17th century English activist, advocate of "freeborn" rights and of a written constitution
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  • FreedomPedia
  • John Lilburne

    John Lilburne (1614 - 29 August 1657), also known as Freeborn John, was an English political Leveller before, during and after the English Civil Wars 1642-1650. He coined the term "freeborn rights", defining them as rights with which every human being is born, as opposed to rights bestowed by government or human law. In his early life he was a Puritan, though towards the end of his life he became a Quaker. His works have been cited in opinions by the United States Supreme Court.

    Born

    1614, in Greenwich, England

    Died

    29 Aug 1657, in Eltham, Kent, England

    Biography

    Freeborn John Lilburne 1615-57, by David Plant
    BCW (British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1638-60) Project website
    "Lilburne's writings were popular and circulated widely. He described the many injustices he had suffered at the hands of the authorities. The Lords, the Commons, the clergy, army officers, magistrates, gaolers—no-one was safe from his vitriol. He fearlessly drew attention to examples of hypocrisy, corruption and profiteering wherever he saw them. He soon alienated most of his powerful friends, including Cromwell, but Lilburne's imprisonment stirred a storm of political activity and protest in his defence. His central demand ... became a focal point in the formation of the Leveller movement."
    John Lilburne, by John Simkin, Nov 2016
    Spartacus Educational
    "While in Newgate Prison Lilburne used his time studying books on law and writing pamphlets. This included The Free Man's Freedom Vindicated (1647) where he argued that 'no man should be punished or persecuted... for preaching or publishing his opinion on religion'. He also outlined his political philosophy: 'All and every particular and individual man and woman, that ever breathed in the world, are by nature all equal and alike in their power, dignity, authority and majesty, none of them having (by nature) any authority, dominion or magisterial power one over or above another.'"

    Web Pages

    John Lilburne - Online Library of Liberty
    Includes portrait, short biography and links to various versions of Lilburne's works and to selected quotations
    "John Lilburne (1615-1657) was a leader in the Leveller movement of the 1640s. A prolific pamphleteer, he was imprisoned several times for his religious views and became an ardent defender of religious liberty. He was active in the army of parliament and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. His more important works include England's Birthright Justified (1645), England's New Chains Discovered (1649), The Hunting of the Foxes (1649)."

    Articles

    NewAgenda for Liberty: A Biography of John Lilburne, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
    Lengthy biographical essay
    "17th-century pamphleteer, organizer, and dissident John Lilburne was an important early voice for liberty, especially in matters of criminal justice. ... In more than 80 pamphlets written during the mid-17th century, he attacked intolerance, taxes, censorship, trade restrictions and military conscription. He championed private property, free trade, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, a rule of law, a separation of powers and a written constitution to limit government power. Lilburne helped bring these dynamic ideas together for the first time in human history."
    The Bill of Rights, by Hugo Black, New York University Law Review, Apr 1960
    Relates background stories that led to adoption of the Bill of Rights, including John Lilburne and religious persecution in colonial America
    "John Lilburne, a Puritan dissenter, ... found out the hard way that a citizen of England could not get a court and jury trial under English law if Parliament wanted to try and punish him in some kind of summary and unfair method of its own. ... His chief defense was that the Parliamentary conviction was a nullity ..."
    Related Topic: U.S. Bill of Rights

    Writings

    An Agreement of the Free People of England: Tendered as a Peace-Offering to this distressed Nation, 1 May 1649
    "We the free People of England, ... Agree to ascertain our Government, to abolish all arbitrary Power, and to set bounds and limits both to our Supreme, and all Subordinate Authority ... we are agreed ... That the Supreme Authority ... shall be and reside henceforward in a Representative of the People consisting of four hundred persons, but no more ..."
    Related Topic: England

    The introductory paragraph uses material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.