Unseen Hand in British History - Ian D. Colvin

XII. Union

Even if I do no more than attempt to sketch the main lines of our national policy, it is necessary to consider more closely the great question of Union. There is an obvious side to this question which is yet too often forgotten. The approach to England on the north is by way of Scotland, and on the west by way of Ireland. These two countries are like bulwarks and bastions to a fortress: if they are occupied by the enemy the central keep is in danger.

The main reason for Union is a military reason. As long as Scotland was separate from England the national enemies, France, Spain, or the Empire, designed their attack on England through Scotland. And so in Ireland: there is hardly a recorded war in which the enemy has not attempted an attack on England by way of Ireland. And so in both cases the mere necessity of defense must have made it part of the national policy to bring about the union of the three kingdoms. In other words, the Union with Scotland and Ireland was as much an English as a Scottish or Irish question: if the one had the right to desire independence the other had the right to deny it, for no nation could be expected to trust its very life in the hands of another.

But with this question of defense is bound up the question of interest. Thus we have seen how the long friendship between Scotland and France was accompanied by an active trade between the two countries. Scotland supplied France with wool and fish in exchange for lawns and claret, and when England and France were fighting for supremacy this trade support from Scotland was hostile to the English cause. And in the same way, when England was fighting Holland the Scotch trade in unfinished cloth was felt by English statesmen as a factor in the conflict.

Protector Somerset, a great statesman in his day, had offered Scotland union after the Battle of Pinkie: a union based on "Free Trade, equality, and amity."

"What," he argued, "can be more offered than intercourse of merchandise in the abolishing all such our laws as prohibit the same? . . . We have offered to leave the name of the nation and to take the indifferent old name of Britains again. We intend not to disinherit your Queen, but to make her heirs inheritors also of England. We seek not to take from you your laws or customs."

James, as we have seen, had brought about a Union of the Crowns, but he had failed to establish a union of interests and therefore a union of hearts. In 1604 he attempted a commercial treaty of Free Trade, and although it omitted nearly everything of consequence wool, cattle, hides, and linen yarn in the produce of Scotland, it was rejected by the English Parliament.

Both attempts failed, and most of the seventeenth century is occupied by bitter quarrels between the two nations. Cromwell with his rude genius for statesmanship made a heroic attempt to settle matters by opening to Scotland all the "privileges, freedom, and charges" of English commerce. This policy seems to have been forced upon him by the hostile correspondence between Scotland and Holland. It succeeded so far as to leave him free to attack the Dutch, but it exasperated English interests.

Charles II had no reason to love Scotland: he was besides indebted to the mercantile interest for his Restoration, and he returned to the narrowest tenets of the mercantile policy. The Navigation Act confined the trade of the Plantations to English vessels, and the English farmer was protected against Scotch cattle and Scotch wool by restrictions and prohibitions at the Border. The Scotch protested and retaliated in vain, and then in their practical way set to work to create a world-commerce of their own. When we consider the poverty of Scotland at that time, its small population, and its small resources, we have reason to be proud, those of us who are Scotch, of that heroic endeavor.

The East and West Indies, Africa, and the Mediterranean were strewn with their pathetic failures. Everywhere, or so they suspected, England barred the way, but undiscouraged they embraced a scheme on which they staked nothing less than the fortunes of their country. They designed to capture the commerce of the world at a stroke by forming a settlement on the Isthmus of Darien. At every turn they found the unseen hand of English and Dutch commerce against them. They were refused capital in London and in Amsterdam. There remained Hamburg, and at first the Hamburg merchants, who had no East India trade, promised £200,000. But Hamburg was then ruled from London: it lived as a depot for the English cloth trade in Germany, and when Sir Paul Rycaut, the English Resident, vetoed the scheme, neither the prayers of Paterson nor the attractions of the project could persuade the merchants to fulfil their promise. To such a pass had the great Hanseatic City fallen.

But the people of Scotland themselves contributed £400,000 equal, it is said, to two-thirds of all the coin then circulating in the country, and they filled their little fleet with articles which they deemed certain to find a market in New Spain and the tropics. Edinburgh contributed 4000 periwigs; religion was united with commerce in a consignment of 1600 Bibles; Kilmarnock sent blue-bonnets; Aberdeen stockings; Dunkeld plaids and tartans; and Culross gridirons, those famous girdles on which the cakes of Scotland were baked.

The tragic story of the settlement of St. Andrew need not detain us; its ruin was the ruin of Scotland's hopes of an independent trade system, and left union with France or Holland the only alternative to union with England.

It was for English statesmen a great opportunity and they took it. We might say, taking it all in all, that the negotiation of the Act of Union is the most perfect single piece of English statesmanship, conceived upon broad and generous lines and carried through with an unsurpassed adroitness.

It was managed by a series of deals or bargains, the English aiming only at one great national system,—the Scotch contending for compensations, advantages, and payments.

In Defoe's History of the Union we are shown very clearly how the thing was done.

"Thus stood," says Defoe, "the affairs of this island at the end of the year 1705, when the aversion between the two kingdoms by the several steps I have noticed was come to a great height; the people seemed exasperated against one another to the highest degree; the Governments seemed bent to act counter to one another in all their councils; trade clashed between them in all its circumstances, and every Parliament run further and further into the most disobliging things that could be; England laid a new impost upon Scots cloth; Scotland prohibited all the English woolen manufacture in general and erected manufactories among themselves, which, had they been prudently managed too, might have been very advantageous to them; but of that by the way. Scotland freely and openly exported their wool to France, Germany, and Sweden to the irreparable loss of the English manufactures, having great quantities of English wool brought into Scotland over the borders, which it was impossible for England to prevent; so that the famous trade of wool to France by Romney Marsh, commonly called Owling, was entirely dropped, and France not supplied only but glutted with wool.

"On the other hand, England was proceeding to prohibit the importation of Scots cattle and to interrupt by force their trade with France, and had this last proceeded to practice all the world would not have prevented a war between both nations."

Although the Crown was at war with France, Scotland, like the ally Holland, claimed a right to a Free Trade with France. Such was the perilous situation saved by the treaty.

The basis of the treaty was "Free Trade between all the subjects of the island of Great Britain without any distinction," not only the coasting trade but the Plantations, and an Act of Navigation adapted to both countries. The flock-masters of Roxburgh, Selkirk, and Tweeddale were compensated with bounties for the loss of their export trade in wool, the bounties to be paid on the condition that local manufactories were started "for the employment and subsistence of the poor "and "the consumption of the wool at home." Thus the right of Scotland to use its own raw material in its own manufactures was recognized at the same time as she was given a free market for both raw materials and manufactures in England.

England's aim in this great deal was nothing less than to change the current of Scottish commerce from east and west to north and south. Scotland's trade policy had made her the natural ally of France against England. The Union of the Crowns had not sufficed to change this bias. All through the seventeenth century the wars between England and Scotland, the liaison between Scotland and France, had continued. The change was effected at a most critical point in the history of the English struggle with France for commercial supremacy. And from that time on by slow degrees the Lowlands of Scotland veered round the political compass until their interest and their politics coincided with the Union. By 1745, according to Lecky, "in the Lowlands the balance of opinion was probably hostile to Jacobitism." Although "the Union had left much discontent behind it," "the commercial and industrial classes dreaded change, and the great city of Glasgow was decidedly Hanoverian."

The romantic Highlands, which cared nothing for commerce, lived by fishing, cattle, smuggling, raiding, and fighting in the armies of France. Their claymores were drawn for a Stuart; but the cannie Lowlands looked at the head of George on their guineas, and reflected profoundly on what they had to lose. Thus by the ties of interest Scotland was united with England and the Union lasts to this day.

In our own time President Taft attempted the same stroke of policy with Canada. His offer of Reciprocity was designed to change the channels of Canadian commerce from east and west to north and south. If he had succeeded Canada would have been lost to the British Empire, yet his attempt was ardently supported by Mr. Asquith and his colleagues in this country, so far, under the influence of Free Trade, had Liberalism fallen from the standard of Whig statecraft.

When we turn to the history and commerce of Ireland we enter a dimmer and more doubtful region. We gather that Ireland was always looked upon as a Plantation, whereas Scotland had the stronger position of a Kingdom. Scotland was strong enough to make terms; Ireland only made rebellion. In the Middle Ages we see the House of York installed as the popular party in Ireland. Richard of York, we are told, followed a policy of conciliation and Home Rule:

"The local independence of Ireland was now for the first time seriously attempted. Richard held a Parliament, which acknowledged the English Crown while repudiating the English legislature and the English courts of law."

How far the Civil Wars which followed were inspired by national policy and how far by questions of the ownership of land and personal and clan rivalries it would be difficult to determine.

But it is certain that Ireland had an early connection with the Empire and the Imperial system of commerce. The Senchus Mor, which is as old as the fourteenth century, says that the King of Erin "received stock from" or, in English, paid tribute to, "the King of the Romans, . . . that is when the seaports of Dublin and Waterford and Limerick are subject to him."

The Ostmen of early Irish literature were either foreign merchants "hosted" by the citizens, or Eastmen, that is to say, Easterlings. Considering the fact that Ostmen became prelates in Ireland we may prefer the latter derivation, and there is evidence that these Ostmen or Easterlings were a strong element in the Irish cities. We may suppose that Ireland played a humble role in the Hanseatic or Imperial trade system, supplying Flanders with wool and Spain with hides and provisions. And when the House of York, after surrendering to the Hanse, was finally expelled from England by the National Party under the Tudors, Ireland remained faithful to the Imperial connection.

Religion, certainly, was not the original or main cause of the strife between Ireland and Tudor England, for well before the Reformation the King of the Romans was using Ireland as a cat's-paw against Henry VII. Thus both Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, the two Yorkist pretenders, landed in Ireland. Simnel was crowned in Dublin by the Earl of Kildare and sailed across the Irish Channel with a mixed force of Irish and Germans under a Captain Swartz, to be defeated with great slaughter at the Battle of Stoke.

Henry VII, being in a weak position, tried a policy of Home Rule and conciliation. He invited the Irish chiefs over to London and thoughtfully offered them wine served by Lambert Simnel, now reduced to the position of servant. And when it was reported that all Ireland could not govern the Earl of Kildare, he replied, "Then let the Earl of Kildare govern all Ireland."

Perkin Warbeck's invasion was also launched from Flanders by way of Ireland and likewise failed. But the liaison between Kildare and the Imperial Court continued into the next reign, and the Emperor Charles V, who at one time had 170 sail ready in Antwerp to invade England, was in familiar communication with the Geraldines and the O'Briens. That Kildare favored Charles V, who sacked Rome and imprisoned the Pope, on the score of religion will hardly be considered likely by those who have studied the characters of the two gentlemen.

The correspondence, which is to be found in Froude, is interesting, for it shows that these Irish nobles spoke of Charles as "our Sovereign Lord the Emperor," and professed their willingness to bring Ireland under the Imperial Crown. The correspondence and the rebellion which followed at last convinced Henry that the policy of conciliation was a failure, and the policy of conquest and settlement which he began was energetically followed by Elizabeth. The Geraldines had been trusted by the Tudors; they had been allowed to conduct the government of Ireland, and they had systematically betrayed the confidence of their sovereign. And so we see, even in those early times, the alternation from Home Rule to a strong Government, from conciliation to repression. And we see also the cause. The Home Rule of the Geraldines led to anarchy in Ireland and treachery to England; and the Tudors were forced by the threat of invasion to take into their own hands or the hands of English deputies the government of Ireland.

In the seventeenth century we are able to trace the growth of a hostile system of commerce which strengthens the racial and religious hostility. Strafford, among the very greatest of seventeenth-century Englishmen, reports that the English trade had been "spoiled by the pirates" before his arrival; but his energetic measures had suppressed the "Biscayners." The trade had increased exceedingly in consequence. Although,

". . .there was little or no manufacture among them," there were "some small beginnings towards a clothing trade, which I had and so should still discourage all I could . . . in regard it would trench not only upon the clothing of England, being our staple commodity, so as if they should manufacture their own wools, which grew to very great quantities, we should not only lose the profit we made now by indraping their wools, but His Majesty lose extremely by his customs, and in conclusion it might be feared they would beat us out of the trade itself, by underselling us, which they were well able to do. Besides in reasons of State so long as they did indrape their own wools, they must of necessity fetch their clothing from us, and consequently in a sort depend upon us for their livelihood, and thereby become so dependent upon this Crown as they could not depart from us without nakedness to themselves and children."

Strafford proposed to compensate them with a linen trade:

"Yet have I endeavored another way to set them on work, and that is by bringing in the making and trade of linen cloth, the rather in regard the women are all naturally bred to spinning, that the Irish earth is apt for the bearing of flax, and that this manufacture would be in the conclusion rather a benefit than other to this kingdom."

Strafford's compensation of a linen for a woolen manufacture was more reasonable then than later, for the Irish woolen industry except the making of friezes by the cottagers on a non-commercial scale had not yet come into existence. But with the fall of Strafford a narrower policy triumphed; the fanaticism of the Commonwealth was followed by the selfishness of the Restoration; Irish cattle were shut out, and even the Irish provision trade with the Plantations was stopped. The Irish turned to wool-growing and the foreign trade with France and Spain. The French looms were kept going with Irish wool, and the Dunkirk and Biscayan pirates with Irish provisions.

As food, wool, and labor were cheap in Ireland, English weavers emigrated from the south and west of England, so that a flourishing cloth trade was soon established in Dublin and one or two other Irish towns.

It was now the turn of the English manufacturing interest to take alarm, and we find a growing agitation among the Whigs to penalize the Irish cloth industry. William was a ready instrument in this policy, for the Dutch hated Ireland on account of her competition with their linen trade. Heavy duties were put on the exportation of Irish woolens, and the Navigation Acts were used to prevent the exportation of Irish cloth to the Plantations. Even the Irish linen manufacture, the ewe lamb of Ireland, was penalized.

The effect of this barbarous policy was disastrous to Ireland. "The ruin," says Lecky, "was absolute and final." It fell more heavily upon the Irish Protestants, who were principally concerned in manufacture, than upon the Catholics. Thousands of Irish Protestants went to the colonies and became by their bitterness against England an element of danger and revolution. Others went to France, while the Irish wool now smuggled over wholesale was a further help to the trade of the enemy. The economic effect upon Ireland herself was equally disastrous: the whole population was thrown upon agriculture and a bad season produced famine. Swift, the greatest of all pamphleteers, championed the Irish cause in prose which it is even now a pleasure to read. His ardent and yet practical genius, his savage irony, his diabolical wit were all pressed into the service of Irish industry. He wrote in vain except for the adoration he won from the Irish people yet his policy of an Ireland contented and loyal, founding herself upon her own manufactures and the fruits of her own soil, remains the true though neglected signpost to a reconciliation between the two countries.

Thus it came about that at the very time the Whigs by a broad act of statesmanship were founding the interest of Scotland in their own manufactures and the English market they were inflicting upon Ireland a wrong which was kept rankling by its own nature. Cruelty and acts of injustice are forgotten; but a policy which is a continual injury to the living interest of a country is always remembered since it is always present. The Union of Ireland with England is justified by the safety of the greater island: since Ireland is a posterngate through which every enemy has tried to enter. But if the Union is necessary, the complement is just, that Ireland should have the status and privileges of the kingdom of which it is a part, and that the national policy should be shaped, not in the interests of one, but of both.

[NOTE: The younger Pitt, it is well worth remembering, attempted to do fiscal justice to Ireland before he attempted political union. His Resolutions of 1785 proposed free trade and reciprocity between the two countries. They were accepted by the Irish Parliament, but were rejected by the English. They were then recast to the detriment of Ireland, and in their new form were accepted by the English Parliament but rejected by the Irish. If the original Resolutions had been accepted it is probable that the Union with Ireland would have been as popular in both countries as the Union with Scotland. "The pity of it, lago!"]