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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Chapter V


Politjcal effects of the Emigrations. The Highlands hitherto a nursery of Soldiers: circumstances on which this depended; no longer exist: the loss of this national advantage does not arise from Emigration.

AMONG the effects of emigration, there is none that has been more universally lamented, than the loss of that vaIuable supply of soldiers which the public service has hitherto derived from the Highlands, such a moment as this, it is impossible not to feel deep regret at every circumstance which may tend to impair the military resources of the nation; and if any satisfactory means could be devised for obviating, or even for suspending, an evil of this nature, it must be considered as of the greatest importance. But how this is to be accomplished, is not to be rashly decided. This is not the only question of political economy where, an apparently direct remedy, occurring on a superficial view of: the subject, may prove to be calculated in no degree to prevent, perhaps to aggravate, the evil we wish to avoid.

From the details that have been given as to the state of the Highlands, both previous to the year 1745 and subsequently, it will be observed, that all the power of the chieftains over their followers, rested on the essential basis of the low rent of their land; and on the greater, or less continuance of this, the subsequent state of the country has chiefly depended. Those proprietors who continued to exact rents very inadequate to the real value of their land, maintained all their former authority over the tenantry, perhaps even a still greater; for, during the feudal times, this authority was tempered by the dependance of the gentry on the affection of their followers for personal safety. After the year 1745; the tenantry had no such return to make for the means of subsistence they derived from the indulgence of their landlord. They felt, at the same time, that he must be under frequent temptations to discontinue that indulgence, and, therefore, were still more anxious than formerly to merit his favour.

The only opportunity they had of rendering him any important obligation, was when he undertook to raise men for the army. The zeal with which the followers & chieftain then came forward to inlist, was prompted not only by affection and the enthusiasm of clanship, but likewise by obvious views of private interest. The tenant who, on such an occasion, should have refused to comply with the wishes of his land-lord, was sensible that he could expect no further favour, and would be turned out of his farm. The more considerable the possession he held, the greater was his interest, and his obligation to exert himself. The most respectable of the tenantry would, therefore, be among the first to bring forward their sons; the landlord might, with an authority almost despotic, select from among the youth upon his, estate, all who appeared most suitable for recruits. The gentry of the Highlands were, in general, too good politicians to make a wanton display of this power; and well enough acquainted with the temper of their people to know that they would come forward with more alacrity, if allowed to indulge the flattering idea that their exertions were the spontaneous effect of attachment to the chief; yet perhaps no man of penetration in the country ever doubted the real cause of the facility with which the Highland landlords could raise such numbers of men with such magical rapidity.

It is easy to see how superior a body of men, thus composed, must be to a regiment recruited in the ordinary manner in other parts of the kingdom. As long as the old system remained in its purity, as long as the rents in the Highlands continued nearly at their old standard, the Highland regiments maintained a very superior character. Instead of the refuse of a manufacturing town, these regiments were composed of hardy mountaineers, whose ordinary mode of life was a perfect school for the habits of a soldier. They were composed of the most respectable of the peasantry; men, for whose fidelity and good conduct there was a solid pledge, in the families they left at home, and in the motives that induced them to enter into the service; men who had much stronger motives of obedience to their officers than the lash can enforce; who were previously accustomed, from their, infancy, to respect and obey the same superiors who led them into the field; who looked on them as, their protectors, not less than their comrnanders; men in whose minds the attachment of clanship still retained a large portion, of its antient enthusiasm.

Besides this, each corps being collected from. the same neighbourhood, the men were connected by the ties of friendship and of blood ; and every one saw in his companions those with whom he had to pass the rest of his life, whether in a military capacity or not. Every one was therefore more solicitous to maintain an unblemished character than he would have been, among a medley of strangers, from whom he might soon be parted to meet no more. The, same circumstance tended to give the soldiery a peculiar degree of that esprit de corps which is so powerful an engine in the hands of a judicious commander. The attachment of the Highland soldier to his regiment was not of a casual or transitory nature,—it was not, a matter, of indifference. to him, or the result of accident, whether he belonged to one regiment or another, his regiment was derived from his clan, and inseparably connected with it: in the honour of his regiment he saw that of his name; and to it he transferred all those sentiments of glory which early education had connected with the achievements of his ancestors.

The well-known military character of the Highlanders may thus be naturally accounted for but the peculiarities that have been described may all be traced to the recent feudal state of the country; and in proportion as this has been supplanted by the progress of a commercial system, the Highland regiments have approached to a similarity with the other regiments in the service. The low rent of land was the foundation of the whole difference; and, that existing no longeer, there is no possibility that its consequences can long continue. When the Highland chieftain exacts the full value for his land, his people, even if he could accommodate them all, will no longer be dependants; the relation between them must be the same as between a landlord and his tenants in any other part of the kingdom.

It is not usual, in any district for a considerable proprietor to exact for his land the utmost shilling which it could possibly afford. The tenant has almost always some advantage in his bargain; and, in proportion to his advantage he will be disposed to pay a certain deference to his landlord. In many parts of England, where the lands are held by tenants at will, the rents are certainly lower in proportion to the real value than in Scotland, where leases for a term of years are generally prevalent. It is probable, therefore, that the tenantry of the Highlands, under the new system, will be even more independant than those of England; and certainly in a very different situation from that in which they felt a necessity of quitting their families and their homes, whenever they were called upon by their landlord.

A Yorkshire farmer may give his vote at an election for the candidate whom his landlord recommends, but would be rather surprised at an order to inlist,—not less, perhaps, than he would be at a summons to attend his lord to the attack of a neighbouring castle. Such a summons, however,, to his ancestors, would once have been as irresistible a command, as recently it was to the Highlander. The same change in the circumstances of the country, must produce the same consequences in the Highlands as in England. It would be as absurd now to expect every Highlander to follow his chief into the field; as to suppose that any English nobleman could, in these days, march against London with an army of his dependants; because that was done by Warwick the King-Maker.

Independantly, therefore, of depopulation, that nursery of soldiers which has hitherto been found in the Highlands cannot continue.

If there is a possibility of retaining the present population under the change of the agricultural system, it is clear that this must be done by introducing among the inhabitants new branches of industry, by which those who are deprived of their lands may obtain a subsistence. If manufactories should be established, so extensively as to employ all the present inhabitants, they must, of course, acquire the habits of other manufacturing districts. Like them, indeed, they will furnish a proportion of recruits; but these will be of a very different description from the recruits that have hitherto been sent from the Highlands.

Will it be argued, that there is something in the blood of the Highlanders that will render them soldiers under every circumstance of habit or education? If that be the case, they will form as good a nursery of soldiers at Glasgow or Paisley, as in their native valleys. Or does their military character arise from the local and physical circumstances of their country; and is the manufacturer of a mountainous district different from the manufacturer of a plain? Be it so —still a Highland regiment, recruited among manufacturing villages, must be extremely different from the Highland regiments we have hitherto seen ;—they will no longer be composed of the flower of the peasantry, collected under their natural superiors.

Where men are occupied with industrious pursuits, those of steady habits will be successful in their business, and become attached to it; none will be easily tempted to quit their home, but those who from idleness and dissipation have not succeeded in their ordinary occupations. Men of this description inlisting singly and unconnected, in any regiment they may happen to meet, under officers who are unknown to them, can be depended on no further than their obedience is enforced by the rigour of military discipline. A. regiment thus composed, whether from the Highlands or any other part of the kingdom, will be in no respect different from the ordinary regiments in the service.

This change in the character and composition of the Highland regiments, is not a mere speculative probability, but has been actually going on in a progressive manner, ever since the advance of rents began to be considerable. We must go back to the seven-years war to find these regiments in their original purity, formed entirely on the feudal principle, and raised in the manner that has been described. Even as early as the American war, some tendency towards a different system was to be observed [See Appendix]; and during the late war, it went so far, that many regiments were Highland scarcely more than in name. Some corps were indeed composed nearly in the antient manner; but there were others in which few of the men had any connexjon whatever with the estates of their officers, being recruited, in the ordinary manner, in Glasgow and other manufacturing places, and consisting of any description of people, Lowlanders and Irish, as well as Highlanders.

Those gentlemen whose estates had long been occupied in large grazings, could not, in fact, raise men in any other manner. The influence of a popular character in his immediate neighbourhood, will every where here have some little effect in bringing forward recruits; and the care with which the commissions in some regiments were distributed among gentlemen resident in the same neighbourhood, gave these corps a certain degree of local connexion, which is not found in the service in general. Still; however, there was a great difference between these; and the regiments which were raised in the remoter parts of the Highlands, where the change on the state of the country was only partially accomplished, and where recruiting proceeded on the old system.

It is to be observed, that the great demand for men during the late war, and the uncommon advantages that accrued to those gentlemen who had still the means of influencing their tenantry, suspended for a time the extension of sheep--farming, and the progress of the advance, of rents. Many estates which were ripe for the changes that have since been made, and which, if peace had not been interrupted; would have been let to graziers seven or eight years earlier, remained, for a time, in the hands of the small tenants, who were not dismissed till the conclusion of the war rendered their personal services of little further use. This circumstance goes a great way in accounting, both for the suspension of emigration during the late war, and for that sudden burst which appeared immediately after peace was concluded.

The same may again take place in a certain degree, but cannot again have much effect. The tract in which the old system remains, is reduced within narrow limits; and even there, the tenantry will not be so easily influenced as formerly. They have learnt, by the experience of their neighbours, that a compliance with the desire of their landlords may protract the period of their dismissal, but cannot procure them that permanent possession they formerly expected to preserve. A few years more must, in all probability, complete the change in the agricultural system of the Highlands, and bury in oblivion every circumstance that distinguishes the Highlands, as a nursery of soldiers, from the rest of the kingdom.

The change in the composition of the Highland regiments, whatever may be its consequences hereafter, has not yet entirely altered their peculiar spirit and character. Military men are well acquainted with the effect which the established character of any regiment has in moulding the mind of the recruit; and how long a peculiarity may thereby be preserved, though perhaps originating from mere accident. The reputation acquired by the old Highland regiments, has probably had no small effect on their successors, and perhaps also on the opinion of the public.

The importance which has been ascribed to the population of the Highlands, does not I apprehend, arise from the mere number of the recruits which they supply, but from their peculiar excellence, and the ideas entertained of their high military character. If this character can be preserved, it must be on different principles from those that have hitherto operated; and while the change in the system of the country goes on without interruption, no remedy can be expected from compulsory measures against emigration.

In addition to all that has been said, every person, acquainted with the description of people of which the emigrants consist, must perceive, that these are not the men who, in ordinary circumstances, can be expected to enlist, Men with money in their pockets, and with families to take care of, are not those whom a Serjeant Kite would assail. From their personal and domestic situation, they must entertain objections against a military life, which cannot be overcome by any motive less powerful than those which influenced the feudal tenantry. There is no reason therefore to expect, that any direct obstruction to emigration, however severe, can add a single recruit to the army.


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