Documenting the Union of Parliaments

The Treaty of Union united the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707. Pamphlets, poems and proclamations show it was welcomed by some and loathed by others, as this essay explains.

Decorated initial
Proclamation,
December 1706.
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When the draft Treaty of Union was made public in October 1706, there were riots on the streets of Scottish towns and cities. In Edinburgh a 'villanous and outragious mobb' threatened and insulted judges and Members of the Scottish Parliament.

The authorities issued a proclamation offering a reward for the capture of the rioters. It also urged householders and masters to take responsibility for the 'good behaviour of their apprentices, servants and domesticks'.

Acts of protest

A month later, another proclamation was issued 'against all tumultuary and irregular meetings and convocations of the leidges'. In Glasgow, Dumfries and Lanark people had taken up arms: they were 'insolently burning the Articles of Treaty betwixt our two Kingdoms'. Sheriffs, baillies and magistrates were authorised to take whatever action necessary to quench the riots.

On 12 December 1706, Parliament ordered that a pamphlet entitled 'Queries to the Presbyterian noblemen, barons, burgesses, ministers who are for the schem of an Incorporating Union' be burnt by the hand of the common hangman, at the Mercat-cross of Edinburgh.

The Scottish Parliament received countless protests against the Union. Yet the authorities issued another proclamation in late December 1706 forbidding 'unwarrantable and seditious convocations and meetings'.

One parliament created

Illustration of 2 men on horseback
Procession to
Parliament.
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Perhaps the riots and petitions had some effect: some of the protestors may have been appeased by an Act for securing the Protestant religion and Presbyterian church government. This, along with the Act of Union, was passed in January 1707.

The Scottish Parliament adjourned on 25 March 1707. The proclamation dissolving the Parliament was published on 28 April and the new Parliament of Great Britain sat for the first time in Westminster on 1 May. The Scottish Parliament did not meet again until 12 May 1999.

Articles of the treaty

The treaty consisted of 25 articles. Most of them dealt with economic matters, but they also discussed new flags, the great seal and coinage for the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

More importantly, the succession to the crown was agreed. The Protestant Hanoverian line of succession was confirmed. 'Papists' (Catholics or Jacobites) were excluded from inheriting the crown.

Scotland retained her own legal and education systems.

Customs and excise charges were to be the same in both parts of the kingdom, though Scotland would receive a different treatment for a number of commodities.

An important article concerned a cash payment, called the Equivalent, to Scotland: nearly £400,000 was used to compensate Scotland for sharing the responsibility for England's national debt of £18 million.

Pamphlet war

Detail from a pamphlet about dissolving the Union

From the time the Union was first mooted in 1702, it sparked a heated debate.

Politicians, writers, the landed gentry, church ministers and others joined in and made their opinions known in pamphlets and tracts. These publications were cheap and they could be produced quickly. The pamphlet war raged on until the Treaty of Union was agreed in the Scottish Parliament.

Political support for uniting the Parliaments

Political arguments were high on the agenda for both supporters of the Union and anti-unionists. The supporting faction argued along the following lines.

According to George MacKenzie, first Earl of Cromarty, the union means an 'increase of strength, honour, riches, peace, security; and in one word increase of warlick, industrious inhabitants, useful in peace, by sea and land; in warr for offence or defence.'

The famous English writer Daniel Defoe was one of the agents sent to Scotland to promote the Union. He stressed the advantages of a union of Scotland with England as opposed to a coalition of the Scots with the Dutch — in which trade, especially fishing, would suffer — or a league with France: 'France is Popish, the Scots Presbyterian'.

Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, one of the 31 Scottish commissioners for the Treaty of Union, pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, 'neither our sovereignty nor our antiquity are lost in an incorporating union with England':

'Scotland is scarce known to any except its own inhabitants, or if it be, it is still under the cover of England, from whence its sovereignty and independency cast but a very dim light. What is it then we contend so much about?'

Political arguments against the Union

Andrew Fletcher
Andrew Fletcher.
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Political arguments against the Union included the following.

According to the Scottish patriot Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, Scotland would be more like a conquered province. Moreover, Scottish Members of Parliament would depend on their English counterparts in a Parliament of Great Britain. Worse, 'it is much easier to corrupt 45 Scots at London, than it is to corrupt 300 at Edinburgh!'

William Forbes of Disblair warned his Scottish compatriots that 'England boldly tells you that youve no right to choose a successor to her present Majesty; nor the liberty to make good laws for the security of your most valuable interests.'

Robert Wylie foresaw that 'the Parliament of Scotland comes to be totally annulled, and the Parliament of England to continue just as it is, and always was, with some very inconsiderable accession of a few Scotsmen.'

Defoe and Protestantism

Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe.
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The two nations were also split over the religious advantages or disadvantages the Union would entail.

Daniel Defoe addressed the Church of Scotland as an English Protestant Dissenter. If 'Papists or Jacobites' had argued against the Union, he would not have been surprised. But not Protestants:

'Nothing can contribute more to the making us all sensible to the prosperous effects of the Treaty, than the mutual confidence, harmony and brotherly correspondence between all sorts of Protestants in the whole island.'

Because of the Presbyterian Settlement, the Church of England cannot now offer the Church of Scotland 'the least molestation, without flying in the face of their own constitution', he wrote.

Fears of religious corruption

Anti-Unionists were mainly moved by the fear that Presbyterian church government would not be guaranteed in Great Britain.

James Webster, a Church of Scotland minister, predicted that the Presbyterian doctrine might be corrupted. He put forward various arguments against the Union:

  • He protested against 'the sinfulness and dangers of the union' of Presbyterian Scotland with Episcopalian England.
  • He also argued that 'Scottish Presbyterians cannot trust English Presbyterians because 'most of them declare for a moderate Episcopacy.'
  • In his eyes 'English worship is corrupted with theatrical pomp, humane interventions and superstitious ceremonies.' Tolerating Anglican worship would corrupt public worship in Scotland.

Scotland's economy

Following the completely failed attempt to establish a trading colony at Darien (now Panama) in 1699/1700, the Scottish state was bankrupt. Supporters of the Union generally maintained that in economic terms, Scottish affairs could only be improved by the Union.

Sir John Clerk of Penicuik argued: '… tis scarce conceivable how any condition of life we can fall into can render us more miserable and poor than we are.'

After the Union Scotland 'shall come in to freedom of trade with England and it's plantations.' He gives a striking example:

'By the union there will be a foreign mercat opened up to us in the West Indies, which will take off a great deal more linen than we now bestow in the dead.'

England would also benefit from the setting up of fish farms by joint English and Scots stocks so that 'the Dutch might be entirely wormed out of that trade, and it could accrue to Britain.'

Doubts about benefits

Anti-Unionists had serious doubts about the benefits of the Union to the Scottish economy.

William Forbes of Disblair, for example, was worried that England was portrayed as devoted to pleasures and luxurious living, which the Scots despised.

Increased tax burdens were the main bone of contention. An anonymous author warned his fellow Scotsmen: 'You must not burn your own coals gotten out of your own free coal heughs, in your own free houses, without acknowledging and paying taxations for them to England' and, maybe worse, 'you must not brew your own Scots waters at home, but you must pay double taxation to England for it.'

The threat of increases in custom duties was enough to make fishermen at the Highland coasts warn: 'Merchants will be feard to puy mickle salt, pecauise of te great custom, and in case of a good take, it may happen salt is not to pe had for money.' However, salt is absolutely essential for preserving both herring and meat.

The commissioners meet

Commissioners first met to discuss the possibility of a union of parliaments when Queen Anne came to the throne in 1702. In April 1706 she appointed commissioners to formally negotiate a Union of Parliaments. Scotland and England each sent 31 commissioners, mostly members of the nobility. They were hand-picked to ensure a favourable outcome for the Government. Among the Scots, there was just one critical voice, that of the Jacobite George Lockhart of Carnwath.

Negotiations formally started in April 1706.

The commissioners convened for only three months at the appropriately named 'Cockpit', in Whitehall. Apparently they only met once face to face! They debated:

  • The succession to the crown
  • Customs and excise
  • The legal systems of both nations
  • The number of Scottish MPs for the new Parliament.

They finally agreed that Scotland would have 45 MPs, just one seat more than Cornwall. A lot of time was devoted to matters such as duties on salt and stamped paper.

Parliament debates

From October 1706 until January 1707, the Scottish Parliament met to discuss and to vote on each article in turn. The Court (government) Party won the votes.

As the terms of the treaty became known, Parliament was flooded with petitions and protests from barons, freeholders, burgesses, magistrates, deacons of crafts, elders, masters, commoners and tradesmen from all over Scotland. Aberdeen stocking makers were possibly the only group who were in favour of the Union.

Belhaven's anti-Union speech

The printed minutes of the proceedings of the Scottish Parliament report briefly on its proceedings during the last months of its existence.

The most passionate speech against the Union was delivered by John Hamilton, 2nd Lord Belhaven, on 2 November. He begged for an end to 'misunderstandings and fatal divisions'. Belhaven predicted a bleak future for all Scots:

'The gallant and valiant soldiery sent to learn the plantation-trade abroad, or at home petitioning for a small subsistence; the laborious plew-man, with his corn spoiling upon his hands, for want of sale, cursing the day of his birth; the honest industrious tradsman loaded with new taxes and impositions; drinking water instead of ale, eating his fatless pottage. I see our mariners delivering up their ships to Dutch partiners earning their bread as underlings in the Royal English Navy.'

Belhaven and other nobles such as the Marquis of Annandale and the Duke of Atholl vehemently voiced strong protests in Parliament against the Act, but they were in a minority among their peers. The barons and the burghs were far more evenly divided between those for and those against the Union.

A pro-Union Scottish voice

One of the few who actually stood up in Parliament and spoke in favour of the Union was William Seton of Pitmedden. He argued that because Scotland was 'poor and without force to protect it's commerce' it would not prosper until it took part in the 'trade and protection of some powerful neighbour nation'.

If the Union was not agreed 'our sovereignty and independency will be eclipsed and our peace will be interrupted by factions for places and pensions. Numbers of Scots will withdraw themselves to foreign countries'.

Treaty of Union ratified

Finally on 16 January, the Act ratifying the treaty was passed by 110 votes to 69; the nobility formed the largest pro-Union group. The Scottish Parliament continued to sit until 25 March 1707. The Queen's Commissioner in Scotland, the Duke of Queensberry, ended its proceedings. He urged the members to:

'… promote an universal desire in this kingdom to become one in hearts and affections, as we are inseparably joyn'd in interest with our neighbour nation'.

The new Parliament of Great Britain had a lot of work to do to harmonise laws, taxes and symbols. One of the first proclamations of Queen Anne related to a new flag for merchant ships. This flag, the red ensign, officially brought together the crosses of St George and St Andrew.

 

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