In the autumn of 1707, all eyes turned to Edinburgh. There Scotland’s Parliament would assemble on October 3 to vote on a treaty of union between England and Scotland. Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, was also a sometime government propagandist and spy for Queen Anne’s minister Lord Harley. He had come to Scotland to watch events and report back to his masters. He found the atmosphere tense, to say the least. As Defoe wandered through the dark, narrow streets and wynds (or alleys) of Edinburgh, all the talk was about “slavery to the English, running away with the Crown, taking away the Nation, and the like.” It was fortunate, Defoe figured, that London had not published the terms of the draft treaty before now. If the Scottish negotiators had then tried to return to Scotland, he said, “there was not many of them would dared to have gone home, without a guard to protect them.”
The treaty had been negotiated and signed that previous spring in London by two teams of commissioners, one for Scotland, the other for England. Negotiated might not be the best word. Scotland’s Parliament had authorized a slate of treaty commissioners in 1705, but played no part in choosing them. In fact, both teams, English and Scottish, had been handpicked by the Crown. They had all been chosen for their willingness to endorse what was called “an incorporating union,” a merger that fully absorbed Scotland into the kingdom of England. That was what Queen Anne and her English advisers wanted, and it was what the Scottish commissioners were expected to provide. “You see that what we are to treat of is not in our choice,” wrote one of them to a friend. Perhaps for that reason, despite the document’s twenty-eight separate clauses and momentous significance, negotiations had taken only eighteen days. Now it only required ratification by the Scottish Parliament to become law. But no one supposed that was going to be easy.
The terms were indeed drastic, especially for Scots who had hoped that union would mean a federation of the two kingdoms. As one supporter explained, this would have allowed two “Distinct, Free and Independent Kingdoms [to] unite their separate interests into one common interest, for the mutual benefit of both.” Instead, the treaty created a single new entity, Great Britain, governed by a single monarch and by a single British Parliament. The fine print, though, showed that the new government would be far more English than Scottish. The seat of government would be in London, nearly four hundred miles to the south. The Scottish Privy Council would lose all its power, while England’s would now assume direct control over everything that affected both nations, including taxes, custom and excise duties, and military and foreign affairs.
The treaty did leave some concessions to Scottish pride. Scotland’s separate legal system and courts would remain, as would the independence of her towns or burghs. Even more important, Scottish merchants would now have access to England’s overseas markets, from America and the Caribbean to Africa and India. But nothing was said about the independence of the Kirk, or the powers of its General Assembly, under the new arrangement. This uncertainty disturbed every self-respecting Presbyterian, and seriously weakened pro-union sentiment in the Scottish heartland.
One issue above all others, however, made passage of the treaty look very doubtful. The terms of union required the end of a separate Scottish Parliament. Scots would have 45 seats in the new British House of Commons—out of 558. Scottish nobles would have even less representation; only sixteen would be able to take seats in the new House of Peers. In effect, by signing the treaty of union, Scotland’s political class was committing suicide. Yet this was exactly what London, and the Scottish commissioners, expected them to do.
The leader of the pro-union forces in Parliament was James Douglas, Marquis of Queensberry. His orders were simple: secure ratification of the treaty by any means necessary, up to and including buying the votes to do it. London had even provided him with a secret slush fund of twenty thousand pounds to help make its arguments persuasive. Contemporaries, and later historians, would make a great deal about how this secret money “bought” the Scottish Parliament. In the end, however, it was probably more than Queensberry and the Crown needed (Queensberry himself ended up pocketing more than twelve thousand pounds of it for his own expenses). Whatever their principles, Scotland’s nobles and lairds had fallen on hard times, especially after the Darien disaster. John Locke’s friend James Johnstone, for example, found himself pro-union out of necessity. He was desperate for money—“which I need more than I thought I should do,” he confessed, because without it, “my house should fall.” As Defoe remarked to Harley: “In short, money will do anything here.”
The Court party was united by long subservience to royal command, and the need for royal favor. The opposition, on the other hand, was a hodgepodge of discontented groups and factions who all had something to lose from union, or thought they did. Lowland lairds allied themselves with Highland chiefs, along with Edinburgh and Glasgow burghers who worried about having to compete for markets with English merchants. Presbyterian hard-liners who feared a weakened Kirk found themselves joining hands with crypto-Catholic Jacobites, who believed (correctly) that a Scottish-English union would finish off any chance of a restoration of the Stuarts to their ancestral throne. The ostensible leader of opposition to the treaty was the fifth Duke of Hamilton, but its real spokesman was the former cofounder with William Paterson of the Darien Company, the wild and unpredictable Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun.
Fletcher despised any and all authority, but particularly that of the Stuarts. He was born into an old East Lothian landowning family in Saltoun. His mother claimed to be a descendant of Robert the Bruce. Andrew had proved himself to be a political firebrand from his early twenties, and the bane of successive governments in Edinburgh. Someone described him as “a low, thin man, brown complexion, full of fire, with a stern, sour look.” The Earl of Darmouth knew him well: “He was very brave, and a man of great integrity, [but] he had strange chimerical notions of government, which were so unsettled, that he would be very angry next day for any body’s being of an opinion that he was himself the night before. . . .”
Fletcher’s involvement in the Darien scheme was only one of a number of similar quixotic ventures. In 1685 he had thrown in his lot with the Earl of Argyll and the circle of hard-core anti-Catholic revolutionaries who had tried to preempt James II’s succession and to put Charles II’s bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth, in his place. Fletcher’s explosive temper helped to ruin the expedition but probably saved his life. He quarreled with the expedition’s chief guide over a horse, and shot him dead. Monmouth had wanted Fletcher to command his cavalry, but had to send him abroad instead. Monmouth proceeded to lose the battle of Sedgemoor, and was executed for treason along with Argyll. Fletcher, without wanting to be, was safe back in Holland. Instead, his punishment was limited to being sentenced to death in absentia and the confiscation of his Saltoun estates.
It was during his exile in Holland that Fletcher met William of Orange, the future William III. They became friends, and Fletcher joined him on his expedition to England in 1688. But after the Glorious Revolution, Fletcher turned against William, as well, when he realized the new king was chiefly interested in using the Scots as allies in his wars in Europe, and not in setting Scotland free.
Andrew Fletcher cared passionately about freedom, but it was a peculiar kind of freedom. In 1697 he had called for a compulsory universal militia, creating four camps, one in Scotland and three in England, where every young man, on beginning his twenty-second birthday, would receive military training of the most rigorous kind. “No woman should be suffered to come within the camp, and the crimes of abusing their own bodies any manner of way, punished with death.” The next year he proposed solving Scotland’s economic depression by in effect turning the Scottish peasantry into slaves, dividing up the indigent poor among the local landlords (such as himself), and giving the latter the power of life and death over their human herds.
By instinct and temperment, Fletcher was an authoritarian anarchist. He liked to think of himself as a Scottish laird of the old school. In fact, he had lived abroad almost as long as he had lived in Scotland. Fletcher was a genuine intellectual and amazingly well read: he had what was reputed to be the best private library in Scotland. Treaty supporters such as the Earl of Mar dismissed Fletcher as a “violent, ingenious fanatic.” But he was also a hero to many, because in the Parliament of 1703 he had pushed through a bill guaranteeing a Protestant succession in Scotland (although Fletcher was no admirer of the Kirk or its ministers) and establishing the principle that any change in the royal succession required the consent of the Scottish Parliament.
“I regard not names,” he wrote, “but things.” And for Fletcher, the thing that counted was land, as a place of employment for those who worked it and as a source of wealth for those who owned it. “For what end, then,” he wrote in 1703, “did God create such vast tracts of land, capable of producing so great variety and abundance?” He knew the value of commerce, as his involvement in the Darien Company showed: but he despised those who lived by it. “Can there be a greater disorder in human affairs,” he wrote, than having human beings jammed together in cities, earning their living by “the exercise of a sedentary and unmanly trade, to foment the luxury of a few”?
Fletcher despised merchants as much as he despised human weakness and big government. In his mind, they were natural allies. And he saw all of them in a treaty of union. Fletcher saw the proposed treaty as a devil’s bargain: trading away Scotland’s independence in exchange for a share in England’s seaborne empire. But he also saw in it the specter of change, the rise of a new society organized around money and commercial enterprise, which he saw as profoundly unnatural and “unmanly.” If this was the future, Andrew Fletcher was determined not to give in to it without a fight.
The Scottish Parliament traditionally opened with a stunning if anachronistic display of medieval pageantry.2 The Lord High Constable would take his ritual place in an armchair at the door of Parliament House. Officers of state, in their magnificent robes of office, stood on each side. Then, at the appointed hour, the members of Parliament began their parade from Holyrood Palace up High Street to St. Giles Church and Parliament House, with two mounted trumpeters leading the cavalcade. First came the Estate of the Burghs or towns, also on horseback, arranged two by two. Then came the Estate of the Shires, representatives from the rural counties of Scotland, similarly mounted and in twos.
The Lords Baron followed, gorgeously decked out in colorful robes and velvet surcoats bearing their coats of arms, each accompanied by a gentleman leading his horse and three servants wearing his lord’s heraldic badges. Then the earls, each with four servants; more trumpeters; then the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, followed by the royal regalia: the Sword of State, the Sceptre, the Purse, and the Crown. The Lord High Commissioner, Queensberry himself, rode along surrounded by servants, pages, and footmen; then dukes, marquises, and finally John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, with the Captain of the Horse Guards and the Royal Horse Guards bringing up the rear. “The Riding of Parliament” was a powerful visual reminder that Parliament was really the gathering of the kingdom’s traditional feudal order, a living tableau of the “bodie politicke” as it had been envisioned since the days of John Balliol and Robert the Bruce.
This time the crowd of Edinburgh citizens gathered to cheer their heroes, the Duke of Hamilton and his ally Atholl, and heckle Queensberry, Mar, and the other commissioners. Mutters and curses of “no union” and “treaters-traitors” greeted them as they entered Parliament House. Daniel Defoe stood nearby and watched with amazement. “To find a nation but a few months before, were earnestly crying out for a Union, and the nearer the better . . . now fly in the face of their masters, and upbraid the gentlemen, who managed it, with selling and betraying their country . . .”
But pro-union forces had a strategy to circumvent their furious opponents. This was the treaty’s tantalizing promise of economic prosperity for Scotland, as trade barriers would come down and Scottish merchants would be able to enter English overseas markets. The Earl of Stair, Queensberry’s right-hand man, had from the beginning stressed the need to present the trade issue to Parliament first. Then, he told the queen and her advisers, questions about the loss of power to London, the abolition of Parliament, the succession, and the rest would take care of themselves.
Here, Fletcher and Stair were in agreement. Union was indeed a devil’s bargain. Scots were being asked to exchange their political autonomy for economic growth, or, to put it more crudely, for money. But this raised a question. What was the real value of that much-vaunted autonomy, and independent legislation by Parliament, which they were being asked to give up?
In that sense, all the solemn procession and pageantry was a sham. London had actually been running Scottish affairs for more than a century, since the reign of James I. Scotland’s greatest families had long since been brought to heel. As for Parliament, no one had any illusions about its claims to be a body representative of the Scottish nation. The current Parliament had been elected in 1703; the last election before that had been in 1689.
Unlike its English counterpart, Scotland’s Parliament did not enjoy a long-established reputation as a forum for public debate or as the defender of the rights of freeborn citizens. On the contrary, it had a long and shameless history of supine subservience to royal authority. Most Scots barely noted its existence. If it disappeared, very few beyond its actual members would notice or care. James Johnstone, the needy pro-union Lord Clerk Register, pointed this out to friends even before the Parliament began. “As for the giving up the legislative [power], we had none to give up.” He went on, “For the true state of the matter was, whether Scotland should continue subject to an English ministry without [the privilege of trade] or be subject to an English Parliament with trade.”
Others, however, were determined not to be so clearheaded or realistic. Here they had one trump card to play: religion. Once Parliament had opened and the Queen’s letter was read, urging them to ratify the treaty, the member for Pardivan rose to propose a public fast day before proceeding any further. His intention was clear: to stir up resentment against the treaty within the Kirk and among the Presbyterian clergy. The treaty had said nothing about the Kirk. Unlike independence of Parliament, the independence of the Presbyterian Church and its General Assembly was an issue that could stir deep emotion in Scotland. Many ministers were already fiercely opposed to union; a public fast day would certainly turn into a series of massive public demonstrations against the treaty and the hated English.
And Queensberry and the pro-union forces knew it. As one member put it, the fast-day proposal “occasioned a long jangle” but was finally defeated. But the question of the Kirk still remained unresolved. The first serious vote took place on October 15, on whether to proceed to consider the treaty article by article. Fletcher, Hamilton, and the others fought hard to delay, but the motion was carried by sixty-six votes.
The next day the opposition received a body blow they had not expected. The General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, meeting in Edinburgh at the same time, gave its tacit consent to the union treaty.
This coup can be credited to the efforts of one man: William Carstares, Principal of the University of Edinburgh and current Moderator of the General Assembly. Alert, intelligent, and close-mouthed, Carstares, like so many prominent men in pre-Union Scotland, had suffered heavily for his faith. He was the eldest of nine children of a prominent Covenanting minister who had been driven into hiding by Lauderdale’s dragoons. Carstares was then jailed in Edinburgh Castle for distributing anti-Lauderdale broadsides. He had fled to Holland after his release, where he joined a plot against James II, and was arrested again. Under torture, Carstares had provided evidence that sent an innocent man to the gallows at Grassmarket. Perhaps for that reason he had acquired an inner taciturnity, a guardedness in dealing with both friends and foes, as well as a studied hatred of the Stuarts and their supporters.
When he returned to Holland, he had met William of Orange. The future king was immediately attracted by Carstares’s honesty, dedication, and pious eloquence, and made him his chaplain. Unlike Andrew Fletcher, he had remained loyal to William after 1688, and proved a rock of support for the government in Edinburgh and in the Kirk. In 1703 he became Principal of Edinburgh’s university. With his brother-in-law William Donlop serving as Principal of the University of Glasgow, he dominated Scottish education with a Colossus-like presence. Thanks to Carstares, university life in Scotland would from that time on be resolutely “Whig”3: pro-Revolution, pro–Protestant succession, pro–House of Hanover—and pro-union.
Carstares’s Presbyterian credentials and support for a strong independent Kirk were a byword in Edinburgh (before his death in 1715, he would even pen a forthright if qualified defense of the hanging of Thomas Aikenhead). But his fear of a Stuart restoration ran deeper. Almost to a man, the Kirk was opposed to the treaty. But Carstares warned his colleagues in the General Assembly that if the treaty of union failed, they might well find themselves with a Roman Catholic king. They faced a trade-off. If they insisted on getting everything they wanted, they could end up losing it all. But if they could accept an Episcopalian king and the merger with England, they would win concessions on the final draft, and preserve the Kirk’s control over its doctrine and discipline. His arguments worked, and the General Assembly agreed to the treaty. It was a monumental act of statesmanship on Carstares’s part—and done, in defiance of critics of union, without recourse to a single bribe. It also deprived treaty opponents of their most potent resource, the religious card. Years later someone would find an unsigned letter addressed to Carstares preserved in his private papers. It read simply, “The union could never have had the consent of the Scottish Parliament if you had not acted the worthy part you did.”
Now the Earl of Mar, writing to Harley in London, was more confident than ever that the treaty would pass. But he believed that the opposition would still try “some foolish extravagant thing” to postpone the final day.
That “foolish extravagant thing” came on October 23. A mob stormed the house of Patrick Johnson, Lord Provost (or mayor) of Edinburgh and a treaty commissioner. The municipal guard had to be called out, and they arrested six rioters. The rest roamed the streets unchecked, smashing windows and threatening passersby. By nine o’clock they had intimidated any and all law-enforcement authorities and marauded at will. Queensberry sent a party of soldiers from Holyrood to the Netherbow Port to keep at least one gate out of the city open.
The next day three regiments of royal troops marched in at Queensberry’s orders. Edinburgh was placed under martial law, and the city streets again became clear. But from this point on, no supporter of union dared go outside without armed bodyguards. Queensberry himself took the precaution of leaving Parliament House every day in a closed carriage at full gallop, while the crowd flung curses and excrement at the scrambling vehicle.
On November 7 the unrest spread to Glasgow, whose Provost fled to Edinburgh to escape the enraged throng. Anti-union protesters tried to stir many of the same emotions as the National Covenant had done seventy years earlier. On November 20 an armed mob marched into Dumfries, burned a copy of the treaty, and tacked up a crudely written proclamation that said ratification of union would be “contrary to our fundamental liberties and privileges . . . as men and christians.”
But this was 1707, not 1637. And day by day, ratification of the treaty went ahead as planned.
On November 4 the first article, providing that England and Scotland “for ever after be united in one kingdom by the name of Great Britain,” was presented to the assembled Parliament (unlike the English division into Lords and Commons, all the members of the Scottish Parliament met as a single body). The most emotional outburst from the opposition came not from Andrew Fletcher, but from another diehard member of the opposition, Lord Belhaven. In a long, almost hysterical speech, he compared the proposed treaty to an act of murder, with Scotland’s ancient mythic mother, Caledonia, expiring under the dagger blows of her treacherous sons, as her dying breath paraphrased Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “And you too, my children!”
Belhaven saw a powerful and prosperous England, its navy “the terror of Europe,” devouring a defenseless Scotland. “We are an obscure, poor people, though formerly of better account, removed to a remote corner of the world, without name and without alliance. . . . Now we are slaves forever.” Then he employed a different classical allusion: “Hannibal, My Lord, is at our gates; Hannibal is at our gates; Hannibal is come the length of this table, he is at the foot of the throne: he will demolish this throne if we take not notice; he would seize upon this regalia,” Belhaven bellowed, pointing to the Crown and Sceptre of State, “and whip us out of this house never to return.”
Then he turned to the other members. “We want neither men nor sufficiency of all manner of things to make a nation happy,” he cried, and then in a mighty wail, “Good God, what is this! An entire surrender.” Overcome with emotion, Belhaven broke off his speech, pleading that he was unable to finish.
The house sat, stunned. Then another figure, leaner and much older, rose to speak. It was Lord Chancellor Polwarth, newly honored by the Queen with the earldom of Marchmont, the same man who had cast the final vote sentencing Thomas Aikenhead to death eleven years earlier. Now he had a slight smile on his lips. “Behold, he dreamed,” Lord Marchmont sneered, with a glance at Belhaven, “but lo: when he awoke, behold it was a dream.” The remark broke the spell. The house voted, and Article One passed by thirty-two votes. “A good plurality,” wrote the Earl of Mar, and added, “but fewer than we expected.”
The next two articles also passed, after bitter wrangling. Then debate began on Article Four, providing for “full freedom and intercourse of Trade and navigation.” Andrew Fletcher had largely held his fire until now. He had moved to protest the use of royal troops to suppress the disturbances on October 23, saying that the rioters had been the true voice of the Scottish people. He had quarreled with his ostensible leader, the Duke of Hamilton, who had turned out to be a huge disappointment and a weak reed in organizing opposition—but then Fletcher was always quarreling with the Duke of Hamilton.
Now Fletcher came into his own. The treaty’s economic provisions, the heart of the union, raised Fletcher, as one friend put it, to “a vast heat.” The prospects for Scotland of access to English markets seemed to him dim. “For my part, I cannot see what advantage a free trade to the English plantations [in America] would bring us, except a further exhausting of our people, and the utter ruin of all our merchants. . . .” The union, he thundered, “would certainly destroy even those manufactures we now have.”
Nor was it clear to him how foreign trade, which he contemptuously described as “the golden ball for which all nations of the world are contending,” would benefit Scotland as a whole. “Our trade cannot increase on a sudden,” Fletcher argued, and there would be no money left after the rich and well-born had taken their share to spend on extravagant houses and clothes in London. Scotland’s own geographic advantages would play against her. “The wholesomeness of our air, and the healthfulness of our climate,” he had written, “afford us great numbers of people, which in so poor a country can never be all maintained by manufactures, or public workhouses, or any other way” than the one Fletcher had proposed fourteen years earlier: slavery. “Besides,” he added, “the natural pride of our commonalty, and their indisposition to labor, are insuperable difficulties, which the English have not to contend with in their people.” In short, the English might find a way to make commerce pay as a source of national wealth; the Scots, Fletcher believed, never could. Hence, growth through union was an illusion.
With or without the help of bribes, the vast majority in the Parliament understood that the real illusion was Fletcher’s: that formal independence could be maintained without economic strength. Treaty supporters understood that Scotland’s material poverty and failing economy were powerful reasons to support union. The future for Scotland, and the world, lay in the sea lanes of trade and empire. “This nation being poor,” said William Seton of Pitmedden, a former treaty commissioner, “and without force to protect its commerce, cannot reap great advantage by it, till it partake of the trade and protection of some powerful neighbor nation, that can communicate both these.” Article Four passed overwhelmingly, 156 to 19. Fletcher himself was so disappointed and furious at the final vote that he stormed out of the house.
The next two months were anticlimax, as Parliament made its way through the rest of the twenty-five articles, approving each after wearying and inconsequential debate with the symbolic touch of the Sceptre of State. By the first of the year of 1707, the Crown’s ministers began to talk of being “in sight of land.” Then, in January, they came to the last great barrier to final approval. This was Article 22, which abolished the Scottish Parliament and fixed representation in the new British Parliament at sixteen Lords and forty-five Commons, a ten-to-one advantage for the English members. To opponents, no provision of the treaty seemed to symbolize Scotland’s reduced status in the new union as much as did Article 22. “The Scots deserve no pity,” Fletcher had warned, “if they voluntarily surrender their united and separate interests to the Mercy of an united Parliament,” where the Scots would have only forty-five elected members. The very principle of representative government for which both Scots and English had fought and died, first in the Civil War and then in 1688, seemed under attack.
It was going to be a fierce debate, and to lead it Queensberry had chosen his right-hand counsel, John Dalrymple, Earl of Stair. Stair was, as John Prebble has put it, “witty, wise, and ambitious.” The son of Scotland’s most distinguished jurist, both he and his father had been savagely persecuted by the Stuarts. Then the son, realizing there were advantages to going with the flow, switched sides. He became Lord Advocate, and finally Secretary of State for Scotland.
A man constrained by few principles or much sense of humanity, Stair, more than anyone else, was responsible for the hideous events in Glencoe on February 13, 1692, when the pro-Orange Campbells had slaughtered thirty-seven of their pro-Jacobite neighbors, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, including women and children (“’tis strange to me,” he wrote callously when the news of the massacre set off shock-waves in the Scottish Parliament, “that means so much regret for such a sept of thieves”).4 The ensuing scandal had forced his resignation from the secretaryship, but his loyalty to William and Mary earned him the title Earl of Stair in 1700.
As a public figure, Stair was viewed by ordinary Scots with alarm, even fear. Rumors had it that he and his family were possessed by the devil. His sister Sarah was said to be able to levitate over walls at will. His mother was popularly believed to be a witch, and when her daughter Janet married against her will, her mother had (according to scandalmongers) cursed her: “Ye may marry him, but sair ye shall repent it!” On the wedding night, terrible screams were heard from the bridal chamber. When the door was opened the next morning, the daughter was found dead, bathed in blood, with the groom raving in the chimney corner, hopelessly insane.
The sensational story of “the Dalrymple curse” became the original for a novel by Sir Walter Scott and memorable to generations of operagoers as the Mad Scene in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Although the story is false (in fact, Janet Dalrymple died of a natural illness two weeks after her marriage), the myth of a curse gave Stair a certain intimidating presence among his colleagues—all except, of course, Andrew Fletcher, who at one point in the debate offered to tie Stair to his horse’s tail and drag him through the streets of Edinburgh (he was forced to apologize for the remark the next day).
It was Stair who helped Queensberry draw up his list of pliant Scottish commissioners for the original signing of the treaty. It was Stair who proposed the original strategy for getting the treaty past the Parliament, by offering up the molasses first, especially freedom of trade, before getting down to the sulfur, which meant Article 22. Now it was this extraordinary and amoral man, the very opposite of William Carstares in public reputation and integrity, who rose to carry the treaty over its final hurdle.
His argument was characterstically direct and unsentimental. All this talk of principle would get Scotland nowhere. The real issue was who paid the bills. The only way to draw any sensible comparison between the two kingdoms in representative terms, Stair explained, was not how many members each Parliament had before union, but how much each was willing to pay in taxes. The English would begin by paying into the new British Treasury thirty-five times the amount of revenue the Scots would pay. From that perspective, he concluded for his colleagues, the English were entitled to a thirty-five-to-one advantage in members. Take ten-to-one, he told them; at that rate, union comes cheap.
The debate was furious and emotional. Stair stood like a rock, however, answering every objection and insult and in the end, on January 7, Article 22 passed by forty votes. Stair left Parliament House exhausted but exultant, and threaded his way past the usual hostile crowds to his Edinburgh lodging. He retired early and never woke up. When his servant opened the door to his room early the next morning, he found his master dead in bed, a victim of a stroke. He was fifty-eight years old.
The treaty of union had claimed its first martyr. Supporters and his family printed up a broadside in his memory, decorated with black borders and skulls, declaring that “The Union shall perpetuate his name, as long as there’s an ear or mouth in fame!” Opponents pointed to the Dalrymple curse, and suggested a different epitaph:
Stay, passenger, but shed no tear.
A Pontius Pilate lieth here.
On January 14 the final article of the treaty was passed. The opposition had played every card they had, including threatening to walk out, all to no avail. On the sixteenth, the members entered Parliament House to approve the treaty as a whole. The final vote was 110 to 69. Queensberry touched it with the Sceptre of State, and the kingdom of Scotland ceased to exist. “Now there’s an end of an old song,” said Lord Seafield, with a singular lack of appropriate solemnity for an event that marked the end of a kingdom and an epoch. But he and the rest of the treaty supporters were thinking not of the past, of Belhaven and Fletcher’s “dream” of a free and independent Scotland that had never existed. They were thinking of themselves, and the future.
There was, however, one final bit of comedy to be played out. When the members reassembled at Parliament House to sign the final treaty, the furious crowd outside immediately turned on them and the members were forced to flee. They tried to meet again at a nearby tavern, and then at a small summer house behind Moray House in the Canongate. Each time, someone spotted them and raised the hue and cry to other townspeople, and the terrified members had to run for their lives. Finally they pretended to give up and go home; then, one by one, they found their separate ways to a cellar in High Street directly opposite the Tron Church. There, with hushed tones and frequent glances out the window, they signed the documents and slipped out the door. Everyone took Queensberry’s cue and left for London that night. Rumors said the Edinburgh mob was planning to meet Queensberry’s carriage as it left the city in the morning. No one was in the mood to take any chances.
As they made their way to London, the wrangling began about money. Some treaty supporters found themselves richly recompensed. The Marquis of Queensberry walked away with 12,000 pounds. Lord Marchmont received 1,100 pounds. Campbell of Cessnock received 50 pounds, which seems paltry until one realizes that one English pound was equal to twelve Scottish, so that he was actually pocketing the equivalent of 600 Scottish pounds. The Earl of Glasgow secured the Register’s Office for life and an annual grant of 1,200 pounds sterling. Many Darien investors received compensation for what they had lost, under a special provision (Article 15) of the treaty. But others received little or nothing of what had been promised. Inevitably there was bad blood and jealousy afterwards, and no one, except perhaps Queensberry, could say he had been rewarded above and beyond what his vote had cost him in honor and integrity in the eyes of posterity.
Things looked a little brighter from London. On March 4 the treaty passed both houses of Parliament at Westminster. If public opinion despised the treaty in Scotland, it found more supporters south of the Tweed, especially in London. Scotland was now secure from a Stuart takeover, it was assumed; the Protestant succession was safe, and Scotland’s subordinate role to English political and mercantile interests was now a matter of law.
But in Scotland even treaty supporters had little cause for celebration. They had taken a huge plunge into the unknown, and a great gamble; no one knew what would actually happen. On May 1, 1707, the day the treaty came into force, the Earl of Mar received a letter from a friend in Edinburgh. “The tune of our musick bells this day was,” he wrote, “‘Why should I be sad on my wedding day?’”
Andrew Fletcher was, as usual, more caustic. “They may dance around to all Eternity,” he said of the treaty’s supporters, “in this Trap of their own making.”
But Fletcher and the other doomsayers were wrong. Instead of becoming a trap, the Act of Union launched an economic boom. In the span of a single generation it would transform Scotland from a Third World country into a modern society, and open up a cultural and social revolution. Far from finding themselves slaves to the English, as opponents had prophesied, Scots experienced an unprecedented freedom and mobility. For the first time, the term growth began to apply to Scottish society, in every sense of the word. “What the Revolution had begun,” declared the first number of the Edinburgh Review, referring to Scotland’s first initial burst of creativity and energy after 1688, “the Union rendered compleat.”
It is a judgment that, for almost two decades after the treaty signing, would have seemed ridiculous. Supporters of union had been gambling on the future. In a very short time, that future looked pretty bleak.
The first blow came in 1708, when London’s Parliament abolished the Scottish Privy Council. This made even William Carstares, the man who had saved the treaty in the General Assembly, blink. By taking away the Privy Council, Parliament had deprived Scots of the one remaining intermediary body between them and the government in London. From that moment, the notion of a separate Scottish political interest had ceased to exist.
Then in 1709 came the introduction of the English liturgy for use in Anglican church services in Edinburgh. The very use of the word liturgy conjured up visions of Catholic Mass, Popery, and the Scarlet Woman of Rome for devout Scots. The Edinburgh Town Council and the Court of Session both issued bans against the practice, but the House of Lords— in London—overturned them. Anglicanism was now here to stay, and in 1712 another blow fell when Parliament—again, operating from London—passed an Act of Toleration for all Episcopalians in Scotland, ending the Kirk’s claim to a monopoly over official religious life.
Even in London, some began to turn against the treaty, especially when opposition English Tories realized it was Scottish MPs’ support that had kept successive Whig governments in power. In 1713 a bill was introduced in Parliament to dissolve the union. Ironically, it was Lord Seafield, who had declared the treaty “an end of an old song” as it was touched with the scepter, who now moved to undo the treaty in the House of Peers. In the end, supporters rallied and the dissolution bill was defeated by four votes—so slender was the thread that finally held the two kingdoms together!
Nor were the hopes that union would secure a Protestant succession borne out.
Queen Anne, the last Stuart, had no children or heirs. To keep a Protestant on the throne, Parliament had arranged for the crown to pass to her taciturn German cousin the Elector George of Hanover. After a long illness, Anne died on August 1, 1714. Her physician was John Arbuthnot, a Scot from Kincardineshire with a medical degree from St. Andrews. He now watched with disgust as courtiers, politicians, and civil servants scrambled to find themselves places in the government of the new king, George I. “I have an opportunity calmly and philosophically to consider that treasure of vileness and baseness that I always believed to be in the heart of man,” he wrote to his friend Alexander Pope.
One of the big losers in the scramble was the Earl of Mar, who was forced to surrender his powerful and lucrative post as Secretary of State for Scotland. Like most aristocrats, English or Scottish, he was helpless without his pensions or royal favor. Desperate for money, he stayed at Court for an entire year waiting for a chance to ingratiate himself with George I, but without success. Finally, when they met at a royal function in August of 1715, the king ostentatiously turned his back on Mar and refused to speak to him. Mar left England in a fury. He called on his friends and dependents to join him on his traditional annual stag hunt in the glens and forests around Braemar, overlooking the river Dee. After the hunt, Mar and the others drank a hot punch of whisky, honey, and boiling water, which their servants had brewed up in a rock outcropping. As they drained their cups, Mar spoke.
He told them, “That tho’ he had been instrumental in forwarding the Union of the Two Kingdoms in the reign of Queen Anne, yet now his eyes were opened and he could see his error . . .” He swore to his amazed friends that he now would work to undo that “cursed Union” and make the Scots “again a free People, and that they should enjoy their ancient liberties.” A few days later he raised the banner of the exiled James Stuart as rightful ruler of Scotland and England.
At one fell swoop, John Erskine, sixth Earl of Mar, had united two political causes, opposition to the Union and support for the Catholic James Stuart, or James the Pretender. Mar was not in contact with James, who was living in France; news of the rising came as much a surprise to James as to everyone else. But the rash gesture worked. Although Mar was a Lowland lord and had no clan to command, Highlanders from the west and east rose up to meet him. Gordons, Frasers, Campbells of Breadalbane and Glenlyon, Mackenzies, Macleans, and MacDonalds of Clanranald offered their swords and lives to Mar and the Stuart cause.
By October the Earl of Mar had an army of ten thousand infantry and cavalry, far larger than the ragtag bunch Prince Charles would assemble during the more famous Jacobite revolt in 1745. Virtually all of Scotland north of the Firth of Forth was in open support for James, along with large sections of the Presbyterian Lowlands and even northwest England. Gentlemen from Renfrewshire armed with pistols and breastplate rode side by side with Highland chiefs with broadsword and tartan. James became so confident the revolt would succeed that he landed with his entourage at Peterhead on December 22 and made plans for his coronation at Scone.
However, by then Mar had blown his chance. At Sheriffmuir on November 13 he met the much smaller loyalist forces commanded by the Duke of Argyll. By strange coincidence, each army managed to rout a large part of the other.
There’s some that say that we wan,
And some that they wan,
And some say that nane wan at a’ man;
But one thing I’m sure,
That at Sheri f-muir,
A battle there was which I saw, man.
In fact, the old song was wrong. Argyll won the battle by keeping his head and holding his ground with his remaining soldiers. Mar did not. He pulled back to his base at Perth and waited for French reinforcements that never came. As Argyll’s forces grew in strength, Mar and James were forced to evacuate Perth. On February 3, 1716, James Stuart went sadly back into exile in France with the humiliated Mar.
The Jacobite revolt of 1745, “the Forty-five,” is more famous than the one in 1715. However, “the Fifteen” was far more serious, in that it delivered a severe shock to the political class of both England and Scotland. Only the Earl of Mar’s hesitations and incompetence had saved the situation. The Fifteen added a new and bitter division within Scotland, between Jacobites and “Whigs,” or those who supported the House of Hanover. It also left an air of tension and uncertainty. No one knew just when James the Pretender might come back, and whether the whole political edifice of Great Britain might someday come crashing to the ground.
Even the new economic arrangements, the centerpiece of the pro-union public relations campaign, still looked bad a decade after the treaty. As Fletcher and others had predicted, it killed off domestic industries that had previously relied on tariffs and restrictions for their survival. One was the Scottish wool industry, which could not compete with its cheaper and more efficient English counterpart. Linen, once Scotland’s most important manufacture, took a severe beating, as did brewing and papermaking.
Even more ominously, Scots were also paying more, a lot more, in taxes. The English were used to paying high customs and duties even on domestic products, and excise taxes on the basic necessities of life. The Scots were not. Taxes on linen, on paper, and on salt all warmed Scottish resentment against the union, and led many, even in the Presbyterian Lowlands, to look favorably on the rebels of the Fifteen. The last straw came in 1725, when Parliament imposed a heavy duty on malt, a crucial ingredient in brewing beer—and in making uisge beatha, or whisky. Glasgow exploded in revolt, the most serious popular violence to occur in Scotland in the entire century.
Yet even then a fundamental truth was beginning to dawn on the more farsighted Scottish merchants and members of the landowning class. The reason the English willingly paid more taxes was they got better government for their money. Since the mid–seventeenth century the English state had evolved into a powerful, purposeful bureaucracy, generating stability and efficiency across the political landscape. It kept public order and enforced the law; it provided usable roads for transport and communication between the capital, London, and the outlying counties; it supplied patronage jobs for local landowners and town patricians; it fed and equipped a standing army of nearly 100,000 men to protect British interests on the Continent and abroad; it maintained a navy that defended the lanes of sea traffic and trade from Newfoundland to Calcutta.
By the Act of Union, Scotland found itself yoked to this powerful engine for change, which expanded men’s opportunities at the same time as it protected what they held dear: life, liberty, and property. It was a revelation. One result was that in the eighteenth century, enlightened Scots never worried about too much government. On the contrary, they had learned to see the benefits of strong state power and to see how too little of it, as before the Union, could hold back social and economic change.
And here, the fact that Scotland was very much the junior partner in this union also turned out to be an advantage. The new Parliament largely ignored Scotland; outbursts such as the malt riots and the threat of Jacobitism apart, the government in London paid little attention to what was happening north of the border. Scots ended up with the best of both worlds: peace and order from a strong administrative state, but freedom to develop and innovate without undue interference from those who controlled it. Over the next century, Scots would learn to rely on their own resources and ingenuity far more than their southern neighbors would. Scottish merchants and capitalists, like their American counterparts, recognized the advantages of a laissez-faire private sector far earlier than did the English or other Europeans.
A strong government that leaves well enough alone: this was the dual, seemingly contradictory, nature of the British state as it became part of life in post-union Scotland. Scots became used to these dualities, and learned to accept them as basic reality, just as the Union itself involved a fundamental duality: “a ship of state with a double-bottomed hull,” as Jonathan Swift put it. They also learned to think in a new way as a result of the Union: in terms of the long term.
“In the long term,” wrote the English economist John Maynard Keynes, “we are all dead.” The Scottish Enlightenment learned a different lesson from the changes brought by union with England. Its greatest thinkers, such as Adam Smith and David Hume, understood that change constantly involves trade-offs, and that short-term costs are often compensated by long-term benefits. “Over time,” “on balance,” “on the whole”—these are favorite sentiments, if not expressions, of the eighteenth-century enlightened Scot. More than any other, they capture the complex nature of modern society. And the proof came with the Act of Union.
Here was a treaty, a legislative act inspired not by some great political vision or careful calculation of the needs of the future, or even by patriotism. Most if not all of those who signed it were thinking about urgent and immediate circumstances; they were in fact thinking largely about themselves, often in the most venal terms. Yet this act—which in the short term destroyed an independent kingdom, created huge political uncertainties both north and south, and sent Scotland’s economy into a tailspin—turned out, in the long term, to be the making of modern Scotland
Nor did Scots have to wait that long. Already by the 1720s, as the smoke and tumult of the Fifteen was clearing, there were signs of momentous changes in the economy. Grain exports more than doubled, as Scottish agriculture recovered from the horrors of the Lean Years and learned to become more commercial in its outlook. Lowland farmers would be faced now not with starvation, but with falling prices due to grain surpluses. Glasgow merchants entered the Atlantic trade with English colonies in America, which had always been closed to them before. By 1725 they were taking more than 15 percent of the tobacco trade. Inside of two decades, they would be running it.
A wide range of goods, not just tobacco but also molasses, sugar, cotton, and tea, flooded into Scotland. Finished goods, particularly linen textiles and cotton products, began to flood out, despite the excise tax. William Mackintosh of Borlum saw even in 1729 that Scotland’s landed gentry were living better than they ever had, “more handsomely now in dress, table, and house furniture.” Glasgow, the first hub of Scotland’s transatlantic trade, would soon be joined by Ayr, Greenock, Paisley, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh. By the 1730s the Scottish economy had turned the corner. By 1755 the value of Scottish exports had more than doubled. And it was due almost entirely to the effect of overseas trade, “the golden ball” as Andrew Fletcher had contemptuously called it, which the Union of 1707 had opened.
Fletcher himself had died in 1716. He played no part in the Fifteen. His attitude toward Jacobite and Whig was “a plague on both their houses.” Almost his last words were, “Lord have mercy on my poor Country that is so barbarously oppressed.” Ironically enough, he died in the oppressor’s capital, in London—on his way home from Europe, where he spent most of the years after the Union treaty. Someone had asked him when he left Scotland, “Will you forsake your country?” He answered, “It is only fit for the slaves who sold it.” How strange that the laird of Saltoun, who had once been prepared to turn a large portion of his fellow countrymen into slaves, should use that word to describe the Scots who had repudiated his retrograde vision for the kingdom. How strange, too, that a man who claimed to despise trade and traders should choose to spend so much of his life in large, cosmopolitan cities— London, Paris, Amsterdam—that were built by mercantile wealth. It was precisely that wealth which he had hoped to deny Scotland, for the sake of an abstract and austere ideal of liberty. It was that wealth which Scotland’s urban centers now enjoyed by being part of Britain, and which promised to create a new and very different Scotland.
Yet the Act of Union could not by itself force that change to come about. Instead, the next crucial stage of Scotland’s emergence into the modern world did not come from outside influences, but from deep within two of its own institutions: its universities and its law courts.