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Clan Donald Magazine No 2 (1962) Online

Organising Clans Overseas by John Ure Anderson Jr.

Mr Anderson is the Secretary of the Clan Donald Educational and Charitable Trust.

The proper solution of all questions relating to the organisation of a Scottish clan out with Scotland depends ultimately upon the meaning of the word "clan" in Scots law and Scots history.

Thus stated, the task of organising a clan appears to be ridiculously simple. In point of fact, however, the most advantageous organisation of the clan must take full account of the laws and customs of the country in which the clan is to be organised. The meaning of the word "clan," together with all its implications, must be balanced, compared and sifted with local law and custom until the proper combination is achieved. The process requires great expenditures of time and thought by the chief of the clan, his commissioners, Scottish lawyers and, ideally, the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

It is always good when Scots and persons of Scots ancestry overseas band together in an association to communicate and enjoy the national traditions. There are many such groups in my city, and all are deserving of praise whether the motives of their members happen to be nostalgia, family or national pride, fellowship or education. This discussion of clan organisations has nothing to do with such groups. All true Scots and all clan chiefs are proud of associations of this type and wish them well, but such groups are as different from clan organisations as a nation is from a family.

For the root meaning of "clan" is "family." As the meaning has developed in Scotland, the clan or family has come to stand for something much broader than the two or three generations grouped around a single hearth. The chief or patriarch of the clan stands in the relationship of father to all persons bearing his name by blood or marriage in all matters relating to clan administration, rights and privileges. In addition to those of the chiefly name, many Scottish families of other names fall within the clan structure as septs and dependents. The constitution of a clan is patriarchal, not democratic. The responsibility of the chief for the welfare of his clan is total, and he has the commensurate total prerogative relating to clan matters, subject always to the dictates of his superior, the Crown.

The subjects of chiefship are so well understood in Scotland that it would be improper to dwell further on them at this point. Rather, it will be more useful to show how these notions may be combined and blended with overseas law and custom to create an organisation of which chief and clansman alike can be proud. In the pragmatic vein, I should like to discuss the major problems involved in the organisation of Clan Donald in the United States and the solutions adopted by the High Chief and his High Commissioner. The nature of the problems and the solutions adopted will vary from clan to clan and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but I believe that the broad outlines of what Clan Donald has done in the United States indicate the only proper approach to overseas organisation for all clans throughout the world.

The chief cannot conveniently undertake the details of clan administration at remote distances. Yet he must ultimately bear the responsibility for the execution of those details. In this matter, as in so many other aspects of life, the law permits the designation of an agent or attorney to act in the place of the principal within the limits prescribed in the instrument creating the agency. If a clan organisation is to prosper out with Scotland, the chief must appoint a commissioner with the broadest powers in whom he has implicit trust. The selection of a proper commissioner is perhaps the single most important duty of the chief with respect to the entire process of overseas organisation. The commissioner must have the intelligence and courage to make the necessary spot decisions. He must have the leadership and executive force to prosecute the organisation with effect and to staff its various enterprises with outstanding persons. He must have the contagious imagination to kindle the ideals of clan pride and clan sacrifice in the breasts of all clansmen. He must be of such blood and stature that none can gainsay his appointment. Finally, he must be so attached to the principles of familial clanship that he subordinates all his ideas respecting the clan to the wishes of his chief.

After careful consideration, Lord Macdonald selected Reginald Henry Macdonald of Kingsburgh as his High Commissioner for the United States. That this selection was fortunate is well proved, not only by Kingsburgh's prior record, but by the outstanding leadership he has selflessly contributed to the Clan, at great cost to himself, over the past seven years.

Kingsburgh, as an American citizen, was first called upon to consider local law and custom when his commission was tendered him. He knew that the American Constitution had something to say about receiving honours from foreign powers and he knew that the oath he took upon becoming a citizen required him to abjure all allegiance to a foreign prince. After consideration of all aspects of the matter, his counsel gave him their opinion that undertaking family duties and receiving family honours were not inconsistent with his duties of citizenship, at least so long as Scotland and America are at peace with each other. If the recipient of such a commission were the holder of a position of profit or trust under the government, the consent of the American Congress might be required.

Kingsburgh's next question to his counsel was as to whether there would be anything illegal or inappropriate about the participation of Clan members and adherents in any of the aspects of clan organisation. He stated that he proposed, among other things, the formation of a Clan Society, membership in which should be limited to members and adherents of the Clan. In Scotland, name alone is usually sufficient to determine clan affiliation. In America, on the other hand, because of broad legal privileges relating to the assumption of names other than the name of birth, there are persons of every conceivable race and nationality with the legal name of Macdonald. American law and custom embodies at many points injunctions against unreasonable discrimination based on "race, creed or colour." Relying again on the basic meaning of clan, counsel concluded that since clan organisation is a family matter, it is not unreasonable discrimination to exclude those having no connexion with the clan, whether they be Scots named Campbell, or Poles named Macdonald.

Once this groundwork had been done, the real work of organisation was undertaken. Kingsburgh first prepared a list of all the objects which he wished to achieve and a proposed skeleton of organisation. From this point on, the completion of organisation was the work of a far-flung team. Lord Macdonald, Kingsburgh, Scottish solicitors, American lawyers, the Lord Lyon and numerous distinguished clansmen on both sides of the water read, studied, drafted, considered and criticised. A wit of an engineer once described a camel as "a horse designed by a committee." We believe that the "committee" which organised Clan Donald in the United States under the inspiration and guidance of the High Chief and his High Commissioner have wrought well, and although the result is a living organism, we trust that it is not so wide of the mark as the engineer's camel.

Throughout the English-speaking world, it is common for governments to exempt clan organisations and similar groups from the payment of income tax. This is the case in America if the creating documents are properly drawn up and the group obeys them. In addition to this privilege, under American law the person who makes gifts to certain educational, religious and charitable organisations may deduct the amount of the gift from his income in computing his income tax. Such a privilege is, of course, of great value to such organisations in soliciting contributions. To qualify as an exempt organisation of this latter type, the creating documents must be properly drawn up, an elaborate exemption application must be prepared and presented to the Internal Revenue Service and the organisation must prove that it has made in the past, and can continue to make in the future, substantial expenditures in support of each of its avowed purposes. This last requirement obviously makes it exceedingly difficult to start an exempt organisation from scratch. To begin with, you need funds to make the expenditures required to establish your bona fides, but your work of solicitation is hampered because you cannot promise the exemption!

Since many of the objects on Kingsburgh's list could best be performed by an educational and charitable organisation, and since the exemption which permits the deduction of gifts from income taxes is of incalculable value over a period of many years, it was determined to create a Clan Donald Educational and Charitable Trust. Counsel suggested that a common law Trust would be the most viable vehicle for this purpose provided that the Trust Deed contains provisions permitting the eventual incorporation of the Trust.

From the beginning of the work on the Trust to the eventual granting of exempt status by the government, a period of about four years elapsed. Meantime, the work on other fronts proceeded. After creation of the Trust for the educational and charitable objects in Kingsburgh's list, there still remained objects relating to fellowship, gatherings, Clan records and Clan treasures. Counsel advised that the best vehicle for these objects would be a non-profit corporation. Clan Donald Society of America was then incorporated to undertake these purposes and to function as a general nexus for the Clan organisation, including the Trust and the Clan itself.

A non-profit corporation has certain advantages over an unincorporated association which are peculiarly adaptable to the clan structure. The provisions relating to the Clan itself are substantially as follows: The High Chief appoints a High Commissioner for the entire United States. The High Commissioner appoints, with the approval of the High Chief, District Commissioners for designated districts, usually consisting of one or more states. The High Commissioner also appoints a Clan Council to advise him. Each District Commissioner has, within his district, approximately the same rights and duties as the High Commissioner. He appoints a District Council and may appoint such other officers as he deems appropriate, including a district convener, a commander, a secretary and a treasurer. A high degree of autonomy is necessary for the District Commissioners since activities and interests vary as greatly between Texas and New York as they would between Glasgow and Portree. It should be emphasised that this whole line of authority, although described in the By-Laws, exists quite apart from the Society and is not subject to alteration by any vote of the memberships of the Society.

Membership in the Society is divided into two classes, corporate members and regular members. The corporate members are Lord Macdonald, his High Commissioner, the District Commissioners, members of the Clan Council and the American Trustees. The corporate members, who number fifteen at the present time, do all the membership voting, and their primary duty is to elect a Board of Directors from among their number. The Board of Directors are responsible for the business management of the affairs of the Society, and they elect the business officers. All members of the Society, other than corporate members, are regular members. As a practical matter, the regular members enjoy all the rights and privileges of corporate members save only the business management of corporate affairs. The wisdom of such a division of responsibility will be clear to anyone who has ever tried to get authorisation for necessary corporate action from half a thousand souls scattered over 3000 miles.

In having thus exposed the basic elements involved in clan organisation overseas I do not wish to suggest that the process is simple. Hundreds of important decisions must be taken and approved along the way. Certain compromises with local law and custom are required and original concepts must be modified in such a way as to do no violence to the traditions of clanship. It may be that, in the future, some clan organisations will be properly established in less than the six years taken by Clan Donald in the United States. If so, it is a shrewd guess that the time saving will be largely attributable to our experience.

In closing, it must be borne in mind that having a good organisation is not the sole goal of any worthwhile body. The organisation is merely the cadre within which activities are carried out. Clan Donald in the United States has already tallied up notable achievements. Outstanding in this regard are the William Ross Macdonald Memorial Scholarship and the sponsorship of the Ligonier Highland Games and the Grandfather Mountain Games. But these are only first steps. The real measure of the Clan in America will be judged by its results in the next thirty years. These results can be magnificent if Clan Donald has the will. Although proper organisation is a necessary condition to great deeds, if the will is lacking, the deeds will not be done.

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