History of the Scotch Church from the Accession of James II. to the Revolution Settlement and the Emigration to America

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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THE death of Charles II., February 6, 1685, occasioned a brief pause in the dreadful persecution which the Presbyterians endured. His death was attributed to apoplexy, but it was strongly suspected that he died of poison. Thus perished a monarch ungrateful, unprincipled and treacherous, and whose reign was mean, disgraceful and tyrannical. So soon as the intelligence of the king’s death reached Scotland, his brother, the duke of York, was proclaimed sovereign, and in terms which recognized him as the source of all law, civil and sacred. Nor was he reluctant to use the despotic power thus acknowledged to be his by divine right. A prelatic, and consequently an obsequious, Parliament was called, which at his royal bidding passed a number of the most infamous acts imaginable. By these the giving or taking the National Covenant, or owning that it or the Solemn League and Covenant was lawful or obligatory, was a treasonable proceeding. So also was the giving food to, or concealing those who had been declared traitors, and the punishment of death was to be extended to hearers as well as preachers at conventicles. It was an act of treason, also, if at family worship five individuals more than the members of the household were present, and the test oath was imposed upon all, papists alone excepted.

It was apparent that James was determined to remove all limits to the royal prerogative and to force upon Scotland his own religion. But the time had not yet come for an avowal of his design to root out the established faith; for though many were ready to promise abject submission to the king’s will, he knew the nation was at heart decidedly Protestant and that his throne would be endangered if he openly attacked the Church. The better to conceal his real and ultimate purpose, an indemnity was published, which was, however, so framed as to shut out all nonconformists from the advantages of the indulgence. The bishops and magistrates were instigated to employ still harsher measures toward the Presbyterians, and the same murderous system which, before the death of his brother, had excited the greatest horror, was continued. Drummond, one of the most cruel of the generals, was given a commission authorizing him to hold courts at his pleasure, to exact fines, and to inflict summary punishment upon all persons who had performed any of the most common acts of humanity for the proscribed, and to call to his assistance the “Highland Host”—soldiers composed of the very refuse of society in that uncivilized region. This part of Scotland, being now put under military law, was exposed to all the excesses and to the devastation which would naturally be committed by undisciplined and savage men, guided by passion and stimulated by love of plunder.

While this infamous persecution was in progress, intelligence was received that the earl of Argyle had left Holland, and had entered the kingdom “for the purpose of recovering the religion, rights and liberties” of the people. This dangerous enterprise was undertaken without proper consultation or preparation, the earl expecting that his rank and personal influence, combined with the justice of the cause, would induce the disaffected to flock to his standard. He soon found that he had greatly erred in his estimate of the assistance expected. He was distrusted by the Covenanters, both as to his principles and his military talents, and they refused to unite with him. His own forces, few in number and much dispirited, were soon dispersed, and their leader, having been taken prisoner, was brought in triumph to Edinburgh, where he was afterward executed. The intrepidity and tranquillity of spirit with which the earl met his fate served to deepen the impression in the public mind of his patriotism and his personal piety, and to cause him to be regarded as a noble martyr in the sacred cause of civil and religious liberty.

When the apprehension occasioned by the rebellion had passed away, the persecution against the Presbyterians was renewed with merciless severity, for the king believed that they were secretly friendly to Argyle, though they had declined to join his standard. Multitudes were forced into banishment, many of them after their persons had been disfigured by torture; others were put into dark subterranean dungeons full of mire and filth, where they were denied every comfort, and where many of them died for want of food and air; others still were wantonly murdered in the fields and their families stripped of all their possessions. But there was soon to be an end to these fiend-like outrages, and we are to be spared the recital of horrors that make humanity shudder. Although some instances of cruelty occurred in the two following years, a change in the government took place which happily brought immediate relief to those who had endured all things, not even “counting their lives dear unto them,” in order to uphold constitutional liberty and the right to worship their Maker as their enlightened consciences dictated.

The king, through his exterminating process with the Covenanters, had so far reduced the number of his victims, and had succeeded in so enlarging his prerogative by means of a purely prelatic Parliament, that he believed the time had come when he could with safety enter upon his schemes in favor of popery. Having already, as we have seen, exempted the papists from the operation of the Test oath, his next step was to remove all their civil disabilities. But the English Parliament refused to repeal the penal statutes against them, believing that if tolerated they would subvert the religion of the kingdom. Foiled in England, James had recourse to the Parliament of Scotland. At last, however, some of this obsequious body saw the danger which threatened. Even the subservient prelates who had been most forward in offering the incense of non-resistance to the royal nostrils when the king’s enemies were theirs, were now convinced that if the penal statutes against Roman Catholics should be repealed, and all offices of trust and authority be opened to them, the Church of Rome, with all its intolerance and superstitions, would soon be restored. Laying aside, therefore, their animosities to the Presbyterians, they joined them in resisting the demands of a popish ruler.

The most that could be wrung from the Parliament by the king’s commissioner was that His Majesty’s commands would be taken into “serious and dutiful consideration,” all being agreed that papists should be protected in their civil rights and should be free from punishment for privately exercising their religion. No compromise was proposed or made that could endanger the Protestant faith, and it was, moreover, enacted that the statutes which the king wished set aside “should continue in full force, strength and effect.” The Parliament, proving unyielding, was prorogued, and King James sent a letter to the council, in which he claimed “his undoubted right and prerogative” to “take the Roman Catholics under his royal protection, allowing to them the free exercise of their religion and giving to them the chapel of Holyrood House for a place of public worship.” He thus wielded in behalf of popery the formidable weapon which had been placed in his hands by the prelatic party, who had so repeatedly declared that the will of the sovereign was the fountain of all law, which no subject could question or resist.

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