The American Revolution triggered debates on political rights in Scotland. While in a city whose economy was closely tied to the American colonies there was not much sympathy for American independence, the long-drawn-out nature of the war brought growing criticism of government. There was also discontent with the unrepresentative nature of local government and a Glasgow Society for Burgh Reform was formed in 1783. The French Revolution of 1789 stirred great enthusiasm among the politically aware. The "Associated Friends of the Constitution and of the People" was formed in September 1792. In Partick there were the "Sons of Liberty and Friends of Man", where the works of Thomas Paine were read. War with France brought economic stagnation, widespread unemployment in 1792-1793, and growing political discontent. The demand was now for annual parliaments and universal suffrage. It was for stirring up discontent among workers that Thomas Muir (1765-1799) was arrested and sentenced to fourteen years transportation. Despite much repression, small groups continued secretly with members of the United Scotsmen linking up with United Irishmen.
More open political activity did not re-emerge until towards the end of the Napoleonic war. It was claimed that 40,000 turned up in October 1816 at a meeting in James Turner's estate of Thrushgrove, just outside the city boundary, to demand wider political representation. The terrible economic distress over the next few years fuelled the demands and there was open talk of armed rebellion. Numerous radical societies were in existence, all infiltrated by police informers, but when arrests were made in 1817 juries refused to convict.
It was in an atmosphere of panic over the possibility of armed revolution that, in April 1820, posters declaring the establishment of a provisional government and calling for revolution appeared. Groups of weavers and other workers, armed with pikes and swords, gathered in the expectation of rebellion. Andrew Hardie led a group towards Falkirk before being put to flight by the military at Bonnybridge. Mass arrests followed, three were executed for treason and others were transported.
During the 1820s the unrepresentative nature of government continued to be resented and with a change of government in 1830 the demand for reform exploded. More than 80,000 gathered on the Green in May 1831 with even more appearing the following year when the House of Lords rejected reform. Some success came in 1832 with the passage of the first Reform Act which gave the vote to some of the middle class.
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