The Dissenters’ Revolution

Radical individualism reshaped minds across the Atlantic zone. More people than ever began to think, We don’t have to live this way.

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The Antinomians did not just push for religious and political freedoms in the American colonies. Their ideas traversed the Atlantic and influenced groups in Britain, as well. During the upheaval of the English Civil War, the British Antinomians seized the opportunity to shape their world, creating a slew of new religious denominations and fighting for their liberty.

Rediker & Linebaugh. Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Boston: Beacon Press. 2000.

Woodhouse, ed. Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9), University of Chicago Press. 1938.

Anthony Comegna: Antinomianism is all around us. Its spirits and ideas permeate modern Western culture and define much of our existence. Though they banished Anne Hutchinson, hanged Mary Dyer and orchestrated an oppressive Quasi theocracy. The Puritan Divines were powerless to stop the spread of Antinomian truth. [00:00:30] From its points of origin in old and New England, Antinomianism spread from back country farmers to indentured servants in the field and in the town, from sailor to sailor and port to port, radical individualism shaped and re-shaped minds across the Atlantic Zone. Sailors told city slaves, city slaves told country slaves and before long, more people than ever before began to think to themselves, “We don’t have to live this way.”
[00:01:00] This is Liberty Chronicles. A project of libertarianism.org I’m Anthony Comegna.
From August to September 1637 a [Sennid 00:01:20] of Puritan Ministers from Massachusetts Bay in Connecticut convened to express their mutual disgust for Anne Hutchinson and her radical individualism. [00:01:30] Threatened on their borders by terrible conflicts with the Pequot Indians, the Puritan Divines hoped to woo or strong arm their neighboring colonies into friendly compliance. The usual sort of inter colonial border disputes and power struggles prevented joint operations for several years but by May 1643, the Puritan Colonies joined together in the Confederation of the United Colonies of New England. The Confederation was essentially a vehicle for Massachusetts [00:02:00] and its elite to get their way and extend their control over New World territory.
The project began with organization at home, continued through settlement, intensified with expropriation of Indian lands and once the localized Pequot War had been accomplished, the mission transformed once more. Now, Massachusetts Bay was in a position to control all New England, dominate rival colonies and compel global recognition of [00:02:30] God’s kingdom on Earth. Where theology presented a bright millennial vision, reality progressed much faster and unexpectedly. While the Puritan Divines busied themselves with persecuting Indians and Hutchinsonians, England’s Antinomian impulse seized destiny.
During the later stages of Europe’s 30 Years War, England’s King Charles I was in constant need of money. Without parliament, the king could not raise significant revenues. [00:03:00] Parliament suspected Charles of Crypto Catholicism, especially given his French-Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria. The body refused to levy the king’s taxes. Parliament jockeyed for position and Charles fought to maintain some sort of integrity.
The religious divide between Charles’ High Church Anglicans, mainstream Anglicans and the strong minority contingent of Puritans blended with political battles between traditional and revolutionary predatory elites. [00:03:30] What became the first English Civil War, really began on the Scottish border in 1639 after Charles tried to impose a uniform Anglicanism on Scotland. Once again, seeking funds to end rebellion, Charles summoned Parliament in 1640.
Parliament demanded concessions of royal power and enlarged powers of their own. The king assented to some, and considered other treasonous. When he tried and failed to arrest several members [00:04:00] of the commons, the king fled London. His greatest strength was in his fortified towns on the North and West, along with the calvary officers filling his relatively small ranks. Parliament had the larger army, it controlled the Navy and occupied the capital. The cavalier, or royalists and round head, or parliamentary armies numbered about 15,000 each at their peaks. Most people preferred to avoid the war as much as possible. Throughout the country side, village committee’s [00:04:30] of club men and other vigilantes attacked both sides to discourage martial exploitation of the people.
Parliamentarians at the local level sensed conflict in the winds and moved toward mobilization first. They had the edge over the royalists through most of the war and after three years of bloody conflict, Parliament organized the new model army, a massive combination of existing Puritan Officers and impressed infantrymen. The army’s [00:05:00] purpose was to go wherever it might serve Parliament’s cause and a sizable portion of the soldiers believed they were fighting for the common person’s liberty. The army’s leadership core, however, had the goal of supremacy.
Oliver Cromwell and his clique of militant Puritans represented a revolutionary new coalition in the early modern Atlantic world. They protected the interests of merchants and corporations, small land holders hoping to gain advantage over the great [00:05:30] lords, a generation of newcomers to the colonies and the budding generations of England’s first proper industrialists, themselves, already deeply connected to the New World’s slave production regime. The kind represented old and established interests, corporate interests, who relied exclusively upon his grant of power and privilege and those who feared losing status and position to interlopers from all directions. But who spoke for you and I?
[00:06:00] While the king in Parliament battled it out for political supremacy, England’s Antinomians seized the opportunity to create a more libertarian world for themselves and their communities. During the 1630’s and 40’s, Antinomians from the New World and the old created a slew of new denominations, new movements, separating themselves from the Anglican Church. Divided national powerment and unprecedented degree of religious liberty for descenters of all variety.
In the mid [00:06:30] 17th century, they are peered Vandalists, Enthusiasts, Sabbatarians, Ranters, Riggers, Quakers, Levellers, Fifth Monarchy Men, Brownists, Baptists, Beamonists, Muggletonians, Grindletonians, Philadelphians and more. Each with distinct practices of theology, styles, priority and visions for socio-political reform. Most important for our purposes were the Diggers and the Levellers.
Led by Gerrard [00:07:00] Winstanley, the Diggers harken back to the days before enclosure and practice reclamation of the commons. They gathered to till and sow on common fields, ignoring the rights of powerful lords, so the people could benefit equally from God’s plenty. Colonel Thomas Rainsborough led the Levellers, who like the Diggers believed in the fundamental equality of persons.
The Levellers were, in some ways, the first true political party. They were an organized, political, even democratic opposition to [00:07:30] aristocratic interests in both war and camps. If anyone with power and influence did actually speak for the people during the English Civil Wars, it was Thomas Rainsborough on behalf of the common soldier during the Putney debates of 1647.
In the Fall of that year, Cromwell’s grond days in the Parliament considered how they might negotiate a final settlement with King Charles. The Cromwellian’s would have not only retained the king but allowed [00:08:00] a royal and House of Lords veto over any acts from the commons. The army’s soldiers and radical descenting officers refused to abandon the Libertarian cause so easily, though. The king resent in uneasy imprisonment at Hampton Palace, temporarily defeated but always scheming for a return to power.
Cromwell and the Parliament controlled England from Westminster and the new model army camped between them at Putney. The army occupied the geographical and historical [00:08:30] mid ground between the forces of a traditional order and a new class of would be exploiters, eager to consolidate their new found political supremacy.
In the Putney debates of October 29th, 1647, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough presented the leveler case for equal rights, a revival of the commons, the abolition of special powers and privileges, the erosion of aristocracy and a full reversal of William the Conquerors futile conquests of [00:09:00] the more ancient, Libertarian, commonist ways of life.
Speaker 2: Putney, 29th October 1647. 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, on first, by his own consent to put himself under that [00:09:30] government and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under and I am confident that when I’ve heard the reasons against it, something will be said to answer those reasons in so much that I should doubt whether he was and Englishman or no. That showed doubt of these things.
Ireton. That’s the meaning of this according [00:10:00] to the number of inhabitants. Give me leave to tell you that if you make this the rule, I think that you must fly for refuge to an absolute natural right and you must deny all civil right and I’m sure it will come to that in the consequence. This, I perceive is pressed as that which is so essential in due. The right of the people of the kingdom and as they are the people of this kingdom, distinct and divided from other people and that we must, for this right, lay aside all other considerations. [00:10:30] This is so just. This is so due. This is so right to them.
For my part, I think it is no right at all. I think that no person hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom and those persons together are properly the representant of this kingdom and consequently are also to make up the resresenters of this kingdom who take in together, [00:11:00] do comprehend what-so-ever is a real or permanent interest in the kingdom and I am sure otherwise, I can atel what any man can say why a foreigner comminate amongst us, or as many as will comminate amongst us or by force or otherwise selling themselves here or at least by our permission having a being here. Why they should not as well lay claim to it as any other.
Rainsborough. I remember that in a former speech, which this gentlemen brought before [00:11:30] this meeting. He was saying that in some cases he should not value whether there were a king or kind, were there lords or no lords, whether a property or no property. For my part, I differ in that. I very much care whether there be a king or not kind, lords or no lords, property or no property and I think if we do not all take care, we shall all have none of these very shortly but as to this present business, I do hear nothing at all that could convince [00:12:00] me why any man that is born in England ought not to have his voice in election of burgesses.
It is said that if a man have not a permanent interest, he can have no claim and that we must be no freer than the laws will let use be and that there is no law in any chronicle would let us be freer than we now enjoy. Something was said to this yesterday. I do think that the main cause, why all mighty God gave men reason, it was that they should make use of that reason and that [00:12:30] they should improve it for that end and purpose that God gave it to them and truly, I think that half a loaf is better than none if a man be hungry.
This gift of reason, without other property may seem a small thing, yet I think there is nothing that God half given a man that anyone else can take from him and therefore, I say that either it must be the law of God or the law of man that must prohibit the meanest men in the kingdom to have this benefit, as well as the greatest. [00:13:00] I do not find anything in the law of God that a lord shall choose 20 burgesses and gentlemen but two and a poor man shall choose none. I find no such thing in the law of nature, nor the law of nations but I do find that all Englishmen must be subject to English laws and I do verily believe there is no man but will say that the foundation of all laws lies in the people and if it lie in the people, I am to seek for this [00:13:30] exemption.
Truly, I know nothing free but only the knight of the shire, nor do I know anything in a Parliamentary way that is clear from the height and fullness of tyranny but only that. As for this, of corporations, which you also mentioned, it is as contrary to freedom as may be. For sir, what is it? The king he grants a patten under the broad seal of England to such a corporation to send burgesses. He grants too, such a city to send burgesses. When a poor [00:14:00] base corporation from the king’s grant shall send two burgesses when 500 men of a state shall not send one. When those that are to make their laws are called by the king or cannot act but by such a call, truly I think that the people of England have little freedom.
Ireton. I think if the gentlemen remembered himself, he cannot but remember that what I said was to this effect; that if I saw the hand of God leading so far as to destroy a king [00:14:30] and destroy lords and destroy property and leave no such thing at all amongst us, I should acquiesce in it and so I did not care. If no king, no lords or no property should be in comparison of the tender care that have the honor of God and that the people of God whose good name is so much concerned in this army. This I did deliver so and not absolutely.
All the main thing that I speak for is because I would have an eye to property. I [00:15:00] hope we do not come to contend for victory but let every man consider with himself that he do not go that way to take away all property. For here is the case of the most fundamental part of the Constitution of the Kingdom, which if you take away, you take away all by that. Here men of this and this quality are determined to be the are determined to be the electors of men to the Parliament and they are all those who have any permanent interest in the kingdom and who, taken together, do comprehend the whole permanent [00:15:30] local interest of the kingdom. I mean by permanent and local that it is not able to be removed anywhere else. As for instance, he that hath a freehold and that freehold cannot be removed out of the kingdom and so there’s a freemont of a corporation, a place which hath the privilege of market and trading, which if you should allow to all places equally.
I do not see how you could reserve any peace in the kingdom and that is the reason why in the constitution we have but some few [00:16:00] market towns. He that is here today and gone tomorrow. I do not see that he hath such a permanent interest. Since you cannot plead to it by anything but the law of nature or for anything but for the end of better being and since that better being is not certain and what is more, destructive to another upon these grounds, if you do, paramount to all constitutions, hold up this law of nature, I would feign have any man show me their bounds where you will [00:16:30] end and why you should not take away all property.
Rainsborough. To the thing itself, property in the franchise. I would feign know how it comes to be the property of some men and not of others. As for estates and those kinds of things and other things that belong to men, it will be granted that they are property but I deny that, that is a property to a lord. To a gentlemen, to a man more than any other in the kingdom of England. If [00:17:00] it be a property, it is a property by law, neither do I think that there is very little property in this thing by the law of the land because I think that the law of the land and that thing is the most tyrannical law under heaven.
I would feign know what we have fought for it. For our laws and liberties? And this is the old law of England and that which enslaves the people of England that they should be bound by laws in which they have no voice at all. With respect to the Divine [00:17:30] Law which says, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” the great dispute is who is a right father and a right mother? I am bound to know who is my father and mother and I take it in the same sense you do, I would have a distinction, a character where my God commands me to honor them and for my part, I look upon the people of England so that wherein they have not voices in the choosing of their governors, their civil fathers and mothers, they are not bound to that commandment.
Anthony Comegna: [00:18:00] The Levellers at Putney may have been bold revolutionaries but they were still a minority among main line Anglicans and more conservative Cromwellian Puritans in the Parliament and even the army. An unsuccessful rising of royalists in 1648, called the Second English Civil War culminated in prides purge. A Coup D’etat, in which colonel Thomas pried in the army forced Cromwell’s opponents out of the Parliament. The remaining rump Parliament tried, convicted [00:18:30] and executed Charles the I for his treasons.
On the 30th of January, 1649 an unknown hangman proved that kings too, could be laid low. Cavaliers horrified by the regicide now flocked Charles the II while Cromwell tried his hand at exterminating the Irish. Cromwell and the rump Parliament struggled to recover lost legitimacy, fighting an ever swelling tide of [00:19:00] descenting traditions, threats of colonial rebellion, cavalier colonial governors, royalist invasions from Scotland. The new political class’ only weapon was an idiology, hyper reliant on brute force and military dictatorship. Only the influence of Cromwell maintained the integrity of Parliamentary government. Upon his death in 1658, Oliver’s son, Richard assumed the title of Lord Protector. Tired of the entire affair, the army and its grandes removed [00:19:30] him from office, restored the purged members of Parliament and invited Charles the II to return from exile to a restored monarchy.
England’s common wealth occupies a special historical space in which the philosophies of slavery and freedom became clearly distinguished and delineated. Antinomian conceptions of individual liberty developed in direct opposition to new forms of slavery in the army on the tall sailing ship, the tobacco and sugar plantation, [00:20:00] in conquered and bloody Ireland, in the installation of a revolutionary new ruling class. In the North American colonies, Puritans rejoiced with each victory from the new model army. The Massachusetts Divines plan to lead God’s people into paradise seemed, for a moment superseded by the revolution at home but the experiment collapsed and the restored Mary Monarch had a bit of a grudge against stern Puritanism. [00:20:30] From this point forward, common people around the Atlantic began to realize, in ever greater numbers what elites had known for some time, they were engaged in a timeless, class war and thought the predators change from time to time, the great bulk of humanity are still their prey.
Liberty Chronicles is a project of Libertarianism.org It is produced by Tess [00:21:00] Terrible. To learn more about Liberty Chronicles, visit libertarianism.org