Front Page Titles (by Subject) two DISCOURSES concerning the AFFAIRS of SCOTLAND; Written in the Year 1698. - Selected Discourses and Speeches
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two DISCOURSES concerning the AFFAIRS of SCOTLAND; Written in the Year 1698. - Andrew Fletcher, Selected Discourses and Speeches 
Selected Discourses and Speeches: A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias (Edinburgh, 1698); Two Discourses concerning the Affairs of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1698); Speeches by a Member of the Parlaiment (Edinburgh, 1703); A Conversation concerning a Right Regulation of Government (Edinburgh, 1704).
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two DISCOURSES concerning the AFFAIRS of SCOTLAND; Written in the Year 1698.
the first DISCOURSE
No inclination is so honourable, nor has anything been so much esteemed in all nations, and ages, as the love of that country and society in which every man is born. And those who have placed their greatest satisfaction in doing good, have accounted themselves happy, or unfortunate, according to the success of their endeavours to serve the interest of their country. For nothing can be more powerful in the minds of men, than a natural inclination and duty concurring in the same disposition.
Nature in most men prevails over reason; reason in some prevails over nature: but when these two are joined, and a violent natural inclination finds itself owned by reason, required by duty, encouraged by the highest praises, and excited by the most illustrious examples, sure that force must be irresistible. Constrained by so great a force, and the circumstances of my affairs not allowing me to be otherwise serviceable to my country, I have in the following discourse given my opinion concerning divers matters of importance, which probably may be debated in the approaching session of parliament. I shall be very well satisfied if anything I say do afford a hint that may be improved by men of better judgment to the public good. I hope I shall not be blamed for giving my opinion in matters of public concernment, since it is the right and duty of every man to write or speak his mind freely in all things that may come before any parliament; to the end that they who represent the nation in that assembly may be truly informed of the sentiments of those they represent. Besides, we are now no more under those tyrannical reigns in which it was a crime to speak of public affairs, or to say that the king had received bad counsel in anything. If in this discourse I argue against some things, which perhaps may not be proposed in the ensuing session of parliament, they are nevertheless such as persons in public trust have in their conversation given just cause to think they were designed.
It is probable that the parliament, before they proceed to any other business, will take into consideration a transaction, which having passed since the last session, may, if it be not abolished, import no less than the infringing the freedom of this and all subsequent parliaments; I mean, the farming of the customs to the state of burghs.
Corruption is so entirely disowned by all men, that I may be allowed to say, when I name it, that I name the blackest of crimes; and when I name any guilty of it, I name a very odious criminal. But corruption is more or less dangerous in proportion to the stations in which corrupt men are placed. When a private man receives any advantage to betray a trust, one or a few persons may suffer; if a judge be corrupted, the oppression is extended to greater numbers: but when legislators are bribed, or (which is all one) are under any particular engagement, that may influence them in their legislative capacity, much more when an entire state of parliament is brought under those circumstances, then it is that we must expect injustice to be established by a law, and all those consequences which will inevitably follow the subversion of a constitution, I mean, standing armies, oppressive taxes, slavery; whilst the outward form only of the ancient government remains to give them authority. I confess I have been often struck with astonishment, and could never make an end of admiring the folly and stupidity of men living under some modern governments, who will exclaim against a judge that takes bribes, and never rest till he be punished, or at least removed; and yet at the same time suffer great numbers of those who have the legislative authority to receive the constant bribes of places and pensions to betray them. But we shall have less to say for ourselves if we suffer the votes of the whole state of burghs to be at once influenced by the farming of the customs. For in other places the impudence of bribery has gone no farther than to attack single persons; but to endeavour at once to bribe a whole state of parliament, is an attempt of which it seems we only are capable.
Yet to show how far I am from suspecting any man of the least bad design, without a cause, I shall say, that as I know this business of the farm above-mentioned was first moved without any design to influence the votes of the burghs in parliament; so I am willing to believe that few of those who have since acted in this affair had any such design. But if any man, after due consideration of the evil consequences which must follow, and are inseparable from such a farm, shall still persist in endeavouring to continue it, he cannot but be an enemy to the liberties of his country.
This is so bold an attempt, and so inconsistent with the freedom of parliament, that till it be removed it is to be presumed they will not proceed to any other business: but this obstruction once taken away, we may hope they will begin with that affair which presses most, and in which the nation is so universally concerned, I mean that of the African and Indian company.
I know some will exclaim against this method, and propose that the business of the army may be first taken into consideration, as of more general concernment to the nation whether it stand or be disbanded. They will not fail to say, that before all other things the king’s business (as their style runs) ought to be done. To this I answer, that he who makes a distinction between the business of the king and that of the country, is a true friend to neither. And if it be considered, that the ships of the company are sailed; that Scotland has now a greater venture at sea than at any time since we have been a nation; that the accidents and misfortunes to which an enterprise of this nature is subject, are so many and so various, either by the loss of ships from the ordinary hazards of the sea, or hurricanes; by sickness of the men, who for the most part are neither accustomed to such long voyages, nor to climates so different from their own; by the death of one or more of those to whom the conduct of this affair is principally entrusted; by being disappointed of fresh provisions when those they carry with them are spent; by being attacked at sea or at land, before they have fortified a place for themselves, or a thousand other accidents (for all things are extremely difficult to the first undertakers), I say, if it be considered, that provisions, or the smallest things necessary, falling short buy by a few days, have often been the ruin of the greatest undertakings, and chiefly of those of this kind; there cannot be any more urgent affair than that of providing incessantly a supply for the necessities of so many men as are on board those ships, who may be brought under extraordinary sufferings by a delay, whilst our standing forces are living at ease. Especially since the nation has so great a concern in this enterprise, that I may well say all our hopes of ever being any other than a poor and inconsiderable people are embarked with them.
The reputation and power of this nation was formerly very considerable as long as armies were composed of those numerous militias of the barons. Our ancestors have often seen sixty, eighty, or a hundred thousand men under their ensigns, which then might well bear the motto, That none should provoke them unpunished. Since that time, the face of things is quite changed throughout all Europe; and the former militias being altogether decayed, and no good ones anywhere established, every country is obliged to defend itself in time of war, and maintain its reputation by the force of money; that is, by mercenary troops, either of their own or of other countries both by sea and land. But such a vast expense the riches of no country is able to support without a great trade. In this great alteration our case has been singularly bad and unfortunate: for partly through our own fault, and partly by the removal of our kings into another country, this nation, of all those who possess good ports, and lie conveniently for trade and fishing, has been the only part of Europe which did not apply itself to commerce; and possessing a barren country, in less than an age we are sunk to so low a condition as to be despised by all our neighbours, and made incapable to repel an injury, if any should be offered: so that now our motto may be inverted, and all may not only provoke, but safely trample upon us. To recover from such as condition, what would not any people do? What toils would they refuse? To what hazards would they not expose themselves? But if the means by which they are to recover are not only just and honourable, but such as with restoring honour and safety to the nation, may give encouragement to that excellent, though now suppressed and almost extinguished spirit of our people, and gratify every man in the eases and pleasures of life: is it not strange that there should be found men amongst us capable to oppose those things; especially at a time, when, I may say, by no contrivance of any man, but by an unforeseen and unexpected change of the genius of this nation, all their thoughts and inclinations, as if united and directed by a higher power, seem to be turned upon trade, and to conspire together for its advancement, which is the only means to recover us from our present miserable and despicable condition? For hitherto our convenient situation and good harbours, our rich seas and lakes have been unprofitable to us; no care has been taken to set the poor at work; and multitudes of families, for want of employment by trade and manufactures, go yearly out of the kingdom without any intention to return. In such a state and condition of this nation, it seems these men find their account better, than if our country were filled with people and riches, our firths covered with ships, and they should see everywhere the marks of what good government and trade are able to produce.
But I shall be told, that I go upon a mistake; and that no Scotsman is an enemy to the African company: that those who approach his majesty, know most of his mind, and are most entrusted by him in the government of this nation; and such as are influenced by them, would only have the parliament to consider the straits and difficulties his majesty would be put to, if he should in an extraordinary manner encourage this trade, by reason, that being King of England, and Stadt-holder of the United Provinces, our interest in this point may come to interfere with that of those nations. The people of those countries solicit, each in favour of their own companies: will not these men so much as advise the king to distribute impartial justice, and to let every one have the proportionable reward of his industry? Oh, but we have an immunity from customs for many years, which neither the English nor Dutch enjoy. I shall not say, that when the English nation shall come to a perfect knowledge of their interest, they will be convinced that riches in Scotland will be beneficial to England, since the seat of the monarchy is there. I need not say that the English and Dutch are free people, and may surely procure for themselves as great advantages as Scotland: but that Scotland offered to both nations a share in that advantage which they had obtained for themselves only; and to England an equal share. I know the parliament of England took the thing warmly at first; but when upon due consideration they found that we had not given them the least just ground of offence, but on the contrary, made them the fairest offer we could; it was then let fall, and has not been mentioned in the last session. So that what these gentlemen allege of his majesty’s difficulties to satisfy the English in this point is false, unless by the English they mean those who having for many years oppressed the English colonies in America, are afraid that if any settlement should be made in that part of the world by us, under a free constitution, the English planters removing to it, might occasion a strict inquiry into their crimes, and their punishment for them.
I do not hear that the Dutch have presented any memorial to his majesty against our company, and cannot imagine in what terms any such address, either from them, or the English car run. Should it be, that his majesty ought not to protect us in our just rights and privileges? that he should break the laws, and violate his oath by our destruction? or determine us as the court did the fishing company in King Charles’s time, and frustrate this second as well as that first great attempt to make the nation considerable? That there have been underhand dealings (though without his majesty’s knowledge, as we ought to believe) the affair of Hamburgh does sufficiently demonstrate; and likewise that his majesty’s ministers abroad, paid by the Crown of England, are no more to be looked upon as ministers for the Crown of Scotland. Since we are separate kingdoms, and have separate ministers at home, we ought to have separate ministers abroad; especially in an affair wherein we may have a separate interest from England, which must always be in matters of trade, though never so inconsiderable. Neither ought we to have separate ministers only upon the account of trade, but upon all occasions, wherein the honour or interest of the nation is concerned. That we have not had them formerly, since we were under one king with England, was, I suppose, to save charges, and because we trusted to the impartiality of such as we judged to be the ministers of the King of Great Britain: but now we are undeceived, and sure the nation could never have bestowed money better, than in having a minister at the late treaty of peace, who might have obtained the re-establishment of the nation in the privileges they had in France, which was totally neglected: and notwithstanding the great and unproportionable numbers of sea and land soldiers that we were obliged to furnish for the support of the war, yet not one tittle of advantage was procured to us by the peace.
Now these gentlemen, at the same time, would persuade us to pay almost as many forces in time of peace, as we did in time of war; and like Pharaoh’s tax-masters would have us make brick without allowing us straw. And all, that these forces, and the regiments, which to the consuming of our people we recruit in Holland, in case of any rupture abroad upon the account of the English or Dutch trade, may be employed in their defence.
To obviate then part of so many shameful things, it is my opinion, that in place of laying a land-tax upon the kingdom for maintaining forces to defend the English and Dutch trade, we should raise one for the carrying on of our down: and (since the nation is so generally concerned in this Indian trade, that the ruin of it, which, God forbid, may very probably draw along with it that of the whole trade of the kingdom, and a perpetual discouragement from ever attempting anything considerable hereafter) that a twelve-months’ cess should be levied for the support of it; and that whatsoever may be the product of that money, by the trade of the company, shall go to the easing of the nation from public burdens, whenever they shall make a dividend of clear profit. For it is but reasonable that, since the company has been unjustly hindered of that supply of money which they expected, and might have had from strangers, they should have recourse for redress to the parliament, who if they shall think fit to take such a resolution, the company will be able immediately to procure an advance of money upon the credit of the cess.
It will be also fit, that the company petition the parliament to address his majesty, that the three small frigates, lately built at the expense of this nation, may be appointed for a convoy to the next ships, they shall send out.
The parliament having provided for this pressing affair, will (no doubt) proceed to the business of the forces, and to consider whether a standing army shall be kept up in time of peace, as in time of war; for the arguments used to continue them for a year may be improved to keep them up for ever; especially since we have at this time a stronger argument against them than I hope shall ever be alleged hereafter; I mean that of the nation’s being exhausted of money by a three years’ scarcity next to a famine: but how long this may continue God only knows.
A long and tedious war, which has cost this nation much blood, is at length ended in a peace. Our expense of treasure has been inconsiderable by reason of our poverty through want of trade; yet have we contributed our part, if the smallness of our stock be considered. But in the loss of our people, which is an expense of blood and riches too, we have paid a treble proportion. Seven or eight thousand of our seamen were on board the English fleet, and two or three thousand in that of Holland: we had twenty battalions of foot, and six squadrons of dragoons here and in Flanders. Besides, I am credibly informed, that every fifth man in the English forces was either of this nation, or Scots-Irish, who are a people of the same blood with us. All these, by a modest computation, may amount to thirty thousand men. This I only mention to answer the reproaches of those who vilify us as an inconsiderable people, and set a mean value on the share we have borne in this war. I am unwilling to speak of the returns that have been made to us for our assistance, by refusing to our soldiers the donative given to those who had served no better than they, and by pressing our seamen, contrary to the law of nations. Now though resenting the last of these during the war would have marked us out for disaffection and Jacobitism, yet we ought to hope it may be mentioned at this time without offence. But some will say, that the blessings of peace are so great, that not only the calamities of war, but even affronts and injuries from our neighbours, ought to be forgot and drowned in the joys, which the hopes of ease, tranquillity, and plenty must needs produce. And indeed I should be contented, that all resentments were sacrificed to such charming hopes, if they had any real foundation. But we have a peace, and yet must not reap any benefit by it; a poor country is to maintain almost as many forces as they did in time of war; a nation endeavouring to set up manufactures, and to advance trade, must still see their people consumed, by continuing on food mercenary forces.
I shall not insist upon the arguments that may be brought against standing forces, nor go about to show how inconsistent they are with liberty. I shall not mention the examples of almost all the nations of Europe, who by keeping up such forces in time of peace are become slaves. This has been fully made out by divers treaties which have been lately published, and are in the hands of most men. Perhaps also it will be said, that I am not to insist upon the point of right in this case, since there is no article in our claim of right to declare the keeping up of a standing army in time of peace, without consent of parliament, to be against law. Yet those who are of that opinion should consider, that the estates of this kingdom have made the keeping up of a standing army, in time of peace, without consent of parliament, an article in the forfaultnre of the late King James. But it seems we must use more modest arguments than such as naturally arise from the hazard our liberty may run, by allowing standing forces, or from any right we have to pretend that it is against the constitution of our government to impose them upon us, and be obliged to bring all our reasons from our necessities and inability to maintain any. Indeed, as this is the most modest, so surely it is the strongest argument; for such forces are not to be maintained, without increasing the poverty of this country, and reducing it at length to utter desolation. It is hard if the charges of a government should be the same in time of peace, or even come near the expense that was perhaps requisite to be made in time of war; such a nation can never hope to be in a flourishing state. Now as our condition will not permit us to keep up these forces, so I can see no reason why we should do it if we could. There is no pretence for them, except only to keep a few wretched Highlanders in order; which might be easily done by a due execution of our old laws made for that purpose, without the help of any fort or garrison. We are at a great distance from any other enemy, and cannot justly fear an invasion from beyond so great a sea as must be passed to come at us. And though during the late war we were sometimes under the apprehensions of such an invasion, yet the enemy was not so imprudent to put it to the hazard.
But some will say, that the late King James has still many partisans in this nation, that we have always been, and still are, a divided people. and that there are many ill men amongst us: they have also the confidence still to tell us of an invasion upon Scotland by the French King; who, to cover this probable design, has delivered up such vast countries, and places of such great importance. Why do they not also say, that as a man every day after he is born is nearer to his end, so are we every day after the peace nearer to a war? The party of the late King James was always insignificant, and is now become a jest. If the government will encourage good men, they will need no standing forces to secure themselves from the bad. For of what use can any militia be supposed to be, that is not fit to preserve the quiet of a country remote from enemies in time of peace?
Those of the presbyterian persuasion should, I think, be the last of all men to establish an army; for whatever they may promise to themselves, it is certain that either upon his majesty’s death, or upon alterations of measures, and changes of dispositions in the minds of the members of future parliaments, it will be always a sure rod for the backs of those who have so many enemies. But men are blind in prosperity, forgetting adversity and the vicissitudes of human affairs. And it were but reasonable that those of that persuasion, who in the late King James’s reign made so false a step as was like to have proved fatal to our liberties, should now think of making some amends, and showing that they have profited by their error, and are not (as they express themselves) time-servers.
But to discover the true reason why standing forces are designed to be kept up in this nation in time of peace, we need only look back on the use that was made of them during the late war. For after the reduction of the Highlands they served only for a seminary to the forces of this nation that were with his majesty in Flanders, the best of their men being drawn out yearly for recruiting those forces. This also proves that his majesty knew very well that there was no hazard from the invasions I mentioned before: for if there had been any real danger of that kind, he would not have weakened the forces in this kingdom so considerably. I am very far from disapproving his majesty’s conduct in that affair; I do on the contrary highly commend his wisdom in it, and think it to have been the best use that could be made of forces in this country, whilst the war continued. But must we in time of peace be taxed beyond measure to maintain forces, which upon occasion are to serve for the defence of two of the richest nations in the world; nations that have manifested their unwillingness to let us into the least co-partnership with them in trade, from which all our riches, if ever we have any, must arise? This is to load a poor nation with taxes, and to oppress them with soldiers in order to procure plenty and riches to other countries, of which they are not to have the least share. Rich and opulent nations are to enjoy the benefits of the peace, and we are to suffer, that they may enjoy them with security.
Therefore I am of opinion, that since we can expect no advantages from our neighbours or allies, we do ourselves right, by refusing to maintain any standing forces for their behoof, because we need none for our own defence, and that our militia may be sufficient on all occasions where force is necessary. Eighty-four thousand pounds, which is the sum proposed for the yearly maintenance of standing forces, is as much money to us, as two millions five hundred and twenty thousand pounds is to England, since we cannot pretend to above the thirtieth part of their wealth. And yet that nation allows but three hundred and fifty thousand pounds for the forces they keep on foot; of which sum twelve thousand pounds is more than the thirtieth part. If it be said that England allows more for their fleet than for their land forces I answer, it ought to be considered that England with all its riches maintains only five millions and half of people, and that Scotland upon a thirtieth part maintains a million and half. Eighty-four thousand pounds laid out yearly in husbandry, manufactures, and trade may do great things in Scotland, and not only maintain (though in a different way of living) all those officers and soldiers, of which these forces are designed to consist, but also vastly enrich this nation; whereas great numbers of soldiers produce nothing but beggary in any place. People employed in manufactures, husbandry, and trade make consumption as well as soldiers, and their labour and industry is an over-plus of wealth to the nation, whilst soldiers consume twice as much as they pay for, and live idle.
It is not the least misfortune of this country, that the younger sons of the nobility and gentry have in all times had their inclinations debauched to an idle, for the most part criminal, and almost always unprofitable sort of life; I mean that of a solider of fortune. Their talents might have been much better employed in trade and husbandry to the improvement of their country, and increase of their patrimony. Let us begin to come off from such ruinous ways of living; and if we design to carry on a great trade, let us employ men capable to manage it. From all these considerations I say, that the keeping up of any standing forces in time of peace is not only useless, but destructive to the well-being of this nation.
If it be objected, that this would take away even the ordinary guards. I answer, that whilst we had a king residing in Scotland, he had no other guard than forty gentlemen; and now when we have no king amongst us, we must have a squadron of horse and two battalions of foot, with the title of guards. But I would know what guards they are we must keep up. Are they those who yielded up the rank of the nation and dignity of a crown, if it have any pre-eminence above a common-wealth? I am far from pleading for mutiny against a general, or disobedience to a king; but when the meanest officer thinks himself injured in his rank, he demands his pass, and will serve no more; neither is he blamed by any prince for so doing. If the officers of that body would have done as much for the honour of their country, sure they would have merited his majesty’s esteem, and deserved rewards from the nation. But how they can pretend to be kept up after an action that our ancestors would have thought to deserve not only breaking, but a decimation to precede it, I cannot imagine. I know there are many brave gentlemen among them who were much grieved at the thing, but they had a bad example from the then commanding officer; and it is to be feared that his advancement to the place of the greatest military trust and importance in the kingdom, may by his majesty’s enemies be imputed to that action.
But after all we are told, that if we will keep up standing forces we shall have an act of habeas corpus. This would be a wise bargain: here is a price for our liberty; sure we may expect an immense sum, and a security without exception. No, no, but you shall have an act of parliament for the freedom of your persons, though there be never so many standing forces in the kingdom; that is, we shall have the law on our side, and another shall have the force, and then let nature work. If there be no danger that standing forces should violate the law, there is no danger from them.
There is no pretence to speak of a cess or land-tax for maintaining forces, before the business of the army be taken into consideration; and one would think, if the army be disbanded, it should not be mentioned at all. Yet it is certain that such men as would recommend themselves by a pretended loyalty, will not fail to tell us, that we ought to be at the least as liberal to his present majesty, who has redeemed us from popery and slavery, as we were to King James, who would have brought us under both: and though they now pretend that a cess for life will not be so much as mentioned in the approaching session, we know very well their conduct in that affair will be regulated upon the disposition they find in the parliament to grant or refuse it; and that if they conceive any hopes of obtaining so considerable a jewel to the crown, they will be sure to bring in that affair when least expected.
The giving his majesty a land-tax during life, and so great a one as that granted to the late King James, with the revenue already settled on him for the same term, makes it impossible for the subject to give more, and consequently is of all those affairs that can come before any parliament the greatest, and of the highest importance; since it tends to the making parliaments less necessary, and consequently to the abolishing them, with the ancient constitution of government in this nation.
Those who have the honour to advise his present majesty, if they be true lovers of the monarchy, ought to have a care of treading in the former footsteps, and above all shun to advise him to desire those things of the parliament which King James desired and obtained. It were their duty by all means to endeavour an fair understanding and a continual good correspondence between king and people, which certainly is the only true support of monarchy. Now there are no occasions of entertaining and increasing that confidence, and those mutual good offices that should, like regular tides, ebb and flow between king and people, greater than those of parliaments. Endeavours to take away the frequency of parliaments are endeavours to take away those frequent good offices between king and people. The king stands in need of money, the people of good laws, which their representatives and his great council offer to him, that they may have his sanction, and that he may provide for their due execution. Money may be given at once, for a long time, or for ever; but good laws cannot be so enacted, the occasion and necessity of them discovering itself only from time to time: and if the one go without the other, the mutual good offices, and consequently the mutual confidence between king and people ceases.
It may be farther considered, that the king has the power of calling parliaments; and that by giving him for life all that we can give, we shall make parliaments unnecessary to him. If any man suggest that it is a crime to suspect that so good and just a prince as his present majesty is, will not always do what is for the good of his people, I answer, that I have all the deference, respect, and esteem for his majesty that any subject ought to have; but it were a fulsome piece of flattery for any man to say that he cannot be influenced by bad counsel, or that he is not subject to those frailties of mistake and prejudice, from which no mortal was ever free, and princes always most subject to through the suggestions and bad offices of men about them.
But let us suppose that his present majesty will never make the least bad use of this tax, who shall secure us his successor will not? If it be said that it is only for his present majesty this tax is desired, and that it is in the power of the parliament to refuse it to the successor, I say, with what probability will it, and with what face can it be refused to him? These men desire it for his present majesty because King James had it, though he made bad use of it; the successor shall desire it because his present majesty had it, and made good use of it; I think his argument is stronger. So that though this be said to be only for the life of his present majesty, yet upon the matter it is for ever. And when I need not tell you the consequence, our parliaments shall be abolished, our kings shall become tyrants, and we, of subjects, slaves.
But if we look more nearly into this demand, I doubt not it will appear very gross. During the late war, land-taxes were only demanded from year to year, and we gave them cheerfully, in hopes that a few years would put an end to that charge. When we had undoubted reasons to believe there would be a peace, they were demanded to be given for two years; and now God has blessed us with it, if they be demanded during his majesty’s life, will not this look as if we were to have a standing army during the same time?
A land-tax during his majesty’s life is a French taille for that time. And we ought not to forget that we are beginning, to the great advantage of the nation, to make some small progress in trade; but if it be not encouraged, and much more if it be nipped in the bud, there is an end of all our hopes. One of the greatest things in trade is to encourage exportation; and it is known that the greatest commodity of this kingdom is corn: if there be a land-tax on those whose chief riches consist in corn, they cannot sell so cheap to the merchant that he can make any profit by exporting it.
As for the arguments of those who are for this tax, I need answer none of them; they are, to save the trouble and expense of frequent parliaments; and because the nation did trust King James with this tax, who made bad use of it (a modest and a sensible argument!) are they not afraid it should be said, that those who advise the King to ask the same trust King James had, may advise him likewise to the same things, for which King James demanded it? Sure I am, that many who plead for this now are the same persons who did the like for King James: and as for the expense occasioned by frequent parliaments, I believe there is neither shire nor borough but will find persons very willing to represent them, without putting them to any charge. I know it is commonly said in this kingdom that parliaments do more hurt than good; but it is because they are never called unless to impose money: will it mend the matter to lay on at once, and for life, as much as the nation is able to pay? We were getting some good laws for our money, but then we shall be excluded from that benefit.
In a word, our forefathers had two securities for their liberties and properties, they had both the sword and the purse: the sword anciently was in the hand of the subject, because the armies then were composed of the vassals who depended on the barons. That security is gone; shall we throw the other after it, and thereby, I may very well say, dissolve the constitution, and the monarchy? For a government is not only a tyranny, when tyrannically exercised; but also when there is no sufficient caution in the constitution that it may not be exercised tyrannically.
When the parliament has put an end to the affairs before-mentioned, it were to be wished that this being the first session since the conclusion of the peace, and after so long a war, they would pass some act to ease the minds, and take away the fears and apprehensions of many men who are still obnoxious to the law, of whom the greater part are abroad; and all of them both at home and abroad, for want of an act of indemnity, made desperate, and only fitted to involve others in the same uneasy and distracting circumstances under which they themselves live. But acts of indemnity are the worst and most pernicious of all laws to the well-being of any government, unless the most notorious offenders be first punished; and in such cases only encouragements to new transgressions, destroying the real security of all government, and effect of all laws, by giving an entire impunity to the attempts against both. So that there seems to be an absolute necessity, both of making an example of the notorious enemies to the liberties of this country, and giving a general pardon to the rest; if we will either secure the government for the future from endeavours to introduce arbitrary power, cut up the party of the late King James by the roots, or quiet the minds of the people, and remove the animosities that may remain in a nation wherein two or more parties have been inflamed against each other, to the ruin of the public liberty, and extinguish the memory of those factions for ever.
When it is confessed and acknowledged that there have been bold attempts and treacherous practices to destroy the religion, overturn the constitution of government, and suppress the liberty of a nation, and yet no example made of the advisers, and those who have been eminently subservient to such designs; such a people has as much laid the foundation of their own ruin, as if they had declared that those who shall hereafter engage themselves in the like attempts, need fear no punishment. Upon a revolution followed by a war, circumstances of affairs may be such that till the war be at an end, it is not fit to punish great offenders. But there was no reason, nor any well-grounded political consideration, why immediately upon the late revolution, the most notorious of those offenders should not have been punished; by which means we should have been delivered from our worst men, who have since been very bad instruments in affairs, and have terrified the rest by their example: we might then have quieted the minds of the people by an indemnity; brought the nation to a settlement, and prevented the war which ensued in this country. Yet (because in matters of prudence men are of different sentiments) though it should be granted, that during the war it was not fit to make any examples, what pretence can there be now of exempting from punishment those who have been notoriously criminal, both under the late reigns, and under this? Which when it is done, what conjuncture of time can be so proper for applying the healing remedy of an act of indemnity and oblivion to the rest, as the present, by reason of the peace?
Before the revolution, the court had been in a formed conspiracy against the religion and liberties of this nation; nor was there any art to introduce arbitrary power, or subvert our religion, for which the late reigns wanted willing instruments; and many endeavoured to signalize themselves in the ruin of their country. Yet no man has been made an example, to deter others from the like crimes. It will I know be thought hard to mention the punishing of offences committed so many years ago, when many of the offenders are dead; and some men will judge it fitter to bury all in a general act of oblivion. To this I answer, that having been highly to blame for neglecting hitherto to punish the enemies of our liberty, this ought to oblige us the rather to make an example of those who are still living. And to convince us of this necessity, we need only to consider what crimes those men would not have punished, nor the least example made of any that have been guilty of them; and whether the suffering them to pass unpunished will not bring a guilt upon the nation which may not easily be expiated. Public and private injuries are of a very different nature; and though we are commanded to forgive the last, yet those who have power and right, are required, under the greatest penalties, to punish the other, especially where the crimes are enormous. But if the parliament should follow the advice of those men, they are not to punish any violent proceedings, illegal and arbitrary imprisonments, fines, banishments, and murders under pretext of law, that were set on foot, encouraged, and committed by those evil counsellors mentioned in his majesty’s declaration, in order to alter the religion and government of this nation, and in place of them to introduce popery and slavery. They are not to punish those who to recommend themselves to the late kings, by their interest, power, and credit in the parliament, got to be enacted most cruel and unchristian laws, for persecuting a great part of this nation upon the account of their religious opinions, which they could not quit without violation their consciences: they are not to punish those privy counsellors who went further than those very laws would allow them, in a thousand arbitrary and illegal proceedings, issuing out orders to invade such as dissented from them only in religious matters, with an army composed for the most part of barbarous Highlanders, who hunted them from hill to hill, to force them to take arms, that they might have a pretext to destroy them utterly. They are not to punish those who gave orders to impose illegal and unwarrantable oaths upon all persons, even on silly women that might be found travelling in the ordinary road, and to shoot them immediately dead, if they should refuse the same. Nor are they to punish those who put them in execution. Do presbyterians in particular inagine, that if they neglect their duty in punishing these men, they will avoid the guilt of the innocent blood shed in those times? Are such things to be pardoned as private injuries? The making our courts of justice, particularly that of the session, to be the instruments of subjecting all men to arbitrary power, are things to be passed over in silence, and no account to be taken of them. Those who advised and drew a proclamation, declaring the late King James his absolute power in express terms, are not to be questioned for it. If the parliament pass over these things without making any example of the offenders, they make a precedent for abolishing the punishment of all enormous crimes for ever, since there never can be greater than these. Shall there be no examples made of criminals for enormities of such a general influence and concernment, in a nation where a poor man for stealing a little food, is for example’s sake (let what I say be considered is for example’s sake) punished with death? If there can be no stop put to the least of crimes, but by the punishment of some of those that are guilty; can there be any remedy against the abettors of arbitrary power, if no example be made of them? Can that government be said to be secure, where there is no punishment, but rewards for conspiracies against its constitution? It is true that it may be fit to overlook some crimes, wherein extraordinary numbers of men are concerned, but not extraordinary crimes, nor the most guilty of the criminals.
It was thought fit to forbear the punishment of the evil counsellors mentioned in his majesty’s declaration for some time; that forbearance has lasted to this day; and we have so little hopes of seeing any discouragement put upon those who shall promote arbitrary government in time to come, by an exemplary punishment of the most notorious offenders under the late reigns, that notwithstanding many new provocations, and reiterated treasons under this, they have not only hitherto escaped punishment, but have been also encouraged. For not long after the revolution, the most considerable of them (I do not speak of those who took arms) entered into new conspiracies against their country, to betray it again to the late King James, and took the oaths to this King, that they might have the better opportunity to bring back the other. Yet after all this his majesty was advised to put some of them into the most important places of trust in the kingdom. What are we then to expect, if we shall not now proceed to make some examples, but that they, and men of the like principles, will insinuate themselves into all the places of trust; and have the power as well as the will to throw us into prisons, and by their pernicious counsels to betray his present majesty into the same misfortunes that were brought upon the late King? Is it not enough, that the punishment of those who endeavoured to enslave us under the late reigns has been delayed till now? Because they have renewed the same practices under this, must it still be delayed, to the end that (as they have already done in the affair of Glencoe) they may continue to give his majesty the same bad counsel with which the late kings were poisoned? Now, to pardon them we have this encouragement, that having passed over former crimes, we embolden them to commit new, and to give fresh wounds to that country which has already so often bled under their hands.
When the greatest offenders are punished, an act of indemnity will be as necessary to the well-being of this nation as peace itself, since there can be no ease or quiet without it. But so little hopes have we of this, that whilst the evil counsellors, against whom his majesty did so justly declare, live at ease, an act (as we are told) is to be brought into the parliament for banishing during pleasure many thousands of inconsiderable people who cannot be charged with crimes any way comparable to theirs; and some of them free of the least appearance of any. What construction would the advisers of these things have even those who are best affected to the government put upon them? One might reasonably think that such things may be fit to keep up the party if the late King James, and fright the nation into a belief of the necessity of continuing a standing army, that they may be fit to lead men of estates, or those who have anything to lose, into snares both at home and abroad (particularly in France, where the late King James is still suffered) by pretending correspondence or conversation with such as may be obnoxious to the law: but no man can suspect the worst of counsellors of such designs. And therefore I confess I am at a stand; for such vast numbers of people were never yet banished for crimes of state: nor does the multitude ever suffer for them, except only in barbarous countries. If it be said that ill men may have designs against his majesty’s life, and therefore ought to be banished, I answer, nothing is more likely to draw on such a mischief than extraordinary severities used against them. For nothing does so much fit a man for such an attempt as despair; against which no distance of place can long protect.
My opinion therefore is that an act of indemnity (excepting only assassins and other notorious criminals, whom we cannot at present reach) is more suitable to our present condition than an act of banishment: and that to procure the nation so great a blessing, the parliament should proceed, without delay, to the punishing of the greatest criminals, both of this and the last reigns without which an oblivion will be one of the greatest injuries that can be done to us.
I shall only add, that there is grounded to believe some men will endeavour to persuade the parliament to take this affair into consideration before all others; because it was the first thing done in the last session of the English parliament; and the bill having passed there almost without debate, they will make use of that as an argument why it should do so here. What the considerations were which moved that parliament to do so, I will not presume to determine, neither is it my business; circumstances of affairs may be different in different nations: sure I am, that in this particular they are different, that a greater number of men, in proportion to the people in each nation, will fall under uneasy circumstances by such an act in Scotland, than has been found to have done in England.
the second DISCOURSE concerning the AFFAIRS OF SCOTLAND; written in the year 1698
The affairs of which I have spoken in the preceding discourse are such as the present conjuncture makes a proper subject for the approaching session of parliament: but there are many other things which require no less their care, if the urgent and pressing distresses of the nation be considered. I shall therefore with all due respect to the parliament offer my opinion concerning two, which I presume to be of that nature.
The first thing which I humbly and earnestly propose to that honourable court is, that they would take into their consideration the condition of so many thousands of our people who are at this day dying for want of bread. And to persuade them seriously to apply themselves to so indispensable a duty, they have all the inducements which those most powerful emotions of the soul, terror and compassion, can produce. Because from unwholesome food diseases are so multiplied among the poor people, that if some course be not taken, this famine may very probably be followed by a plague; and then what man is there even of those who sit in parliament that can be sure he shall escape? And what man is there in this nation, if he have any compassion, who must not grudge himself every nice bit and every delicate morsel he puts in his mouth, when he considers that so many are already dead, and so many at that minute struggling with death, not for want of bread but of grains, which I am credibly informed have been eaten by some families, even during the preceding years of scarcity. And must not every unnecessary branch of our expense, or the least finery in our houses, clothes, or equipage, reproach us with our barbarity, so long as people born with natural endowments, perhaps not inferior to our own, and fellow citizens, perish for want of things absolutely necessary to life?
But not to insist any more upon the representation of so great a calamity, which if drawn in proper colours, and only according to the precise truth of things, must cast the minds of all honest men into those convulsions which ought necessarily to be composed before they can calmly consider of a remedy; and because the particulars of this great distress are sufficiently known to all, I shall proceed to say, that though perhaps upon the great want of bread, occasioned by the continued bad seasons of this and the three preceding years, the evil be greater and more pressing that at any time in our days, yet there have always been in Scotland such numbers of poor, as by no regulations could ever be orderly provided for; and this country has always swarmed with such numbers of idle vagabonds, as no laws could ever restrain. And indeed when I considered the many excellent laws enacted by former parliaments for setting the poor to work, particularly those in the time of King James the sixth, with the clauses for putting them in execution, which to me seemed such as could not miss of the end, and yet that nothing was obtained by them, I was amazed, and began to think upon the case of other nations in this particular, persuaded that there was some strange hidden root of this evil which could not be well discovered, unless by observing the conduct of other governments. But upon reflection I found them all subject to the same inconveniences, and that in all the countries of Europe there were great numbers of poor, except in Holland, which I knew to proceed from their having the greatest share in the trade of the world. But this not being a remedy for every country, since all cannot pretend to so great a part in trade, and that two or three nations are able to manage the whole commerce of Europe; yet there being a necessity that the poor should everywhere be provided for, unless we will acknowledge the deficiency of all government in that particular, and finding no remedy in the laws or customs of any of the present governments, I began to consider what might be the conduct of the wise ancients in that affair. And my curiosity was increased, when upon reflection I could not call to mind that any ancient author had so much as mentioned such a thing, as great numbers of poor in any country.
At length I found the original of that multitude of beggars which now oppress the world, to have proceeded from churchmen, who (never failing to confound things spiritual with temporal, and consequently all good order and good government, either through mistake or design) upon the first public establishment of the Christian religion, recommended nothing more to masters, in order to the salvation of their souls, than the setting such of their slaves at liberty as would embrace the Christian faith, though our Saviour and his apostles had been so far from making use of any temporal advantages to persuade eternal truths, and so far from invading any man’s property, by promising him heaven for it, that the apostle Paul says expressly, ‘In whatever condition of life every one is called to the Christian faith, in that let him remain. Art thou called being a slave? Be not concerned for thy condition; but even though thou mightest be free, choose to continue in it. For he who is called whilst a slave, becomes the freeman of the Lord; and likewise he that is called whilst a freeman, becomes the slave of Christ, who has paid a price for you, that you might not be the slaves of men. Let every one therefore, brethren, in whatever condition he is called, in that remain, in the fear of God.’ That the interpretation I put upon this passage, different from our translation, is the true meaning of the apostle, not only the authority of the Greek fathers, and genuine signification of the Greek particles, but the whole context, chiefly the first and last words (which seem to be repeated to enforce and determine such a meaning) clearly demonstrate. And the reason why he recommends to them rather to continue slaves (if they have embraced the Christian faith in that condition) seems to be that it might appear they did not embrace it for any worldly advantage, as well as to destroy a doctrine which even in his days began to be preached, that slavery was inconsistent with the Christian religion; since such a doctrine would have been a great stop to the progress of it. What the apostle means by saying, we ought not to be the slaves of men, I shall show hereafter.
This disorder of giving liberty to great numbers of slaves upon their profession of Christianity, grew to such a height, even in the time of Constantine the great, that the cities of the empire found themselves burdened with an infinite number of men, who had no other estate but their liberty, of whom the greatest part would not work, and the rest had been bred to no profession. This obliged Constantine to make edicts in favour of beggars; and from that time at the request of the bishops, hospitals, and alms-houses, not formerly known in the world, began to be established. But upon the rise of the Mahometan religion, which was chiefly advanced by giving liberty to all their slaves, the Christians were so molested by the continual rebellion of theirs, that they were at length forced to give liberty to them all; which it seems the churchmen then looked upon as a thing necessary to preserve the Christian religion, since in many of the writings, by which masters gave freedom to their slaves, it is expressly said, they did so, to save their own souls.
This is the rise of that great mischief, under which, to the undoing of the poor, all the nations of Europe have ever since groaned. Because in ancient times, so long as a man was the riches and part of the possession of another, every man was provided for in meat, clothes, and lodging; and not only he, but (in order to increase that riches) his wife and children also: whereas provisions by hospitals, alms-houses, and the contributions of churches or parishes have by experience been found to increase the numbers of those that live by them. And the liberty every idle and lazy person has of burdening the society in which he lives, with his maintenance, has increased their numbers to the weakening and impoverishing of it: for he needs only to say that he cannot get work, and then he must be maintained by charity. And as I have shown before, no nation except one only (which is in extraordinary circumstances) does provide by public work-houses for their poor: the reason of which seems to be, that public work-houses for such vast numbers of people are impracticable except in those places where (besides a vast trade to vend the manufactured goods) there is an extraordinary police, and that though the Hollanders by reason of the steadiness of their temper, as well as of their government (being a commonwealth) may be constant to their methods of providing for the poor; yet in a nation, and under a government like that of France, though vast public work-houses may be for a while kept in order, it will not be long before they fall into confusion and ruin. And indeed (next to Plato’s republic, which chiefly consists in making the whole society live in common) there is nothing more impracticable than to provide for so great a part of every nation by public work-houses. Whereas when such an economy comes under the inspection of every master of a family, and that he himself is to reap the profit of the right management; the thing not only turns to a far better account, but by reason of his power to sell those workmen to others who may have use for them, when he himself has a mind to alter his course of life, the profit is permanent to the society; nor can such an economy or any such management ever fall into confusion.
I doubt not, that what I have said will meet, not only with all the misconstruction and obloquy, but all the disdain, fury, and out-cries, of which either ignorant magistrates, or proud, lazy, and miserable people are capable. Would I bring back slavery into the world? Shall men of immortal souls, and by nature equal to any, be sold as beasts? Shall they and their posterity be for ever subjected to the most miserable of all conditions; the inhuman barbarity of masters, who may beat, mutilate, torture, starve, or kill so great a number of mankind at pleasure? Shall the far greater part of the commonwealth be slaves, not that the rest may be free, but tyrants over them? With what face can we oppose the tyranny of princes, and recommend such opposition as the highest virtue, if we make ourselves tyrants over the greatest part of mankind? Can any man, from whom such a thing has once escaped, ever offer to speak for liberty? But they must pardon me if I tell them, that I regard not names, but things; and that the misapplication of names has confounded everything. We are told there is not a slave in France; that when a slave sets his foot upon French ground, he becomes immediately free: and I say, that there is not a freeman in France, because the king takes away any part of any man’s property at his pleasure; and that, let him do what he will to any man, there is no remedy. The Turks tell us, there are no slaves among them, except Jews, Moors, or Christians; and who is there that knows not, they are all slaves to the grand Seignior, and have no remedy against his will? A slave properly is one who is absolutely subjected to the will of another man without any remedy: and not one that is only subjected under certain limitations, and upon certain accounts necessary for the good of the commonwealth, though such a one may go under that name. And the confounding these two conditions of men by a name common to both, has in my opinion been none of the least hardships put upon those who ought to be named servants. We are all subjected to the laws; and the easier or harder conditions imposed by them upon the several ranks of men in any society, make not the distinction that is between a freeman and a slave.
So that the condition of slaves among the ancients will upon serious consideration appear to be only a better provision in their governments than any we have, that no man might want the necessities of life, nor any person able to work be burdensome to the commonwealth. And they wisely judged of the inconveniences that befall the most part of poor people, when they are all abandoned to their own conduct. I know that these two conditions of men were confounded under the same name, as well by the ancients as they are by us; but the reason was, that having often taken in war the subjects of absolute monarchs, they thought they did them no wrong if they did not better their condition: and as in some of their governments the condition of slaves was under a worse regulation than in others, so in some of them it differed very little, if at all, from the condition of such a slave as I have defined. But I do not approve, and therefore will not go about to defend any of those bad and cruel regulations about slaves. And because it would be tedious and needless to pursue the various conditions of them in several ages and governments, it shall be enough for me to explain under what conditions they might be both good and useful, as well as I think they are necessary in a well-regulated government.
First then, their masters should not have power over their lives, but the life of the master should go for the life of the servant. The master should have no power to mutilate or torture him; that in such cases the servant should not only have his freedom (which alone would make him burdensome to the public) but a sufficient yearly pension so long as he should live from his said master. That he, his wife, and children should be provided for in clothes, diet, and lodging. That they should be taught the principles of morality and religion; to read, and be allowed the use of certain books: that they should not work upon Sundays, and be allowed to go to church: that in everything, except their duty as servants, they should not be under the will of their masters, but the protection of the law: that when these servants grow old, and are no more useful to their masters (lest upon that account they should be ill-used) hospitals should be provided for them by the public: that if for their good and faithful service, any master give them their freedom, he should be obliged to give them likewise wherewithal to subsist, or put them in a way of living without being troublesome to the commonwealth: that they should wear no habit or mark to distinguish them from hired servants: that any man should be punished who gives them the opprobrious name of slave. So, except it were that they could possess nothing, and might be sold, which really would be but an alienation of their service without their consent, they would live in a much more comfortable condition (wanting nothing necessary for life) than those who having a power to posses all things, are very often in want of everything, to such a degree, that many thousands of them come to starve for hunger.
It will be said, that notwithstanding all these regulations, they may be most barbarously used by their masters, either by beating them outrageously, making them work beyond measure, suffer cold or hunger, or neglecting them in their sickness. I answer, that as long as the servant is of an age not unfit for work, all these things are against the interest of the master: that the most brutal man will not use his beast ill only out of a humour; and that if such inconveniences do sometimes fall out, it proceeds, for the most part, from the perverseness of the servant: that all inconveniences cannot be obviated by any government; that we must choose the least; and that to prevent them in the best manner possible, a particular magistrate might be instituted for that end.
The condition of such a servant is to be esteemed free; because in the most essential things he is only subject to the laws, and not to the will of his master, who can neither take away his life, mutilate, torture, or restrain him from the comforts of wife and children: but on the other hand, for the service he does, is obliged to ease him of the inconveniences of marriage, by providing for him, his wife, and children, clothes, food, and lodging: and the condition of a bashaw, or great lord, under arbitrary government (who for the sake, and from a necessity of what they all government, has joined to the quality of a slave the office of a tyrant, and imagines himself a man of quality, if not a little prince, by such pre-eminence) is altogether slavish; since he is under the protection of no law, no not so much as to his life, or the honour of his wife and children; and is subjected to stronger temptations than any man, of being a slave to men in St. Paul’s sense, which is a worse sort of slavery than any I have yet mentioned. That is of being subservient to, and an instrument of lusts of his master the tyrant: since if he refuse slavishly to obey, he must lose his office, and perhaps his life. And indeed men of all ranks living under arbitrary government (so much preached and recommended by the far greater part of churchmen) being really under the protection of no law (whatever may be pretended) are not only slaves, as I have defined before, but by having no other certain remedy in anything against the lust and passions of their superiors, except suffering or compliance, lie under the most violent temptations of being slaves in the worst sense, and of the only sort that is inconsistent with the Christian religion. A condition (whatever men may imagine) so much more miserable than that of servants protected by the laws in all things necessary for the subsistence of them and their posterity, that there is no comparison.
I shall now proceed to the great advantages the ancients received from this sort of servants. By thus providing for their poor, and making every man useful to the commonwealth, they were not only able to perform those great and stupendous public works, highways, aqueducts, common-shores, walls of cities, seaports, bridges, monuments for the dead, temples, amphitheatres, theatres, places for all manner of exercises and education, baths, courts of justice, market-places, public walks, and other magnificent works for the use and conveniency of the public, with which Egypt, Asia, Greece, Italy and other countries were filled; and to adorn them with stately pillars and obelisks, curious statues, most exquisite sculpture and painting: but every particular man might indulge himself in any kind of finery and magnificence; not only because he had slaves to perform it according to his fancy, but because all the poor being provided for, there could be no crime in making unnecessary expenses, which are always contrary, not only to Christian charity, but common humanity, as long as any poor man wants bread. For though we think that in making those expenses, we employ the poor; and that in building costly houses, and furnishing them, making fine gardens, rich stuffs, laces and embroideries for apparel, the poor are set to work; yet so long as all the poor are not provided for (though a man cannot reproach himself in particular why it is not done) and that there is any poor family in a starving condition, it is against common humanity (and no doubt would have been judged to be so by the ancients) for any man to indulge himself in things unnecessary, when others want what is absolutely necessary for life, especially since the furnishing of those things to them does employ workmen as well as our unnecessary expenses. So that the ancients, without giving the least check to a tender compassion for the necessities of others (a virtue so natural to great minds, so nicely to be preserved and cherished) might not only adorn their public buildings with all the refinements of art, but likewise beautify their private houses, villas, and gardens with the greatest curiosity. But we by persisting in the like, and other unnecessary expenses, while all the poor are not provided for (example, vanity, and the love of pleasure, being predominant in us) have not only effaced all the vestiges of Christian charity, but banished natural compassion from amongst us, that without remorse we might continue in them.
This explains to us by what means so much virtue and simplicity of manners could subsist in the cities of Greece, and the lesser Asia, in the midst of so great curiosity and refinement in the arts of magnificence and ornament. For in ancient times great riches, and consequently bad arts to acquire them, were not necessary for those things; because if a man possessed a moderate number of slaves, he might choose to employ them in any sort of magnificence, either private or public, for use or ornament, as he thought fit, whilst he himself lived in the greatest simplicity, having neither coaches nor horses to carry him, as in triumph, through the city; nor a family in most things composed like that of a prince, and a multitude of idle servants to consume his estate. Women were not then intolerably expensive, but wholly employed in the care of domestic affairs. Neither did the furniture of their houses amount to such vast sums as with us, but was for the most part wrought by their slaves.
Another advantage which the ancients had by this sort of servants, was, that they were not under that uneasiness, and unspeakable vexation which we suffer by our hired servants, who are never bred to be good for anything, though most of the slaves amongst the ancients were. And though we bestow the greatest pains or cost to educate one of them form his youth, upon the least cross word he leaves us. So that it is more than probable this sort of servants growing every day worse, the unspeakable trouble arising from them, without any other consideration, will force the world to return to the former.
Among the ancients, any master who had the least judgment or discretion, was served with emulation by all his slaves, that those who best performed their duty might obtain their liberty from him. A slave, though furnished with everything necessary, yet possessing nothing, had no temptation to cheat his master; whereas a hired servant, whilst he remains unmarried, will cheat his master of what may be a stock to him when married; and if after his marriage he continue to serve his master, he will be sure to cheat him much more. When the ancients gave freedom to a slave, they were obliged to give him wherewithal to subsist, or to put him into a way of living. And how well and faithfully they were served by those they had made free (whom from a long experience of their probity and capacity, they often made stewards of their estates) all ancient history does testify. Now, we having no regular way to enable a servant to provide sufficient maintenance for his family, when he becomes independent on his master, his bare wages (out of which he is for the most part to provide himself with many necessaries for daily use) not being enough for that purpose, and no way left but to cheat his master, we ought not to expect any probity or fidelity in our servants, because, for want of order in this point, we subject them to such strong temptation.
I might insist upon many other advantages the ancients had in the way they were served, if to persuade the expedient I propose, I were not to make use of stronger arguments than such as can be drawn from any advantages; I mean those of necessity.
There are at this day in Scotland (besides a great many poor families very meanly provided for by the church-boxes, with others, who by living upon bad food fall into various diseases) two hundred thousand people begging from door to door. These are not only no way advantageous, but a very grievous burden to so poor a country. And though the number of them be perhaps double to what it was formerly, by reason of this present great distress, yet in all times there have been about one hundred thousand of those vagabonds, who have lived without any regard or subjection either to the laws of the land, or even those of God and nature; fathers incestuously accompanying with their own daughters, the son with the mother, and the brother with the sister. No magistrate could ever discover or be informed which way one in a hundred of these wretches died, or that ever they were baptized. Many murders have been discovered among them; and they are not only a most unspeakable oppression to poor tenants (who if they give not bread, or some kind of provision to perhaps forty such villains in one day, are sure to be insulted by them) but they rob many poor people who live in houses distant from any neighbourhood. In years of plenty many thousands of them meet together in the mountains, where they feast and riot for many days; and at country weddings, markets, burials, and other the like public occasions, they are to be seen both men and women perpetually drunk, cursing, blaspheming, and fighting together.
These are such outrageous disorders, that it were better for the nation they were sold to the galleys or West Indies, than that they should continue any longer to be a burden and curse upon us. But numbers of people being great riches, every government is to blame that makes not a right use of them. The wholesomeness of our air, and healthfulness of our climate, affords us great numbers of people, which in so poor a country can never be all maintained by manufactures, or public work-houses, or any other way, but that which I have mentioned.
And to show that former parliaments struggling with this, otherwise insuperable, difficulty, have by the nature of the thing been as it were forced upon remedies tending towards what I have proposed: by an act of parliament in the year 1579, any subject of sufficient estate is allowed to take the child of any beggar, and educate him for his service, which child is obliged to serve such a master for a certain term of years; and that term of years extended by another act made in the year 1597, for life. So that here is a great advance towards my proposition; but either from some mistake about Christian or civil liberty, they did not proceed to consider the necessity of continuing that service in the children of such servants, and giving their masters a power of alienating that service to whom they should think fit. The reason for the first of these is, that being married in that sort of service, their masters must of necessity maintain their wife and children, and so ought to have the same right to the service of the children as of the father. And the reason for the power of alienation is, that no man is sure of continuing always in one sort of employment; and having educated a great many such children when he was in an employment that required many servants, if afterwards he should be obliged to quit it for one that required few or none, he could not without great injustice be deprived of the power of alienating their service to any other man, in order to reimburse to himself the money he had bestowed upon them; especially since the setting them at liberty would only bring a great burden on the public.
Now what I would propose upon the whole matter is, that for some present remedy of so great a mischief, every man of a certain estate in this nation should be obliged to take a proportionable number of those vagabonds, and either employ them in hedging and ditching his grounds, or any other sort of work in town and country; or if they happen to be children and young, that he should educate them in the knowledge of some mechanical art, that so every man of estate might have a little manufacture at home which might maintain those servants, and bring great profit to the master, as they did to the ancients, whose revenue by the manufactures of such servants was much more considerable than that of their lands. Hospitals and alms-houses ought to be provided for the sick, lame, and decrepit, either by rectifying old foundations or instituting new. And for example and terror three or four hundred of the most notorious of those villains which we call jockys, might be presented by the government to the state of Venice, to serve in their galleys against the common enemy of Christendom.
But these things, when once resolved, must be executed with great address, diligence, and severity; for that sort of people is so desperately wicked, such enemies of all work and labour, and, which is yet more amazing, so proud, in esteeming their own condition above that which they will be sure to call slavery; that unless prevented by the utmost industry and diligence, upon the first publication of any orders necessary for putting in execution such a design, they will rather die with hunger in caves and dens, and murder their young children, than appear abroad to have them and themselves taken into such a kind of service. And the Highlands are such a vast and unsearchable retreat for them, that if strict and severe order be not taken to prevent it, upon such an occasion these vagabonds will only rob as much food as they can out of the low-country, and retire to live upon it in those mountains, or run into England till they think the storm of our resolutions is over, which in all former times they have seen to be vain.
Nor indeed can there be a thorough reformation in this affair, so long as the one half of our country, in extent of ground, is possessed by a people who are all gentlemen only because they will not work; and who in everything are more contemptible than the vilest slaves, except that they always carry arms, because for the most part they live upon robbery. This part of the country being an inexhaustible source of beggars, has always broke all our measures relating to them. And it were to be wished that the government would think fit to transplant that handful of people, and their masters (who have always disturbed our peace) into the low-country, and people the Highlands from hence, rather than they should continue to be a perpetual occasion of mischief to us. It is in vain to say, that whatever people are planted in those mountains, they will quickly turn as savage, and as great beggars as the present inhabitants; for the mountains of the Alps are greater, more desert, and more condemned to snows that those of the Highlands of Scotland, which are everywhere cut by friths and lakes, the the richest in fishing of any in the world, affording great conveniences for transportation of timber and any other goods; and yet the Alps which have no such advantages are inhabited everywhere by a civilized, industrious, honest, and peaceable people: but they had no lords to hinder them from being civilized, to discourage industry, encourage thieving, and to keep them beggars that they might be the more dependent; or when they had any that oppressed them, as in that part of the mountains that belongs to the Swiss, they knocked them on the head.
Let us now compare the condition of our present vagabonds with that of servants under the conditions which I have proposed, and we shall see the one living under no law of God, man, or nature, polluted with all manner of abominations; and though in so little expectation of the good things of another life, yet in the worst condition of this, and sometimes starved to death in time of extraordinary want. The other, though sometimes they may fall under a severe master (who nevertheless may neither kill, mutilate, nor torture them, and may be likewise restrained from using them very ill by the magistrate I mentioned) are always sure to have food, clothes, and lodging; and have this advantage above other men, that without any care or pains taken by them, these necessaries are likewise secured to their wives and children. They are provided for in sickness, their children are educated, and all of them under all the inducements, encouragements, and obligations possible to live quiet, innocent, and virtuous lives. They may also hope, if they show an extraordinary affection, care, and fidelity in the service of their master, that not only they and their families shall have their entire freedom, but a competency to live, and perhaps the estate of the master entrusted to their care. Now if we will consider the advantages to the nation by the one, and the disadvantages arising from the other sort of men, we shall evidently see, that as the one is an excessive burden, curse, and reproach to us, so the other may enrich the nation, and adorn this country with public works beyond any in Europe, which shall not take the like methods of providing for their poor.
This proposal I hope may be a remedy, not only to that intolerable plague of idle vagabonds who infest the nation; but by providing a more regular maintenance for them, go a great way towards the present relief of other poor people who have been oppressed by them. That which follows is calculated to remove the principal and original cause of the poverty which all the commons of this nation lie under, as well as those straitening difficulties in which men of estates are by our present method of husbandry inevitably involved.
The causes of the present poverty and misery in which the commonalty of Scotland live, are many, yet they are all to be imputed to our own bad conduct and mismanagement of our affairs. It is true, trade being of late years vastly increased in Europe, the poverty of any nation is always imputed to their want of that advantage. And though our soil be barren, yet our seas being the richest of any in the world, it may be thought that the cause of all our poverty has been the neglect of trade, and chiefly of our own fishing: nevertheless were I to assign the principal and original source of our poverty, I should place it in the letting of our lands at so excessive a rate as makes the tenant poorer even than his servant whose wages he cannot pay; and involves in the same misery day-labourers, tradesmen, and the lesser merchants who live in the country villages and towns; and thereby influences no less the great towns and wholesale merchants, makes the master have a troublesome and ill-paid rent, his lands not improved by enclosure or otherwise, but for want of horses and oxen fit for labour, everywhere, run out and abused.
The condition of the lesser freeholders or heritors (as we call them) is not much better than that of our tenants; for they have no flocks to improve their lands, and living not as husbandmen but as gentlemen, they are never able to attain any: besides this, the unskilfulness of their wretched and half-starved servants is such, that their lands are no better cultivated than those laboured by beggarly tenants. And though a gentleman of estate take a farm into his own hands, yet servants are so unfaithful or lazy, and the country people such enemies of all manner of enclosure, that after having struggled with innumerable difficulties, he at last finds it impossible for him to alter the ordinary bad methods, whilst the rest of the country continues in them.
The places in this country which produce sheep and black cattle have no provision for them in winter during the snows, having neither hay nor straw, nor any enclosure to shelter them or the grass from the cold easterly winds in the spring; so that the beasts are in a dying condition, and the grass consumed by those destructive winds, till the warm weather, about the middle of June, come to the relief of both. To all this may be added the letting of farms in most part of those grazing countries every year by roop or auction. But our management in the countries cultivated by tillage is much worse, because the tenant pays his rent in grain, wheat, barley, or oats: which is attended with many inconveniences, and much greater disadvantages than a rent paid in money.
Money rent has a yearly balance in it; for if the year be scarce, all sorts of grain yield the greater price; and if the year be plentiful, there is the greater quantity of them to make money. Now a rent paid in corn has neither a yearly, nor any balance at all; for if a plentiful year afford a superplus, the tenant can make but little of it; but if they year be scarce, he falls short in the payment of his corn, and by reason of the price it bears, can never clear that debt by the rates of a plentiful year, by which means he breaks, and contributes to ruin his master. The rent being altogether in corn, the grounds must be altogether in tillage; which has been the ruin of all the best countries in Scotland. The carriage of corn paid for rent, to which many tenants are obliged, being often to remote places, and at unseasonable times, destroys their horses, and hinders their labour. And the hazard of sending the corn by sea to the great towns, endangers the loss of the whole. The master runs a double risk for his rent, from the merchant as well as the tenant; and the merchant making a thousand difficulties at the delivering of the corn if the price be fallen, the bargain sometimes ends in a suit at law. The selling of corn is become a thing so difficult, that besides the cheats used in that sort of commerce, sufficient to disgust any honest man, the brewers, bakers, and sometimes the merchants who send it abroad do so combine together, that the gentleman is obliged to lay it up, of which the trouble as well as loss is great. This causes him to borrow money for the supply of his present occasions, and is the beginning of most men’s debts. We may add to this, that by a rent in corn, a man comes to have one year a thousand-pound rent, and the next perhaps but six hundred, so that he never can make any certain account for his expense or way of living; that having one year a thousand pound to spend, he cannot easily restrain himself to six hundred the next; that he spends the same quantity of corn (and in some places where such things are delivered instead of rent), hay, straw, poultry, sheep, and oxen in a dear, as in a plentiful year, which he would not do if he was obliged to buy them. Now the tenant in a plentiful year wastes, and in a scarce year starves: so that no man of any substance will take a farm in Scotland; but every beggar, if he have got half a dozen wretched horses, and as many oxen, and can borrow corn to sow, pretends to be a tenant in places where they pay no other rent than corn.
I know there are many objections made to what has been said concerning the advantages which a rent paid in money has above one paid in corn; but certainly they are all so frivolous, that every man upon a little reflection may answer them to himself. For the chief of them are, either that the tenant will squander away money when he gets it into his hands; or that the master can get a better price for the corn by selling it in gross to merchants in the adjacent towns, or else by sending it to be sold at a great distance. To the first I answer, that no substantial man will squander away money because he has got it into his hands, though such beggars as we now have for tenants might be apt to do so. And to the second, that the hazard of sending corn from one place of the kingdom to another by sea, and the prejudice the tenants suffer from long carriages by land, do in part balance the supposed advantage; besides, if those wholesale bargains were not so frequently made, nor the corn so often carried to be sold at the great towns, the merchants would be obliged to send to the country markets to buy, and the prices in them would rise. In short, the changing of money-rent into corn has been the chief cause of racking all the rents to that excessive rate they are now advanced. And upon reflection it will soon appear that the turning of money-rents into rents of corn has been the invention of some covetous wretches, who have been the occasion that all masters now live under the same uneasiness, and constant care, which they at first out of covetousness created to themselves; and all to get as much as was possible from poor tenants, who by such means are made miserable, and are so far from improving, that they only run out and spoil the ground, ruin their neighbours by borrowing, and at length break for considerable sums, though at first they were no better than beggars.
The method of most other countries is: that all rents are paid in money; that masters receiving a fine, grant long leases of their grounds at easy rents: but this supposes the tenant a man of considerable substance, who cannot only give a fine, but has wherewithal to stock, and also to improve his farm. But in Scotland no such men are willing to take farms; nor in truth are the masters willing to let them, as they do in other countries. And though the masters may pretend, that if they could find substantial tenants, they would let their grounds as they do in other places; and men of substance, that if they could have farms upon such conditions, they would turn tenants; yet we see evident marks of the little probability there is that any such thing can be brought about without a general regulation. For in the west and north countries where they let land in feu (or fee) the superiors are so hard, that besides the yearly feu-duty, they make the feuer pay at his first entrance the whole intrinsic value of the land; and the people, though substantial men, are fools and slaves enough to make such bargains. And in the same countries, when they let a small parcel of land to a tradesman, they let it not for what the land is worth, but what both the land and his trade is worth. And indeed it is next to an impossibility to alter a general bad custom in any nation, without a general regulation, because of inveterate bad dispositions and discouragements, with which the first beginnings of reformations are always attended. Besides, alterations that are not countenanced by the public authority proceed slowly; and if they chance to meet with any check, men soon return to their former bad methods.
The condition then of this nation, chiefly by this abuse of racking the lands, is brought to such extremity, as makes all the commonalty miserable, and the landlords, if possible, the greater slaves, before they can get their rents and reduce them into money. And because this evil is arrived to a greater height with us, than I believe was ever known in any other place; and that, as I have said, we are in no disposition to practise the methods of most other countries, I think we ought to find out some new one which may surmount all difficulties, since in things of this nature divers methods may be proposed very practicable, and much better than any that hitherto have been in use.
I know that if to a law prohibiting all interest for money, another were joined, that no man should possess more land than so much as he should cultivate by servants, the whole money, as well as people of this nation, would be presently employed, either in cultivating lands or in trade and manufactures; that the country would be quickly improved to the greatest height of which the soil is capable, since it would be cultivated by all the rich men of the nation; and that there would still be vast stocks remaining to be employed in trade and manufactures. But to oblige a man of a great estate in land to sell all, except perhaps two hundred pounds sterling a year (which he might cultivate by his servants) and to employ the whole money produced by the sale of the rest, in a thing so uncertain as he would judge trade to be, and for which it is like he might have no disposition or genius, being a thing impracticable: and also to employ the small stocks of minors, widows, and other women unmarried, in trade or husbandry, a thing of too great hazard for them; I would propose a method for our relief, by joining to the law prohibiting all interest of money, and to the other, that no man should possess more land than so much as he cultivates by his servants, a third law, obliging all men that possess lands under the value of two hundred pounds sterling clear profits yearly, to cultivate them by servants, and pay yearly the half of the clear profits to such persons as cultivating land worth two hundred pounds’ sterling a year, or above, shall buy such rents of them at twenty years’ purchase. The project in its full extent may be comprehended in these following articles.
All interest of money to be forbidden.
No man to possess more land than he cultivates by servants.
Every man cultivating land under the value of two hundred pounds’ sterling clear profits a year, to pay yearly the half of the clear profits to some other man who shall buy that rent at twenty years’ purchase; and for his security shall be preferred to all other creditors.
No man to buy or possess those rents, unless he cultivate land to the value at least of two hundred pounds’ sterling clear profits yearly.
Minors, women unmarried, and persons absent upon a public account, may buy or possess such rents, though they cultivate no lands.
By the first article, discharging all interest of money, most men who have small sums at interest, will be obliged to employ it in trade, or the improvement of land.
By the second, that no man is to possess more land, than so much as he cultivates by his servants, the whole land of the kingdom will come into the hands of the richest men; at least there will be no land cultivated by any man who is not the possessor of it. And if he have a greater estate than what he cultivates, he may lay out money upon improvements; or if he have bought a small possession, though he may have no more money left, he may, by selling one half of the rent, procure a sum considerable enough, both to stock and improve it. So that in a few years the country will be everywhere enclosed and improved to the greatest height, the plough being everywhere in the hand of the possessor. Then servants, day-labourers, tradesmen, and all sorts of merchants will be well paid, and the whole commons live plentifully, because they will all be employed by men of substance: the ground by enclosure, and other improvements, will produce the double of what it now does; and the race of horses and black cattle will be much mended.
By the other articles: that no man cultivating land under the value of two hundred pounds’ sterling clear profits yearly, can purchase rents upon land from any other man, but is obliged to pay yearly the half of the clear profits to such persons as shall buy them at twenty years’ purchase; and that only those who cultivate land worth at least two hundred pounds’ sterling a year can buy such rents; the men of great land estates having sold all their lands, except so much as may yield two hundred pounds’ sterling yearly, or so much above that value as they shall think fit to cultivate, may secure, if they please, the whole money they receive for their lands, upon those rents which the lesser possessors are obliged to sell. And so those who had formerly their estates in lands ill cultivated, and corn-rents ill paid, as well as the other three sorts of persons excepted from the general rule, and mentioned in the last article, will have a clear rent in money coming in without trouble, for payment of which they are to be secured in the lands of the said lesser possessors before all creditors. The reason of excepting three sorts of persons before-mentioned from the general rule is evident; because (as has been said) it were unreasonable to oblige minors, or women unmarried, to venture their small stocks in trade or husbandry: and much more than those who are absent upon a public account, should be obliged to have any stock employed that way, since the cannot inspect either.
The small possessors by this project are not wronged in anything; for if they are obliged to pay a rent to others, they receive the value of it. And this rent will put them in mind, not to live after the manner of men of great estates, but as husbandmen, which will be no way derogatory to their quality, however ancient their family may be.
The method to put this project in execution is, first to enact; that interest for money should fall next year from six per cent. to five, and so on, falling every year one per cent. till it cease: and to make a law, that all those who at present possess lands under the value of two hundred pounds’ sterling clear profits yearly, should cultivate them by servants, and sell the half of the clear profits at twenty years’ purchase to the first minor, woman unmarried, or person absent upon a public account who should offer money for them; and in default of such persons presenting themselves to buy, they should be obliged to sell such rents to any other persons qualified as above: and likewise to make another law, that whoever possesses lands at present to the value of two hundred pounds’ sterling clear profits yearly, or more, should at least take so much of them as may amount to that value, into their own hands. This being done, the yearly falling of the interest of money would force some of those who might have money at interest, to take land for it: others calling for their money would buy estates of the landed men, who are to sell all except so much as they cultivate themselves: and the prohibition of interest producing many small possessors would afford abundance of rents upon land to be bought by rich men; of which many might probably be paid out of those very lands they themselves formerly possessed. So that all sorts of men would in a little time fall into that easy method for their affairs, which is proposed by the project.
What the half of the yearly clear profits of any small possessors may be, the usual valuation of lands, in order to public taxes, which because of improvements must be frequently made, will ascertain.
But it will be said, that before any such thing can everywhere take place in this nation, all teinds (or tithes) and all sorts of superiorities, must be transacted for, and sold; that the tenures of all lands must be made allodial, to the end that every man may be upon an equal foot with another; that this project, in order to its execution, does suppose things, which though perhaps they would be great blessings to the nation upon many accounts, and in particular by taking away the seeds of most law-suits, and the obstructions to all sorts of improvements; yet are in themselves as great and considerable as the project itself.
Indeed I must acknowledge that anything calculated for a good end is (since we must express it so) almost always clogged with things of the same nature: for as all bad, so all good things are chained together, and do support one another. But that there is any difficulty, to a legislative power (that is willing to do good) of putting either this project, or the things last named in execution, I believe no man can show. Sure I am, that it never was nor can be the interest of any prince or commonwealth, that any subject should in any manner depend upon another subject: and that it is the interest of all good governments at least to encourage a good sort of husbandry.
I know these proposals, by some men who aim at nothing but private interest, will be looked upon as visionary: it is enough for me, that in themselves, and with regard to the nature of the things, they are practicable; but if on account of the indisposition of such men to receive them, they be thought impracticable, it is not to be accounted strange; since if that indisposition ought only to be considered, everything directed to a good end is such.
Many other proposals might be made to the parliament for the good of this nation, where everything is so much amiss, and the public good so little regarded. Amongst other things, to remove the present seat of the government, might deserve their consideration: for as the happy situation of London has been the principal cause of the glory and riches of England, so the bad situation of Edinburgh has been one great occasion of the poverty and uncleanliness in which the greater part of the people of Scotland live.
A proposal likewise for the better education of our youth would be very necessary: and I must confess I know no part of the world where education is upon any tolerable foot. But perhaps I have presumed too much in offering my opinion upon such considerable matters as those which I have treated.
Since I finished the preceding discourse I am informed, that if the present parliament will not comply with the design of continuing the army, they shall immediately by dissolved, and a new one called. At least those of the presbyterian persuasion, who expect no good from a new parliament, are to be frightened with the dissolution of the present (which has established their church-government) and by that means induced to use their utmost endeavours with the members for keeping up the army, and promoting the designs of ill men: but I hope no presbyterian will ever be for evil things that good may come of them; since thereby they may draw a curse upon themselves instead of a blessing. They will certainly consider that the interest which they ought to embrace, as well upon the account of prudence, as of justice and duty, is that of their country; and will not hearken to the insinuations of ill men who may abuse them, and when they have obtained the continuation of the army, endeavour to persuade his majesty and the parliament, to alter the present government of the church, by telling them that presbyterian government is in its nature opposite to monarchy, that they maintain a rebellious principle of defensive arms, and that a church-government most suitable and subservient to monarchy ought to be established.
Now if at this time the presbyterians be true to the interest of their country, all those who love their country, though they be not of that persuasion, will stand by them in future parliaments, when they shall see that they oppose all things tending to arbitrary power: but if they abandon and betray their country, they will fall unpitied. They must not tell me that their church can never fall, since it is the true church of God. If it be the true church of God, it needs no crooked arts to support it. But I hope they will not deny that it may fall under persecution; which they will deserve, if they go along with the least ill thing to maintain it.