People’s Health In Putney

Salus populi suprema lex esto


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Putney’s embankment has several proud boat houses. None prouder than Westminster School which shows its traditional virtues during the present crisis by proudly advertising Cicero’s famous quote “Salus populi suprema lex esto”, which means, “Let the health of the people be the highest law.”

But this slogan/ideal has another significant Putney connection. For Leveller William Rainsborowe who not only as a New Model Army officer spoke at the Putney Debates (1647) but owned Putney property had this line engraved on his cornet.

Rainsborowe remained faithful to the Leveller cause to the extent he tried to organize an armed rebellion against the restoration of Charles II. For this was imprisoned in the Tower but was released in 1661 and retired to Boston, New England where he had connections.

Many believe that the pro democracy arguments and egalitarian sentiments used in the Putney Debates had a direct influence of the American Constitution. Which given President Trump’s position of fiddling while the virus plays, brings “Salus populi suprema lex esto” the full circle.

There is a permanent display on the Putney Debates in St Marys church where the debates took place.

Hugh Thompson

May 26, 2020

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