HOPE, John (1739-85), of Craigiehall, Linlithgow.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Apr. 1739, and surv. s. of Hon. Charles Hope Weir by his 1st w. Catherine Weir. educ. Enfield sch. c.1749-52. m. 2 June 1762, Mary, da. of Eliab Breton of Enfield, Mdx., 3s.
Chamberlain of Ettrick forest 1761-8.
In 1752 Hope was sent to Holland to be initiated into business in the great house of the Hopes of Amsterdam, his distant kinsmen. His seven years’ residence abroad were, he believed, the formative part of his life, setting him apart from the majority of Scottish politicians. He wrote in 1780:1
I was early used to the customs of a republic ... They on the contrary have chiefly studied the imperial law and have been educated in a country where it is regarded as a kind of treason to speak of the measures of Government with the smallest contempt.
Returning home in 1759, a younger son with little capital, he set up in business in the City; and through his father’s influence obtained a place in Scotland. But in 1767 a tragedy occurred from which Hope never fully recovered: his wife, whom he had married without her parents’ consent, committed suicide; and in deep ‘dejection of spirits’, Hope went home to Scotland.2 At the general election of 1768 his father stood down in his favour as candidate for Linlithgowshire. After a bitter contest, during which his cousin Lord Hope acted as his election manager, Hope was returned against James Dundas of Dundas, who petitioned. Having surrendered his place to his father, Hope was compensated by an allowance from his uncle Hopetoun of £400 p.a. for parliamentary expenses.
Hope entered Parliament with a considerable knowledge of public affairs, finance, and trade, but an inconvenient political conscience. The Hopetoun family’s immediate concern was Dundas’s petition, against which they sought the assistance of all parties. Every week Hope sent to Hopetoun House reports of the proceedings in Parliament, which he afterwards published in justification of his conduct.3 He attended the Wilkes debate of 23 Jan. 1769 but during the debate on America on the 26th was taken ill and went home. Although he confessed ‘I never could get over the tremor which affects me on making any public oration’,4 from his sickbed he entertained his cousin with the pro-American speech he might have made. He was absent through illness from the Wilkes debates of 27 Jan. and 2 and 3 Feb., but his comments on Administration were by no means favourable. His account of the debate of 17 Feb. on the Middlesex petition showed sympathy with the Opposition case, but did not state how he had voted. In the debate on the civil list on 28 Feb. he found the Opposition arguments ‘so plain and convincing’ that he did not stay for the division.
How far [the Government] arguments will justify us to the people for voting away their money to the King without knowing how it is employed, a little time will show ... an additional weight will be given to the instructions coming from all parts of the country to examine into the number of pensioners and to petition for a shorter duration of Parliament.
His only consolation was that Dundas’s petition had been postponed until next session, and that he could in conscience vote with Administration against Burke’s motion of 8 Mar. for an inquiry into the St. George’s Fields riots. He could not concur in the resolution of 15 Apr. that Luttrell should have been returned for Middlesex. He wrote to Hopetoun, 18 Apr.:
Having debated the point within myself, I resolved not to give my vote to such a resolution, and therefore did not attend the House. Had I attended I must have spoken to explain myself, as being attached to no party, and this I was uncertain if I should have the courage to do ... It is such an infringement on the liberties of every freeholder in Great Britain, that I am very much mistaken if the people above have not, by this measure, placed a match to that combustible matter which has this twelvemonth past been accumulating in every part of the country.
In the division of 8 May on the Middlesex petition against Luttrell’s return, he had the courage of his convictions; and wrote to Hopetoun, 13 May:
Your Lordship will by this time have supposed on which side I voted ... So much was said by the ablest speakers on the nature of the question being entirely separate from the cause of Mr. Wilkes, that, without making any apology for differing with my friends on this occasion, I sided with the minority of 152 to 221. I am very sorry when I cannot with the conviction of my own mind conform to the opinions of my friends and I shall be particularly concerned if by my vote ... I have forfeited their esteem. I wish the county had been called to give me instructions ... for I have ever been of opinion that every representaative in Parliament is in conscience bound to follow the instructions given him by his constituents.
Hope seems temporarily to have pacified Hopetoun, in the belief that a change of government was probable; but when Grafton threatened to withdraw support on the Linlithgowshire petition, Hopetoun fell into line and expected Hope to conform.
When Parliament reassembled Hope voted, 9 Jan. 1770, with Administration on the Address; but in the debate of 25 Jan. on the Middlesex election with the Opposition. The Hopetoun family, in dismay, arranged with a certain lord (unidentified) to reason with him. Hope wrote to his cousin Lord Hope, 10 Feb.:
Lord ... expostulated with me that the question now was not whether this or that ministry should be in, but ... whether this constitution should be continued or a republic founded on its ruins ... He was sure ... I was acting contrary to Lord Hopetoun’s principles and what the Duke of Grafton was given to expect; that I was losing the support of Government and was doing myself little good with the other people unless I meant to side with them at once.
Hope argued that the constitution was less endangered by the mob than by a servile Parliament and an arbitrary government, and declared his faith in the ‘independent power in the counties of Britain’ and the ‘virtue and strength of the middling classes’.
As to my acting against the inclinations of Lord Hopetoun ... I was sensible that in Parliament I was but a creature of his making, but still I considered myself as a free agent and one of the representatives of the Commons and not of the peers of Great Britain.
He dismissed Hopetoun’s adherence to the Government as mere time-serving:
His Lordship was for supporting the ministers for the time being; now the divisions in the House of Commons running so near as forty, and the late Duke of Cumberland’s friends with whom I thought his Lordship mostly connected, being the people that might be among the ministers next, I was rather inclined to side with them.
Charles Hope Weir now arrived from Scotland to advise his son. ‘My father told me’, wrote Hope, ‘Lord Hopetoun was so provoked with my conduct that he declared he would have nothing to do with the petition against me’, now due to be heard in March. Hope now realized that as an independent he had little chance of success. He wrote to Lord Hope, 28 Feb.:
I had been offered support by the heads of the Opposition without solicitation or condition; if I must go through thick and thin with either party for a month, I thought it most honourable with them, because I approve of their present patriotical notions and was left at liberty to act hereafter as I pleased ... The ministry ... had already withdrawn from me their support, and to procure it again I must solicit, must vote against my conscience on their side, and must promise to be for ever in future a ministerial man.
Recommended by Sir George Colebrooke to Rockingham,5 Hope was none the less dissuaded from accepting Opposition support by his father’s arguments. He wrote to Lord Hope:
He was of opinion I was acting wrong; because the ministry ... could give me the greatest support; that they had not yet retracted their promise of it; and that my friends would rather have me lose my seat than be under obligation for it to the other people ... that I was not the principal concerned ... for the honour of the family interest in the county was the chief purpose of giving me the seat in Parliament ... I ought therefore to have done nothing without their advice and approbation ... This reasoning ... altered my proceeding ... I now think it incumbent on me to be passive; at least till the petition is over; and then, if my Lord your father should find that ... I am going contrary to his political principles, it certainly will be just that I should resign to somebody who in conscience can vote entirely with them. Your Lordship knows ... that I think myself responsible for my public conduct to the whole people of Great Britain and that is what all the representatives of the Commons ought to be; but in effect they are not so ... and it is but equitable that your father should have his additional share in the legislature as well as other peers.
In this mood Hope remained ‘passive’; but on 27 Mar. 1770 Dundas won his petition and Hope was unseated. Hopetoun did not forgive the blow to his family interest and completely disowned his nephew, who in 1772 published the correspondence in explanation of the breach.
To have great relations and to be forsaken by them, is more disadvantageous to a man’s fortune than to have no relations alive in the whole world; it carries ... a presumption ... that he has been guilty of some very criminal or dishonourable action.
Thrown upon his own resources in a not very prosperous business, Hope openly declared his Opposition principles and in 1772 suggested to Wilkes that he should move a vote of thanks to him in the Society of the Bill of Rights for his disinterested conduct in Parliament, which had cost him his seat and Hopetoun’s annuity of £400 p.a. ‘I don’t mean by it to rival you in your patriotic fame, but to make my relations ashamed of their behaviour.’6 He turned to journalism and under the pseudonyms of ‘the Leveller’ and ‘the Advocate of the People’ contributed to the newspapers essays on a wide variety of topics, ranging from politics and finance to horsemanship, architecture, seabathing, and children’s health. These ‘Thoughts in Prose and Verse’ he collected and published in 1780. In his preface he wrote:
I did not determine to put my name to this book until I read in the parliamentary debates that of the 33 Scotch Members who were present ... when Mr. Dunning’s motion was put to the vote ... 28 of them voted against it. As one who once had the honour of sitting in that House, I now willingly risk the acquiring the name of a bad author, that I may increase the small number of constitutional Scotsmen ... This is no time when any friend of freedom should be hid.
Strongly opposed to North and the American war, he became almost republican in his political thinking, and although he remained on good terms with his father, had little affection for Scotland or Scotsmen, preferring to be considered a ‘citizen of the world’. He died 21 May 1785.