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19 September 2014
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Radicalism (II)

The Radical Martyrs
Thomas MuirFreedom of speech was restricted by the government, and leading Radicals, like Thomas Muir of Huntershill in Glasgow, Thomas Palmer, and William Skirving of Dundee, were arrested and tried for sedition before Scotland’s famous hanging judge Lord Braxfield.

From the start Braxfield made his views plain: ‘A government of every country should be just like a corporation, and in this country, it is made up of the landed interest, which alone has a right to be represented’. Thomas Muir, a lawyer by trade, made a spirited defence that was cheered from the gallery, but the verdict was a forgone conclusion. Muir was found guilty and sentenced to 14 years transportation to Botany Bay in Australia. Of all the radicals tried, only one made it back to Scotland. Muir himself escaped from Australia in 1796 and fled to France, where in 1797 he called on the French Government to ‘liberate’ Scotland.

Going Underground
From 1793 to 1815 Britain was at war with revolutionary France. In Scotland it became decidedly unpatriotic to support the Radical cause. Government repression drove radicalism underground into surreptitious organisations such as the United Scotsmen, who the Government feared would stage a rising with the United Irishmen in 1798. Revolution, it seemed, was not forthcoming.

1820, The Radical War
Radicalism only resurfaced during the industrial unrest in the aftermath of the Napoleonic War. Unemployment was widespread, prices had risen steeply, and government spies reported rumours of radicals arming themselves for a rising. Tens of thousands marched across the West of Scotland in support of reform, and the government, fearing revolt, arrested or forced into exile as many of the ringleaders as possible. Further insurrection followed the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester when 16 000 protested in Paisley, and the band was arrested just for playing Burns’ ‘Scots Wha Hae’.
Baird & Hardie
On the 1st and 2nd of April, 1820, the Radical War broke out. Addresses were posted in Glasgow, Dumbarton, Paisley and Kilsyth calling for a general strike to sweep away the government and assert the rights of man and universal male suffrage. Work in factories stopped and within a few days a small group of radicals led by Andrew Hardie and John Baird attempted to seize Carron Ironworks near Falkirk. They were intercepted at Bonnymuir and captured after a brief skirmish. The brief war was over and the strikes quickly collapsed, with Hardie and Baird being hung at Stirling for their part. As Hardie faced death on the gallows he declared ‘I die a martyr to the cause of truth and liberty'. The Radicals of the 19th century had seen their finest hour.

 



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