The Price of Progress A History of Scotland


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The Price of Progress

Neil Oliver examines how, in the late 18th century, Scotland was transformed from a poor country into one of the richest nations on Earth.


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Culloden.

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In Scotland, no other name casts such a long shadow.

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The Jacobites' failure to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie

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to the British throne in 1746 was a catastrophe.

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While the rest of Britain now saw Scots as hated traitors,

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the defeat had left Scotland divided and bankrupt.

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But there was another less well-known Culloden,

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here in Jamaica.

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This beautiful place was once a sugar plantation.

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Many of them round here were owned by Jacobites

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who'd fled Scotland after their final defeat.

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But why travel all this way to re-invent yourself in a new life,

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while carrying with you all the baggage of the old one?

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Because the very name Culloden was to be a bloody reminder

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that they must never again allow themselves to be so humiliated.

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But rather than dwell on defeat, on the Britain that might have been,

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the exiled Jacobites started afresh.

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Jamaica was a land rich in resources, waiting to be exploited.

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From halfway across the world they helped rebuild Scotland,

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injecting it with wealth and new possibilities.

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It was the dawn of a new era, when Scotland made her mark on the world

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by exporting her most valuable commodities - her people and ideas.

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Ideas that would help start a revolution.

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After Culloden, there was chaos.

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17-year-old Jacobite John Wedderburn

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had been lucky to escape the battle with his life,

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but his father had been captured, his lands seized and sentenced to hang.

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Now young Wedderburn was on the run.

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He needed money, and he needed to disappear, fast.

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Dodging spies, sleeping in hedges, half-starved,

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Wedderburn found his way to Glasgow.

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There, he boarded a ship, destined for the Colonies.

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Young John Wedderburn's world had been turned upside down.

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A trip like this would've been terrifying for a boy who, after all,

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had spent his whole life living in Scotland.

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And even supposing he survived the harsh voyage, who knew where he would end up?

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After months at sea, John Wedderburn arrived here, in Jamaica.

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To Wedderburn, it must have seemed fierce and strange.

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Men as black as the earth working in fields filled with giant plants,

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the place splitting with heat.

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In spite of its otherworldliness, it was a British colony, a place

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where a young man with energy and enterprise could re-invent himself.

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But what as?

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As John Wedderburn was searching for his future abroad,

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another young Scot was hoping to find it at home.

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Adam Smith had been studying in England and missed the upheaval of the Jacobite rebellion.

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As the dust settled, he returned to a country at a crossroads.

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To many Scots, the past was a dark place.

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It was time to start again. This was the dawn of a modern age,

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an age that was ready to embrace new ideas and a new philosophy.

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From childhood, Adam Smith had questioned everything around him,

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even the existence of God.

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Now he was determined to make his mark in this new Scotland, as an academic.

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Rejecting Christianity as a student at Oxford,

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Smith set out to better understand human behaviour

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and how it impacted upon the codes and laws which governed society.

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At the time, it was radical, almost taboo.

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Smith argued that if God was removed from our understanding of the world,

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man's true nature would be revealed.

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He said that man's fundamental drive was not to please God, but to please himself,

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and, controversially, that this invisible hand of self-interest

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was what made for a healthy, productive society.

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The ideas contained in his lectures threatened to blow apart a world

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that had always been dominated by God.

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But just as Smith's reputation began to spread, something happened

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that would change both Smith's and Scotland's future forever.

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Europe's first World War.

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In 1756, a global war broke out, over trade.

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Until then, trading with colonies in America, Canada and the Caribbean

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had been a free-for-all,

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but with so many valuable resources at stake,

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Europe's leading powers fought to take control.

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The war lasted seven years and a million lives were lost,

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but eventually Britain prevailed, securing a trading empire

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that stretched across the Atlantic for a century to come.

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The British victory made a huge impact on

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one element of Scottish society - Glasgow's tobacco merchants.

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Suddenly the Colonies had opened up

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and the River Clyde was their gateway to the West.

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The Glasgow merchants rapidly became the wealthiest and most successful businessmen in Britain,

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outstripping their rivals in London and Bristol and gaining 50% of the world trade in tobacco.

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With their uniform of gold-topped canes and scarlet frock coats,

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they announced their presence as the country's first self-made men.

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These Tobacco Lords fascinated Adam Smith.

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They seemed to embody his ideas.

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They were the selfish, self-interested men

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he believed would benefit society.

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It seemed that the wealth created by these men

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was the key to generating improvement and progress in society.

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But Smith wanted to get closer. He wanted to learn

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precisely how these men made their money and how they spent it.

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You can imagine Adam Smith down here at the docks, watching all the frenzied activity.

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This was his first real experience of big business -

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a huge labour force pulling together to unload the ships,

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heaving barrels, hauling on fresh supplies.

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After the secluded cloisters of the university, the atmosphere here must have been overwhelming.

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For Smith, there would have been a resonance to this scene.

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Because it wasn't his first experience of seeing seafaring entrepreneurs.

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Smith had grown up in Kirkcaldy in Fife, where smuggling was rampant.

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His father was the local Customs officer,

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and had fought a losing battle against the smugglers

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who found ever more ingenious ways to evade the law.

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Adam Smith was left with the feeling that his father's interventions

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had been pointless, that nothing can stand in the way of self-interest.

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Making money was man's natural instinct.

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After observing the Glasgow merchants' trading empires at first hand,

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Smith concluded that what drove their ambition to succeed in business

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was an insatiable, stop-at-nothing desire to turn a profit.

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And he admired them for it.

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On the other side of the world, in Jamaica, Scottish entrepreneurs

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were also getting rich, John Wedderburn amongst them.

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It didn't take long for the Jacobite runaway to find his way.

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He settled here in the west of Jamaica near Montego Bay,

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and quickly set about finding the occupation that would make him his fortune - sugar.

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Running a sugar plantation was not a job for the faint-hearted,

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but before long Wedderburn was expanding his estates

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and amassing huge profits.

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John Wedderburn's estate lay just a few miles from the town of Culloden

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so he would regularly have passed this way.

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Within a couple of decades, a name synonymous with defeat and division

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had come to mean something quite different for the Scots in Jamaica.

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Money was beginning to heal the wounds

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for many exiles like Wedderburn.

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Having fled halfway across the globe,

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he was starting to live the life he once hoped to inherit in Scotland.

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John Wedderburn was becoming a comfortable landed gentleman.

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Just what kind of money are we talking about?

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How rich could you get?

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John Wedderburn got to own ten properties,

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um,

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all totalling over 17,000 acres of land.

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Of the 168,000 acres of land which was returned...

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-He had 10%...

-He had 10% of the land

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and he was the largest land-holder in that part of the world

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and could be seen as ranking as among the top five land-owners in this country.

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We have his will here,

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his will was probated and we have a copy at the Island Records Office.

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All his entire estate was valued at £300,000, Jamaican currency.

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In today's money, you are talking about £22 million sterling.

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That would be the value of their entire estate.

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-By any stretch of the imagination, he was a top dog.

-He was. He was.

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As Scottish settlers were making inroads into the Caribbean,

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Glasgow tobacco merchants were building on their success in America.

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Their transatlantic operation was tightly controlled

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by three mafia-like families - the Glassfords, Spiers and Cunninghames.

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Their fleets of lightweight ships

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could cross the Atlantic faster than any vessel had done before.

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Young William Cunninghame was heir to one of the big Glasgow firms.

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His job was to supervise the speedy turnaround of his father's ships.

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Time was money, so as soon as the cargo was unloaded here in Virginia,

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the ship was sent back to Scotland packed with barrels of tobacco.

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Here in Chesapeake Bay, between 1750 and 1770, The Cunninghame

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docked twice a year, full of goods to sell to the planters.

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It was young William's job to get rid of as many leather-bottomed chairs, golf clubs, silver teapots,

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cream jugs and china plates as he could sell from the company store.

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The purpose of the stores was not just to make more money -

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they were a means to control the supply and price of tobacco.

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Cunninghame was expected to find and persuade

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even the smallest and most far-flung growers to sell their tobacco.

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Demand for tobacco in Europe was outstripping the supply,

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and Scots traders were out to find every last leaf.

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Young men like William were hand-picked by the elders back in Glasgow,

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because they had specific qualities or qualifications.

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They had to be single, so they could devote all of their energies to the business.

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They had to be likeable and trustworthy so they could ingratiate themselves with the local community.

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They were under constant pressure to expand the business and to raise profits.

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So above all else, they had to be ruthless.

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On the same day every year, the local price of tobacco was decided,

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usually at the county courthouse.

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It was the most important day of the year.

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All the local growers turned up, and a heated exchange ensued.

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A market price was set depending on how good the harvest had been

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and what the demand was from Europe.

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It was a gentleman's agreement

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that everyone should stick to this price, no matter what.

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But William Cunninghame's company didn't get get rich playing by the rules. They played dirty.

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Cunninghame was instructed to ignore the market price and deal with the farmers directly.

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The firm back in Glasgow encouraged him to offer credit to farmers

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who were otherwise paid only once a year, at harvest time.

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The credit could take the form of a loan, or it could be a choice of the goods just brought in from Scotland.

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But it was a deal with the devil.

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Having taken the loan or the goods, the farmers were shackled to the merchants,

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and at harvest time those merchants could demand whatever price they wanted for the tobacco.

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It was commerce without conscience.

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Cunninghame and Company did well -

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they managed to beat the farmers down to 20% less than the market price, using the lure of credit.

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But there would be a price to pay in the long run.

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The local economy began to falter as the tobacco growers

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sank further and further into unsustainable levels of debt.

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By the 1770s, the farmers of Virginia and Maryland

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owed Scottish merchants over £1 million.

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Scottish business was booming, but it was sucking America dry.

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The Scots traders were described by one American farmer as "vile weeds,

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"which if cut down grow more fiercely".

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In truth they were clannish, mafia-like, and they put profit before ethics.

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Adam Smith considered them perfect examples

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of the kind of self-interested capitalists

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he believed were vital to bring forth wealth and progress.

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Smith thought greed was good, and these men were nothing if not very, very greedy.

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By the 1760s, Glasgow was beginning to look very different...for some.

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Adam Smith watched as the merchants ploughed fortunes into great houses,

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and the Merchant Quarter became an exclusive community

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on the edge of the city.

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Not content that their mansions were the most expensive houses

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ever to be built in the city, they went further.

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They helped the local burgh to build this church, St Andrew's,

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which was modelled on St Martin in the Field in London.

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It perfectly sums up their showiness, their conspicuous wealth,

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and their self-serving aspirations.

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The balconies were mahogany, imported from Honduras on one of their ships.

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After just six years in Virginia,

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William Cunninghame returned from the New World to the Old.

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In his short time overseas, he had been promoted to running the entire Virginia operation.

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He had proved himself in that ruthless world

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and now he returned to Glasgow to join the ranks of older merchants

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and to oversee the family firm in considerably more comfort -

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from home.

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As Scotland's trading empire grew,

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so did the reputation of the Scottish Enlightenment.

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The control of the harsh and repressive Scottish Kirk was waning

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and now a generation of intellectuals made the study of

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human nature, not God, their new religion.

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They made waves which rippled all the way across the Atlantic to America.

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One of the Colonies' leading lights, Benjamin Franklin,

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was keen to meet these radical young thinkers.

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During a trip to Scotland, he got the chance.

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Franklin's father was English and he had lived on both sides of the Atlantic,

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so he was familiar with the politics and the culture

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of both Britain and America.

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He had a brilliant mind, he could turn his hand to anything.

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He was a publisher, a musician, a scientist, a writer,

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and he was in Scotland to collect an honorary degree

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in law from the University of St Andrews.

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As both an agent and representative of the Colonies,

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Franklin was keen to discover how the Anglo-Scottish Union worked,

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what unity and strength it brought this emerging superpower.

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But after touring Scotland,

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Franklin gained quite a different impression of Great Britain.

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He told Scotland's finest minds one evening in 1759

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how all he'd seen was inequality and poverty.

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Among the guests was Adam Smith.

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Later, he put his thoughts in a letter to a friend.

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"I have lately made a tour through Ireland and Scotland.

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"In these countries a small part of the society are landlords, great noblemen and gentlemen,

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"extremely opulent, living in the highest affluence and magnificence.

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"The bulk of the people, tenants, extremely poor, living in the most sordid wretchedness

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"in dirty hovels of mud and straw, and clothed only in rags.

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"And the effect of this kind of civil society seems only to be,

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"the depressing multitudes below the savage state that a few may be raised above it."

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This trip was to have a profound effect on Franklin.

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He was disillusioned by what he saw in Scotland.

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Its union with England had not made it a thriving country.

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Men had no chance of being equal.

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At least America was a place where a man could succeed through his own efforts.

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America was unfettered by centuries of class division and corruption.

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It was a place of new beginnings,

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where there was real potential to create a civilized and fair society.

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Scotland was becoming more polarised than ever.

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Tobacco Lords like William Cunninghame were getting rich,

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but ordinary working people were not.

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Dr John Witherspoon was the minister of a church in Paisley

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and he worried that Scotland was now a place

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where his congregation struggled both materially and spiritually.

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COUGHING

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As their moral guide, he was hard-pressed to show them

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anything that was good or fair about the society they lived in.

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But he was more than just a minister.

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Witherspoon was also one of the leaders of the Popular party,

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a movement within the church opposed to the imperious influence of Scotland's elite classes.

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Although he was an educated man,

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he hated what he regarded as the louche, soft world of the Edinburgh intellectuals,

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who were handpicked by the same rich patrons who controlled the country with an unseen hand.

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He had become well-known for writing a satire

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lampooning the system of patronage amongst intellectuals.

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For Witherspoon, the ideas of Adam Smith and other leading lights of the Enlightenment

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were the ideas of the privileged few.

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They could afford to intellectual game-play and debate concepts as profound as the significance of God.

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In writing it, Witherspoon raised an uncomfortable question.

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What kind of society will we have

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if our responsibilities are set by man, and not by God?

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Out in Jamaica, just such a society had put down roots.

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Not only had it lost God, but it was fast descending into hell.

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This was the dark side of Scotland's progress to the modern age,

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because the engine driving both the tobacco and sugar industries was slavery.

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John Wedderburn, although a Christian man,

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knew that he could not plant, weed and tend his sugar canes

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and manage his acres of plantation without slaves.

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Every port in Jamaica in the 18th century

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had something called a "scramble".

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When ships docked bringing the newly enslaved from Africa,

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there was a rush to inspect them and pick the best and strongest for your plantation.

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It was much like farmers sizing up the best animals at an agricultural auction.

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John Wedderburn found such scrambles hard to face.

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Human beings were on display like cattle.

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Half had already died during the journey and many others,

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in the tight confines of the ship, had contracted diseases.

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But all of that was as nothing compared to

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the lives they were about to face,

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of back-breaking physical labour, and soul-destroying confinement.

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For all of his career as a sugar planter, Wedderburn had tried to turn a blind eye.

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But he did attend one scramble, in the spring of 1762.

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And in amongst the sorry crowd,

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he saw a young boy, only 12 or 13, that he found he couldn't ignore.

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He was called Joseph Knight, after the captain of the ship

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that had been his prison on the three-month journey from Guinea.

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He was now a commodity, for sale to the highest bidder.

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Joseph became Wedderburn's personal servant.

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Something about him appealed to Wedderburn.

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So he spared Joseph the hard labour in the fields,

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and had him brought inside instead to be trained up as a house boy.

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He learned to speak English, to read and write -

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Wedderburn even allowed him to be baptised.

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Knight became the focus for Wedderburn's personal struggle with slavery.

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Perhaps having one indoors that he treated well, almost humanly,

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allowed Wedderburn to ignore the hundreds

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that were no better than animals, whipped and chained in his cane fields.

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When Wedderburn was finally rich enough to return to his beloved Scotland, he took Joseph with him.

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He'd grown into a fine-looking man, and was a Christian by then as well,

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equal to any man in the eyes of God.

0:27:190:27:21

But he was still Wedderburn's slave.

0:27:210:27:24

Although John Wedderburn had returned to a country he had never stopped loving,

0:27:570:28:02

Joseph Knight was arriving in yet another place

0:28:020:28:05

that reminded him how far he was from home.

0:28:050:28:08

In Wedderburn's Perthshire mansion, Knight did odd jobs around the house.

0:28:250:28:30

He took his meals and slept below stairs along with the domestic staff.

0:28:300:28:34

But apart from his colour, there was one other crucial difference

0:28:340:28:38

that separated him from the rest of the servants. They were paid.

0:28:380:28:42

Knight felt lost.

0:29:070:29:09

He drew some comfort from a friendship with a housemaid called Annie Thomson,

0:29:090:29:13

but it was his only consolation.

0:29:130:29:15

He was now 24, educated, and restless.

0:29:150:29:19

He asked his master if he could learn a trade,

0:29:230:29:26

perhaps shaving and cutting hair, and Wedderburn agreed.

0:29:260:29:30

Knight was released for a few hours a week for training in the local town.

0:29:300:29:34

It was probably on one of those trips that he came across a newspaper

0:29:340:29:38

headlining a fascinating drama that was the talk of London.

0:29:380:29:41

An African slave named Somerset had taken his master to court

0:29:410:29:45

in a bid to gain his freedom.

0:29:450:29:47

He argued that anyone living in England was British,

0:29:470:29:51

and that all British citizens should be free men.

0:29:510:29:54

The Lords of the King's Bench were up in arms.

0:29:540:29:57

And Knight, reading carefully as he'd been taught to by his master,

0:29:570:30:01

would have been amazed to discover that Somerset had won.

0:30:010:30:04

As Knight dreamt of a new life as a free man,

0:30:190:30:22

the Reverend John Witherspoon gave up his old life in Scotland.

0:30:220:30:26

He'd been offered a fresh start in America, teaching at Princeton College, New Jersey.

0:30:260:30:31

But his wife thought he'd lost his mind.

0:30:330:30:36

For her, this wasn't a new life.

0:30:360:30:38

11 weeks at sea was more like a death sentence.

0:30:380:30:42

But Witherspoon knew it was time to go.

0:30:450:30:48

Scotland had gone soft on religion.

0:30:480:30:50

The influence of the church was waning here,

0:30:500:30:53

and Scotland was going to hell in a handcart.

0:30:530:30:56

It was becoming a country where commerce seemed to matter more than Christianity.

0:30:560:31:01

The place had lost its moral compass.

0:31:010:31:03

He had a point.

0:31:030:31:05

Witherspoon wasn't alone in starting a new life.

0:31:130:31:15

Scotland's rural communities were leaving en masse,

0:31:150:31:19

after years of hardship and poverty.

0:31:190:31:21

The famous literary figures Boswell and Johnson wrote a diary of their Highland travels.

0:31:210:31:27

They remarked on seeing a whole village celebrating

0:31:270:31:30

on the eve of their emigration, dancing a jig they called "America".

0:31:300:31:33

Johnson was later to describe the empty villages and broken communities

0:31:380:31:43

as "an epidemical fury of migration".

0:31:430:31:45

While the Colonies represented a new beginning for Witherspoon

0:31:500:31:53

and thousands of other rural Scots,

0:31:530:31:55

the bonds that tied America to Britain were beginning to look like shackles.

0:31:550:31:59

America viewed her British master with growing frustration.

0:32:010:32:05

Lack of representation at Westminster, coupled with increasing taxes on tobacco and imported goods,

0:32:050:32:11

fuelled resentment and talk of rebellion.

0:32:110:32:14

As Witherspoon would soon find out.

0:32:140:32:17

In spite of the darkening mood across America,

0:32:280:32:31

in the hallowed community of Princeton, Dr Witherspoon could not have received a warmer welcome.

0:32:310:32:36

All the students turned out to light up Nassau Hall,

0:32:380:32:41

the college's central building.

0:32:410:32:43

It was a glorious beginning to his career.

0:32:430:32:46

In that moment, he fell in love with the place, with its seriousness,

0:32:460:32:51

its sense of community, and its beauty.

0:32:510:32:54

It was a place where the new world could be shaped.

0:32:540:32:59

If there was one thing Witherspoon could be relied on to do,

0:33:010:33:04

it was to bring his boundless energy and enthusiasm to the job.

0:33:040:33:08

He lived up to his magnificent welcome, and straight away set about

0:33:080:33:11

spring cleaning the place, airing it and opening it up to new ideas.

0:33:110:33:17

His big obstacle was money.

0:33:190:33:22

When he arrived the college was in debt,

0:33:220:33:24

and, keen to keep the place independent and away from the meddling of patrons,

0:33:240:33:29

he set out as a one-man band to raise the funds himself.

0:33:290:33:33

Using all the charismatic charms he could muster,

0:33:350:33:39

he set out on an open-air preaching tour.

0:33:390:33:41

Witherspoon's style was unusual -

0:33:410:33:44

he spoke from the heart rather than the page and he drew people in

0:33:440:33:48

with a rare mix of emotion, common sense and great oratory.

0:33:480:33:53

In Williamsburg, Virginia,

0:33:550:33:56

Witherspoon raised the equivalent of £5,500 with just one sermon.

0:33:560:34:01

He quickly secured Princeton's future by expanding the library

0:34:010:34:04

and by funding new places for increasing numbers of students.

0:34:040:34:08

As well as raising money, he also unintentionally raised his own profile.

0:34:080:34:13

Beyond Princeton his reputation grew, both as a man of the people

0:34:130:34:17

and as an eloquent future leader.

0:34:170:34:19

Witherspoon had two ambitions for Princeton.

0:34:260:34:29

The first was to be a cutting-edge centre of learning.

0:34:290:34:33

He brought with him the Scottish Enlightenment's thirst for knowledge and understanding,

0:34:390:34:44

and he created a curriculum where students would read widely

0:34:440:34:48

and open their minds to all points of view.

0:34:480:34:51

The second was to rid his students of any false sense of entitlement.

0:34:510:34:55

Once a week he opened the place up for meetings,

0:34:550:34:59

inviting townsfolk to mix with students for lively debating sessions

0:34:590:35:02

that inspired camaraderie and democracy, and blew away the cobwebs of elitism.

0:35:020:35:08

In Witherspoon's new America, it would be education,

0:35:080:35:11

not social standing, that elevated men to great things.

0:35:110:35:16

In Perthshire, John Wedderburn's only ambition was to live the life of an aristocrat.

0:35:170:35:23

His sugar fortune had brought him Ballindean House,

0:35:230:35:27

and had ensured him a comfortable retirement.

0:35:270:35:30

Of all his staff, he was particularly pleased with Joseph Knight.

0:35:300:35:35

He felt that it had been an act of charity to rescue the boy.

0:35:350:35:40

But below stairs, all was not well.

0:35:430:35:47

Joseph Knight could not settle.

0:35:580:36:00

He didn't want to spend the rest of his life in domestic service.

0:36:000:36:03

In fact, he had already staked his claim to a different future.

0:36:030:36:08

Annie Thomson was pregnant with his child.

0:36:080:36:12

He wanted to be free to marry her, and have a family.

0:36:120:36:16

Knight broke the news to his master.

0:36:160:36:19

Uppermost in his mind was the case of Somerset, another African slave.

0:36:190:36:24

He was hopeful that Wedderburn would at least consider his liberty,

0:36:240:36:27

perhaps even give him his freedom. But Wedderburn was horrified.

0:36:270:36:32

Despite all the privileges and help he'd given Knight over the years,

0:36:320:36:35

all the skills that had endowed him with his independence of mind and spirit,

0:36:350:36:39

Wedderburn refused to let him go.

0:36:390:36:42

Somerset had been freed in London,

0:36:440:36:47

but Knight didn't know that the law was different in Scotland.

0:36:470:36:50

No slave had ever been freed here.

0:36:500:36:52

But he was so enraged by Wedderburn's refusal

0:36:520:36:55

that he made his mind up to leave.

0:36:550:36:58

He would elope with Annie Thompson the housemaid,

0:36:580:37:02

who had already been dismissed over her relationship with Knight.

0:37:020:37:06

Wedderburn found Knight packing his bags and summoned the magistrate.

0:37:090:37:13

He was arrested and taken to Perth gaol.

0:37:130:37:15

No doubt the chains and confinement reminded Knight of the earliest days of his slavery.

0:37:150:37:20

John Wedderburn, when pushed, had proved to be the kind of man

0:37:200:37:24

who was more interested in enjoying his own wealth and liberty

0:37:240:37:27

than offering it to others.

0:37:270:37:29

He had his limits, and Joseph Knight had pushed him to the very edge.

0:37:290:37:34

Joseph Knight had no money, no influence, nothing to win him his freedom.

0:37:400:37:45

Or so he thought.

0:37:450:37:47

But the Lord Advocate of Scotland, Henry Dundas,

0:37:470:37:50

was outraged by his case and offered to represent him.

0:37:500:37:53

The case went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh,

0:37:530:37:56

the highest court in Scotland.

0:37:560:37:58

For Dundas, it was the case of the century.

0:38:000:38:04

The rights and liberties of the British subject - it was the most controversial issue of the day.

0:38:040:38:09

England had just freed her first slave.

0:38:090:38:12

The Colonies were agitating for release from their British master.

0:38:120:38:15

Increasingly in Scotland, fundamental human rights were being acknowledged.

0:38:150:38:20

But what haunted liberal philosophers and thinkers was the knowledge

0:38:200:38:24

that Scotland's success and wealth depended on slavery.

0:38:240:38:28

The documents of the case have survived.

0:38:380:38:41

Both John Wedderburn and Joseph Knight recorded lengthy memorials,

0:38:410:38:45

stating their grievances in their own words,

0:38:450:38:47

to be used by the advocates and judges as evidence in court.

0:38:470:38:51

What details, what insights come out of this record?

0:38:510:38:55

A great amount of detail about the facts of the case.

0:38:550:38:59

Not only that, but the feelings involved.

0:38:590:39:01

John Wedderburn's hurt feelings.

0:39:010:39:05

He sees himself as a good master

0:39:050:39:08

and that Joseph Knight is somehow betraying the good treatment that he was given.

0:39:080:39:13

But on the other hand, Knight's own strong feelings of wanting to be emancipated from his status.

0:39:130:39:19

That is an amazing irony from our 21st-century perspective,

0:39:190:39:23

that the slave owner would be indignant about his behaviour being questioned.

0:39:230:39:28

Yes, that's right. He obviously felt he had strong rights in the case

0:39:280:39:32

and that he had done the decent thing.

0:39:320:39:35

What aspects of that could you show me in the paperwork?

0:39:350:39:40

One thing we can pick out is where Wedderburn talks about

0:39:400:39:45

the time when Joseph Knight had read in the newspapers

0:39:450:39:48

about the famous case decided by Lord Mansfield in England in 1772,

0:39:480:39:52

which had appeared in the newspapers.

0:39:520:39:55

That gave him an idea that he was now free.

0:39:550:39:58

Wedderburn claims that after this time Knight becomes discontented and sullen,

0:39:580:40:02

-and is wishing to pack up and leave.

-Discontented and sullen?

0:40:020:40:06

That's right. Presumably not speaking.

0:40:060:40:08

Taking the huff, if you like.

0:40:080:40:10

-For having the temerity to want to be free.

-That's right, exactly.

0:40:100:40:14

There are other parts we can perhaps pick out here.

0:40:140:40:16

This is Wedderburn referring to Knight's claim about his clothing.

0:40:160:40:22

"He was clothed as well as the rest of Sir John's servants,

0:40:220:40:26

"but his stockings were generally coarse, except four pairs,

0:40:260:40:31

"and that he got no regular pocket money."

0:40:310:40:33

-Pocket money! For a grown man.

-Yes.

0:40:330:40:36

Nothing for wages.

0:40:360:40:38

It's quite interesting in a way,

0:40:380:40:41

that given that it was a society that accepted slavery at that time,

0:40:410:40:47

and yet his words are recorded in just as much detail

0:40:470:40:52

as Wedderburn's.

0:40:520:40:54

There's a demonstration that the court was recognising him already.

0:40:540:41:00

Yes, as an individual with perfect rights to come before the court and make a claim.

0:41:000:41:05

This is where the drama unfolded.

0:41:330:41:36

The case was called from that little window.

0:41:360:41:38

The judges sat in the alcoves.

0:41:380:41:40

The advocates took the floor and everyone else stood and watched, including Wedderburn and Knight.

0:41:400:41:46

The case, as predicted, provoked passionate debate.

0:41:520:41:56

Counsel for Knight argued that he did not consent to give up his liberty in the first place,

0:41:560:42:01

and that stepping on to British soil should give him the constitutional right to liberty

0:42:010:42:06

that is offered to every man in any free country.

0:42:060:42:11

Pandering to the pockets of Scotland's elite, Wedderburn's lawyers made an argument

0:42:120:42:16

they believed few could reject.

0:42:160:42:18

"Make a choice," they said. "Choose between liberty and money."

0:42:180:42:23

They asserted that Scotland was "the first commercial nation in the world"

0:42:230:42:27

and that we had "interwoven our interests with those of our settlements in the new world".

0:42:270:42:32

And that therefore "the institution of slavery is absolutely necessary".

0:42:320:42:37

But the judges' decision took everyone by surprise.

0:42:370:42:41

In spite of Wedderburn's appeal to collective greed,

0:42:410:42:44

Scotland's top judges ruled for freedom.

0:42:440:42:47

The Knight case sent a strong message across the Atlantic.

0:42:560:43:00

Britain had ruled to free a lowly slave,

0:43:000:43:03

yet it continued to deny America

0:43:030:43:05

an equal relationship with its colonial master.

0:43:050:43:08

Benjamin Franklin described the storm that was coming

0:43:080:43:12

if America's grievances weren't recognised.

0:43:120:43:14

He wrote, "every act of oppression will sour their tempers,

0:43:160:43:21

"lessen if not annihilate the profits of your commerce with them, and hasten their final revolt.

0:43:210:43:26

"For the seeds of liberty are universally sown there, and nothing can eradicate them."

0:43:260:43:33

This was the warning bell.

0:43:350:43:38

America had had enough.

0:43:380:43:40

In Princeton, Dr Witherspoon couldn't help himself but get involved in the increasing unrest.

0:43:470:43:53

He saw the matter as a deeply moral and religious one, and was convinced

0:43:530:43:57

that it was in God's plan to free America from Britain.

0:43:570:44:00

He wrote a public letter to all the Presbyterian churches in the colonies urging ordinary people

0:44:000:44:06

to come together to reject Britain's shackles, with its crippling regime of taxation and control.

0:44:060:44:12

Every parishioner from Georgia to Maine

0:44:140:44:17

would have heard it read out in church.

0:44:170:44:20

He urged all of Christian America to listen carefully.

0:44:200:44:25

"We must think of America as a nation," he said, "and assert our rights as such."

0:44:250:44:30

He knew that this wouldn't happen without a fight,

0:44:300:44:33

but he argued that he preferred "war with all its horrors, even extermination,

0:44:330:44:38

"to slavery, riveted on us and on our posterity."

0:44:380:44:44

In April 1775, British troops marched in to Lexington, Massachusetts

0:44:450:44:51

to control crowds demonstrating against British rule.

0:44:510:44:54

Shots were fired and eight men were killed.

0:44:540:44:58

It was the start of the American Revolution.

0:44:580:45:02

Witherspoon had got the war he wanted.

0:45:020:45:04

And so had William Cunninghame.

0:45:080:45:12

Back in Glasgow, many Scottish merchants would never recover the debts

0:45:120:45:15

owed to them by the American tobacco planters,

0:45:150:45:18

but war with the colonies just made Cunninghame wealthier.

0:45:180:45:23

In the build-up to the conflict,

0:45:260:45:28

Cunninghame had stockpiled as much tobacco as he could lay his hands on.

0:45:280:45:32

Now fighting had cut off the supply,

0:45:360:45:38

he started selling it at an astronomical price.

0:45:380:45:41

Cunninghame might have been the talk of the merchant gentleman's club,

0:45:450:45:49

but to Adam Smith, this was shameless war-profiteering.

0:45:490:45:53

As the American Revolution broke out, Smith was working on a book about commerce.

0:46:010:46:05

It was the sum of all his observations

0:46:080:46:11

on Scotland's trade with America.

0:46:110:46:13

But the war proved to be a turning point for him.

0:46:130:46:15

The merchants' greed and William Cunninghame's profiteering

0:46:190:46:23

began to sow doubts in Smith's mind.

0:46:230:46:27

Cunninghame's behaviour appalled Smith.

0:46:310:46:33

Despite his friendship with them, he began to paint an unflattering picture of the Glasgow merchants

0:46:330:46:39

and their questionable moral practices.

0:46:390:46:42

He attacked their monopolizing spirit and went so far as to say

0:46:420:46:46

that if the government were composed entirely of merchants,

0:46:460:46:49

"it would be the worst of all governments for any country whatsoever."

0:46:490:46:53

The rest of society had not benefited as much as Smith had hoped.

0:46:540:46:58

The money had gone into the bricks and mortar of great houses.

0:46:580:47:02

Greed and vanity had blinded the merchants

0:47:020:47:05

to any real self-regulation or social responsibility.

0:47:050:47:08

Maybe it was more than just government taxation that provoked the American War of Independence.

0:47:080:47:14

If the merchants hadn't displayed such a rapacious greed for profit,

0:47:140:47:18

if they hadn't pushed the tobacco growers into such huge debt,

0:47:180:47:23

then perhaps America wouldn't have felt aggrieved enough to go to war.

0:47:230:47:27

In Princeton, John Witherspoon believed that America was waging not only a just war,

0:47:310:47:36

but a war that had God's providence.

0:47:360:47:39

His stirring views and increasingly popular sermons

0:47:390:47:43

drew the attention of the British.

0:47:430:47:45

The college became known as "the seedbed of revolution"

0:47:450:47:49

and British forces stormed Princeton,

0:47:490:47:52

destroying everything in their path.

0:47:520:47:54

Witherspoon evacuated the university just in time, and no-one was hurt.

0:47:580:48:03

Cannon-fire wrecked many of the buildings.

0:48:030:48:06

But to his horror, British troops damaged the one thing he cared most about - his library.

0:48:060:48:11

But this setback only served to strengthen Witherspoon's religious faith

0:48:140:48:19

and his resolve to fight for liberty and bring democracy to America.

0:48:190:48:24

Everything Witherspoon had been working for

0:48:250:48:28

was to culminate in one tightly worded document

0:48:280:48:31

that declared a new set of liberties for this new nation.

0:48:310:48:35

It was called the Declaration of Independence.

0:48:350:48:39

The wording was argued over to the finest detail.

0:48:440:48:47

This was going to be a country whose very beginning was based on democracy and equality.

0:48:470:48:53

Not everyone involved could agree to the revolutionary ideas held in it.

0:48:530:48:58

But Witherspoon was there, behind the scenes, urging the process along.

0:48:580:49:03

Witherspoon didn't just argue for independence and democratic freedom,

0:49:030:49:08

he brought the pulpit on to the floor of Congress.

0:49:080:49:11

The only clergyman present, Witherspoon argued that many Americans

0:49:110:49:15

would hesitate to join the revolution

0:49:150:49:17

unless their cause was seen to be just in the eyes of God.

0:49:170:49:21

God must bless America.

0:49:210:49:24

It was almost certainly Witherspoon who championed the line that forms

0:49:250:49:29

the very last sentence in the document, which states,

0:49:290:49:34

"And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,

0:49:340:49:39

"we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honour."

0:49:390:49:45

Now the Declaration not only proclaimed independence,

0:49:480:49:51

it was a visible demonstration to the American people

0:49:510:49:54

that it was God's plan to back their revolution and free America from British tyranny.

0:49:540:50:00

Witherspoon persuaded any remaining doubters to sign the Declaration,

0:50:090:50:13

saying, "There is a tide in the affairs of men, a nick of time.

0:50:130:50:18

"We perceive it now before us.

0:50:180:50:21

"To hesitate is to consent to our own slavery."

0:50:210:50:24

The fighting continued for another seven years,

0:50:290:50:32

but in the end, the British conceded defeat.

0:50:320:50:35

To Witherspoon, it seemed that

0:50:430:50:45

divine providence had turned the tide.

0:50:450:50:48

In 1783, a peace treaty was signed and America secured her independence.

0:50:520:50:58

The ideas of John Witherspoon and Adam Smith

0:51:080:51:11

had lit the fires of revolution.

0:51:110:51:13

Both men were products of the Scottish Enlightenment

0:51:130:51:17

and both had given the world a new moral philosophy by which to live.

0:51:170:51:23

John Witherspoon had combined religion and politics

0:51:230:51:26

to help bring intellectual and constitutional freedom to America.

0:51:260:51:31

In his tenure at Princeton,

0:51:310:51:33

he had introduced to his campus native American and black students.

0:51:330:51:37

He educated many of the next generation of American leaders.

0:51:370:51:42

They included one future president,

0:51:420:51:45

one vice president, 39 congressmen and three supreme court judges.

0:51:450:51:50

And here lies the man who chose Princeton over Paisley.

0:51:530:51:57

He decided on America as the place to fight for the principles of liberty and democracy,

0:51:570:52:02

backing the country he believed had the best chance of delivering them.

0:52:020:52:06

He continued as head of the college for another decade after independence,

0:52:060:52:10

and he's buried here, in the cemetery at Princeton.

0:52:100:52:14

John Wedderburn was a bundle of contradictions.

0:52:210:52:24

A Christian man, whose past had taught him to look at the world

0:52:240:52:28

from the position of the underdog,

0:52:280:52:30

and yet he could not find it in his heart to give Knight his freedom.

0:52:300:52:35

Wedderburn spent the rest of his life in Perthshire,

0:52:370:52:40

living on the fortune he built on the exploitation of others.

0:52:400:52:43

He also achieved the long-held ambition of laying his Jacobite past to rest

0:52:430:52:48

and restoring the good name of the Wedderburn family.

0:52:480:52:52

He re-instated himself as the sixth baronet of Blackness.

0:52:520:52:56

But it's a title that serves only to remind us of a more shameful past,

0:52:560:53:00

namely the blackness of Wedderburn's slaves

0:53:000:53:03

and one slave boy in particular - Joseph Knight.

0:53:030:53:07

Knight never saw Wedderburn again.

0:53:090:53:11

As a free man, he married his sweetheart, Annie Thomson,

0:53:110:53:16

and then simply disappeared.

0:53:160:53:18

There's no record of him after the trial.

0:53:200:53:23

There's some speculation that he became a miner,

0:53:230:53:26

where, amidst the coal dust that clung to everything,

0:53:260:53:29

the colour of his skin no longer marked him out as different.

0:53:290:53:33

In 1778, William Cunninghame got to build the house of his dreams,

0:53:350:53:40

the ultimate symbol of his wealth and vanity,

0:53:400:53:43

and paid for with the spoils of war and slavery.

0:53:430:53:47

At £10,000, this was the most expensive house ever built in Glasgow,

0:53:470:53:51

and now lives on as Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art.

0:53:510:53:57

In the same year as American independence,

0:53:580:54:01

Adam Smith finally finished his book.

0:54:010:54:03

In writing it, his theories about self-interest as a force of good had fallen apart.

0:54:030:54:09

William Cunninghame's profiteering

0:54:090:54:11

taught Smith that economics isn't just about making money,

0:54:110:54:15

it's about the social responsibility that comes with it.

0:54:150:54:19

In The Wealth of Nations, Smith gave the world its first study

0:54:190:54:23

of the moral and political dimensions of a country's economy.

0:54:230:54:27

Its success was to mark Adam Smith

0:54:270:54:30

as one of the Enlightenment's most influential thinkers,

0:54:300:54:33

and the father of modern economics.

0:54:330:54:35

On the last page of the book, he wrote,

0:54:370:54:39

"It is surely time that Great Britain should free herself

0:54:390:54:43

"from the expense of defending those provinces in time of war

0:54:430:54:46

"and of supporting any part of their establishments in time of peace."

0:54:460:54:50

He was right, of course. It was time to let America go.

0:54:500:54:54

It reads like a diary of the build-up to the American Revolution,

0:54:540:54:58

and it's every bit as much about a country's struggle

0:54:580:55:01

for self-determination as it is about economics.

0:55:010:55:04

In the end, there were no winners or losers.

0:55:090:55:12

The new American Constitution made good its promises of rights and freedom for all,

0:55:120:55:17

but it never occurred to the founding fathers to extend those same freedoms to slaves.

0:55:170:55:22

It took a Civil War to rid America of slavery,

0:55:220:55:25

and it's struggled with the legacy ever since.

0:55:250:55:29

And while Britain's vision of liberty remained bereft of democratic principle

0:55:300:55:35

for decades to come, it abolished slavery

0:55:350:55:38

and paved the way for other European nations to follow.

0:55:380:55:42

And what of Scotland?

0:55:470:55:50

In the wake of American Independence,

0:55:500:55:52

there was a feeling in the air of anti-climax, of dissatisfaction.

0:55:520:55:56

Parallels were drawn between America and Scotland.

0:55:560:56:00

It seemed as though all the best intellectual efforts of the Scottish Enlightenment

0:56:000:56:04

had gone to providing America with the blueprint for liberty.

0:56:040:56:08

But while Scotland thought and talked,

0:56:080:56:11

it was America that had put those ideas into action.

0:56:110:56:15

In truth, America had changed everything for Scotland.

0:56:250:56:29

She had helped to lay the foundation stones for one of the first

0:56:290:56:32

and most influential democracies in the world.

0:56:320:56:35

As part of Great Britain, she had taken her first faltering steps on to the world stage.

0:56:350:56:40

And she would never look back.

0:56:400:56:43

Has Scotland faced up to her past as a slave trader?

0:56:470:56:50

Go to bbc.co.uk/scotlandshistory and join our online debate.

0:56:500:56:57

The Open University has also produced a booklet about

0:56:570:57:00

Scottish history and an audiowalk about tonight's programme.

0:57:000:57:05

If you haven't claimed your free copy yet,

0:57:050:57:07

or want to download the walk,

0:57:070:57:09

visit the website or call 0845 3008850.

0:57:090:57:15

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:57:320:57:35

E-mail [email protected]

0:57:350:57:38

Ten-part documentary series that charts Scotland's history from the days of the Romans to the present date.

Through the winning and losing of an American empire and the impact of the Scottish Enlightenment, Neil Oliver reveals how in the second half of the 18th century Scotland was transformed from a poor northern backwater with a serious image problem into one of the richest nations on Earth. This was the dawn of the modern age when Scotland made its mark on the world by exporting its most valuable commodities - people and ideas.