Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Fletcher was a man of idiosyncratic views and fiery temperament who brought to Scottish letters one of the first studies of the question of the Scottish martial culture and military organisation in a European context. His ideas were an odd mixture of the authoritarian and the anarchistic. He travelled extensively in Europe and his main interests were politics and books. His first foray into political writing was with the publication of A Discourse Concerning Militias and Standing Armies; with relation to the Past and Present Governments of Europe and of England in particular, printed in 1797 as a contribution to debates surrounding the English Standing Army Controversy of 1697-98.
It was reprinted a year later with a shorter title and a more specifically Scottish focus. This work was not only concerned with military matters but wider ideas in political philosophy such as liberty, power, virtue, social organisation and corruption. It was ground breaking in the connections it made between the philosophical and the practical but also relied to some extent on the work of the 16th century Scottish Presbyterian political theorist George Buchanan. Buchanan and John Knox were both students at St Andrews under the Paris educated Scottish philosopher John Mair (or Major).
Fletcher and his mostly Whig English counterparts were strongly opposed by Daniel Defoe's pamphleteering handiwork and after of the Union of parliaments in 1707 the militia question almost went away for nearly forty years. This does not mean that social conflict and war also went away, though in the century after the Union Scotland made remarkable progress in almost all spheres of social, economic and cultural development. What was progress for some was not necessarily progress for all. The Industrial Revolution brought with it a heavy price in human misery as did agricultural improvement.
The debacle of the Darien Scheme, with which Fletcher was closely involved, instituted by an act of the Scottish Parliament in 1695 had left Scotland in state of near bankruptcy and famine by 1704. This made the proposition of Union with England almost irresistible to the noble Scottish parliamentarians. The passing of the Act itself was lubricated by bribes and the background machinations of (once again) Daniel Defoe acting as an English government spy in the service of Lord Harley. Andrew Fletcher opposed to the Act of Union but the opponents of the Act were neither homogenous nor well organised. Under Fletcher’s leadership, the opposition was made up of Highland chiefs, Edinburgh and Glasgow burghers, Presbyterian hard-liners and “crypto-Catholic Jacobites, who believed (correctly) that a Scottish-English union would finish off any chance of a restoration of the Stuarts to their ancestral throne.
Nevertheless the militia question again came to the fore through the work of Scottish 18th century thinkers such as Adam Smith, David Hume who was a member of the Poker Club, and more emphatically in that of Adam Ferguson and his associates. Ferguson, who was chaplain to the Black Watch from 1745 until 1754, brought his thoughts and experience in regard to the militia question to public attention in Reflections Previous to the Establishment of a Militia published in London anonymously in 1756. Later in his Of Corruption, as it tends to Political Slavery Ferguson wrote:
- A people who are disarmed in compliance with this fatal refinement, have rested their safety on the pleadings of reason and justice at the tribunal of ambition and of force. In such an extremity, laws are quoted, and senates are assembled, in vain.
In common with Fletcher, Ferguson was concerned to limit the power and ability of government or monarchy to oppress the general population through use of a standing army or mercenary force against which the people, without military training and arms, could not easily defend themselves or their liberty. Such was expressed by Fletcher in his first pamphlet and directed against King William who took power after the revolution of 1688. …in dethroning James VII the people had claimed the right of appointing their own kings. From this time onwards, therefore, it came to be understood that kings would be allowed to remain on the throne only if they governed according to the laws of the land.
P. H. Brown in the above statement is echoing George Buchanan’s radical Presbyterian view that all political power ultimately rests with the people: that the people themselves have the right to remove tyrannical rulers by force of arms and choose a new leader: a highly democratic outlook. Hence Fletcher and Ferguson’s preference for a militia over that of a standing army in time of peace can be seen as a somewhat conservative application of Buchanan’s ideas. Fletcher was also concerned to avoid local despotism by disqualifying princes and other lower nobles of the power to keep professional troops. In fact they both held that the making of soldiering into a career or specialism was thoroughly dangerous to political and moral freedom. Nevertheless, by the 1780s, there had developed a new radicalism which was to go further in its democratic intentions. Spurred on by the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the American War of Independence events took on something of a darker complexion in comparison to the steadier progress since the Act of Union. The more commerce and industry grew the more incompatible with daily social life was the militia ideal espoused by Fletcher. Coupled with his limited view of individual and collective liberty his arguments for a Scottish militia (and those of Ferguson and Alexander Carlyle) crumbled under the weight of an altogether more modern force, unfettered capitalism. Access to foreign markets and the ability of capitalists to ply their trades was what force of arms was really required to defend now. Yet in the desire to prevent oppression and fetter despots the arguments for a Scottish militia can be said to have had quite radical content. In 1783, with the end the American War of Independence, the anonymous pamphlet Reasons Against a Militia for Scotland was published. It put forward in clear terms the arguments for the kind of professional military arrangements that still entail today. Chiefly, that the soldiers would be professional and under the control of officers loyal to the state. That these troops could be relied upon, owing to their professionalism, to suppress internal discontent and protect trade at home and abroad. Of necessity they would be a small force owing to Britain’s primary reliance on the navy for defence and their likelihood of mutiny and of taking power for themselves would be diminished by virtue of professionalism and small numbers. These were arguments which, if not attributable to, followed similar lines to those of Adam Smith. In the latter half of the 18th century, in fact during much of what is termed the Scottish Enlightenment, Britain indulged in The Seven Years War (1756-63 mostly against the French), The American war of Independence (1776-83 in which the French supported the American revolutionaries) and war with revolutionary France (1793-1815). There were also wars with Holland and Spain. It appears the Union of Scotland with England produced one fighting machine of a nation in Britain. The end of the American War of Independence did not bring with it an end to the militia debate. Exactly a hundred years after Fletcher first published his pamphlet riots erupted in many parts of Scotland in opposition to the 1797 Militia Act. There were now arguments in favour of a Scottish militia which only thirteen years earlier were of necessity those in favour of professional soldiering. Practical historical necessity and not moral reason it would seem is the great mid-wife to the birth of institutions. The reason Fletcher and Ferguson did not win the argument for a Scottish militia was because they pointed to the wrong historical necessity. The battle against despotic monarchs had largely been won. It was no longer necessary for guardianship against them to be reflected in the nature of military organisations and institutions. Notwithstanding the fact that the monarch was no longer able to rule by personal whim, the Scottish Militia Act of 1797 was passed under the prime-minister-ship of the Younger Pitt. This act was passed due to fear of invasion from the radical French. And as Andrew Fletcher implies above fear of invasion is a powerful motivating force. Tannahill wrote one his most jingoistic songs The Defeat on the theme of invasion by the French. He was not alone in his ability to swing from radicalism to conformity, indeed Robert Burns was likewise prone to similar switches of identity, voice and narrative viewpoint. The twin threats of invasion and radical uprising were more real than imagined and British government fears were not just paranoia but based on an accurate assessment of the balance of political forces and currency of ideas in the 1790s. The war against revolutionary France both diminished old animosities and called for a military effort greater than ever before. In 1793, therefore, the government proposed that Ireland and Scotland should each raise a Militia force. Ireland did so forthwith, but public hostility caused the Scottish plan to be laid aside. A serious threat of invasion in 1797 finally enabled the government to carry it through.
Militia regiments had been earlier revived in England during the Seven Years’ War though it was not thought politic to do so in Ireland and Scotland. There was still, in 1797, widespread resistance in Scotland to the drawing up of lists of fencible men, or the taking of a census of those who were capable of taking up arms. The census taking was to be carried out by county Lieutenants, Deputy Lieutenants and Justices of the Peace with the lists then being passed to the Privy Council who were ultimately responsible for raising 6,000 men. The authorities were not idlers and put detailed plans in place to defeat and out manoeuvre the opposition. Much of the planning was carried out by Robert Dundas the then Lord Advocate and other so-called notables such as the Duke of Buccleuch. Generally it involved the use of propaganda through newspapers and the pulpit pointing out the benefits of “volunteering” and the punishments for resistance. In addition to this campaign of propaganda the determination of the government was highlighted by the drafting in of 3,000 regular troops under the command of General Musgrave from Newcastle barracks. These regulars were to make sure that no assemblies be formed which might inhibit “volunteers” from taking up their militia postings. Riots and resistance broke out almost everywhere, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife, the Lothians, Lanarkshire, Dumfriesshire, Berwickshire, Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, Ross-shire and at Dalry in Ayrshire where rioters planted a tree of Liberty. Meanwhile, in Renfrewshire (where Paisley was the most important centre of population) the Lord Lieutenant, Mr McDowall organised to avoid any outburst of rioting or unrest in his neighbourhood. He staggered recruitment meetings so that he could be personally present and intimidate any opposition. Factory owners who were reluctant to give lists of the names of fencible employees were told that all of their employees “were liable to serve, leaving the matter to be adjusted by appeals” and thus were pressured to co-operate. This combination of propaganda and compulsion appears as something of a modern tactic for the managing of political disputes but as Paisley and Renfrewshire were largely centres of weaving the use of written propaganda made sense because of the high rate of literacy among the population. In fact as had been remarked by Adam Smith literacy rates in Scotland as whole were remarkably high owing to the parish school system. And for those who couldn’t read there was always the minister to drive home the message from the pulpit. Mr McDowall had managed to keep the well of unrest from springing up and overflowing. No mean achievement given the general mood. It is tempting not to conjecture that McDowall acted as an inspiration for the editor of The Harp Renfrewshire William Motherwell. Mr McDowall (or McDowal) was to become captain of the Renfrewshire Militia in which James King (recipient of the quote in the first sentence) served. This regiment took some of its initial recruits from the Renfrewshire Yeomanry one of the organisations Motherwell later joined in performance of his “civic duties”.
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