Andrew Fletcher - Encyclopedia

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ANDREW FLETCHER, of Saltoun (1655-1716), Scottish politician, was the son and heir of Sir Robert Fletcher (1625-1664), and was born at Saltoun, the modern Salton, in East Lothian. Educated by Gilbert Burnet, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, who was then the parish minister of Saltoun, he completed his education by spending some years in travel and study, entering public life as member of the Scottish parliament which met in 1681. Possessing advanced political ideas, Fletcher was a fearless and active opponent of the measures introduced by John Maitland, duke of Lauderdale, the representative of Charles II. in Scotland, and his successor, the duke of York, afterwards King James II.; but he left Scotland about 1682, subsequently spending some time in Holland as an associate of the duke of Monmouth and other malcontents.

Although on grounds of prudence Fletcher objected to the rising of 1685, he accompanied Monmouth to the west of England, but left the army after killing one of the duke's trusted advisers. This incident is thus told by Sir John Dalrymple: "Being sent upon an expedition, and not esteeming times of danger to be times of ceremony, he had seized for his own riding the horse of a country gentleman (the mayor of Lynne) which stood ready equipt for its master. The master hearing this ran in a passion to Fletcher, gave him opprobrious language, shook his cane and attempted to strike. Fletcher, though rigid in the duties of morality, yet having been accustomed to foreign services both by sea and land in which he had acquired high ideas of the honour of a soldier and a gentleman and of the affront of a cane, pulled out his pistol and shot him dead on the spot. The action was unpopular in countries where such refinements were not understood. A clamour was raised against it among the people of the country: in a body they waited upon the duke with their complaints; and he was forced to desire the only soldier and almost the only man of parts in his army, to abandon him." Another, but less probable account, represents Fletcher as quitting the rebel army because he disapproved of the action of Monmouth in proclaiming himself king.

His history during the next few years is rather obscure. He probably travelled in Spain, and fought against the Turks in Hungary; and having in his absence lost his estates and been sentenced to death, he joined William of Orange at the Hague, and returned to Scotland in 1689 in consequence of the success of the Revolution of 1688. His estates were restored to him; and he soon became a leading member of the "club," an organization which aimed at reducing the power of the crown in Scotland, and in general an active opponent of the English government. In 1703, at a critical stage in the history of Scotland, Fletcher again became a member of the Scottish parliament. The failure of the Darien expedition had aroused a strong feeling of resentment against England, and Fletcher and the national party seized the opportunity to obtain a greater degree of independence for their country.

His attitude in this matter, and also to the proposal for the union of the two crowns, is thus described by a writer in the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica:- " The thought of England's domineering over Scotland was what his generous soul could not endure. The indignities and oppression which Scotland lay under galled him to the heart, so that in his learned and elaborate discourses he exposed them with undaunted courage and pathetical eloquence. In that great event, the Union, he performed essential service. He got the act of security passed, which declared that the two crowns should not pass to the same head till Scotland was secured in her liberties civil and religious. Therefore Lord Godolphin was forced into the Union, to avoid a civil war after the queen's demise. Although Mr Fletcher disapproved of some of the articles, and indeed of the whole frame of the Union, yet, as the act of security was his own work, he had all the merit of that important transaction." Soon after the passing of the Act of Union Fletcher retired from public life. Employing his abilities in another direction, he did a real, if homely, service to his country by introducing from Holland machinery for sifting grain. He died unmarried in London in September 1716.

Contemporaries speak very highly of Fletcher's integrity, but he was also choleric and impetuous. Burnet describes him as "a Scotch gentleman of great parts and many virtues, but a most violent republican and extremely passionate." In appearance he was "a low, thin man, of a brown complexion; full of fire; with a stern, sour look." Fletcher was a fine scholar and a graceful writer, and both his writings and speeches afford bright glimpses of the manners and state of the country in his time. His chief works are: A Discourse of Government relating to Militias (1698); Two Discourses concerning the Affairs of Scotland (1698); and An Account of a Conversation concerning a right regulation of Governments for the common good of Mankind (1704). In Two Discourses he suggests that the numerous vagrants who infested Scotland should be brought into compulsory and hereditary servitude; and in An Account of a Conversation occurs his well-known remark, "I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christopher's (Sir C. Musgrave) sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation." The Political Works of Andrew Fletcher were published in London in 1737. See D. S. Erskine, II th earl of Buchan, Essay on the Lives of Fletcher of Saltoun and the Poet Thomson (1792); J. H. Burton, History of Scotland, vol. viii. (Edinburgh, 1905); and A. Lang, History of Scotland, vol. iv. (Edinburgh, 1907).

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