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Thomas Muir


1765 - 1799

Radical reformer. Born in Glasgow, the son of a merchant, Muir was educated at the Glasgow Grammar School and entered the University of Glasgow aged only ten. However, he became involved in a dispute with the Principal which resulted in his expulsion in 1783. He completed his legal education at the University of Edinburgh. Inspired by the French Revolution (1789), Muir became a critic of the system, believing the law was biased in favour of the rich. He defended poor clients free-of-charge and advocated legal and parliamentary reform. The government were worried by his activities and, fearful of revolution at home, arrested Muir and charged him with sedition. He was tried in Edinburgh by 'hanging judge' Lord Braxfield (1722-99) with a somewhat biased jury. Despite a speech which was long regarded as a fine example of English oratory, he was unsurprisingly found guilty and harshly sentenced to be transported to Australia for fourteen years.

President George Washington heard of his sentence and sent a ship to rescue him and take him to the newly formed American Republic. However the ship was wrecked and Muir was arrested by the Spanish as a spy. He was eventually released and crossed into France where he was created an Honorary Citizen. He died at Chantilly, near Paris. He and his fellow radicals are remembered by a large monument constructed in 1844 by the architect Thomas Hamilton (1784 - 1858) in Old Calton Burial Ground (Edinburgh), which also memorialises Muir's words: "I have devoted myself to the cause of the people. It is a good cause - it shall ultimately prevail - it shall finally triumph."

Muir is now remembered as the "Father of Scottish Democracy" and the Thomas Muir Heritage Trail connects places important in his life in North Glasgow and the Campsie Fells. There is also a memorial at his family home, Huntershill in Bishopbriggs.


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