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:

40 in 1774, 71 in 1780, 66 in 1788


16 May 1754John Campbell of Mamore 
17 Apr. 1761John Campbell of Mamore 
10 Dec. 1761Archibald Edmonstone vice Campbell, become a peer of Scotland 
13 Apr. 1768Archibald Edmonstone 
10 Nov. 1774Sir Archibald Edmonstone26
 George Keith Elphinstone14
14 Sept. 1780Lord Frederick Campbell27
 George Keith Elphinstone19
 Elphinstone vice Campbell, on petition, 14 Feb. 1781 
7 Aug. 1783Elphinstone re-elected after appointment to office 
15 Apr. 1784George Keith Elphinstone 

Main Article

At the beginning of this period the Campbells were in control of Dunbartonshire. John Campbell of Mamore, heir to the Duke of Argyll, was returned unopposed in 1754, having represented the county since 1727. He was again returned in 1761, unaware that he had succeeded to the dukedom two days before the election. Several candidates were anxious to obtain the now vacant seat. Robert Haldane of Gleneagles, an opponent of the Campbells, wrote (23 Apr.) to Bute for support, claiming that ‘our family interest is not inconsiderable’. Bute’s brother-in-law, John Campbell of Stonefield, also entertained ambitions. But the new Duke, without waiting for Bute’s approval, set up his nephew Archibald Edmonstone of Duntreath, and explained to Bute, 6 May:

As Mr. Haldane has been in the county with a view of offering his service, I thought no time was to be lost, by taking some measures to secure it for the interest of our families. My Lord Milton telling me that he had directions from your Lordship to concert this matter with me, I have accordingly recommended my nephew which I am hopeful will be agreeable to your Lordship. He is a man of considerable property both in Dumbarton and Stirling shires.

But Argyll’s haste aroused the jealousy of Bute and his managers. Gilbert Elliot commented:

I cannot help being persuaded that his Grace when advised by his real friends will drop all these vain pretensions, but in the meantime I believe it to be very material that your Lordship should as soon as possible fix upon some candidate for that county, since there are already so many concerting measures for their own views; the very name of Argyll in that country, the presence of his Grace, however inconsiderable, and above all the warm marks of friendship publicly shown to him by your Lordship, are circumstances which may soon induce country gentlemen to give rash promises which they may find it difficult to retract.1

Bute and Argyll eventually reached agreement by a compromise over Dunbartonshire and Ayr Burghs, and Edmonstone was returned unopposed in December 1761.

At the 1768 election Edmonstone was unchallenged, but thereafter a new alignment began to form. Robert Haldane was dead, but his friend Sir Lawrence Dundas, always a bitter enemy of the Argyll interest, gave close support to his successor George (Cockburn) Haldane, who had married Dundas’s niece. They combined with the Elphinstones in a new anti-Argyll alliance, whose candidate was William Elphinstone. The Duke, anxious lest the Colquhouns of Luss should join them, wrote on 4 Nov. 1773 to Sir James Grant to use his influence with his uncle, Sir James Colquhoun:2

A sudden opposition to the present Member whom I am engaged to support has lately started up, raised by Lord Elphinstone in favour of one of his sons. The first person that I applied to upon this occasion was Sir James but ... I have not received that frank and favourable answer which I flattered myself I should meet with. I know no reason for this coldness, but that he alleges I have been too dilatory in speaking to him and that he shall probably not be present at the Dumbartonshire election, being obliged to attend in the North. I am confident however he is not engaged and as his declaration with his friends would be of great consequence to me, you will confer the highest obligation upon me if you can prevail upon him to take a determined part in my favour without further delay or hesitation, which might be the means of fixing several others who are wavering and stand off.

When the general election came, William Elphinstone was replaced as candidate by his younger brother George Keith Elphinstone. Edmonstone was returned with 26 votes against 14, but Elphinstone petitioned, claiming that his opponent enjoyed part of the profits of the receiver-generalship of customs, and was therefore ineligible. When the petition came up for hearing, Elphinstone was on duty at sea, and the House refused, by 70 votes to 43, to grant him an extension of time.

Edmonstone thus retained his seat, but the strength of the Argyll party diminished rapidly. The Marquess of Graham, to whom the Duke of Montrose had made over control of the Lennox estates, threw in his lot with the Elphinstones, and created 30 new votes. Sir James Colquhoun, on behalf of the Argyll interest, challenged this in the courts and, in turn, began to create votes himself.3 Negotiations went on between Argyll and the Elphinstones,4 but no settlement was reached. Before the election of 1780 Edmonstone was replaced as candidate by one of the ‘name’—Lord Frederick Campbell, the Duke’s brother—presumably to secure any waverers. Much would depend on the date of the general election. The newly-enrolled votes would not be valid for a year and a day—i.e., on 15 Sept. 1780; until then, the Argyll party retained its majority.

Parliament was dissolved on 1 Sept. The sheriff, an Argyll supporter, fixed the election for the earliest legal day—14 Sept. When the court met, the Elphinstones sought by filibusters to prolong proceedings until midnight, and the arguments continued up to 5 a.m. The sheriff, maintaining that the poll should be concluded on the day it began, accepted the old electoral roll, and declared Campbell elected by 27 to 19.5 The Elphinstones maintained that by the votes of the new freeholders they had carried the day by 42 to 29, and the House of Commons on petition upheld their argument, and unseated Campbell.

By 1784 the leaders of the new alliance had adopted different political views. Elphinstone and most of his relatives supported the Coalition; Graham, on whom he chiefly depended, supported Pitt. Henry Dundas thought that Elphinstone would ‘certainly be turned out’, but a compromise was reached. Elphinstone retained the seat, but it was agreed ‘betwixt the Marquis of Graham and Lord Elphinstone who at present have the command of this county, that the Marquis shall name the Member at next election’.6

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. All three passages from Bute mss.
  • 2. Chiefs of Grant, ii. 452-3.
  • 3. Chiefs of Colquhoun, i. 365, 369.
  • 4. Argyll, Intimate Soc. Letters of 18th Cent. ii. 438; Robinson’s survey for 1780.
  • 5. Jos. Irving, Bk. of Dumbartonshire, i. 335-6.
  • 6. Laprade, 100; Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 91.