How the Duke of Hamilton Helped Scotland into a Worse Situation

[Treaty of Union Articles Contents]



Auld Scotland, thou’rt o’er cauld a hole 
   For nursin’ siccan vermin; 
But the very dogs in England’s Court 
   Can bark and howl in German. 
                                             – JACOBITE SONG. 
Is there that bears the name o’ Scot 
But feels his heart’s bluid rising hot 
To see his puir auld mither’s pot 
   Thus dung in staves, 
And plundered o’ her hindmost groat 
   By gallows knaves? 
                                             – BURNS. 

   The Scottish Estates or Parliament, unlike the English and Irish Legislatures, consisted of a single Chamber, but it was not a whit more representative of the people on that account. The baronial Estate dominated the House, and the vast mass of Scotsmen with good reason looked to the democratic Kirk for political light and leading, rather than to an assembly in which their hereditary enemies were so strongly entrenched. Still, there were not lacking genuine patriots in the Scottish Parliament, whose notions of liberty were of an exceedingly modern and enlightened type. 

   At the head of these stood the celebrated Fletcher of Saltoun. He was a Republican of the old Roman school, with a strong aversion to monarchy. He exerted himself to reduce the prerogative of the Crown to the merest shadow, and Bills were actually passed providing that, on the death of Queen Anne, the Scottish officers of State and the judges of the Supreme Court should be appointed, not by the Crown, but by the Parliament of Scotland. It was, moreover, decreed that a Scottish ambassador should be present at every treaty made with any foreign power by the joint Sovereign of the two nations. In a word, the ‘country’ or patriotic party were extreme Federalists at a time when not one of the framers of the justly vaunted Federal Constitution of America was yet born. 

   And that Fletcher, Lord Belhaven, and their followers were entirely in the right there can be no earthly doubt. A federal union would have secured to both countries all the advantages which have flowed from the existing incorporating union, without any of the serious drawbacks which it will be easy to show have accrued more particularly to the less powerful nationality. 

   Had a federal compact been struck between England and Scotland in 1707, it is not too much to say that the example would have been followed by the Legislatures of England and Ireland in 1800 or earlier, and that there would be no interminable Home Rule agitation to-day. But the gross selfishness of the English Ministry, and the habitual treason of the Scottish nobles, were enough to ruin the most promising cause imaginable, and they did so… 

   The Court or Unionist party consisted of aristocratic placemen and parasites of the most odious character, ready to sell their country at any moment, and to thank God that they had a country to sell. Chief of these was the Duke of Queensberry, Lord High Commissioner, aided by the Earl of Mar, sarcastically known as ‘Bobbing John,’ by reason of his numerous political infidelities. Add to these schemers the Earl of Stair, ‘the Curse of Scotland,’ with the blood of Glencoe on his hands and it would be hard to produce a trinity of more crafty and unscrupulous rogues in or out of Scotland. 

   Then came a small but well-disciplined band of trimmers, led by the Marquis of Tweeddale, known as the ‘Squadrone Volante,’ or Flying Squadron, from the uncertainty of their movements, which, however, were but too obviously governed by self-interest. The Flying Squadron held the balance of power, and their adhesion to the Court party at critical moments was fatal to the cause of Scottish independence. That the members were bought was a firm article of belief with every patriotic Scotsman: but the evidence which exists, it must be confessed, is much less damning than that which made so many Irish legislators for ever infamous nearly a century later. 

   ‘The Treaty of Union,’ says Mr Lecky, ‘as it was finally carried, was drawn up with great skill and with much consideration for the interests of the weaker nation. It provided that the Land-tax should be so arranged that when England contributed £2,000,000, Scotland should only contribute £48,000, or less than a fortieth-part; that, in consideration of the heavy English debt, by which the taxation of the whole island would be increased, an equivalent of about £400,000 should be granted to Scotland and applied to the payment of her small debt of £160,000; to making good her losses in assimilating her coinage to that of England; to the restitution of the money lost by the Darien Company; and, if any surplus remained, to the encouragement of her manufactures, and also that she should enjoy an exemption of a few years from some temporary taxes.’ 

   The ‘Equivalent’ was to be repaid out of Scottish revenue within a period of fifteen years. In so far as England was concerned, it was a mere ‘accommodation;’ in so far as the recipients were concerned, it was a skilfully administered bribe, the consideration for which was the independence of Scotland. 

   What became of the money? The stockholders in the Darien Company, the wealthiest men in the whole country – if any Scotsman can then be said to have been wealthy – received £232,000 to compensate them for their losses, in that memorable enterprise. 

   The Commissioners themselves pocketed £30,000 for their services, and a further sum of £20,500 was distributed among thirty-two Members of Parliament, Peers and Commoners, in the name of arrears of salaries. 

   Of the amounts known to have been paid to members who professed to sustain personal loss by the Union, no account was kept. We are, consequently, unable to do what is so easy in the case of Ireland’s Unionist Judases – viz., to stamp individual traitors with indelible infamy. 

   But these sums, it may be said, were too small to constitute effective bribes, and, in ordinary circumstances, such no doubt would have been the case. The condition of Scotland, however, at the time of the Union was unspeakably desperate. Largely through the shameful perfidy and open hostility of William III. and his jealous English advisers, she had lost nearly the whole of her available capital in the Darien Scheme; and England, though united to her for a century by the link of the Crown, sternly forbade her to trade with the colonies, or even to import colonial produce in Scottish ships after it had paid duty in England. 

   Nor was this all. England was frequently at war with some of Scotland’s best continental customers, whose ports in consequence were closed to her. She suffered from wars in which she had no interest, and over which she had no control. 

   Trade even with England itself was severely hampered. In the ten years preceding the Union the value of Scottish goods imported into England only twice exceeded £100,000. By the Navigation Act the shipping trade of the smaller country with the greater was literally extinguished. 

   At the Union the annual revenue of Scotland was only about one-thirty-sixth that of England – viz., £160,000 to £5,691,000. In truth, Scotland’s big sister had inhumanly starved her out, and, not content with the injury, mocked at the very poverty she had created. 

   Scotland’s more enterprising sons had but one outlet left for their energies – they became Dugald Dalgettys wherever the clash of arms resounded in Europe. At the very moment the Treaty of Union was being negotiated nothing would have delighted the great bulk of the Scottish population more than a declaration of war with England… 

   Nor were there lacking more formidable foes to the Treaty of Union than disorderly city mobs. The stern sect of the Cameronians was soon in arms under Cunningham of Ecket, an officer of no small experience and ability. They rode into Dumfries, and, drawing up round the town cross, burned the Articles of Union, and repudiated the authority both of the Treaty Commissioners and of Parliament. It was resolved, with the aid of the Jacobites, to disperse the latter body by force. On a given day, Cunningham was to march on Edinburgh from Hamilton with seven or eight thousand troops, while the Athole Highlanders were to capture Stirling, and thus keep open communication between the Cameronian leaders of the south and the Jacobite chiefs of the north. 

   When all was in readiness for the execution of this notable project, the treachery of the Duke of Hamilton ruined everything. As recognised head of the Nationalist party, he sent messengers into the west country, indefinitely postponing the rising, and the favourable moment for striking an effective blow was consequently lost. ‘This I may assert,’ says Lockhart of Carnwath, ‘that had not the Duke of Hamilton taken this course, the Parliament had at once been sent a-packing, and the projected Union demolished.’ 

   In great alarm at the threatening aspect of affairs, the Lord High Commissioner and his advisers determined to adjourn Parliament – a step which would have given all the seething elements of opposition to the Union time to combine and arm. The English Ministry promptly recognised the danger and urged their Scottish confederates to persevere, promising, if necessary, to furnish them with military aid from England and Flanders… 

   The orator of the Nationalists was Lord Belhaven, a single-minded patriot, whose burning words sank deep into the hearts of his countrymen of every degree:- ‘What hinders us,’ he cried, in an agony of apprehension, ‘to lay aside our divisions; to unite cordially and heartily together in our present circumstances, when our all is at stake? Hannibal is at our gates. Hannibal is come within our gates. Hannibal is come the length of this table. He is at the foot of this throne. He will demolish this throne if we take no notice. He will seize on these regalia. He will take them as our Spolia optima and whip us out of this House, never to return again. For the love of God, then, – for the safety and welfare of our ancient kingdom, whose sad circumstances I hope we shall yet convert into prosperity – we want no means if we unite.’ 

   Most true. To unity of national purpose there was but one hindrance, and that hindrance was embodied in the one sinister word – ‘Equivalent.’ ‘When they’ (the Unionists), says Sir Walter Scott – high Tory, but true Scotsman – ‘united with the degradation of their country the prospect of obtaining personal wealth and private emoluments, we cannot acquit them of the charge of having sold their own honour and that of Scotland.’ It is simply amazing how a man of genius like Scott, who knew so well the ineradicable baseness and depravity of the feudal nobles of his country, should have done so much to make these ‘hyenas’ look picturesque if not positively respectable in the eyes of posterity. 

   The skill and effrontery with which the head of the hereditary hyenas, his Grace of Hamilton, the premier peer of Scotland, at every critical moment in the Union negotiations betrayed the national cause, of which he professed to be the ardent custodier, were almost unrivalled in the record of perfidious state-craft. 

   Five hundred of the most influential and reputable gentlemen in all Scotland, without distinction of party, met in Edinburgh, and drew up a warm remonstrance to the Lord High Commissioner, demanding the postponement of the Treaty till such time as the Queen should reply to a national petition praying her to summon a new Parliament to consider the question, inasmuch as the existing chamber had no mandate from the people to give up the independence of Scotland, or in any way to modify its constitution. This very reasonable remonstrance hyena Hamilton undertook to present; but when the appointed day arrived, he insisted on the insertion of an entirely irrelevant clause, settling the Crown on the House of Hanover. To this, of course, no conscientious Jacobite could possibly agree, and so the project of remonstrance was brought to nought. 

   One more exhibition of Hamiltonian perfidy, and all was lost. A protest was drawn up, by way of amendment to Article XXII., assigning Scotland her very inadequate proportion of representatives in the United Parliament. It declared that ‘the members of a legislature are mere temporary administrators of their trust, and not the owners or masters of a people. They are not entitled to bargain away the nation they represent, or make it cease to exist. Therefore, the minority entertaining these sentiments would now secede from the others, protesting against what it was designed to do, and in their secession would consider themselves the centre of a new Scottish Parliament.’ 

   Article XXII. was duly reached but no Hamilton appeared to table the protest. The premier peer, the guardian of Scottish honour, could not come to the House that day, so severe were his grace’s sufferings from – toothache! So his grace explained by messenger. His dupes hastened to his lodgings, and upbraided him with ‘double-dealing.’ He thereupon accompanied them to the House, and then, in the most innocent manner, asked who had been chosen to move the protest. He would, if absolutely necessary, second it. 

  When too late, the patriotic minority beheld the snake in the grass manifestly uncoiled before their eyes. But they were undeceived too late. The grand opportunity of secession was lost, and the vital article of the treaty passed. 

   After a formal vote, the minority, enraged at the high treason of their leader, ceased to struggle with the inevitable. They retired, and on the 16th of January, 1707, the Lord High Commissioner gave the Royal Assent to the Treaty of Union and Scotland, in many respects the most distinctly marked political organism in Europe, ceased to be a nation. 

   The benediction was fittingly pronounced by hyena Lord Seafield, the Chancellor, in the heartless words, ‘There’s an end o’ an auld sang.’ 

   How different the ‘sang’ which the great Wizard of the North puts into the mouth of ‘the Bruce of Bannockburn,’ in the ‘Lord of the Isles:’- 

‘O, Scotland! shall it e’er be mine 
To wreak thy wrongs in battle line; 
To raise my victor head an see 
Thy hills, thy dales, thy people free? – 
That glance of bliss alone I crave, 
Betwixt my labours and the grave.’ 


– Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday 5th August, 1888.

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