HAMILTON, John James (1756-1818).
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Family and Education
b. July 1756, posth. s. of Capt. Hon. John Hamilton, R.N., by Harriet, illegit. da. of Rt. Hon. James Craggs, wid. of Richard Eliot, M.P., of Port Eliot, Cornw.; half-bro. of Edward Eliot, and gd.-s. of James, 7th Earl of Abercorn [S]. educ. Harrow 1770-1; Pembroke, Camb. 1773; I. Temple 1773. m. (1) 20 June 1779, Catherine (d. 13 Sept. 1791), da. of Sir Joseph Copley, 1st Bt., of Sprotbrough, Yorks., 2s. 4da.; (2) 4 Mar. 1792, his 1st cos. Lady Cecil Hamilton (div. Apr. 1799), da. and coh. of Hon. and Rev. George Hamilton, dean of Windsor, 1da.; (3) 3 Apr. 1800, Anne Jane, da. of Arthur Saunders Gore, 2nd Earl of Arran [I], wid. of Henry Hatton of Great Clonard, co. Wexford, s.p. suc. uncle as 9th Earl of Abercorn [S] 9 Oct. 1789; cr. Mq. of Abercorn [GB] 15 Oct. 1790; K.G. 17 Jan. 1805.
P.C. [I] 1794.
In the late summer of 1783 Hamilton returned to England after two years’ absence abroad; and on 1 Dec. was elected unopposed at East Looe on the interest of John Buller sen., an uncle of his wife. On 5 Dec. he voted against Fox’s East India bill, and on the 8th, in his maiden speech,1 rejoiced that even at this last stage he had an opportunity of expressing his abhorrence of a measure ‘which he verily believed would completely overturn the constitution’. He still hoped the Commons would reject the bill, but if not ‘trusted that the other House would interpose, and by rejecting the bill, preserve the country from the fetters that were forging for it’. Horace Walpole commented to Lord Strafford, 11 Dec. 1783: ‘Though his first essay, it was not at all dashed by bashfulness and though he might have blushed for discovering so much personal rancour to Mr. Fox, he rather seemed impatient to discharge it.’ Hamilton from the first attached himself to Pitt, with whom he had been at Pembroke, Cambridge; in Robinson’s survey of mid-December 1783 is marked as ‘strongly for’, and on 1 Mar. 1784, in reply to Fox’s motion for Pitt’s removal, ‘praised the constancy of the ministers, and urged them to persevere’.2
At the general election of 1784 Hamilton was returned for St. Germans by his half-brother, Edward Eliot. On 24 May he moved the Address. Daniel Pulteney reported to the Duke of Rutland on 27 May that he ‘spoke long and very well, though rather too pompous for the House of Commons’.3 After drawing a highly laudatory picture of Pitt, with whom ‘the fondest hopes of the people were reposed’,4 Hamilton, according to Wraxall,5 showed ‘his aversion to the Opposition leader ... in a manner scarcely compatible either with the rules of debate or with the forms of decorum’. Without actually naming Fox he castigated those ‘who having dissipated their fortune, ruined their constitution, and prostituted their powers, had entered those walls for the purpose of political traffic, for the purpose of repairing their finances, or from motives of ambition and aggrandisement’.6 Hamilton voted for Pitt’s proposals for parliamentary reform, He was a vigorous champion of Warren Hastings. Wraxall writes7 that
ardently attached as he was to the chancellor of the Exchequer, yet possessed great independence of mind joined with a haughty inflexibility of character. Deeply impressed with a sense of Hastings’s services to the state, he disdained to follow the crowd of ministerial dependants who alternately acquitted or condemned him as their leader dictated.
When on 21 June 1786 the House was about to rise for the summer recess, with charges against Hastings unresolved, Hamilton moved for a call of the House ‘with a view to go on with the charges against Mr. Hastings, so as to completely finish them in the course of the present session’; individual inconvenience was an insignificant object when ‘opposed to what was due to the feelings of a persecuted and accused man ... if Mr. Hastings were ultimately to be deemed criminal, let him be proved such and then be punished, but let condemnation precede punishment, and his punishment not be suspense’.8 But when on 27 Mar. 1787 Hastings’s impeachment was to be moved in the House, Hamilton endeavoured to gain more time, and, according to Wraxall9
equally regardless of the effect which his speech might produce on Pitt or Burke, though connected by the closest ties of friendship with the former, in the imperious and dictatorial tone natural to him, he expressed his astonishment at the indecent precipitation which characterized their deliberations.
Reminded by Dundas that he had the previous year pressed the House to continue sitting the whole summer in order to do Hastings justice as speedily as possible, he ‘desired the House to recollect the difference between using dispatch in deciding upon preliminary charges and precipitately coming to a determination on the great question of impeachment’.10 Hamilton was a keen supporter of the abolition of the slave trade, and on 21 May 1788 opposed Sir William Dolben’s proposals for the regulation of the shipping of slaves because ‘by such a bill that House would, for the first time, sanction that most abominable traffic, unauthorized by divine law, and so repugnant to human feeling’.11
Wraxall gives the following picture of Hamilton:12
Of a dark complexion, with very intelligent and regular features, he resembled more a Spaniard than a native of Britain; and his arrogant solemnity of manner augmented by the peculiarities of his demeanour, obtained for him from Sheridan the name of ‘Don Whiskerandos’, the lover of Tilburina in his own ‘Critic’. Mr. Hamilton’s abilities, though not of the first order, might have qualified him for public employment ... if he had emulated to obtain office; but pleasure rather than business, enjoyment and not application or renunciations, seemed principally to occupy his mind.
He died 27 Jan. 1818.