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Title: Scotland, America and Tom Paine : ideas of liberty and the making of three Americans, John Witherspoon (1723-1794), Robert Aitken (1735-1802) and Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) : a study in bibliographical history
Author: Crawford, Ronald Lyndsay
Awarding Body: University of Strathclyde
Current Institution: University of Strathclyde
Date of Award: 2011
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This study explores ideas of liberty in the later eighteenth century with particular reference to the books and pamphlets that helped make that period so intriguingly rewarding for modern Enlightenment historians and political theorists alike. After an introductory chapter that sets the scene for what follows by examining the major strands of the liberty theme (e.g. natural rights and the state of nature, the pursuit of happiness, the issue of property, democratic republicanism etc.), the contribution of key Scottish Enlightenment writers (especially Hutcheson, Hume and Smith) is discussed and evaluated. The rest of Part One takes the form of successive chapters concerning, respectively, the radical politics of the town of Paisley in the light of its industrial and religious background in the later eighteenth century, and the key theme of liberty of the press, with special attention paid to the importance of bibliographical aspects of the Scottish sedition trials of the 1790s. This is the first study to have concentrated on this dimension of the trials. Again, the importance of Paisley as a radical hotspot throughout this time is seen to be significant in this context, not least on account of the Paisley Declaration and Address having been key exhibits in the indictment of Thomas Muir at his trial in 1793. Part Two concerns three individuals, all Paisley emigrants to America, whose lives reveal in various meaningful ways different aspects of the liberty theme. The American careers of all three are seen to have touched on the life of Thomas Paine, one of the greatest figures of the radical Enlightenment; this is particularly true of Witherspoon and Aitken. Further, in the case of all three, important new light is presented, supporting the view that, severally and individually, they represent significant figures in the context of the Scottish diaspora in the thirty year period, 1769 to 1799. Again, however, it is the bibliographical context that is emphasised, mos t obviously in the case of the émigré bookseller, printer and publisher, Robert Aitken. Special emphasis is placed, however, on the Scottish and American career of John Witherspoon, whose relatively recent emergence from scholarly neglect (in both Scotland and America) is welcomed and explained. It is indeed primarily in relation to Witherspoon - who, it is argued, should properly be regarded as a towering figure in this period, in spite of his essentially derivative contribution to Enlightenment political thought - that this study can be said to be grounded. The study concludes with an assessment of the Paisley radical weaver poet, Alexander Wilson, and discusses his relationship to the extreme radical, James Kennedy, the extent of whose political activism is here examined (from both a bibliographical and historical viewpoint) for the first time in any academic presentation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available