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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

VII. Politics, radicalism and national identity

38. Address to The Inhabitants of Great Britain & Ireland, 1820

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1The Radical War, also known as the Scottish Insurrection of 1820, represented the culmination of Radical demands for reform. The wave of riots which spread across Britain during the period 1817-1819 prompted the government to adopt the six Acts to restore order. The years 1819-1820 were years of economic depression and unemployment, which resulted in working-class agitation. Mass meetings were held in Glasgow, Paisley and other Scottish towns in 1819. In February 1820 the government managed to arrest a group of radicals from Glasgow that had been suspected of organizing a rising in Scotland and in England. On Saturday 1 April 1820 a Committee of Reformation for Forming a Provisional Government put placards around the streets of Glasgow, calling on the people to strike and rise in rebellion. The Address had an immediate effect in Glasgow and other towns. Around 60,000 workers, both in the city and elsewhere, stopped working for a week. The rising ended in complete failure: fifty people were tried for treason, sixteen of them (later known as the ‘Scottish Insurrectionists’) being transported to Australia and three of them executed.

2Placard which appeared in Glasgow and the West of Scotland on the night of 1-2 April, 1820, in Trials for High Treason in Scotland, Under a Special Commission Held at Stirling, Glasgow, Dumbarton, Paisley and Ayr, in the Year 1820, Vol. 1, Edinburgh: Manners et Miller, 1825, p. 46-48.

FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN:

ROUSED from that torpid state in which We have been sunk for so many years, We are, at length, compelled, from the extremity of our sufferings, and the contempt heaped upon our Petitions for redress, to assert our RIGHTS, at the hazard of our lives and proclaim to the world the real motives, which (if not misrepresented by designing men, would have United all ranks) have reduced us to take up ARMS for the redress of our Common Grievances.

The numerous Public Meetings held throughout the Country have demonstrated to you, that the interests of all Classes are the same. That the protection of Life and Property of the Rich Man, is the interest of the Poor Man, and in return, it is in the interest of the Rich to protect the Poor from the iron grasp of DESPOTISM; for when its victims are exhausted in the lower circles there is no assurance but that its ravages will be continued in the upper; For once set in motion, it will continue to move until a succession of Victims fall.

Our principles are few, and founded on the basis of our Constitution which was purchased with the DEAREST BLOOD of our ANCESTORS, and which we swear to transmit to posterity unsullied, or PERISH in the Attempt. Equality of Rights (not of Property) is the object for which we contend, and which we consider as the only security for our LIBERTIES and LIVES.

Let us show to the world that We are not that Lawless Sanguinary Rabble which Our Oppressors would persuade the higher circles we are but a BRAVE and GENEROUS PEOPLE, determined to be FREE. LIBERTY or DEATH is our Motto, and We have sworn to return home in triumph–or return no more!

SOLDIERS:

  • 6 In Cádiz, Spain, in January 1820, troops protested over infrequent pay, bad food, and poor quarter (...)

Shall YOU, Countrymen, bound by the sacred obligation of an oath to defend your Country and your King from enemies, whether foreign or domestic, plunge your Bayonets into the Bosoms of Fathers and Brothers at the unrelenting Orders of a Cruel Faction and sacrifice those feelings which hold in common with the rest of mankind? SOLDIERS, turn your eyes towards SPAIN6, and there behold the happy effects resulting from the UNION of Soldiers and Citizens. Look to that quarter, and there behold the yoke of hated Despotism, broke by the Unanimous wish of the People and Soldiery, happily accomplished without Bloodshed. And shall You, who taught those Soldiers the principles of Liberty, refuse to spread them in your own Country? Forbid it Heaven! Come forward then at once, and FREE your Country and your King from the influence of those base maxims that have ruined our Country.

FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN:

The eventful period has now arrived, where the Services of all will be required, for the forwarding of an object so universally wished, as just and equal Laws. Come forward, then, and countenance those who have begun the completion of so arduous a task, and support the laudable efforts which we are making to give to BRITONS those rights consecrated to them by the MAGNA CHARTA and the BILL OF RIGHTS and Sweep from our Shores that Corruption which has degraded us below the dignity of Man.

Owing to the misrepresentations which have gone abroad with regard to our intentions, we think it indispensably necessary to DECLARE inviolable all Public and Private Property. And, we hereby call upon all JUSTICES of the PEACE, and all others, to suppress OUTRAGE of every description; and to endeavour to secure those Guilty of such offences, that they may receive that Punishment which such violation of Justice demand.

In the present state of affairs, and during the continuation of so momentous a struggle, we earnestly request all to desist from their Labour from and after this day, the First of April, and attend wholly to the recovery of their Rights and consider it as the duty of every man not to recommence until he is in possession of those Rights which distinguishes the FREEMEN from the SLAVES, viz. That of giving consent to the laws by which he is governed. We, therefore, recommend to the Proprietors of Public Works, and all others, to Stop the one, and Shut up the other, until order is restored, as We will be accountable for no damages which may be sustained; and which after this Public Intimation, they can have no claim to.

And We hereby give notice to all those who shall be found guilty of PILLAGE OR PLUNDER that they shall meet with the severest Punishment, as we are determined by every means in our power, to prevent those evils of which we have ourselves so just reason to complain.

By order of the Committee of Reformation for Forming a Provisional Government,

Glasgow 1st April, 1820.

Britons–God–Justice–The wishes of all good Men are with us. Join together and make it one CAUSE and the Nations of the EARTH shall hail the day when the Principles of LIBERTY shall be those of our Native Soil.

Notes

6 In Cádiz, Spain, in January 1820, troops protested over infrequent pay, bad food, and poor quarters and mutinied.

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