Richard Overton was an English pamphleteer and Leveller(1) during the Civil War(2). Little is known of the early life of Overton, but he is believed to have matriculated at Queens’ College, Cambridge, before working as an actor and playwright in Southwark. Here he picked up Leveller sympathies, and started publishing pamphlets against the Church of England and her bishops. Overton was persecuted by the government for his opinions, and twice imprisoned. In 1655 he fled to Flanders.
Overton’s religious conviction was a purely materialistic one; he argued that the soul was perishable and died along with the body, being resurrected at the final judgment. Politically, he argued for the equality of all men. He was a fierce believer in popular sovereignty, and promoted the abolition of monarchy.
(1) The Levellers were an informal alliance of agitators and pamphleteers who came together during the English Civil War (1642-1648) to demand constitutional reform and equal rights under the law. Levellers believed all men were born free and equal and possessed natural rights that resided in the individual, not the government. They believed that each man should have freedom limited only by regard for the freedom of others. They believed the law should equally protect the poor and the wealthy. The Levellers were the social libertarians of the day (or classic liberals). “Leveller” was a term of abuse, coined by their opponents to exaggerate the threat of their ideas.
source : http://www.levellers.org/lev.htm
(2) The English Civil Wars consisted of a series of armed conflicts and political manoeuvrings between the Royalists (known as Cavaliers) lead by King Charles I, and Parliamentarians (known as Roundheads) during the years 1642 to 1651.
Essential Histories 58: The English Civil Wars
The English Civil Wars 1642-1651
Overton is believed to have published some 50 tracts, most anonymously. The following is a selection of his works:
- Articles of High Treason Exhibited against Cheapside Cross (1642)
- New Lambeth Fayre (1642)
- Mans Mortalitie (1644)
- An Arrow Against All Tyrants (1646)is best known for the line written by Overton which was paraphrased by others, including Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “by natural birth, all men are equally and alike born to like propriety, liberty and freedom”
- A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens (1646)
- The Just Man in Bonds (1646)
- An Appeale from the Degenerate Representative Body The Commons… (1647)
- The Hunting of the Foxes (21 March 1649)
- The Agreement of the People, written with others in 1647
More from Richard Overton