Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Awakening of Scotland
Chapter II. The American War 1775 - 1783

At the period we have reached the controversy, which for ten years had been in progress between Great Britain and her Transatlantic settlements, was on the point of developing into war. George Grenville had irritated the Americans by enforcing the obsolete regulations which secured to the home market a partial monopoly of their commerce; and, as the various colonies, which British soldiers had just rescued from the horrors of Indian warfare, showed no disposition to provide for their own defence, he had proposed to place in their midst a small body of Imperial troops, and to collect from them in the shape of stamp duties about one-third of the cost. The Stamp Act was passed in 1765. It was fiercely resisted on the plea, not wholly relevant, that it entailed taxation without representation, and Rockingham in the following year procured its repeal. The spirit of disaffection was, however, by no means allayed; and, in order to strengthen the executive, it was resolved that the governors and judges, who had hitherto been dependent for their pay on the votes of colonial assemblies, should receive salaries from the Crown. For this purpose Parliament in 1767 exercised its admitted right to impose customs

duties at the American ports; but the new imposts, being intended to raise a revenue and not to regulate trade, were little less unpopular than the stamp tax, and all of them were soon repealed, except, as a bare assertion of right, the duty on tea—only a fourth of that which had formerly been levied as an export duty in England. At the close of 1773, when several tea ships freighted by the East India Company arrived at Boston, their cargoes were thrown overboard; and the punitive measures adopted in consequence of this outrage were the immediate cause of the war which broke out in the spring of 1775.

The issue at stake in this controversy was obviously one which concerned the people rather than the Government of Great Britain; but George III., though he claimed to be “fighting the battle of the legislature,” had revived the memories of personal rule; and the attempt of an autocratic sovereign and a venal Parliament to uphold Imperial authority in America were discredited to some extent by their encroachments on liberty at home. When Wilkes in 1763, assuming the King’s Speech to be the composition of his Ministers, attacked it in the press, the Commons took upon themselves to pronounce his paper a seditious libel, expelled him from the House, and even curtailed their privileges in order to bring him within reach of the criminal law. In 1764 there were more prosecutions of printers than in all the thirty-three years of the preceding reign. In 1768, when Wilkes was elected and thrice re-elected as one of the members for Middlesex, the Commons first expelled him, then, contrary to law, disqualified him, and finally adjudged the seat to his opponent who had been left in a small minority at the poll. The general election of this year was even more scandalously corrupt than that which Bute had managed in 1761, and the pains taken by both Houses to prevent the publication of their debates earned for them the name of "the unreported Parliament." Such proceedings gave some colour to the contention of the Whigs that the quarrel with the colonies was not so much a conflict of legislatures as a contest between prerogative and popular right. Chatham declared that, if America were subdued, she would, like another Samson, drag down the constitution in her grasp. “If England prevails,” wrote Horace Walpole, “English and American liberty is at an end.”

Scotland knew too little of liberty to be much concerned at the prospect of losing it, and the policy of coercing the colonies had no more uncompromising supporters than the two Scotsmen who at this period were mounting by way of the law to political eminence.

Alexander Weclderburn had already begun to eat dinners at the Inner Temple when he passed advocate in 1754. His earliest triumphs were won, not in the Parliament House, but as a debater in the General Assembly, which in those days had little to learn from the House of Commons either as a school of oratory or as an instrument of repression; and in 1757, after a violent quarrel in court with a brother counsel, he quitted Edinburgh and was called to the English Bar. His first and most laborious task in London was to get rid of his Scottish accent. If the vain and haughty Bute had embodied for Englishmen their idea of a Scottish grandee, Wedderburn, shrewd, pushing, audacious, constant to no interest but his own, was to furnish an unfortunate illustration of qualities in which his countrymen were believed to “surpass all nations upon earth.” As his sister had married Sir Henry Erskine, one of Bute’s particular friends, he came into notice on the accession of George III., was appointed a King’s Counsel, and entered Parliament, where he sat for several years as a Scottish member. His support of the Tory Government lacked nothing in vigour; but he soon perceived that the road to office might be shortened if he proved his ability to embarrass as well as to serve the Court; and, shortly after Bute’s influence had come to an end with the dismissal of George Grenville, he went into violent opposition, defending the Americans as strongly as he had ever spoken against them, denouncing the pretensions of the Commons to incapacitate Wilkes, addressing meetings in favour of parliamentary reform, and, in reward of his exertions, being entertained to dinner by the Whig chiefs. Wedderburn was to resume in later years his part of "occasional patriot"; but his first appearance in that character terminated in January, 1771, when he joined as Solicitor-General what he had been pleased to call the “wicked administration” of Lord North. His wonted assurance is said to have quite deserted him when he took his seat for the first time on the Treasury Bench. North owed much to the two law officers between whom he sat and sometimes slept, for Thurlow, the Attorney-General, was as blunt, powerful and overbearing as Wedderburn was keen, insinuating and adroit. They have been called the Ajax and the Ulysses of debate, and, perhaps with equal justice, the Moloch and the Belial of their profession.

Robert Dundas, who as Lord Advocate in 1760 had successfully opposed the Scottish Militia Bill, was now Lord President of the Court of Session. His father had married twice; and the Henry Dundas, whom Midlothian returned to Parliament in 1774, being a son of the second marriage, was his half-brother. Henry Dundas was born, nine years later than Wedderburn, in 1742. The two statesmen had received their early education in the same country school; both had gained distinction, on the Moderate or anti-popular side, in the General Assembly; and both won their way in politics by making themselves obnoxious to the Court. As Dundas was Solicitor-General when he entered Parliament and within a few months was appointed Lord Advocate, he could not, like Wedderburn, identify himself with the Opposition; but he showed his independence in a manner more congenial to a Scotsman, or at all events to a Scottish politician, by outdoing the Government in administrative vigour.

Lord North had to face a mutiny of his followers when, on February 20, 1775, he attempted to avert war by proposing to exempt from internal taxation any colony which should provide, to the satisfaction of Parliament, for administration and Imperial defence. Dundas, in his first reported speech, opposed this motion “in very strong terms,” and he probably voted against it, even after the Tory pack, which North made six vain attempts to appease, had been brought to heel by that spokesman of royalty, Sir Gilbert Elliot. A fortnight later, when the Opposition were denouncing a Bill for excluding the New Englanders from the Newfoundland fisheries as calculated to make them either starve or rebel, Dundas said, “As to the famine which was so pathetically lamented, he was afraid it would not be produced by this Act.” A word which he coined in the course of this debate earned for him the nickname of “Starvation Dundas”; and Horace Walpole, reflecting on Caledonian poverty, supposed him to be of opinion “that the devil of rebellion could be expelled only by fasting, though that never drove him out of Scotland.” The devil in question might have proved less difficult to exorcise if Walpole’s political friends had desisted, when war broke out, from their open advocacy of the American cause; but, when Dundas taxed them with this fault, he was fiercely assailed by Charles Fox, who said that such a rebuke came very ill from the man who had referred to the Americans as “Hancock and his crew,” and "whose inflammatory harangues had led the nation step by step from violence to violence.” On the death of Elliot in 1777, the Lord Advocate succeeded him as Joint-Keeper of the Signet; but the courtier’s temper was not transmitted with his office. On February 17, 1778, after the news had arrived of General Burgoyne’s capitulation at Saratoga, North introduced two Bills which practically removed every grievance of which the colonists had complained. Dundas opposed, or at least ridiculed, this concession in “a strong and sensible speech,” and paid an ironical compliment to the Minister by admitting his sincerity, since “no man of the rank, fortune and independence of Lord North could stoop to contradict all his words and actions from any motive but conviction." A week later, King George wrote thus to his harassed Premier:‘‘ The more I think of the conduct of the Advocate of Scotland, the more I am incensed against him. More favours have been heaped on the shoulders of that man than ever were bestowed on any Scotch lawyer; and he seems studiously to embrace an opportunity to create difficulty. But men of talents, when not accompanied with integrity, are pests instead of blessings to society, and true wisdom ought to crush them rather than nourish them.”  The contents of this letter were apparently made known to Dundas; for on March 2 we find him asserting in the House that colonial taxation had been found to be impracticable, and that if America could not be subdued by force, “we must mix with our measures something that may lead to conciliation." The "man of talents," having thus proved his integrity by unsaying his own words, was soon welcomed as a “blessing” at Court. On April 21, 1779, in suggesting to Lord North various means of strengthening his position, George recommended that “the Lord Advocate be gained to attend the whole session and brave the Parliament” ;4 and the success of Dundas in gaining the confidence of the King is evident from words spoken by Burke a week or two later: “Ministers were obliged to the learned gentleman, who, particularly when another learned gentleman [the Attorney-General] was absent, answered the end of a courier and announced the real intentions of his friends in high office.”

The political bias of Scotland, as revealed by its foremost politicians, is no less apparent when we turn from the Lower to the Upper House. That profound jurist and consummate orator who, since 1756 had been Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, may be held to justify the remark which his career suggested to Dr. Johnson, that “much may be made of a Scotchman if he be caught young”; but Lord Mansfield, though he had resided in England since as a boy of thirteen he was sent to Westminster School, retained certain characteristics indicative of his northern birth. He succeeded as completely as Wedderburn in getting rid of his native accent; but there were, it seems, one or two words which he never learned to pronounce correctly, and, according to Lord Shelburne, he "always spoke in a feigned voice like Leone the Jew singer.” The opinions of the statesman, and even of the judge, were, however, considered to be more suggestive of Scotland than the orator’s “silver-tongue.” Horace Walpole voiced the sentiment of his party when he referred to “that high-priest of despotism” the House of Commons was at no loss to interpret “a beautiful simile,” in which a member “described the tree of prerogative with the wily serpent winding up it, and offering the fruit to the house of Brunswick”;4 and Junius, attacking Mansfield, with much greater virulence than Wilkes had shown against Bute, as one who had abjured the Stewarts but not their maxims of government, addressed him thus: "I see through your whole life one uniform plan to enlarge the power of the Crown at the expense of the liberty of the subject.” In proof of such assertions, his enemies could point to the fact that he was bitterly hostile to America, that he defended the incapacitation of Wilkes, that he restricted to its narrowest limits the function of the jury in cases of libel; and Ramsay of Ochtertyre was of opinion that the Court of Session would soon have put an end to the faggot-voter in Scottish counties, if the House of Lords under Mansfield’s guidance had not constantly reversed their decisions.

In the Lords as in the Commons coercion derived its steadiest support from North Britain; and Lord Rockingham was moved to mirth by an anonymous American correspondent, who supposed that the representatives of a country which had not been disfranchised on account of Jacobite revolts, would naturally oppose the punishment of Massachusetts for the Boston tea-riot, and, amongst the advocates of conciliation, had “great pleasure in counting sixty nine members of Parliament representing the Peers and Commons of Scotland.” Viscount Stormont, Lord Mansfield’s nephew, and the Earl of Marchmont, his intimate friend, were almost the only Scottish peers who ventured to assist the Government with their voices as well as with their votes. The former was long an ambassador at foreign Courts; but his career in that capacity terminated with his return from Paris on the outbreak of war with France in 1778, and, a year later, he became Secretary of State. Marchmont’s intimacy with Mansfield dated from the time when they had both enjoyed the friendship of Bolingbroke and Pope. As he had been “adopted into the Court”  as early as 1750, the accession of George III. found him fully qualified to be a “King’s friend.” Chatham evinced great contempt for the subservient peer who had been his comrade in far-off days when the names of Pitt and Lord Polwarth were a terror to Walpole. When Marchmont in 1770 proposed that certain words of his old rival reflecting on the independence of the House of Lords should be taken down, Chatham himself seconded the motion, and said, “If any noble Lord were to ask me whether I thought there was much corruption in both Houses of Parliament, I would laugh in his face and tell him he knew there was.” 

The temper of the Scottish representative peers3 can excite no surprise when we remember that their election was a mere form, and that they owed their seats rather to the authority than to the influence of the Crown. The practice of circulating amongst the friends of Government a list of the peers whom it recommended for election had been in use since the Unionjland in 1734, when employed to exclude the Squadrone nobles whom Walpole had deprived of their posts, was loudly complained of in the House of Lords. This was a party protest; but soon after the accession of George III. the interference of Government assumed so gross and so irritating a shape that efforts were made to resist it on purely constitutional grounds. So long as the third Duke of Argyll or his nephew, Lord Bute, was in power, the nomination of the sixteen, however humiliating to their order, was at least conducted by one of themselves; but nobody succeeded Bute as manager of Scotland when he finally retired in 1765; and iihe Scottish nobility, in the words of an indignant pamphleteer, were then expected to yield obedience to “a letter issued from a public office, written by a clerk, and signed by a pro tempore Minister." At the general election of 1768, the first to take place under the new conditions, the Earl of Buchan, who had offered himself in the newspapers as an independent candidate, complained that a list of sixteen, "called by the most sacred name of the King’s List,” had been framed by Ministers long before the election, had been shown to several peers, and its contents made known to others. Ear from concurring in this protest, the other lords resolved, nemine contradicente, that they had never Beard of such a list or of any attempts to influence their choice. If they were at all sincere in this emphatic disclaimer, they soon had grounds for altering their opinion. The title of Viscount Irvine, one of the peers elected on this occasion, was the only thing that connected him with Scotland ; and, when a vacancy occurred two years later, the Government put forward the Earl of Dysart, another titular peer. Finding that Dysart would be strongly opposed, they withdrew his name, and, passing over Breadalbane, who had been suggested for their approval, substituted that of Stair. On the day of election, 1771, an eloquent pamphlet, inciting the peers to emancipate themselves ‘‘from shameful bondage,” was hawked about the streets of Edinburgh and eagerly bought up. Stair received twenty-seven votes, and Breadalbane seventeen; but Selkirk protested that the latter ought to have been returned, since the Ministry had issued circular letters in favour of his rival; and to this protest as many as twelve peers adhered.

If Lord North had been better acquainted with Stair, he would not have been so anxious to procure him a seat in the Lords; for that “honest Scot,” as Walpole calls hum, proved to be quite “enthusiastic in the cause of America.” Honest indeed he must have been, for he opposed all coercive measures, and yet, when thanked for his services by the agent for Massachusetts, told that official that the colonists had been guilty of “great and repeated provocations.” At the next general election, that of 1774, he forfeited his seat ; and the house of Stair made no further appearance in Parliament till in 1790 an independent father had given place to a courtly son.

The protest of 1768 had so little effect in checking the dictation of Ministers that in 1774 they threw off all disguise. Hitherto their list had been sent only to peers on whom they could rely, but it was now sent to all. Lord Selkirk, who had been knocked up at midnight to receive a copy of the missive—unwelcome in itself, and the more so as it apprised him of his brother-in-law’s death—was naturally indignant. Addressing his fellow-electors, to each of whom had been posted another excellent pamphlet,4 he proposed, since protests Lord North was still in power when Parliament was dissolved in 1780, but on that occasion no circular letter was issued—a fact for which the Earl of Buchan took some credit to himself, as he had caused it to be known that if any Secretary of State dared to write to him on the subject he “would come to London and endeavour to chastise him." This eccentric and vain-glorious man, who was always posing for the admiration of posterity, had a sincere regard for the honour of his country and his order, and it would have been well for the Scottish aristocracy if more of them had been animated by his bold and independent spirit. Though the Government had departed from its recent innovation of a general circular letter, its influence was unshaken ; and Buchan, despairing of a free election, proposed that the peers should sit by rotation according to rank and precedence, except that any peer who happened to be a Cabinet Minister should always be one of the sixteen. As he was not permitted to expound this scheme to the electors in 1780, he published it in the newspapers. On the occurrence of a vacancy in 1782, he advertised himself as a candidate, and wrote to Lord Shelburne, then Secretary of State, desiring no “more from you as a representatives were freely elected. The number of peers, 153 at the Union, had dwindled to 88.—

Minister than that you would suffer me to depend upon the uninfluenced opinion of my brethren. When the peers assembled at Holyrood, amidst “an unprecedented crowd of spectators,” Lord Kinnaird, anxious to eradicate an “unfortunate prejudice” from the public mind, demanded of his friend the Earl of Lauderdale whether he had received an assurance of support from the late Premier, and whether he had shown it to others. Lauderdale said he was in the habit of corresponding with Ministers, but had not mentioned them by word or name to any peer in regard to the election, and for such purposes "valued them no more than he did his old shoes.” He was returned by a majority of only two (13 to 11), no doubt because his patron, Lord Rockingham, had been dead for three weeks, and Shelburne, the new Premier, was believed to favour Buchan. The latter had declared that if he was not elected he should never as a candidate “appear again within these walls”; and in a published address he took leave of the peers, and especially of his supporters, “those truly noble lords of the apostolical number,” whose “names shall be enrolled for ever with mine in the annals of this country." “My independence,” he wrote, “is unexterminable. I can live on the food, the simple fare, of my ancestors. I can prepare it, if it is necessary, in a helmet, and can stir it about with my sword, the name, the origin, the emblem, and the charter of my family.”

It is doubtful whether Scotsmen took much interest in the American question, and whether the attitude of their representatives at Westminster coincided with that of any but the upper class. Burke in the beginning of 1775 admitted that the Whigs had to face a torrent “of almost general opinion"; but a writer in the Annual Register for 1776 declared that the temper of England was thoroughly apathetic, that Protestant Ireland, the aristocracy excepted, strongly favoured the colonists, and that their only determined opponents were "the people of North Britain, who almost to a man," so far as they could be described or distinguished under any particular denomination, not only applauded, but proffered life and fortune in support of, the present measures. The reference to "any particular denomination” limits the scope of this statement, and indicates the evidence on which it was based. During the autumn of 1775 and the ensuing winter seventy-seven addresses from Scotland in favour of the war were printed in the London Gazette; but all but a very few of these proceeded wholly of mainly from the county and burgh constituencies, whose approbation of Government measures was no more disinterested than that of their members. In many of the English towns opinion expressed itself independently of the council; but the only Scottish burghs whose inhabitants took this course were Perth and Dundee; and neither at Edinburgh nor at Glasgow could a similar address be obtained. In one or two counties and at Dundee the clergy were subscribers; and addresses were presented by the Synod of Angus and Mearns, the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and the Presbytery of Irvine.

Scotland contributed but little to the pamphlet controversy occasioned by the war. John Erskine, the Evangelical minister of Greyfriars, Edinburgh, issued three tracts in favour of the colonies; and some "Candid Thoughts"’ were published by Thomas Somerville, the historian and Moderate divine, in which with equal vehemence he defended North and abused Chatham. Turning from journalism to literature, we find that on this question the two most distinguished men of letters took opposite sides. Robertson, believing that the colonists were aiming at independence, since their claim to discriminate between taxes for revenue and taxes for regulation of trade was in itself an assertion of sovereign power, had welcomed the repeal of the Stamp Act as calculated both to facilitate and to postpone the inevitable separation; but in October, 1775, writing as a British subject and not as a lover of mankind, he thought it  "fortunate that the violence of the Americans has brought matters to a crisis too soon for themselves,” and exhorted the Government to “strike with full force.” In the same month a very different opinion was expressed by Hume. Invited to draw up an anti-American address for the county of Eenfrew, he emphatically refused, and suggested that King and Parliament should be advised to silence Wilkes and his friends in the City before they attempted to “maintain an authority at three thousand miles’ distance.” “These are objects worthy of the respectable county of Eenfrew; not mauling the poor infatuated Americans in the other hemisphere.” The year 1776 is memorable in economic history for the publication of The Wealth of Nations. An exhaustive inquiry into the working of the Navigation Act brought Adam Smith to the conclusion that the attempt to regulate the commerce of the colonies had resulted in nothing but loss, and that, if independence were voluntarily conceded, Great Britain, whilst losing her monopoly, would gain a free trade more profitable to the nation at large. Dismissing, however, such a solution as not within the range of practical politics, he maintained that, as colonies add more or less to the expenses of empire, they ought to contribute to its revenue. It seemed to him that no feasible expedient had yet been proposed for associating the colonial assemblies with Parliament in the raising of taxes; and he, therefore, suggested, as a means of terminating an unnatural and hazardous war, that any colony, willing to detach itself from Congress, should be offered a representation in Parliament proportionate to its contributions under a uniform fiscal and commercial system.

In each of his three pamphlets on the war Erskine expressed an apprehension that the religious as well as the political interests of the colonies were at stake; and his principal ground of suspicion was that Canada in 1774 had obtained a constitution, more consonant with French than with British ideas, which entrusted legislation to a council nominated by the Crown, dispensed with a jury in the trial of civil cases, and recognised the obligation of Catholics to maintain their clergy by payment of tithes. In the House of Commons this measure was criticised mainly on the ground that it savoured of despotism and was to be operative within an area much wider than that of the old French province; but Chatham in the Lords denounced it in most extravagant terms as “a breach of the Reformation,” telling his hearers that if the Bill became law “you might take down the bells from your steeples, and the steeples from your churches”; and Horace Walpole professed to believe that George III., guided by “a Scotch Chief Justice abler than Laud, though not so intrepid as Lord Strafford,” would prove himself as absolute and as favourable to Papists as Charles I. The majority of the Whigs (had, however, no sympathy with this appeal to religious fanaticism; and their position was made plain when in April, 1778, Sir George Savile, the most consistently liberal of his party, attempted for the second time to procure a repeal of the Quebec Act, and, a month later, introduced a Bill relating to certain provisions in an Act of William III. for the imprisonment of priests and Jesuits and of Catholics engaged in education, and debarring members of that communion from inheriting or purchasing land. These provisions, not wholly obsolete, were now to be rescinded in favour of all who should abjure the Pretender, the temporal jurisdiction of the Pope in England, and the doctrine that it is lawful to break faith with heretics and to put them to death. On May 14 the Lord Advocate announced that a Bill to repeal a similar law enacted by the Scottish Parliament in the same reign would be introduced in the next session.

Whilst the Bill in favour of the English Catholics was passing unopposed, Dundas left London to take his seat in the General Assembly; and the temper of that court must have encouraged him to hope that no serious hostility would be aroused by the announcement of his intention to extend the measure to Scotland. A motion that the Assembly should instruct its Commission to "be very watchful over the interests of the Protestant religion in this part of the united kingdom” found only twenty-four supporters; and the Commission was so far from being watchful that its ordinary November meeting could not be held for want of a quorum. In other quarters, however, there were signs of trouble. A dissenting Synod, that of the Relief Church, meeting at the same time as the Assembly, sounded the alarm; and Bishop Abernethy Drummond, of the Episcopal communion, attacked the proposed concession in certain letters, which were answered with more zeal than discretion by the Catholic Bishop Hay. Before the end of October five Provincial Synods had declared against any relaxation of the penal laws; and in December "the Protestant Interest in Edinburgh” appointed a Committee of Correspondence to elicit petitions and resolutions "from every corner of the land.” A similar committee was soon at work in Glasgow, and several local associations were formed. Within the next few months kirk-sessions, parishes, towns, incorporated trades and friendly societies vied with each other in giving utterance to their repressive demands, usually on the plea that toleration would be a breach of the Union, and that Catholics had no right to a boon which they themselves, where they had the power, refused to concede. None of the county constituencies took part in the agitation, but in the list of protesting bodies we find thirty out of the sixty-seven parliamentary burghs. On November 11 the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale had intimated a provisional assent to the repeal; but, with this exception, liberal sentiments appear to have been confined, as in the days of Charles I., to the district of Aberdeen, the town council and synod remained obstinately silent, and the presbytery published a manifesto, which, in 300 pages of such documents, is the only one couched in courageous, humane, and enlightened terms. The Aberdeen ministers made short work of the Popish chimera by pointing out that if the statute of William III. were repealed, the country would still be as well protected against Rome as it had been in the perilous times of the Reformation and the Covenant; they urged that laws too severe to be enforced merely gave to Catholicism "all the advantages that may result from the plea of persecution”; and, being of opinion that “sound argument from reason and Scripture” was a better weapon of defence than penal laws, they were grieved to “observe that, under the appearance of opposing the profession, men are unknowingly cherishing in themselves and fomenting in others the spirit, of that intolerant superstition.”

Shortly before these wise words were penned at Aberdeen, indignation had given place to violence in the south. Lord George Gordon, who represented Inverness-shire in Parliament, was a member of the Edinburgh committee, and disturbances broke out, foreshadowing the frightful riots to which that crazy fanatic was to give a name in London. At Edinburgh in February, 1779, incited by handbills scattered in the streets, the mob destroyed Bishop Hay’s library and two Catholic chapels; and in Glasgow, a few days later, the premises of a Catholic shopkeeper were wrecked. Principal Robertson, who had boldly advocated the repeal, was denounced as a pensioner of the Pope; for several weeks, as he afterwards informed the Assembly, scarcely a day passed on which he did not receive intimidating letters; and the rioters, who had threatened to serve him as they had served Bishop Hay, were prevented only by the arrival of a military detachment from demolishing his house. Robertson had sought to propitiate the opponents of toleration by procuring an assurance from Dundas that the clause forbidding Catholics to open schools would not be repealed; but he himself soon counselled surrender; and on February 12 it was announced that the Government had consented not to introduce “the Popish Bill.” The General Assembly in May expressed a joyful concurrence in this decision, and instructed its Commission in terms of the motion which had been rejected in the previous year.

The proposal to establish a Scottish militia, which had been so warmly advocated during the last French war, was renewed soon after the outbreak of the American Revolution; and in March, 1776, Lord North gave his support to a Bill for this purpose which had been introduced by Lord Mountstuart, Bute’s eldest son. Despite official patronage, the Bill proved little less distasteful than its predecessor to English opinion, was condemned by Burke and others on financial grounds, and rejected by 112 votes to 93. The Scottish force of 6000 men was to be paid and clothed, like the English one, out of the land-tax; and, as the Scots bore only the fortieth part of that tax, they were told that, if they wanted a militia, they must either increase their contribution or supplement it for military purposes by a local rate. One member declared that the Scots, being “in general tinctured with notions of despotism,” could not safely be trusted with arms. It soon appeared, however, that without arms, if harmless to others, they might be a danger to themselves. In 1778 Scotland received an unfriendly visit from her renegade son, John Paul, who had entered the American navy under the assumed name of Jones, and was then in command of a frigate. On April 23 he made a night attack on Whitehaven; and next morning, casting anchor in Kirkcudbright Bay, within a few miles of his old home, he attempted unsuccessfully to kidnap Lord Selkirk. In the following June an American privateer descended on the Banffshire coast; and in September, 1779, after war had been declared between Great Britain and France, Paul Jones appeared with four ships in the Forth, and made an attempt on Leith. Unfavourable winds baffled his design; but he approached almost within gun-shot, and it was fortunate for the townspeople that their spirited preparations were not put to the test. Three batteries, mounting some thirty guns, were hastily thrown up—two at Leith and one near Newhaven; and arms were supplied to the trade-guilds from Edinburgh Castle.

Lord George Gordon, shaken out of his nightmare by Paul Jones, seems to have awakened to the fact that Scotland had other enemies than the Pope. On December 3, 1779, he moved for papers relating to any applications for arms that had been received from North Britain; and in the course of his speech he said that the country had been so depopulated by new levies and recruiting parties as to be dependent for its defence on old men and boys. In this extravagant assertion there were some grains of truth. When Burgoyne’s capitulation was announced in the autumn of 1777, Manchester and Liverpool each offered to raise a regiment, and their example was promptly followed by Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Government accepted these offers, but similar proposals from territorial magnates were discouraged or refused, unless they emanated from the Highlands, where indeed a new corps had already been formed. The regiment raised in 1757 under Pitt’s auspices by Simon Fraser, the forfeited Master of Lovat, had been disbanded at the Peace after six years’ service in Canada. Colonel Fraser’s estates were restored to him in 1772, and, three years later, on the outbreak of the American War, he obtained permission to embody two battalions, and speedily mustered 2340 men. In 1777-8 no fewer than six Highland regiments were added to the regular army—one of two battalions raised by Lord Macleod, and five of one battalion, drawn mainly from the clans of Campbell, Macdonald, Murray, Mackenzie and Gordon. As Scotland was not permitted to have a militia, the Highlands were also called upon, as they had been in 1759, to provide men for home defence; and for this purpose three single-battalion regiments were formed—the Western Fencibles, enlisted chiefly in Argyllshire, but also in Glasgow and the south-west, the Gordon Fencibles, and the Sutherland Fencibles.

“I am above all local prejudices,” said Pitt, “and care not whether a man has been rocked in a cradle on this or on the other side of the Tweed : I sought only for merit, and I found it in the mountains of the North.” Another Minister had now embarked on the same quest; but the Whigs, though never tired of contrasting the disgrace of this war with the glory of the last, found Pitt’s disciple worthy of blame. Their two great complaints were that a force of 15,000 men had been raised during the recess, and that the Government had gone for the bulk of its levies to so disaffected a quarter as the Scottish Highlands. Burke said that, if the Crown could constitutionally raise troops without consent of Parliament, British liberty was a mere shadow, and asserted, in view of our acquiescence in this enormity, "that we seemed to be just ripe for ruin." Fox taunted Scotland and Manchester with their attachment to Jacobitism and prerogative, describing them as “so accustomed to disgrace that it was no wonder if they pocketed instances of dishonour and sat down contented with infamy.” Another member declared that “a large Scotch army might have marched to Derby without Parliament being acquainted that such an army existed in the kingdom”; and Wilkes, recalling his personal experiences of 1745, said he did “ not think an invasion of this country at the present crisis quite so chimerical a project as the conquest of America.” It was also objected that, whilst Manchester and Liverpool had raised regiments at their own expense, the heads of clans —who, it should have been remembered, were poor enough in money—had received £3 a head for their recruits; and Colonel Barre, anticipating a complaint that has been heard in our own day, wanted to know *c why it was permitted to those northern nobles and gentlemen to come into the streets of London and Dublin, expressly against the spirit of their proposals, and pull off the breeches of Englishmen and Irishmen to fill up their Highland regiments.” Colonel Murray, in answer to this indignant speech, admitted that amongst his Athol Highlanders, over 1000 strong, there were about fifteen English and thirty Irish.

The Government completed their Highland levies in 1780, when a second battalion was added to the Black Watch; but it was now generally believed that their military exertions could result in nothing but disaster; and North in the preceding December had confessed to the King that he himself had been of this opinion “for three years past.” Despite the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility, there could be little doubt who was to blame for the persistence of a struggle which in the days of its popularity had been known as “the King’s war”; and the public ill-humour found vent in a widespread agitation against corrupt influence in Parliament—an agitation which produced so considerable an effect in the House of Commons that Dunning obtained a majority of eighteen for his famous resolution “that the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.” Favoured by the Gordon Riots, the Ministry somewhat improved its position at the general election of 1780; but in November, 1781, the news arrived that Lord Cornwallis, the only capable British General, had capitulated at Yorktown; early in the following year Minorca and several West Indian islands were lost; and in March North at last succeeded in inducing the King to accept his resignation.

George could no longer hope to be complete master of his Cabinet; and the fall of Lord North was followed by a return to the weak and divided Ministries which had prevailed before his accession to power. Rockingham, for the second time, became Premier; but Shelburne, to whom George had offered this post, acted on a design which Fox had suspected when he said that the administration was apparently “to consist of two parts, one belonging to the King, the other to the public”; and, when Rockingham died within four months, after conceding legislative independence to Ireland and doing a good deal to diminish the electoral and parliamentary influence of the Crown, he was succeeded by the man whom George proposed to use as his tool, but was so far from trusting that he called him "the Jesuit of Berkeley Square.” Fox resigned; and the withdrawal of another Minister opened the way for the appointment of William Pitt, Chatham’s second son, then in his twenty-fourth year, as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The new Ministry in 1783 signed preliminaries of peace and recognised the independence of America. The Treaty of Versailles was too inglorious to be popular; but Shelburne himself, whom everybody suspected and disliked, was a still greater obstacle to his continuance in power; and he was already contemplating resignation when Fox and North made up their ancient feud and carried against him a condemnation of the Peace. It was only after every possible alternative had been vainly proposed that George consented to accept Fox and North as Secretaries of State, with the Duke of Portland as their nominal chief; and, when the Coalition Ministry exposed themselves to attack by bringing forward an unpopular India Bill, he procured its rejection in the Lords by intimating ‘ ‘ that he should consider those who should vote for it, not only not his friends, but his enemies.” Pitt then formed a Cabinet, all the members of which, save himself, were peers; and he continued to hold his own against a dwindling majority in the House of Commons till his position was triumphantly established at the general election of 1784.

The Lord Advocate of Scotland, after Wedderburn in 1780 had followed Thurlow to the Upper House, was North’s “most powerful auxiliary” in the Commons;1but he was still far from the zenith of his career; and these shifting scenes of Cabinet collapse and reconstruction furnished him with opportunities for advancement which he turned to the fullest account. Dundas had no reason to regret the assertions of independence which had made him Joint-Keeper of the Signet; and in the summer of 1781 he was feeling his way towards a reassumption of that part, his object being, as afterwards appeared, to extort further favours from a tottering Government, and, if the Government should fall, to ensure his continuance in office by drawing nearer to the Whigs, and particularly to Pitt. On June 12, making what he called “a confession of his political faith,” he told the House that he had entered Parliament, only a year before the war began,” as an unprejudiced, unconnected man, without any more predilection for Ministers than for their opponents,” denied that he had used the Avordstarvation in any American debate, and, whilst admitting that he had opposed all concessions to the colonies, said that he had acted on no opinion but his own, and “had never to the present minute swerved a little.” Fox derived “great entertainment” from this confession, and rather spoiled its effect by reminding the speaker, who did not venture to contradict him, that he had swerved to some purpose in regard to North’s Conciliation Bills.

When Parliament re-assembled within forty-eight hours of the tidings from Yorktown, Dundas acted in the spirit of his boast. On November 28, replying from the Treasury bench to Pitt, who had taxed the Government/ with disunion, and called upon them to state plainly! whether or not they meant to continue the war, he/ bestowed his wonted eulogium on the genius of Chatham' re-incarnated in his son, and then astonished his audience by insisting that Ministers could not devolve their responsibility on the Crown, and declaring in general terms "that the Minister who would sacrifice his opinion to preserve his situation was unfit for society.” On December 14 he spoke on the Army Estimates, and, though Fox pressed him strongly to be more explicit, he merely reiterated these words. In using such language Dundas may have meant, not to embarrass Lord North, whom indeed he expressly exempted from censure, but rather to assist him by compelling the resignation of Lord George Germaine, the Secretary for the Colonies, who was known to be encouraging the King in his obstinate refusal to accept defeat; and North himself, who was seated beside his unpopular colleague, suggested this explanation by withdrawing to another bench. The Lord Advocate’s manoeuvre had, however, been concerted with Kigby, the most shameless of jobbers, and he certainly intended to promote his own v as well as the public good. It was supposed that he had hoped to supplant Germaine as Secretary of State; and that Minister had no sooner resigned towards the end of January, 1782, than he asked, and apparently prevailed upon, North to promise him the Treasurer-w ship of the Navy, vacated by Germaine’s successor, and his Scottish sinecure for life. George III., commenting on these large demands, intimated that, if Dundas accepted so lucrative a post as the Treasurership, he must be content to hold his Signet office during pleasure, for “the trouble he has given this winter is not a reason for making him independent." The matter had not been adjusted when North’s Ministry came to an end on March 20; but, a fortnight earlier, Dundas had elicited an assurance from Fox that he and his friends, when they came into power, did not “mean to proscribe the learned Lord Advocate, although they abhorred his notions of the constitution.” 

The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Advocate were almost the only members of the late Government who continued to hold office under Kockingham; and Dundas, anxious to regain favour at Court, proved little less amenable to royal influence than Thurlow, whose retention of his post was an avowed concession to the King. He attached himself closely to Shelburne, and seldom missed an opportunity of differing from, and even of insulting, Fox. Shelburne, as Rockingham's successor, sought to balance Fox’s desertion by calling to his assistance both Pitt and Dundas, and the latter received even more than he had asked from North; for, in addition to the Treasurership of the Navy and the Signet for life, he obtained the disposal of all offices in Scotland. The Ministry, however, was still very weak; and Dundas y attempted to secure the adhesion of Lord North, first by offering him “a great, but not a Cabinet, place,” and then by giving him to understand that Shelburne meant to resign, and that if he did not come in on these terms, Pitt and Fox would annihilate his party, by uniting their forces and dissolving Parliament. This injudicious threat helped materially to bring about that union of Fox and North which it was intended to prevent. Dundas was the King’s confidant in his strenuous endeavours to find an alternative to the Coalition Ministry, and all but succeeded in thrusting that burden on Pitt. Deprived of his Treasurership when the King had at last given way, he continued to act as Lord Advocate, boasting, it is said, “that no man in Scotland would dare to take his post”; but he and Thurlow had given no ordinary provocation, and both were turned out. As Fox had declared with regard to North and his colleagues that “from the moment when he should make any terms with one of them he would rest satisfied to be called the most infamous of mankind,” Dundas had no difficulty in ridiculing and vilifying the Coalition; but “that abandoned man,” as Walpole terms him, had steered anything but a straight course; and, when on February 17, 1783, he stated that he should always be ready to support any Government whose principles he approved, Fox retaliated by expressing his belief that, "in order that he may always be able to support Administration, he will take care invariably to approve of their principles." Dundas’s enemies held that this prediction was practically fulfilled within a few weeks, when, to the astonishment of his friend Rigby, he supported the proposals of Pitt—then, however, in Opposition—for parliamentary reform. On the same day (May 1) of the previous year, when Pitt made a similar motion, the Lord Advocate had opposed it on the audacious plea that “the constitution had existed for ages pure.”  Dundas at this crisis found himself in opposition to the astute lawyer, his friend and countryman, who in 1780 had been appointed Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. Lord North, unwilling to lose the services of so masterly a debater, had hesitated to bestow this preferment on Wedderburn; and the latter had overcome his reluctance by suggesting that he should be able to support the Government where it was strong only in numbers if he were admitted to the Upper House. Wedderburn, however, had no sooner taken his seat as Lord Loughborough than he professed a resolution not to soil his ermine by engaging in party strife; and his gratitude was, therefore, attested by nothing more valuable than a silent vote. He was greatly chagrined to find that the Chancellorship did not become vacant on the fall of North’s Ministry; and his ermine, having contracted some stains in consequence of this vexation, was soon trailed in the dust when the Coalition opened to him the prospect of supplanting Thurlow. Thurlow, however, was rather suspended than deposed, and Loughborough had to content himself with the office of First Commissioner of the Great Seal. He vigorously supported the Coalition Government; and, when George had dismissed them and called Pitt to power, he made his second appearance as an “occasional patriot” by denying the right of the Crown to maintain an administration which had not the confidence of the Commons, or even, as a means of obtaining that support for its Ministers, to dissolve Parliament. Lord Mansfield, the other Chief Justice, threw the weight of his great reputation into the same scale. During the suspension of Thurlow he returned to the woolsack as Speaker of the Lords; and he closed his parliamentary career, somewhat incongruously for a “high priest of despotism,” by opposing a motion of censure on the Commons for obstructing the right of the sovereign to choose his Ministers.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus