National Tartan Day
Though it had its beginnings much earlier, it wasn’t until 2006 that I first realized the respect with which National Tartan Day was being treated across the United States. In that year, I met Robert Murdoch, who was about mid-way through his long tenure as National Chairman.
I learned that this special day has slowly developed into what would become a tribute to Scots in America and around the world, and also to the role the Declaration of Arbroath played as a pattern for the writing of the United States Declaration of Independence.
The Arbroath document accompanied Robert Bruce’s ascension to the throne of Scotland after many years of fighting for Scottish freedom from England – a task he took up after the death of William Wallace. These two men are perhaps the two most revered heroes of Scotland. Their statues, in fact, grace either side of the gate entrance to Edinburgh Castle.
Even though Bruce had sacrificed much for his country, including losing members of his immediate family, living in deprivation for many years, and risking his life numerous times . . . with all this, the Arbroath letter to the Pope still carried the warning that even Bruce would be replaced if he did not honor the will of the people.
This type of limitation was nearly unheard of in the history of royalty. The exact words are:
“Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
There has been much written about not only the similarities between the thoughts in these two famous declarations, but also about the similarity of the Declaration of Arbroath to wording and passages in all of the U.S. founding documents.
When in Washington, DC, this past January, I viewed the three main founding documents - The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and The Constitution. It was simply awe-inspiring to see the actual handwriting – not a copy or facsimile - but the actual handwriting of Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and so many others who were risking life and fortune, much like Robert Bruce did so many years earlier, for the cause of freedom. While there are some legends that Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were shown the Declaration of Arbroath before they wrote the U.S. declaration, there is no solid evidence.
Jefferson had at least some Scottish blood, through the Keith family whose name appears on the 1320 declaration, but it is not known whether either man knew the contents of the Arbroath letter. It remains a mystery as to how so many ideas, words and phrases were transpose from one document to another.
It should be said that there were intermediate documents which carried forward these same ideas of freedom, not the least of which are the Westmoreland (PA) Resolves and the Mecklenburg (NC) Declaration, both pre-dating the Declaration of Independence by one year.
There was an even earlier and perhaps “first” declaration of independence by Scots who had come to America by way of Ireland.
In 1743, in a small Presbyterian church known as Middle Octoraro, located in eastern Pennsylvania, many “Scotch-Irish” families from neighboring churches gathered under the leadership of one of the great unsung heroes of the American Revolution – Rev. Alexander Craighead – to celebrate the Scottish National Covenant, which reinforced the Declaration of Arbroath with the idea that the king served pretty much at the whim of his people. None other than Benjamin Franklin, a shirt tail relative of Craighead, reported on this fiery preacher’s call for independence from the English king.
The Craighead family story, along with that of Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun and others with links to this piece of the Scotch-Irish diaspora, is a story for another time.
For now, let it be sufficient to repeat the declaration made November 11, 1743, in frontier Pennsylvania, by the Celtic forefathers of those who fought the American Revolution.
With revered family swords raised in defiance, these long-suffering people declared –
“Some imagine that the sword is drawn for fear of man . . . some pretend that it is drawn in rebellion . . . but the reason of the sword’s being drawn is because our renowned ancestors were constrained to draw the sword in the defense of their own freedom. Our drawing of the sword is to testify to the world that we are one in judgment with them, and that we are, this day, willing to maintain the same war in defending ourselves against all opposers thereof, although such defense should cost us our lives.”
Yes! The idea of personal freedom is as old as the freedom fighters of the Highlands, islands and moors of Scotland and the glens and meadows of Ireland. It manifested itself through many battles in both countries, including those fought by Robert Bruce, and was carried to America, where Celts led the charge for freedom for the people of the United States of America.
National Tartan Day is the celebration of that inner quest to breath free under the yoke of no government-mandated religion or royal dynasty.