Mans a Man for a that.
Ye see yon birkie cad a lord,
Wha struts an stares, an a that?
Tho hundreds worship at his word,
Hes but a cuif for a that.
For a that, an a that,
His riband, star, an a that,
The man o independent mind,
He looks an laughs at a that.
Robert Burns - A Mans A Man For A' That
The term radical
literally means from the root, and describes exactly
the kind of political reform that the Radical movement was seeking
towards the end of the 18th century. One of the most famous radical
sympathisers in Scottish history was the poet Robert Burns. This
is shown in what is considered by many to be Burns' most famous
song, A mans a man for a that, which encapsulates
in song the radical ideas of Tom Paine, the author of The Rights
of Man. Burns notion of the independent mind, like many
others, was influenced by two very important international events
at the time: The American and French Revolutions.
The progress of the American Revolution, 1776-83, was closely
followed by a Scottish public with a growing interest in international
events. Newspaper circulation boomed as news-hungry readers followed
the disastrous progress of the war and the British Governments
increasing incompetence. Many
Scots, whose livelihoods depended on the Atlantic trade, patriotically
desired the revolution crushed, but with defeat in 1783 they became
increasingly critical of their noble leaders. With the establishment
of the United States reformers now had a concrete example of how
a more socially progressive society could be constructed.
The advent of the French Revolution in 1789 seemed to herald a
new age of Enlightenment across Europe. As the French embraced
an enlightened constitution, Radicals in Scotland began to demand
the same. The Revolution was an inspiring example for Scotlands
developing middle and working classes; it demonstrated that they
too could participate in the governance of the country, that the
status quo could be changed, and that constitutions werent
handed down from God but were made by men.
Liberty trees, a French revolutionary symbol, were planted around
Scotland on market crosses, and ideas of political reform were
being publicly debated. At Edinburgh, in what became known as
the Kings Birthday Riots, thousands protested for three
days from the 4th of June, 1792. They burnt effigies of the Home
Secretary, Robert Dundas, and attempted to burn down the Lord
Advocates house. Only an army-command to open fire on the
mob managed to suppress the riot eventually, and the authorities
worried that riot might turn to revolution.
1792 a democratic organisation called the Friends
of the People was created out of numerous Reform
Societies which had emerged across Scotland. They
demanded moderate change, to bring the mercantile
middle classes into the governance of the country;
however, change was not forthcoming, and as Henry
Dundas said: It would be easier to reform
Hell. When events in France turned into
The Terror of 1793, with the widespread
public execution of nobles and priests, the British
Government set out to quash the Radicalism in
no uncertain terms.