A Model for the American Declaration of Independence:
Tartan Day Tribute to 1320 A.D. Declaration of Arbroath
By B. R. Forbes
Reprinted by permission from the Spring/Summer 1999 edition, #219, of the Newsletter of the St. Andrew’s Society of Washington D.C.
Scotland expelled the English armies under Edward II with its victory at Bannockburn in 1314 and with the recapture of Berwick in
1319. However, the English did not give up and mounted countless attacks into Robert the Bruce’s Scotland. The Pope had not accepted Scottish independence, perhaps partially because Robert the Bruce had been excommunicated for killing John Comyn in a church in Dumfries in 1306.
Thus the Declaration of Arbroath was prepared as a formal Declaration of Independence. It was drawn up in Arbroath Abbey on the 6th April 1320, most likely by the Abbot, Bernard de Linton, who was also the Chancellor of Scotland. The Declaration urged the Pope to deny the English claim on Scotland. According to John Prebble (The Lion in the North: One Thousand Years of Scotland’s History):
In its mixture of defiance and supplication, nonsensical history and noble thought, two things make the Declaration of Arbroath the most important document in Scottish history.
Firstly it set the will and the wishes of the people above the King. Though they were bound to him ‘both by law and by his merits’ it was so that their freedom might be maintained. If he betrayed them he would be removed and replaced…
Secondly, the manifesto affirmed the nation’s independence in a way no battle could, and justified it with a truth that is beyond nation and race. Man has a right to freedom and a duty to defend it with his life.
The original, delivered to the Pope in Avignon is lost, but was acknowledged on 28th August 1320. The Pope wrote to Edward II urging him to make peace, although it was not until 1324 that the Pope addressed Robert Bruce as King. Finally, in 1328, Edward III formally recognized King Robert’s title and the independence of Scotland.
The Declaration of Arbroath: Excerpts
…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.
…May it please you to admonish and exhort the King of the English, who ought to be satisfied with what belongs to him since England used once to be enough for seven kings or more, to leave us Scots in peace, who live in this poor little Scotland, beyond which there is no dwelling-place at all, and covet nothing but our own. We are sincerely willing to do anything for him, having regard to our condition, that we can, to win peace for ourselves.