Foreword: Since its inception, the union was never great, nor was it anything close to a uniting of two nations and their populations. It was the cementing of alliances among the elite; more civilians meant more manpower, labor force and soldiery. More manpower, laborers and soldiery meant further expansions within trade, markets and influence i.e. an expanding empire and an expanding purse for those who helmed it. No one wanted this union, not we Scots, nor even the English. Remember, in the 1700’s, if you were to tell a man that in Africa elephants walked backwards, and that lions rode zebras, it would have been nigh impossible for that man to refute you. But, when you control the media; pamphlets and printing presses; broadcasting institutions/propaganda mills; then you control the narrative, and can structure it around however many lies you so please. And in 1700’s Scotland; Elephants most definitely walked backwards for much of that century.
Stage One: deception
In the early years of the eighteenth century, resentment was running high between Scotland and England. Each country had enacted laws that angered the other; the English Act of Settlement in 1701, the Scottish Act of Security in 1703, and finally, England’s Alien Act of 1705, which threatened Scottish people with the status of aliens, as well as a restriction on trade, if they did not accept the English choice for the throne. Something needed to be done. A commission was created to consider the terms of a union between the two nations, and they met on April 16, 1706. But, even whilst the official cogs were turning within the rickety machine of half-hearted diplomacy, and both nations entertained the thin pretense of parliamentary procedure; the games played between Kingdoms would ever involve spies and deception; and so enter, one Daniel Defoe.
Defoe, an accomplished writer, adventurer and journalist, had been rescued from prison, and then enlisted by one, Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, and spymaster for the English Government, and then tasked to travel north and infiltrate Scottish society; using his evident wiles to try and sway public opinion in favor of the idea of a union, by any means; and so begun Defoe’s nefarious campaign.
First, through The Review, and other pamphlets aimed at changing English opinion on the matter of a union, he had claimed that it would not only end the threat from the north; gaining for the Treasury an “inexhaustible treasury of men” in the process; but would also open up a valuable new market for increasing the power of their nation. By September 1706, Harley had ordered him to Edinburgh, as a secret agent sworn to do everything possible to secure acceptance of the Treaty of Union from the people. And he was certainly conscious of the risk to himself that such an endeavor invited, for in his first few reports, he had included several vivid descriptions of violent demonstrations taking place throughout the city, against the Union; Glasgow even requiring government troops to put down the rioters tearing up copies of the Treaty at almost every mercat cross (Scots: Market cross) in Scotland. When Defoe, the ever astute liar that he was, visited the city in the mid-1720s, his explanation for the troubles was that the hostility towards his party came about, “because they were English and because of the Union, which they were almost universally exclaimed against”
He also claimed: “A Scots rabble is the worst of its kind”. Years later, John Clerk of Penicuik, a leading Unionist, had written in his memoirs that it was not known at the time that Defoe had been an English spy, stating:
… to give a faithful account to him from time to time how everything past here. He was therefor a spy among us, but not known to be such, otherways the Mob of Edin would had pulled him to pieces.
Now, as a Presbyterian who had suffered in England for his beliefs, Defoe had been able to utilize this as a means of not only infiltrating the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as an adviser, but the committees of the Parliament of Scotland as well. He told Harley later, that he was “privy to all their folly” but, “Perfectly unsuspected as with corresponding with anybody in England”. As a result of this, he was in a position to manipulate, and influence the proposals that were put to Parliament. His next report reflects this:
Having had the honour to be always sent for the committee to whom these amendments were referrèd, I have had the good fortune to break their measures in two particulars via the bounty on Corn and proportion of the Excise.
Stage Two: propaganda
During his time weaving a web of lies in Scotland, it should also be noted that he had used radically different arguments and persuasions upon the populace, than those he had deployed when in England; usually ignoring the English doctrine of the Sovereignty of Parliament altogether, he would expound upon the Scots the guarantees in the Treaty, and of the benevolence and sincerity of the English government. The fact that he had needed to address these points so strenuously, and tackle them first and foremost, where as in England he had simply needed to remind them that Scots made good shock troops, is evidence of not only the resistance to the idea of union in Scotland, but of the machinations, down to the lowest man, of the English.
Some of his pamphlets championing the union were even purported to have been written by Scots, and would go on to subsequently mislead even reputable historians into quoting them as evidence of Scottish opinion of the time; that they were in fact favorable of it, when they simply weren’t. The same is true of a massive history of the Union which Defoe published in 1709, and which some historians still treat as a valuable source for the thoughts of that period. In these, Defoe had always taken great pains to try and present his ‘history’ with an veneer of objectivity; giving some room for arguments against the Union, but always having the last word for himself; setting up strawmen that he could easily set alight with predetermined counter arguments.
Fortunately, this snake received very little reward from his paymasters, and of course, no recognition for his services to his government. But, he did manage to use experiences in Scotland to write his Tour thro’ the whole Island of Great Britain, published in 1726, wherein he even admitted that the increase of trade and population in Scotland, which he had so erroneously predicted as a consequence of the Union, was “not the case, but rather the contrary”. But hey; at least he got a book deal out of the whole ordeal.
“For every one in favour of the union there are ninety-nine against it”- Daniel Defoe.
The Lies and Coercion’s from the Author of Robinson Crusoe
An Essay, at Removing National Prejudices, against a Union with England. Part III. London, 1706.
After Defoe’s first two pamphlets were reprinted in Edinburgh, opponents used them to try to show that all the advantages would go to England. And so here, the focus shifts to the Scots in an attempt to allay their fears that their church would be weakened. While Defoe does concede that Scottish political power will be weakened with the loss of their own parliament, he argued that the influx of manufacturing and trade into Scotland would more than compensate for such a loss.
Hint: now one problem I have with his argument is this: What good is money to a country’s economy, when they don’t have a parliament to administer over it?
A Fourth Essay, at Removing National Prejudices; with some Reply to Mr. H- – -dges and some other Authors, Who have Printed their Objections against an Union with England. [Edinburgh], 1706.
James Hodges wrote several essays, including The Rights and Interests of the Two British Monarchies, in opposition to the Union. Defoe’s reply argues that the parliaments of each country do have the right to make such a Union. Against those who would say that England is too immoral a nation to ally with, Defoe rejoices that the Union’s opponents are reduced to such ridiculous arguments, for it shows that there really is no major obstacle against the treaty. He does still, however, provide some evidence that “England, Bad as she is, is yet a Reforming Nation.”
Hint: see, what he does here, is acknowledges the idea of an untrustworthy England, an immoral and sinful country; essentially taking the side of Scotland by ingratiate himself to the side of the objector, but then ridicules him, as if to say, well, there’s bigger issues to deal with, so let’s just forget about this particularly silly notion, eh; therefor presenting it as nothing more than silliness, foolishness.
A Fifth Essay, at Removing National Prejudices; with a Reply to Some Authors, who have Printed their Objections against an Union with England. [Edinburgh], 1707.
According to Defoe, neither the fourth nor this fifth essay on the Union was planned beforehand. Instead, each was written out of a need to respond to those who continue to raise objections, whether “only to oppose the Thing in General, and prevent the Uniting the Nations on any Terms whatever, or those which are really offered from honest Scruple at the Particulars.”
Hint: Each rebuttal was actually him, and presenting an opinion that he had already crafted a reply to. That way, those who dissented were hoodwinked into thinking their protests were actually being addressed, when in reality, much of the narrative against the union being roundly publicized, was in fact, being controlled and manipulated by Defoe himself.
Two Great Questions Considered, I. What is the Obligation of Parliaments to the Addresses or Petitions of the People, and what the Duty of the Addressers? II. Whether the Obligation of the Covenant or other National Engagements, is Concern’d in the Treaty of Union? Being a Sixth Essay at Removing National Prejudices against the Union. [Edinburgh], 1707.
In this final essay, Defoe addressed what he considered the improper behavior of some who would petition parliament against the union. Parliaments are bound to hear petitions, but they are not bound to agree to or act on them, and the people have no right to press the matter.
Hint: The parliament serves the people, not the other way around. But by shaming the dissenter in such a fashion; reminding the plebs of their subservient station, and of their ignorance to such lofty matters; who of any great merit would challenge his opinion, and been seen to take the side of the common, uneducated, and filthy rabble, over the splendor and right of parliamentary procedure.
The second issue he tackles is whether persons, who have taken oaths to Scotland, or to the Church of Scotland, could agree to the Union without perjuring themselves. Defoe says that these oaths in no way prevent them from uniting with England, and that those who say so are merely trying to frighten “Innocent People from joining in the Good of their Native Country”.
Hint: By portraying opposes views as though they belong within some shady group of nefarious individuals, and by presenting the reader, in their own mind, as an “Innocent” and the union as being in “the Good of their Native Country” Defoe simply employs a kind of No true Scotsman fallacy.
Although the 1707 settlement took the form of a complete ‘incorporating’ union between the two parliaments, many Scots preferred some sort of federal arrangement. There was even discussion of whether Scotland should unite with the Dutch Republic, rather than the English.
Speeches by politicians in the Scottish, and English parliaments were published, alongside religious sermons on the question of union. But, even though the Union did eventually come into force on the 1st of May, 1707, the controversy of it continued. Seven years later, George Lockhart of Carnwarth, a pro-Stuart MP who had opposed the Union, published his influential Memoirs of the Affairs of Scotland. This work helped to cement the image of Scottish independence betrayed by corrupt Scots politicians, such as Queen Anne’s chief minister in Scotland, James Douglas, Duke of Queensberry. Sir George Lockhart, the only member of the Scottish negotiating team against union, noted that “The whole nation appears against the Union” and even Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an ardent pro-unionist and Union negotiator, observed that the treaty was “contrary to the inclinations of at least three-fourths of the Kingdom“. Public opinion against the Treaty as it passed through the Scottish Parliament was voiced through petitions from shires, burghs, presbyteries and parishes all across the country. The Convention of Royal Burghs also petitioned against the Union:
That it is our indispensable duty to signify to your grace that, as we are not against an honourable and safe union with England far less can we expect to have the condition of the people of Scotland, with relation to these great concerns, made better and improved without a Scots Parliament.
Furthermore, not one single petition in favor of an incorporating union with England was received by Parliament; so much was the support against it. On the day the treaty was actually signed, threats of widespread civil unrest resulted in Parliament imposing martial law. The immediate fallout of the Union ranged from complex arrangements for the adoption of English currency in Scotland, to proclamations ordering the suppression of anti-Union demonstrations in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dumfries.
In late 1706, crowds in Dumfries were observed “insolently burning, in the face of the Sun and the presence of the Magistrates, the Articles of Treaty betwixt our two Kingdoms“. An official clampdown was ordered through proclamations posted to mercat crosses throughout Scotland outlawing all “Tumultuary and Irregular Meetings“. So far, it doesn’t seem like the majority of Scotland ever wanted this horrible union, not before, nor afterwards.
Stage Three: an insidious encroachment fostered Upon the Nation
Though the outcome of the 1707 Union is usually viewed in the terms of elite politics, its influence was soon felt in everyday life as well. Even the way in which Scots measured their food and drink had changed, with the introduction of English weights and measures in an effort to standardize and regulate the economy with that of England’s. The Union not only changed the infrastructure of Scotland, but altered it in other more subtle ways; though retaining many of its pre-existing intellectual, economic and religious links with Europe; Scotland had become increasingly influenced by English trends, such as the fifteen, of twenty-five separate articles of agreement which dealt with economic matters. Articles 16 and 17 of which, had an immediate impact on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Scots, altering how they standardized the weighing of goods, measurements, and how it was all paid for; such as the proclamation concerning the adoption in Scotland of English silver-money; with coins still being minted in Edinburgh, indicated by the letter ‘E’, which of course, continued for only two more years, despite the provision in Article 16 that a mint would be maintained in Scotland. It was not. The abolition of the Scottish Privy Council, increased taxes on a number of goods, and the very real threat to the predominance of the Presbyterian Kirk also occurred; all of which, were in direct contravention of the agreed upon articles of union.
In short, all of this unfolded, bit by bit, slowly and methodically, and against the will of the people, until eventually even Scotland itself was gradually re-interpreted as ‘North Britain’ as a result; a country with neither parliament, nor name.
Stage Four: deathblow
The eventual consolidation of the Union should not disguise the fact that it had still faced a multitude of serious challenges in the decades after 1707, what with the Stuart-led Jacobite risings still sweeping across the nation, as well civic unrest and dissent amongst the general population; intermittent support from enemies of the new British state, such as Spain, France, Russia and Sweden, no doubt also helping to fan the flames of Jacobite passions. Then, with the death of King James VII and II, the leadership of such struggles was passed on to his son, James VIII & III, or: the ‘Old Pretender’.
And as a result, the next three decades following 1707, were to witness political upheaval, and needlessly bloody conflict, and all whilst the powers at be still sought to figure out what form the union would even take. Either way, with the subsequent defeat of the Jacobite forces in 1715, 1719, and then the eventual suppression of the movement entirely in 1746; the union, for the most part, had been cemented for ever after. But although the exiled Stuarts had promised to annul the Union, they still in fact remained committed to the idea of monarchical union of the kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland. And so it seems for many, that their banner was the better of two evils on which to attach their cause.
Now, the Jacobite risings are often portrayed as a war, or rebellion, by those who sought the restoration of the Scottish parliament, and thus sovereignty, with those whose allegiances now lay with the newly minted British state. But, in many ways, both sides were ultimately unionist in their goals. The Stuarts, as mentioned above, had sought to become Monarchs of not just Scotland, but the whole united country; though promising the Scots the freedom of parliament, church and law, from that of England in any such union. And then, only to complicate matters further still, with the succession of a German dynasty, the Hanoverians, to the throne in 1714, Britain’s relationship with a number of European powers was greatly soured; further undermining the legitimacy of the union in the eyes of many Scots. Over the next few decades, Britain then found itself in dispute with not only Russia, but Sweden, and Spain, and so for Scots still unhappy at the loss of independence; Jacobitism must surely have seemed like the only efficient means of reversing the tumultuous 1707 agreement, and removing Scotland from the entire dangerous fiasco.
The above Basket-hilted broadsword is a not only a perfect example of the Jacobite commitment to ending the Union through definite means, but also as an illustration of the above statement; the enduring sense of Scottish nationhood evidently first and foremost in the hearts of many supporters of the exiled Stuarts, for on both sides of the blade were once highly detailed engravings; first, the figure of St Andrew wearing a mitre and holding a cross, with the inscription “PROSPERITY / TO / SCHOTLAND/ & /NO UNION”; and then the figure of King James VIII & III on the reverse.
Due to increasing war efforts, England actually found itself with insufficient manpower to fight said wars, and sustain manufacturing whilst also expanding its empire. English feelings at the time that Scotland was acting as a rogue nation even contributed greatly to their governments’ willingness to sabotage the Darien scheme through which Scotland had attempted to establish itself as an international trading nation in the late 1690’s. English desires to control the Scots became more acute after the accession of Queen Anne, particularly as the Scots seemed reluctant to accept the eventual Hanoverian succession, as stated above. Financial issues had also become critical as England then embarked upon the War of the Spanish Succession. Because the Jacobites were strongly backed by Louis XIV of France, this engagement could well have turned into a war for the British succession. Renewal of war further exposed a demographic crisis in England, and brought about a major shift in government policy that suddenly favored of the union after all.
Again, England had insufficient manpower to fight these wars, sustain manufacturing, and continue the expansion of its empire, and so to them; the Scots were increasingly viewed as a ready reservoir of both fighting men, and coin. Greed, greed, greed, and greed; all for the sake of empire and greed. Everything that occurred leading up to, and well after the union, was solely in the name of greed. And In the end, the loss of Parliament, Church, and many thousands of Scottish lives had been sold to Scotland by only a margin of 37 votes.
‘Parcel o’ rogues in a nation’, indeed.