The appeal to the people
in The Levellers
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This chapter argues that the Levellers’ populist challenge to parliamentary absolutism, given its most eloquent form in the ‘appeal to the people’ issued by Lilburne and Overton in 1647, had complex origins in parliamentarian thought. The presbyterian theorists who had justified parliamentarian resistance against the king on the basis of coordination theory, rather than edging towards parliamentary absolutism, were surprisingly willing to call on the consciences of the people; early ‘war party’ radicals had also hinted that the people could call their MPs to account. In 1645 a new language of representation, which now implied accountability, was developed by Leveller-related publications, and others by George Wither and William Ball. The Levellers struggled to reconcile parliamentary supremacy with the sovereignty of the people; their appeal to the people did not assume that the country had lapsed into a state of nature but rather tallied with Overton’s view that power flowed back and forth between the people and their parliament within the polity.

The Levellers

Radical political thought in the English Revolution


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