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The Awakening of Scotland
Chapter III. The Political Awakening, 1783 - 1797


Hitherto, with the exception of some stirrings of independence amongst the nobles, we have seen nothing to suggest an upward tendency during our period in the political development of Scotland; but at this point we pass from stagnation to repression, and have, therefore, sounded our lowest level. The spirit, which had so long reigned unquestioned, was indeed still to prevail; but the forces it defeated were assured of ultimate triumph; and outside the narrow domain of politics, civil and ecclesiastical, we shall find that industrial and intellectual energies were everywhere throbbing into life.

Dundas’s political ambition was never more happily inspired than when it prompted him to stake his future on the rising genius of Pitt; and it is probably a well-founded conjecture1 that he was attracted by the prudence of the young orator as well as by the precocious abilities which were patent to all. / Pitt’s abuse of Lord North had almost equalled that of Fox, and he had denounced “that baleful influence of the Crown” which was protracting “a most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust and diabolical war”;2 but, unlike Fox, he never failed to discriminate between the King’s person and his office, to extol his good intentions, and to represent North as his evil genius rather than his tool. The course of events was singularly favourable to the position, at once popular and loyal, which Pitt had thus early assumed. George could not but be grateful to the man who had rescued him from "the most unprincipled Coalition the annals of this or any other country can equal”; and, even had gratitude been wanting, he could not have dismissed his deliverer without passing again under the yoke. Public opinion, which vehemently suspected the reconciliation of two such enemies as Fox and North, and had been taught to believe that they meant to perpetuate their alliance by engrossing the Indian patronage, was little less hostile to the Coalition; and the son of Chatham had won general admiration by showing that, though tenacious of office, he was no less indifferent than his father to its pecuniary rewards. A Minister so able, so popular and so indispensable, could not be manipulated by any exertion of “baleful influence"; and the personal initiative, which George had ever striven to acquire or to retain, he now conceded to Pitt.

The man, who had fought at Pitt’s side as second-in-command against the big battalions of the Coalition, shared the spoils of victory with his chief; but Dundas had now emerged from the morass of unsatisfied ambition in which Wedderburn was still struggling, and it is merely as dictator of Scotland, not as a British statesman, that his subsequent career falls within the compass of this work. Leaving Hay Campbell to succeed Henry Erskine, the Coalition Lord Advocate, he was reappointed Treasurer of the Navy, and assumed the administration of Indian affairs as ruling member1 of the Board of Control. In 1791 he was made Home Secretary, and in 1794 exchanged that office for the new Secretaryship for War.

The constitutional struggle which Pitt brought to a conclusion had lasted for twenty-three years; and throughout that period the flame of Scottish liberalism, though always flickering on the verge of extinction, had never actually gone out. Even in the days of Bute, when autocracy had the support of national sentiment, we have seen that four of the Scottish members opposed the Court. Five of them voted in 1780 for Dunning’s resolution against the influence of the Crown, and six in 1782 for the motion of no-confidence, defeated by a bare majority of nine, which led to the resignation of Lord North. These numbers are but small fractions of forty-five, but they included one whose influence in the House of Commons was not to be measured by his vote.

George Dempster entered Parliament in 1762 as member for Dundee, Perth, Forfar and St. Andrews; and for twenty-eight years these burghs retained the services of a man whose reputation for independence, liberality and uprightness was scarcely inferior to that of Yorkshire’s noble representative, Sir George Savile. A fluent and effective speaker, handsome in person, engaging in address, Dempster was an authority on questions of trade and finance, and appears to have anticipated Pitt in the advocacy of Dr. Price’s suggestion of a sinking fund for reducing the national debt. Disapproving of all attempts to coerce the colonies, he declared in 1774 that “he knew of no Act to which he gave his hearty consent more willingly than the repeal of the Stamp Act”; in 1775 he and Fox were tellers for a conciliatory proposal which found only twenty-one supporters; and four years later, in advocating Burke’s first and most radical scheme of economical reform, he said, “On my conscience I am persuaded that the influence of the Crown is the true cause of the mischievous origin, the destructive progress, the absurd conduct, and the obstinate prosecution, without view or hope, of this accursed American war.” The same antipathy to aggression, always humane, if not always sound or prescient, inspired his attitude towards the East India Company, of which he was for some time a director. He insisted that our only real interests in India were those of commerce, “conjured Ministers to abandon all idea of sovereignty in that quarter of the globe,” and even “lamented that the navigation to India had ever been discovered.” In domestic politics, deferring to the opinion of his constituents, he gave little or no support to the cause of municipal and parliamentary reform; but in all other respects he showed a most remarkable zeal for freedom and the purity of public life. In 1774 we find him opposing a motion to prosecute the author of a libel on the Speaker as “levelled entirely at the greatest of blessings we enjoy, the liberty of the press.”

When North brought in a Bill to override a decision of the courts in favour of a printer who had challenged the exclusive right of the Stationers’ Company to print almanacs, he said that the Scottish almanacs, the product of free competition, were better than the English, lauded "the enterprising printer," and remarked that all monopolies—forgetting apparently that of the East India Company—were “odious and unjust." He was the only Scottish member who in 1777 opposed the grant of £600,000 to discharge arrears of the King’s Civil List; and he insisted that, before such a sum was voted, the public ought to be informed how the debt had been incurred, and ought to have some assurance “that the burdens borne by them were not to serve the purposes of corruption by influencing members of Parliament.” In the course of a debate on the Army Estimates he exhorted the Government to advertise its contracts, as he and his fellow-directors had recently done at the India House. “Jobbers and contractors were,” he said, “at once the disgrace and the curse of this country"; and he mentioned an instance during the previous war in which a person, whose contract amounted only to £1,300,000 had made fully £800,000 profit. On another occasion, when arguing that members of Parliament should not be excluded from a commission for examining the public accounts, he said that he himself was of too little consequence to be a commissioner, “but so great was his desire to see the public accounts put in a way of examination that he was ready to become doorkeeper to the commissioners, to hand them pens, ink and paper, and to act as their messenger without either fee or reward." Through the influence of Kockingham he was appointed Secretary to the Order of the Thistle in 1766; but he neither obtained nor sought any further recompense; and his independence had little in common with the highly marketable commodity which Dundas paraded under that name.

In 1790 Dempster retired from Parliament, but only to engage in activities which were quite as patriotic, and were continued for exactly the same period, as those of his political career. By every means in his power he sought to develop industrial enterprise on the east coast of Scotland, attempted at great loss to found a manufacturing village at Skibo in Caithness, and taught the fishing population, whose interests he had much at heart, to find a more distant market for their produce by packing it in ice. On his own estate of Dunnichen, near Dundee, he was indefatigable in enclosing, draining, and building; and it was soon his happy boast that every one of his tenants had been freed from vexatious feudal exactions, had obtained a long lease, and was well clothed and well housed. A life so valuable to his country,-so invaluable to his neighbours and dependents, was prolonged to the eighty-fourth year, and, as it drew towards a close, he wrote thus to a friend: “I was lately on my death-bed, and no retrospect afforded me more satisfaction than that of having made some scores— hundreds—of poor Highlanders happy.” 

When Pitt came into power in 1783 the group of Scots in Opposition, though little stronger in numbers, had obtained two important recruits. One of these was Sir Gilbert Elliot, son of the King’s friend, who had entered Parliament, a few months before his father’s death, in 1776, and, though far from satisfied with the abilities of North and his colleagues, had supported them as "the only men who would attempt the recovery of the colonies.” He believed, not without reason, that this was a legitimate object, and recoiled with disgust from politicians who took “a parricide joy” in the disasters of their country, and ventured, even in the House of Commons, to speak of the American troops as "our army.” In 1780 he supported Dunning s resolution, mid in 1782, when his “past American opinions55 had been shaken to their foundation, he voted with North’s opponents against the continuance of the war, and became the cordial associate of Fox and Burke. Having succeeded his father as member for Roxburghshire, he was one of “Fox’s martyrs55 at the general election of 1784; but Berwick restored him to political life in 1786, and he was twice proposed by the Opposition as Speaker.

The Coalition claimed another “martyr” in William Adam, member for the Stranraer district and a nephew of the well-known architect, who had begun his parliamentary career in 1774 as representative of an English, and particularly rotten, borough. No less anti-American than his friend Dundas, and rather more independent, Adam was an adept in the art of ironical praise, and his “arguments of pretended panegyric” were observed to make an impression even on the equable and drowsy temper of Lord North. In 1779 he announced his intention to support a Ministry, which, however incompetent, was no worse than its opponents; and the remarks of Fox on this cynical declaration led to a duel in which the critic was slightly wounded. In the following year he was appointed Treasurer of the Ordnance. He now became the champion and the confidant of Lord North; but the Coalition, which he actively promoted, brought him into close association with Fox; and to that statesman, once a target for his pistol, he loyally adhered, even after Fox’s sympathy with the French Revolution had estranged Burke, Elliot, and the great majority of his friends. Such constancy was a rebuke to those who in 1780 had taunted him with selling his independence for “a thousand or twelve hundred a year."

Mention has been made of the popular agitation in England with which the House of Commons expressed its concurrence in 1780. Its immediate object was attained when the Rockingham Ministry, by reducing pensions and sinecures, disfranchising revenue officers, and excluding contractors from Parliament, had dealt a heavy blow at the corrupt influence of the Crown; and the county associations, which had organised the movement, then demanded a better system of representation, and found in Pitt an able exponent of their views. Pitt urged the necessity of parliamentary reform in 1782, in 1783, and, as Prime Minister, in 1784; but he himself, in reconciling the antagonism of Crown and people, had much diminished the practical importance of the question; and, whilst in 1782 his motion for the appointment of a committee had been defeated by only twenty votes, his Reform Bill of 1784 was thrown out on the first reading by a majority of seventy-four.

Meanwhile the spirit which was a spent force in England had spread to Scotland, and was there troubling the waters, no less muddy than stagnant, of public life. It was natural that efforts should be made for a reform of county representation, for that cause, without making the least progress, had been in agitation since the Union. We have seen that the remodelled oath imposed in 1734 had failed to check the creation, for political purposes, of merely nominal voters; and, soon after the accession of George III. had given a new zest to electioneering, the Court of Session began to supplement it by a series of queries, “which, like the spear of Ithuriel, made the spectres stand forth in their true shape.” This method of detection was, however, condemned incidentally by the House of Lords as ultra vires in 1768; and thenceforth the counties were more and more haunted by these “perfect ghosts, mere phantoms,” which had been conjured out of the vasty deep of corruption by a Duke of Gordon or an Earl of Fife. In 1775 a Bill to annul fictitious qualifications was brought into Parliament by Lord Advocate Montgomery, seconded by Dundas as Solicitor-General. It was promptly strangled by those who were vaguely denominated “the folks above,” and was derided by at least one vigorous reformer, who contended that by greatly reducing the small county electorate it would make the great landowners more powerful than ever, and that no real good could be effected so long as a superior receiving a farthing of feu-duty had a vote, whilst his vassal, with perhaps an estate of £10,000 a year, had none.

In 1783, influenced by the movement headed by Pitt, three of the Scottish counties passed resolutions in favour of reform, and in a general meeting at Edinburgh a committee was appointed, and money was subscribed, with a view to taking proceedings in Parliament. The project, however, never took shape in a Bill, and would probably have been quite fruitless if the landowners of Morayshire, provoked out of all patience by the Earl of Fife’s twenty-seven “ghosts” and the Duke of Gordon’s twenty-one, had not themselves attempted the task of exorcism. In the- autumn of this year they presented a petition to the House of Commons complaining that both their electorate and their magistracy were swamped by “ignorant and servile dependents”; and, when a Mr. Cuming was defeated as candidate for the county by the Earl of Fife at the general election of 1784, he prosecuted two of that nobleman’s voters for perjury in taking the trust-oath. He failed, of course, to obtain a conviction; but the Court of Session was so scandalised by the state of things disclosed at these trials that they tentatively revived their old queries; and the Lords on April 19, 1790, reversing or rather explaining away their former decision, emphatically approved of this course. Two months later, the queries were put to three of the Duke of Gordon’s voters in Aberdeenshire; and these, having admitted with great candour that their qualifications had been framed with a view to increasing the Duke’s political influence, were struck off the roll. This was hailed by the reformers as a decisive victory; but the manipulation of superiorities, after being for some time in abeyance, was revived in a form not easily intelligible to any but the legal mind, and seems to have been as prevalent as ever in the years preceding the Reform Bill.

The influence on Scotland of the English reform movement of 1780 was more conspicuous in the municipal than in the constitutional sphere. In 1782 a committee was formed at Edinburgh, and another at Aberdeen, to agitate against the reign of monopoly in the royal burghs; and in 1784 a convention of delegates from thirty-three, or one half of these burghs, resolved unanimously to make all legal exertions with a view to putting the election of magistrates, town councillors and representatives in Parliament “upon a proper liberal and constitutional footing.” Disheartened, however, by the failure of Pitt’s proposals in favour of parliamentary reform, the delegates at their next convention decided not to touch the relation of the burghs to Parliament, except in so far as this must necessarily be altered by a popular election of councils, and to concentrate their efforts on a reform of “the internal government.” The arguments in favour of such a reform had been steadily accumulating ever since “common, simple persons "were deprived of their electoral rights by the Act of 1469. That Act provided, as we have seen," that the old council of the toun shall choose the new council,” or, in other words, that the majority of the council who kept their seats should nominate persons to replace the minority whose turn it was to retire; and, as the persons nominated were usually those who had gone out the year before, the council was practically not only self-elected, but elected for life. Men who held office on such a tenure were not unlikely to abuse their power, particularly as no tribunal existed competent to call them to account. It had been the duty of the Lord Chamberlain in his annual circuits through the burghs to supervise their financial administration; but this office was abolished in 1503, and in 1535 the burghal jurisdiction, which had accrued to it, was vested in the Court of Exchequer. The remedy thus provided was, however, too expensive, and in most cases too distant, to be of any great value to oppressed burgesses; and the judges in a recent decision had disclaimed it—presumably on the ground of disuse. It was alleged in quarters hostile to reform that magistrates were accountable to the Convention of Royal Burghs; but that body, a mere emanation of town councils, could have been anything but a satisfactory censor, and the claims made on its behalf had also been judicially repelled.

It was no new indictment which was now being prepared against the municipal authorities of Scotland. Within twenty years of its disfranchising statute, we find the legislature condemning the election of officials “by partiality or mastership" the reason assigned for subjecting the burghs to the Court of Exchequer was that through the misconduct of their rulers they had been “put to poverty, wasted and destroyed in their goods and policy”; and in 1684 and 1694, in consequence of “numberless murmurs and complaints,” commissions were appointed to rectify the administration of revenues which had “been either profusely dilapidated or privately peculated, and for the most part have been applied to ends and purposes totally different from those directed by law.” The reformers of 1784, however, were not content to rest their case on merely historical grounds; and the local knowledge of delegates soon supplied them with an armoury of facts.

Though the Scottish Parliament had abolished popular election, it had not failed to enact that none “but honest and substantial burgesses, merchants and indwellers" should be eligible for municipal office; but the territorial magnate, for whom burghs existed only to return members of Parliament, paid no respect to this law. Whether or not the great man himself entered the council, he took care either to procure the election of burgesses who were not honest and were not substantial, or, more frequently, to intrude a gang of non-residents—friends, tenants or servants of his own or revenue officers. Thus the factors of the Earl of Bute had been provosts of Rothesay for the last forty years. The Dukes of Argyll during the same period had governed Dumbarton by means of "councillors elected from every corner of the country.” The councils of Whithorn and Wigton were manned mainly by dependents of the Earl of Galloway, who was a member of both; and the oldest inhabitant of Stranraer, which was managed by the Earl of Stair, could not recall a resident provost. The Earl of Eglinton held sway in Irvine as a “merchant councillor,” and he and his friends were superior to the law of rotation, as “they always took in two silly persons to shift.” People who obtained office under such conditions had little difficulty in holding it for life or even in transmitting it to their sons. The Provost of Lanark, though still young, had been in power for ten or twelve years, and his father and grandfather had each officiated for thirty-five years. Where a proportion of the council had to be chosen from lists submitted by the incorporated trades, the merchant councillors, who were self-elected, contrived to perpetuate their supremacy by making it a rule that the minority of their own members at any private meeting should always concur with the majority in public.

The reformers, in endeavouring to expose the fruits of this system, were much obstructed by the councils, which in many cases refused access to their books;1but it was matter of general complaint that these self elected and irremovable corporations had incurred heavy liabilities, assessed unfairly the public burdens, and alienated for quite inadequate sums the public estates. Stirling, for example, had had to sell all its lands in order to pay its debts, and corruption in this case was so notorious that Dundas, when Lord Advocate, had confiscated the charter. Wigton had assigned to its patron, the Earl of Galloway, for £16 of feu-duty land which now yielded annually £400. The heirs of eleven provosts of Dumfries owned property which had once belonged to the burgh. Dumfries had a treasurer, but, as other people had to be provided with salaries, he was assisted by a chamberlain and no fewer than five collectors. The Perth reformers complained that their public contracts were ruinously jobbed, and stated that the council had spent £3000 in rebuilding a single arch of the bridge over the Earn, whilst an entire bridge, three miles further up the river, had been built by subscription for £500. When a new church was required at Peebles, a wealthy townsman offered to build it for £850; but this tender, and three others almost equally moderate, were rejected, and the work was executed by a mason, who was also the burgh treasurer, at a cost of £1600. In Edinburgh the activity of investigators seems to have been effectually foiled; but the administration of that city as disclosed by an ex-magistrate, fifteen years later, did not redound to its credit. It appeared that the corporation were using as part of their ordinary income £400 appropriated to the relief of indigent burgesses, £1500 illegally levied, and £3000 of their ecclesiastical funds; and yet there was an annual deficit, apart from interest on the debt, of £6060.

Such evils could not be remedied by any but legislative means, and the provisions of a Bill for this purpose were unanimously approved in 1785 by a convention of delegates from 49 out of the 66 royal burghs. Popular election of town councils was to be substituted for self election; but the franchise was to be restricted to actual burgesses, resident for at least a year, tax-payers or householders, engaged or formerly engaged in business within the burgh; and the burgesses, thus qualified, were to be authorised to appoint auditors of public accounts, from whose decision there should be an appeal to the Court of Exchequer. Dempster was selected by the reformers as the most suitable person to take charge of their Bill on account of “the patriotic character and independent spirit which he has always maintained," and so sure were they of his consent that they "scarcely looked towards any other.” Dempster, however, disappointed his admirers, stating that he could not assist in destroying the corporations to which he was indebted for his seat; and the committee of delegates, finding no Ministerialist willing to undertake their cause, were compelled to have recourse to the Opposition, and, on the advice of Fox, sought and obtained the services of Sheridan. Meanwhile the Convention of Royal Burghs had declared against this attempt to “unhinge a constitution which has stood the test of ages.” Dunfermline indeed had so little respect for this venerable constitution that it unanimously adhered to the cause of reform; but the other corporations were so active and so successful at Westminster that no Scottish member, with one exception,1 ventured to support the project, and Dundas in opposing it was usually seconded by Anstruther, one of the Scottish Whigs.

Sheridan opened the business on May 28, 1787, when petitions were presented from Glasgow and Dundee. The petitioners must have been very simple and very sanguine people if they imagined that their case was at all likely to be considered on its merits. Pitt’s Government, strong as it was, could not afford to endanger its ascendency by introducing a principle so potent and so infectious as that of popular election into the Scottish burghs; and Dundas, whilst totally denying the facts alleged, endeavoured on one pretext or another to prevent them being put to the proof. He asserted that there was no illegal taxation in the burghs, no dilapidation of revenues, no gross misrule. Councillors, if they misapplied public funds, were liable to be prosecuted by the Lord Advocate, and were, moreover, responsible to that epitome of themselves, the Convention of Eoyal Burghs. The Scottish municipalities were at all events no worse than the English. Their charters, being royal charters, could not be summarily recast without “a bold infringement of the prerogative,” and, being secured to them by the Union, “ought to be regarded as sacred.”  A petition signed by 1500 or even by 9000 persons was no great matter, and Sheridan “would have had followers of some description ”if he had brought in a Bill to make the people electors of the King or Lord Chancellor. The honourable gentleman, though no statues had yet been erected in his favour, was obviously aspiring to be a popular hero; and his proposal to institute yearly in Scottish towns “a species of dissipation,” which had long been confined to a septennial general election, was so unfavourable to the morals of the people that it ought to have been entitled “a Bill for the encouragement of debauchery.”

The fabian tactics of their antagonist were, however, better calculated to wear out the patience of the reformers than these denials and sneers to prejudice their cause. When Sheridan made his first motion in 1787, Dundas objected, with the sanction of the Speaker, that it was too late in the session to receive what was technically a private petition. In 1788, as Pitt expressed a desire to know its contents, the Bill was read a first time and ordered to be printed. In 1789 Dundas taxed the petitioners with demanding a remedy for grievances which might prove on examination to have no existence; and Sheridan, deferring to this objection, consented to withdraw the Bill and move for a committee of inquiry. At this point the town councils, conforming to the strategy of their general, contrived to keep the matter in suspense for three years, first by delaying to comply with the order for production of papers, and then by taking care to have no representative in London when Sheridan, in 1791, moved that the petitions and burgh accounts should be referred to a committee. It was, indeed, resolved that the committee should be appointed early next session; but the “man of talents" unaccompanied by integrity was not yet at the end of his shifts. In 1792 he admitted that the councils were so far irresponsible that there was no legal authority for auditing their accounts; and, whilst offering to find a remedy for this defect, which he had hitherto denied, he opposed the motion for a, committee, which he had himself suggested, on the ground—surely the most singular that has ever been alleged for such a purpose in Parliament—that “it might give the country reason to believe that the grievances really existed, whereas he believed they did not.” The motion was rejected by 69 votes to 27; and Dundas’s idea of remedying the irresponsibility of town councils was disclosed in a Bill providing that the accounts of these bodies, which were still to be self-elective, should be audited by persons appointed by themselves. This scheme, repudiated by the last annual convention at Edinburgh, was soon dropped; and in 1793 the delegates had obtained not only the appointment of a committee, but the presentation of a favourable report, when, on the advice of their friends in London, they bowed to that French revolutionary terror which, in the words of their secretary, put “an end for a time to every idea of reform.” Thus ended a project which had been in agitation for eleven years; and the member who had given a name to the Rolliad no doubt spoke for many more than himself when he said "that his regard for the constitution led him to oppose every motion for reform that had been or could be brought forward.” 

The political career of Dundas was marked at almost every stage by the combination of audacity and caution— one might almost say, of effrontery and cunning—which characterised his attitude towards the question of burgh reform. In 1781 a loan of twelve millions had been 'raised by Lord North on terms so favourable to the lenders, who were chiefly supporters of the Government, that the shares could be sold at a profit of from 8 to 10 per cent. The Lord Advocate was then planning one of those changes of front which he had always in view when he talked of his independence; yet he did not scruple to scandalise public opinion by asserting that if any private advantages were to be derived from the subscription, “it was natural and justifiable for the noble lord in the blue ribbon to distribute these benefits among his friends." Adam once defended the coalition of North and Fox by asserting that that of Dundas and Pitt was “to the full as extraordinary" and, though this was .rather an extravagant assertion, it may be noted that the man who, at no small sacrifice of consistency, had become the most zealous of Pitt’s colleagues, was not the most steadfast during his temporary eclipse. When George III. in 1801 refused to consummate the Union with Ireland by assenting to Catholic Emancipation, Dundas retired with his chief; but the latter had too little faith in his friend’s renunciation of office not to dissuade him from taking as his motto Jam rude donatus. Before the next year closed, Dundas had accepted a peerage from Addington, the new Premier, to the great surprise of Pitt, who had neither seen him nor heard from him for six months; in February, 1803, there was “a strong rumour” that he was about to join the Addington Ministry; and, a few months later, he inflicted a wound on Pitt’s pride, which never wholly healed, by making, on behalf of Addington, “the very unexpected proposal” that the two statesmen should serve as Secretaries of State under the nominal premier-, ship of Pitt’s brother, the Earl of Chatham.

The spirit of intrigue which every Ministerial crisis developed in Dundas is difficult to reconcile, not only with his public professions, but with the openness and geniality of his private life. The pietistic Wilberforce looked with suspicion on this “loose man” of very convivial habits and fashionable morals who had acquired so great an influence over Pitt; but he admitted his “frank and joyous temper,” and, far from concurring in the common opinion of him as “a mean and intriguing creature,” pronounced him “in many respects a fine warm-hearted fellow." There is no prominent politician of those days in the descriptions of whose character the word "manly" so invariably occurs; and amongst the details which produced this general impression may be mentioned a tall and imposing figure, a powerful and sonorous voice, an open, cheerful countenance, “tinged with convivial purple,” and a blunt and forcible style of oratory, seldom aspiring to eloquence and enlivened with occasional flashes of coarse wit. “Never did any man,” it has been said, “conceal deeper views of every kind under the appearance of careless inattention to self-interest.”  It must not, howevef, be supposed that Dundas’s pretensions to political disinterestedness and independence imposed on anybody who did not wish to be deceived. The King—not a very competent judge— always disliked him; in the opinion of Horace Walpole, he was “the rankest of all Scotsmen,” notorious for rapacity and want of principle; Wraxall, whilst respecting his abilities, described him as carrying them to market and in his native dialect exclaiming “Wha wants me?” Fox and Sheridan exhausted their ingenuity in comparing him to “a political weathercock”; and in the Rolliad his shamelessness and inconsistency are mercilessly satirised. The best of the "Political Miscellanies” appended to the criticisms on that imaginary epic is perhaps the parody of the witches’ incantation in Macbeth; and amongst the ingredients thrown into the cauldron we find

“Clippings of Corinthian brass
From the visage of Dundas.”

So distinguished and so whole-hearted a Scotsman was not likely to be judged by his own countrymen in any impartial spirit. It would, of course, have been impossible for Dundas in his legal, and afterwards in his political, capacity to dissociate himself from Scotland, had such been his wish, in the manner of Mansfield and Loughborough; but, unlike these great lawyers, who seldom or never revisited their native land and were at pains to eliminate all traces of it from their speech, he took a worthy pride in his northern birth, and furnished another proof of manliness by disdaining to address the House of Commons in accents more familiar to its ear than those of his northern tongue. One can easily imagine what merriment as well as indignation must have been caused when he coined for anti-American purposes his famous word starvation; and the uncouth tones and phrases, which gave a ludicrous turn to his most impassioned philippics, are said to have “chequered with momentary good humour the personalities of debate.”  His political predominance in Scotland, if less interrupted, was never more complete than that of the third Duke of Argyll; but the democratic spirit, which hardly existed in the reign of George II., was now a growing power; and Dundas could not have obtained so great an ascendency if to manners far more popular than those of Argyll he had not added a much wider command of patronage. In the bestowal of all offices outside the borders of North Britain Argyll had been dependent on the complaisance of Walpole, of Pelham or of Newcastle; but Dundas, besides being “the Minister for Scotland," was at one and the same time Treasurer of the Navy, leading member of the India Board, and either Home Secretary or War Secretary; and he had befriended the Jacobite interest no less decisively than Argyll by restoring, as we shall see, the forfeited estates. All the various departments which he managed or influenced, but especially that of India, were called into requisition to provide for Scottish peers, members and electors, their relatives and friends; and in the same spirit, quickened no doubt by patriotic motives, he pursued a policy which would be much appreciated at the present day—that of endeavouring to multiply places in Scotland and to direct thither as large a stream as possible of public money. As an example of this policy, it may be mentioned that he increased the number of royal chaplains from six to ten. Lord Sydney, in forwarding to Pitt a list of Indian field-officers, remarked “I believe three are as many English and Irish names as there are among them.” His patronage was, of course, professedly administered only within party lines; but the man was not wholly merged in the Minister; and one of his opponents admitted that “there was scarce a gentleman’s family in Scotland, of whatever politics,” which had not received from him "some Indian appointment or other act of, in many cases quite disinterested, kindness." Beautiful and high-born women are said to have been unduly favoured in his allotment of pensions;4 but Wilberforce records with admiration that rank and nationality were alike disregarded when he assigned the Governor-Generalship of India, “the most important office in the King’s gift,” to Sir John Shore; and a letter is extant in which he intimates to the Countess of Sutherland that no "person connected with the local or political interests of the county, or embarrassed in any degree by its local attachments,” could be appointed sheriff.

It was, however, as a master of electioneering that Dundas was and is best known to his countrymen, and he has been compared to a beacon—“the Pharos of Scotland”—guiding storm-tossed office-seekers to their desired haven. “Who steered upon him was safe; who disregarded his light was wrecked.” Lord Brougham was probably right in assuming that "the old feudal habits of the nation” were at least one cause of that "submission to men in high place which was so much more absolute in Scotland than in England; and he has drawn a vivid and not unfaithful picture of Scottish politics during the three years of Addington’s Ministry, when neither Pitt nor Dundas was in power. “Those who are old enough to remember that dark interval may recollect how the public mind in Scotland was subdued with awe, and how men awaited in trembling silence the uncertain event, as all living things quail during the solemn pause that precedes an earthquake. It was in truth a crisis to try men’s souls. For a while all was uncertainty and consternation; all were seen fluttering about like birds in an eclipse or a thunder-storm; no man could tell whom he might trust; nay, worse still, no man could tell of whom he might ask anything.’'

The effect of the French Revolution in arresting the municipal reform movement in Scotland was only one result of the great influence it was exerting on British politics. Ever since the deposition of James II. in 1689, the Whigs had regarded France as an irreconcilable enemy; and they viewed with general exultation the beginning of a course of events which threatened to put an end to her career as a despotic and aggressive Power. Even Burke, the most conservative of their number, whilst dreading the enthusiasm and ferocity of the French and doubting whether they were “fit for liberty,” found it impossible not to admire their spirit; but the capture of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, which excited in him these mixed feelings, was hailed by Fox in terms of unqualified laudation—“How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world, and how much the best!” And this divergence of opinion between the two leaders continued to increase on the side of Burke till it had produced amongst their followers a complete schism. In February, 1790, their dissension was displayed for the first time in Parliament—the one rejoicing that the Revolution had been supported by the French army, the other denouncing its authors as "the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed.” Fox spoke so affectionately of his friend “that he was almost seen to weep ” ; but the effect of this personal appeal was quite spoiled by Sheridan, who applied to himself as Fox’s counsellor certain strictures in Burke’s speech, and attacked the latter in “as violent a philippic as he ever uttered against Pitt or Dundas.” In the autumn of this year appeared the “Reflections on the French Revolution.” The work made a profound impression, and was warmly commended by the Duke of Portland and other Whig nobles; but a party, which was not prepared as yet to admit its disunion, had good reasons for preferring Burke as a speculative writer to Burke as a practical politician, and, six months later, he was condemned to complete isolation in consequence of the speech (May 6, 1791), in which he pushed to a crisis the political dispute with Fox and publicly renounced his friendship.

However blind Burke may have been to the real significance of the Revolution as an immense step in human progress, he predicted, as early as November, 1790, that its reformed kingship would give place to republicanism, republicanism to anarchy, and anarchy to military despotism; and, when events began to shape themselves in accordance with this prediction without at all disconcerting the English clubs and societies which drew their inspiration from Paris, the disruption of the Whig party could no longer be concealed. Fox vehemently attacked the proclamation of May, 1792, in which the King warned his subjects against “divers wicked and seditious writings"; but it was cordially welcomed by the larger or “Portland part” of his friends, to whom indeed it had previously been submitted. Pitt offered to develop his alliance with this section of the Opposition by admitting them to a share of office; and, though his overtures produced no definite result at this period, the growing danger from France, which was now at war with Austria and Prussia, caused them to be renewed before the close of the year. On September 21 a republic was proclaimed at Paris after scenes of riot and massacre which engrossed the thoughts and even haunted the dreams of many sober people who, like Dr. Somerville, had contemned Burke’s essay as “the ranting declamations of aristocratic pride and exuberant genius.” And even Burke’s forebodings had fallen short of the truth; for the ‘ ‘ architects of ruin ’ ’ were exposing their neighbours to more tangible dangers than those of revolutionary contagion; and, far from having done more than “twenty Ramillies or Blenheims” to disable France, they were reviving her traditions as a conquering Power. On November 19 appeared the decree, translated into all languages, which promised assistance to any people which should rise against its rulers. Savoy and Nice were soon annexed, and British interests were directly menaced by the occupation of Belgium, the opening of the Scheldt, which had been closed to navigation by the Treaty of Utrecht, and the threatened invasion of Holland.

One member at least of the Portland group had been much chagrined at the failure of Pitt’s overtures, and cordially welcomed their renewal. The great office, which the Coalition, had it triumphed at the general election of 1784, would certainly have bestowed on Lord Loughborough, still continued to elude his grasp; and he had suffered another disappointment in 1788-9, when the King became insane and recovered just in time to prevent his Chief Justice of the Common Pleas becoming Lord Chancellor under the Prince of Wales as Regent Thurlow, presuming on the royal favour, had long made himself obnoxious to Pitt, and on May 6, 1792, five days before the proclamation against seditious writings, he received notice of dismissal; but Thurlow's rival did not at once secure the reversion of his post. Pitt and his friends objected to a general coalition with the Whigs under a new Premier, and the Portland Whigs were still reluctant to accept the advice of Burke, who exhorted them to avow their separation from Fox and to permit Loughborough as their representative to enter the Cabinet. The Great Seal was, therefore, put into commission; and it was not till January 28, 1793, when the execution of Louis XVI. had deepened the Whig schism, that Loughborough attained the object of his ambition. He had been in no haste to quarrel with the Revolution; but he now expressed such horror of French republicanism and infidelity that Burke pronounced him “the most virtuous man in the kingdom.” In July, 1794, the Duke of Portland himself and three of his friends took office under Pitt.

In February, 1793, for the fifth time during the •eighteenth century, Great Britain and France found themselves at war. Within a few weeks the heads of clans were called upon to make their usual contribution to the forces of the Crown, and their response can have been none the less hearty because the disabilities and penalties of 1746-7 had recently been removed. During the American war, when so many kilted clansmen were .attesting their loyalty in the field, the Highlanders had ventured, for the most part, to resume their native dress; and in 1782 the law which prohibited the wearing of tartan was repealed. In 1784 the confiscated estates were restored; but, in order to avoid “giving a premium for rebellion,” it was provided that the heirs of forfeited persons should receive their property as it stood in 1747, and that the capital accruing from mortgages paid off by Government during its thirty-seven years of ownership should be devoted to the completion of certain public works—£15,000 to the Register House at Edinburgh, which had been built out of the produce of these estates, and £50,000 to the Forth and Clyde Canal. In 1793-4, following the example of his father and Lord North, Pitt added five Highland regiments to the line; and during the war twenty-four additional battalions were raised in the Highlands, whose service was at first confined to Scotland and was never extended beyond England and Ireland. These “Fencibles 55 were, however, a nursery for the regular army, and many depleted regiments were filled up from their ranks.

The outbreak of war was scarcely needed to complete the disruption of the Whigs; for, whilst one section had declared for Burke and repression, the other was emphasising its determination to persevere in the cause of parliamentary reform. In April, 1792, many of Fox’s friends, without his sanction and probably even without his knowledge,3 formed themselves into an association for the purpose of procuring more equal representation and shorter Parliaments, which they called “The Friends of the People.” These objects were to be pursued rather in spite of, than in unison with, the French Revolution; but other societies existed whose Gallican sympathies were frankly avowed. The chief of these was the Society for Constitutional Information; and about this period some of its leading members either created or remodelled a still more extreme club, which was known as the London Corresponding Society. Both of these societies disseminated the works of Thomas Paine, who maintained that England's constitution—in so far as it had one—had been poisoned by monarchy, and that even the Bill of Rights, that palladium of the Revolution Settlement, was ‘‘more properly a bill of wrongs and insult”; and on May 11 the parent society sent over a deputation to congratulate the Jacobins as “Brothers and Fellow-Citizens of the World.”

Scotland was not inadequately represented among these leaders of radical reform. The Earls of Lauderdale and Buchan, Lord Daer, the Earl of Selkirk’s eldest son, and Colonel Macleod of Macleod, member of Parliament for Inverness-shire, had joined the Friends of the People; and one of the society’s joint-treasurers was Lord Kinnaird. Returned in 1780 for a Cornish borough, Lord Maitland, as he then was, had distinguished himself as one of North’s keenest opponents; and his liberal enthusiasm showed no diminution when, as Earl of Lauderdale, he was elected in 1790 to the House of Lords. A bold, restless, indefatigable man, with "a studied contempt of general opinion," he was admitted to the closest intimacy by Fox, who had been heard to say "I wonder how the world went on when there was no Lauderdale to help it, or what will become of it when he leaves it.” A man of much more extreme principles was Lord Sempill, an officer in the Foot Guards and a burgh reformer, who was frequently chairman of the Constitutional Society, and on November 9, 1792, signed as such a remarkable address to the French, congratulating them on the establishment of their bloodstained republic, and intimating that “the soldiers of liberty” were to be presented weekly for at least six weeks with a thousand pairs of shoes.

The Friends of the People and societies of the more extreme type favoured by Lord Sempill soon extended their influence to Scotland; but the first impulse to disorder proceeded from the attitude of the Government towards municipal reform. In the spring of 1792 Dundas was burned in effigy at Aberdeen, Dundee and other towns; and Lanark all but demolished in person its hereditary provost. Letters threatening his life and property were dropped in the streets; his orchard was totally wrecked; and two shots passed unpleasantly near him as he sat in his house. On June 4, 1792, the King’s birthday, a more serious disturbance commenced at Edinburgh. The magistrates, warned by placards of an intended demonstration against their patron, had obtained military assistance; and the populace on that day contented themselves with hissing and stoning the dragoons and throwing dead cats at the city-guard. On the following evening, however, they burnt a figure of straw before Dundas’s house in George Square; and, when some of the statesman’s friends attempted to drive them off, they broke his windows and also those of his nephew, the Lord Advocate. On the arrival of a detachment from the Castle, they became “outrageous,” and, the troops after great provocation having been ordered to fire, several persons were wounded—one mortally. Next night they assembled in the New Town with a view to attacking the Lord Provost’s house, but dispersed at once on the appearance of dragoons and marines.

The agitation for burgh reform continued; but popular passion, finding no outlet in this direction, was diverted into more dangerous channels. Branches of the new Whig society had been formed in various parts of Scotland ; and the first step towards centralisation was taken on July 26, when a meeting at Edinburgh constituted itself a permanent society as “The Associated Friends of the People.” Dundas was kept fully informed by his correspondents as to the growth of this movement, and the accounts he received can hardly have contributed to his peace of mind. “Mad ideas” were said to be spreading in all the principal towns, except Aberdeen, where, indeed, a tree of liberty was planted, but proved to be “an idle, silly thing.” In Dundee “the general disposition of the people” was very bad, all the lower classes and many of the merchants being “violent for reform.” Perth was considered “a very dangerous place”; all the weavers were disaffected, and there were nine societies, about 1200 strong. At Montrose there was a society of 200, “very violent”; in several of the Fife burghs similar clubs had been established, and the Reformers boasted that they numbered 6000 at Stirling, and in the west—chiefly at Glasgow, Kilmarnock and Paisley—50,000. Small towns and even mere villages had their societies, and amongst “the disaffected” in those early days were not a few landed and professional men. Meanwhile the General Association at Edinburgh was exerting itself to bring these scattered forces into line. During the month of September committees were appointed—one for declaration, another for correspondence, another for organisation; and a circular letter was prepared and approved, inviting the local societies to send members to a general convention which was to be held on December 11. These steps were ratified by a more representative body, consisting of delegates from all the societies in and around Edinburgh, on November 21; and two resolutions were adopted and sent to the newspapers—one that, if any member was found guilty of riot or sedition, his name should be expunged, the other that any member unjustly punished by “the arm of power” should be protected by the society to which he belonged. Colonel Macleod attended this meeting and greatly delighted the delegates by assuring them that “he would support their liberties with his pen, and, if necessary, defend them with his sword at the peril of his life.”

That a society should have been established to procure by constitutional means more representative and shorter Parliaments was not in itself either a novel or an alarming fact; but some of the members had undoubtedly deeper designs; and the controversy aroused by the French Revolution had excited an extraordinary ferment in the public mind. A writer in the Scots Magazine for October, 1792, remarked that the “keenness of political inquiry, which for a long time seemed to be confined to England, has now reached this northern clime”; and, referring to the effect produced by the writings of Burke and Paine, he said that “one half of the people seem to have become politically mad.” Not only amongst the weavers of Dundee and Paisley, but in remote rural districts Paine’sRights of Man found many readers. A Dumfriesshire baronet, writing to the Duke of Buccleuch, said that a twopenny abridgment of this pamphlet was “in the hands of almost every countryman”; and, with a view to enlightening the Highlanders, it was translated into Gaelic. The proclamation of May 25 served merely to advertise Paine’s writings; and, when it was read at Banff by the town crier, a Mr. Leith, president of the local society, followed him through the streets “abusing and interrupting him.” Dr. Somerville spent much of his time going from house to house amongst his parishioners at Jedburgh to combat the spread of seditious principles, but found all his efforts “unprofitable and fruitless.” Medals stamped with democratic mottoes were sent out anonymously from Edinburgh; and towards the end of September Captain Johnston, chairman of the General Association and formerly an officer in the army, established the Edinburgh Gazetteer, the prospectus of which announced that it should “attach itself to the party of the people.” Dundas was told that this paper “makes the farmers wild for Reform"; and one of his spies assured him that he had attended a meeting at which it was said that a king ought to be sacrificed to the people once in every hundred years.

To political was added social discontent. The weather during the greater part of 1792 was exceedingly wet and inclement, and on June 24 the Border districts experienced a short but violent storm of snow and huge hailstones, the effect of which was described as “Christmas Day in the midst of summer.” The harvest, though late, appears to have been less deficient than in England; but the long-continued rains had much impeded the cutting and drying of peat, and the country people, particularly in the north, suffered greatly from want of fuel. In Ross-shire the displacement of labour due to the introduction of sheep-farming provoked a very serious disturbance, which, however, cost no lives, though the peasantry had purchased £16 worth of powder. Throughout the Lowlands the toll money necessitated by new and improved roads was much resented by the poor, and riots due to this and other fiscal grievances were reported from Dunse, Langholm, and Newburgh. In certain districts the colliers refused to work, influenced, it was supposed, by “some new notions”; and a prolonged strike of sailors took place at Leith and Aberdeen, as well as at various English ports. These outbreaks had little in common with the great festival held at Sheffield on October 22 to celebrate the retreat of the Allies from France; but something of this kind did occur, about three weeks later, at Dundee. The disturbance was said to have been caused by the | high price of meal; but a tree of liberty was planted, bells were rung, a huge bonfire was made of oil-cakes, and cries were raised of “No Excise,” “No King.” 

Prefaced by these signs of excitement and tumult, must have been relieved to find that “distrust and want of harmony” were conspicuous in the debates. The first step of the delegates was to verify their powers, and some of the commissions were said to begin “Citizen President.” An election to offices was then proposed. Lord Daer, however, reminding his “Fellow Citizens” that they were pledged to liberty and equality, cautioned them "against the establishment of an aristocracy in their own body” ; and, Colonel Dalrymple having spoken to the same effect, it was agreed that the office of president should be held from day to day. Daer suggested certain rules for the conduct of business, every one of which was opposed by Muir; but the first serious dissension seems to have arisen when the latter read and commended an address from the United Irishmen of Dublin. In one passage of this paper satisfaction was expressed that Scotland “now rises to distinction, not by a calm, contented, secret wish for a reform in Parliament, but by openly, actively and urgently willing it with the unity and energy of an embodied nation.” Daer, Dalrymple, and other speakers commented on these words "as bordering on treason"; and it was resolved that the address “shall not lie on the table.” In advocating a petition to Parliament, Muir insisted that their great object must be to obtain a vote for every man over twenty-one years of age; and at the close of the proceedings we find him complimenting his associates on "the little regard they have paid to the authority of leaders." Several persons dissented from the petition on the ground that it mentioned "King, Lords and Commons”; and a motion was said to have been made, but withdrawn, that every delegate should be provided with a musket and bayonet “to repress any appearance of riot or sedition.” The climax of excitement was, however, reached when the members rose from their seats, and, with right hand uplifted, took “the French oath to live free or die”—much to the dismay of Colonel Dalrymple, who had consented with great reluctance to take the chair at the first day’s meeting on the ground that, being a military officer, he might be charged “with a design of raising a rebellion.” On December 13 the Convention adjourned till the following April.

In the course of its debates the Convention had discussed the propriety of uniting with the Burgh Beformers, and a motion to that effect had been lost by the narrow majority of 42 to 40. We have seen that these men had made it a principle of their agitation not to touch, directly at least, the political status of the town councils; but several of their Scottish leaders, such as Lauderdale and Daer, had enrolled themselves as Friends of the People, and it was not without some vacillation and dissension that they adhered to their original design. At a general meeting in Edinburgh it was resolved with practical unanimity that a deviation into the path of parliamentary reform would be contrary to the “original constitution"; but at a subsequent committee meeting a disposition was shown to reconsider this step. The proposal was, however, warmly condemned by Henry Erskine, who had not attended the committee, as a breach of faith, and it must soon have been dropped. Erskine had served for five months as the Coalition Lord Advocate, and had recently succeeded Dundas as Dean of Faculty. He was, of course, favourable to Parliamentary reform; but, thinking this “the most improper time ” to bring forward such a measure, he had declined to join the Friends of the People at the solicitation of his two brothers, the Earl of Buchan and Thomas Erskine, who was soon to be Lord Chancellor.

When we consider that the country was rapidly advancing in population and wealth, and that the reforming movement initiated by the fall of North’s Ministry was still in progress, it is not difficult to account for the effects produced in Scotland by the French Revolution; but the upper classes, confronted for the first time by a really democratic spirit, looked upon it as an aggravation of the evil that such a ferment had arisen at a period of growing industry and trade. Whilst expatiating with just pride on the excellence of what had once been the English, and was now the British, constitution, conservative pamphleteers appealed to national prosperity in mitigation of its defects, and were fond of quoting the epitaph on a valetudinarian in Addison’s Spectator—“I was well, I would be better, and here I am.” If the people complained that they had no voice in public affairs, they were offered the illogical consolation that Lauder and Jedburgh with representation were much less flourishing places than Ilawick and Greenock without it, or the unchristian one that the great majority of wealthy men were in the same position; and, if anybody insisted that, at all events, bogus freeholders and self-elective corporations could not be defended, he was reminded that there was a limit to that “pitch of perfection to which one may reasonably expect human nature and human affairs to attain.” Towards the end of 1792, town councils, merchant and trade guilds, inhabitants of towns and parishes, and even the Edinburgh Burgess Golfing Society began to pass resolutions "in support of the constitution"; suggestions were made, and in some cases adopted, that workmen and servants who had attached themselves to the Friends of the People should be dismissed from their' employment; and probably not a few persons were as much alarmed as the writer to the newspapers, whose imagination, distorted by the lurid glare of Parisj represented every reformer he met “as carrying a dagger or a torch in his hand to stab myself or to burn my wife and children.” 

Early in 1793, prompted no doubt by this general alarm, the Crown lawyers addressed themselves to the task of repression. Pamphlets gave rise to three of the six prosecutions which were instituted during the months of January and February, and two of these publications were certainly seditious—one in which the people were advised to present their petitions for reform, not to the House of Commons, which was “a vile junto of aristocrats,” but to the King, and, if he did not afford them redress, to refuse payment of taxes; the other describing Parliament as “a mere outwork of the Court, a phalanx of mercenaries,” who had imposed taxes for which they deserved to be hanged. Two over-zealous reformers were charged with founding an association at Partick, “under the name of the Sons of Liberty and the Friends of Man,” to propagate the doctrine of that “immortal author,” Thomas Paine; and three penitent young printers were condemned to several months’ imprisonment for having proposed a seditious toast,

"George the third and last, and damnation to all crowned heads,” whilst drinking with some soldiers in Edinburgh Castle. A similar sentence was passed on Captain Johnston, proprietor of the Edinburgh Gazetteer for publishing what was alleged to be an untrue and unjust account of this trial. In several of the cases proceedings were adjourned in order to allow time for the apprehension of one of the accused, and were not resumed. Such remissness or clemency on the part of the public prosecutor received no encouragement from the judges, for the most remarkable feature of these trials was the illiberal and even brutal temper displayed on the bench. Lord Abercromby in the Edinburgh Castle case remarked that if the youthful toast-drinkers had “gone a little further they would have been guilty of high treason"; and Lord Henderland said he would have had no hesitation in banishing them to Botany Bay, had they been “aged and inveterate offenders whom there were little hopes to reclaim—be they of what profession they may—the more literary the better for such punishment.” 

It was not the fault of the Government that no reference was made in the course of these proceedings to the late Convention; for Muir, who had been so conspicuous in that assembly, was arrested on January 2, and, having gone to France, professedly to intercede for the life of Louis XVI., he forfeited his bail and was declared an outlaw. Returning at the end of July, he was at once apprehended, and appeared before the High Court of Justiciary on August 30. It is unnecessary to recapitulate the history of this thoroughly infamous trial. The principal articles of the indictment were that the prisoner had made seditious speeches, had circulated Paine’s and other seditious writings, and in the Convention had read and commended the intemperate, but by no means criminal, address from the United Irishmen. The prosecution failed to prove or even to insinuate that Muir had incited to sedition, and, with the exception of one most suspicious witness—a maid-servant of surprising erudition—the evidence went to show that, far from urging people to read Paine’s book, he had warned them against its errors. It was no doubt as the most zealous of the Friends of the People, and the only one of their leaders who had defended the Irish address, that Muir was condemned. Posterity, to which the hapless prisoner appealed, has admitted the justice of his plea that his real offence was the advocacy of parliamentary reform; and Lord Braxfield, in summing up, put this beyond a doubt when he said that in his opinion it was sedition to go about among the lower classes and induce them "to believe that a reform was absolutely necessary to preserve their safety and their liberty.” Tried by a jury drawn wholly from a constitutional or |Burkified" society which had refused to admit him to its membership, denounced by the Lord Advocate as “tainted from head to foot,” as “unworthy to live under the protection of the law,” and bullied by judges who paraded their belief in his guilt, Muir can have had no hope of acquittal; but he was probably as much surprised as the public when he found himself sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. Such a sentence, after the authors of a pamphlet describing Parliament as fit for the gallows had been punished with a few weeks’ imprisonment, was too much even for the "Burkified" jury, and they are said to have resolved on a petition when fears of assassination impelled them to disperse.

A fortnight after the conclusion of this trial another victim was found in Thomas Fyshe Palmer, a Unitarian clergyman, who had revised and published a pamphlet in which the people were exhorted to assert their right to universal suffrage on the ground that the House of Commons had joined the coalition against them, that the little liberty they still possessed was “fast setting, we fear, in the darkness of despotism and tyranny" and that "a wicked ministry and a compliant Parliament" had plunged them into a war, "the end and design of which is almost too horrid to relate—the destruction of a whole people merely because they will be free." Such language was certainly more like sedition than anything that had been alleged against Muir; and, if the latter had not suffered as an example to the Friends of the People, it is difficult to account for the fact that he was transported for fourteen years, whilst this member of a more extreme society—the Friends of Liberty at Dundee—was transported for only seven. In dealing with Muir both prosecutor and judges laid stress on the fact that he had agitated for reform at a time of great discontent, when “good men felt and trembled"; but Lord Abercromby, in summing up against Palmer, pronounced it an aggravation of the charge that he had disturbed the country when it “was enjoying peace and tranquility," and “all alarm had ceased."

This tranquil state of affairs had lasted since the beginning of the year and was to continue till the autumn. The enthusiasm displayed at the Convention did not long survive its adjournment on December 13. According to information transmitted to Dundas during the next month, the Edinburgh societies, despite the exertions of Lord Daer and Colonel Macleod, seemed to be “much out of spirits,” their meetings were thinly attended, and more than one member had proposed that, considering the discredit into which their principles and their very name had fallen, the Friends of the People “should lie by and wait the event of their petition.” On March 1, 1793, it was reported that the Lawnmarket Society had ceased to meet, and that the Abbeyhill Society had not only dissolved itself but burnt its books. At the end of April, however, the Convention reassembled in somewhat diminished numbers, and seems to have been occupied chiefly in collecting addresses. On May 6 petitions for reform were presented to the House of Commons from several English and from fourteen Scottish towns, and on the same day Grey presented the well-known petition from the Friends of the People, in which the anomalies of representation were temperately, but forcibly, exposed. Grey’s petition was rejected by 282 votes to 41; and from this point the agitation in Scotland entered on a more dangerous phase.

The fate of Muir, far from intimidating the reformers, at once aroused them to “new life and vigour ” ; and the magistrates of Edinburgh caused Dundas to be informed that the meetings of the societies had again become frequent, that inflammatory papers were posted up, and that several of the jury had received threatening letters. The first Scottish Convention, and no doubt also the second, had been affiliated to no English society but that of the Friends of the People; but on May 17, 1793, the London Corresponding Society wrote to the Edinburgh reformers, expressing a desire for union, and, as all the petitions had been unsuccessful, requesting their advice with regard to the adoption of "some more effectual means,” which, however, were still to be constitutional. In his reply to this letter Skirving, the Edinburgh secretary, warmly commended the project of union and remarked that, as the Scottish societies were more democratic than the English—were in fact "the people themselves"— they were not unfitted to take the lead. Palmer’s pamphlet, intended to rouse popular enthusiasm, was circulated by Skirving; and he no doubt hoped to see a union accomplished when the Convention reassembled, as had been agreed at its last meeting, on October 29. A number of English societies intimated their concurrence, but very few of them sent representatives, and the delegates that were sent arrived too late. The London Friends of the People were also said to have expressed approval, but this can hardly have been unqualified; for as early as July 23 their secretary had stated that a meeting of delegates would "operate, like many rash steps of some who wish well to the cause, much to its disadvantage”; and, writing on the day of meeting at Edinburgh, he expressed a hope that ££none of the violence which has done mischief to the cause of reform in England will be imported into the Scottish Convention.”

As the vagueness of the recent petitions had been cited against them, the October Convention passed resolutions in favour of manhood suffrage and annual elections; and, having condemned the slave trade and resolved to present another petition to the House of Commons, it adjourned till the following April on November 1. A few days later, four English delegates arrived—Gerald and Margarot from the London Corresponding Society, Sinclair from the London Constitutional Society, Brown from a society at Sheffield, and two United Irishmen who were not delegates—Butler and Hamilton Bowan. Becalled by a summons from Skirving, the members reassembled on November 29. They now styled themselves "The British Convention of Delegates of the People, associated to obtain Universal Suffrage and Annual Parliaments"; and much enthusiasm was evoked by this spontaneous union of two nations as “an event unparalleled in the history of mankind.5’ They courted publicity, and the authorities did not interfere till a resolution was passed that on the first announcement of a Bill to prohibit conventions or to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, or in case of invasion or the admission of foreign troops, they should meet at a place to be fixed by a secret committee. On December 5 Skirving and several other members were arrested, and the Convention was dispersed. It reassembled at the Canongate Lodge, but on the following evening, deferring to a mere show of force, it finally broke up.

Men who had suffered for the writing or circulation of thoroughly seditious pamphlets were invariably regarded as martyrs by these Friends of the People; but it is stated on the authority of moderate Whigs, who disapproved of the Convention but were intimately acquainted with its Lord Daer was still a member of the Convention, but not Colonel Macleod, who thought that the people were “not ripe at present for universal suffrage and annual elections.” proceedings, that it aimed at nothing more than the advocacy of its two avowed demands; and Skirving at his trial explained certain peculiarities of its procedure by saying that he and his friends meant to hold up “empty bugbears to the deluded as nurses do to children to frighten them to sleep.” If fright has ever been known to induce sleep in children, it had quite the opposite effect on the public, particularly as the “bugbears ” had been imported from France. The delegates addressed each other as “Citizen” or “Citizen President” ; they divided themselves into sections, which met at such places as Liberty Court or Liberty Hall, and submitted reports, some of which began Vive la Convention and ended Qa ira; it was even proposed to parcel out the country into departments; and the minutes were inscribed “1st year of the British Convention.” Approximating thus closely in form to its prototype at Paris, the Convention was assumed to be no less republican in spirit; and the existence of Crown and Parliament was believed to be endangered by this assembly of Scottish mechanics, which became “British” on,the arrival of four English delegates, collected its revenue in a plate at the door, noted “2s. 6d. of overplus at dinner,” and awarded to the patriotic donor of 5s. an honourable mention in its minutes. Nevertheless, “the wit and humour of a very few individuals,” alleged by Skirving to be the authors of this farce, might surely have devised a less dangerous pastime than that of playing at the French Revolution; for Scottish judges and juries could hardly be expected to appreciate the jest. In 1794 sentences of fourteen years’ transportation were passed on Skirving and two of the English delegates, Margarot and Gerald. Proceedings were instituted, but abandoned, against Sinclair, another English delegate; and Scott, the printer of the Edinburgh Gazetteer, was outlawed.

The dispersion of the British Convention was keenly resented by its friends in England. At a meeting on January 17, 1794, the Constitutional Society passed a series of resolutions denying the duty of obedience to law when it had become an instrument of oppression, declaring that the time was fast approaching when tyranny must be opposed ‘c by the same means by which it is exercised,” and extolling the conduct of their Scottish comrades who, “though assailed by force, had not been answered by arguments." Three days later, the Corresponding Society ordered a hundred thousand copies to be printed of an address to the people in which Englishmen and Irishmen were exhorted to stand or fall with those patriots at Edinburgh who had suffered from ‘c the wicked hand of power”; and, repeating in almost identical terms the resolution which had led to that disaster, they determined that "upon the first introduction ’ of any measure hostile to liberty, such as a motion for bringing in foreign troops, for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, for instituting martial law or for prohibiting the meeting of delegates, the representatives of each division and the secretaries of affiliated societies should be summoned to concur in “a general convention of the people.” Both address and resolution were adopted by the Constitutional Society; and, though no action was yet being taken in Parliament, a joint committee had been appointed to organise "another British Convention" when the papers of the societies were seized and their leading members arrested. Margarot, writing from captivity at Edinburgh, had advocated the forming of “armed associations"; and in a handbill distributed by the Corresponding Society the same advice was given— "Get arms and learn the use of them.” It subsequently transpired that in several places in and around London men were being secretly trained to the use of firelocks, and that pikes and caltrops were being manufactured at Sheffield. The papers of the societies, having been laid before Parliament, were referred to a secret committee, and the presentation of its report was followed by a Habeas Corpus Suspension Act. In the autumn several of the prisoners were brought to trial for high treason; but Thomas Erskine argued that their proceedings, however seditious, could not justify so grave a charge, and all of them were acquitted.

Those of the Scottish reformers, mostly of humble rank, who had not grown weary of agitation, threw themselves heartily into this scheme. The British Convention had enjoined its members to impress upon their constituents the necessity of choosing new delegates and contributing to their support; and, under the direction of a Committee of Union, acting in concert with the London societies, delegates were elected at Perth and Strathaven, and probably at other places, to attend the convention which was to be held in England. The Committee of Union had, however, a secret executive of seven, known as the Committee of Ways and Means; and this council had engaged in more audacious designs. The Commons’ Committee of Secrecy presented its second report on June 6, 1794; and, a month or two later, Watt and Downie, the leading Scottish agitators, were tried for high treason. The evidence showed that an insurrection had been planned; that emissaries had been sent on this quest to Paisley, which was “ in a state of great readiness,” and to other manufacturing towns; that attempts had been made to seduce the troops, or at all events to dissuade the Fencibles from serving in England; that the inevitable pikes had been forged; and that Watt had proposed a scheme for kidnapping the Edinburgh garrison and surprising the Castle. Both men were convicted, but Watt alone suffered death. This person had recently been in correspondence with Lord Advocate Dundas; but the argument of his counsel that he had engaged in this conspiracy with a view to giving information to Government was refuted by the prisoner himself in a sealed confession. His zeal for democracy, once the mask of an informer, had apparently become sincere.

Scotland and England had thus each in turn become a focus of revolutionary intrigue, and now the centre of agitation was to be shifted to Ireland. Abuses of patronage and representation were naturally carried to great lengths in Ireland after the Parliament in 1782 had achieved legislative independence; and corruption was a more serious evil in Dublin than at Westminster since it maintained the predominance, not of a party, but of an alien Government. The influence of the American Eevolution had induced the Protestant Irish to assert the freedom of their legislature, and the effect of the French Eevolution was to inflame them against the system by which that concession was neutralised. Sir Samuel Eomilly remarked that the impression produced in Ireland by Paine’s reply to Burke was “hardly to be conceived,” and that if any violent outbreak was to be apprehended, it would certainly begin there. In 1791 Wolfe Tone founded at Belfast the Society of United Irishmen. Its object was to enlist both Protestants and Catholics in an attempt to combat English influence “by a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament,” and it anticipated the British societies in demanding universal suffrage and annual elections. For several years, during which Presbyterian Ulster was its chief support, it continued to agitate on these lines; but religious dissension soon revived; Ulster Eadicalism developed into Orange-ism; and in 1796 the United Irish consisted mainly of Catholics who were conspiring with France to establish an independent republic.

By this time the Friends of the People and even that very extreme body, the Society for Constitutional Information, had desisted from their labours; but the London Corresponding Society was no less active and even more mischievous than ever. Bepublican and treasonable designs are said to have been no longer concealed at its meetings, and most of the affiliated societies had been reconstituted on the Irish model as societies of United Englishmen. In Scotland the remnants of an earlier system had undergone a similar development, and societies of United Scotsmen existed amongst the weavers of Fifeshire and Forfarshire, but principally at Glasgow and throughout the industrial districts of the west. These Scottish clubs appear to have approximated more closely than the English to the organisation which had been established in Ireland. Their basis was societies of not more than sixteen members; and over these by successive delegations was formed a hierarchy of committees—parochial, county, provincial and national. A secret executive of seven, nominated by the national committee, which usually met at Glasgow, governed the whole. Elections were conducted in such a way that the persons chosen were known only to the secretary, and various oaths were exacted, one of which bound the subscriber never to inform or give evidence against any member. Three repressive measures had recently become law—one to put down seditious meetings, and two to extend the law of treason; and, in order to check this subterranean activity in favour of Irish rebels and foreign enemies, an Act was passed in 1797 against the imposition of unlawful oaths. George Mealmaker, a Dundee weaver, who had written the pamphlet for circulating which Palmer had suffered, was sentenced under this statute to fourteen years’ transportation; and James Paterson, another United Scotsman, was transported for five years.

The liberal spirit, which had at last asserted itself in Scottish politics, was not to be extinguished either by external pressure or by its own excesses; but for many years it seemed to be utterly crushed. The supremacy of Dundas, won by his own exertions, cannot have been difficult to maintain; for the dread of Jacobinism had created an enthusiasm for submission, and had put an end, as we have seen, to the powerful movement in favour of burgh reform, which, had it succeeded, must have sapped the basis of his power. Throughout Great Britain the controversy excited by the French Revolution embittered social as well as political life; but in Scotland its influence knew no bounds. ‘“Everything,” it has been said, “not this or that thing, but literally everything, was soaked in this one event.” The persistence of feudal habits and ideas, which we have so often had occasion to remark, probably-contributed as much to this result as temporary panic. Braxfield, who as Lord Justice-Clerk presided at the trial of Muir, was no doubt the worst specimen of his class; but in his own brutal fashion he was merely expressing the sentiment of what Lord Cockburn calls “the hard old aristocracy” when he said from the bench: “A Government in every country should be just like a corporation; and in this country it is made up of the landed interest, which alone has a right to be represented. As for the rabble, who have nothing but personal property, what hold has the nation on them?” Such being the temper of the time, Henry Erskine had certainly the courage of his opinions when in November, 1795, he took part in a public meeting to protest against the Sedition and Treason Bills, and it is not surprising that the Faculty of Advocates resolved by a large majority to dispense with his services as Dean. Erskine pointed out to his leading opponents that “political discussions and considerations” had never influenced the bestowal or the tenure of this post; and they of course retorted that the issue at stake was “nothing less than this, whether the happy government and constitution of these realms shall stand or fall?”1 Other instances of intolerance are recorded more difficult to credit. Young men of birth or promise, on seeking admission to the Bar, were expected to subscribe a political confession; and a certain advocate, who had refused this test, found it advisable to serve for a time as a Fencible officer in Ireland. Most of the leading Edinburgh Whigs were advocates, and thirty-eight of the Faculty voted against the dismissal of Erskine. These and other gentlemen were wont to dine together on Fox’s birthday, and sheriff’s officers were usually stationed at the door to take down their names. An Edinburgh congregation, whose senior minister had died, petitioned Government, which held the patronage, that the second minister should be promoted to his place. “A member of the Cabinet,” who can hardly have been other than Dundas, replied “that the single fact of the people having interfered so far as to express a wish was conclusive against what they desired; and another appointment was instantly made.”

Here we conclude our survey of the political condition of Scotland during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and the reader need hardly be reminded how greatly that condition had changed. The national and ecclesiastical interests which gave to the Scottish kingdom its distinctive character had lost their significance at the Union, and for more than fifty years the Scots had failed to assimilate the constitutional tradition which had so long ennobled the public life of England. From the accession of George III. we have seen that three successive causes had operated to dispel this torpor— the pretensions of royal absolutism, the revolt of America, in so far at least as it contributed to the fall of Lord North, and the French Revolution. The first cause had provoked some of the peers to attempt the recovery of their electoral freedom; the second had prompted the middle class to engage in an eleven years’ struggle for municipal reform; and the third had revealed a new world of thought and action to the masses of the people. There was truth as well as eloquence in these words of the Constitutional Society to their friends in France: “The sparks of liberty preserved in England for ages, like the coruscations of the northern aurora, served but to show the darkness visible in the rest of Europe. The lustre of the American republic, like an effulgent morning, rose with increasing vigour, but still too distant to enlighten our hemisphere, till the splendour of the French Revolution burst forth upon the nations in the full fervour of a meridian sun. It dispels the clouds of prejudice from all people, reveals the secrets of all despotism, and creates a new character in man.” Nor could religion any more than politics escape the illumination of these piercing rays. Only a few years had passed since the claim of the masses to participate in public affairs had been limited to the election of their pastors, and Hume’s criticisms, addressed to the learned, had been the worst assault— and none could be more deadly—that orthodoxy had to face. Now ultra-democratic and even republican ideas were being debated and propagated throughout a network of village clubs, and such doctrines were none the less popular because they emanated from a writer who was so far from respecting what Hume called "our most holy religion" that he pronounced more than half of the Bible to be more like "the work of a demon than the word of God.” Scotland could not have been so profoundly affected by the French Revolution if economic forces had not previously transformed its industrial life; but, before the action of these forces is considered, it will be well to extend our survey from civil to ecclesiastical politics.


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