The Liberty Tree – The Stirring Story of Thomas Muir And Scotland’s First Fight For Democracy is by Murray Armstrong
In 2010, the Scottish Parliament was presented with a petition calling for a sculpture to the Scottish political activist, democrat and agitator Thomas Muir to be erected in the vicinity of Holyrood. In the petition, Muir was described as the “founding father of modern Scottish Democracy”.
Murray Armstrong was born in Airdrie, Lanarkshire. He was a journalist who spent the final twenty-one years of his career at the Guardian which he joined in 1987 as a features sub-editor.
He was Associate Editor at the time of his early retirement in 2008 which he took with the express intention of writing about Thomas Muir having nurtured an interest in the man and his times for many years.
'The Liberty Tree' is a historical novel about the life and struggles of the Scottish Radical Thomas Muir (25 August 1765 – 26 January 1799).
At the same time the author recreates events using the actual recorded words of the participants (eg. the famous exchanges between Braxfield and Gerrald during the latter's trial) and as such 'The Liberty Tree' also stands as a vivid, well-researched historical account of the life of Thomas Muir.
Murray Armstrong talking at Word Power Books in Edinburgh about his book " The Liberty Tree", a stirring story of Thomas Muir and Scotland’s first fight for democracy.
Heard ye o’ the Tree o’ France,
And wat ye what’s the name o’ it?
Around it a’ the patriots dance,
Weel Europe kens the fame o’ it?
It stands where ance the Bastile stood,
A prison built by kings, man,
When superstition’s hellish brood
Kept France in leading-strings, man
From The Tree of Liberty by Robert Burns, written 1795 (published 1838).
"Murray Armstrong has written a wonderful book about the great Scottish radical reformer, Thomas Muir of Huntershill. Recreating events based on historical records, the book takes its title from Burns’s poem on the French Revolution.
"The year 1792 saw the creation of the reform group, The Friends of the People, and Thomas Muir, a young Glasgow lawyer, led its radical wing.
"At the age of 26 Muir led a national movement demanding universal male suffrage, when only a small minority — the men of property — had the right to vote. The summer of 1792 saw rioting in Edinburgh triggered by King George III’s birthday celebrations.
"The rioting spread throughout Scotland, in protest at the corrupt establishment at Westminster and its venal placemen in Edinburgh, notably Sir Henry Dundas, known disparagingly as “King Henry IX”.
"A champion of the French revolution, Muir was tried before a kangaroo court in Edinburgh in August 1793. He was charged with making seditious speeches and circulating Thomas Paine’s great pamphlet, The Rights of Man."
"Such a life might seem to render fictional portrayal redundant, but Murray Armstrong has devised in The Liberty Tree ‘a historical novel with scholarly apparatus attached’ in the words of Scottish Marxist historian, Neil Davidson. This innovative approach enables the construction of an integrated narrative of the life, times, movements and ideas of Thomas Muir, drawn from meticulous international research."
Image Credit: By Dumgoyne - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8457572