Free Scots

(This article was published in the late 1990s. As it turns out, the author underestimated the degree of self-loathing to which the once proud and noble race of Scots have sunk over the last two decades. They are my people and I wish them well, including a dose of courage and common sense. The article below uses British spelling, which was also commonplace in the antebellum South).


If you were to judge as I do, you would not readily place your neck under a foreign yoke.“–William Wallace

Three hundred years after the infamous Act of Union (1707), Celtic nationalism threatens to rip apart the United Kingdom. Weary of English-imposed centralism, the Scots are reasserting their cultural identity and using it as the foundation for a nascent nationalist independence movement. Though they and their Celtic cousins, the Irish and the Welsh, were defeated by the modern English state and thereafter subjected to London’s harsh overlordship, the experience of defeat sharpened their sense of cultural identity and made it impossible to completely assimilate them into the British national polity. How far or how fast the Scots are willing to push devolution remains to be seen. Because of the historical and cultural connections between Scotland and America, the success or failure of the Scots’ campaign for self-determination (or to be less polite, for secession) ought to ring familiar and be of more than just passing interest to their kinsmen on this side of the Atlantic.

To the same people and for the same reasons the story of the destruction of old Scotland should be told often and well. When Confederate President Jefferson Davis at his 1861 inauguration asked that the South be “let alone,” his plea was not new. It had been made over a century earlier in the Highlands of Scotland, when that pre-modern, traditionalist, society was confronted by a rising modern state. Both the antebellum South and old Scotland were branded anachronisms and slated for extermination in the names of “progress” and “union.” Materially-superior enemies destroyed them in the trenches at Petersburg in 1865 and earlier on the killing fields of Culloden in 1746, and in the wake of overwhelming triumphs the victors moulded the Anglo-Celtic world into a new shape. We, on the verge of the new millennium, must judge their results: a pitiable human produce, deracinated, world-citizens/consumers, unequipped for self-government–veritable “nowhere men.” It hasn’t always been thus.

Pre-modern Scotland (as well as Celtic Ireland and Wales) was a “nation” in the true Biblical and historical sense, meaning a people, rather than a state. The Gaelic north and west and the Episcopalian northeast, especially, nourished an organic rural society in which extended kinship groupings (clans) exercised local self-rule. The dominant clans and “Highland line” families were the focus of an informal, private social organisation that increasingly was threatened by its opposite to the south: the modern, public state. By the latter half of the sixteenth century the struggle between these contending polities marked a new phase in Scotland’s history.

Before the extension of modern government into the Highlands and northeast, the clan kept order, produced most of the goods it consumed, educated its young, provided care for the old and infirm, and most fundamentally, took responsibility for its own defence. Indeed, the right to self-protection was central to most pre-modern societies, and required widespread arms possession by the populace. Moreover, the core population of a society must have moral sanction (the law of salus populi) to protect themselves, their families, and property against aggressors within and without. When these conditions are met, men have no need of intrusive government. Nor will they normally tolerate the usurpation of the role of the kinship group by such a government. The Highlanders tolerated monarchical government for an obvious reason: the king was no more than the nominal “father” of his people, a distant chief whose physical power did not extend into their mountains and glens. The Highland chiefs and the northeastern lairds, influenced not at all by, as G. P. Insh writes, “the elaborate casuistry of the political philosopher [nor] the ‘original contract’ with which the Whig sought to justify his disposition of the monarch,” expected little from the king in terms of physical protection and in return were themselves willing to give but little tribute in taxes or regular service.

The ethos of self-protection that prevailed among the Scots of the Highlands and northeast made them naturally fearful and suspicious of unitary government and of the regulated money economy that was overspreading England and the Scottish Lowlands. From the founding of the Kirk of Scotland in 1560 to the demise of the Cromwellian Protectorate a century after, the driving force behind the creation of a commercial empire was a particularly virulent and perverted strain of materially-acquisitive Puritanism that manifested itself in the execution of Charles I and the subordination of both Edinburgh and Dublin to the status of provincial administrative centres. Moreover, the Jews were re-admitted to the realm during the Protectorate, from which they had been conspicuously absent since having been sent packing by Edward I “Longshanks” in the late 13th century. Their rise as a modernizing (and disruptive for traditional civilization) force in government, business, and society would be felt before the end of the 17th century.

Thus a dual challenge to the “Celtic fringe” was clear by the mid-seventeenth century. First, the Stewart monarchy, which most of the Highland clans had fought valiantly to defend in 1644-5, would not be tolerated by the emergent commercial and money class unless it supported the imperial economic policies of the Cromwellian regime. Second, this modern commercial/money class became dominant after 1660 and pursued an aggressive policy of internal and external colonisation requiring in the initial stage the destruction of the pre-modern society beyond the thoroughly anglicised Lowlands.

To understand the struggle of old Scotland against an Anglo-Scottish commercial and industrial elite that after 1660 dominated the Lowlands, it is necessary to look into the actions of the Scottish Parliament from 1681 to 1707. In two particular pieces of 1681 legislation–the Act for Ratifying all former Laws for the Security of the Protestant Religion and the Act acknowledging and asserting the Right of Succession to the Imperial Crown of Scotland–we find the direct cause of political and religious bifurcation that contributed greatly to the destruction of the Stewart dynasty and the subsequent Williamite/Hanoverian usurpation that began with the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-9. But more importantly, we can detect in 1681 the beginnings of the economic misfortunes that were to destroy much of Scotland’s wealth and open the way for her loss of political independence through the notorious Act of Union of 1707. The most important economic principles of the 1681 parliament were set forth in the Act for Encouraging Trade and Manufactures. In keeping with the spirit of the age of mercantilism, the Scottish Parliament (like its counterpart in London, which was busy enacting six Navigation Acts from 1651 to 1696) adopted a policy of protectionism that suited the economic needs of the self-serving Lowland merchant class.

The dominant class of Lowland Scotland generally accepted the Revolution Settlement of 1688-9, while the Highland chiefs and Episcopalian lairds of the northeast largely supported the ousted James II. While the Glorious Revolution was virtually bloodless in England proper, violence and treachery exploded in Scotland, as the Jacobites rose in defence of the rightful monarch and for the more immediate cause of Scottish nationalism. The calculated massacre of the MacDonalds of Glencoe in 1692, sanctioned by William III’s joint-Secretary in Scotland, alerted the Highlanders to the dark contrivances of the new regime. Unfortunately, such blatant and bloody misdeeds did not stand alone; alien economic interests–Burke’s “sophisters, economists, and calculators”–cast a cold eye north of the Tweed. In 1693 a junta of London merchants, hoping to find a means of competing with the East India Company, saw Scotland as an avenue to accomplishing their scheme. Though unsuccessful in challenging the hegemony of the East India Company in the sub-continent, the junta captured trading privileges in other areas. In 1695 the crown persuaded the Scottish Parliament to create the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies. The Company of Scotland, composed not only of London merchants, but also of a cabal from Edinburgh and Glasgow, was capitalised with £600,000 and received exclusive rights to the trade between Scotland and the Americas. Initially, the company’s founders had viewed the African trade as the most lucrative, but under the influence of William Patterson (a prominent Edinburgh businessman and the founder of the Bank of England in 1694) they were steered toward establishing a colonial trading post on the Isthmus of Darien (Panama).

The “Darien Disaster” destroyed Scotland’s economic independence and led to her loss of political independence through the Act of Union of 1707. The episode is an instructive commentary on the corrupting influence that money and economic privilege often exert on a nation’s political system. Blind greed no doubt motivated many Lowland merchants to seek economic ties with London, and funds for Patterson’s Darien scheme were duly subscribed on both sides of the Tweed. But because of legal threats from East India Company merchants (many of whom were MPs), the English subscribers withdrew their support from the venture. Nonetheless, the Scots, convinced by Patterson that the Darien project was still a worthwhile investment, proceeded with the scheme, putting up some £400,000, an amount almost equal to the entire circulating coinage of the realm. For two years (1698-1700) the Scots tried to make the venture work, but bad luck, poor planning, Spanish resistance, and opposition from William III’s government led to the loss of 2,000 men and about half of the subscribers’ initial investment.

The result of a scheme that would do the New World Order supporters of NAFTA and GATT proud, the “Darien Disaster” pushed the monied interests of Lowland Scotland to the brink of insolvency and thus into England’s political snares. Demanding access to English colonial markets in order to make good their losses, the merchants of Edinburgh and Glasgow voiced the strongest incentive for accepting the terms of the Union of 1707. London moved quickly to take advantage of the predicament of those who were about to sell out their countrymen for English gold. In 1702-03 English and Scottish commissioners met at Westminster to discuss the prospects of union. The Scots accepted the Hanoverian succession, as provided for in the Act of Settlement of 1701, in return for vague promises of economic benefits from the English. When the Scots demanded access to lucrative American markets, the English commissioners balked and put the Scots off until all other issues had been decided.

Anglo-Scottish negotiations were given a degree of urgency by the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-14), the Act of Security (which gave Scotland at Queen Anne’s death the right to undo the personal union that had been extant since the reign of James VI and I in 1603), and the infamous Alien Act (which threatened the Scots with “alien” status if they tried to enforce the Act of Security against a Hanoverian succession). Consequently, on 16 April 1706 thirty-one commissioners from each country reassembled in Westminster to consider The Articles of the Treaty of Union. For their acquiescence in a unitary (rather than a federative) system, the Scottish signatories were offered reimbursement for losses suffered from the Darien venture. Moreover, the English negotiators were authorised to provide funds to the tune of £400,000 to compensate the remainder of the 1,400 Scottish shareholders in the Company of Scotland.

The terms of the Treaty of Union were kept secret until late 1706, but when Scotsmen learned of this execrable bargain they had no doubt as to its consequences–their country’s complete subjugation to England. For starters, Scotland’s Parliament was absorbed into England’s (16 Scottish to 190 English peers and 45 Scottish to 513 English MPs). More alarming, however, was the fact that Scotland now was forced to accept responsibility for a truly massive English Public (National) Debt, which was to increase some 500% between its inception in 1694 and 1720. In 1707 England’s debt totalled some £18,000,000 compared to Scotland’s minuscule £160,000 obligation. Few advantages could accrue from such circumstances, except to a small group of Lowland merchants and Whig politicians who stood to benefit economically in the new “British” system.

The treaty passed the Scottish Parliament by a vote of 110 to 69 in early 1707. those who complained loudest were Jacobites and their supporters in the Gaelic north and west and the Episcopalian northeast. Many historians are quick to label these elements of Scottish society “anachronistic” enemies of progress and free trade, intractable obstacles to rational, modern society. And in answer to charges of bribery and coercion regarding the Union of 1707, which without question are valid, scholars frequently excuse these as acceptable means of conducting business in the eighteenth century. Such excuses unfortunately have a familiar ring to them, since, after all, it is the victors who write the histories.

The Act of Union of 1707 made it impossible for the Highland chiefs and northeastern lairds to resist encroachments on their way of life except by military means. A call to arms was the only answer to restoring an independent Scottish nation ruled by the rightful branch of the Stewart dynasty. In contrast, Lowland merchants and politicians looked to the Williamite-Hanoverian regime to protect their interests, and this all but assured war. Before 1707 the interests of these two groups need not have been mutually exclusive, as Scotland and England might have opted to undo the personal dynasty that had linked them since 1603. That minority of Scots that wished to take advantage of England’s economic opportunities might simply have moved their residences south of the Tweed and asked for denizen status, leaving Scotland, as it were, to patriotic Scots. Instead, they urged union and thereby made it impossible for the majority with differing views of Scotland’s destiny to live at peace in the same land. This is the curse of forced union across time and space, as American Southerners know all too well.

The union of England and Scotland illustrates what occurs when the forces of modernity confront traditional societies: “an inexorable standardisation,” as Richard M. Weaver writes, “[that] destroys refinement and individuality.” Most non-Lowland Scots held fast to the time-honoured virtues of an agrarian, martial people, while the Lowlanders and their English partners by 1700 had shifted their focus toward urban, commercial activities. To be sure, modern economies produced what accurately has been called “the sinews of war,” thus allowing England and those in her political ambit to reap the rewards of victory. However, the growing significance in war-making of fiat money and credit, science, and technology increasingly stripped combat of its flesh-and-blood immediacy, and thus of its honour and shame, a process that turned heroes into managers and technicians. An accurate description of the typical Whig responsible for this metamorphosis is given by Mrs. Anne Grant of Laggan (1811):

With an appellation of comprehensive reproach, they called them Whigs. . . . It was used to designate a character made of negatives: One who had neither ear for music, nor taste for poetry; no pride of ancestry; no heart for attachment; no soul for honour: One who merely studied comfort and conveniency, and was more anxious for the absences of positive evil, than the presence of relative good: A Whig, in short, was what all highlanders cordially hated,–a cold, selfish, formal character.

In marked contrast to the typical Whig in quest of “comfort and conveniency,” the Scot dwelling north of the Highland line suffered a degree of material deprivation unfamiliar to most western Europeans. In possession of a rugged homeland, he learned early the value of a tough physical and mental constitution. His simple existence was coupled with an uncomplicated value system in which courage and honour were as virtuous as cowardice and betrayal were disgraceful. Culture and principle thus worked in tandem to produce in him unshakeable devotion to chief, clan, and native soil, even in the face of English grape-shot and canister. Sentiment stimulated him in battle, and he feared dishonour worse than death. Fighting as part of an homogenous unit where each warrior had grown up in much the same way as his comrades, he paid particular heed to his conduct in combat. Motivation came first from within, but external forces also moved him to perform bravely; a trusty and resolute commander could lead him to storm the Gates of Hell with nothing but cold steel. Indeed, his most eloquent cultural expression was the red bite of a Claymore. Like his Confederate descendants, the ferocity of his attack either quickly won or lost the day; he preferred to risk everything on a single roll of the dice. He was certainly not good material for the stock exchange or the counting house, nor would he have served as an interchangeable cog in Britain’s technocratic war machine. And like the more resolute of his post-bellum Southern descendants, he would not be reconstructed.

Traditional Scotland, with its agrarian, kinship- and honour-based society, was ill-suited for union with an emerging commercial south committed to developing state capitalist institutions. A rising elite, first appearing in England during the Tudor dynasty and moving north into the Lowlands during the personal rule of the Stewarts, by 1700 stood poised to sweep away the last vestiges of Celtic civilisation and replace it with a bastardised English version that would assure quiescence above the Forth and Clyde.

It is correct, I think, to view the series of Jacobite uprisings between the 1680s and 1740s as a struggle between an old civilisation determined to maintain a distinct Scottish nation and a new one set on merging the entire British archipelago into an 18th-century version of the New World Order. It is quite clear that during this period the first effects of the Financial Revolution began to reach Scotland. Thus her economy was transformed in such a way that those who could manipulate an increasingly complex system for favours and privileges found themselves with a stake in preserving the Hanoverian Succession–the perceived font of largesse. The day of the manager was at hand, and those who opposed the Hanoverian revolution were viewed as threats to progress and the public weal that must be rooted out and destroyed.

The Highlands and the Episcopalian northeast served as the wellspring of opposition to the Hanoverian dynasty because of their distrust of the new economic and social order stemming from the Treaty of Union. Chiefs and lairds feared that their heritable jurisdictions, upheld through baronial courts, would be swept away by the 1707 treaty, despite assurances to the contrary. Traditionally, the lands of each clan were “owned” by the entire body, the chief serving merely as custodian at the sufferance of his tacksmen (notables), who could depose him if he did not rule in the interest of the whole; the new British parliament, however, within a generation had passed legislation making the chiefs and lairds landowners in the English sense, thus giving them sole legal control over their lands. The logical outcome of such a policy became clear after the brutal Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746 when thousands of Highlanders were banished in favour of more profitable tenants–sheep.

The ascending forces of modernity perhaps are best seen in the increased efficiency of the British military, whose Scottish campaigns in the first half of the eighteenth century foreshadowed the terrible concept of total war. There is no better example of the horror visited upon the society of old Scotland than that of “Butcher” Cumberland, whose unconscionable rape of the Highlands in the aftermath of Culloden prefigured Sherman’s rampage through the South over a century later. But the unbridled use of military force by the central government to quell the Jacobite uprisings brought more than indiscriminate bloodshed. Indeed, the loss of the heritable jurisdictions and the destruction of the close-knit relations between chiefs/tacksmen and lairds/tenants compromised the foundation of traditional Scottish society. The old order in the Highlands and northeast, predicated on a sort of Filmerian patriarchalism, could not survive without the means to defend itself from the alien ideologies of the eighteenth-century version of the New World Order. But the modern British commercial state desired to monopolise the means of violence (at least on a scale large enough to be politically significant), which meant that the chiefs and lairds had to be disarmed and made dependent on a unitary government for protection.

Though government attempts to disarm the more unruly elements of Scottish society can be found during the reigns of James VI and I (1567-1625) and his grandson, Charles II (1660-85), it was not until the age of Jacobite “rebellion” that royal authorities began to take gun control seriously. After the 1715 uprising, Parliament passed the Disarming Act of 1716, the Preamble to which reads:

The custom that has too long prevailed among the Highlanders . . . of having arms in their custody and using and bearing them in travelling abroad, in the fields and at public meetings, has greatly obstructed the civilising of the people within the countries [i.e. the historic regions of Scotland] hereinafter named has prevented their applying themselves to husbandry, manufactories, and other virtuous and profitable employments . . . and has been one of the fatal causes of the late unnatural rebellion.

Though the government’s intent was serious in 1716, the act did little to disarm large numbers of Highlanders because there was no way of enforcing the law in the remote north and west. Not until the construction of General Wade’s road network into the Highlands in the mid-1720s, the strengthening of royal garrisons such as Fort William and Inverness and increased naval activity along the Scottish coast was the government able to consider a realistic policy of gun control. But in the Disarming Act of 1725 London was forced to admit that “Many persons within the said shires [mainly in the Highlands] continue possessed of great quantities of arms and warlike weapons.”

The quashing of the last Jacobite rising in 1745-6 allowed the government of George II (1727-60) to finally disarm the Highland clan regiments (which were more like true militia units than were the Black Watch and other government-financed Scottish forces, which were incorporated into the British army). The Disarming Act of 1746 was much more sweeping in its proscriptions and more thoroughly enforced than were the acts of 1716 and 1725. Besides stripping Highlanders and Jacobite Episcopalians of the northeast of their weapons, the 1746 act sought to destroy their culture and economy as well. During the ensuing “reconstruction” of the Highlands, bagpipes and traditional dress were outlawed, and it was mandated that children of the chiefs and lairds be properly schooled by pro-Hanoverian teachers and tutors so as “to prevent the rising generation being educated in disaffected or rebellious principles.”

The disarming of Jacobites in 1746 opened the way for the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions (which of course had been guaranteed by the Act of Union of 1707) and the forfeiture of the estates of anti-government chiefs and lairds. Unlike in 1715 and 1719, when forfeited estates were returned to the rightful owners, the government’s seizure of private assets in 1746 was permanent. The reason for the forfeitures was to make the produce of the annexed lands “applicable to the purpose of civilising the inhabitants . . . of the Highlands . . . , the promoting amongst them [of] the Protestant religion, good government, industry and manufactures, and the principles of duty and loyalty to his Majesty. . . .” We might now imagine the spectre of Mrs. Grant of Laggan’s typical Whig tramping across the desolate landscape–a scene reminiscent no doubt of the Carpetbagger and Scalawag in the Reconstruction-era South–with his coldly calculating eye fixed on the property of dispossessed and disarmed Scots. Here the legacy of George II and Lincoln, of “Butcher” Cumberland and Sherman, finds its historical nexus.

Since 1746 Scotland has been little more than an economic colony of England. In the present century many able-bodied Scots have become pathetic victims of British welfarism, and with a good part of its populace living off the dole Scotland’s chances of effecting a successful separation from Westminster are severely hampered. Nonetheless, many Scots claim to want full independence from England. But support for self-rule north of the Tweed unfortunately has a hollow ring to its; without question, few Scots–paralysed politically by the British welfare state and draconian gun laws–pose the threat to London that their fiercely independent forebears did. Rather, most who favour independence from England look outside Scotland for salvation. The leftist majority of the Scottish National Party (SNP), long the most outspoken advocate of self-rule, favours independence “from above”–that is, they want to see the European Union (EU) strip the United Kingdom of its national sovereignty, thus permitting Scotland to form a separate state under the auspices of the EU. However, the SNP likely will find that Brussels makes a more tyrannical master than London.

Scots at the close of the 20th century find themselves forced to advocate independence “from above” because they no longer can muster the will or means to defend themselves and their property “from below.” Their helplessness contrasts with the heroic exploits of William Wallace and Robert Bruce during the Scottish Wars of Independence (1296-1320), an era that witnessed inspiring victories against great odds at Stirling Brig (1297) and Bannockburn (1314) and the subsequent Declaration of Arbroath (1320). That illustrious document, representing the will of the Community of the Realm of Scotland, stated unequivocally that “so long as there shall be but one hundred of us remain alive we will never give consent to subject ourselves to the dominion of the English. For it is not glory, it is not riches, neither is it honour, but it is freedom alone that we fight and contend for, which no honest man will lose but with his life.” Perhaps it is unfair to expect such self-confidence and brashness from a people who have been beaten down time and again by the English version of Leviathan. Sadly, of all the traditions of old Scotland, that which is most conspicuously absent today is the audacious spirit of self-defence, without which people are at the rough mercy of their rulers.

Unlike Scots in Scotland, Scoto-Americans still can keep and bear arms (at least for the time being) and do so in large numbers. But before we hardy neo-Jacobite descendants of old Scotland drink another toast to the death of tyrants and the salvation of American liberty, we had best recognise our own failure of nerve. As descendants of Celts who settled the American frontier and pushed civilisation westward in the face of great hardship and danger, can we say that we have been willing to “play the men” and seize our patrimony from the clutches of the usurpers who have stolen it in the name of diversity, multiculturalism and the New World Order? The tyranny and cultural genocide we now face would not have been brooked for an instant by fighting men such as Francis Marion, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Andrew Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest and Stonewall Jackson.

Unfortunately, few men of that calibre are found today, even among the rougher folk in the unreconstructed South and in the West. It is plain that we lack the spirit of resistance that moved our forebears to stoutly defend their ancient liberties. Patrick Henry asked his countrymen to judge whether life was “so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of slavery?” Americans in the new millennium could not bear to look Henry in the eye. We have come to love our luxury too much; we have become slaves to the allurements of modernity. To what purpose do we eat right, exercise, and live to be 100? Is there meaning in life lived purely for the sake of physical gratification? If not, then where are the men who will sacrifice themselves for higher callings–God, family, community–the very things under assault by the tradition-hating American Empire? Those of us who shrink from the struggle and thus preserve our lives and material comforts will learn just how many deaths a coward dies in his allotted three-score and ten–plus a couple of decades tacked on courtesy of the miracles of medical science. Better to die once in bloody defeat than to drag out the balance of existence in abject servitude and then waste away in a government-financed nursing home.

If we are not to suffer the humiliation that is the curse of cowardly and craven men across the ages, we must rekindle a populist patriotism in the spirit of William Wallace and Jefferson Davis and prepare to stake blood, honour, and treasure on the outcome. Then, it just might be possible for us–truly an armed citizenry–to muster the will to live up to the exhortations of our own Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of Arbroath, and the motto of the indomitable Scots: Nemo me impune lacessit (“No one wounds me with impunity”).

Michael Hill

Killen, Alabama

Categories: Uncategorized

About Author

Michael Hill

Dr Michael Hill is President of the League of the South. He is a retired university professor of history and author of two books on Celtic warfare.

Write a Comment

Only registered users can comment.