Front Page Titles (by Subject) the second DISCOURSE concerning the AFFAIRS OF SCOTLAND; written in the year 1698 - Selected Discourses and Speeches
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the second DISCOURSE 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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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.
SPEECHES by a Member of the Parliament which Began at Edinburgh the 6th of May, 1703