The Putney Debates

By the end of  1646, Parliament had won the civil war that had been raging since 1642. The men who sat in Parliament needed to define how the country would be ruled. It also had a very large, expensive  army and its first move was to disband the men. This way it would not need to fund the bill for back pay or pensions to widows.

Not surprisingly the men of the army objected strongly and to press their case these men appointed representatives called ‘agitators’. These men also became interested in the political issues and adopted a manifesto which called for the abolition of monarchy and the reform of the House of commons. This became known as the Leveller movement.

A proposal by parliament for a new constitution was put forth but this did not go far enough for the Levellers in the army who were outraged by the amount of power the monarchy and House of Lords would retain.

Tensions between army and parliament grew worse and  an alternative constitution was proposed by the Levellers in which every free man who accepted it would be allowed to vote:-

 ‘The Agreement of the People’…

The agitators and other members of the Army council were called to a meeting at St Mary’s church where there were fierce debates about these two constitutional proposals.

The simplest version of the Levellers argument was put by Colonel Thomas Rainsborough:

“I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government”