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Thomas Muir (revolutionary)
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Thomas Muir (revolutionary)

Thomas Muir (often known as Thomas Muir of Huntershill) was born on August 25, 1765. The son of a hop merchant he was educated at Glasgow Grammar School, before attending the University of Glasgow to study divinity. He changed his studies though and began the study of sociology attending many of the classes of John Millar.

Millar was an advocate of parliamentary reform and a republican also. He had a profound influence on Muir who caem to hold similar views. Muir was expelled from the university for trying to have John Anderson reinstated as a member of staff. Millar assisted Muir in enrolling at the University of Edinburgh, and in 1892 he joined the Facutly of Advocates as a qualified lawyer.

Muir represented many poor clients who couldn't afford legal fees and became a critic of the legal system which he felt was skewered in favour of the rich at the expense of the poor.

Around the time of the French Revolution the Friends of the People Society was established, and Muir became a member. He became a leading figure as he tried to organise a nationwide convention of Friends of the People societies to co-ordinate parliamentary reform activity.

Muir was arrested and charged with sedition in 1793. Released on bail, Muir was dispatched by the Friends of the People leaders to join Thomas Paine in France in an attempt to curb the violence of the revolutionaries there, and to stop the execution of Louis XVI. He decided to return to Scotland against the advice of the French and his own father. He landed in Belfast where he was made an honorary member of the United Irishmen. He then headed on to Scotland where he was recognised and given up to the authorities. He was then tried for sedition and found guilty. He was sentenced to 14 years transportation along with other radical leaders.

The transportees arrived in Botany Bay in October 1794. However, the Americans (who had not long been independent of Britain at this stage) heard of Muir and despatched a rescue ship. Muir was rescued and landed on Vancouver Island, where he was captured by the Spanish. On the trip back to Europe the ship he was on was attacked by the British Navy, and Muir sustained serious injuries which many felt he would die from. However he pulled through and the French organised his release from the Spanish.

Muir arrived in Bordeaux in November, 1797 and from there he moved on to Paris to join Paine with whom he would continue to agitate for parliamentary reform. At this time the radical activity in Scotland had moved on from the hands of the Friends of the People to that of the United Scotsmen who had plans to establish a provisional Scottish government with Muir as president. However, their activities were quelled and the plan never came to fruition.

Muir never recovered from the injuries he received whilst in Spanish custody and he died on January 26, 1799. He was the first foreigner to be given citizenship of France.