About : An Agreement of the Free People of England is a key manifesto arising out of the tumult of the English Civil Wars and, specifically, the vision of John Lilburne, Richard Overton, William Walwyn and Thomas Prince. It sets out to be a model for an English Constitution, referring back to the 1628 Petition of Rights, which itself confirmed numerous rights and liberties. It called for freedom from absolute power through representative government, elected for one year only by all men over 21 (though not quite universal suffrage); the removal of privileges and exemptions from the law; ban on serving military officers being elected to parliament; the abolition of corruption; the right to silence in court; legal cases to be heard in English and charges against them to be heard by defendants; trial by jury; a limit on term of office and separation of powers between legislature and judiciary; an elected judiciary; civilian control of the military ; freedom of conscience and right to conscientious objection; right to life, liberty and freedom without imprisonment for debt or without due process of law; fair taxation and free trade not monopolies.
At at time when the powers of parliament and civil liberties are being eroded by the executive and police can search an MP’s office, seize material and arrest the MP without a warrant, it is ever relevant to reflect back on our radical past and the establishment of our current democracy. Visionaries like John Lilburne remind us that what we cherish are our ‘freeborn rights’ – protected by the State but not bestowed by it. In those turbulent times three civil wars and the Glorious Revolution were needed to establish the primacy of government by elected representatives – Parliament’s role as overseer of the executive is the bastion against any over zealous government whittling away at those rights,
having by wofull experience found the prevalence of corrupt interests powerfully inclining most men once entrusted with authority, to pervert the same to their own domination, and to the prejudice of our Peace and Liberties
Liberty’s Guide to Human Rights
John Lilburne (1614–1657), also known as Freeborn John, was an agitator in England before, during and after the English Civil Wars of 1642–1650. From 1638 he engaged in unlicensed publishing championing the ‘freeborn rights’ of all. A Lieutenant-Colonel in the Parliamentary Army he fought at Edgehill, Brentford, Marston Moor and Tickhill Castle. Imprisoned in 1645 he wrote the first version of An Agreement for the People which became the focus of the Leveller contingent in the New Model Army’s 1647 Putney Debates. Lilburne was imprisoned by Cromwell in 1649 virtually until his death in 1657.
Richard Overton (c.1599-1664)
William Walwyn (c.1600-1681)
First Published May 1649
Sourced from The Constitution Society