John Warr, The Priviledges of the People, or Principles of Common Right and Freedome (5 February, 1649)


Note: This is part of the Leveller Collection of Tracts and Pamphlets.

Editor’s Introduction

[to come]



Bibliographical Information

ID Number

T.180 [1649.02.05] John Warr, The Priviledges of the People, or Principles of Common Right and Freedome (5 February, 1649).

Full title

John Warr, The Priviledges of the People, or Principles of Common Right and Freedome asserted, briefely laid open and asserted in two Chapters.
I. Containing the distinct Interests of King, Parliament and People; consisting in Prerogative, Priviledge and Liberty (as they have formerly obtained in this Nation.)
II. Discovering the Peoples Right in Choice, Change, or Regulation of Governments or Governours: Together with the Originall of Kingly Power, and other Formes of Government.
Propounded to the Consideration, and published for the benefit of the PEOPLE of ENGLAND. By Jo. Warr.

Tacit. Principatus & Libertas res olim dissociabiles.

LONDON, Printed by G. Dawson for Giles Calvert at the signe of the black spread Eagle at the west end of Pauls. 1649.

Estimated date of publication

5 February, 1649.

Thomason Tracts Catalog information

TT1, p. 721; Thomason E. 541. (12.)



Text of Pamphlet

CHAP. I. Discovering the distinct Interests of King, Parliament, and People.

Sect. I. Of Prerogative or Kingly Interest.

THe Interest of the King having advanced it self into a Principle of Distinction, Seperation, and Superiority above the Interest of the People, is called Prerogative or Kingly greatnes; which is a Tuber or exuberance growing out from the stock of the Common wealth, partly through the weaknes and indulgence of People to their Kings and Rulers, (which hath been most eminent in the English Nation) and partly through the ambition and lust of Princes themselves, who not considering their greatnesse as in a principle of union with the People, in a way of tendencie and subserviencie to the Peoples good, have heightned themselves beyond their due bounds, and framed a distinct Interest of their own, pretendedly Supream? To advance this Interest, Kings and Princes have politiques, and Principles of their own, and certain State-maxims, whereby they soare a loft, and walk in a distinct way of opposition to the Rights and Freedomes of the People; all which you may see in Machiavils Prince.

Hence it is that Kings have been always jealous of the people, and have held forth their own Interest, as a Mystery or Riddle, not to be pried into by ordinary understandings: And the Proselytes of this corrupt and tyrannous Interest have alwayes served it up, as a Sacred thing, a thing as much above our reach, as it is truly and indeed against our Freedomes.

So that Ignorance being the Mother and Nurse of Bondage, such Principles have been watchfully observed, as have ushered in any Light, or discovery of the corruptnesse of the Prerogative Interest; hence is it that the Expositions of Pareus upon Rom. 13. were censured and condemned by the Court Party, as giving too much Liberty to Subjects, to resist their Kings: and the Genevah notes upon Exod. 1. v. 17. were disliked by King James, because they countenanced the Midwives disobedience to the King; not, but that the thing commanded was unlawfull, but it was interpreted to open too great a gap to the ruine of this Interest, of which wee now speak.

And yet some have not been wanting, who in times of greatest hazard have adventured their own Freedomes as a Sacrifice to the Publike; and have made forth discoveries of the corruption & rottenes of this oppressive Prerogative Interest, upon conscientious grounds of Publike Freedome. Though this hath been censured by the Potencie of that Interest which it did oppose, as an offence no lesse then piacular; And their Persons loaded with calumnies of all sorts, as being a faction or Party of Levellers, as King James cals some in his Star-chamber Speech.

And though we may possibly suppose that the corruption of this Interest, may be in some measure discovered to those that use it, and that Kings themselves may suck in some principles of common Right and Freedome; some glimmerings whereof, seem to sparkle in the writings of King James, yet their judgements are so over clouded by their Interests, that they doe not onely blinde themselves, but hoodwink others, and all to establish that, which God himself purposes to destroy and overthrow.

For when Principles of light and knowledge shall be advanced amongst men, they shall then scorn to be subject to the corrupt Wils and Lusts of others: they shall know no Policie, but integritie and honestie; False interests shall tumble down truth and righteousnesse take place, and Prerogative be worried, as an Enemy to Freedome.

And if this were made out to Princes themselves, they would not onely prophane their own mysteries, and make them common, but sacrifice their greatnesse to the light of Truth, (which hath so often sacrificed Truth to it self) and study which way to advance the Peoples Interest, though in opposition to their own. And if this self-denying spirit were in them, and the power of Truth, the rough way of worldly force and spoile would be prevented, and the work rendered more easie to themselves and others.

Sect. II. Of Priviledge, or Parliament Interest.

IF the voice of Common Right or Freedome could be heard amongst Men, the world would not be so deeply engaged in factions, and distinct Parties, as they are; but this is the misery, The mindes of men being prejudiced with corrupt Interests of one sort or other, and pertinaciously adhearing to them, doe contribute their utmost assistance to maintain them, partly through the inbred corruption within men, and partly through those provocations which (in the heat of contest) they meet with, from Interests which are at variance with their own (for even truth itself will justle its adversarie in a narrow passe) Hence it is that some are said to be for the King, some for the Parliament, some for the Army.

But is Truth divided? Is there not one common principle of Freedome, which (if discovered) would reconcile all; Tis true this Principle may be weakly and imperfectly managed by the Children thereof, but the miscarriage (whether reall or supposed) is not to be charged upon the Principle it self; And yet this is the practise of corrupt men, who take advantage from common frailties in the prosecution of just things, to cry down the things Themselves, and so to strengthen their adhesion to their own Interests, though never so corrupt.

The purest civill interest, is the Peoples Freedome, which may be crushed by Priviledge as well as Prerogative; For Prerogative and Priviledge (in its usuall adoeptation) are neer of kin; and it is possible for a Societic to exercise Tyrannie as well as a single Person. What hath been spoken of Prerogative, may be affirmed of Priviledge, the Impe thereof; For Man being naturally of an aspiring temper, mannages all advantages to set up himself, and to this the Peoples election is a faire temptation, and though the gentlenesse of the phrase doth word the Parliament, To serve for their Country, yet tis sometimes in the same kinde of oratory, as the Pope is the servant of the Church, whilest he exerciseth rule and domination over it.

Priviledge hath formed it self into a distinct Interest, as well as Prerogative, and hath forgot its originall and fire, thinks it self compleat without superior or equall: Thus hath it broke off it self, from its stock, and like a succour draws nourishment away from the true branches; so that, where Prerogative and Priviledge are in a thriving posture, the Freedomes of that People are underlings and leane as being crop’d on both sides.

When things doe continue in their proper place and order, they stand in God, and are usefull to those ends for which he hath appointed them; but when they warpe, they turn aside from God; and when they leave their station, and would be of themselves (as Lucifer) they fall down into Hell and a condition of darknesse; The way to advance Priviledge is to keep it within its due bounds.

Tis true, somethings doe naturally ascend, but tis to their own place and Center, and when they are there, they are cloathed with Majestie and glory. Every thing is beautifull in its place and season: There is a beauty in Priviledge (thus considered) as well as in Libertie.

To ascend beyond due and measured bounds, is no way honourable but monstrous, as if the Feet should grow out of the Thighs, or the Hands upon top of the Head; this is a disorder and confusion, and thus Pride is the wombe of darknesse, which may be verified in Priviledge as well as Prerogative.

Tis true, Priviledge hath a stronger plea, as being founded upon Election and Consent, but this will not justifie the Abuse thereof: for when Priviledge soares high, the people sometimes follow it, either through ignorance of its Nature or bounds, or else that they may not lose the benefit of that, which is truly so called, and is usefull in its place. For as Water ascends for the continuation of it selfe, so the interest between Parliament and people, must not bee discontinued. And yet this motion on the peoples part is violent, not naturall: for Liberty should not ascend to Priviledge, but Previledge should stoop downe to Liberty, as its Center and Rest.

Priviledges may sometimes mount so high, that Liberty cannot onely not follow, but is endangered by it. In this case Priviledge discontinues it selfe, and Liberty casts off homage and subjection thereto, such Priviledge is to be lop’d off as a burden to Freedome.

True priviledge of Parliament is this, in a principle of Union with the peoples Right, an Immunity and Freedome to mind just things, and to prosecute impartiall grounds of righteousnesse and Truth, other priviledges may be pared away, as bearing no proportion with their End, but this shall continue as subservient unto Freedome.

SECT. 3. Of Liberty, or the Peoples Interest.

IN every Common-wealth the Interest of the People is the True and Proper-Interest of that Common-wealth; other Interests have advanced themselves, pretendedly to exalt This, and yet being once gotten into the Throne of Rule, they labour nothing lesse, or rather indeed they bend their utmost endeavour to overthrow It.

Prerogative and Priviledge Interests, (as formerly explained in their corrupt notions) are altogether inconsistent with True Freedome: Hence it is that there is an irreconcileable contest between Them, which will never cease, till either Prerogative and Priviledge be swallowed up in Freedome, or Liberty it selfe be led caprive by Prerogative. He which hath the worst Cause may sometimes have the best Successe, (for Time and Chance happens to all) and thus Liberty may be worsted by Priviledge, as having lesse specious advantages in the Flesh. For true Freedome is in the Mind, and its Proselytes are but few. Most men give up themselves to the Idoll-Interests of Prerogative and Priviledge, as being more taking with flesh and blood.

And when Liberty is once put to the rout, it is not easie to rally again, or to redeem it selfe, for the darkest Dungeon is its Prison, ’tis chained with oathes and servile bonds, yea and the strong bolts of human. Lawes doe keep it in subjection. Thus are all things made sure, with a Grave-stone, a Seale, and a Watch, and oppression rides in triumph upon the backes of the people.

All imaginary gaps for the re-entrance of Freedome, being thus stop’d up, it were impossible for it to arise from the dead, or to recover its true and proper state, if God himselfe did not appeare, and laugh the counsels of men to scorn, yea and open the Iron gates, and knock off the bolts, and lead forth Freedome to open view, as the Angel did Peter.

In this designe God co-operates with Man, and makes him instrumentall in the work, by clearing his principles, and stirring up his spirit. There are some sparkes of Freedome in the mindes of most, which ordinarily lye deep, and are covered in the Darke, as a spark in the ashes. This spark is the image of God in the mind, which is indeed the Man, (for the divine Image makes the Man.) This Man is hid in most persons, onely the Tyrant, the Beast, or the slavish principle appeares, and the whole bulk is hurried about by the motion of that principle, and the Man within us swimmes with the stream.

But God favours all weak things, and hath a speciall regard to tender ones, when under darknesse and oppression. And in order hereunto he layes the Axe to the root of the Tree, and strengthers our weake principle, he layes the foundation of Freedome within us, and so proceeds to blow up the fire, till the roome be too hot for unrighteousnesse and wrong.

Thus Tyranny being driven out of the Spirit, or Mind (its surest hold, its Metropolis, or Citie of Refuge) ’tis hunted too and fro like a beast of pray. Neither is this a rare thing, but according to the usuall proceedings of God in the World, who spoyles the Spoyler, and punishes oppression in Methodes of its owne, that Men may see and admire his Greatnesse and Power.

Be wise now therefore, O yee Kings, be instructed O yee Iudges of the earth. Most of your designes are founded upon Selfe, and are against the Lord you establish your selves and your own greatnesse; your hands are against every one, and every ones hands against you, you have led Liberty captive. ’Tis the voyce of God to you, Let my oppressed goe free. Some of you have allowed a Mock-freedom to Liberty, your prisoner, when you could keep it close no longer, you have sent it abroad, but with prison garments, some badges of Slavery have remained upon it; no portion of Freedome hath been wrung from you, but through exigence or necessity. Thus have you demeaned your selves, as if the people had been made for you, not you for the people. For these things doth God arise, and the day of your visitation is come.

For why? ’Tis not possible for a people to be too free. True Liberty hath a cleare sight Principle or Rule, and a large compasse, a spacious walk, ’tis not limited or circumscribed, but by the bounds of righteousnesse. Liberty is the daughter of Truth and Righteousnesse, and hath Light within it, as the Sun, other lights are borrowed from it. Tyranny is as a Clog, or an Eclipse to Freedome. God sees good that Liberty should recover but by degrees, that so the world may be ballanced with light and knowledge, according to the advance thereof, and be more considerate in her actings. The deeper the Foundation, the surer the Work, Liberty in its full appearance would darken the eye newly recovered from blindnesse, the principles thereof are infused to us by degrees, that our heads may be strengthened (not overturned) by its Influence.

CHAP. II. Of the Peoples Right in the Choyce, Change, or Regulation of Government, together with the originall of Kingly Power, and other Formes of Government.

ALL Governments being fundamentally (as to Man) seated in the People, which Maxime is sufficiently spoken to of late. The inhabitants of severall Countries, for the equall distribution of Justice to the whole, have voluntarily submitted to severall Administrations and Formes of Government, either under one or many Rulers: so that Election, or Consent (setting aside Titles by Conquest) are the proper source and Fountain of all Just Governments. Hence it is that the power of Rulers is but Ministeriall, and in order to the peoples good, which hath given occasion to that known Maxime, That the safty of the people is the supream Law.

From hence wee may see the Reason, why some Governments are more or lesse Free, viz. according to the prudence or neglect of Auncestors in bargaining with the Princes, and setting limits to their Power. Some have (as it were) given up themselves to the Wils of their Princes, and out of confidence of their integritie have left them to themselves, not considering, that just men are liable to temptations, when they are in place and power; which if it were possible for them to avoid, yet Justice is not hereditary, nor goes by discent. Some Nations having been pinched with this inconvenience, have afterwards set Bounds and Lawes to their Rulers, according as Tully doth excellently describe it. Lib. 2. de offic. Eadem constituendarum legum fuit causa, quæ Regum, Jus enim semper quesitum est aquabile, neque aliter esset Jus, id si ab uno just, & bono viro consequebantur, eo comenti, cum id minus contingeret, Leges sunt inventæ, quæ cum omnibus temper una & eadem voce loquerentur.

Englished thus,

There is the same reason for Laws, as there was for Kings, for People have alwayes sought after Right, or an equall, distribution of things, which if they did obtain from one just and good man, they were content therewith; but when they failed thereof, Laws were found out, which spake one and the same thing to all men.

Those Nations which have been most strict in prescribing such Rules, are most Free, unlesse in processe of time, through the oscitancie of the people, Princes have trampled upon their bounds, and made them common; and in this case, as good none at all, as not observed.

Though then Governments have been diversifyed according to the different tempers and apprehensions of their Founders, the People; yet the Rise of them all, is One and the same: so that what Tully affirmes of the originall of Monarchy, or Kingly Government, may be said of all the rest, his words are these, lib. 2. de Offic. Apud majores nostros fruenda justitiæ causa videntur olim bene morati Reges constituti: nam cum premerentur olim multitudo ab iis qui majores opes habebant, ad unum aliquem confugiebant virtutem præstantem, qui cum prohiberet injuria tenuiores acquitate constituenda, summos cum inimis pari jure retinebat. The effect of which in English is this, Our Ancestors first appointed Kings for the administration of justice: For when the multitude was oppressed by great and mighty men, they presently addressed themselves to some one eminent and vertuous man, who defended the poore from wrong, and kept both poor and rich within the bounds of Equity. An instance of this kinde wee have in Herod: Clio, where the Medes revolting from the Assyrians, chose one Deioces for their King, a man of supposed strictnesse and Equity in preventing disorders and abuses amongst them. But this remedy in time proved as bad as the disease so that people were enforced to seek protection under severall Rulers, which they missed under One. Hence it came to passe that the Romans banished their King and his Government together, and submitted themselves to another Forme.

But at first they which subject themselves to the government of One, may by the same reason submit to many, which is Aristocracie, or may alter their government from one Form to another: For they that choose may change, provided it bee upon just and valuable grounds. Famous was the dispute had before Octavius Cæsar by two of his Favourites and Councellors, about continuance or change of Monarchy, of which you may read in Dion. lib. 52. The story is this, When Octavius Cæsar had by the Armes and successes of his predecessors and his own, reduced the world to peace, and made a compleat conquest of the great known part thereof, hee tooke counsell with Agrippa and Mecænas, two of his intimate friends, whether he should maintaine the Empire and Monarchy in his own hands, or resigne it to the Senate and people of Rome; Agrippa makes an eloquent Oration against Monarchy, perswading him to surrender up the Government into the hands of the Senate. On the other side, Mecænas perswades the contrary, and pleads for Monarchy, whose counsell was followed by Cæsar, yet so, as that Agrippa was still honorably entertained and respected by him. From which Story we may observe two things.

1. That Anti-monarchicalnes is no crime at all, but a difference in judgement about an Externall Forme of Civill government: Yea great Statesmen (such as Agrippa) have given in their judgements freely against Monarchical government, as Agrippa here did.

2. That to perswade and endeavour the alteration of Governments from one form to another, hath been the subject of the discourse and action of wisemen, as we see here in Agrippa.

And though there may be a beauty in Monarchy, (duely circumscribed) as well as in other forms of Government, yet such cases may sometimes fall out, when Reason and Judgement may not onely call for, but enforce a change; A provocation it must be of grand and fundamentall importance, which if it cannot be otherwise or not so conveniently redressed, may undergoe this kinde of cure; which in cases of extremity hath been practised by Nations.

Smaller inconveniencies may be redressed without the abolition of a form, viz. by prescribing limits to those Rulers, who have abused their Power, which under pain of guilt they may not exceed; For the whole body of the People is above their Ruler, whether one or more.

Not to spend much time herein, I shal conclude this with the argument of the Bishop of Burgen in the Councel of Basil (which was in the reign of our Henry the 6th) where disputing against the authority of the Pope above Councels, he urgeth this argument, that as Kingdoms are and ought to be above Kings, so is a Councel above a Pope. So that former ages have had some light, as touching the Office and duty of a chiefe Ruler or King and would have been able to descry the flattery of those, who ascribe so much Majestie and Sacrednesse either to Man, or Men.

For are not Rulers themselves under a Law? are they not accountable for what they do? Are they not subject to frailties like other men? Are we not all derived from one common Stock? Is not every man born free? when wee ascribe so much to Man, wee detract from the praise and glory of God.

True Majesty is in the spirit and consists in the Divine Image of God in the minde, which the Princes of the World comming short off, have supplyed its defect with outward badges of Fleshly honour; which are but Empty shews and carnall appearances, when void of the substance.

But as weake as they are, they have dazled our eyes, through the darknesse which is in us, when we our selves shall be raised up to an inward glory, we shall then be able to judge of that Majesty and Glory, which rests upon another.