Item 1968-004/001/(1)/20 - Letter written by Sir Archibald Alison to Maitland : p. 9

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Letter written by Sir Archibald Alison to Maitland : p. 9

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  • December 28, 1852 (Creation)

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Sir Archibald Alison, first baronet, historian and lawyer, was born on December 29, 1792. He attended the University of Edinburgh in 1805, studied law from 1810, and was called to the bar on December 8, 1814. He then travelled and collected original sources later used in his historical work. In 1822 the tory lord advocate, Sir William Rae, made Alison an advocate-depute, most junior of the Scottish law officers. In 1830 the whigs took office and dismissed all appointees of the previous government. With his income vanished he turned to writing, notably in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, to which during two decades he contributed at least fifty articles. They ranged over high tory themes, with emphasis on an anti-Malthusian view of population, on the doctrines of the banking school and, the French Revolution. Alison made his name with a series of thirteen articles in Blackwood's, from January 1831 to January 1832 which, inevitably, linked parliamentary reform with the French revolution of 1830. He elaborated these sombre theses in the ten volumes of his History of Europe during the French Revolution (1833–42). Alison contrived to become, in this golden age of whig historiography, influential in the cause of the opposing ideology. Meanwhile, in spite of this literary production, Alison had resumed a public career. He did so not in national politics, but at a local level in the west of Scotland accepting the post of sheriff of Lanarkshire. In February 1835 he moved to Glasgow and took up residence at Possil House. In 1837 recession brought a wave of strikes around Glasgow, above all among weavers. When a strike-breaker was murdered, Alison arrested the whole leadership of the weavers' union and had them successfully tried in January 1838. He drew sweeping conclusions in an article entitled ‘The practical working of trades unions’ (Blackwood, 43, 1838). By his actions in 1837-8 Alison all but succeeded in strangling the Scottish unions at birth, and they never really recovered until the end of the century. Alison took a close interest in the American Civil War, as a defender of slavery and partisan of the Confederacy despite his humanitarian instincts. He died on May 23, 1867.

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