1649 | Surrey

Common Ground

Gerrard Winstanley vs. landlords.

In the beginning of time, the great creator Reason made the earth to be a common treasury to preserve beasts, birds, fishes, and man, the lord that was to govern this creation. Man had domination given to him over the beasts, birds, and fishes, but not one word was spoken in the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another.

But since human flesh began to delight in the objects of creation more than in reason and righteousness, he fell into blindness of mind, and ran abroad for a teacher and ruler.

The earth was hedged into enclosures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made servants and slaves. And that earth that was made a common storehouse for all is bought and sold and kept in the hands of a few.

O thou powers of England, though thou hast promised to make this people a free people, yet thou hast so handled the matter that thou hast wrapped us up more in bondage, and oppression lies heavier upon us.

The people stand to maintain a universal liberty and freedom, which not only is our birthright, which our Maker gave us, but which thou hast promised to restore unto us from under the former oppressing powers that are gone before, and which likewise we have bought with our money, in taxes, free quarter, and bloodshed—all which sums thou hast received at our hands, and yet thou hast not given us our bargain.

If some of you will not dare to shed your blood to maintain tyranny and oppression upon creation, know that our blood and life shall not be unwilling to be delivered up in meekness to maintain universal liberty.

So long as we, or any other, doth own the earth to be the peculiar interest of lords and landlords, and not common to others as well as them, we hold creation under bondage. Those that buy and sell land, and are landlords, have got it either by oppression, or murder, or theft; all landlords live in breach of the seventh and eighth commandments: Thou shalt not steal, nor kill.

England is not a free people till the poor that have no land have a free allowance to dig and labor the commons, and so live as comfortably as the landlords that live in their enclosures.

If you look through the earth, you shall see that the landlords, teachers, and rulers are oppressors, murderers, and thieves in this manner, but it was not thus from the beginning. And this is one reason for our digging and laboring the earth one with another. For so long as we own landlords in this corrupt settlement, we cannot work in righteousness.

All laborers, or such as are called poor people, shall not dare to work for hire, for any landlord, or for any that is lifted up above others. By their labors, they have lifted up tyrants and tyranny, and by denying to labor for hire, they shall pull them down again. He that works for another, either for wages, or to pay him rent, works unrighteously, but they that are resolved to work and eat together, making the earth a common treasury, doth join hands with Christ to lift up creation from bondage.


Gerrard Winstanley

From The True Levelers’ Standard Advanced. Four days before King Charles I was beheaded, Winstanley published The New Law of Righteousness, which argued for communal living and against the individual pursuit of power. He joined a group cultivating land in Surrey as a protest against enclosures; known as the Diggers, they sought to share the earth as a “common treasury.” The Diggers, one scholar has pointed out, based their philosophy on a “proscribed reading of a biblical text,” a verse from Acts: “Neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.”