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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Chapter VI

The Ernigrations of the Highlanders intimately connected with the progress of National prosperity: not detrimental to Manufactures, nor Agriculture.

Emigration has also been thought prejudiciaI to the public interest, as depriving the country of the hands requisite for carrying on its agriculture and manufactures. How far this idea might be just if the people who went away were industrious workmen, is not the question; but in the case of the Highlanders, the effect of emigration on the commercial prosperity of the kingdom is directly the reverse.

To give a just view of this subject, the great change that has been described in the general management of the Highlands, must be considered as one connected event. Emigration is a part of the general change: it is one result, and cannot in fair reasoning be abstracted from the other concomitant effects. If the national prosperity is essentially promoted by the causes from which emigration necessarily ensues, thus their effect cannot be considered as pernicious.

The same change in e state of the country, which we now see going, on in the Highlands, took place in England under the Tudors. In the reign of Henry VIL the authority of the crown was firmly established; the power of the great barons was broken; their retainers, being found to be useless, were dismissed. In the same progressive manner the rents were then raised, by turning the lands into more profitable modes of management, and letting them in larger farms; the same odium was excited by dispossessing the small occupiers, and by the prevalence of pasturage; the very same complaints were made of the sheep having driven out the men. No one, however, now entertains a doubt, that from the aera of this change the prosperity of England as a commercial Country is to be dated: and, can it be supposed that an arrangement, of. which the beneficial consequences in England have been so remarkable, will have an opposite effect when extended to the Highlands of Scotland?

After all the declamation that has been excited by the depopulation of the Highlands, the fact in reality amounts to this; that the produce of the country, instead of being consumed by a set of intrepid but indolent military retainers, is applied to the support of peaceable and industrious manufacturers. Notwithstanding the marks of desolation which occasionally meet the eye of the traveller, impressing him with melancholy reflections on the change which is going on, it cannot be doubted, that the result is ultimately favourable to population, when we take into account that of the whole kingdom, balancing the diminution in one district by the increase in. another.

In former times, when a great population was maintained in the midst of these mountains, their produce was almost entirely consumed on the spot. The number of cattle which at any time found their way to a distant market was inconsiderable, in proportion to the value of produce sent away under the new system of grazing. This produce is an addition to the supply of the manufacturing districts; and, in proportion as it augments their means of subsistence, must tend to the increase of population. Supposing, therefore, that the produce of every farm under the new mode of management, were of the same total amount as under the old, the effect of the change would only be, to transfer the seat of population from the remote valleys of the Highlands, to the towns and valleys of the South, without any absolute difference of numbers.

It is agreed, however, by the best authorities, that the produce is not merely changed in its kind, but augmented, by the improved management which has been. introduced. No doubt can be entertained as to the augmentation of pasturage produce; but it may be questioned, whether this is not balanced by the diminution of tillage. On the other hand, the land which is still kept in tillage will certainly be much better managed; and, perhaps, from a smaller number of acres the produce may be nearly as great.

Besides this, the diminution of tillage in the Highlands will probably be followed by an increase in the Southern parts of the kingdom. It is well known, that in England a great deal of arable land is kept in grass, for rearing young cattle and sheep: but there will be the less necessity for this, when the mountains furnish a greater supply. Many of the arable pastures will then be broken up, and, in all probability, their produce will far exceed that of the fields hitherto cultivated in the Highlands, as the soil and climate are both so much better adapted for the production of grain. In this, as in many similar instances, motives of private interest appear to lead to the same general management, which the most enlarged views of public advantage would dictate.

Even if the question were limited to the Highlanders alone, it is an undeniable fact, that an increase in the productive industry of the nation is a consequence of the emigrations. The extreme indolence of these people where they are allowed to remain in their original seats under the old system, has often been remarked. That indolence, however, is not to he ascribed to inherent dispositions, but to the circumstances in which they are placed; to the want of sufficient incitements to industry, and to the habits which have naturally grown out of such a situation. This is demonstrated by their laborious exertions when they come into the Low Country, and feel at the same time the spur of necessity and the encouragement of good wages. A stranger who had seen them in their native spots would scarcely believe them to be the same men. Though, in many branches of business, they cannot be equal to people of more practised industry; yet their labour, however unskilled, will admit of no comparison, in point of value and productive effect, with their former work, while lounging over their paternal farms.

Thus the same general circumstances which lead a part of the Highlanders to emigrate, occasion a very great increase of productive industry among those who remain. There can be no shadow of doubt that this increase is much more than equivalent to the trifling amount of work usually performed by the emigrants before any change took place. Where the old system of management is broken up, the utmost that can be supposed with any probability is, that from an estate inhabited by 100 families, 25 or perhaps 30 may have the means of emigrating and does any one, acquainted with the Highlanders entertain a doubt that 70 or 75 well employed labourers will perform work of more value: than 100 small tenants and cotters? It would perhaps be nearer the truth to say that they will do three or four times as much.

If, by restrictive laws, those who would otherwise have emigrated should likewise be brought under the necessity of seeking employment within the kingdom, it does not by any means follow that the increase of productive industry would be in proportion to the additional numbers. The laborious life for which any of these people have to exchange their former habit; is a hard and unwelcome change, forced on them only by the pressure of severe necessity. These who have capital enough to go to America, are not under such immediate necessity as those whom have no property, and will be so much the more reluctant to conform themselves, to their new situation. It is they who will feel with peculiar force the idea of degradation, from the change; and, in proportion as their situation was formerly above their neighbours, they will rank below them as useful labourers. Deprived of the encouraging prospect of maintaining or improving their station in life, they will continue in a state- of inaction or feeble exertion, as long as the remnant of their property will. allow them. This little capital, which would have enabled them in the colonies, to begin as settlers, will be wasted in indolence at home; and no effectual exertion of industry can be looked for from them, till they too are reduced to beggary.

But is it possible to suppose that a policy, which must occasion so much individual hardship, would be adopted for, so trifling a public object, as any advantage that can be expected from the reluctant industry of those who might be restrained from emigration?

The peasantry, whom the necessity of their circumstances has brought from the Highlands to the manufacturing towns, have been found but little capable of any of the nicer operations of manufacturing industry, and have been chiefly employed, as labourers in works of mere drudgery. Though the Legislature has at times thought fit to interfere for the purpose of preventing our manufacturers from being deprived of their choice hands, of workmen whose peculiar skill and dexterity were considered as of essential consequence; yet, there. is perhaps no precedent of regulations for obviating a deficiency of porters and barrowmen, and ditchers.

If such a precedent should be found, I am confident it is not from Glasgow that any application. would come for a renewal of expedients, devised at a period when the first principles of political economy were buried in darkness. These principles are too well understood among the leading merchants and manufacturers of that city, to allow them to suppose that, without giving adequate wages, they can procure the hands required for their work; nor will they entertain a doubt that good wages will attract all those they need. Any trifling advantages that might arise from forcing a superabundant and of course temporary supply of hands, is an interest much too inconsiderable to excite, in that liberal and enlightened body of men, any of the intolerant zeal which some individuals of a different description displayed upon this question. It was from a very different quarter that the adoption of restrictive measures was urged.

If any partial interest, however, is promoted by these measures, it is not that of the Highlands, but of Glasgow and Paisley. The utmost effect that can result from the regulations that have been adopted, or from any others of the same tendency, can only be to force a greater proportion of the people who must leave the Highlands, to settle in the seats of manufacturing industry, instead of going to America; to force the small tenants to follow the same course as the cotters. If the restrictions were even carried as far as a total prohibition of any person leaving the kingdom, it would not prevent the depopulation of. the Highlands, unless the people were also restrained from moving to a different district.

We hear, indeed, from some gentlemen, that the spirit of emigration threatens such a complete depopulation as will not leave hands even for the necessary business of cultivation. This, however, rests upon mere conjecture, and is not supported by any one example. There is scarcely any part of the Highlands, where the new system of management has come to such full maturity, as to have left no superabundant population, and reduced it to the proportion absolutely requisite for the business of the country.

In some districts, the more secluded valleys, lying in the midst of high mountains, retain scarcely any inhabitants; but numbers are every where found along the larger vales, and near the arms of the sea, by which the country is so much intersected. In these situations, where fishing affords some additional resource, and where opportunities of occasional employment occur, many proprietors have laid out small separate possessions or crofts, and have never found any deficiency of occupiers for them. The cotters seem always to prefer a situation of this kind to any prospect they may have in the manufacturing districts; and hence there are, in almost every part of the Highlands, more of the inferior class of people than enough to carry on all the work thatís to be done; a greater population than is proved by experience to be sufficient, among similar mountains in the South of Scotland.

That the population of the Highlands is still more adequate to the demand for labour than in other parts of the kingdom, there is a satisfactory proof in the customary rate of wages. In some of the Southern districts of the Highlands, where the system of sheep farming has been longest established, where the small tenants are entirely gone, and the alarm of depopulation was felt upwards of forty years ago, wages are higher than in the rest of the Highlands, but still below the rate of the Low Country of Scotland: and still there is, from among the remaining inhabitants even of these parts, a silent but continual migration towards the great centres of manufacturing industry. This drain is, perhaps, no more than sufficient to relieve the country of the natural increase of inhabitants. Be that, however, as it may, it is evident that, if any circumstance should lead to a further diminution of numbers, such as to occasion a want of hands, the consequence would, be a rise of wages, which would take away from the temptation to seek employment elsewhere, and, by rendering the situation of the labouring poor as favourable as in other parts of the Country, would retain at home their natural increase, till every deficiency should be filled up.

Thus, it must appear that emigration produces no real inconvenience even to the district most immediately affected. But these arguments are perhaps, superfluous; for, if the subject deserves the interference of the Legislature, it is no more than justice, that among the interests that are to be consulted, that of the Highland proprietors ought to be the last of all. They have no right to complain of a change which is their own work, the necessary result of the mode in which they choose to. employ their property. Claiming a right to use their lands as they see fit and most for their own advantage, can they deny their tenantry an equal right to carry their capital and their labour to the best market they can find? If the result of this should prove of such extreme detriment to the public welfare, as to call for a restrictive remedy,óif necessity demand a limitation on these natural rights of the Pesantry, would not the same principles justify, and would not equity dictate, a corresponding restriction on the proprietors in the disposal of their lands?

If the gentlemen of the Highlands are determined at all events to preserve the population of their estates, it is unquestionably in their power; by replacing their farms on the old footing, and relinquishing their advance of rent. If they do not choose to make this pecuniary sacrifice, they must abide by the consequences; and it is with a bad grace they come to the Legislature for the means of obviating them.

If any one of these proprietors, while he lets his farms for the most advantageous rent he can procure, could also concentrate upon his estate a numerous population, enriched by productive industry, it would, no doubt, be much for his advantage. If he has. a view to such improvements, it is incumbent. on him to find the means of carrying them into effect, as it is to his advantage they will ultimately redound. It is his own business. to provide the means of subsistence and employment for those he wishes to retain on his estate; to render the situation advantageous and acceptable to them. If he cannot succeed in this, he has no more title to expect public assistance for keeping his dependants on his estate, than any other proprietor would have, for establishing a village, and compelling people to inhabit it, on the summit of the Cheviot mountains, or of the Peak of Derby.

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