MAITLAND, James, Visct. Maitland (1759-1839).

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



1780 - 1784
1784 - 17 Aug. 1789

Family and Education

b. 26 Jan. 1759, 1st surv. s. of James, 7th Earl of Lauderdale [S], by his w. Mary Turner, da. and coh. of Sir Thomas Lombe.  educ. Edinburgh h.s.; Paris Univ. 1774; Trinity, Oxf. 1775; Glasgow Univ. 1777; L. Inn 1777.  m. 15 Aug. 1782, Eleanor, da. and h. of Anthony Todd, sec. of the Post Office, 4s. 5da.  suc. fa. as 8th Earl 17 Aug. 1789; cr. Baron Lauderdale [UK] 22 Feb. 1806; K.T. 17 July 1821.

Offices Held

Rep. peer 1790-6; P.C. 21 July 1806; keeper of the great seal of Scotland 1806-7; commr. to France Aug. 1806.


Maitland was returned for Newport in 1780 on the interest of the Duke of Northumberland, and became a most zealous supporter of Fox: ‘there was no one’, wrote Lord Holland, ‘with the exception of his earliest friends whom Mr. Fox more confidentially consulted’.1 A forthright and impetuous speaker, he at once took a prominent part in debate. His maiden speech, 26 Feb. 1781, praised Burke as one who had ‘made it policy to be generous’, commended economical reform, and attacked North fiercely as a minister supported by corruption. In the debate of 12 June 1781, on Fox’s motion for an immediate peace, Maitland answered Dundas and others, who had argued that Parliament had no right to interfere in such matters:

That Parliament had such a right, that they had exercised it, and that it was a right of the very essence of the constitution, was, he believed, incontestably true; for if ... the court could declare war, make peace, or enter into treaties and compacts, without control or advice, then the maxim which says that the executive is subordinate to the legislative power would be exactly reversed.

Maitland took an active part in the debates on Fox’s East India bill. On 27 Nov. 1783 he declared:

It drew influence from its lurking place, and set it in full view of the House of Commons; so situated, it was not to be feared; it was therefore puerile to pretend an alarm where there was not the least excuse for any.

He seconded Baker’s motion condemning anyone who reported the King’s opinion in order to influence debate, 17 Dec. 1783, insisting that the issue was ‘whether this country was henceforth to be governed by a public and responsible administration, or by a secret cabal’.2

At the general election of 1784, Maitland was returned for Malmesbury with another Foxite, by a private negotiation with Edmund Wilkins, who controlled the borough. He continued to speak often, concentrating chiefly on harassing tactics. In East India matters he was strongly opposed to Warren Hastings, and was appointed a manager for his impeachment. His only divergence from Fox’s line was on two occasions when his private interest seems to have been involved. When the Opposition pressed for an inquiry into abuses in the Post Office, 15 May 1787, a matter in which his father-in-law was concerned, Maitland supported Administration. On 21 May 1789, after Wilberforce had spoken in favour of abolishing the slave trade, Maitland hotly denounced it as ‘a rash step’:

The African merchants had great reason to complain. They had embarked their fortunes in the slave trade upon the faith of the legislature; the legislature was therefore bound to protect them in that trade which it had encouraged them to take up.3

In the House of Lords he gained the nickname ‘Citizen Maitland’ from his enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and the slovenly dress he adopted.  He died 15 Sept. 1839.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Mems. Whig Party, i. 33.
  • 2. Debrett, ii. 30-32; iii. 574; xii. 189, 422.
  • 3. Stockdale, xii. 118-19, 144-5, 164-6; xvii. 254.