Limited Liberty after the English Civil War

During the English Civil War, various social groups in England hoped to improve their positions in society. After the first round of fighting in 1649 the Leveller movement became popular with small traders, shopkeepers, apprentices, and others who did not have political rights. The Levellers had fought in the civil war and hoped that they would be rewarded by receiving the right to vote. In the Levellers’ view, even men without property or wealth should vote because men were created equal by God. As one Leveller stated, “there is no form of government by divine appointment, but the voice of the people is the voice of God…For the father hath not the power to engage the son but by consent.” Levellers wanted to engage in a father/son relationship with their government in which the government as the father would listen to the sons (the Levellers).

Although a new government was formed under Oliver Cromwell, the Levellers did not benefit from it. Cromwell, the leader of the New Model Army during the war, thought a form of monarchy would be ideal. Bringing order and security to England was more important to Cromwell and his supporters than the wishes of the Levellers. The Protectorate, the monarchical government created under Cromwell, failed to grant voting rights to the Levellers. As the new ruler of England, Cromwell justified his position by saying that the people should not be given too much liberty because they would abuse it.

Like the Levellers, the Diggers also hoped to change their position in English society through government reform. Diggers focused on eliminating private property. They wanted Cromwell’s new government to eliminate the enclosures that drove the poor off their lands. They believed that “the Earth is the Lord’s. not particular men’s who claim a proper interest in it above others.” Diggers felt they had a God-given right to their own land because God made every man equal. They hoped Cromwell’s government would entitle people of all social classes to land.

Contrary to the Diggers’ wishes, the new government did not eliminate private property. The majority of revolutionaries were landowners who opposed giving land to the poor and taking it from the wealthy. Though they claimed to be radicals, the revolutionaries of the English Civil War protected their own conservative interests. The inability of the revolutionary government to provide for all Englishmen prevented the English Civil War from fulfilling its democratic ideals.

 

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