ACLAND, John Dyke (1746-78), of Pixton, Som.

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



1774 - 22 Nov. 1778

Family and Education

b. 18 Feb. 1746, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 7th Bt. educ. Eton 1763-4; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1765; Grand Tour, with Thomas Townshend jun. m. 3 June 1770, Lady Christiana Harriet Caroline Fox Strangways, da. of Stephen, 1st Earl of Ilchester, 1s. 1da.

Offices Held

Ensign 33 Ft. 1774, capt. 1775; maj. 20 Ft. 1775.


Returned for Callington on Lady Orford’s interest, Acland made his first speech on 20 Feb. 1775 on North’s motion to allow the colonies to tax themselves:1

I have supported Administration on every American step they have taken during the session, because I have approved them; and as long as I had continued to approve them, I should have continued to support them. But, Sir, I cannot approve this measure.

On 27 Feb.2 he elaborated his argument: North’s proposals neither satisfied America who denied the right of taxation, nor Britain who claimed it. He was not anti-American, but convinced of the justice of the British cause:

That which is generosity, which is magnanimity after victory, is timidity and foul disgrace before it. There may be situations in which states may be found where they cannot, without certain ruin, acquiesce even in just claims; there are situations too, in which states may grant more than is asked, and give more than is desired, with honour, security, and advantage.

In the summer of 1775 he asked permission to raise a regiment. North, ‘convinced that the spirit which has been raised in the west has been almost entirely owing to Mr. Acland, and that some favour shown to him at present will be of considerable political use’, recommended it:3 ‘The cause of Great Britain is not yet sufficiently popular’, he wrote to the King on 25 Aug. 1775,4 ‘and it will derive great credit from such a public declaration of an independent gentleman of fortune.’ But the King, although approving Acland’s ‘laudable sentiments’ and ‘the love he bears to the military profession’, preferred to augment the old regiments.5 Acland persisted until he made a nuisance of himself. On 28 Nov. the King wrote to North: ‘I do not see the means of promoting him in Ireland’; his pretensions were ‘so exorbitant’; but if he would ‘take the civil line’ something could be arranged for him.6

In moving the Address on 26 Oct. 1775 Acland said the issue was clear7:

Do gentlemen choose to acquiesce in the independence of America, or to enforce their submission to this country by vigorous measures ... I must maintain that it would have been better for this country that America had never been known, than that a great consolidated American Empire should exist independent of Britain.

On 22 Nov., in an altercation with Charles James Fox, he described himself as ‘no adventurer or place-hunter; he was a gentleman of independent fortune, who voted purely in conformity with his sentiments, without any sinister views whatever’.8

In November 1775 he left to join his regiment in America, where he was twice wounded, and captured at Saratoga. ‘His behaviour’, wrote Burgoyne to Sir William Howe on 25 Oct. 1777, ‘has been that of a high-spirited soldier of fortune.’9 On his return to England in May 1778 he was received by the King, who wished ‘to hear his account of the different scenes he had been engaged in’.10 ‘The zeal he has shewn’, the King wrote to North, ‘made me think him deserving of this distinction.’

He died 22 Nov. ‘by a fall on his head in a duel’.11

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Almon, i. 207.
  • 2. Ibid. 237.
  • 3. North to the King [14 Aug. 1775], Fortescue, iii. 246.
  • 4. Ibid. 249.
  • 5. The King to North, 18 Aug. 1775, ibid. 247.
  • 6. Ibid. 297.
  • 7. Almon, iii. 6.
  • 8. Ibid. 207-8.
  • 9. HMC Royal Institution, i. 144.
  • 10. The King to North, 14 May 1778, Fortescue, iv. 142.
  • 11. Lady Sarah Lennox to Duchess of Leinster, 12 Dec. 1778, Leinster Corresp. 265.