JACKSON, Richard (?1721-87), of Weasenham, Norf.

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



1 Dec. 1762 - 1768
1768 - 1784

Family and Education

b. ?1721, o.s. of Richard Jackson of Weasenham, Norf., London merchant, director South Sea Co. and dep.-gov. 1764-8, by Elizabeth, da. of Edmund Clarke.  educ. Queens’, Camb. 1739; L. Inn 1739, called 1744. unm.  suc. fa. 11 Jan. 1768.

Offices Held

Agent for Connecticut May 1760-70, for Pennsylvania Apr. 1763-1770; sec. to chancellor of Exchequer 1763-July 1765; counsel to South Sea Co. 1764-7; agent for Massachusetts Apr. 1765-70; counsel to Board of Trade Apr. 1770-1782; bencher I. Temple 1770; counsel to Camb. Univ. 1771- d.; ld. of Treasury July 1782-Apr. 1783.


Jackson, ‘from his extraordinary stores of knowledge ... styled omniscient’,1 was a scholar rather than a politician, and though esteemed by leading statesmen, very rarely appears in their correspondence. His failure to cut a figure in public life was largely due to ‘his lack of personal ambition, his solitary habits, his nervous, if not neurotic, modesty, and the diffusion of his interests over an enormous range of knowledge’.2 Eminent in his own profession, he was also versed in economics and finance, in science and agriculture, had travelled intelligently in Europe, and was deemed an expert on colonial problems. His attitude toward America was basically that of a Dissenter (which he was by birth),3 thinking in non-hierarchical terms; and his aim was to preserve the union of the two branches of the English nation. With this in view, and not for personal gain, he tried for a time to keep a foot in either camp, but was never accused of double-dealing by anyone who knew him.

He became connected with Benjamin Franklin through Peter Collinson, the naturalist, whose letter of 26 Sept. 1751 gives an early glimpse of him:4

I have prevailed on our worthy, learned, and ingenious friend Mr. Jackson to give some dissertations on the husbandry of Norfolk, believing it may be very serviceable to the Colonies. He has great opportunities of doing this, being a gentleman of leisure and fortune, being the only son, whose father has great riches and possessions, and resides every year, all the long vacation, at his father’s seat in Norfolk.

During Franklin’s stay in England, 1757-62, they were much together, and Franklin furnished Jackson with materials for his Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania, published anonymously in June 1759; and Jackson assisted Franklin over his pamphlet on The Interest of Great Britain with regard to Canada and Guadeloupe, published in 1760.

In 1759-60 Jackson bought a farm of 700 acres in Connecticut; and next, together with Franklin, engaged in schemes for new western colonies, including the Vandalia project. In 1764 he obtained a grant of 20,000 acres in Nova Scotia.5

On the vacancy caused at Weymouth by the death of John Olmius, 1st Baron Waltham, Fox wrote to Bute, 17 Nov. 1762: ‘Lady Waltham does not intend her son, but one Mr. Jackson.’6 Though not a Government candidate, a fortnight later he was included by Fox in the list of Members favourable to the peace preliminaries. ‘A seat in Parliament’, wrote Jackson to Franklin, 4 Apr. 1763, ‘in this kingdom is (you know) usually built on negotiations, and those negotiations (in the course of which I met with some trouble) took up most of my last summer.’ And Franklin’s satisfaction at Jackson having ‘at length got into Parliament’, points to an old ambition.7

On 24 Mar. 1760 Jackson was chosen by the Connecticut assembly agent in Great Britain, to act jointly with Jared Ingersoll during his stay in London;8 and in April 1763 Franklin, returning home, caused him to be appointed agent for Pennsylvania. In Massachusetts he was in April 1762 Governor Francis Bernard’s candidate but his being already agent for Connecticut, with whom Massachusetts had disputes, was considered an ‘insuperable obstacle’; the governor was none too popular with the assembly; and Jackson’s belonging to the Church of England counted against him.9 Even when elected, on 24 Jan. 1765, it was merely by a majority vote; and on 5 Nov. the house of representatives appointed Dennys De Berdt, a Dissenter, their special agent in England, while Jackson remained agent for the province. ‘Mr. Jackson’, wrote De Berdt to the Speaker of the assembly on 27 Dec. 1765, ‘assures me of all the assistance in his power both in and out of the House [of Commons].’ And on 1 Mar. 1768: ‘we have always maintained a friendly correspondence’.10

Before accepting the Massachusetts agency Jackson, by then secretary to the chancellor of the Exchequer, asked for Grenville’s views—‘his own inclination’, wrote Jenkinson to Grenville, 11 Apr. 1765, ‘rather led him to decline it and yet if his acceptance of it would be of service to Government he was ready to take it’. The date of Jackson’s appointment to the Exchequer is uncertain, though most probably it was soon after Grenville himself had taken office: Jackson’s letter to Jenkinson of 18 Sept. 1763 suggests an official connexion between them; so does the remark to Franklin, 27 Dec. 1763, that he has ‘a good deal of access’ to Grenville, and has ‘received a very considerable mark of his good will and esteem, and what is generally too deemed a mark of his confidence’. The description often given of him as ‘private secretary’ to Grenville is misleading (it was Charles Lloyd), and the relation between them was never close; in the mass of Grenville correspondence there is not one letter from or to Jackson; and on 21 Apr. 1768 Grenville wrote to Lord Halifax that he scarce ever exchanged a word with Jackson since leaving the Exchequer, ‘and he has I think in every vote acted differently from me’.11

Jackson had hoped while ‘in favour with Administration’ to do effective service to the Colonies and the mother country—‘I consider their interests as inseparable’.12 He was disappointed. On 26 Jan. 1764, having told Franklin that numerous American questions were to come before Parliament, he wrote:13

I am ... employed not only in attending the House, but in combating what I deem the most dangerous errors in American politics in 100 places ... I have access to almost every place any friends of the colonies would wish to have access to, but I am not sensible of my making any impression proportioned to my endeavours.

And when Franklin, on 25 June 1764, referred to ‘letters from people at home to their American friends ... mentioning in the strongest terms your zeal for the welfare of the Colonies, and the success attending it’, Jackson replied that in fact he had ‘very little weight or influence’. This is not the style of a self-seeking or self-important person; nor did he value the agencies for their emoluments. He left it to the Connecticut assembly whether any salary should be paid to him for the four years while Ingersoll was still in England, and it was the assembly, ‘fully sensible of the great pains taken and good services rendered’ by him and ‘in full confidence of his future friendship’, who desired him to charge it from 30 May 1760.14 With regard to the Massachusetts agency, De Berdt wrote on 1 Mar. 1768 that he was glad Jackson ‘has at last been rewarded’.15

Jackson’s first reported speech in the House was on the American bill, 22 Mar. 1764, pleading for a lower duty on molasses. Over Wilkes and general warrants he supported the Government: on 28 Jan. 1765, the night before the subject came up once more in the House, he was at the meeting of ‘men of business’ at Grenville’s house. On 2 Feb., together with other colonial agents, he waited on Grenville, to remonstrate against the impending stamp bill, and ‘told him plainly’ what consequences he foresaw from ‘the measure now pursuing’.16 On 6 Feb. he spoke and voted against the stamp bill: he argued that though the British Parliament had an undeniable right to tax America, it would be wrong to impose internal taxes while she was unrepresented. The short reports of his speech by Harris and Ryder perhaps unduly stress the opening admission; his own reports17 give both parts of the argument. On 15 Feb. Jackson and other Members connected with the Colonies presented petitions against the stamp bill, which the House refused to receive. On the 27th, on the third reading, according to Harris, he spoke ‘though against the bill yet for Admiralty courts’. Also in his correspondence with his American constituents, Jackson invariably pleaded for moderation.18

In the summer of 1765 Jackson, who left the Exchequer with Grenville, was wrongly classed by Rockingham as ‘contra’. He supported the repeal of the Stamp Act; and on 27 Feb., writing to Connecticut about the forecasts by opponents that it would produce further disorders in America, warned them that ‘the credit of the best friends America ever had is pledged that this will not be the case’. On 18 Apr. 1766, in a debate on the budget, he spoke on the Government side against Grenville.

Next, Jackson adhered to the Chatham Administration; it included Shelburne who, when at the Board of Trade, had wanted him for its counsel,19 and in November 1767 named Amherst, Franklin, and Jackson as ‘the best authorities for anything that related to America’.20 On 26 Jan. 1767 Jackson spoke against Grenville’s motion that troops in America should be paid for by the Colonies;21 and on 7 Dec. 1767, in support of the petition from Pennsylvania complaining of taxation without representation.

In 1768, Lord Waltham being of age, Jackson had to give up the seat at Weymouth, and was returned for New Romney, a borough at the disposal of the Treasury. On 19 Apr. 1769 Jackson made his last recorded speech on America, in support of Pownall’s motion for a repeal of the Townshend duties: ‘I consider the preservation of America to depend upon the repeal of this act. Laws cannot be carried into execution, countries cannot be well governed, when there is universal discontent among the people.’22 In April 1770 Jackson was appointed counsel to the Board of Trade, and consequently resigned his colonial agencies. In October 1771 the Connecticut assembly resolved to thank him ‘for his services and for the great care and faithfulness and steady attention he has ever paid to the true interest of the Colony’, and to present him with an inscribed piece of plate.23

Jackson, agreeing with the principle of parliamentary sovereignty over the Colonies, must have found his position as colonial agent increasingly awkward. Still, it is difficult to explain how he henceforth reconciled himself to supporting the Government, whose American policy he condemned but on whose interest he was re-elected in 1774 and 1780. He did not speak again on America except in June 1774 on some technical aspects of the Quebec bill,24 with which he had to deal as counsel to the Board of Trade: ‘I have always observed’, wrote Burke to James Delancey, 2 Aug. 1773, ‘that his report has, as it ought to have, great weight with the Board; and indeed in most cases is decisive.’ Chosen on 28 Nov. 1772 member of the secret committee on East India affairs, both in 1773 and in 1783 he took part in debates on them. Half a dozen other speeches by him are reported; but his only known reference to America concerns his own votes—a puzzling subject. On 13 June 1781, Charles James Fox having incidentally remarked he wished Jackson ‘had voted oftener, as he had told the House he thought that the last system of government was pernicious’, Jackson

declared he had uniformly voted for the repeal of the Stamp Act, against the Boston port bill, and the other bills, which he had declared both in public and private, to be the cause of our misfortunes. But he had voted for a supply, because as the country was in a state of war, he did not wish to leave it without fleets and armies.25

In a letter of 30 Nov. 1784 to a Connecticut friend, W. S. Johnson, he even claimed to have voted against all legislation concerning America,26 which is not borne out by the voting records for 1774-82: Jackson’s name does not appear in the list of Members voting against the Massachusetts Judicature bill, 6 May 1774, or for the amendment to the Address on America, 20 Oct. 1775, or for Fox’s motion against sending the ‘old corps’ of the army to America, 2 Feb. 1778. In fact, during those years not a single vote of his against the Government is recorded; and he still voted with them on the two censure motions of 20 Feb. and 8 Mar. 1782; but he was absent from the divisions on the American war, 12 Dec. 1781, 22 and 27 Feb. 1782, and ‘stayed away’ when on 15 Mar. Rous moved the vote of no-confidence which overthrew the North Administration.27

In February-April 1778 there was an opening for Jackson to take an active part in American affairs: he was invited by the Government to join Lord Carlisle and William Eden in the conciliatory mission. Carlisle wrote about him to a friend:28

I bent to the persuasion that his accurate knowledge of the country to which we were to repair, and his long and familiar acquaintance with her interests, would outbalance the insignificancy of his situation and the obscurity of his name.

And Jackson wrote to Eden on 28 Feb.:29

I assure you with great truth, nothing could have contributed more to my acceptance of the honour intended me, than your making one of the commission; that will at least make the passage agreeable. No objection that I have to the bill (though I have at least one that weighs much with me), no inconvenience that can happen to my affairs in England, shall prevent me from going, if named: but you must be sensible that the instructions make a material part of the plan; you will recollect that I expressed a wish the other day that they might be full and precise. I am not afraid of being too much straitened, in point of discretion: though it is true on the other hand that I can conceive them drawn so as to exclude all hope of good effect, which last, I do not believe will be the case; believing however, as I do, that the ends of the plan will be otherwise frustrated.

He went on with reservations and apprehensions, and concluded:

The commencement of the American war always appeared to me an impolitic measure, the continuance of it cannot be less than ruin to this empire, and will be an object that I cannot be near without an anxiety that will be too much for me to bear.

Equally expressive of his unfitness for the task was a further short letter to Eden on 1 Mar.:30

I could almost wish you did not consider me as having accepted ... difficulties insurmountable may arise from the instructions, I wish to be entrusted with no discretion unless it be accurately limited and defined at both ends. I certainly have not accepted, but upon the supposition that I find myself sufficiently instructed, and that too in a manner not likely to defeat the end.

During March Jackson grew increasingly averse to going; raised objections which, when surmounted he ‘repeated with a fresh addition of difficulties’;31and, as Eden wrote on 30 Mar.,32

said ... that we should proceed immediately to give independence to the Colonies—that he had made a great subscription to the loan which was still unsettled—that he should wish soon to come back—that he could not go this month and even then should leave all his affairs at sixes and sevens—that it did not signify when they arrived—and was of no consequence except to satisfy the people of this country—that his seat in Parliament might be vacated—‘and such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff etc.’
Upon the whole he has convinced me that he does not mean to go—and also that he ought not to go.

When North reported the matter to the King, George III replied on 1 Apr.: ‘I am very clear he ought not to be allowed to go.’33 Carlisle and Eden felt relieved to be rid of ‘a person who, with the best intention in the world, would have driven us mad with doubts and digressions before we had got to Portsmouth’. And Archbishop Markham wrote to Eden, 11 Apr.:34 ‘Jackson may be a good index, but I am much mistaken if you would have found him an efficient man.’ Jackson himself, recounting the story of those years, told W. S. Johnson in a letter of 30 Nov. 1784 that even after the outbreak of hostilities he kept up intercourse with American friends, hoping to contribute to stopping the calamity.

That intercourse continually lessened until upon my declining to go out a commissioner to America with emoluments to the amount of £6 or £7,000 sterling, the little intercourse that remained ceased, and first I began to remit in my attendance on Parliament and afterwards to give way to a resolution to have little to do with public affairs.

But he would refuse taking part in them only when convinced that he could be of no use.

This conviction I was under in 1778, and I got the better of the most earnest solicitation—but I was convinced ... that the commission could only operate by reconciling the people of this country to a continuance of the war. The event proved my judgment to be true.

When Shelburne included Jackson in his Treasury list on 9 July 1782,35 ‘not decided’ was put against him—signifying doubts on one side or perhaps on both. There is no evidence of Jackson’s having played any part in the peace negotiations with America, and, although a member of the Government, he did not speak in defence of the preliminary treaty. Even after 1783 he envisaged the English nation as one, ‘whether resident in Europe or America ... a common origin, manners and langauge make a nation, though different parts of it may be governed by distinct and independent sovereignties’.36

He did not seek re-election in 1784, and died 6 May 1787, aged 65.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Boswell, Johnson, iii. 19.
  • 2. C. Van Doren, Letters Pprs. Ben. Franklin and Jackson 1753-85, intro.
  • 3. Note by Ezra Stiles, later president of Yale, dated 26 Dec. 1765, on a letter from Dr. J. Eliot of 21 Aug. 1761, Stiles mss. Yale Univ.
  • 4. Van Doren, 3.
  • 5. APC Col. 1745-66, p. 816.
  • 6. Bute mss.
  • 7. Van Doren, 94, 97-98.
  • 8. Fitch Pprs. ii. (Conn. Hist. Soc. Coll. xviii), 55-56.
  • 9. Jasper Mauduit (Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll, lxxiv), 31, 36, 78, 124, 128, 179n.
  • 10. Mass. Col. Soc. Trans. 1910-11, pp. 3029, 331.
  • 11. Jenkinson Pprs. 191-2, 359; Van Doren. 122; Grenville letter bk.
  • 12. To Franklin, 27 Dec. 1763, Van Doren, 122.
  • 13. Ibid. 138.
  • 14. Public Recs. Conn. xii. 256.
  • 15. Mass. Col. Soc. Trans. 1910-11, pp. 328, 331.
  • 16. Ingersoll to T. Fitch, gov. Conn. 11 Feb. 1765, Fitch Pprs. ii. 324.
  • 17. Ibid. ii. 316-17; Van Doren, 194-6; Connecticut Gaz. 9 Aug., quoted Bancroft, v. 238.
  • 18. See e.g. his letters to Fitch, 5 June, 9 Nov. 1765, 11 Jan., 27 Feb. 1766.
  • 19. Harris’s Memorandum, 9 May 1763, Malmesbury mss.
  • 20. Smyth, Corresp. Franklin, v. 67.
  • 21. Fortescue, i. 451 (misdated).
  • 22. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, i. 400.
  • 23. Public Recs. Comm. xiii. 518.
  • 24. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 259, pp. 196-8, 205; 262, p. 133.
  • 25. Debrett, iii. 600.
  • 26. Bancroft transcripts, N.Y. Pub. Lib.
  • 27. Fortescue, v. 390; Robinson to Sandwich [16 Mar. 1782], Sandwich mss.
  • 28. HMC Carlisle, 377.
  • 29. Add. 34415, f. 151.
  • 30. Ibid. f. 231.
  • 31. HMC Carlisle, 378.
  • 32. Quoted Van Doren, 28-29.
  • 33. Fortescue, iv. 91, 93.
  • 34. Add. 34415, f. 337.
  • 35. Fortescue, vi. 78.
  • 36. Jackson to W. S. Johnson, 30 Nov. 1784, Bancroft transcripts; Van Doren, 200-2.