviction, but who actually seek to anticipate the triumph to come. Their reading of the Bible is at once fantastic and literal, but it is instructive to observe how much of spiritual religion can be woven into it (pp. 390-6). One should not exaggerate their difference from other Puritans of the Left. When all is said, however, they present a marked contrast with Williams and the Levellers. In all who share in any degree the Millenarian outlook, the doctrines emphasized by Puritanism—Christian liberty and equality, election (with final perseverance), the priesthood of the believer—issue in a theory of the special privileges of the Saints. The active Puritan temper carries this theory into the secular sphere and gives equal development to its converse side, the special duties of the Saints. And the Puritan tendency to draw literal inferences from scripture and dogma operates in connection not only with the theological doctrines mentioned above, but with prophecy and especially with the dazzling hope of Christ’s kingdom on earth, which, in its turn, absorbs and directs the utopian and iconoclastic impulses. The latent impulses towards democracy are not merely thwarted; their motive power is appropriated and directed to other ends. At an earlier point, we recognized somewhere near the heart of Puritanism an unresolved conflict between the concern for liberty and the concern for reform, and we saw how in the Puritans of the Right the concern for reform was in the ascendant. The ideals of the Millenarians differ widely from the Presbyterian: theirs is a clericalism without clergy (the Saints having taken its place), an ecclesiasticism without a uniform church (the Puritan distrust of outward forms having destroyed the church in favour of the sect); for the rest, they may even have adopted some of the proposals of the Levellers. But with them the concern for reform, by coercion if need be, is once more in the ascendant; and at bottom they are indifferent or hostile to the liberty and equality for which the Levellers stand. This statement is borne out by a set of political ideas, much less fully organized than the Levellers’, but clearly perceptible in the Debates: repudiation of, or at least indifference to, the democratic ideas of agreement, of representative institutions, of safeguards for the rights of the individual; emphasis, instead, on the monarchy of Christ as administered by the Saints, and (in conformity with this ideal) a reliance on good men rather than on a good constitution or a duly elected Parliament; willingness, finally, to regard victory in the field as the outward call of the Saints to rule the world. These ideas lead not to the democratic state but to junto and dictatorship; and though the Millenarians soon found that they had mistaken their man, and learned to speak of him in terms previously reserved for the Pope and Charles I, the prevalence of these ideas far beyond the ranks of the strict Millenarians was a foundation of Cromwell’s power. There is in Puritanism a possibility of autocracy as well as a possibility of democracy. To that fact the Puritans of the Left, as well as those of the Right and Centre, bear undeniable testimony. Each possibility—which develops, of course, in relation to a set of particular circumstances, and within the limits imposed by the need of compromise when that need is felt—inheres in a group of theological doctrines; and they are, with some difference in emphasis, the same doctrines.

How are the inferences from dogma inimical to democracy avoided by the Levellers and by others who manage to avoid them? No doubt the weakening of dogma, where it occurred, ministered to that result. But we have seen some reason to believe that the weakening was not very widespread, and that Walwyn and Overton, while very influential, were less typical than a Leveller like Lilburne or a radical thinker like Roger Williams. And we have stated our conviction that the second and more important answer to the question is found in what we have called the principle of segregation, which means a clear-cut and consistent distinction between the order of grace and the order of nature. There are, as Roger Williams puts it, ‘divers sorts of goodness,’ and ‘a subject, a magistrate, may be a good subject, a good magistrate, in respect of civil or moral goodness, . . . though godliness (which is infinitely more beautiful) be wanting’ (pp. 282-3). That belongs to the order of grace; the others to the order of nature. The principle of segregation is momentous in its results; but it has another claim on our attention. It is the Puritan counterpart of a widespread principle in modern thought which Herr Ernst Cassirer runs back chiefly to Bacon,1 and the Archbishop of York to a twofold source in Luther and Descartes.1 In the strict Puritan it springs from a sense of the superlative value of the order of grace and the uniqueness of the spiritual experience which seals one a member thereof, and from the accompanying determination to keep them untainted by anything of this world. The result as seen in Luther is to prevent the drawing of inferences from one order to the other. In a sense the basic result with those Puritans of whom Roger Williams may stand as our example, is the same—but with an important difference added: direct inference is banished, but analogy is instated in its place. The most obvious example of the principle of segregation is the absolute separation of church and state; and in Williams (as also in Henry Robinson and Milton) this does immediate service to the cause of liberty by becoming one of their chief supports in the argument for toleration. Further, if it destroys the idea of a state church, it also destroys the idea of a church-state; if it spiritualizes the church—and Dell’s essay (pp. 203-16) indicates how eager is the Puritan for that result—it also secularizes the state and invites a new examination of its origin, function, and sanctions. The new examination does not necessarily issue in a democratic theory—it is the virtual, though not formal, secularizing of the state on other terms, that permits Hobbes’s realistic defence of absolutism—but it may do so. The secularizing of the state is democracy’s opportunity. The effectiveness of the principle of segregation as a barrier to direct dogmatic inference is seen when we contrast Williams’ theory of a church with his theory of a state (pp. 283-4). His church is of the most rigorously restrictive kind, a church of visible Saints, which, viewed in relation to the world, could be regarded only as an aristocracy of the elect. But his state is a pure democracy—though the great majority of its members are, spiritually speaking, unregenerate and lost.2 Viewed in relation to the world his church is an aristocracy; but it must not be so viewed, for they belong to two different orders. Viewed in itself the church too is a democracy, a voluntary association of equals, and as such may well furnish a model for the civil state as Williams conceives it. Behind the church covenant as it was elaborated by the first of the Separatists there lie (it has been suggested) the guilds and merchant companies.1 It is significant that when Williams comes to describe the relation of the church to the civil state in which it exists, the terms are precisely those applicable to the guild or merchant company (p. 267). The church preserves the free form of community and finally enables (or at least aids) it to influence by analogy the theory of the state. First the principle of segregation; then, after that is enforced, the power of analogy: on these two things the democratic influence of Puritanism chiefly depends. Where they are applied but partially the result will be a limited and inconclusive acceptance of liberty and equality—the attitude illustrated by the leaders of the Independent Party, whose effort at compromise springs immediately from practical considerations, but nevertheless runs back from the particular issue to first principles. Where, on the contrary, segregation and analogy are fully applied, the result is more than a set of logical inferences; it is nothing less than a release of the forces of Puritanism to work in the natural order on the side of democracy, and these forces include its active and (within limits) experimental spirit, its utopianism and iconoclasm, and the libertarian, equalitarian, and humanitarian impulses, in precisely the degree in which they had manifested themselves within the limits of the Puritan church or sect.

The conclusions reached, or perhaps merely supported and rendered acceptable, by the principle of analogy, have been sufficiently indicated above: natural liberty and equality; a fundamental law of nature and a primitive model of civil excellence, alike known by reason; a social contract embodying that law and conforming to that model, safeguarding the individual’s rights and applying the principle of government by consent; a democratic order of administration and expression with some provision for arriving at truth and agreement through free discussion. All this seems clear enough; but the parallel of a fundamental law for each of the economies, the law of Christ2 and the law of nature, requires a little further elucidation.

It is a feature of their common scripturism that all the Puritans should affect (though with different degrees of rigour) to draw the prescriptions and models of church government from the Bible: the Presbyterians, from the New Testament read in the light of the Old and tempered by reference to the authoritative example of Geneva and the demands of a national organization; the non-separating Congregationalists, from the New Testament with a simpler emphasis but not without some reference to Israel and to the needs of a Christian state; the sectaries who most emphasize the difference between the Law and the Gospel and most logically apply the principle of segregation, from the New Testament alone, the ‘evangelic rules’ to which Milton refers. For these Puritans of the Left, then, the fundamental law for a church is simply the law revealed in the New Testament and received by faith. But in perfect consonance with that law (it is held) is the inward law in the heart of the believer; and this inward law too must be included in the wider definition of the fundamental law spiritual. Sometimes it is interpreted as the mystical indwelling of Christ; sometimes, as the inward law given to Adam, restored by God to its original brightness.

In the civil sphere Puritan scripturism (as we have seen) also exercises its widespread influence. The political thinking of groups so divergent as the Presbyterian and the Millenarian depends in no small measure on a direct appeal to the Bible; and, with certain modifications, so too does the political thinking of the Congregationalists, which sometimes approaches the scriptural ideal of the Presbyterians, and may sometimes even be coloured by that of the Millenarians. In the case of Presbyterians and Congregationalists alike the scriptural reference, in addition to being tempered by the needs of a particular historical situation, is accompanied by various degrees of attention to the law of nature. In those Puritans of the Left, however, with whom we are at present chiefly concerned, the differentiation of the Law and the Gospel logically implies the second result of limiting the scriptural reference to the New Testament, and the principle of segregation (seconded by the reticence of the Gospel in matters political) operates to shift the reference altogether from scripture to the law of nature. The Leveller, by the principles of his religious thinking, was thrown back wholly upon the law of nature in the civil sphere.

The concept itself was no way peculiar to Puritan thought. The law of nature was familiar to every one if only in the celebrated text-book, Doctor and Student1 (where, however, the term is said not to be in general use in English law) or in defences of the Parliament (where it often occupies only a subordinate place). But it is worth while to see what could be known of the law of nature from a Puritan source (pp. 187-91). For William Ames (1) God’s law is of two kinds, natural and positive. (2) The law of nature consists of whatever rules of conduct can be immediately apprehended, or logically arrived at, by reason, ‘out of the natural instinct of natural light, or . . . at least from that natural light by evident consequence.’ (3) It is eternal ‘in relation to God, as it is from eternity in him,’ and ‘natural as it is . . . imprinted in the nature of man by the God of nature.’ (4) God’s positive law is ‘added to the natural by some special revelation of God,’ and differs from the natural in two respects. Though it can be received, it cannot be arrived at, by reason. And it is not immutable, but ‘mutable and various according to God’s good pleasure; for that which was heretofore in the Judaical church is different from that which is in the Christian church.’ (5) All the precepts of the moral law (as embodied in the Decalogue) are

out of the law of nature (except the determination of the sabbath-day . . . which is from the positive law). For . . . we meet with nothing in them which concerneth not all nations at all times, so that these precepts do not respect any particular sort of men, but even nature itself. . . . There is nothing in them . . . but what may be well enjoined from clear reason. . . . They all much conduce to the benefit of mankind in this present life, insomuch that if all these precepts were duly answered there would be no need of any other human laws or constitutions.

(6) The judicial and ceremonial laws of the Jews, as distinct from the moral, are positive, not natural; but some precepts of the so-called judicial law may be in reality moral, for ‘where the special intrinsical and proper reason of the law is moral, there it always follows that the law itself must be moral.’ (7) As has already been implied (above, 5), the ‘worshipping of God . . . is a principle of the law of nature.’ Hence the common formulation of that law (‘To live honestly; not to hurt another; to give every man his due’) is ‘confused and imperfect.’ (8) Much less can one admit the teaching of some Civilians, that ‘the law of nature is that which nature hath taught all living creatures.’ For though the brutes have their law it implies neither reason to distinguish, nor will or choice, nor justice. The law of nature is the law for man. (9) The civil law enacted by men for their city or society ‘inasmuch as it is right is derived from the law of nature,’ and receives its moral sanction from this fact. It falls short of the law of nature, however, because ‘it hath no eye at all upon the inward affections but only upon outward actions’ and ‘doth not make good men but only good subjects or citizens,’ and because even within these limits ‘the reason of man can only imperfectly judge . . . and is often therein cozened.’ For (10) it is fallen man of which we speak; and the full implication of this fact appears when the question is asked why, if it is identical with the natural law ‘writ in the hearts of all men,’ the Decalogue required to be promulgated by God. It is because

ever since the corruption of our nature such is the blindness of our understanding and perverseness of our will and disorder of our affections that there are only some relics of that law remaining in our hearts like to some dim aged picture, and therefore by the voice . . . of God it ought to be renewed as with a fresh pencil. Therefore is there nowhere found any true right practical reason, pure and complete in all parts, but in the written law of God (Psalm 119. 66).

One observes the exalting of the law of nature as the only moral law (5, 6); its clear distinction from the positive law of God (with the statement that this might vary between the Old Testament and the New) (4); the asserted dependence of all civil laws upon the law of nature (9); the recognition of the law as common to all men and of reason as the faculty by which it is cognizable (2, 3, 5); and the implication that a test of the law of nature is its conduciveness to civil welfare (5). These are the points on which democratic Puritanism fastens and which it develops; they are also adopted by the Party of the Centre, and furnish the common ground on which Ireton and Nye meet and argue with Goodwin and the Levellers at Whitehall (pp. 125-69). But they are accompanied by other propositions: that practically the whole Decalogue and even parts of the so-called judicial law are identical with the law of nature and unabrogated by the Gospel (5, 6); that not merely what is immediately perceptible to reason, but whatever may be logically derived therefrom, has the sanction of natural law (2), and particularly that the belief in the true God, commanded by the Decalogue, is a part of that law (7); that though civil laws can reach only to outward actions and make good subjects the law of nature is concerned with beliefs and motives, and not merely with good subjects but good (which, in contrast with Williams’ use, implies religious) men (9, 7, 5); that, as a result of man’s fallen condition, the natural law as reason can actually know it is inadequate and requires to be set in a brighter light by the written law of God (10). These propositions the Congregationalists at Whitehall would without reservations accept; but the Separatists and Levellers reject them, or accept only with marked reservations. Agreeing enthusiastically with an appeal to the law of nature, and especially with the decision of all civil questions thereby (5), they insist on rigorous separation of the natural and civil from the religious sphere. There must be no overlapping, no cross-reference between the two that may furnish a pretext for the magistrate’s interference in matters of conscience; his commission is purely civil and concerned with the outward man, and its terms are prescribed by natural law. The law of nature becomes then God’s law for the natural order as distinct from the order of grace. It is (we repeat) in the interests of religious liberty that the principle of segregation is fully developed; but it has momentous consequences in the civil as well as in the religious field.

Once the principle is adopted, the idea that the natural law as it is known by reason in man’s fallen state is necessarily imperfect, may be safely accepted. The restored illumination of the Saint is a spiritual gift, whose appropriate place of exercise is not the state but the church. In a sense the imperfection of the natural law is precisely its inadequacy to anything higher than civil or natural ends.1 For these it is perfectly adequate, furnishing the only rule—and all the rule that is required. In an opinion of the practical adequacy of the law of nature within its appointed sphere, the Levellers were no doubt confirmed by the frequent appeals heard to it, and by the whole secular tradition of the law of nature, glanced at and condemned as inadequate by Ames (7, 8).

In opposing Ireton’s effort to use the law of nature as a touchstone to distinguish between the merely typical portions of the Mosaic Law which are abrogated by the Gospel and the portions identical with the law of nature and hence of permanent and universal application, the Levellers (supported by Goodwin) give their clearest exposition of the principle of segregation as applied to the idea of a natural law. Scripture is the rule for the church; the law of nature, the only rule for the state. To attempt to introduce the Mosaic Law into the constitution of the state under the guise of natural law is sophistical. Nor are we left without strong indications of what the law of nature teaches in the civil sphere: it teaches that the people not only designate the persons of their governors, but bestow upon them all their power (pp. 157-9).2

The insistence on the law of nature as the only rule for the state and on its basic democracy is of the first importance. But to gauge the full bearing of the appeal to nature in politics one must turn to the Putney Debates (pp. 53-79) and to the pamphlets of the Levellers. At Putney Ireton declares that the Levellers can ground their demand for manhood suffrage only on some plea of natural rights as opposed to the historic rights held forth by the fundamental constitution of the English state. They do not deny the fact. To the law of nature they confidently appeal, and when Ireton further declares that the appeal to nature will destroy all property, they try to show that the right to property is guaranteed by the law of nature, and not, as Ireton maintains, merely by positive laws (pp. 61-2). It is the law of nature, furthermore, that teaches the individual his rights and their attendant duties: the right and duty of self-preservation, and the natural limits of obedience (or the right and duty of resistance to tyrannical rulers). It teaches him what are the ends of government; and it inculcates the basic principles of social life, the principles of natural justice and equity which dictate the political equality of all men within the state and issue in the maxim (also enshrined in the Gospel), ‘to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

Behind the Levellers’ appeals to the law of nature lie those of Parliamentarians against the King, and of the Army against both the King and Parliament. Already in 1642, Parliamentary apologists are declaring that the law of nature is paramount: by it all power is ‘originally inherent in the people,’ and (whatever was the case among the Jews, where God intervened by a direct revelation) the source of the magistrates’ authority ‘can be nothing else among Christians but the actions and agreements of such and such political corporations.’ The ‘paramount law that shall give law to all human laws whatsoever . . . is salus populi. . . . Neither can the right of conquest be pleaded to acquit princes of that which is due to the people . . .; for mere force cannot alter the course of nature or frustrate the tenor of law. . . .’ ‘The charter of nature entitles all subjects of all countries whatsoever to safety by its supreme law.’1 Most striking of all the early pleas is that of Rutherford’s Lex Rex, which, like the later appeals of the Army, is fully illustrated in the texts that follow (see Index sub ‘Law of Nature’). Behind these again lies the long and complex tradition of the law of nature, as it comes down from classical times,1 as it is adapted and formulated by the Civilians and Canonists, and as it influences the theory and practice of English law.2 The law of nature comes to the Levellers with peculiar authority, even if they are ignorant of many of the stages in its august tradition; for is it not God’s law for the natural order? And it comes to them with unexhausted potentialities; for it is unwritten (all formulations being but partial and approximate), and finally determinable only by reason. By resolutely applying the principle of segregation it can be freed from the trammels of its association with the written law of scripture. By the principle of analogy it can take its place as the fundamental law for the state not less certainly than does the law of Christ as the fundamental law for the church. With this vast authority, with these potentialities, and with a new freedom from reference to anything beyond itself, the law of nature becomes the foundation of the Levellers’ political creed and their final court of appeal.

Where the principle of segregation is applied in its most radical form, the effect is to exalt the law of nature as known by the reason of fallen man into an absolute standard within, but not beyond, the natural order. There remains, however, the large body of Puritan thought, even of extreme Puritan thought, in which the principle of segregation is not rigorously applied. For it, the distinction between the law of nature in its primal brightness (a brightness restored in the regenerate) and the dim relic of that law known to fallen men (above, p. [89], (10)) retains its full effect, and with two results already indicated: the necessity of supplementing reason by scripture in the civil field, and the possibility of calling in the doctrine of the law of nature to support an enforcement upon the unregenerate of a standard whose full glory is hidden from them and known only to the Saints. Even in Milton (if he were our chief concern here) we could demonstrate something of these results, though in a more refined form. Despite his passion for liberty, and his partial application, in the interests of religious liberty, of the principle of segregation, he is, as Wordsworth rightly divined, radical but not democratic. For him the law of nature is not a law for the natural order merely, and sufficiently known to all men within that order. It is a law of liberty which the regenerate alone can fully know, and by which only they are adequately equipped to live. The most obvious inferences to be drawn in the political field are reactionary in character, and they appear in Milton’s final disregard of the will of the majority. But this does not mean that the law of nature thus conceived is wholly without a liberating influence. It has some effect upon the provisions suggested for civil life; and, above all, nothing can prevent its exerting its influence as an ideal. Thus Milton’s interpretation of liberty as the abrogation of outward law, while it applies only to the regenerate, has a pronounced effect on his conception of the state (if only because the state’s highest purpose is to serve the regenerate); and it holds forth an ideal of liberty, individualist, and even anarchist, in character. So long as dogma remains unimpaired the ideal is, strictly, inaccessible to the ordinary man, but the use of the term nature in designating the ideal is a perpetual invitation to the unwary to extend its benefits to him. And sooner or later dogma is impaired. As this occurs there are two ways in which the identification of the law of nature with the rule of man’s unfallen, or his regenerate, condition may tend to radical conclusions. To associate the natural with the unfallen state is to approach the general type of thought now described as primitivistic. To associate it with a regenerate condition presents, on the other hand, some affinity with the type of thought known as perfectibilitarian. In the eighteenth century these two types were to furnish, separately and together, the dominant modes of radical thinking. Discontent with the existing social order issued in the cry of ‘back to nature,’ or in the cry of ‘onward to perfection.’ Then the happy discovery was made that the two things were really identical: in order to go onward to perfection one had only to go back to nature for one’s rule. But before this blessed state of confusion could be achieved dogma must have disappeared or have been interpreted so figuratively that nothing but the smudged outline of its pattern persisted. In some of the radicals of the Puritan revolution these processes are seen at work. Walwyn and Winstanley furnish examples. But in another way, and without any break-down of dogma, these primitivistic and perfectibilitarian tendencies can in measure be released to work in radical political thought: namely, by analogy. Grant that natural reason is adequate within the natural sphere; then it can lead men to the perfect natural state; and this line of thought encounters strong support from the secular tradition of natural law to which Stoicism had bequeathed some primitivist and some perfectibilitarian elements.

Bound up with the conception of the law of nature, however it is defined, is the idea that it is known by reason (either by reason unaided or by right reason, which is reason illuminated from above1 ): the appeal to the law of nature is virtually an appeal to reason. The attitude of Puritanism towards reason, we have remarked, ranges all the way from the contempt of the voluntarist to the idolatry of the rationalist (see Index). Voluntarism, which seeks the final sanction of positive laws in the will of the law-giver, has for its natural outcome absolutism. Rationalism, whose final sanction is conformity to reason, is opposed to absolutism in so far as the latter is an expression of mere arbitrary will, and leads naturally to a doctrine of liberty.2 But the principle of segregation can achieve the curious result of establishing a rationalist standard in the natural order while leaving the view of God purely voluntarist. Precisely this result is achieved in Lilburne’s thinking, who can even turn the dichotomy to account by declaring that only God can act from arbitrary will, and the magistrate is not God! In the natural order the appeal must be to reason (p. 317). An observer of the General Council comments on ‘a new sect sprung up among them, and these are the rationalists, and what their reason dictates to them in church and state stands to them for good, until they be convinced with better.’3 But reason, like nature, is a term which always stands in urgent need of precise definition. In few of the Puritans does it receive that definition. In Winstanley it approximates to the Quaker notion of the ‘inner light’ and is used so loosely that it can be interchanged with the expression, the universal love. In Overton, discursive reason no doubt sets the tone of his use of the term. In most of the Puritans, as in Ames, it embraces both discourse and intuition. The fact of most importance is that in this volume its use is never, I think, ‘intellectualist’ or esoteric. Reason is thought of as something common to all men and independent of education. It is the light of nature, not of the schools: an equalitarian conception. Natural truth may be perceived by any man, just as spiritual truth may be perceived by the meanest of the brethren. And this furnishes the basis of the belief in free discussion, in which the humblest may be convinced (as is his right), and may in his turn convince if he can (as is his right also). The only distinction is that between reason operating unaided and reason illuminated from above; and we have gauged the significance of that distinction.

The appeal to reason in politics brings us once more to the attitude towards historical precedent. In the earlier opponents of absolutism the appeal was twofold, to precedent and to a paramount law known by reason (which might or might not be described as the law of nature). Positive laws finally claimed obedience as particular and approximate embodiments of that general law. To appeal to precedent was not to deny, but rather silently to assume, the paramount law. This too was the position of Lilburne,1 who was for ever conning the Book of Statutes and citing Magna Charta and the other formularies of the Englishman’s historic rights. But the struggle of Parliament with the Crown, and of the Army and people with Parliament, soon outran precedent; and this fact, combined with Puritan utopianism and the predominant Puritan view of custom and of history, resulted in a progressive shift of emphasis from precedent to the law of nature, or from historic to abstract rights. It is on this point that Ireton and the Levellers divide (pp. 52-62). The appeal to reason as opposed to history, whatever its weaknesses, has (as Mr. Laski observes) one great advantage: it permits an extension of rights, not merely a defence of rights already won. The fact did not escape the debaters at Putney. Already Walwyn had dissented from Lilburne: ‘Magna Charta hath been more precious in your esteem than it deserveth; for it may be made good to the people and yet in many particulars they may remain under intolerable oppression.’2 And Overton is equally dissatisfied with the appeal to existing laws:

Ye know the laws of this nation are unworthy a free people, and deserve from first to last to be considered and seriously debated and reduced to an agreement with common equity and right reason, which ought to be the form and life of every government. Magna Charta itself (being but a beggarly thing, containing many marks of intolerable bondage) and the laws that have been made since by Parliaments have in very many particulars made our government much more oppressive and intolerable.1

But even the most radical were loath to break entirely with the past. So they invented a new past more consonant with the demands of reason.

As the most primitive age of the church was that in which it embodied most purely the law of Christ, so in the most primitive era of English history did not the state embody most purely the law of nature? And here the rival theory of absolutism played into the hands of the radicals by asserting that the King’s right rested not on contract but on conquest. It was an old contention assailed by Buchanan, revived by the Royalists, and attacked once more by Parker and Rutherford (pp. 204-5); and it was obviously a two-edged sword: ‘There were more reason why the people might justify force to regain due liberty than the prince might to subvert the same.’2 The effects of conquest could be reversed by victory. This was an idea highly congenial to a victorious Army, especially to those who held that there was now no power in England but the sword—there was no other power and since the Norman Conquest there never had been.3 A wave of Anti-Normanism swept through the ranks, and Edward the Confessor became a Puritan hero.4 The Normans had destroyed the primitive English state and enslaved a nation; all the long struggle with kings had been an effort to regain its lost rights; Magna Charta and the other concessions wrung from them were so many fragments of recovered freedom. Now the Army’s victory had exchanged the roles of conqueror and conquered. It must be followed by a new constitution with the abrogation of all those positive laws which were a badge of slavery; and a restoration of their rights to the commons whom the Norman had despoiled. What were the barons but William the Conqueror’s colonels? Their right fell with his: a convenient doctrine for those whose equalitarian sentiments or practical needs were demanding the abolition of the House of Lords and the end of all feudal privileges.

Not only the military Saints and the Levellers, but the Diggers too, could find their account in the attractive theory of Anti-Normanism (p. 383). It is, of course, no more tenable than the absolutist theory of conquest which first suggested it. Nathaniel Bacon found them the subject of excited debate and determined to examine the evidence on which they rested. His Historical Discourse of the Uniformity of the Government of England (1647) yields them little support. But this does not diminish the significance of Anti-Normanism as an effort of the imagination to accommodate history to the demands of reason, and (with the pattern of ecclesiastical history hovering in the background) to clothe abstract rights in a concrete and primitive form. It furnishes also a striking example of a theory on which divergent groups of the Puritan Left could temporarily combine.

To forget the fact of such combination is to misread the history of Puritanism, of the Army, and of their relations to democracy in the seventeenth century: a common enemy is almost as important as common principles—at times, more important. Though the main direction of the Levellers was democratic, while that of the military Saints was not, some alliance was possible—even some mutual influence. And the moment of inevitable conflict was forestalled by the practical politicians of the Centre who snatched all the fruits of victory from the busy and contradictory theorists of the Left. They did so by participating in and directing the precarious union of interests and ideals, which was the Army in politics, and a phenomenon of great, if temporary, importance. For the victorious Army combined, and in some sort reconciled, two divergent notions: it was a godly Army, in which the Saints were sufficiently numerous (and vocal) to satisfy the religious ideal; and it was a representative Army, a cross-section at least of Puritan England, which satisfied the democratic ideal and supported its pretence of speaking in the name of the nation. It deliberated in a council whose forms were democratic and whose language was quasi-religious. The deliberations could be turned into a debate on natural rights by Rainborough, or into a prayer-meeting by Goffe. They bore a general resemblance to those of the House of Commons—not least in the rather sinister fact that Cromwell could control them, and end them. The Council of the Army was, within limits, a genuine democratic assembly. Where else in 1647 could the common soldier urge his reasons upon his commanders, or grandees be told to their faces that ‘the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he’? It was democratic, also, in including among its members many who at bottom cared for democracy not at all. And it betrayed the weakness of the democratic assembly: it was the easy prey of political astuteness and of physical force. . . .

We must take its good meaning; and to do so is to see the Council as the very imperfect realization of the Levellers’ hope,1 and hearken chiefly to their utterances. They, at least, were passionately devoted to the democratic ideal: taking justice and equality as the foundation of their scheme; believing in truth and agreement through free discussion; in their hearts distrusting force even as a method of effecting beneficent ends and even when betrayed into acquiescing in its use; willing, when truest to themselves, to postpone victory till reason, and not the sword, could win it. They were often intolerably factious, and they were incurably rash and doctrinaire. But the ideals for which they stood were magnanimous. The position of the Centre Party is more equivocal. That they used the Council of the Army it is idle to deny—but no one (unless it were Mr. Belloc) could now be found to assert that it was for personal ends. Ireton, who was probably the ablest political thinker that the revolution produced, sympathized with many of the Levellers’ pleas for practical reforms, as the Heads of the Proposals (pp. 422-6) makes abundantly clear; and the vigour and acuteness with which he debates are incompatible with a merely opportunist and cynical attitude towards free discussion. But his belief in democracy was much less thorough-going than the Levellers’. Indeed in the Centre Party in general Puritan democracy was crossed and finally defeated not only by practical considerations, but by anti-democratic elements in the Puritan creed. The Levellers remain the chief exponents of Puritan democracy; and even their limitations are significant.

They are at bottom individualists, distrusting the state and thinking in terms of safeguards: a character which is part of the Puritan inheritance and shared with the Independents, where, however, it is at war with the zeal for making righteousness prevail. Only in the Diggers, who carry over from politics to economics the Levellers’ feeling for justice and equality, is there an unmistakable shift to a philosophy predominantly socialist in character—and it is an idealistic socialism that has more in common with William Morris than with Karl Marx.1 It does not follow, however, that the Diggers are better exponents of the democratic ideal than the Levellers. In that ideal individualism has its place, and if history teaches anything it is the permanent necessity of individualism as a corrective. Nor need it issue merely in distrust of the state, as the Areopagitica and the Essay on Liberty remind us. But even at its best, individualism requires to be balanced—not over-balanced—by a sense of the community, the sense that speaks in the noblest of all English definitions of the state: ‘It is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence, of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, . . . in every virtue and in all perfection.’ From no descendant of the Puritans, these words come; but from an Anglican and a conservative, from one for whom the state has not been completely secularized and by whom (with only the safeguards of the historic constitution) it can still be trusted. But that is another story. . . . In the Levellers an individualism which prompts an emphasis on reserves and new safeguards, is in fact balanced by a more limited, but still real, sense of the community. It finds no direct expression in the Agreements of the People and little enough in other pamphlets. But in their belief in the arrival at truth and agreement through free discussion a sense of the community is implied because the individual needs the help of his fellows—or, if not consciously implied, it is inevitably discovered in the process of translating the belief into action. And, unlike Burke’s, it is a sense of the democratic community because it is realized in the experience of the democratic assembly. We have noticed how William Dell, in his Way of True Peace, repudiates the church covenant in favour of a spiritual bond between all believers, achieved in Christ. Here the analogy between the order of nature and the order of grace seems to fail—and does fail. But it is neither irreverent nor fanciful to detect in a sense of the community which cannot be written into constitutions, but can only be experienced, some dim and partial analogy of the spiritual bond.

[1] Camden Society, 4 vols., 1891-1901.

[1] In vol. 67 of the Clarke MSS., Worcester College, Oxford.

[2] With some latitude, however; see p. 479.

[1] It has not been found possible to record which emendations have been adopted, what rejected, and what added, or, except in one or two cases, the grounds on which my decision has been reached. Nor would any useful purpose for the reader have been served had it been possible. The limited space available for notes must go to recording all deviations from the MS. in the present edition, whether in origin Firth’s or my own.

[2] Of the documents from which I present (in Part III and the Appendix) selections more or less extensive, only one, the Large Petition of the Levellers (pp. 318-23) is already available in Professor William Haller’s admirable collection, Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution, New York 1934, which reproduces nineteen important pamphlets in full and in facsimile. To these pamphlets, and to Professor Haller’s learned introduction and notes, I refer the reader. Two or three of my other selections are from material elsewhere reprinted, but not very readily accessible. The rest have never been reprinted.

These selections have been edited on principles similar to those employed in editing the Debates. The object has been to present a text at once accurate and intelligible to the modern reader. Omissions have been indicated: three dots (. . .) for omissions of less than a sentence; three asterisks (* * *) for longer omissions. See also ‘Notes on Text’ under the different titles.

[1] That is, in relation to the other Puritan groups and with care not to be confused by Cromwell’s term ‘the middle party’ (p. 419), which he applies to the Erastians with other loosely attached elements in the House of Commons.

[2] In principle, Independency, with its ideal of an exclusive and divinely appointed church, was of course opposed to Erastianism; and there were Independent attacks on the Erastianism of the Presbyterian Prynne (see Certain Brief Observations on Master Prynne’s Twelve Questions, 1644; and Calumny Arraigned and Cast, 1645). On the other hand, the separation of church and state, in proportion as the Independents were willing to make it absolute, would have the effect of rendering impossible the religious tyranny that the Erastians dreaded.

[1] It would be a mistake to exaggerate the sharpness of the line separating parties, or to overlook the fact that a logical development of certain Independent principles would easily carry one over the line. Progressive movement towards the Left is illustrated by Milton and Roger Williams: it is another source of the sects. Thomas Edwards affected to think a pure Independent a rara avis, a mistake in the other direction. Space does not permit me to speak of the relation of parties before the meeting of the Long Parliament, when the principles to be expressed after 1640 were taking shape. Much light on this subject may be expected from forthcoming works by Professor M. M. Knappen and Professor William Haller. See also the admirable account in Perry Miller, Orthodoxy in Massachusetts (1934), pp. 1-101.

[1] In an early Declaration [E. 390 (26)] the Army significantly speaks of the City and itself as ‘bodies’: why should the Army’s petitions ‘be apprehended as a putting of conditions upon Parliament more than all other petitions have been, from counties, from corporations, and especially from the City of London, being a body more numerous, more closely compacted, more near to the Parliament, and more plentifully furnished with money and all things else to back and carry on their desires than the Army is . . .?’ (p. 5).

[2] Among the citizens Presbyterian sympathies also prevailed, tinged, like the oligarchy’s, with Erastianism. But in the City and surrounding municipalities, there was a vigorous minority whose allegiance was divided between the Independents and the Parties of the Left.

[1]Clarke Papers, 1. x-xi.

[2] Letter from Suffolk, 20th April, Duke of Portland’s MSS., quoted, Gardiner 3. 236-7. Already on 26th March, Thomason had acquired a sheet, which Gardiner and Firth overlook, and which prints what purports to be An Apology of the Soldiers to all their Commission Officers [E. 381 (18)]. This Apology justifies the actions of the Army in the Civil War by an appeal to ‘the law of nature and the necessity of the land.’ It declares that the soldiers, believing the Parliament’s declarations, fought for ‘the utter extirpation of all ungodliness and illegal proceedings . . .; for the preservation of the Gospel, the liberty of the subject, and the just right and privileges of Parliament.’ It warns the officers of the danger of being led to abandon the cause of their soldiers, and concludes:

‘Now these and many other such like reasons being taken into your serious considerations, we hope, will be just cause for you to go along with us in this business, or at the least to let us quietly alone in this our design, we desiring no more than what is just and right, according to all their declarations and protestations to the whole world, that being one witness. Thus leaving you to the powerful wisdom of God, which is only able to make you wise in all things, we rest so praying,

Your servants so far as we may.’


[1] Tanner MSS. (Bodleian) 58. f. 84: quoted by Firth, Clarke Papers, 1. 430-1.

[1] Letter from Suffolk, 20th April (Duke of Portland’s MSS.); Letter of intelligence from Saffron Walden, 26th April (Clarendon MSS. 2502): Gardiner 3. 237, 245. Baxter speaks of the diffusion of Overton’s and Lilburne’s pamphlets as already widespread in the ranks (p. 389).

[1] The Levellers afterwards complained (Second Part of England’s New Chains, 1649, p. 3) that ‘the General Councils . . . were . . . overgrown with colonels, lieutenant-colonels, majors, and others not chosen, and many of them dissenters from the . . . Engagement.

[1] ‘Certain Informations,’ Clarke Papers, 1. 152.

[2] For 17th July, there is a fragmentary account of a debate on the Heads of the Proposals, from which I have extracted two significant speeches (p. 421).

[1] Gardiner 3. 335-40, 343-52; The Humble Address of the Agitators [E. 402 (8)].

[2] Gardiner 3. 364-5; Rushworth 7. 815.

[1] Fairfax to the House of Commons, 9th November: Rushworth 7. 867.

[2]Clarke Papers, 1. liv-lv; Gardiner 4. 22-3; Rushworth 7. 875; A Full Relation of the Proceedings at the Rendezvous in Corbush Field; A Remonstrance from Fairfax concerning the late Discontent.

[1]Clarke Papers, 1. lvi-lviii; Rushworth 7. 922-61 (passim), from which latter are the above quotations.

[1] Of this committee Lilburne managed to collect all but three. Save Marten the Parliamentary members refused to act, disapproving of the forcible dissolution of the Parliament. The Agreement was actually drawn up by Lilburne, the three other Levellers, and Marten (p. 349).

[2] Gardiner 4. 233-43, 260-70.

[1]Queries of Highest Consideration (1644).

[2] This, with The Compassionate Samaritan and The Arraignment of Persecution, reproduced in Tracts, edited Haller.

[3] The subject of an interesting paper by Professor M. M. Knappen, read before the American Historical Association in December 1936.

[1] See Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, edited W. C. Abbott (1937), especially 1. 752.

[2] See Perry Miller, Orthodoxy in Massachusetts; W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England (2 vols., 1932-6).

[3] Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, translated Olive Wyon (1931), pp. 622-3; cf. pp. 578, 593-8.

[1] It has been felt desirable, while observing this emphasis in our discussion, to afford one example of Digger thought (pp. 379-85) together with some reference to it (pp. [56], [99]).

[1] William Aspinwal, Description of the Fifth Monarchy (1653), p. 10. Presbyterians appealed with like confidence to the Old Testament.

[1] Not all the Puritans are satisfied with such reasoning. ‘But success alone is not a rule for wise men to go by . . .’ (The Ancient Bounds, p. 55).

[1] A different account of the priority of the religious struggle is given in An Answer to Mr. William Prynne’s Twelve Questions (1644): the needed civil reforms might have been effected without an appeal to arms had not Episcopalian fears and Presbyterian ambitions complicated and forced the issue.

[2] It is necessary to distinguish between positive and negative reforms. The latter term may designate the reforms whose object is merely the removal of abuses and of restrictions upon the individual; the former may designate new interference with the individual for his or the community’s benefit or in the interests of righteousness or efficiency.

[3] Thomas Case, Two Sermons to the Commons, 1641, pp. 21-2.

[1]Christian Directory (1678), 1. 336.

[1] The effort of Independency to replace Presbyterianism as the latter was replacing Episcopacy could be best rationalized in terms of progressive comprehension: ‘[D]oth Master Prynne think we have no more light discovered in these days about church-government than the godly had in former days? Or must all the Saints be regulated by former patterns? Then should Episcopacy be more followed than Presbytery’ (Certain Brief Observations, 1644, p. 7).

[2]The Independent Catechism (1647) associates progressive comprehension of truth with an approaching millennium. The companion Presbyterian Catechism, issued by the same publisher, but a fair presentation of Presbyterian beliefs, is significantly silent on both progressive knowledge and the millennium. According to Williams, however, even the Presbyterians ‘profess to want more light’ (Queries of Highest Consideration, 1644).

[3] Neal’s History of the Puritans (1822) 2. 110-11; cf. Edward Winslow, Hypocrisy Unmasked (1646), p. 97.

[1]Apologetical Narration (1644), p. 10. The tentative and experimental spirit of Independency is one of the reproaches levelled against it by the Presbyterian ministers, irritated by the Dissenting Brethren’s demand for toleration coupled with a wary and largely politic refusal to set forth a counter-scheme of settlement: ‘[T]hey profess reservations and new lights for which they will no doubt expect the like toleration and so in infinitum’ (Letter of the Ministers of London, to the Assembly, against Toleration, 1646, pp. 2-3). A clever satire makes the ministers complain: ‘The Independents will ever be looking for further light, and go on still in reformation, and would carry the people along with them “to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ” . . .; by which means things will never be settled perfectly whilst the Church is militant. Therefore Independency is a mischief to the Church’ (Certain Additional Reasons to Those in A Letter by the Ministers of London to the Assembly, 1646, p. 6).

[2]Liberty of Conscience (1644), p. 50.

[3]Areopagitica, Prose Works, 2. 90.

[4]A Paraenetic for Christian Liberty (1644), p. 34.

[1]Imputatio Fidei (1642), preface.

[2]Manifestation, 14th April 1649, p. 3.

[3]Liberty of Conscience (1644), preface.

[4] Husband’s Exact Collection (1643), pp. 15-16, 19-20.

[5] Ibid., p. 315.

[1]Unum Necessarium (1648), p. 36.

[1]Grand Remonstrance.

[2]A Solemn Discourse upon the Covenant (1644), p. 6.

[3] Ireton is forced to execute a partial retreat on the related subject of the binding character of engagements. At Putney he declares them to be inescapable. A year later in the Remonstrance of the Army (p. 460) he does not reverse the decision, but he provides a very pretty example of Puritan casuistry by indicating how, without doing so, he can set the Covenant aside. The Covenant indeed constituted a recurrent stumbling-block to the Independents and the Parties of the Left. Hugh Peter chose simply to ignore it: he had it administered to him, ‘as he thought, twenty times, and saw nothing in it that men should make such a stir about it’ (Thomas Edwards, Gangraena, part 3, p. 123). The spokesmen of the Left at Putney take up the position that no engagement is binding if, and when, it conflicts with the claims of justice and right, or with the safety of the people (which is the supreme law). They are merely giving reasoned expression to a rather obscure tendency in the Puritan mind to regard no bargain as binding once it has ceased to be advantageous—especially to the children of grace. This form of iconoclasm is fairly widespread (cf. Milton’s treatment of the marriage contract in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce). The same idea could be expressed in the language of religious enthusiasm. Buff-Coat remarks ecstatically: ‘Whatsoever obligation I should be bound unto, if afterwards God should reveal himself, I would break it, if it were an hundred a day’ (p. 34). Though the principle had been invoked by the Independents in their struggle for religious liberty, and by the Parliament in its struggle with Charles, Ireton voices the alarm of the Centre Party: ‘When I hear men speak of laying aside all engagements, to consider only that wild or vast notion of what in every man’s conception is just or unjust, I am afraid and do tremble at the boundless and endless consequences of it’ (p. 27).

[1]Of Reformation, Reason of Church Government, Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce: Prose Works, 2. 410, 503, 2; 3. 171-2; 2. 485.

[2] G. P. Gooch, English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century (1927) p. 159.

[1]Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens, 7th July 1646, p. 5.

[2] Thomas Case, Spiritual Whoredom Discovered in a sermon before the House of Commons, 26th May 1647, p. 34.

[1]The Arraignment of Persecution (reproduced in Tracts, edited Haller, 3. 203-56). Cf. Samuel Richardson, The Necessity of Toleration (pp. 17-18), which condemns the Presbyterian reformation as sinful, foolish, carnal, cruel, and deceitful.

[1]Gangraena (3 parts, 1645-6).

[1] This is illuminatingly explained in Joseph Glanvill’s ‘Free Philosophy and Anti-fanatical Religion’ (Essays, 1676). In Puritan pamphlets the term ‘Arminian’ is loosely used to designate the whole Laudian position, but usually with some reference to the attitude on predestination which was felt to be basic (see Godfrey Davies, ‘Puritan vs. Arminian,’ Huntington Library Bulletin, April 1934).

[2] See the suggestive analysis in T. E. Hulme’s Speculations (1924), pp. 46-71.

[1] Cf. R[ichard] O[verton], Man’s Mortality (1643; enlarged 1655).

[2]Picture of the Council of State (1649), p. 28 (quoted by Haller, Tracts, 1. 96). Overton and Walwyn both sign the Manifestation (14th April 1649), in which the Leveller leaders protest their belief in God and the Bible.

[3]Arraignment of Persecution, pp. 14-17, 22-6.

[4]Putney Projects (1647; p. 1): ‘God’s present great design . . . is the shaking of the powers of the earth and marring the pride of all flesh. Isaiah 2. 11: The lofty looks of man shall be humbled and the haughtines; of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord shall be exalted in that day. . . . To-day is this scripture fulfilled. . . .’

[1] I have tentatively adopted Professor Haller’s ascription of The Power of Love (1643) to Walwyn (Tracts 1. 121-7; 2. 271-303).

[2] Cf. The Mystery of God Concerning the Whole Creation: Mankind (1648); A New-Year’s Gift for the Parliament and Army (1650); L. H. Berens, The Digger Movement (1906), p. 44. The name for God, ‘the Universal Love,’ points to a connection with Familist teaching, the alternative name ‘Reason,’ points as clearly to rationalist thought (see further, below, p. [94]). The whole conception is coloured by opposition to Calvinism and by incipient naturalism. In his attack on the clergy in The Law of Freedom in a Platform (1652; p. 58) he declares: ‘. . . To know the works of God within the creation is to know God himself, for God dwells in every visible work or body. And indeed if you would know spiritual things, it is to know how the spirit or power of wisdom and life . . . dwells within and governs both the several bodies . . . in the heavens above, and . . . the earth below . . .; for to reach God beyond the creation . . . is a knowledge beyond the . . . capacity of man to attain. . . .’

[3] John Lilburne, Innocency and Truth Justified (1646). The account is dated 11th November 1638. We hear of his disagreement with Walwyn’s views on religion (England’s Lamentable Slavery, 1645, p. 1).

[1] Cf. Lilburne’s Nine Arguments (1644), kindly lent to me by Professor Haller. Lilburne finally became a Quaker, and there is a hint of his repudiation of all church organization in his Legal Fundamental Liberties (1649, p. 39), in a contemptuous reference to ‘their [Cromwell and Ireton’s] champions in all their pretended churches of God, either Independent or Anabaptistical.’

[2] Save in so far as it is adumbrated in that limited doctrine of the two kingdoms common to Puritan and Jesuit theory (see J. N. Figgis, Divine Right of Kings).

[1]Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Prose Works, 2. 37-47.

[2]Institutes, 4. 20. 32 (translated Beveridge).

[1] Unlike the Covenant, Lex Rex makes little pretence of differentiating between the King and his advisers, but frankly asserts the will of the people as against the King himself. As a result it was not obsolete in 1648, when it was reprinted with the title: The Pre-eminence of the Election of Kings, or a Plea for the People’s Rights.

[2] John Saltmarsh, Free-Grace (1645), p. 210.

[3] Thus Hugh Peter (Thomas Edwards, Gangraena, part 3, p. 135). Roger Williams (who, despite his inveterate fundamentalism, treats the Millenarian prophecies with reserve) roundly asserts that Christ has given no ‘pattern, precept or promise for the undertaking of civil war for his sake’ (Queries of Highest Consideration, pp. 26-9).

[1] C. H. McIlwain, The High Court of Parliament (1910).

[1] These aspects of Christian liberty are highly significant as inculcating a habit of thought which (1) insists on the importance of consent as opposed to conformity, and (2) presses beyond the institution to the end or reason of the institution. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath (as Milton reiterates); how much more is this true of merely human institutions!

[2] And for Milton, see De Doctrina Christiana, 1. 26-7. Unqualified, this answer would lead to Antinomianism, and apparently did so in some of the sects. Luther escapes this result by reinstating the Law as a useful instrument of self-examination, and by his answer to the second question. Milton escapes it by replacing the outward with an inward Law conceived as ethical and rational in character, and identified with the law of nature (of which indeed the Moral Law was itself a formulation); so that the essence of the Law is not abolished but accepted and obeyed in a new spirit of free and voluntary activity—a conception which, taken in conjunction with his answer to the second question, is of definite importance in the emancipation of the individual.

[3] To tamper with beliefs, and persecute for nonconformity, is ‘crowding free consciences and Christian liberties into canons and precepts of men’ (Areopagitica, Prose Works, 2. 92).

[1] In Milton himself it occurs from 1642 onwards. Accordingly I have felt free to illustrate it (pp. 226-32) from Milton’s clearest expositions, which happen to occur in the decade subsequent to the Debates.

[2]Antapologia (1644), p. 301. In The Casting-down of the Last and Strongest Hold of Satan (1647) Edwards seeks to meet the affirmative answer to this question.

[3] Cf. Institutes, 3. 19.

[1] The force of this reservation will appear below (pp. [92-3]).

[1] Richard Overton, An Arrow Against All Tyrants (1646), pp. 3-4. Cf. Overton (below, p. 327), and Lilburne (below, p. 317).

[2]A Work of the Beast (1638; Tracts, edited Haller, 2. 1-34).

[1] The ‘law of nature given originally to Adam, of which a certain remnant or imperfect illumination still dwells in the hearts of all mankind and which in the regenerate, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is daily tending towards a renewal of its primitive brightness’ (De Doctrina Christiana, Prose Works, 4. 378).

[2]Paradise Lost, 9. 654.

[1]Prose Works, 2. 111.

[2]Regal Tyranny Discovered (1647), p. 11.

[1] Quoted by Champlin Burrage, Church Covenant Idea (1904), pp. 46-8.

[1]Dissuasive from the Errors of the Times (1645), p. 23.

[2] Quoted by H. M. Dexter, The Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years (1880), p. 106.

[3]A Moderate Answer to Dr. Bastwick’s . . . Independency Not God’s Ordinance (1645), pp. 19-20.

[1]The Essentials of Democracy (1929), pp. 11-24. See further Charles Borgeaud, The Rise of Modern Democracy in Old and New England (1894).

[1] On the Council of War see C. H. Firth, Cromwell’s Army (1921), pp. 57-9.

[1] As the debates in the Council developed, they further took on something of the character of arguments in a court of law. Wildman later acts as counsel for the popular cause before the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen (pp. 369-78). His presence at Putney (as also Petty’s) is in much the same capacity. Nor is Ireton a less formidable opponent than Maynard, Hale, or Wilde.

[2] In theory the House of Commons was representative of the democracy. The ‘true nature’ of parliamentary power lies in ‘public consent . . ., that being the proper foundation of all power.’ Parliament is a device ‘whereby the people may assume its own power to do itself right,’ and whereby ‘the whole community in its underived majesty shall convene to do justice, and that this convention may not be without intelligence certain times and places and forms shall be appointed for its regiment; and that the vastness of its own bulk may not breed confusion, by virtue of election and representation a few shall act for many, the wise shall consent for the simple, the virtue of all shall redound to some, and the prudence of some shall redound to all’ (Henry Parker, Observations upon Some of His Majesty’s Late Answers and Expresses, 1642, pp. 13, 15; the pamphlet is reproduced in Tracts, edited Haller, 2. 167-213). Such a theory in itself fosters democratic ideas. Sir Benjamin Rudyerd complained, in 1648, that the functions of Parliament were being usurped by the people: ‘We have sat thus long, and we are come to a fine pass; for the whole kingdom has become parliament all over’ (H. A. Glass, The Barebone Parliament, 1899, p. 49).

[1] Margaret James, Social Problems and Policy during the Puritan Revolution (1930), pp. 200-11.

[2] Ibid., pp. 223-31.

[1] Carlyle, Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches, Speech III.

[2] Of toleration Roger Williams writes (Queries of Highest Consideration, pp. 34-5): ‘We know the allegations against this counsel. The head of all is that from Moses (not Christ) his pattern in the typical land of Canaan, the kings of Israel and Judah, &c. We humbly desire it may be searched into, and we believe it will be found but one of Moses’ shadows, vanished at the coming of the Lord Jesus: yet such a shadow as is directly opposite to the very Testament and coming of the Lord Jesus; opposite to the very nature of a Christian Church, the only holy nation and Israel of God; opposite to the very tender bowels of humanity (how much more of Christianity!), abhorring to pour out the blood of men merely for their souls’ belief and worship; opposite to the very essentials and fundamentals of the nature of a civil magistracy, a civil commonweal, or combination of men, which can only respect civil things; opposite to the Jews’ conversion to Christ, by not permitting them a civil life or being; opposite to the civil peace, and the lives of millions, slaughtered upon this ground, in mutual persecuting each other’s conscience, especially the protestant and the papist; opposite to the souls of all men, who by persecutions are ravished into a dissembled worship, which their hearts embrace not; opposite to the best of God’s servants, who in all popish and protestant states have been commonly esteemed and persecuted, as the only schismatics, heretics, &c.; opposite to that light of scripture which is expected yet to shine, which must by that doctrine be suppressed as a new or old heresy or novelty. All this in all ages experience testifies, which never saw any long-lived fruit of peace or righteousness to grow upon that fatal tree.’

[1]Political Aphorisms, 23-4.

[2] See p. 143 and note.

[1]Die Platonische Renaissance in England und die Schule von Cambridge (1932). Herr Cassirer recognizes its latent presence in Puritanism, but does not know Williams or the Levellers, in whom it is fully realized, or recognize its bearing on political thought.

[1] ‘Back to Unity,’ University of Toronto Quarterly (1934), 4. 1-10.

[2] Mr. J. W. Gough, in his useful history The Social Contract (1936), seriously misinterprets Williams’s position when he writes (p. 86, n. 1; cf. pp. 85-6): ‘[Williams] seems . . . to equate a commission from the people with a commission from Christ; the basis of this, however, is not so much the crude maxim vox populi vox Dei as the identification of the people with a body of true believers (Protestant “Saints”), pledged to be guided in their lives by the will of Christ.’ The position is that adopted by Puritans who conceal their undemocratic attitude in democratic language; that Williams could not adopt it, is sufficiently demonstrated by the passage on church and state cited above. The misunderstanding is due to a failure to recognize the principle of segregation and to take seriously Williams’ distinction between the Law and the Gospel.

[1] Charles Borgeaud, The Rise of Modern Democracy, pp. 86-7, 129.

[2] On this subject, as on the origins of Leveller thought in general, see T. C. Pease’s brilliant study, The Leveller Movement (1916).

[1] Christopher St. German’s dialogues on the Laws of England, repeatedly printed.

[1] In Overton, who (as we have seen) studiously ignores the Fall, reason is, apparently, held to be perfectly adequate in all men and the law of nature to have retained its original brightness.

[2] In Israel the people designated the person and God bestowed the power. This was typical, just as was the combination of civil and ecclesiastical functions. It foreshadowed the practice not of the state, but of the church under the Gospel. In nature, and under the Gospel (where civil magistracy is once more a purely natural office), God bestows power upon the people, who delegate it (under such safeguards as are deemed necessary) to the civil magistrate, designating the person and bestowing the power. Cf. pp. 212, 283.

[1] Henry Parker, Observations upon Some of His Majesty’s Late Answers and Expresses, pp. 1-4.

[1] ‘There is a law which is the same as true reason accordant with nature, a law which is constant and eternal. . . . This law is not one at Rome and another at Athens, but is . . . immutable, the expression of the command and the sovereignty of God’ (Cicero, De Rep. 3. 22, quoted by Lactantius, Div. Inst. 1. 6. 8). All civil law is but the expression and application of this law of nature, and derives its final authority from that fact (cf. Cicero, De Leg. 1. 6. 19-20, et passim).

[2] See A. J. Carlyle, History of Mediaeval Political Theory in the West; and Sir Frederick Pollock, ‘The History of the Law of Nature’ (Essays in the Law, 1922, pp. 31-79).

[1] Overton (cf. p. [90], n. 1) uses the term right reason without any such reference, or more in its classical than its Christian sense (pp. 323-4).

[2] This is obvious if one examines Milton’s political thinking in connection with the true character, not the popular misconception, of his theology, or if one pauses to relate the feeling of the Cambridge Platonists for intellectual liberty to the tenets of their rational theology.

[3]Clarendon State Papers, vol. 2, App.; 14th October 1647. The word church signifies merely the relation of church to state.

[1]London’s Liberty in Chains (1646), p. 41.

[2]England’s Lamentable Slavery (1645), p. 5. (The pamphlet is reproduced in Tracts, edited Haller, 3. 311-18, and assigned to Walwyn.)

[1]A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens (1646), p. 15 (ibid., 3. 351-70).

[2] Henry Parker, Observations (1642), p. 3.

[3] Francis White, Copy of a Letter to Fairfax with an Account to the Officers of the General’s Regiment (11th November 1647).

[4] John Hare (in St. Edward’s Ghost and other pamphlets) advanced the mad notion of the superiority of the Germanic race and declared war on all the French words in the English language.

[1] The plan of the General Council was probably in the first instance a concession to the Levellers’ demand. And in the idea of the Council they never ceased to believe, however disillusioned they may have become with its control by Cromwell and his officers. The advisers of the new Agents (in contrast with Rainborough and the old Agitators) are somewhat suspicious and reserved at Putney, but are led into a series of animated debates. After the Council’s suppression the Levellers urged its restoration (Gardiner, History of Commonwealth, 1. 33-4; Clarke Papers, edited Firth, 2. 194). Not less significant is the temporary conversion of the Council of Officers at Whitehall into a sort of facsimile of the Council of the Putney Debates (though without the Agitators) and Lilburne’s eager plans for its effective discussion (p. 473).

[1] One highly typical document of the Diggers (pp. 379-85) is included for purposes of comparison. Numerically unimportant, they are the one proletarian group, as the Levellers are the one fully democratic group, in the Puritan revolution. They differ from the Levellers in the character of their social philosophy, belonging rather to the history of equality than of liberty, and to that of socialism rather than of democracy proper. They also differ in the processes connecting their social to their theological thought, and stand in a somewhat different relation to Puritanism. But there is some common ground, besides their effort to extend the Levellers’ principles of justice and equality from politics to economics. They share the Puritan characteristics of activity, utopianism, and iconoclasm; and (as in the case of the Levellers) they come into prominence as a result of the revolution. There is nothing of communism in the Debates or in the Agreements of the People; but one occasionally catches a hint of the Diggers’ mode of thought or the glimpse of a principle which fully developed might lead to their position. Broadly speaking, it remains true, however, that the affinity of the Diggers is not with the Levellers, whose concern is for liberty, but with the Millenarians, whose concern is for positive reform. In the Diggers the desire to establish the reign of righteousness, as they conceive it, obliterates every other motive. In them, as in the Millenarians, the principle of segregation is not invoked; the direct inferences from their religious thought are allowed to dominate their view of secular life, their interpretation of the past and their vision of the future; the ideal of the holy community, in the peculiar form which it takes in their minds, is not restricted to the order of grace but intrudes upon the order of nature. In what at first sight looks like the language of the Millenarians, they address Fairfax: ‘The intent of writing to you is not to request your protection . . .; for truly we dare not cast off the Lord and make choice of . . . men to rule us. For the creation hath smarted deeply for such a thing since Israel chose Saul to be their king; and therefore we acknowledge before you in plain English that we have chosen the Lord God to be our king and protector’ (The Levellers’ New Remonstrance, 1649, p. 1). The Diggers are working for an economic millennium. And by them the liberty of the individual is perhaps as little regarded as by the stern visionaries who hope immediately to usher in the rule of Christ and his Saints. But instead of taking scripture, dogma and prophecy with the terrifying literalness of Harrison and his fellows, Winstanley and his group subject them to a process of allegorical interpretation no less startling: the Fall and its curse mean the emergence of pride and covetousness and the introduction of private property; the whole history of Israel and the coming of Christ are re-read in the light of this assumption; and the millennium (which, wherever emphasized, always carries some promise of perfectibility) is interpreted as the defeat of covetousness, the abolition of private property, and the establishment of communism throughout the world. Thus does the dogmatic scheme furnish a pattern for their social and political thought, even though they undermine dogma in the very process of interpretation.