Henry H Lancaster.

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The part taken by the Secretary in this matter
cannot be ascertained with certainty. Mr. Story
implies that the King was influenced against the
clergy by his "cool and selfish judgment." With
greater accuracy Mr. Graham points out that the
name of the Secretary does not appear in any letters,
despatches, or records in connection with the question.
Without doubt his father, the Lord President, and
Tarbat, then leading men in the Privy Council, urged
the King to persevere in enforcing the Acts of the Par-
liament ; but the Secretary may well be believed to
have paused. His letters to Lord Lothian show that,
though he had no love for the extreme Presbyterians,
he both respected and feared them ; and personal
feeling may have aided prudence in leading him to
the conviction that the wisest course would be to
leave the ecclesiastical polity of the country undis-
turbed, as it had been settled by his exertions in
1690 ; and such was, in fact, the result of the

Whoever may have counselled the King to yield,
there is room to doubt whether they rendered a real
service to the Church or the Crown. The question
was of importance to William, for every Episcopalian
parson who signed the Declaration required by Par-
liament was a rebel the less. Maintaining, as he was,
the authority of the Estates, he had nothing to fear
from the discontents of an intolerant priesthood ;
even had the Presbyterian laity been alienated, there
would have been no danger to his throne in such a
quarrel. For any disaffection of the laity would have



been temporary. They never, as was shown again
and again, could have made common cause with the
Jacobites. The King would have his way at last ; and
if at the cost of an enforced silence of some duration on
the Assembly, the country would probably have been
resigned. On the other hand, the Church would have
gained by the admission into her brotherhood of mode-
rate Episcopalians ; and had she been then forced to face
the difficulties of the relations of the civil power to the
Church, she would have been saved from the fictitious
position she has always maintained on this point ;
and which, like all fictitious positions, has been to her
a constant source of weakness. In truth, neither
intellectually nor morally were the clerical leaders at
this time worthy of their opportunities. They are
thus described, with great severity, by Burnet :

" The truth was, the Presbyterians, by their violence and
other foolish practices, were rendering themselves both
odious and contemptible ; they had formed a General As-
sembly, in the end of the former year, in which they did
very much expose themselves by the weakness and peevish-
ness of their conduct ; little learning or prudence appeared
among them; poor preaching and wretched haranguing,
partialities to one another, and injustice to those who dif-
fered from them, showed themselves in all their meetings."
P. 75.

No doubt, while we condemn the treatment of the
Episcopalians by the Kirk, we must remember what
Presbyterians had been made to suffer. " It is not,"
as has been well said, " under rulers like Lauderdale
and Dundee that men learn lessons of toleration."
The Episcopalians reaped far less than they had sown.
History, we think, records no other instance where so
much had been endured, where the retaliation was so
gentle. But no credit for this can, with truth, be


given to the Scottish clergy, or the ordinary run of
Scottish statesmen. The temper of the party who
then held the ascendency in Church and State may
be gathered from the persecutions of witches, the
murder of Aitkenhead, the opposition even to the
measure of indulgence extended to Episcopalians by
the Toleration Act of Anne an opposition which, it
is melancholy to think, was headed by Carstairs. 1
Had not that temper been restrained by William and
his latitudinarian ministers, and especially the Dal-
rymples, the triumph of freedom in Scotland would
have been stained by many a dark deed of revenge
and intolerance.

To the Dalrymples then, supported no doubt in the
closet by Carstairs, we mainly owe it that Presby-
terian ism was established at the Revolution, and
established in justice and moderation. It is not a debt
to be estimated lightly. Lord Macaulay has shown,
in a striking passage, that the whole Empire has cause
for thankfulness that Episcopacy was not forced upon
an unwilling nation, and the ecclesiastical future of
Scotland made as that of Ireland. The high intelli-
gence which has long distinguished, and still dis-
tinguishes, the lower classes of Scotland must be
mainly ascribed to her system of education also, it
is to be remembered, the work of the Revolution era.
But we are persuaded that much may, with justice,
be attributed to the Presbyterian form of Church
government, especially taken in connection with the
Calvinistic creed. The apprehension of that creed
cannot fail to stimulate the mind; the working of
that form of government has accustomed Scotsmen
of every rank to look upon it as a right and a duty

1 It is among Mr. Story's many misconceptions of historical truth
that he defends this opposition as dictated by the same spirit as the
resistance of Liberals in 1687 to the dispensing power claimed by James.


to exercise their judgments on questions involving,
directly or indirectly, the most important subjects of
human thought. The Presbyterian polity has also
tended to foster that liberality of opinion in secular
politics which prevails among the middle and lower
classes in Scotland. Such must of necessity be the
influence of a Church strictly democratic in its con-
stitution, recognising within itself no distinction of
persons, no grades of rank or office. This liberalising
tendency of Presbyterianism has been increased by
an indirect yet powerful cause. When the stormy
times passed away, the bulk of the Scottish nobility
and gentry revealed themselves Episcopalians. The
people, hating Episcopacy, became alienated from
their superiors. This was, in Scotland, a great change.
Poverty, the slow development of trade^ partly, too,
the national disposition, long kept the commonalty of
Scotland under the influence of the higher classes of
society to an unseemly and unhealthy extreme. This
has now > in great mdasilre, passed away. That the
severance which has taken place has been widened
by religious differences no careful observer can doubt ;
it is to this day most discernible in those parts of
Scotland where Presbyterian ism has firmest hold.
The present state df things is less consistent with
sentimental theories of society than the former ; but
a change is not to be regretted which has, beyond
doubt, fostered manliness of character and indepen-
dence of thought among the body of the people.

This settlement had another consequence which
would have been deplored by its authors the early
rise and great influence of Dissent in Scotland as
compared with England. Presbytefianism, in the
day of its power, was no whit more tolerant than
Episcopacy. Eather, indeed, less so. The freedom
of speculation, now alleged to be enjoyed by the


clergy of the Kirk, is, if it does really exist, a thing
of yesterday. But the system, as has been said, is
more favourable to independence of thought ; and
this being so, the greater the intolerance the more
certain the schism. This inherent tendency of Pres-
byterianism was increased by the peculiar character
of the settlement carried through by William's mini-
sters. The settlement was essentially a compromise,
embracing, on the one hand, many who cherished
Episcopacy in their hearts, and on the other, zealots
prepared to enforce the Covenant upon all, and who
joined the communion with that very purpose. On
the Scotch temperament, hardened as it was by years
of strife and suffering, such a compromise could have
no permanent hold. Mr. Burton, than whom there is
no higher authority on such a point, seems to think
that the repeated dissents which have marked the
history of the Scottish Church had their origin rather
in doctrinal differences, vainly thought by the com-
prehensiveness of the Ee volution Settlement to have
been laid at rest, than in the Patronage Act of Anne.
And the practical effect of those disruptions has been
that, at the present day, dissenters in Scotland are
comparatively more numerous, wield more political
power, and stand higher in social regard, than their
English brethren.

But even more than ecclesiastical difficulties the
state of the Highlands was a cause of anxiety to the
Secretary. His correspondence is full of the subject ;
the importance and difficulty of which he alone,
among the statesmen of the time, would seem to have
fully apprehended. His earlier views were worthy
of his far-sighted sagacity, and pointed to nothing
less than the abortive crime which was the actual
issue. The theme of Glencoe is something worn;
but Mr. Graham's publication invites a brief con-


sideration of the part taken in the business by the
Master of Stair.

Mr. Graham maintains that the Master was " un-
conscious of the unjustifiable severity and atrocity of
the act he authorised ;" and that he would not have
sanctioned the manner of the massacre. He quotes
as evidence of this two letters from the Secretary to
Colonel Hill, which will hardly serve his purpose.
One of these refers only, and refers not very honestly,
to the charge that the Macdonalds had been murdered
after they had taken the oath of allegiance ; the other
is a letter intended to set at rest Hill's feelings of
remorse, fully approving all that had been done, and
ending with the remarkable words, " When you do
right, you need fear nobody." These very letters plainly
show the Secretary to have been an accessory after the
fact. But we must take with them the tenor of his
whole correspondence ; his directions for securing the
passes ; his cautions against allowing the least alarm
to be excited ; his expressions of satisfaction in the
thought that the inclemency of the weather would
complete what of the bloody work might be left un-
done. It does not, indeed, appear that the plan of
murder determined on was communicated to the
Secretary ; personally he would have shrunk from the
base treachery of which his subordinates were not
ashamed; but it is impossible to dispute that his
instructions entitled those subordinates to adopt any
means, however base and treacherous, which they
thought best adapted to secure the " suddenness and
secrecy " so carefully enjoined.

Patriotic Scotch writers have endeavoured to shift
the blame from the Secretary to the King. Thus,
Mr. Mackay will have it that the terms of William's
order justified all that took place. He rejects, in one
confident sentence, Lord Macaulay's argument, that


the order might have been signed by William in a
perfectly legitimate meaning, and with a perfectly
legitimate purpose. We wish he had given his
reasons ; for we find it hard to understand how an
order to " extirpate a gang of thieves" is in itself a
wrong order ; or how it can, fairly construed, be held
to authorise that even thieves are to be deluded by
feigned friendship, by acceptance of hospitality, by
lying protestations and false conviviality, and then
assassinated in their beds. That William was prepared
to visit with severity such marauding clans as should
not have taken the oath within the required time is
probable enough ; but the order which he signed at
its worst meant no more than the original proclama-
tion. It meant far less than the letters of fire and
sword which had for centuries been, in the times of
Scotland's beloved native princes, a species of legal
process, repeatedly used against Highland Septs
especially against the clan MacGregor, in 1563, in
1589, and in 1603. The Commission of 1695 re-
ported, as is well known, " that there was nothing in
the King's instructions to warrant the committing of
the foresaid slaughter, even as to the thing itself, and
far less as to the manner of it." But this does not at
all embarrass Mr. Mackay, who gets over it by the
easy assertion, that "the efforts of the Commission
were directed to whitewash the King and incriminate
the Master of Stair." Such an assertion is wholly
unwarranted. Few public documents have been sub-
jected to a severer scrutiny than the report in ques-
tion; and it has stood that scrutiny well. The tone
of the document is calm and passionless. The evi-
dence is ably digested, and stated, as is allowed by
the most violent partisans, with perfect fairness. Mr.
Mackay himself admits that the Commissioners have
given, fully and fairly, the grounds of the opinion


which they formed ; and he is not entitled, because
that opinion does not commend itself to his views, to
accuse the authors of a state paper, conceived in such
a spirit, of unjust efforts to arrive at a foregone con-

The Secretary is best defended, not by imputing to
others blame which truly rests with him, but by con-
sidering his motives, and the circumstances with
which he was called upon to deal. There are many
who, on Celtic matters, will give no heed to Lord
Macaulay or Mr. Burton, but few will dispute the
authority of Bailie Nieol Jarvie, who thus describes
the state of the Highlands in 1715 :

" ' In the name of God !' said I, ' what do they do, Mr.
Jarvie ? It makes me shudder to think of their situation.'

" ' Sir/ replied the Bailie, * ye wad maybe shudder mair if
ye were living near-hand them. For, admitting that the tae
half of them may make some little thing for themsells
honestly in the Lowlands by shearing in harst, droving,
hay-making, and the like ; ye hae still mony hundreds and
thousands o' lang-legged Hieland gillies that will neither
work nor want, and maun gang thigging and sorning about
on their acquaintance, or live by doing the laird's bidding,
be't right or be't wrang. And mair especially, mony
hundreds o' them come down to the borders of the low
country, where there 's gear to grip, and live by stealing,
reiving, lifting cows, and the like depredations a thing
deplorable in ony Christian country! the mair especially,
that they take pride in it, and reckon driving a spreagh
(whilk is, in plain Scotch, stealing a herd of nowte) a gallant,
manly action, and mair befitting of pretty men (as sic
reivers will ca' themsells) than to win a day's wage by ony
honest thrift. And the lairds are as bad as the loons ; for
if they dinna bid them gae reive and harry, the deil a bit
they forbid them ; and they shelter them, or let them shelter
themsells, in their woods, and mountains, and strongholds,
whenever the thing's dune. And every ane o' them will
maintain as mony o' his ane name, or his clan, as we say,


as he can rap and rend means for ; or, wliilk 's the same
thing, as mony as can in ony fashion, fair or foul, mainteen
themsells ; and there they are wi' gun and pistol, dirk and
dourlach, ready to disturb the peace o' the country whenever
the laird likes ; and that 's the grievance of the Hielands,
whilk are, and hae been for this thousand years by- past, a
bike o' the maist lawless unchristian limmers that ever dis-
turbed a douce, quiet, God-fearing neighbourhood, like this
o' ours in the west here.' "

Things were certainly no better in 1692. Alone
of the statesmen of his time, the Secretary appreciated
the enormity of this evil. He saw that such a popu-
lation would never be at peace ; that its existence
was in truth " a thing deplorable in ony Christian
country." He opposed, from the first, Tarbat's scheme
of pacifying the Highlands by grants of money. He
rightly judged that such a remedy could have a tem-
porary effect only. So long as money was forthcoming
the country would enjoy quiet; so soon as the pay-
ments should cease, Highland Jacobitism would
become an active passion. He saw that the only
adequate remedy was to enforce, with a high hand,
order and obedience to law ; and to draft off a large
portion of a population more than double what could
be maintained in the country by the arts of industry
and peace, and kept up by rival chiefs from pride
and for purposes of rapine. In other words, there
should have been done then what was long afterwards
accomplished by the severities of Cumberland and the
happy conception of Chatham. That the Master of
Stair, had the means been at his disposal, would have
pacified the Highlands with all the vigour of Cumber-
land is certain, and that he would not have shrunk
from any of the severities of Cumberland is more
than probable. And if in 1692 the Highlands had
been occupied by troops and subjected to military


law ; if forts had then been built and roads made ;
had the leading freebooters been shipped off to
America, after the fashion in which Henry Cromwell
dealt with Irishmen certainly not more guilty of
offences against law and order ; had the active youth
been sent to serve in the Low Countries, and the
whole clan system broken up ; how rapid would have
been the advance of the country in prosperity and
happiness, how many miseries would have been spared,
how much of noble and innocent blood had never
flowed. To have adopted such a course, without
bribing the rebel chiefs into a simulated submission,
and receiving from them an oath of allegiance which
everybody knew to be worthless, would have been
wise and salutary, if severe, statesmanship. And a
consideration of the whole evidence would seem to
show that some such scheme had been originally pre-
sent to the mind of the Secretary. That in his letters
he often uses language evincing a preference for harsh
modes of coercion is true; but there can, we think,
be little doubt that, had a comprehensive scheme of
this character been adopted, its very completeness
would have gone far to induce a man of large views
and kindly disposition to forego unnecessary cruelty.
Unquestionably to carry out this policy would not
have been work for a squeamish statesman. One
essential part of it, the diminution of more than a
half of the existing Highland population, could hardly
have been accomplished by gentle means. Yet, on
the whole, the human suffering would have been little
compared with the miseries of two rebellions; and
these would never have occurred had the Master of
Stair " pacified " the Highlands according to his own
views in 1692.

Foiled in his statesmanlike purpose, the Secretary
turned savagely on the victims who had been brought


into his grasp by foolish pride on their own part and
wicked chicanery on his. His hatred of the Highland
race was now inflamed by disappointment at losing
such an opportunity of rendering a permanent service
to his country. These feelings, of mixed good and
evil, led him not only to forget humanity, but, as we
think, to commit an error in statecraft. Failing a
comprehensive policy applicable to the whole High-
lands, the proceedings taken against the Macdonalds
were, in the lowest point of view, not worth while.
Had every man of them been shot down, no lasting
good would have been effected, no real advance made
towards the pacification of the Highlands; and the
idea of striking terror by the example was, as the
result showed, an utter delusion.

The comparative impunity of the actors in this
great crime has been made ground of heavy reproach
against William. The Estates of Scotland, in their
address to the Crown, urged, absurdly enough, that
the officers in command should be prosecuted crimi-
nally, but left Stair to be dealt with as the King
might think fit. Making every allowance for the
subserviency of a Scottish Parliament to rank and
place, and for their indifference to the lives of a few
Highlanders, the fact that a man, hated by so many
enemies, and who had given such occasion to that
hatred, should have escaped so lightly, affords striking
evidence of the high estimation in which the capacity
and services of the Secretary must have been held.
To have prosecuted soldiers who merely obeyed orders
would have been inconsistent with all public policy ;
but how to deal with the Master was matter of diffi-
culty. William was content to dismiss him from office
a lenity condemned by Lord Macaulay as " a fault
amounting to a crime." And, three years later, when,
on the death of his father, he had become Viscount


Stair, special letters of remission passed the Great
Seal in his favour. The letters ran :

"His Majesty, considering that John Viscount of Stair
hath been employed on his service for many years, and in
several capacities first, as his Majesty's Advocate, and
thereafter as Secretary of State in which eminent employ-
ments persons are in danger, either by exceeding or coming
short of their duty, to fall under the severity of law, and
become obnoxious to prosecutions or troubles therefor ; and
his Majesty being well satisfied that the said John Viscount
Stair hath rendered him many painful services, and being
well assured of his affections and good intentions, and being
graciously pleased to pardon, cover, and secure him, now,
after the demission of his office and that he is divested of
public employment, from all questions, prosecutions, and
trouble whatsoever ; and particularly his Majesty, consider-
ing that the manner of execution of the men of Glencoe was
contrary to the laws of humanity and hospitality being
done by those soldiers who, for some days before, had been
quartered amongst them, and entertained by them, which
was a fault in the actors or those who gave the immediate
orders on the place but that the said Viscount of Stair
being at London, many hundred miles distant, he could have
no knowledge of nor accession to the method of that execu-
tion ; and his Majesty being willing to pardon, forgive, and
remit any excess of zeal, as going beyond his instructions,
by the said John Viscount Stair, and that he had no hand
in the barbarous manner of execution : his Majesty there-
fore ordains a letter of remission to be made and passed the
Great Seal of his Majesty's ancient kingdom, etc."

This paper is a curious one, and it would be in-
teresting to know by whom it was drawn up ; the
more so, as the tenor of the argument suggests the
idea that it may have been intended, under cover of
exculpating the Secretary, to state reasons why no
complicity in the guilt of the massacre should attach
to the King. But whatever we think of William's
position in the matter, the attempted defence of the


Secretary is a hopeless failure. The reasons given for
the royal clemency, are inconsistent even with lenient
censure of the Estates ; are in defiance of the just
condemnation of the Commission ; and, as William
must have known, if he read the documents trans-
mitted to him from Edinburgh, are altogether at
variance with the truth.

At the same time, we cannot concur with Lord
Macaulay's view that the Secretary should have been
brought to trial^ as a common murderer, before the
criminal court ; and should, if found guilty, have
"died the death of a felon." Such a course may,
perhaps, have been demanded by the strictness of
criminal justice. But men in high places, caring for
great interests, tried by the severest of all temptations
to comprehensive intellects the temptation to seize
any means towards the attainment of important and
beneficial ends, have a claim to be judged on broader
principles. The great historian, on this occasion,
allows no place to the doctrine of " set-off/' the appli-
cation of which, in political causes, no one has enforced
more strongly than himself. Services rendered to the
State may be justly pleaded in such causes ; and, what
is even a more important principle, the motive which
dictated the act for which a politician is called in
question is entitled to the 1 greatest weight in determin-
ing the true measure of his guilt. The Master of Stair
rendered many and great services to the State ; and
the motive which prompted his Highland policy was
no vulgar one. It was not cupidity. It was not love
of power. The crime which has blackened his name
added not a shilling to his fortune ; it could by no
possibility have advanced him in the path of ambition.
And of this he seems to have been thoroughly aware.

Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 10 of 38)