We are well assured, yet cannot forget, that the cause of our choosing you to be Parliamentmen, was to deliver us from all kind of bondage, and to preserve the commonwealth in peace and happiness. For effecting whereof, we possessed you with the same power that was in ourselves, to have done the same; for we might justly have done it ourselves without you, if we had thought it convenient, choosing you, as persons whom we thought fitly qualified and faithful, for avoiding some inconveniences.
But ye are to remember, this was only of us but a power of trust, which is ever revocable and cannot be otherwise, and to be employed to no other end than our own well being. Nor did we choose you to continue our trusts longer than the known established constitution of this commonlywealth will justly permit, and that could be but for one year at the most: for by our law, a Parliament is to be called once every year, and oftener, if need be, as ye well know. We are your principals, and you our agents; it is a truth which you cannot but acknowledge. For if you or any other shall assume or exercise any power, that is not derived from our trust and choice "hereunto, that power is no less than usurpation and an oppression, from which we expect to be freed, in whomsoever we find it; it b eing altogether inconsistent with the nature of just freedom, which ye also very well understand.
The history of our forefathers since they were conquered by the Normans, cloth manifest that this nation hath been held in bondage all along ever since by the policies and force of the officers of trust in the commonwealth, amongst whom we always esteemed kings the chiefest; and what, in much of the former time, was done by war, and by impoverishing of the people, to make them slaves and to hold them in bondage, our latter princes have endeavoured to effect by giving ease and wealth unto the people, but withall corrupting their understanding, by infusing false principles concerning kings and government, and parl~aments and freedoms; and also using all means to corrupt and vitiate the manners of the youth, and strongest prop and support of the people, the gentry. . .
But in conclusion, longer they would not bear, and then ye were chosen to work our deliverance, and to estate us in natural and just liberty agreeable to Reason, and common equity, for whatever our forefathers were, or whatever they did or suffered, or were enforced to yield unto, we are the men of the present age and ought to be absolutely free from all kinds of exorbitancies, molestations or arbitrary power, and you we chose to free us from all without exception or limitation, either in respect of persons, officers, degrees or things; and we were full of confidence, that ye also would have dealt impartially on our behalf and made us the most absolute free people in the world.
But how ye have dealt with us, we shall now let you know, and let the righteous God judge between you and us; the continual oppressors of the nation have been kings, which is so evident that you cannot deny it; and ye yourselves have told the King, whom yet you own, that his whole 16 years' reign was one continued act of the breach of the law. . .
Ye have experience, that none but a king could do so great intolerable mischiefs; the very name of king proving a sufficient charm to delude many of our brethren in Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland too, so far as to fight against their own liberties, which you know, no man under heaven could ever have done.
And yet, as if you were of counsel with him, and were resolved to hold up his reputation, thereby to enable him to go on in mischief, you maintain, 'The King can do no wrong'; and apply all his oppressions to 'evil counsellors', begging and entreating him in such submissive language, to return to his kingly office and Parliament, as if you were resolved to make us believe he were a God, without whose presence all must fall to ruin, or as if it were impossible for any nation to be happy without a king.
You cannot fight for our liberties, but it must be in the name of King and Parliament; he that speaks of his cruelties must be thrust out of your House and society; your preachers must pray for him, as if he had not deserved to be excommunicated all Christian society; or as if ye or they thought God were a respecter of the persons of kings in judgement.
By this and other your like dealings, your frequent treating and tampering to maintain his honour, we that have trusted you to deliver us from his oppressions and to preserve us from his cruelties, are wasted and consumed in multitudes to manifold miseries, whilst you lie ready with open arms to receive him, and to make him a great and glorious king . . .
It is high time we be plain with you: we are not, nor shall not be so contented; we do expect, according to reason, that ye should, in the first place, declare and set forth King Charles his wickedness openly before the world, and withal, to show the intolerable inconveniences of having a kingly government, from the constant evil practices of those of this nation; and so to declare King Charles an enemy, and to publish your resolution never to have any more, but to acquit us of so great a charge and trouble for ever, and to convert the great revenue of the crown to the public treasure, to make good the injuries and injustices done heretofore, and of late, by those that have possessed the same; and this we expected long since at your hand, and until this be done, we shall not think ourselves well dealt withal in this original of all oppressions, to wit kings.
Ye must also deal better with us concerning the Lords, than you have done. Ye only are chosen by us the People, and therefore in you only is the power of binding the whole nation, by making, altering or abolishing of laws . . . What is this [i.e. the power of the House of Lords] but to blind our eyes, that we should not know where our power is lodged, nor to whom to apply ourselves for the use thereof; but if we want a law, we must await till the King and Lords assent; if an ordinance, then we must wait till the Lords assent; yet, ye knowing their assent to be merely formal (as having no root in the choice of the people from whom the power that is just must be derived) do frequently importune their assent, which implies a most gross absurdity. . .
We desire you to free us from these abuses, and their [i.e. the Lords'] negative voices, or else tell us, that it is reasonable we should be slaves; this being a perpetual prejudice in our government, neither consisting with freedom nor safety; with freedom it cannot, for in this way of voting in all affairs of the commonwealth, being not chosen "hereunto by the people, they are therein masters and lords of the people, which necessarily implies the people to be their servants and vassals, and they have used many of us accordingly, by committing divers to prison upon their own authority, namely William Lamer [a radical printer and publisher], Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburne, and other worthy sufferers, who upon appeal unto you have not been relieved.
We must therefore pray you to make a law against all kinds of arbitrary government, as the highest capital offence against the commonwealth, and to reduce all conditions of men to a certainty, that none henceforward may presume or plead anything in way of excuse, and that ye will leave no favour or scruple of tyrannical power over us in any whatsoever . . .
We must deal plainly with you, ye have long time acted more like the House of Peers than the House of Commons: we can scarcely approach your door with a request or motion, though by way of petition, but ye hold long debates, whether we break not your privileges; the King's or the Lords' pretended prerogatives never made a greater noise, nor was made more dreadful than the name of privilege of the House of Commons.
Your members in all impositions must not be taxed in the places where they live, like other men; your servants have their privileges too. To accuse or prosecute any of you is become dangerous to the prosecutors. You have imprisonments as frequent for either witnesses or prosecutors as ever the Star Chamber had, and ye are furnished with new devised arguments to prove that ye only may justly do those gross injustices, which the Star Chamber, High Commission, and Council Board [i.e. the Privy Council] might not do.
And for doing whereof, whilst ye were untainted, ye abolished them, for ye now frequently commit men's persons to prison without showing cause; ye examine men upon interrogatories and questions against themselves, and imprison them for refusing to answer; and ye have officious, servile men, that write and publish sophistical arguments to justify your so doing, for which they are rewarded and countenanced, as the Star Chamber and High Commission beagles lately were.
Whilst those that ventured their lives for your establishment, are many of them vexed and molested and impoverished by them; ye have entertained to be your committees' servants, those very prowling varlets that were employed by those unjust courts who took pleasure to torment honest conscionable people; yea, vex and molest honest men for matters of religion, and difference with you and your Synod [i.e. the Westminster Assembly of Divines] in judgement, and take upon you to determine of doctrine and discipline approving this, and reproaching that, just like unto former ignorant, politic and superstitious Parliaments and Convocations; and thereby have divided honest people amongst themselves, by countenancing only those of the Presbytery and discountenancing all the separation, Anabaptists and Independents.
And though it resteth in you to acquiet all differences in affection, though not in judgement, by permitting everyone to be fully persuaded in their own minds, commanding all reproach to cease; yet; as [if] ye also had admitted Machiavelli's maxim, 'Divide et impera', divide and prevail, ye countenance only one, open the printing press only unto one, and that to the Presbytery, and suffer them to rail and abuse and domineer over all the rest, as if also ye had discovered and digested that, without a powerful compulsive Presbytery in the church, a compulsive mastership, or aristocratical government, over the people in the state, could never long be maintained.
Whereas truly we are well assured, neither you, nor none else, can have any into power at all to conclude the people in matters that concern the worship of God, for therein everyone of us ought to be fully assured in our own minds, and to be sure to worship him according to our consciences. ..
Ye know, the laws of this nation are unworthy a free people, and deserve from first to last to be considered and seriously debated, and reduced to an agreement with common equity and right reason, which ought to be the form and life of every government.
Magna Carta itself being but a beggarly thing, containing many marks of intolerable bondage, and the laws that have been made since by Parliaments have in very many particulars made our government much more oppressive and intolerable. . .
Ye know also, imprisonment for debt is not from the beginning; yet ye think not of these many thousand persons and families that are destroyed thereby; ye are rich, and abound in goods, and have need of nothing, but the afflictions of the poor, your hungerstarved brethren, ye have no compassion of. ..
We intreat you to consider what difference there is between binding a man to an oar, as a galleyslave in Turkey or Algiers, and pressing of men to serve in your war: to surprise a man on the sudden, force hlm from his calling where he lived comfortably, from a good trade, from his dear parents, wife or children, against inclination, disposition, to fight for a cause he understands not, and in company of such as he hath no comfort to be withal, for pay that will scarce give him sustenance; and if he live, to return to a lost trade or beggary, or not muchbetter . .
Ye are extremely altered in demeanour towards us: in the beginmng ye seemed to know what freedom was, made a distinction of honest men, whether rich or poor all were welcome to you, and ye would mix yourselves with us in a loving familiar way, void of courtly observance or behaviour. . .
What a multitude of precious lives have been lost? What a mass of moneys have been raised? What one way was proposed to advance moneys that was refused by you, though never so prejudicial to the people, allowing your committees to force men to pay or lend, or else to swear that they were not worth so or so: the most destructive course to tradesmen that could be devised; fifty entire subsidies to be lent throughout London, if not procured, yet authorised by you; never the like heard of, and the Excise, that being once settled, [it was promised that] all other assessments should cease.
Notwithstanding, in few months comes forth ordinance upon ordinance for more moneys; and for the customs, they were thought an oppression in the beginning, and, being so high, a hindrance to trade and extremely pre judicial to the nation; nevertheless is now confirmed, with many augmentations, insomuch as men of inferior trading find great trouble to provide moneys for customs, and have so many officers to please that it is a very slavery to have anything to do with them, and no remedy; the first commissioners being more harsh and ingenious than the late farmers, and the last worse than the former.
Truly it is a sad thing, but too true, a plain, quietminded man in any place in England is just like a harmless sheep in a thicket: [he] can hardly move or stir but he shall be stretch'd and lose his wool; such committees have ye made in all cities and counties, and none are so ill used as honest, Godly men.
Ye have now sat full five years, which is four years longer than we intended, for we could choose you but for, at most, one year; and now we wish ye would publish to all the world the good that you have done for us, the liberty ye have brought us unto. If ye could excuse yourselves, as ye use to do, by saying it hath been a time of war, that will not do; for when [i.e. because] the war might in the beginning have been prevented if ye had drawn a little more blood from the right vein and might often, ere this, have been ended. . .
We have some hopes ye will, for amongst you there have been always faithful and worthy men, whose abundant grief it hath been to observe the strange progress of the chosen men of the commonwealth, and [who] have strove exceedingly on all occasions to produce better effects, and [have] some Christians of late produced to their praise.
Others there are, that have been only misled by the policies and stratagems of politic men, and these, after this our serious advice, will make you more seriously study the common interest of this nation; others there are, and those a great number, that are newly chosen into your house, and we trust are such as will exceedingly strengthen the good part that hitherto hath been too weak to steer an even course amidst so many oppositions and cross waves. . .
Forsake and utterly renounce all crafty and subtle intentions; hide not your thoughts from us, and give us encouragement to be openbreasted unto you. Proclaim aforehand what ye determine to do, in establishing anything for continuance, and hear all things that can be spoken with or against the same; and, to that intent, let the imprisoned presses at liberty, that all men's understandings may be more conveniently informed and convinced, as far as is possible, by the equity of your proceedings.
We cannot but expect to be delivered from the Norman bondage whereof we now, as well as our predecessors, have felt the smart by these bloody wars; and from all unreasonable laws made ever since that unhappy conquest; as we have encouragement, we shall inform you further, and guide you, as we observe your doings.
The work, ye must note, is ours, and not your own, though ye are to be partakers with us in the well or ill doing thereof, and therefore ye must expect to hear more frequently from us than ye have done; nor will it be your wisdom to take these admonitions and cautions in evil part . . .
Ye are not to reckon that ye have any longer time to effect the great work we have entrusted unto you, for we must not lose our free choice of a Parliament once every year, fresh and fresh for a continual Parliament . . .
Our advice is, that ye order a meeting of the chosen [i.e. for the choosing] of Parliamentmen, to be expressly upon one certain day in November, yearly throughout the land in the places accustomed, and to be by you expressed, there to make choice of whom they think good, according to law; and all men that have a right, to be there, not to fail upon a great penalty. . .
And that a Parliament so chosen in November, succeeding year by year, may come instead of the preceding Parliament, and proceed with the affairs of the commonwealth; nor would we have it in the power of our Parliament to remove any member from his place or service of the House, without the consent had of those counties, cities and boroughs respectively that chose him, great inconveniences depending thereon, whereof we have seen and felt too much.
Now, if ye shall conscionably perform your trust the year ensuing, and order the Parliaments to succeed as aforesaid, then we shall not doubt to be made absolute freemen in time, and become a just, plenteous and powerful nation; all that is past will be forgotten, and we shall yet have cause to rejoice in your wisdom and fidelity...
[Source: Richard Overton (1646) A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens and other Freeborn People of England to their own House of Commons]