London: [n.p.], 1647. 4to. 20 pp. FIRST EDITION. Boards, new endpapers; minor staining in the text block, but overall a very good copy. From the library of Lord Fairfax of Cameron with his bookplate. Item #17456
First edition of Lilburne’s and Overton’s pamphlet written together while they were both imprisoned at the Tower and Newgate, respectively. A slightly expanded second edition of 24 pages was issued later the same year. Lilburne (1614–1657) supported Parliament and Cromwell during the English Civil War. However, he grew disillusioned with Cromwell and his politics, suspecting him of tyrannical aspirations, after he rose to power. Lilburne was imprisoned time and again for his writings and suffered public beatings and torture. After he was arrested in 1646 for slander, incited by his long-time foe William Prynne, Lilburne issued this pamphlet to shed light on his treatment and gain monetary compensation from the government as well as to garner sympathy from the public since his many appeals to Parliament often resulted in his arrest. Here they argue that arbitrary government had dissolved the social contract and that the people were entitled to draft a new constitution. They vehemently attack the House of Lords for violating the Magna Carta and call for the House of Commons to be “the supreme and legal power” in England.
Overton (fl. 164-1664), for his part, was imprisoned in 1646 for printing one of Lilburne’s earlier pamphlets, An Alarm to the House of Lords. He was a civil rights activist, printing dozens of tracts promoting popular soverignty, religious toleration, separation of church and state, public education, freedom of speech, and in support of Lilburne the right of commoners to petition Parliament. From their work grew the Levellers movement, a coalition of soldiers and civilians whose organized efforts during hte Civil War arose from their passionate commitment to individual liberty. From 1644-1649 the Levellers inundated London with political tracts and the House of Commons with petitions.