Letters on ‘Republicanism in Dundee’ (6 – 27 May, 1871)

Republicanism was in people’s minds at the start of 1871 following a short lived revolutionary government in Paris, and in April a Republican demonstration in Hyde Park. In Dundee a Republican Club was founded in a meeting at the start of May, and this was the focus of several letters to the People’s Journal. Two mocking, sarcastic letters were sent in by someone writing as if they were the Prussian Anacharsis Clootz, and concerns about Secularism within the Republican movement were debated. “What, in the name of intellectual mediocrity, is the use of a crowned head?” is perhaps a highlight of these attacks and counter attacks. Two articles about the formation and early meetings of the Republican club will appear below, hopefully giving some context to some of the more personal attacks by “Clootz”.

Republicanism in Dundee [Published 6 May, 1871]

Sir,—We never know our great men till some crisis supervenes to draw them from their obscurity. Had that Bismarck of his time, Lord Strafford, been content to walk in the laws which were set before him, the world might never have heard of Old Noll, and Hampden might have died a peaceful country squire. But great times, great men. We live in great times, and surely need great men. By a stupid and fanatical adherence to her old laws, Great Britain has managed to pass unscathed through the various political earthquakes which have shaken Europe to its centre, swept thrones away and left fair cities at the mercy of picturesque but very dirty mobs. The vulgarity of this is not to be tolerated by our village Hampdens. That the middle classes of a petty I insignificant island should go on amassing wealth, and the working classes be yearly bettering thier condition, is an insult to the understanding of those who having from large and liberal-heartedness gone in for an order of things diametrically opposed to that on which our tiresome prosperity is based, find that the old way still conducts men to very comfortable goals. People under our well-regulated Monarchical Government are happy and prosperous, but dull. Let us overthrow the Monarchy—establish the Republic, especially the Red Republic; and if they cease to be prosperous and happy, they will live lives of glorious excitement—up to the day and down tomorrow, as the local Cluseret or Dombrowski may be the idol for the moment.

The foregoing sentences may seem to some an exaggeration of the rational of Republicanism in this country. But let any calm mind turn the question over for a few minutes, and the conclusion will instinctively crop up that it is impossible to find a better argument for overturning the existing form of government.

Our vulgar prosperity brought about by our loyalty having therefore become intolerable, a great crisis has arrived. I never saw a crisis, but I can fancy that it is something very terrible. Happy is it for British humanity that men able to cope with the crisis have arisen. All the long and dark winter of our ignorance is flying before the red lantern of Republicanism. It must be a proud thing for Scotland to know that Dundee led the van towards Sans Culottism, headed by men like Mr Sutherland, who, hitherto having lived by a prejudice in favour of Culottism, cannot but be deemed disinterested in championing the converse of that prudish habit. Let us note, too, with thankfulness how the providential crisis has evolved the very men necessary for the pioneering work. You never find Republicanism shoving square men into round holes. Carping critics say that though round the men are usually too small for the holes, and so fall through into the limbo of forgetfulness. But that is slander, of course.

Mr Peter Fleming, emigration agent, has his role all made. In all countries the establishment of a Republic has always given a great stimulus to emigration. The ungrateful aristocrats—and indeed all humdrum, respectable people who, as Bailie Nicol Jarvie observes, have “breeks on their hinnerlans and purses in their pouches”—become afflicted with stampede whenever red flags, Phrygian caps, and the usual paraphernalia of Communism appear. Who so fitted for the post of superintending John Bull’s run to more prosaic countries than Mr Peter Fleming? I noticed lately that this gentleman had added to his business the task of assisting owners of property to transfer it to other hands. His experience on this line must be of immense benefit to him when he is controlling the skedaddle of house-proprietors, fund-holders, and land-owners.

Mr A.G. Anderson, hairdresser, must also full a high place in the new Republic. Shaving and shearing, or at least the superintending of the same, formed such a large part of the duty of the Robespierres and the Marats of other times that if the new Republic at all resembles its predecessors, barbers must have a deal to do in shaving the “hairystocracy.” as Mr Odger would say.

Mr Bennett, shoemaker, cannot be passed over. To do so would be heresy against the all-pervading faith in leather. As human uppers, in the shape of privileged classes, will be swept away, and man’s sole claim to distinction will be his understanding, it is clear that one who has supplied so many people with understandings would be grossly misunderstood if he were left in obscurity. What I would propose is this—Mr Bennett’s long familiarity with Wellingtons and Bluchers emphatically points him out as the commander-in-chief of the armies of the Republic.

Them, we have Mr Constantine M’Caffery, a gentleman of greater eloquence than even George Robins. The only drawback he has is his truly Imperial name. It was too bad of his parents to send a sucking Republican into the world handicapped by a name which is redolent of purple and clean linen. Mr M’Caffery, notwithstanding his name, will, I have no doubt, do his duty in the station of life into which it shall please the Republic to call him, which clearly will be to bring to the hammer the Windsor Castles, the Buckingham, St James’, Holyrood, and Balmoral Palaces. When the time comes the M’Caffery will go orth, like his Imperial namesake, holding aloft his hammer by way of Labarum, and shouting the same war cry, “Under this sign I conquer.”

The modesty of Mr George Drummond in setting himself down as a “labourer” would seem to render it difficult to allocate his office. But, on the contrary, his designation facilitates my task. We have it on very high authority that laborare est orare. Mr Drummond will therefore become Chief Llama of the Republic.

A number of offices would still remain for occupancy. The three tailors of Tooley Street would fill three gaps, and the union berths could be occupied by those ubiquitous personages, the Messrs Tag, Rag, and Bobtail, with their numerous families. Wishing our local Republicans the reward they richly merit, I am, &c.,

Anacharsis Clootz.


Reply to “Anacharsis Clootz” [Published 13 May, 1871]

Sir,—I am not surprised to find in Saturday’s issue of the People’s Journal a scribbler under the cognomen of “Clootz” attempting to enlighten the readers of the Journal anent Monarchy versus Republicanism. He is not one of the people at all events, and, being incapable, by his own showing, of blasting a principle, he attacks its advocates through medium of a newspaper. He contemptuously disdains the idea of a hairdresser, a shoemaker, or a labourer coming boldly forward and asserting his sincere and honest belief in a Republican form of government as being at once the cheapest and the best. Let us for a moment turn our mind’s eye on the placid and flourishing Republic of the West, and, while doing so, listen while you hear “Clootz” affecting to sneer at the founders of the great Commonwealth—the Yankee farmer, the printer, and the staymaker. He tells us how Great Britain has passed unscathed through the various political earthquakes which have shaken Europe to its centre, swept thrones away, and left cities at the mercy of picturesque but very dirty mobs. Because forsooth, this king’s evil is so ancient a disease, “Clootz” declares the antiquity of a monarch ought to prevent the possibility of a change. Imbecile nonsense. Change cannot come too soon, nor can deep-rooted abuses be eradicated too early. What, in the name of intellectual mediocrity, is the use of a crowned head? Does he make laws? No; he can only sanction them after they are made. Has any one mortal sufficient mental power to perceive the entire working, the varied effects of good or bad laws? No, unless his position is such that he is one who obeys them—one of the people. How, then, can a king or any singly mortal sanction laws? ‘Tis an absurdity. None can sanction laws but the public voice, the majority of those who obey them. I would be taking up too much space in your valuable paper in showing that this Great Britain remains not unscathed, as history can tell. Vide the many interruptions, rebellions &c.—the 12th of December 1653, and 4th of July 1776.—I am, &c.,

An Operative Mason.


Republicanism in Dundee [Published 20 May, 1871]

Sir,—Having taken some little interest in the formation of the Dundee Republican Club, and, and being also anxious that such Club should, as far as possible, be in its character such as any of our working men could without any restraint become members. That such is not the case at present is patent to any one who knows anything of the parties who have taken an active part in the formation of this Club, they being in many instances directly connected with the Secular body in Dundee; so much so, that to myself it seems likely that the purposes of this Club will be made subservient to the interest of the Secularists in Dundee.

A Notice of its formation I find the National Reformer, in which it is said that Mr Anderson, bookseller, suggested the propriety of this Club having connection with that in London, and his reason for this—that no opportunity might be given to parties of questionable character advocated their views, as none would then be engaged who could not show credentials as to their respectability from the Executive in London.

For this same reason I would be well pleased to see the Dundee Republican Club less Secular in its character—Secularism having, in my opinion, a rather questionable character in Dundee.—Yours truly,

Republican. (Dundee, May 15, 1871)

Sir,—For upwards of twenty years our “guid toon” has been visited by Republican lecturers, chiefly of the Bradlaugh school. From time to time gentlemen, and sometimes ladies, have occupied our platforms with a view of introducing some form of Republicanism. But the latest attempt baffles and beggars description. How any one can fall in with the party now figuring on the Republican stage is to me a mystery. All history and all experience are totally against the Secularists’ mode of government. Its advocates confess that they would, if they had the power, destroy religion root and branch. Well, what would follow? Mr Mill remarks that “antagonism of influences is absolutely necessary to progress.” But there could be no “antagonism of influences” if our government was based on Secularism. Fortunately for us, the intelligent minority of this country need be under no fear of being overwhelmed by Secularism. Bradlaugh, with all his faults, has done good service to the human race by honestly avowing what too many secularists are still concealing—viz., the tendency of Secularism. The bubble will burst by itself, if allowed the natural time.—I am, &c.,

O.L.M. (Dundee, 15 May, 1871)

Sir,—Everybody knows that I have had a good deal of experience in the working of Republican institutions. For a time at least, I was one of the pillars of the most truculent Republic the world has yet seen. The Republicans of Dundee must, therefore, be exceeding glad to learn that their initiatory proceedings have received the imprimatur of my approval.

I read with eager delight your account of the proceedings on Wednesday night in the Camperdown Hall. Liberty of discussion is a sound rule; it ought to be sacred, but with Republicans the liberty must be confined within limits. As a celebrated Irish orator says, it must be “a reciprocity all on one side.” A foolish set of people called the ancient Romans used to told that res publica were public affairs, and that every citizen had a right to see that such affairs were properly managed. There are, too, unreasoning people in this island who have the effrontery to assert that res publica can be as well attended to in a State which has for head a “Monarch” as in a State which has for head a “President,” if the people have only the capacity to understand their own affairs and will content themselves with lopping off excrescences from the constitution instead of applying the axe to its roots. A remembrance of this pestilential fallacy seems to have been simmering in the brain of the poxious fellow who had the impious presumption to participate in Wednesday night’s discussion. How I chuckled when I read that he had been expelled. Nothing could be more insulting to a meeting of Republicans than to insinuate that the first duty they owed was to their families. Modern Republicans are be no means the men who to “family give up what is meant for mankind.” Everybody remembers with what Spartan-like heroism the London Republicans who led the forlorn hope that threw down the Park railings left his wife and children to starve, while he immolated himself at the shrine of Beales and Bacchus. A true Modern Republican must, like Artemus Ward, be prepared to sacrifice every blood relation rather than tolerate monarchy. An ancient writer of that stupid class called moral philosophers has observed that the family is the unit of the nation, and that a nation of well governed families must be a nation that is well governed. But no true Republican troubles himself with fusty old maxims like this. Therefore hustle to the door every heretic who dares to revive them.

It was also refreshing to me to note the loft tone the local Republicans adopted towards the press. An atmosphere of unwholesome vapour weakens the body; publicity and truthful reporting form an unwholesome atmosphere or Republicanism in a monarchical country. Clearly, then, the first thing Republicans have to do is to bully reports into a proper fit of forgetfulness of what is passing around them. Should the reporters be obstinately bigotted [sic] in their determination to tell the truth and shame the d—, I mean the first Republican, as the hard-hearted reporters of your journal have done, that is one of the unpleasant concomitants of embryo Republicanism which must be endured. Let my friends take heart. The day may come when Scotch Republicans can treat the Advertiser and the Scotsman as the Cluserets and the Bergerets have treated the Parisian press.

Where there was so much to praise, I may perhaps be excused for pointing out one slight blemish. A gushing Republican suggested as a reason why the recalcitrant alluded to above should be expelled, the fact that “he hadna a saxpence.” This was rash language, and I trust the other members of the Club will do all in thier power to prune such exuberance. If everybody who “hasn’t a saxpence” is to be refused admission, then I am afraid that the Republicans of Dundee may be counted, like angels’ visits, “few and far between.” For it cannot be denied that there is a pernicious influence exercised by a plethora of “saxpences,” which renders their unfortunate possessors peculiarly unsusceptible to the influence of Republicanism. An illustrious Caledonian bard sings—

“When I hae a saxpence under my thoom,

I’ll get credit in ilka toon;

But when I am puir

They bid me gae bye,

Whilk is hard for the thole

When the body is dry.”

Now, if the Republicans are to imitate the example of the Publicans, I really do not see how the sons sans sixpenny people are to be bettered. Errors such as these are often found cropping up in new societies, but they must be avoided as much as possible.—I am, &c.,

Anacharsis Clootz.


Republicanism in Dundee [Published 27 May, 1871]

Sir,— The letters signed “Republican” and “O.L.M.” which appeared in your columns last week are truly pitiable and contemptible comment on our boasted privileges of “civil and religious liberty.” It is such intolerant and narrow-minded persons as the writers of those letters who are obstructives of every movement with which they pretend to sympathise.

Hitherto, I have looked upon Republicanism as a broad ground upon which persons of every variety of religious belief could unite and work harmoniously together, and that the Secularist, Christian, Mahommedan, or Hindoo had no more right to introduce his religious opinions than “Republican” or “O.L.M.” would have to introduce teetotalism or any other ism in which they were particularly interested; but because there are a few persons who—rightly or wrongly, that is their business—differ from them in thier views of religion, no working man, they say, should become a member of the Dundee Republican Club. Your correspondents are, doubtless, in thier own estimation, very liberal-minded persons, and would in all probability consider it an insult were I to refuse to co-operate with them because they differ from me in thier religious belief. Yet they should be able to see that “what serves for sauce to the goose should also answer the same purpose for the gander.” As a sample of the shifts to which such intolerant persons are driven in thier endeavours to sow dissension, “Republican” says “he is afraid the interests of the club will be made subservient to the interests of the Secularists.” The absurdity of this statement will be at once apparent when I state that out of the ninety members composing this club, only some half-a-dozen are Secularists. “Republican” must therefore either believe that the half-dozen are extraordinary clever fellows, or that the other eighty-four members the veriest fools in existence.

The Secularists of Dundee are also stigmatised in a rather blundering way, with being rather questionable characters. It would be worth while to know what “Republican” considers as questionable character. I do not know who he is; but whoever he may be, I have not the slightest objection to allow my moral character to be compared with his at any time; and he may rest assured that if I or any other member of the Secular Society did anything of a questionable character, we would not be allowed to remain members of that Society. I hope therefore, he will give some reasons for the opinion he has formed of us. It may be possible that there are some fallen angels amongst us; if so, it has been previous to their joining our Society, as I am confident there has been nothing done by any member of a very questionable nature since his summons to membership.

“O.I.M.,” is evidently one of those persons who “rush into print” without knowing what they are writing about. He quotes form Mr Mill that “if there were no antagonistic influences, there would be no progress,” and he very stupidly asks, “Where would the antagonistic influences be if our government was based on secularism?”

Look in your dictionary, “O.L.M.,” and you will find that the meaning of the word secular is the things pertaining to the affairs of this life. Does “O.L.M.,” believe there are no antagonistic influences in the affairs of this life except religion? If he does his mental vision must be sadly obscured indeed.— Yours truly.

A Secularist.

The following are two articles on the formation of the Republican Club. Here is the first, published on the 6 May, 1871.

Meeting of Republicans in Dundee.—A meeting of Republicans, called by advertisement, was held in Lambs Hotel on Wednesday, with the view of forming a Republican Club or Association. There were about 130 present. Mr George Walker, slater, was called to the chair, and Mr Constantine M’Caffrey, auctioneer, was appointed Clerk. The Chairman read the rules of a Birmingham Association, whereafter a Committee—consisting of Mr A.G. Anderson, hairdresser; Mr John Sutherland, spinning-overseer; Mr Peter Fleming, emigration agent; Mr Geo. Walker, slater; and Mr Geo. Drummond, labourer—was appointed to prepare rules, to be submitted to another meeting for approval. It was suggested that the Committee should consult a lawyer as to the legality of the name “Republican Club” or “Republican Association,” and it was pointed out that by-and-bye the Club or Association might rent a house, a portion of which would be set apart as a library and reading-room, the other portion of it being occupied by one of their members, who could look after the library and reading-room. During the evening the Republican newspaper, which has been recently started, had a large sale; and by the close of the meeting 66 members had enrolled themselves.

And here is the second published the next week, on the 13th. It seems the first meeting had to deal with a disruptive element.

On Wednesday a meeting of Republicans was held in the Camperdown Hall, Barrack Street—Mr George Walker, slater, presiding. About 100 persons were present. Before proceeding with the business upwards of twenty new members gave in their names. The minutes of the former meeting having been moved, seconded, and unanimously adopted, the Chairman said they were all agreed that it was necessary to form a Republican Club to collect information on a subject which, it appeared to him—and he had no doubt to every other person at all posted up in the programme of Republicanism—was the only ground work on which they could build the future greatness of this great country, and the only means whereby they could overcome the vast amount of pauperism that hung like a millstone about their necks. When he said pauperism he did not restrict it to the meaning in which the term was ordinarily applied—to those boarding in the east and west ends of the town—but he likewise included those at the other end of society. (Applause.) He hoped every one present would come forward and sign his name, so that they might be a band of brothers working together for one grand object. (Loud applause.) Mr Peter Fleming said the Committee appointed to draw up rules had done so. The rules were nearly identical to those of the Birmingham Club. The Committee had likewise consulted a legal gentleman of high standing in town in regard to the use of the words “Club,” “Society,” and “Association.” He frankly stated that he could give no advice in the matter, nor did he believe that any other gentleman in the locality could. The Committee recommend the word Club should be retained, as it appeared to them the least objectionable of any of those proposed. In forming the rules they had had in view—in the event of the movement becoming more wide-spread—the formation of a central league in London or some or other of the large towns and the probability that all the provincial Clubs would become branches of that centre and adopt theme rules. The rules were then gone over seriatim and unanimously adopted almost without alteration. One of them was that the Club should be called the “Dundee Republican Club,” and another set forth their object as “to unite Republicans in this town and neighbourhood; to collect books, papers, and information on Republicanism and Republican doings and institutions, and to correspond with Republicans in this and other countries; to promote all efforts in Parliament, on platforms, and in the press which have a tendency in the direction of Republicanism or which are in harmony with Republican principles; and to teach the best principles of civil government amongst mankind.” The following office-bearers were then appointed, viz, :—Mr Peter Fleming, emigration agent, President; Mr George Walker, slater, Vice-President; Mr Thomas Bennet, shoemake, Treasurer; Mr John Sutherland, spinning overseer, Secretary; and Mr David Taylor, overseer, Librarian. A Committee of ten members was also elected. A party who had spoken on several occasions during the evening here made some remark. A member proposed that he should be put out, as he had been annoying those round him all the evening. The party alluded to said he had great pleasure in seconding the motion, and that of course he could go out. He here rose to proceed to the door, but when he got to the end of the form on which he had been sitting he turned and said he had to go out because he had been speaking his own ideas. One of their rules was that all questions should be open for discussion. The Chairman—That will do. The Man—No, it won’t do. A Voice—He is not a member. The Man—It does not matter a d— whether he is a member or not; he has a right for discussion. A Voice—He hasna a sixpence. The Man—You came here for Republicanism; but when I want Republicanism I go to my own fireside, and commence it there. The Chairman—You have no voice here. The Man—You speak about Republicanism here; and you spend about sixty or seventy millions on drink. You speak about legislation; but you should take legislation to your own fireside. A Member—Gentlemen, this is a specimen of monarchical government. (Laughter.) The man, who had during the foregoing been moving by degrees to the door was then forced out of the hall. Mr John Sutherland, pattern-maker, said if any account of the affair went forth to the newspapers next day he hoped the truth would be told, and nothing more. (Hear, hear, and applause). The reporters came to such meetings as the present often for purposes of vilifying them. He trusted the Committee would take the mater up, and if they (the reporters) did not keep strictly to the truth call them to account. (Applause.) Their meeting had been a most orderly one. Until that man had come in the meeting as a whole had been most respectable. He hoped that whoever reported the proceedings would do so faithfully, or else they might hold their tongue. (Applause; and a Voice—”Or they won’t get back again.”) It then was agreed that no one the worse of liquor should have admission to any of their meetings. A vote of thanks was passed to the Committee for drawing up the rules, and a like compliment to the Chairman terminated the proceedings. The membership of the Club now numbers about one hundred.

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