On 28th October 1647 leaders of the Parliamentary army and representatives of the rank and file, along with a number of London radicals known as the Levellers, converged on St Mary’s Church in Putney.
‘The Moderate Intelligencer’, a newsbook of the time, reported that on the 28th ‘a great assembly was this day at Putney Church, where was debated matters of high concernment…there was resolution taken to meet the next day and proceed’.
With Charles I locked up, deciding what to do with the king was high on the agenda. But at a time when radical ideas were spreading across the country, enabled by the affordability of the printing press, which was proving difficult to regulate, the debates would be dominated by discussion of a recently printed Leveller pamphlet: ‘An Agreement of the People’.
After a five hour prayer meeting in the morning, the debaters convened for the second day of discussions.
The day was dominated by debates about the right to vote. On one side, Henry Ireton (Cromwell’s son-in-law) advocated that the right to vote should remain only for people who own property worth more than 40 shillings.
The other side of the argument was summed up in the words of Colonel Thomas Rainborough, who declared:’I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he’.
A vote taken late in the evening found a majority for extending the vote to all men, except servants and beggars.
Believed to have written by one of the key figures in the Leveller movement, John Wildman, An Agreement of the People was printed in October 1647, in time for the start of the debates on October 28.
As the debates were taking placing, the radical ideas contained within the Leveller pamphlet were spreading across London.
The Agreement called for every man to be equal under the law, for freedom of religious expression, and for the present Parliament to be dissolved and future Parliaments to meet regularly.
After the first two days of the debates, the remainder of the record is fragmentary.
It is likely that the army leadership considered that the controversial topics which were being discussed would be risky to be kept on the record.
On November 8 the army leaders decided to bring the debating to an end, by proposing that the agitators should return to their regiments.
Perhaps concerned by the overwhelming support for the Leveller pamphlet, An Agreement of the People, the army leaders called a halt to proceedings.