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John Clay - A Scottish Farmer
Chapter VIII - As a Politician

There is no record so far as we can find out of John Clay being an ardent politician till the election of 1859. No doubt he took part in other elections. There is a hint or two that he was active in Berwickshire in 1857, but his first prominent work was in the part he took in the Berwickshire election of 1859. There was a bitter contest. David Robertson of Lady Kirk was the Whig candidate; Sir John Marjoribanks of Lees was the Tory candidate; Sir John was a nephew of Robertson. We remember David Robertson often riding up to the farmhouse at Winfield on his grey horse, stopping a few minutes, and then he and the tenant riding away for a day's canvassing. Robertson was then past middle age. He was a tall, bluff, hearty man with grey hair, a born aristocrat to look at and at bottom a staunch conservative, but he saw ahead and espoused, partly on his own account but a good deal from family tradition, the Liberal cause To use a slang expression, he could "go the whole hog" of the liberal programme except in the game question and there he balked, and it would take a Philadelphia lawyer to unravel his sayings and writings on this subject. Even the mighty Gladstone himself could not have thrown as much verbiage round it as the astute David did. He was a keen sportsman, hunting being his great sport-shooting coming next. He had a remarkable fund of humor and was never disconcerted. When the Rev. James Logan of Swinton fell into a Berwickshire ditch on a Tuesday and had literally to be fished out, Robertson remarked to a friend who was helping the reverend gentleman, "No hurry, Sir, no hurry, we don't need him till Sunday."

The battle raged hot and heavy. Every trick was tried by each party, but as the Tories had the great territorial houses on their side as well as a great number of the larger farmers, the Liberals had a big job before them. In looking over old papers, many of which John Clay had preserved, we find the following — they t>peak very much for themselves: —

Mortonhall, 27th April, 1859.

Dear Sir:

I shall thank you to vote for my Son-in-law Sir John Marjori-banks at the ensuing Election of a Member of Parliament for Berwickshire.

I remain, dear Sir,

Yours truly,

(Sgd) Richard Trotter. Mr. Clay

{Copy of Answer to Mr. Trotter.)

Winfield, 30th April, 1859.

My Dear Sir:

I received yours of the 27 inst. I am very sorry that I cannot accede to your request and vote for Sir John Marjoribanks as my principles are decidedly Liberal both in my Religious and Civil Politics and I have an earnest desire to see our Protestant faith better upheld than what it has been of late by Lord Derby's Government.

I admire Sir John Marjoribanks as a country gentleman and for the many excellent qualities which he possesses and regret being opposed to him in this contest, he being your son-in-law, especially as I entertain a sincere respect for you as a kind landlord and good country gentleman.

I am, my dear Sir,

With much respect,

(Sgd) John Clay. Richard Trotter, Esq., or Mortonhall.

Inveresk, Musselburgh, April 15, 1859.

Dear Sir:

I have often regretted that I should have been precluded by ill health from forming a personal acquaintance with the Tenantry on my patrimonial estates: at this moment I feel the deprivation all the more on account of the political contest now going on in Berwickshire, the issue of which contest may depend, in no small degree, on the part you take in it.

From your number, your intelligence, and your influence you constitute a body of Electors, who, if you agree in your views and act in unison, must necessarily produce a considerable effect on the Election.

Though you are aware of my Husband's sentiments, I flatter myself that some of you, at least, may desire to know whether your Landlady feels any interest in this contest. I am induced, therefore, to make this communication to assure you that I do feel a deep interest, not only in the contest, but, if possible, still more in the part which every one connected with my estates may take in it.

With regard to the two candidates who are soliciting your suffrages, I have no hesitation in saying, that I wish all success to my friend Sir John Majoribanks, and it pleases me very much to learn that the majority of your number have promised him your support, and that several of you are now canvassing in his behalf.

There are, however, I understand, some who have not yet declared themselves, and some who have declared that they do not mean to vote. If their reason for this be that they do not wish to put themselves in opposition to the majority of their own body as well as to their Landlord and Landlady, I have only to thank them for their good and kindly feeling; but if they are abstaining from mere indifference or from any intimidation, I must express a hope that bearing in mind the importance of this contest, they will come manfully forward with the rest of the Tenantry, and in considering which side they will support, that they will remember that it is more for the credit of all parties connected with the estates that they should go hand in hand, than that they should be neutralizing each other with opposing votes.

My Husband and I, wish and believe that no one on our estates will vote against his convictions, but, if there should unfortunately be any who cannot conscientiously agree to join us and the rest of the Tenantry, I fondly trust and I ask it as a favor that they will, at all events, abstain from taking any active part in opposition.

The idea of this communication to you has originated with myself, and I need scarcely add that it has my Husband's cordial concurrence. As he is in Berwickshire and I am unable to hold a pen, I employ my son as my amanuensis, who I hope, will ere long become personally acquainted with all of you.

I remain, dear Sir,

Yours very faithfully,

Jean Milne Home.

To Mr. John Ford, Paxton.

(Elector's reply.)

To the Electors on the Estate of Biliie and Paxton:

Fellow Electors:

I have just read Jean Milne Home's most impudent and offensive Circular. Those of you who have made up your minds to support the Liberal Candidate, are not likely to be shaken by such a production; you will regard it only with feelings of indignation and pity.

But you who are waverers and neutrals, what effect is this precious document to have upon you? Surely you will show your contempt and defiance by acting right in the teeth of its demands. Are honourable men to be lectured and "shrilly scolded" in this way? Show to the world that the scrannel pipe of "Jean Milne Home" has no terrors for you.

Electors! When you took your farms, you engaged to pay your Rents, and of course to render your Landlady a proper degree of respect. You have implemented this bargain; but you did not Lease away your consciences, or come under any obligation to be marched to the Poll, en masse, like a drilled squadron, there to register your votes according to the conscience of "Jean Milne Home."

Electors! The eyes of the Country are upon you. " Be not like dumb driven cattle." Show "Jean Milne Home" that she has committed a blunder. Show her that the opinion you have of yourselves is somewhat different from the opinion she has of you.

I am,

(Sgd) An Elector.

April 30,1859.

(Letter of James Trotter.)

Whitsome, April 29,1859.


I wish to let you know that it would be better for me not to vote for all the farmers that I work to is all the oppiset party and they will, not give me work and I am not abel to lose anything for I have a large family to work for.

If you would be so kind as let Mr. Robertson know the reason tor me not given him my vote. I remain your obedient Servant,

(Sgd) James Trotter,
Heritage Whitsome

Mr. Welixam Paton,

(Copy letter of Lord Binning to David Robertson^

Mellerstain, April 6th.

My dear Mr. Robertson,

I received your letter this morning and am only sorry that you should have been at the trouble of writing to me when you have so much to occupy your time.

I was sorry to have missed you yesterday and to hear that you had no luncheon offered you, which I have no doubt might have been acceptable.

I can quite understand your feelings in regard to your Nephew. As far as I personally am concerned, you must be aware that I could not give you my vote. With regard to the Tenants of my Father of course he could not object to your calling upon them and, however much you and I may differ in Politics, I hope you will do me the justice to believe that even were I going to stand myself I should not expect my Father's Tenants to vote for me because they were his Tenants, or otherwise than they were inclined to vote, or their consciences dictated, to them. I can honestly declare that I have not spoken to any Tenant of my Father's in regard to the approaching election either in favour of your claims or Sir J. Marjoribank's.

Believe me etc.

(Sgd) Binning.

On the back of the Binning letter is this notation:

Copy of Lord Binning's letter to Mr. Robertson, but he did not act up to it but broke his word and went and canvassed.

Among the papers there is also a little book with the names of the electors. Every elector has L or C against his name and an estimate is made, and written on a fly leaf. It estimates a majority of 26 for Robertson. From another document it appears the night before the Poll, Robertson, Clay and Weatherhead, the Liberal Agent, made a final estimate and calculated they would have 33 majority.

Here is how it all ended as per leaflet:


This was not only a great political victory, but it was a great moral one. It rescued Berwickshire from the thraldom of the lairds. The landlords were in most cases estimable men, but their surroundings were bad and they were living up to the traditions of a past age. It was a transition period for men as well as for measures and there was in Berwickshire at this time such men and women as Hay of Duns Castle, Houston Boswell of Blackadder, Campbell of Marchmont, Lady John Scott of Spottiswoode, and others born and reared under the Georges who never appreciated the changes that found birth in 1832 and bore fruit in the Victorian age. There had arisen among all the lairds (Robertson included) a mania for game and it was pressed to the limit. It became a burning question. Under good old Richard Trotter we were not bothered at Winfield, but on some estates the preservation of pheasants, hares and rabbits became very grievous and hard to bear. Added to this was the more general question of the Law of Hypothec. These two questions stirred the hearts of the Berwickshire farmers and they led to a voluminous correspondence in the press, as well as platform speeches. In Berwickshire at least John Clay blazed the path. When the election of 1865 came up the Conservatives did not oppose Robertson. The tide was against them. The election was on Monday, July 17. Mr. Miller, M. P. for Leith, afterwards Sir William Miller of Manderston, proposed Mr. Robertson as Member for Berwickshire, and John Clay seconded and he did so in the following speech which explains his political position at that time:

Fellow Electors. With no small pride and pleasure I come forward to second the nomination of Mr. Robertson [cheers], and I think we may be proud of the position in which we stand on this occasion. [Hear, hear, and loud cheers.] We live in peaceful times just now, very different from those in which we were six years ago. [Hear, hear.] We were then in the heat of a hot contest. We fought the battle and gained the victory over honourable opponents, and we are here to-day reaping the laurel of that victory. [Cheers.] It was your liberal and independent votes that placed our worthy member at the head of the poll — it was by that act we raised the Liberal flag, and long may it wave over Berwickshire. [Loud cheers.] Our gracious Queen has also paid a high compliment to our member by making him Lord-Lieutenant of the county. [Renewed cheers.] I was told by some that Mr. Robertson would not settle in Parliament, I know well of the manly sport of hunting [cheers], but I know also that he is a Marjoribanks and that whatever he takes in hand he will carry through to a triumphant issue. [Cheers.] What has been the progress that Mr Robertson has made in Parliament ? He has fulfilled the task which the Electors of the county imposed upon him. When duty called him he always supported and voted with one of the greatest of living statesmen. He has supported all progressive measures, and has given his anxious attendance under the late Parliament, and has seen taxation reduced, and the duty on many articles of daily consumption so lowered as to bring them within the reach of the humbler classes. He has been in Parliament under a government when Free-trade was, I shall not say developed, but made to progress considerably. He has been in a Parliament which had great difficulties in keeping the peace but which has done so in a manner that has commended itself to the minds of all thinking men. I do not pretend co give any opinion of who was right or wrong in the great American struggle, but I thank' God that the freedom of the slave has come out of that contest. [Loud cheers.] Coming nearer home, to our country, we find that our member, by his knowledge, by his business habits, and by his independence, has done no little service to the constituency which returned him to Parliament. He has managed our affairs most admirably; and if he had done nothing but settle the Eyemouth tithes case, he has established sufficient claims upon our gratitude. [Cheers.] We know how ably he stood by the honest fisherman of Eyemouth, how he fought their battle; and how he gives his talents, his time, and his money to the promotion of their interests. Well may the fishermen of Eyemouth be proud of him; and so may we all, for we cannot go through the county without seeing marks of his liberality, which teach that we have really got the right man in the right place. [Loud cheers, and cries of "Well done."] Fellow-electors, we have bright and cheering prospects before us. We have a Parliament that is to be assembled under the leadership of that great and aged statesman who has so long happily conducted the public affairs of this country. The new Parliament will have many important public questions to deal with, some of which concern Scotland. There will be, for instance, the education question which I trust yet to see put upon a sound and national footing. [Cheers.] I would advise all religious denominations to give up their small and petty differences and unite to procure a sound and practicable system of education, so that our youth may not be neglected, that our ignorance may not any longer be allowed to run down our streets like a mighty river, but that our youth may be educated so as to fulfil the great and responsible duties which, as to citizens, shall devolve upon them. With regard to the question of the franchise, allow me to say that there are many amongst you who deserve to exercise this privilege. [Cheers.] I hold that honest and intelligent Scotchmen have as good a right to exercise this boon as the 40s. freeholders in England. [Cheers.] I maintain that as the intelligence and industry in this country grows, in like measure must the electoral roll be extended. [Renewed cheers.] Then again with regard to Hypothec and the Game laws, it is full time they were faced, as the time has gone past when one class should be kept by act of Parliament at the expense of the other. If the landlords in Scotland were like Earl Home, Sir Hugh Campbell, Mr. Robertson, and my own landlord, Mr. Trotter, assisted by factors such as Mr J. Low, Mr. Cunningham, and others I could name in this county, the name, Hypothec, would never be heard of; but the evidence at the late Commission has brought out a very different state of things, hardship that is ill to be borne. This boasted Commission has but taken a one-sided view of matters. They have both wasted time and money, and nothwithstanding all they have said about concession, have left the main evils of it untouched. For my own part I cannot say that the landlord requires any protection: He has always his land as the capital: the rent, being the interest, is only at stake for six or twelve months, while the manure merchant has often both principal and interest at stake for the same length of time. In the present law how differently it fares with these two parties — the one getting for his interest, 20s. in the pound, while the other is only getting, in cases, 2s. 6d. in the pound for principal and interest. Now, considering the amount of money that is nowadays expended on manure, cake, etc., the land is greatly enriched. For my own part, I have, for cakes and manure on my farm, expended more than the rental, amounting to nearly £1,300 per year; and there are many farmers expending more. Now, as one cannot take out the full value of these manures in one year, there must always be a large amount of capital in the land. And say, from unforeseen circumstances, the farm has to be given up, the landlord not only reaps his hypothec, but the unexhaused manures into the bargain, and pockets the money that belongs to the general creditors. Having these evidences before me, I am shut up to the conclusion that justice and expediency demand the abolition of that law. [Cheers.] On the Game Laws question much has been said and written about them, perhaps more than what has been called for. As a tenant, I would have hares and rabbits put out of the game list and completely under the farmers' control. [Cheers — and a voice — "No doubt of it!"] — without which there will be no end of differences between landlord and tenant. I cannot understand the reason that so many hares are kept on estates or properties. They are the minimum of all sport to sportsmen, and the most destructive to all kinds of crops. The system that gentlemen have got into nowadays — of field days in shooting — is far from the old sportsman-like system, with his gun and pointers. These hares are kept all summer, and, as if not content with their summer's grazing, they must have a winter's keep from the tenant, as this great slaughtering does not take place until they have eaten and destroyed a great part of the turnip crop, and then come the great guns, followed by a cart or dogcart to take up the game, and drive it to the nearest station to be addressed to the most extensive game-dealer in town. I do not say that Berwickshire has arrived at that wholesale system, but I know it does exist. Is it to be wondered that tenants who are oppressed are calling out for relief from the Parliament of this country? Knowing that when these questions come before Parliament they will have the best attention from the business-like and liberal mind of Mr. Robertson, with these experiences of the past and the prospects of the future, I with hearty goodwill second the nomination of Mr. Robertson. [Loud cheers.]

Three and a half years more and the country is in the throes of another contest. Meantime Winfield has been left behind and Kerchesters is the home of the family. It makes no difference politically. The contest against the Game Laws, the Law of Hypothec, goes ahead. Sir William Scott of Ancrum and Lord Schomberg Kerr, afterwards Marquis of Lothian, are the candidates. John Clay throws all his efforts towards the former, and one November day at Jedburgh under grey skies and before a howling mob he seconds Sir William in the following speech. Although there are some personalities in it we quote it just as it appears in the newspapers. In explanation it may be stated that the Speaker had just been elected President of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, a power at that time as it is now:

Mr. Clay, Kerchesters, in seconding Sir William's nomination said: It is with no small pride and pleasure that I come before you in the liberal interest to second the nomination of Sir William Scott as a fit and proper person to represent that great cause in Parliament. [Loud cheers.] I come before you for two distinct reasons: 1. To support Sir William Scott, as he has all along given his steady adherence to that party which has ever been foremost in advancing civil and religious liberty and the rights of the people. [Loud cheers.] 2. I come before you as an agriculturist to support Sir William, because he has given his support to the resolutions of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture [a voice— "The cow would not do it,"] a Society acquiring day by day an influence and importance not only in Scotland but in Parliament. Sir William Scott has given no uncertain sound regarding the public questions of the day. [Cheers and "hear, hear."] He is no untried man, and has devoted several years of his life to our service. [Cheers.] He has voted on some momentous questions, and in the Parliament which is about to assemble there are questions of vital importance. [Cheers] There is the questions of the education of the people. As to that, will anyone deny that the people have been neglected to a great extent — sad to contemplate? In the streets and lanes of our towns and cities there is growing up a population that will sap and mine society, and blight the best interests of our country. [Cheers.] Then you have the Irish Church question. That question is as grave as it is important. That Church has failed to progress and to fulfil its mission. It has never been the church of the people, and therefore it can no longer be the church of the State. No other course is left but its disestablishment. [Cheers.] If the fetters and bonds are taken away from that church, I have no doubt the Gospel and Protestant religion would flourish in the land, and out of darkness and discontent light and freedom would arise. [A footman, "Nae reading, ye're referring to your notes," and laughter. In Scotland, we have had ample proofs that religion can live without the aid of the State. The Free Church of Scotland has solved that problem. I would like to ask Lord Schomberg and his party, Who split the Church of Scotland in 1843? The supporters of the Irish Establishment, who gave the Established Church of Scotland a blow that it will never recover. [Prolonged cheers and slight hissing.] I do not regret it now. [Cheers.] I do not regret it at all. [Loud cheers.] The Free Church of Scotland has proved that it can maintain religion without the aid of the State. [Cheers. ] It contributes nearly £400,000 for the support of the Gospel, and by that I hold that religion is safer in the hands of the people than in those of the State. [Applause.] To these statements the United Presbyterian and other Dissenting bodies can bear witness. [Loud cheers.] Lord Schomberg Kerr is a witness to the same fact. He does not belong to any Established Church; he ignores the Church of Scotland, along with many of his supporters. [Loud applause.] They are neither more or less than dissenters in Scotland. Would it be inflicting any injury or injustice on the Established Church people in Ireland to put them in the same honourable position as His Lordship? [Loud cheers, and a voice, " Let them keep their own ministers."] Then we have the cry of " No Popery. " That cry sounds strange in Presbyterian Scotland, and I would like to ask the supporters of the Irish Church, Where has been the nursery and hot bed of Popery? Has not the Episcopal Church of England, with its high ritualistic ideas, been the very feeder of that system? [Prolonged cheers.] We come next to the Agricultural question, [hear, hear] all of which Sir William is willing to reform as agreed upon by the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture. [Loud applause.] As to Hypothec, is not that law what it has been styled, "A dark spot upon our statute book," giving landlords a right to pocket other people's money, and leaving the poor tradesman poor indeed? [Loud applause, and a voice, "The Newton Don Case."] It has created a false competition for land, through which the small tenants are suffering most. [Cheers and cries of "Shame!"] We come next to the Game question. I say, would it be asking too much to have hares and rabbits put out of the game list and given to the man that feeds them? [Cheers, and a voice "Schomberg takes them to Kelso and sells them."] You may say we are bound by our lease to keep and protect them. Be it so: it is, however, rather difficult to make a man believe that he is bound to keep up that which threatens to eat him up. For the sake of common sense and justice, do yield upon this point. If there is no redress soon I doubt our Chamber resolutions will not meet the cry of the people. It has been said if this grievance was to be remedied, a more stringent law of trespass will be required. [Cheers] I deny the necessity of this. If there was no temptation, there would be no trespass, and if less game there would be fewer poachers. [Loud cheers.] If we are to press this law to the extreme what will be the consequences? Have we not been overrun already by these animals, and have not the noble foxhunters trespassed upon us? [Loud cheers and hisses.] If there is a stringent law of trepass to protect these vermin, if they are to drive us to that, and take everything, and give nothing, we must have a trespass act for the fox-hunter. [Laughter and loud cheers.] I again entreat you to yield before it is too late. [Cheers.] As in a national point of view the question may be raised, the food of the people in danger — the demoralizing of the working classes,— the employment of police force as game watchers. The whole game laws then would be in danger. [Prolonged applause.] What does Thomas Car-lyle say to the nobility and clergy of France? He asks, "What are you doing on God's fair earth and task garden, where whosoever is not working is begging or stealing. Woe, woe, to themselves and to all if they can only answer, Collecting tithes, preserving game." [Loud cheers.] Take warning, Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire won, Perthshire hangs trembling in the balance, Midlothian lost to the noble Duke of Buccleuch at his very Palace gates. [Great applause.] The noble duke we all admire and respect as one of the finest noblemen that perhaps there is in Scotland. [Loud cheers.] There is not the like of him in the country [cheers], and I have looked up to him as the noblest member of the aristocracy [cheers] which I trust will continue as long as they let people live under them properly. [Loud cheers.] Is it not time to take warning when counties are lost and won on this insignificant question of hares and rabbits? These are matters of importance; but there is one which is of far greater importance, and that is what we are to decide on Wednesday, Whom shall we send to Parliament? [Several voices: "Sir William Scott."] Whom shall we send? [A gentleman's servant: "Lord Schom-berg."] A supporter of Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Disraeli? [A voice: "Mr. Gladstone, to be sure."] That is the question, and it is not a question very difficult to answer. In Mr. Gladstone we have a man of transparent honesty of purpose, a man who has mastered the problem of civil and religious liberty, the greatest statesman and financier of the age. [Great cheering.] As for Mr. Disraeli, it is difficult to know what he is. [Laughter and applause.] He has brought discredit upon the Tory party; he has laid their honour in the dust, and has scarcely left them the remnant of a name. [Loud cheers and derisive laughter.] You cannot compare the two men for a moment. The honour and character of the nation are at stake in the choice. We must return Sir William Scott as the supporter of that great statesman. [Loud cheers.] I have not had the pleasure of ever speaking to Lord Schomber Kerr, who, as far as I have heard, is an amiable and intelligent gentleman. [Loud cheers and laughter. A voice: "He's a cow." Lord Schomberg took off his hat and bowed to Mr. Clay and the

audience.] Perhaps he has not thought it worth his while to trouble a. member of a Whig family of three or four generations' standing. lLaughter.] If on the other side, he might have been a wise senator applause], but unfortunately he has mistaken the side. [Laughter.] I have the greatest pleasure from the deepest conviction of my heart, in asserting that Sir William is the right man, and I very heartily again second him as the fit and proper person to represent this important agricultural county in Parliament. [Loud and prolonged cheers, and waving of hats and handkerchiefs.]

Sir William was elected by 140 majority.

For the next dozen years politics were not so busily pursued. He did his duty as a party man, sticking consistently to his principles and backing up the Marquis of Bowmont in Roxburghshire, David Robertson and Mr. Miller in Berwickshire. In 1880 there was a great turmoil in the country. It was the old story— Gladstone versus Disraeli, — both great men, we go further, and say wonderful men. It was a contest which stirred men's souls, and across the Border in Northumberland the pent-up feeling of over a generation broke loose. It has been said that you never know where lightning will strike. Certainly John Clay was surprised when he was asked to contest Northumberland. Here is the letter of which we produce a facsimile:

The same day the following ringing address was issued:



At the solicitation of a large number of Electors of North Northumberland I have the honour to submit myself as a candidate for your suffrages at the approaching Election.

I have all my life lived on Tweedside as a tenant Farmer and recently have been appointed a Member of the Royal Agricultural Commission.

I have always been a consistent and decided Liberal, my principles being derived in my early years from the life and teaching of the late Lord Grey, one of the greatest and most independent of our statesmen.

To you, my fellow farmers, I need scarcely say that your interests are mine. The Laws of Transfer and Succession to Land, of Tenant Right, of Distress, and of Game, need careful revision and extensive alterations. Our County Franchise needs reform. Our Seas need re-distribution; and the time for polling needs extension. The right of Englishmen to be buried in their own Parish Churchyards, with the ceremonies of the Church to which they belong, requires immediate recognition.

I consider the constitution of our Local Boards totally inadequate to the wants of the age in which we live, and would advocate the direct election of a County Board to control expenditure. I should be ready to support a measure for one Board in each District or Union, for all local purposes.

In Foreign Policy I am not disposed to accept peace at any price however I may be opposed to the action of the present Government in waging unnecessary wars.

Although a farmer myself I cannot go to Parliament to represent one class only; I feel assured that class legislation must ever fail even for those whose interests are specially consulted. The interests of commerce and agriculture are identical.

In the short time that remains I shall see as many of you as possible.

For 27 years you have not had a contested Election in North Northumberland. No one, therefore, in the County, who can be called a young man, has had the opportunity of exercising his important privilege, as an Englishman, of voting in favour of the political opinions in which he believes.

That opportunity is now to be offered you and I have determined to test whether there be men in North Northumberland willing to perpetuate the policy of those who have gone before us, and to support those political principles which we believe to be essential to the honour and interests of the country.

I have the honour, Gentlemen,

To remain, your obedient Servant,

John Clay. Kerchesters, Kelso,
March 25th, 1880.

The canvass began on the 26th of March and the Polling day was the 6th of April, practically twelve days. Lord Percy and Sir Matthew White Ridley were both good men, the latter an able man, and the fight against them was a forlorn hope. There was no bitterness, but it was a keen contest and it paved the way for the freedom of the Northumberland farmers. They had long been under the thumb of the landlords and agents, more particularly the latter. The result of the poll was as follows:

Earl Percy (Conservative) .............................2163
Sir M. W. Ridley (Conservative).....................2001
John Clay (Liberal).......................................1509

The contest and its result made a great sensation outside of the county and the moral effect was great. The old Tory edifice was shaken to its foundation, and as John Clay said in his closing remarks after the declaration of the poll, "although defeated I am not vanquished." The election of 1886 comes next to our view. Events had kept crowding up to the dividing roads. John Clay followed Gladstone. He could consistently do nothing else, for his life had been spent fighting by his side, and he believed in liberty of conscience and self-government. Still he was never as keen a politician after that year. He had attained the objects of his early fights. The law of Hypothec was gone, wiped away; the Game Laws were altered; the Franchise extended; the Irish Church disestablished; the tenants protected in their improvements; Education looked after, and the Ballot in force. He looked back on his battles and saw how victories had been won. But to the end he was a consistent liberal, never wavering, retaining his old courage, and fearing no one when he thought his integrity or conscience was being attacked.


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