The established Church in Glasgow was dominated by the Popular Party. This reflected popular support for the right of congregations to "call" (select) their ministers, but also for a dated style of sermon that was frank and emotional. To Aberdonian Thomas Reid, Professor of Moral Philosophy, it was incomprehensible that Glaswegians should prefer religion of such "a gloomy, enthusiastical cast".
Intellectuals and elites preferred the Moderate Party of the Church and distanced themselves from traditional Calvinism. They supported the right of lawful patrons, usually landowners, to select ministers. The issue of patronage had bitterly divided the Church and led in 1733 to the formation of the Associate Synod, and in 1761 to the Relief Church. Both tended to attract more support from labourers and tradesmen. Fresh fractures occurred in 1747 over the Burgess oath (Burghers and Anti-Burghers) and around 1800, "new lichts" and "auld lichts" over the religious role of the state and personal conscience. By 1797 there were two Burgher, two anti-burgher and two Relief congregations in Glasgow, a large Relief church in Anderston, plus a thriving congregation of ultra-orthodox Covenanted Presbyterians.
Calvinists believed the stirring of the conscience to be spiritual - God's action in "calling" the depraved soul to its reformation. Whether the congregation's call to the minister, or the call within an individual Christian's conscience, the call reached to the heart of true religion. When applied to worldly affairs, the Calvinist call encouraged self-belief and a life of action. In 1797 the writer Dr John Moore characterised Glaswegians thus: "The chief objects that occupied the minds of the citizens were commerce and religion; the chief means of acquiring them were, wealth and piety".
Trade, travel and migration brought other Protestant dissenters. By the 1800s there were Episcopalians, Methodists, Independents, Anabaptists, Unitarians, and Glassites. By the time the reforming minister Thomas Chalmers arrived in the city in 1814, the number of non-conformists and seceders had drawn large numbers away from the established church.
Anti-Catholicism was part of Popular Party ideology - Moderates were more tolerant. Riots broke out in Glasgow in 1778 when Catholic emancipation was proposed in the House of Commons and again in early 1779, when the property of Frenchman Robert Bagnel, a pottery owner, was attacked. But the Town Council offered to compensate Bagnel for his losses. Catholics had numbered only thirty in 1778, but gradually their situation eased and numbers increased. The first fixed place of worship was the Tennis Court in Mitchell Street in 1792 to accommodate Highland soldiers, but by 1815 a fine chapel was built in Clyde Street. There were 8,245 Catholics in 1819, mostly Irish immigrants.
Demand for constitutional reform was muted in the 1790s, unlike other parts of Scotland. The strength of Popular Party ministers like William Porteous, (who preached the perfection of the British constitution) entrenched Hanoverian loyalism, and the progressive policies of the Tory magistrates kept radicalism in check. In 1792 Glaswegians actually burned effigies of John Wilkes and Thomas Paine, and Trees of Liberty (symbols of the French Revolution) "were notable by their absence". Few shared the democratic republican aspirations of Thomas Muir of Huntershill, transported for sedition in 1793. Most preferred limited reforms. Porteous was suspicious of all democratic and dissenting movements, despite his position on patronage. Even amongst seceders there was little support for radicalism, which appears as a secular movement. Little wonder radicals regarded all clergy, whatever their persuasion, as tools of government.
Agitation did occur. It was usually linked to economic distress although there was some politicisation in the strike of the Calton weavers in 1787. A much larger strike of 40,000 textile workers in 1812 occurred because a Court of Session decree obtained in favour of higher wages could not be enforced after employers appealed in the House of Lords.
Radicalism revived after 1815, fuelled by post-Napoleonic War depression. The "Radical War" of 1819-1820 saw distressed handloom weavers attempt an armed insurrection which greatly alarmed the government, and with the support of the city magistrates it was violently put down. In the 1820s a much wider movement for reform began, stimulated by radical papers like Peter Mackenzie's Reformers' Gazette and supported by reform associations like the Glasgow Political Union. Municipal government also became a target - until 1833 tax-payers and burgesses had no say in electing the new Town Council (which elected itself). Despite this, pre-1833 Tory councils pursued responsible socially progressive policies, providing cheap grain in times of distress, and supporting education and charities. Magistrates had no legal obligation to provide parish schools, but still encouraged Thomas Chalmers' attempts in St John's parish in the 1820s.
Most Glaswegians could read by 1770s but by 1830s literacy was declining - due, not to lack of provision, but an unwillingness on the part of some parents to send children to school. Education was private, in "adventure" schools which generally received some form of Town Council subsidy to keep costs down. English, writing, Latin, French, music, dancing, fencing were among the subjects on offer. Most taught single subjects but the school started by William Gordon and James Scruton (1762) taught a wide range of advanced subjects - French, Spanish, Italian, book-keeping, trigonometry and geography. The Town Council supported a grammar school teaching Latin to university standard. Classes were limited to fifty (!) and aimed at boys wishing to go to university. Charity schools were available for the poor, but places were limited. Hutchesons' Hospital, Miller's or Wilson's charities were well-endowed and provided quality education as did the Highland Society School, funded by the proceeds of the Black Bull Tavern. Dissenters founded their own schools and from 1787 Sunday schools appeared, providing factory children with religious instruction and reading the Bible. By 1819, there were 9,000 children enrolled in Sunday schools.
Poor Glaswegians attended school only until they could read but afterwards opportunities for self-education were ample. Stirling's public library was founded in 1791 and four more followed in the next 20 years, including a circulating library in 1811. A Mechanics' Institution was founded in 1823. Public reading rooms were available where, for a small subscription, members could read the newspapers.
In 1796 Anderson's Institution (later the University of Strathclyde) was founded by a bequest of John Anderson. Inexpensive science courses were available, including evening classes. Anderson was the professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow and a long-standing critic of its "useless" arts curriculum. He supported the democratic aims of the French Revolution and was inclined to the Popular Party in religion, whereas most of his university colleagues inclined towards the Moderates. This was the real reason for his criticism.
Despite his jaundiced opinion, the University was far from elitist and excelled in sciences and humanities. In the 1750s and 1760s William Cullen and Joseph Black had made notable advances in chemistry and the instrument-maker James Watt was encouraged to improve Newcomen's steam engine. A medical school functioned from the 1740s which advanced greatly after the foundation of Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1794 made clinical teaching more practical. In philosophy and social science the ideas of Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), Adam Smith (1723-1790) and John Millar (1735-1801) had a profound effect far beyond Scotland. There were 1,200 students by 1820, a high proportion of whom were tradesmen's or merchants' sons unlike their counterparts in Oxford and Cambridge.
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