He was the son and heir of Sir Robert Fletcher (1625-1664), and was born at Saltoun in Haddingtonshire. Educated by Gilbert Burnet, the future Bishop of Salisbury, who was then minister at Saltoun, he completed his education in mainland Europe. Fletcher was elected, as the Commissioner for Haddingtonshire, to the Scottish Parliament in 1678.
At this time, Charles II's representative in Scotland was John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale. The Duke had taxation powers in Scotland, and maintained a standing army there in the name of the King. Fletcher bitterly opposed the Duke, whose actions only strengthened Fletcher's distrust of the royal government in Scotland, as well as all hereditary power.
In 1681, Fletcher was re-elected to the Scottish Parliament as member for Haddingtonshire. The year before, Lauderdale had been replaced by the Duke of Albany. At this time, Fletcher was a member of the opposition Country Party in the Scottish Parliament, where he resolutely opposed any arbitrary actions on the part of the Church or state. In 1683, after being charged with sedition and being acquitted, he fled Scotland to join with English opponents of King Charles in Holland. Fletcher joined James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth in Holland and sailed to England with his force in 1685. Before Monmouth's rebellion could take place, though, Fletcher lost his temper in a quarrel and shot the Mayor of Taunton. He was forced to flee the country again, and this time joined William of Orange in Holland. Fletcher returned to Scotland in 1688. His alliance with William faded, however, when Fletcher decided that William would be just another king who put England ahead of Scotland.
His estates were restored to him and, increasingly, Fletcher defended his country's claims over English interests, as well as opposing royal power. In 1703, at a critical stage in the history of Scotland, Fletcher again became a member of the Scottish Parliament, again as member for Haddingtonshire.
Now, Queen Anne was on the throne, and there was a campaign to join England and Scotland in a parliamentary union, thus closing the "back door" to England that Scotland represented to the French The failure of the Darien expedition had aroused a strong feeling of resentment against England, and Fletcher and the Country party seized the opportunity to obtain a greater degree of independence for their country. Fletcher's debates on this issue made him famous. He argued against an 'incorporating union' and for a federal union, and was opposed to centralized power. He also sought to protect Scotland's nationhood. Through these debates, Fletcher was recognized as a man of integrity, whose personal interests did not influence his position; he became known as an independent patriot.
One of his most famous contributions were his "twelve limitations," intended to limit the power of the crown and English ministers in Scottish politics. His limitations were:
Although the limitations did not pass the house, something little short of them was passed, the Act of Security, which made provisions in case of the Queen’s death, with the conditions under which the successor to the crown of England was to be allowed to succeed to that of Scotland, which were to be, "at least, freedom of navigation, free communication of trade, and liberty of the plantations to the kingdom and subjects of Scotland, established by the parliament of England." The same parliament passed an Act anent Peace and War, which provided that after Queen’s death, failing heirs of her body, no person at the same time being King or Queen of Scotland and England, would have sole power of making war without consent of the Scottish Parliament.
In 1707, the Act of Union was approved by the Scottish Parliament, officially uniting Scotland with England to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. Fletcher turned from politics in despair and devoted the rest of his life to farming and agricultural development in Scotland. He died unmarried in London in September 1716. His last words were 'Lord have mercy on my poor country that is so barbarously oppressed.'
Contemporaries speak very highly of Fletcher's integrity, but he was also impetuous. Burnet describes him as "a Scotch gentleman of great parts and many virtues, but a most violent republican and extremely passionate". Alasdair MacIntyre has written that "Almost alone among his contemporaries Fletcher understood the dilemma confronting Scotland as involving more radical alternatives than they were prepared to entertain".
His chief works are: A Discourse of Government relating to Militias (1698), in which he argued that the royal army in Scotland should be replaced by local militias - a position of republican virtue which was to return a half-century later, for example in the work of Adam Ferguson; Two Discourses concerning the Affairs of Scotland (1698), in which he discussed the problems of Scottish trade and economics; and An Account of a Conversation concerning a right regulation of Governments for the common good of Mankind (1704). In Two Discourses he suggested that the numerous vagrants who infested Scotland should be brought into compulsory and hereditary servitude. In An Account of a Conversation he made his well-known remark "I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christophers sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation."
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