Single Member Scottish County

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

Background Information

Number of voters:

178 in 1788


3 May 1754Lord Adam Gordon 
24 Apr. 1761Lord Adam Gordon56
 James Duff32
14 Apr. 1768Alexander Garden 
28 Oct. 1774Alexander Garden 
29 Sept. 1780Alexander Garden 
15 Apr. 1784Alexander Garden 
28 Feb. 1786George Skene vice Garden, deceased62
 James Ferguson52

Main Article

Aberdeen was one of the largest of the Scottish counties: the leading interests belonged to the Duffs of Braco and the Duke of Gordon. At the general election of 1754 the Duke of Argyll promoted the candidature of Lord Adam Gordon, and Newcastle, anxious to avoid a clash, persuaded the sitting Member, Andrew Mitchell, to withdraw, in exchange for a promise of assistance at the earliest opportunity.1 Attempts were made to rally an opposition to Gordon, but the declaration of the Duff family in his favour proved decisive.2 Aeneas Mackintosh reported to Lord Loudoun, 10 May 1754:3

Lord Adam Gordon carried his election against the united interest of Sir Arthur Forbes, Mr. Mitchell, and Sir Archibald Grant, who all resigned in Colonel Horn’s favour, but Lord Adam had such a majority they did not appear.

In 1761 the same group—Forbes, Mitchell and Grant—opposed Gordon again, supporting James Duff, Lord Fife’s son-in-law. The determining factor on this occasion was the attitude of the Duchess of Gordon and Lord Aberdeen (guardian to the young Duke), and of Administration. On 26 Apr. 1760 a detailed assessment was made on Newcastle’s behalf:4

Earl Fife has set up Duff of Hatton his son-in-law in opposition to Lord Adam Gordon, who must rely entirely upon the Duke of Argyll and the countenance of the King’s servants. The interest of the Grants is considerable in that county, and must have great influence in the election, also the interest of the family of Gordon and Lord Aberdeen, which will not separate, and I suppose may be determined by the King’s servants here, nor will they be favourably inclined to Lord Adam.

But Administration gave its support to Gordon, who was returned.5 To Newcastle, Lord Deskford wrote, 22 Apr. 1761: ‘If it had not been understood that your Grace was favourably disposed for Lord Adam Gordon, I think he would not have carried Aberdeenshire.’6

As early as 1765 it was reported that Lord Adam would not seek re-election. The seat went to Alexander Garden of Troup, apparently as a compromise candidate, with wide support from the smaller independent interests. Garden was able to build up a strong following in the county, and was re-elected unopposed in 1774, 1780 and 1784. An attempt to raise an opposition to him in 1784, presumably by supporters of the Coalition, petered out.7

In 1786, on the death of Garden, there was a trial of strength between the Duff and Gordon interests. Lord Fife’s candidate was George Skene, his brother-in-law; Gordon supported James Ferguson of Pitfour. The election was warmly contested, though polling day was reported to have passed off quietly, despite the appearance of Lord George Gordon as a friend of Skene. Lord Fife was chosen praeses by a majority of 11 over Sir Archibald Grant, and Skene carried the day.8 The Duke of Gordon then began preparing for the next election: in September 1786 he conveyed 25 superiorities,9 and in February 1787 was said to be thinking of putting up his son, Lord Huntley.10 But Henry Dundas was anxious that Gordon and Fife, both now supporters of Pitt’s Administration, should reach agreement, and in September 1787 undertook a tour in the North to reconcile differences.11 As part of the general agreement, it was decided that Ferguson should be allowed in for Aberdeenshire at the next election, and in 1788 Lord Fife intervened to prevent Skene canvassing for re-election.12 William Adam’s assessment of the county at Michaelmas 1788 gave Gordon command of 44 votes and Lord Fife 33 out of a total of 178.13

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Cathcart to Loudoun, 26 Mar. 1754, Loudoun mss.
  • 2. Add. 32735, ff. 3, 36, 74.
  • 3. Loudoun mss.
  • 4. Add. 33049, f. 306.
  • 5. Caledonina Merc. 27 Apr. 1761.
  • 6. Add. 32922, f. 138.
  • 7. A. H. Tayler, Lord Fife his Factor, 161.
  • 8. Caledonian Merc. 4 Mar. 1786.
  • 9. Alex. Wight, Inquiry into the Rise and Progress of Parlt. 100.
  • 10. Lord Fife his Factor, 187.
  • 11. H. Furber, Hen. Dundas, 206.
  • 12. Dundas to Steele, 2 Sept. 1788, Chatham mss.
  • 13. Pol. State of Scotland, 17.