The State of Scotland previous to the Union and what led up to the departure of Commissioners to negotiate a Union with England.
IT is somewhat surprising that a people so generally well informed as the Scots should be so ignorant of that great charter of their country, the Treaty of Union. Yet so it is. The average Scotsman has never read or seen the Treaty, while the most erroneous opinions as to its terms prevail, and that not among the vulgar only, but also with those who may fairly claim to have received a liberal education. It seems, therefore, to us that at the present time, when the Scotch are again demanding a native Legislature, it would be of service to reprint this venerable document, that all may see how far the bargain has been kept as regards Scotland.1 But to the proper understanding of the matter it is necessary to preface it with a few preliminary historical remarks.
When James VI fell heir to the English throne the first step was taken towards the union of the two hitherto hostile countries. All in the island fondly hoped that the long struggle, beginning with Edward I, had now reached a close, as the annexation of Scotland, which had been so coveteously desired by the English for centuries, was now attained, and by a process alike honourable to Scotland and beneficial to England. No conquest embittered the union of the two peoples; they were wedded in peace; both were alike champions of the Reformation; they spoke the same language – had attained to an equal degree of freedom by limiting the prerogative of the Crown, and exalting the power of Parliament. The bright hopes that were kindled in the breast of the Scots were not of a long duration. The terrible struggle with England had reduced them to the most miserable state of poverty, and this poverty was aggravated by the withdrawal of the Court to London: for the great nobles followed the King, and spent in England the revenues they drew from Scotland. James also soon showed his desire for despotic power, by trying to impose on his ancient kingdom an aristocratic Priesthood after the manner of the English, and stirred up an opposition that ultimately ended in the expulsion of his family.
The long wars of the Covenanters during the reign of Charles – the sad episode of Cromwell – the return of the second Charles, with the train of persecutions that followed, which were only intensified under his bigoted brother James – are too familiar to us all to need further comment here. The happy revolution that placed William and Mary upon the throne restored peace to a distracted and down-trodden people by securing to them the rights of conscience, their lives and liberties, while the death of their arch-enemy, Dundee, extinguished the last light of the Stuarts in Scotland. Now a long period of peace and prosperity was fondly hoped for by the people of both countries, but, like many other bright visions, was doomed to flit away, and end in dismal disappointment. The old animosity between the English and Scots seemed at this period to revive, and that to a degree that was seldom witnessed before. A number of ill offices on the part of the English, too readily resented by reprisals on the part of the Scots, led to this unhappy temper, and brought the two countries to the brink of war. We will very briefly refer to some of these, and that only in so far as is needful to the proper understanding of our subject.
Scotland at the time of which we write – 1703 – was a distinct and independent kingdom, its only connection with England being that it owned the same sovereign as its overlord. This being the case, and it being noised abroad that their neighbours the English were greatly enriched by their foreign and especially their East Indian trade, it entered into the minds of a number of gentlemen that it would be to the profit, as well as the honour, of their country to emulate the English in this lucrative branch of commerce; and being men of influence, they procured from the Scots Parliament a charter establishing The African or Indian Company. This, in our opinion, was a perfectly fair and legitimate way of extending the commerce of the kingdom. But in England it created the greatest commotion, and not content with forbidding their own subjects from taking shares in this new Company, the English Government commenced a prosecution against the Scots resident in England who had taken shares in this truly national enterprise. Nay, more, the English resident in the free city of Hamburg had instructions from the Government to threaten the Hamburgers if they did not close their city against the Scots getting subscribers to their new Company, and that city, having a large trade with London, reluctantly complied with the demands of the English. Baffled in getting to the East, the African Company, in an evil hour, turned their attention to the Isthmus of Darien, and there again found the English their implacable enemies. The failure of that enterprise, and the terrible blow it gave to Scotland, are matters of history; but, by the way, we may state here that that enterprise was not such an impracticable whimsey as it has pleased English historians to represent it. We admit that it was an enterprise before its time; for it is only in the present day that the narrow neck of land dividing the two great portions of the earth is proposed to be pierced by a ship canal, which will certainly revolutionise the commerce of the world. But it should not be forgotten that the Spaniards, under Cortes and Pizarro, had crossed the isthmus, and found a new Ophir in the West, and the Scots need not be branded as being vain or foolish in hoping to attain to equal fortune. It is more than likely that, but for the opposition of the English, prompted by a mean jealousy, the Company would have succeeded.
The failure of the Darien expedition greatly embittered the minds of the Scots against the English, and this unfortunate state of feeling was intensified by the cruel and unjustifiable massacre of Glencoe – a barbarous act that will leave an indelible stain upon the memory of William; for, in spite of his apologists, there can be no doubt in the mind of any reasonable man that he not only gave orders for the military execution, but approved of it. As if there were not fuel enough to feed the flame of discontent between the two peoples, the difficulties about the succession and limitations stirred up the minds of the people, and again the English were precipitate and unjust towards the Scots. Perhaps it may not be amiss to dwell a little upon this part of our subject, for it was intimately connected with the Treaty of Union.
William was now dead, and Anne had ascended the throne of England, and was acknowledged by the Scots as the lawful heir of her father, the exiled James. Though the Queen had many children, she had the great unhappiness to lose them all, so she was likely to leave no heir to the throne of both kingdoms. The great question debated in the country was, who was to be the sovereign that was to reign over them? The English without consulting the Scots settled the succession on the House of Hanover, but the Scots were not of the same mind, and by their Act of Security, declared that the same king should not reign over both kingdoms – such was the unhappy consequence of the ill-feeling between the two peoples. The Scots argued thus:- ‘In every legitimate field of enterprise we find the English our rivals and implacable enemies. Laws are passed by their Parliament with the express object of restraining our trade, and keeping us in hopeless poverty. We cannot be worse with a king of our own; we must be better, for the Court will return to Scotland, and the great sums of money spent in England by our nobles will be kept at home. Besides, we must teach those English that if they can pass laws so can we.’ There cannot be a doubt that the Scots in this were acting strictly within their rights. James was the only sovereign who had a right to both kingdoms; he being set aside, the crown was bestowed upon his successor by an Act of Parliament. The English Parliament claimed its right to bestow the English crown; the Parliament of Scotland, by an equal right, could bestow the Scottish crown on whom it pleased. Though this was quite clear to any unprejudiced mind, the matter was taken up with great heat in England, and in 1704 the Parliament passed an Act, entitled ‘An Act to prevent the Mischiefs arising to England from the Act of Security in Scotland.’ In this Act they demanded of the Scots, and that before the 24th December of the next year, that they should settle their crown upon the same person as the English, and by way of menace fitted out twenty-four men-of-war to prevent the Scotch-French trade – almost the only trade they possessed – and declared the Scots in England aliens.
As if this were not enough to inflame the public mind of both countries, an unhappy accident occurred at this time to widen still further the breach between the two peoples. An East Indiaman, the Worcester, of London, ran into the Firth of Forth for shelter on her homeward voyage, was confiscated and brought into Burntisland at the suit of the African Company, one of whose ships had been seized in the Thames by the East India Company in London, and as they could get no redress they took this opportunity of recouping their loss. It may well be imagined that the English were not slow to resent this, their ships being always a tender point with them. But the sequel of this adventure was of a tragic nature; for the crew of the Worcester, while that ship was under arrest, quarrelled among themselves, and let out that while Captain Green, the commander of the Worcester, was in the East Indies, he met in with a Scottish ship commanded by Captain Drummond, and made her his prize, murdering Captain Drummond and all his crew. This, being bruited abroad, came to the ear of the authorities, who had Captain Green and his officers arrested, and in due course of time brought to trial, where, upon evidence that satisfied the jury, they were found guilty and condemned to be hanged. Though it was quite clear that these men were but to suffer for their crimes, it got into the heads of the English that they were being sacrificed to gratify the spite of the Scots, and the public feeling was exasperated to the last degree. So utterly blinded were they with their own interests that they hardly considered the taking of a Scottish ship in the East any crime at all, as they considered that trade their special monopoly. Be that as it may, the blood of both peoples was up, and the Scots were determined that these pirates should suffer; and there being a disposition on the part of the Government to pardon the criminals, the populace of Edinburgh rose in open tumult, and compelled the authorities to lead the prisoners to Leith, where they were hanged.
These and sundry other matters of less moment which fell out about this time brought the two peoples to this pass that, unless some one yielded, open war must be declared between them. The Scots were determined that unless the English would grant them fair terms of trade by a Treaty of Union, they would bestow their crown upon an independent king of their own; in fact, it was their trump card, and they determined to keep it in their hand. But the darkest hour always precedes the dawn. A change of Ministry in England, and the election of a new Parliament of a better disposition towards the Scots, brought the two countries out of their difficulties. One of the first Acts of the new Parliament was to repeal, at the demand of the Scots, the Act of 1704, which had given such just offence to that country. The public mind was now calmer, and Commissioners were appointed from both nations to treat of a union. The union desired by the Scots at this time, and which their Commissioners were authorised to treat about, was a union of commercial interests – a federal connection, leaving the laws and institutions of each country as they at present stood. Unfortunately, however, it was left to the Queen instead of to the respective Parliaments to nominate the Commissioners, and the English Government took good care to name Commissioners for Scotland agreeable to themselves.
Such was the state of public feeling when the Commissioners departed from Scotland to London to consult with the English Government as to the union of the two countries. The Scots were vehemently desirous for a better understanding with England, and looked forward to the near future with the most sanguine expectations. The clouds that had hung over their country, and had kept them in hopeless poverty, were about to disperse and leave them free to take a share in the commerce of the world. Long and earnest were the deliberations in London, but as there were no newspapers in Scotland in those days, and posts were few and far between, the people were completely in the dark as to what was going on, and only ascertained what was agreed upon after the terms of the Treaty were printed for the convenience of the Scottish Parliament.