GRAHAM, James Robert George (1792-1861), of Netherby, Cumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1820 - May 1821
1826 - Feb. 1829
16 Jan. 1829 - 1832
1832 - 1837
20 Feb. 1838 - 1841
1841 - 1847
1847 - 1852
1852 - 25 Oct. 1861

Family and Education

b. 1 June 1792, 1st. s. of Sir James Graham, 1st Bt.* educ. by Rev. Walter Fletcher at Dalston, Cumb.; Westminster 1806; Christ Church, Oxf. 1810; continental tour 1812-15. m. 8 July 1819, Fanny, da. of Col. James Campbell (formerly Callander) of Craigforth, Stirling and Ardkinglas, Argyll, 3s. 3da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 13 Apr. 1824; GCB 15 Apr. 1854.

Offices Held

PC 22 Nov. 1830; first ld. of Admiralty Nov. 1830-July 1834, Dec. 1852-Mar. 1855; sec. of state for Home affairs Sept. 1841-July 1846.

Rector, Glasgow Univ. 1838-40.


After two wasted years at Oxford, which he left in 1812 without taking a degree, Graham travelled widely on the Continent. Immediately after his departure he was elected to Brooks’s on the proposal of Lord Morpeth, who was later credited with ‘the reputation of having made him a Whig’.1 Graham’s long-term ambition was to represent Cumberland independently of aristocratic patronage, but his political differences with his father, a supporter of the Lowthers, placed him in a difficult position. Early in 1813 he wrote to his father from the Peninsula:

you are able by my affection for you to control in me the warmth of ambition. The hopes of acting on any stage, even the greatest, should not induce me to act against you; and unless the time arrives when we happily coincide in our ideas on general questions, I have made up my mind not even to wish for a seat in Parliament ...

For myself, removed from the scene of action and its attendant heat, my ardour is considerably abated, the strength of my political creed is confirmed, and I am more anxious for the present to fit myself for serving with honour than immediately to begin to serve my country.

In June 1813 he was employed as private secretary by Lord Montgomerie, the British representative in Sicily. He declared in September: ‘I prefer this line to Parliament, or politics at home, and am resolved for a time to engage in it. Appointments or salaries of course I do not care for; but my desire is to be officially and confidentially attached to some embassy at a continental court.’ Lord William Bentinck, the permanent envoy in Sicily, retained Graham on his return to Palermo in October and he served him as private secretary and aide-de-camp in a series of delicate diplomatic negotiations until May 1814, when he resumed his travels.

Practical experience did not, as his his father had hoped, alter his political opinions:

My love of liberty now burns with a cooler but a steadier fire [he wrote in July 1814]. The early prejudice formed in favour of a party and of its leaders is only confirmed by years, and strengthened since I have viewed more closely the measures of their opponents. To be in the House of Commons I no longer desire. I can never sit there to support men I despise, and I never shall be able to support those whom I prefer. Moreover, I begin to know my own powers. The heaven-born gift of eloquence is denied me, and without it there the rest is nothing.

After his return to England, however, contact with like-minded young Whigs re-awakened his parliamentary ambitions. He told Brougham in June 1816 that regard for his family continued to prevent his coming forward in Cumberland, but he no longer felt excluded from accepting a seat elsewhere: ‘if the terms were such as in honour I could accede to, the employment, the habits of business, the exercise of the mind, are what I most desire’.2 As a temporary expedient, therefore, he accepted Earl Fitzwilliam’s offer to contest Hull in 1818, warning him that he had ‘only a limited sum which in prudence I can expend’ and agreeing to spend no more than £3,000 of his own.3 In his addresses he openly declared his attachment to ‘genuine Whig principles’, supporting economy, peace, religious freedom and ‘a moderate reform’ of Parliament.4 After his victory, he wrote to James Brougham with reference to his refusal to support Lord Morpeth in Cumberland, which had marred his prospects of becoming a candidate for Carlisle:

I am glad that my conduct should meet with the approbation of my friends in the north, for it is there, that my future hopes and my affections are concentrated. No man is more anxious than I for the perfect independence both of Cumberland and Westmorland and I never wish to see them made the subject of compromise, of barter or private agreement: and the circumstances preclude me from taking my part at present in these transactions, yet my feelings will always be with the gentry and yeomanry of those counties, against all coalitions, whether Whig or Tory, of the aristocracy ... By a just and honest application of the means we possess, even without a reform, the state would be greatly benefited: and it is the misuse of these means, the compromise of parties without regard to principles, which has brought public men in general into disrepute, has lost for all equally the confidence of the people, made politics considered a mere game of intrigues, a shuffle for place and reward, has given to senseless demagogues an influence they could not otherwise have obtained, and has rendered popular to a most alarming extent the most irrational doctrines, not of reform, but of anarchy which, had the people not been betrayed by their natural advisers, they never would have entertained or upheld.5

In the House Graham voted regularly with the Whigs and told Fitzwilliam, 9 Feb. 1819: ‘I delight in the occupation; it is the very one to my taste which can equal fox hunting and it more than equals it’.6 In his maiden speech, 18 Mar. 1819, in support of Ridley’s motion for a reduction in the number of lords of the Admiralty, he called for ‘an administration relying honestly on public opinion for its support, and not one placed by the crown beyond the reach of public opinion and defying it’.7 But George Agar Ellis, who, contrary to the general praise, had three weeks earlier described Graham as ‘disagreeable, besides being a Whig incarnate’ reported that his speech was a failure.8

In 1819 Graham became more active in Whig politics in Cumberland and Westmorland. His speech at a dinner of Friends to the Independence of Westmorland in March was considered by the Lowthers to be a declaration of his ‘future hostility’;9 in October he took a prominent part in the Cumberland county meeting convened to demand inquiry into the events at Peterloo. Brougham reported that his speech there was ‘both eloquent and skilful. He said nothing of reform—not being called on—but gave his opinion upon it after dinner.’10 To Lambton, Graham wrote on 23 Oct.:

These county meetings are salutary in a double point of view: they prove the real insignificance of the radicals, and disprove the necessity of those coercive measures, which a government disposed to despotism would seek to carry in a moment of groundless terror: moreover, they ought to teach our friends that it is the apathy of the Whigs which has of late estranged the people, and that if they be willing to resume the lead, and boldly stand forward on popular grounds the people are by no means indisposed to follow.11

Fitzwilliam’s dismissal from the lord lieutenancy of the West Riding prompted Graham to resign his commission in the West Riding yeomanry cavalry12 and he voted in all recorded divisions against the government’s repressive legislation late in 1819. On 7 Dec. he inquired whether the seditious meetings bill applied to nomination meetings in parliamentary constituencies, and on 20 Dec. spoke strongly against any extension of press censorship. But by January 1820 he had sunk into a mood of pessimism and counselled Brougham against calling a meeting for reform in Cumberland:

what the Jacobins were to the government in 1792, I much fear the radicals will be to our present rulers ... All the old chivalrous love of freedom, to be obtained thro’ every danger and to be defended to the loss of life itself, is long since past: nothing now excites general feeling but that which immediately affects the pocket.13

He declined to contest Hull in 1820, as he was unwilling to incur any further expense: ‘I should prefer expending near home, where I have a natural interest, whatever sum I can raise’, he explained to Fitzwilliam; and he feared that his conviction of ‘the practical necessity, if not of the theoretical expediency of some temperate, rational reform in the representation’ might not be acceptable to Fitzwilliam.14

Living quietly on his estate during most of the 1820 Parliament, devoting his energies to agricultural improvement and county business and extending his knowledge of political economy, Graham added a more practical element to his reforming tendencies while moving closer to the moderate pragmatism which was to characterize his later career. He died 25 Oct. 1861.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. Carlisle mss, Lady to Ld. Morpeth [23 June 1818].
  • 2. Parker, Graham, i. 22-50.
  • 3. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F36/38; Carlisle mss, Lady to Ld. Morpeth [23 June 1819].
  • 4. Kingston Wit, Humour and Satire (1818), 101.
  • 5. Brougham mss, J.410; Carlisle mss, Graham to Morpeth, 21 Apr., H. Howard to same, 25 May 1818.
  • 6. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F36/82.
  • 7. Parl. Deb. xxxix. 1063. A. B. Erickson, The Public Career of Sir J. Graham, 34-36 and J. T. Ward, Sir. J. Graham, 35-37 both attribute to J. R. G. Graham speeches made by Sir James Graham, 1st Bt., of Edmond Castle.
  • 8. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss, Agar Ellis to Sneyd, 1, 20 Mar. 1819.
  • 9. Lonsdale mss, Visct. Lowther to Lonsdale, 15 Mar. 1819.
  • 10. Fitzwilliam mss, box 99, Brougham to Fitzwilliam [14 Oct. 1819].
  • 11. Lambton mss.
  • 12. Fitzwilliam mss, box 98, Graham to Fitzwilliam, 29 Oct. 1819.
  • 13. Brougham mss 14255.
  • 14. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F49/57.