Sunday, May 25, 2014


Known outwith Scotland as The Father of Democracy and Universal Suffrage at the time of Thomas Paine and a Hero of Rabbie Burns we hear very little about the pioneer and champion of Scottish Democracy.
According to the blurb "In 1986 Peter Arnott wrote a play about Thomas Muir for the Tron Theatre, directed by Michael Boyd and starring Kevin MacMonagle and Russell Hunter.  In the wake of the American and French Revolutions, Thomas Muir was transported to Australia in 1795 for organising the first national elected assembly in Scotland's history, The Friends of the People in 1792.  Robert Burns wrote Scots Wha Hae on the day Muir's trial started in 1794.  The letter he wrote with the first draft makes it clear who he had in mind: Wallace was an allegory for the real hero, Thomas Muir, a
champion for Democracy."

The play was a response to the original referendum in 1979 , an event in which the majority was denied. It takes place simultaneously between two places (Scotland and a prison ship on its way to Australia) and two times 1792/93 in Scotland and 1794 in Australia.The cast contained two members who performed in the original play in 1986.

As the leading voice of reform in Scotland, Muir suffered persecution and ultimately transportation for sedition for advocating democratic principles in Scotland when the Pitt-Dundas government feared democratic ideals as a threat to the status quo.
As a national figure associated with the ideals of democracy, Muir was essentially a democrat who believed in the people when the majority were not allowed to vote.
The first political prisoners transported to Australia were convicted in Edinburgh and were known as the "Scottish Political Martyrs."

He was born in 1765.
He attended the University of Glasgow from the age of 10 years and graduated with an MA at the age of 17 years: he was an Advocate in Law at the age of 22 years and practiced law in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
He was a product of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ and became a noted reformer and was a leader of Scottish ‘The Friends of the People’, the ‘United Scotsmen’ and a member of the ‘United Irishmen’.
Under his influence parliamentary reform societies were established all over Scotland. Muir was arrested on 4th August 1793, tried in Edinburgh on 30th August, and found guilty of having created disaffection by means of libel and seditious speeches.

He was banished to Botany Bay for 14 years. In 1796 he escaped and made his way to France, hailed as a hero and made a citizen of France.

Charges made against Thomas Muir in August 1793.

(a) That he attended meetings at Kirk-in-Tilloch and Milton, of a society for reform, in which he had delivered speeches in which he seditiously endeavoured to represent the government as oppressive and tyrannical.
(b) That he exhorted three people residing in Cadder, to buy and read Paine's Rights of Man.
(c) That he circulated the work of Thomas Paine, A Declaration of Rights, to the friends of reform in Paisley.

Lord Braxfield explained why he was sentencing Thomas Muir and the other leaders of the Convention in Edinburgh to be transported to Australia for fourteen years.

The British constitution is the best that ever was since the creation of the world, and it is not possible to make it better. Yet Mr. Muir has gone among the ignorant country people and told them Parliamentary Reform was absolutely necessary for preserving their liberty.

Thomas Muir, speech made at his trial on 30th August 1793.

What has been my crime? Not the lending to a relation of mine a copy of Mr Paine's work; not the giving away a few copies of an innocent and constitutional publication; but for having dared to be a strenuous and active advocate for an equal representation of the people, in the House of the people.

Thomas Muir, writing to the London Corresponding Society from prison on 24th April, 1794.

The spirit of freedom is not extinguished, but still remains its formal energy, in defiance of the artifices and the violence of despotism. Engaged in the sacred cause of Man, individual man is an atom of little value and when he recollects and contemplates the principles of his conduct, should disdain to use the term suffering. Without a vain affection for myself, I disdain the assumption of extraordinary merit. The man who has acted in obedience to the law of his conscience, has simply discharged his duty. 

You can get more information of this remarkable Man from the official Thomas Muir Website.

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