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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Chapter VIII


Emigraton has no permanent effect on population, Legal restrictions; useless and dangerous:: discontents in the Highlands:: emigration useful to the public peace.

The concise view that has been taken of the different resources which have been proposed for preserving the local population of the Highlands, may be sufficient to show, that not one of them is applicable to the circurnstances of those who are most inclined to emigration. It must also be observed that these resources are still to be found only in the regions of theory; and to their practical application there are irnpediments which cannot be removed without much patience and exertion. The country is by no means arrived, and will require a considerable time before it can arrive, at such a state, that every man who is industriously disposed, may have opportunities of employment adapted to his situation.

Independently of any question as to constitutional propriety, nothing seems more obvious, than the necessity of bringing resources of this kind to full maturity within the country, before any legal interference is hazarded for preventing the people from seeking them elsewhere. To act upon contrary principles would be productive of the utmost misery, and of a real, instead of an apparent: depopulation. Let us suppose an extreme case; that, while the change of the agricultural system is allowed to go on, and no adequate means of support are provided for the superabundant population, invincible obstacles should be contrived to restrain the people from removing to a different situation. The infallible consequence must be, that the lower classes would be reduced to the utmost distress: the difficulty of procuring either land or employment would amount almost to an impossibility; and even if the people should escape absolute famine, few would be inclined in such circumstances to undertake the burthen of rearing a family or would venture on marriage. The misery of the people would thus in time produce the effect which emigration is now working, and reduce their numbers to a due’ proportion with the employment that can be given them. On the other hand, if a number of people, who are under no absolute necessity, should emigrate, those who remain behind will find it so rnuch easier to procure employrnent and subsistence, that marriages will more readily take place, and the natural increase of population will proceed with more rapidity, till every blank is filled up.

On this subject it will be sufficient to refer to the valuable work of. Mr. Malthus on the Principle of Population, in which these arguments are traced to such uncontrovertible general principles, and with such force of illustration, as to put scepticism at defiance. I may be allowed, however, to state one or two facts, which, while they add to the mass of concurring proofs which Mr. Maithus has quoted, may serve to show how immediately his principles are applicable to the particular case of the Highlands.

By the returns made to Dr. :Webster, in the year 1755, the seven parishes of the Isle of Sky contained 11,252 inhabitants. By those to Sir John Sinclair, between 1791 and 1794, 14,470. Some time after Dr, Webster’s enumeration, the emigrations commenced, and, since the year 1770, have been. frequent and of great amount. A gentleman of ability and observation, whose; employment in the island gave him the best opportunities of information, estimates the total number who emigrated, between 1772 and 1791, at 4000. The number who, during the same period, went to the Low Country of Scotland, going in amore gradual manner, and exciting less notice, could not be so well ascertained; but from concurring circumstances he considers 8000 as the least at which they can possibly be reckoned.

Notwithstanding this drain, it appears that the natural tendency of population to multiply has more than filled up the blank; and if, to the numbers which have left the island, we add the natural increase which has probably taken place among them also, in their new situation, we cannot doubt that there are now living a number of people descended from those who inhabited the island at the period of Dr Webster’s enumeration, at least double of its actual population. Now, let it be supposed, for the sake of argument, that the whole of these could again be collected within the island: will the wildest declaimer against emigration pretend, to say, that, it could afford. support or employment to them all? When its actual. numbers are an oppressive burthen, what would be the case if such an addition were made? Can it possibly be believed, that, if the emigrations had not taken place, the same natural increase would have gone on? And does not this instance demonstrate, that to restrain emigration, would only be to restrain the principle of increasing population?

Another instance of a similar fact is quoted by Mr. Irvine. It was communicated, he says, by a gentleman of unquestionable veracity, who relates, from his personal knowle4ge, that in 1790, a place on the west coast contained 1900 inhabitants, of whom 500 emigrated the same year to America. In 1801, a census was taken, and the same spot contained 1967, though it had furnished 87 men for the army and navy, and not a single stranger settled in it.’

There is, perhaps, no part of the Highlands. where the people have so strong a spirit of emigration, and where the gentry are so much in dread of its effects, as in that part of the Hebrides called the Long Island, particularly in North and South Uist, and Barra. From these islands there have been very considerable emigrations at different times, some of which, though by no means all, are enumerated in the statistical accounts. Of the total number of the people who have left these islands, I cannot speak with precision; but from various circumstances they appear to have been as great in proportion to the whole popuIation, as in other parts of the Highlands. Nevertheless these parishes, which, in 1755, contained 5268 people, were found to have 8808 at the date of Sir John Sinclair’s statistical survey. The particulars that may be collected from that publication, as to the crowded state of population, and the poverty of the people in consequence of it, make it apparent that the multiplication of the inhabitants has gone to an inconvenient and excessive degree.

These facts might be corroborated by many other examples; but these are perhaps sufficient to leave no doubt of the principle, that emigration does not imply the necessity of a permanent diminution of population, and is not even inconsistent with an increase, wherever there are adequate resources for its employment and support.

This principle, important in itself, leads to a conclusion of still more importance— the emigrations from the Highlands, without ultimately affecting the numbers of the people, operate a very desirable change. in their character and composition.

A few of the small tenants, who, with some amount of capital, combine industry and good management, gradually extend their possessions, and grow up into farrners on a more respectable scale: the rest of this class, and the greater proportion, emigrate to America: the cotters, or as many of them as can remain in the country, fall into the station of labourers on these extended farms, and other subordinate employments; multiplying till every blank is filled up. The peasantry in this way takes the form most fit for a Commercial state of society; and in order to wind up and complete the abolition of feudal manners, such a change in the people of the Highlands is absolutely necessary. Their established character, founded upon the habits which the former state of the country required, do not accord with the condition of the lower classes in an industrious community.

The obstacles to the requisite change are chiefly formed among the more opulent of the cornmonality among them is the greatest difficulty of exciting a spirit of industry, or directing it to any new pursuit, and, nearly in proportion to the amount of their property, are their dispositions intractable. The tenants are no doubt those who come nearest to the desciption of men whom an antient chieftain would value. The cotters may not retain so much of the generous spirit of their warlike ancestors; but they will be more easily moulded into the character adapted to the present circumstances of the country, into industrious and contented labourers.

While the small tenants emigrate, the cotters, if any productive employment is introduced as a resource for them, will feel their circumstances ameliorated in proportion to the growth of their industrious habits. Having little in their previous situation to excite feelings of regret, and animated by the prospect of bettering their condition, they will proceed with vigour and cheerfulness in the career that is opened to them.

If by any coercive means the small tenants are obliged to remain and to follow the same pursuits, it must be with a very different spirit. They will not forget that they were once in a higher station, nor will they allow their children to forget that they were once on a level with the men who insult them by their superiority. Instead of the animating prospect of rising in the world, they will have the idea of degradation constantly rankling in their minds, to damp their exertions and to sour their temper.

It is not to be overlooked that among the peasantry of the Highlands, and particularly among the tenants,  a spirit of discontent and irritation is widely diffused; nor will this appear extraordinary to any one who has paid a minute attention to the circumstances attending the breaking up of the feudal system. The progress of the rise of rents, and the frequent removal of the antient possessors of the land, have nearly annihilated in the people all that enthusiastic attachment to their chiefs, which was formerly prevalent, and have substituted feelings of disgust and irritation proportionaliy, violent. It is not the mere burthen of an additional rent that seems hard to them: the cordiality and condescension which they formerly experienced from their superiors are now no more: they have not yet learnt to brook their neglect: they are not yet accustomed to the habits of a commercial society, to the coldness, which must be expected by those whose intercourse with their superiors is confined to the daily exchange of labour for its stipulated reward. They remember not only the very opposite behaviour of their former chiefs; they recollect also the services their ancestors performed for them: they recollect that, but for these, the property could not have been preserved: they well know of how little avail was a piece of parchment and a lump of wax, under the old system of the Highlands: they reproach their landlord with ingratitude, and remind him that, but for their fathers, he would now have no estate. The permanent possession which they had always retained of their paternal farms, they consider only as their just right, from the share they had borne in the general defence, and can see no difference between. the title of the chief and their own.

Men in whose minds these impressions have taken root, are surely. not a desirable. population; and. if they do not remove, the irritation that prevails among them may be transmitted from generation to generation and disturb the peace of the country long after the causes from which it has arisen may be considered as worn out. The example of Ireland may, perhaps, be quoted, to prove to what distant periods the effect of an antiquated ground of discontent may be prolonged by a train of consequences reacting upon each other. Amidst all the variety of  opinion that are entertained as to the immediate effect of more recent measures, no one who is acquainted with that kingdom will deny, that the mutual animosity of its religious parties is (at least in a great degree) the legitimate offspring and consequence of the horrible feuds that raged in the 17th century and preceding ages; nor can it be doubted, that if after the forfeitures under Cromwell and King William, all who felt themselves immediately aggrieved by these acts of power, had found the means (as much as they doubtless had the inclination) to seek a distant asylum, the internal state of that country at this day would be much more satisfactory.

To state any comparison with a part of the empire so dreadfully convulsed, may appear an exaggerated view; but incidents have occurred in the Highlands, sufficient to prove that this apprehension is not altogether visionary. For the truth of this, I may appeal to any gentleman who was in the shire of Ross or Cromarty in July and. August, 1792. I happened to be there myself at that moment when the irritation alluded to broke out into actual violence. Sheep-farming was then in the first stage of its introduction into that district, but the people had heard of its consequences in others. Roused by the circumstance of a particular estate being turned into sheep-walks, the. tenantry of all the adjoining country took part with those who were ejected, and rose in arms. These poor and ignorant men, without leaders, and without any intelligible plan, actuated by indignation merely against their immediate. superiors, and as if they did not understand that they were committing an offence against the general government of the kingdom, proceeded to vent their rage in driving away the sheep that; had been brought to stock the grazings. They had for many days the entire command of the country; and it was not from want of opportunity that few acts of pillage or personal violence were committed. In a letter to the officers of government at Edinburgh, a general rneeting of gentlemen expressed themselves nearly in these words: ‘We are at the feet of the mob, and if thet should proceed to burn our houses, we are incapable of any resistance.'

It is satisfactory to reflect that this irritation of the common people has been hitherto against their immediate superiors only, and that the Highlanders have never given reason to impeach that character of loyalty towards their sovereign which their ancestors maintained. It cannot surely be reckoned of no importance to preserve these sentiments unimpaired; and this object ought not to be overlooked in the consideration of any legislative measure which may appear to these people the result of undue partiality for the interest of their superiors, or which can with any plausibility be deemed an infringment of the principles of equal justice towards :the lower orders.

This, however, is not the only view on which a direct attempt to restrain emigration may have pernicious consequences. There is scarcely any part of the Highlands that has not in its turn been in a state of irritation as great as that of Ross-shire in 1792; can any comment be necessary to show what would have been the dreadful state of things, if this had come to a height at the same moment over all the country? It has been the good fortune of Scotland, that, from the gradual manner in which the new system of management has advanced, this has happened in different districts, at different times; and by means of the emigrations, the discontented people of one have been removed, before the same causes of discontent had produced their full effect in another. What must we think, then, of the policy which would impede this salutary drain, and would prevent a population infected with deep and permanent seeds of every angry passion, from removing and making way for one of a more desirable character


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