The Consent of the Governed: Constitutionalism of the Levellers and its Influence on Anglo-American Political Discourse
College of Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)
Leveller, natural law, constitution, natural right, English Civil War, Lilburne
History | Law
Gilson, Nathan B., "The Consent of the Governed: Constitutionalism of the Levellers and its Influence on Anglo-American Political Discourse" (2022). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 3601.
More fully understanding the Levellers suggests a new framework for understanding Anglo-American constitutionalism and jurisprudence. There was a logical progression in their constitutional thought, by which the exigent developments of the 1640s conflict continually pushed the Levellers to articulate new constitutional propositions. It eventually led them to a fully developed contractual theory for the origins of society based on the continuing consent of the People, including the rights to revolution and resistance, within a natural rights framework. The Levellers argued for limitations on the sovereignty of the government by the People, as opposed to the position of the Monarchists, Independents, and Presbyterians which all agreed that some constitution of the “King in Parliament” ought to be the final sovereign within society. The Whig and Tory traditions of the eighteenth century adopted and have preserved the Independent constitutional interpretation of Leviathan’s sovereignty. Evaluating the English Civil War, Glorious Revolution, American War for Independence, and American Civil War as struggles for popular sovereignty suggests a new framework for understanding the continuity of Anglo-American constitutionalism. When viewed from the Leveller framework, the War for Independence is interpreted as a war of secession, and the Civil War as a revolution to establish an Independent constitutional framework. Within Anglo-American political history, the American War for Independence alone was the conflict which asserted the sovereignty of the People, and in some sense, the only true Leveller revolution.