Monday, April 22, 2013

In Our Time: The Putney Debates

Last week's In Our Time dealt with the Putney Debates of 1647. Like all editions of this excellent series, it will be permanently available on the BBC website.

A website devoted to the Putney Debates explains the background:
From the 28th October to 9th November 1647, soldiers and officers of Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, including civilian representation, held discussions on the constitution and future of England. 
Should they continue to negotiate a settlement with the defeated King Charles I? Should there even be a King or Lords? Should suffrage (a civil right to vote, known as the franchise) be limited to property-holders? Would democratic changes lead to anarchy? 
This historic event saw ordinary soldiers take on their generals to argue for greater democracy and provided a platform for 'common people' to make their voices heard. These debates, forced by the Levellers, paved the way for many of the civil liberties we value today.
The picture above shows Rainsborough Gardens in Market Harborough - named after Colonel Rainsborough, the most senior office to take the side of the common soldiers in these debates:
"The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he … 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; 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."

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