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Thomas Muir

(1765—1799) political reformer


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(1765–99), prominent radical during the political agitation inspired by the French Revolution. Born and educated in Glasgow, he completed his studies in Edinburgh and was called to the Bar in 1787. Energetic and earnest, he became active in the restricted reforming circles of the time. When the Friends of the People, a movement originating in London, extended into Scotland, Muir helped to found its branch in Glasgow in 1792 and was chosen a delegate to its Scottish convention. He emerged as leader of its smaller, less moderate faction. He was also in touch with the United Irishmen and he read out to the convention an address from them. It called for a joint campaign in favour of reform by Scotsmen and Irishmen and expressed nationalistic sentiments which Muir endorsed. As a result he was arrested for sedition early in 1793. He compounded his offence by going to Paris while on bail to witness the Revolution at first hand. France meanwhile declared war on Britain and he had great difficulty in getting back. At his trial in August he faced a hostile jury and the implacable Lord Braxfield, determined to make an example of him. Muir got fourteen years' transportation, a sentence regarded on every hand as inhumanely harsh. Yet it was allowed to stand and he arrived at Botany Bay in 1795 (see Australia). He stayed only a few months before he managed to escape on a merchant's ship. He sailed to North America, then made his way through Mexico and Cuba to Spain. The vessel on which he entered Cadiz was attacked by ships of the British blockade and Muir suffered severe wounds. He went to Paris to be greeted as a revolutionary hero, but his efforts to encourage the French to invade Scotland came to nothing, and he died in drunken obscurity.

From The Oxford Companion to Scottish History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.


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