GRAHAM, James, Mq. of Graham (1755-1836).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1780 - 1784
1784 - 23 Sept. 1790

Family and Education

b. 8 Sept. 1755, o.s. of William, 2nd Duke of Montrose [S] and Earl Graham [GB], by Lady Lucy Manners, da. of John, 2nd Duke of Rutland. educ. Eton 1765-72; Trinity, Camb. 1773; Grand Tour. m. (1) 3 Mar. 1785, Lady Jemima Elizabeth Ashburnham (d. 17 Sept. 1786), 1st da. of John, 2nd Earl of Ashburnham, 1s. d.v.p.; (2) 24 July 1790, Lady Caroline Maria Montagu, 1st da. of George, 4th Duke of Manchester, 2s. 5da. suc. fa. as 3rd Duke of Montrose 23 Sept. 1790.  K.T. 14 June 1793; resigned when appointed K.G. 31 Mar. 1812.

Offices Held

Ld. of Treasury Dec. 1783-9; vice-pres. Board of Trade July 1789-90; jt. paymaster gen. July 1789-91; P.C. 1 Aug. 1789; master of the horse 1790-5; commr. for Indian affairs 1791-1803; ld. justice gen. of Scotland 1795- d.; pres. Board of Trade and jt. postmaster gen. 1804-6; master of the horse 1807-21; ld. chamberlain 1821-7, 1828-30.

Ld. lt. Hunts. 1790-3, Stirling 1794- d., Dunbarton 1813- d.


On his return from the grand tour in February 1778, Graham reported to Robert Murray Keith in Vienna his concern at the ‘lethargic torpor’ at home in face of the disasters in America, and, fascinated by Fox’s eloquence, contrasted his energetic leadership with ministerial irresolution. The threat of French invasion having prevented his return to Vienna, he wrote to Keith, 28 Apr. 1778:

Scotland has at least the merit of indefatigable efforts—about 12,000 volunteers have not sufficed to blunt the edge of martial prowess, or the refusal of a militia some time ago ... to prevent the rising of the inhabitants for ... internal defence. My humble opinion was that this was the moment to press Administration for a national and legal body of troops ... subject to English militia laws.

He offered to raise a regiment of light dragoons, but his offer was refused. Professing no party connexions, he sent Keith his ‘unbiassed judgment’ on 14 Dec. 1778:

Internal confusion and disunion of our leading men, the effect of want of success, and a determined Opposition openly declaring its intention to clog the wheels of Government in weakening our own efforts, chiefly constitute the strength of France.

Without a seat in the Commons, ‘though eagerly wishing it’, Graham joined a social set which included members of the Opposition. He wrote to Keith, 8 Apr. 1779:

Pleasure is my resource, ’tis to that I am carried by taste and driven to by necessity ... As soon as I have an opportunity, believe me, you shall hear of me, how I cannot tell but to do good or some harm I am determined.

When in 1779 his father gave him control of his Scottish estates, Graham proceeded to restore the family electoral interest. In Dunbartonshire he attacked the Argyll interest and at the general election secured the return (on petition) of his friend George Keith Elphinstone against Lord Frederick Campbell. In Stirlingshire he so successfully challenged the interest of Sir Lawrence Dundas that Dundas, to avoid the defeat of his son Thomas, was forced to agree to bring in Graham for Richmond, with no obligation to join the Dundases in Opposition.1

Listed ‘doubtful’ by Robinson in 1780, Graham for a time was more prominent in society than in politics. The English Chronicle commented in 1781: ‘He is a young nobleman of very promising abilities and admirable address ... he will undoubtedly prove a most important acquisition whichever party he espouses.’ By the winter of 1781 he had allied himself with Henry Dundas; voted with Government, 12 Dec., on Lowther’s motion against the war; but a few days later was concerned in Dundas’s schemes to oust Sandwich. When Dundas, having secured the removal of Germain, agreed to support Government on the censure of the Admiralty on 20 Feb. 1782, Graham followed suit; but on 22 and 27 Feb. voted with Opposition on Conway’s motions against the war. He voted with North on the censure motions of 8 and 15 March. Under the Rockingham Administration Graham seized the opportunity provided by Shelburne’s circular letter on arming the people to move on 15 May 1782 for a Scottish militia, as ‘a shield to the constitution against the turbulent grasp of democracy and the encroachments of the Crown’. The bill reached its third reading on 10 June, when the secretary at war, supported by the commander-in-chief, moved for a clause permitting the regular army to recruit from the Scottish militia. Graham indignantly rejected any such discrimination between England and Scotland, and when the motion was carried against him withdrew the bill. On 17 June he successfully initiated legislation to repeal the Act prohibiting the wearing of Highland dress, and during the recess was publicly thanked for his efforts by a meeting in Edinburgh. He took the lead in raising a corps of Edinburgh volunteers, ‘on Lord Shelburne’s plan’, to be ‘clothed in Highland dress and called the Caledonian Band’ with himself as colonel.2

Graham voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries on 18 Feb. 1783, and in March was listed as attached to him and Lord Advocate Dundas, whose lead he followed under the Coalition. On 19 May he joined Pitt and Dundas in opposing the proposal to discharge the motion for papers on the case of Powell and Bembridge; and on 2 June supported Dundas’s motion that the proceedings against Sir Thomas Rumbold be not discontinued by any prorogation of Parliament. On 5 June he seconded Dempster’s proposals for relief for the famine-stricken districts of Scotland, and on the 24th ‘spoke long and ably’ in favour of assistance for the cotton and linen manufactures. On 27 Nov. 1783 he attacked Fox’s East India bill ‘in terms of the greatest acrimony’, and on the dismissal of the Coalition was appointed a lord of the Treasury in Pitt’s Administration.3

At the general election of 1784 Graham, through his connexion with Dundas and Archibald Douglas, was brought in for Great Bedwyn by Lord Ailesbury, uncle of the Duke of Buccleuch. In the new Parliament he increased his reputation as a fluent and forceful speaker on Scottish questions. In August 1784 he strongly supported the bill for the restoration of the forfeited estates, and backed Dempster’s motion for improving the lot of Scottish fishermen; took a prominent part in 1785 in obtaining redress of Scottish grievances on distilling; but in 1788 supported Pitt’s view that the Act of 1786 should be amended as giving the Scots an unfair advantage over English distillers. On 9 May 1788 he voted with Administration on Impey’s impeachment and challenged the managers of Hastings’s impeachment to explain their objections to an examination of their accounts. He was an effective Government speaker during the Regency debates.4

In May 1789 when Warren Hastings protested to the Commons against Burke’s reference to him at his trial as the instigator of the ‘murder’ of Nunducomar, Graham insisted that, irrespective of precedent, the shorthand writer be examined about the speech. On 4 May, declaring that Hastings was entitled to the protection of the House against unsubstantiated allegations, he moved that no directions had been given to the managers ‘respecting the condemnation or execution of Nunducomar’. Fox at first acquiesced, but when he insisted that no censure of Burke be implied, Graham amended his motion to the effect that Burke should not have spoken the words complained of. Fox violently attacked Graham; angry scenes followed; and on a division Graham’s amended motion was carried. On 1 June 1789 he again crossed swords with Fox when he proposed Henry Addington as Speaker.5

His services were rewarded by the appointments of vice-president of the Board of Trade and joint paymaster. When the Marquess of Buckingham resigned the lord lieutenancy of Ireland he recommended Graham to succeed him as ‘decidedly the fittest of all’ and ‘more eligible’ than Westmorland, who was, however, eventually appointed.6

He died 30 Dec. 1836.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Add. 35513, ff. 77, 274; 35515, f. 131; 35517, f. 90; Robinson’s survey of 1780.
  • 2. Boswell, Private Pprs. xiv. 209, 211, 212, 231-2; Walpole, Last Jnls. ii. 371, 392; I. R. Christie, End of North’s Ministry, 331; Debrett, vii. 152, 162-3, 221-2, 235; Scots Mag. 1782, pp. 275, 322-3, 387-8, 444, 501, 666; Kay, Edinburgh Portraits, 284-289.
  • 3. Debrett, x. 36, 109, 119, 120, 217; xii. 183-4.
  • 4. Stockdale, iii. 355, 393; v. 279-80; xii. 132-3, 180-1; xiv. 273; xv. 48; Debrett, xvi. 327.
  • 5. Stockdale, xvii. 121, 133, 148-58, 286-7.
  • 6. HMC Fortescue, i. 525.