Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Malt Riots

There is much discussion about price control on whisky in Scotland currently.  Alcoholic beverages have always been a source of government revenue.  At various times, taxation has led to civil unrest.

For example, June 22, 1725 was a turbulent day in Glasgow.  Twas the beginning of violent resistence to a malt tax, set to be imposed on the 23rd.  The king's revenue officers had the chore of assessing maltsters as to the value of their product.  Glaswegian citizens felt the tax took too much out of their lives, and blocked the tax authorities from Glasgow firms.

Two days later, the mob honed in on the residence of Duncan Campbell, in Shawfield.  He was believed to have supported the malt tax in Parliament.  Troops under General Ward were called in.  The crowd attacked, and several, between 8 and 14, ended up killed as a result.

Glasgow was a rough place at that time.  Walter Scott uses the malt riot as material in his "The Heart of Midlothian":

..."You are not for gaun intill Glasgow then?" said Jeanie, as she observed that the drivers made no motion for inclining their horses' heads towards the ancient bridge, which was then the only mode of access to St. Mungo's capital.

"No," replied Archibald; "there is some popular commotion, and as our Duke is in opposition to the court, perhaps we might be too well received; or they might take it in their heads to remember that the Captain of Carrick came down upon them with his Highlandmen in the time of Shawfield's mob in 1725, and then we would be too ill received.* And, at any rate, it is best for us, and for me in particular, who may be supposed to possess his Grace's mind upon many particulars, to leave the good people of the Gorbals to act according to their own imaginations, without either provoking or encouraging them by my presence."


* In 1725, there was a great riot in Glasgow on account of the malt-tax. Among the troops brought in to restore order, was one of the independent companies of Highlanders levied in Argyleshire, and distinguished,  a lampoon of the period, as "Campbell of Carrick and his Highland thieves." It was called Shawfield's Mob, because much of the popular violence was directed against Daniel Campbell, Esq. of Shawfield, M. P., Provost of the town...

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