Impact of the teachings of Enlightenment
figures such as Francis Hutcheson and
that of American independence
of associated ideas
1782-3 burgh reform movement
launched by Thomas McGrugar
Freeholders agitating for county franchise
representing most counties in Scotland
met in Edinburgh, though ambitions were
limited to modest reforms extending the
franchise to the propertied classes.
Increased interest in political affairs indicated by
increase in the number of newspapers, from 8 in 1782
to 27 by 1790 and their increasingly politicised content
Thus it is possible to argue the years immediately preceding the French
Revolution were characterised by political apathy and indifference due to
rampant corruption – only 9 county and burgh elections contested in 1790
Impact was significant
February 1791 publication of volume 1 of Tom Paine’s Rights
of Man generated significant interest in the ideas associated
with the French Revolution ‘well beyond the political classes’
Paine’s writings went beyond
reform and were genuinely
1792 as the key year, the watershed
being the failure of constitutional
monarchy in France which was replaced
by more radical republican government
This triggered a wave of politicised activity in
Scotland much of which was specifically targeted at
Henry Dundas, Home Secretary, whom many Scots
identified as the personification of the establishment
Volume 2 of Paine’s Rights of Man was
also published. By the end of 1793 over 200
000 copies had been sold across Britain.
Agitation represented new popular opposition
the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 changed everything and set the
scene for an unprecedented challenge to the existing regime…the ideas of the
revolution had a catalytic effect and gave fresh impetus to political discussion.
of the Scottish
the Friends of
Rapid expansion and assembly of
the British National Convention of the
Friends of the People in November
Revolutionary objectives were
rejected in favour of ‘moderate firm
and constitutional proceedings’
King’s birthday riots
Perth and Aberdeen
In Edinburgh riots
culminated in an attack on the
residence of Henry Dundas.
Riots continued sporadically
through 1792 across Scotland
Numerous instances of public disorder across Scotland indicate a popular anger
against ‘Old Corruption’ including the erection of liberty poles, planting of trees of
liberty, wearing of the redcaps, torching of Dundas effigies and further rioting
of the Friends of
Severity of government response
Supported by Robert Dundas, the Lord Advocate, the Court
of Justiciary led by Lord Braxfield issued harsh sentences to
protestors including Thomas Muir who was deported to
Australia and Robert Watt who was executed
1793 ownership of Tom
Paine’s Rights of Man
declared an act of treason
Devine notes this simply increased its popularity.
Norman MacLeod, MP for Inverness observed
the government action acted like an electric
shock: it set people of all ranks a reading.
1793, following France’s declaration of war, lawyers, teachers, tradesmen and
shopkeepers of allegedly ‘Jacobin’ sympathies were dismissed or boycotted.
Ministers of the Kirk declared parliamentary reform a threat to Christianity.
French Revolution was Limited
In addition to political discontent,
economic and social factors contributed
significantly to the unrest of the 1790s.
In 1792 corn prices
reached a 10 year
high while agricultural
large scale population
Gross exaggeration to state that the majority of the
Scottish population became politicised. Even at its
height, unrest was localised and sporadic.
argues that the initial stimulus for much of the
political activity was a lack of burgh reform and
the corruption of political patronage rather than a
direct stimulus from the French Revolution.
notes that, although many of the ideas associated with the
French Revolution are universal constitutional issues, the
Scottish reaction was uniquely focused on Henry Dundas
as the established representation of the status quo.