Why was the fate of Scotland so different from that of Ireland?
First of all, Scotland had never been conquered; on the contrary, it had given the English a Scottish king. Its Highland chieftains, still unsubdued, provided a fighting class that had led the Scots again and again in invasions of England. Its Lowland stock was Anglo-Saxon, basically of the same breed as the English. Its soil remained in resolute native hands. Its religion, like the Anglican, was a product of the Reformation, not a heritage from the medieval Church; and it united instead of dividing the nation. After the Act of Union (1707), Scotland shared in proportion to population in electing members of the now British—i.e., English-Welsh-Scottish—Parliament; it submitted to be ruled from London, but only after extorting commercial concessions that enriched the Scottish people. Every parish in Scotland tried to set up a school for its children, and four universities offered the best higher education then available in the British Isles. In the course of the eighteenth century this educational activity flowered into a “Scottish Enlightenment”—Hume, Hutcheson, Reid, Robertson, Adam Smith—that gave a heady pace to the English mind.
That bright fulfillment, however, had to be earned; fifty years passed before the fruits of the union matured. Scotland in 1714 was still basically feudal: each district, outside the cities, was ruled by a great noble through his vassal lairds, and the land was worked by a loyal and letterless tenant peasantry. But now the political union with England was rapidly undermining that structure. The nobles had dominated the Scottish Parliament; when that Parliament was ended the Scottish representatives in the British Parliament found themselves in an environment where the influence of trade and industry rivaled that of land; they adopted English ideas and technology; and by 1750 the manufacturers and merchants of Scotland were challenging the national leadership of the Argylls, the Atholls, the Hamiltons, and the Mars. The Jacobite adventure of 1745 was the last flare of Scottish feudal power; when it failed, the economic life of Scotland merged with the English economy, and the rule of the middle classes began. The union opened the English colonies to Scottish trade; in 1718 Glasgow launched the first Scottish vessel to cross the Atlantic; soon Scottish merchants were everywhere. Agricultural technology and urban sanitation improved; the death rate fell; population rose from 1,000,000 in 1700 to 1,652,000 at the close of the century. Edinburgh, with fifty thousand inhabitants, was in 1751 the third-largest city in Great Britain, surpassed only by London and Bristol.
The Presbyterian Kirk remained almost fanatically loyal to the Calvinist theology. Every Sunday the people walked—sometimes two or three miles—to churches sternly bare of ornament, and heard hours of preaching and prayer emphasizing the fatality of predestination and the terrors of hell. The Bible was the daily inspiration of every Scottish family; as late as 1763 Hume, in wry exaggeration, estimated two Bibles in Scotland to every man, woman, and child.64 The preachers were men of little education but of sincere and moving piety; they lived in austere simplicity, and their example and precepts contributed forcefulness to the stability and integrity of the Scottish character. The elders and minister of each kirk watched sharply over the conduct and speech of the parishioners; they meted out penalties for swearing, slander, quarreling, witchcraft, fornication, adultery, any breach of the Sabbath, any deviation from their awful creed. The ministers condemned dancing, wedding festivities, and attendance at the theater. They still held trials for witchcraft, though executions for it were becoming rare. In 1727 a mother and daughter were convicted on such a charge; the daughter escaped, but the mother was burned to death in a barrel of pitch.65 When the British Parliament (1736) repealed the law punishing witchcraft with death, the Scottish Presbytery denounced the repeal as violating the Bible’s express command.66
Meanwhile the parish schools maintained by the Kirk, and the “burg schools” supported by the towns, prepared students for the universities. To Edinburgh, Aberdeen, St. Andrews, and Glasgow came eager young men from every class—from farms and workshops as well as from lairds’ mansions and baronial halls. A zeal for knowledge animated them, and they bore any hardship in their quest. Many of them lived in cold attic rooms, and took their chief nourishment from a sack of oatmeal periodically carried in from the paternal farm. The professors too were stoics, rarely receiving over sixty pounds a year. In the universities hardly less than in the parish schools, theology was the core of the curriculum; but the classics were taught, and a little science; and the Scottish mind was touched by the secular thought of Europe. Francis Hutcheson, who held the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow (1729–46), put aside dogmatic discussions, and based his ethics on natural grounds. Students and professors alike became tinged with the Arian heresy—that Christ, though divine, was not coequal or coeternal with God the Father. A Scottish author in 1714 mentioned “the great vogue, among our young gentry and students,” of Hobbes and Spinoza.67 Little coteries of youngsters intoxicated with emancipation formed clubs—the “Sulfur Society,” the “Hell-fire,” the “Demirip Dragoons”—proudly preaching atheism;68 probably they mingled with Jacobite malcontents. For Scotland, outside of those merchant classes that were tied to the English economy, still thrilled to the memory of the Stuarts, and dreamed of the time when James III, or his son, would lead the Scots again across the border to restore a Scottish dynasty to the British throne.