Levellers

A democratic party in England during the Puritan Revolution and Commonwealth period. The name was given by enemies of the movement to suggest that it was aimed at “levelling men's estates.” The party developed in 1645-46 among radical supporters of Parliament in and around London. The war had been waged in the name of Parliament and the people, and the Levellers demanded that sovereignty be transferred to the House of Commons elected by universal suffrage, that there be a redistribution of seats and annual (or biennial) parliaments. They also advocated equality before the law and freedom of religion. Since their reforms were not inaugurated by Parliament, the Levellers turned to agitation within the New Model Army. A debate held at Putney (October 1647) between Gen. Henry Ireton, the representative of the prevailing view that only property owners should have the franchise, and the Levellers ended in deadlock. Discipline was restored by the generals with force, and by 1650 the leading Levellers such as John Lilburne were imprisoned and the movement crushed.