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Archibald Fletcher, Esq., Advocate


Archibald Fletcher (author of "An Examination of the Grounds on which the Convention of Royal Burghs claimed the Bight of Altering and Amending the Setts or Constitution of the Individual Burghs," Edinburgh, 1825, 8vo.) was a native of Glenlyon, Perthshire, where he was born in 1745. His father, Angus Fletcher, was a younger brother of Archibald Fletcher, Esq., of Bennice and Dunans, in Argyle-shire. He completed his apprenticeship, as a Writer to the Signet, with Mr. Wilson, of Howden, who afterwards admitted him into partnership. While prosecuting his professional labours with equal zeal and success, he contrived to devote a considerable portion of time to classical and other studies, frequently encroaching on those hours that ought to have been given to rest ; and at length, aspiring to the toga, he became, in 1790, at the age of forty-five, a member of the Faculty of Advocates.

Mr. Fletcher was justly styled the father of Burgh Reform. Naturally of a kind and generous disposition, he was on all occasions the friend of the oppressed, and the consistent advocate of freedom. Many years before he was himself known to have any view towards the bar, he effectually opposed, in a well-written argumentative pamphlet, addressed to the Society of Writers to the Signet, the adoption of a resolution by the Faculty of Advocates, prohibiting the admission of members above twenty-seven years of age—a resolution which would have irremediably operated to the exclusion of many industrious aspirants to legal eminence. Much about the same period, he published an Essay on Church Patronage—a subject at that time warmly debated in the Church Courts—and in which he, of course, advocated the popular side. In 1784, when Burgh Reform was first agitated in Scotland, he took an active part in the energetic measures then adopted. He was chosen secretary to the Society formed in Edinburgh at the time; and, in 1787, was one of the delegates despatched to London by the Scottish Burghs.

On his way to the metropolis, Mr. Fletcher first met with the young lady who afterwards became his wife. They were married in 1791; and though then in his forty-sixth year, while Miss Dawson (from the vicinity of Doncaster) was no more than seventeen, the union was understood to be one of real affection, and proved most happy in its results.

Strictly constitutional in his political views, and foreseeing the error into which the Friends of the People were betraying themselves, Mr. Fletcher took no part in the memorable proceedings of 1793-4. He shrunk not, however, from the fearless avowal of his opinions. He acted gratuitously as counsel for Joseph Gerrald, and others accused of sedition, and was one of the minority of thirty-eight who, in 1796, opposed the deposition of the Hon. Henry Erskine, then Dean of Faculty. In 1797, he was one of the counsel for the late Mr. John Johnstone, printer and publisher of the Scots Chronicle, in an action of damages brought against him and John Morthland, Esq., advocate (who was connected responsibly with the paper), in the name of the late Mr. Cadell, of Tranent, Deputy-Lieutenant and a Justice of the Peace for the county of Haddington. A quorum of the Justices had met at Tranent for the purpose of balloting for men liable to serve in the militia; and as this was a measure which was unpopular with a great proportion of the people, especially the Avorking classes, a crowd collected at Tranent with the design of impeding the Lieutenancy in the discharge of their duty. The mob, by intimidation and threats, and by maltreating the peace-officers, obliged the Justices to send an express to Piershill barracks for a troop of dragoons, part of the Cinque Ports Cavalry regiment, then lying there. The dragoons were soon on the spot, and scoured the streets, when a considerable number of the mob got down the closes, and took to the roofs of the houses, from which they assailed the soldiers with stones and brick-bats, and some, it is believed, had fire-arms. This so exasperated the soldiers that they became regardless, fired in all directions, and killed several persons. Mr. Johnstone inserted in his newspaper an account of the proceedings forwarded to him by one Rodgers (whose sister had been shot within her own house), in a letter from Tranent, wherein it was insinuated, if not directly stated, that the soldiers had been guilty ot deliberate murder, and that Mr. Cadell and the other magistrates were accessories. This gave rise to the action of damages, in which a long and voluminous proof was taken, printed, and prepared for the Court; and Mr. Fletcher was one of the counsel who stated the defence. As may be anticipated, the decision was unfavourable (or rather ruinous) to the defenders.

Though at one time, in consequence of his political predilections, almost a "briefless barrister," and occasionally, it is said, reduced to his last guinea, Mr. Fletcher lived to overcome the prejudices entertained against his party, and to enjoy the emoluments arising from a very extensive practice, without any sacrifice or change in the principles he had avowed in early life. So late as 1818, he was present at a meeting in Edinburgh, held for the purpose of petitioning Parliament against the much-reprobated "gagging bills" of Lord Castlereagh. "When Mr. Fletcher appeared," says a newspaper report of the day, "he entered the place of meeting, accompanied by his two sons. His venerable appearance, his infirm health, and his high character for consistency and purity of public principle, combined to produce a strong sensation on the assembly. He was loudly cheered; and a place near the chairman was assigned to him, that he might distinctly hear the proceedings."

In 1816, owing to declining health, Mr. Fletcher gave up his professional pursuits, and retired for some time to Parkhall, a farm he had purchased in Stirlingshire. Here he spent several years, and regained, in some measure, his usual health. In 1822, he passed the winter with his family among his friends at York; and while there, wrote and printed a Dialogue between a Whig and a Radical Reformer, in which he combated the principle of annual parliaments and universal suffrage, but advocated constitutional reform on its broadest basis.

Mr. Fletcher died at Auchindinny House, about eight miles from Edinburgh, on the 20th of December, 1828.


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