MONTGOMERY, James (1721-1803), of The Whim and Stanhope, Peebles.
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Family and Education
b. Oct. 1721, 2nd s. of William Montgomery, adv., of Macbie Hill, Peebles by Barbara, da. of Robert Rutherford of Bowland, Edinburgh. educ. West Linton parish sch.; Edin. Univ.; adv. 1743. m. 2 Apr. 1763, Margaret, da. and h. of Robert Scott of Killearn, Stirling, 4s. 3da. cr. Bt. 16 July 1801.
Solicitor for bishops’ tithes 1746-66; sheriff-depute Peeblesshire 1748-60; joint solicitor-gen. [S] Apr. 1760-4, solicitor-gen. June 1764-6; ld. adv. Apr. 1766-75; trustee for fisheries and manufactures 1769; chief baron of Exchequer [S] May 1775-Apr. 1801.
Montgomery’s father was sheriff-depute of Peebles, legal adviser and, for a time, factor to Lord March;1 and Montgomery owed his early advancement to March. Recommended by Chief Baron Ord, Montgomery, through the interest of his friend Robert Dundas with Newcastle, was appointed in 1760 joint solicitor-general with Francis Garden, on whose promotion to the bench in 1764 he was nominated sole solicitor-general by James Stuart Mackenzie at the desire ‘of all the law people as well as others’.2 In 1766 he succeeded Lord Advocate Thomas Miller both in his office and in Dumfries Burghs, by arrangement with his friends Queensberry and March. At the general election he transferred to Peeblesshire, where he had spent some 40,000 on the purchase of additional estates, and with the support of March was returned unopposed.
In Parliament he was naturally a regular Government supporter. His first reported speech was on 23 Feb. 1769, when, apologizing for the ‘confusion’ he always felt in addressing the House, he spoke on the payment of witnesses in Sir William Meredith’s breach of privilege case.3 His energies were concentrated on the Douglas appeal then before the House of Lords, where, as one of the counsel for Queensberry’s protégé, he ‘spoke for thirteen hours in three days and with applause’.4 Under North’s Administration Montgomery won fame in Scotland by carrying in May 1770 his entail bill, embodying reforms long desired by country gentlemen, and the important Edinburgh-Peebles road bill in 1771.5 He spoke for Administration on Brass Crosby’s case, 27 Mar. 1771; on the royal marriage bill, 11 Mar. 1772; on the corn bill, 11 Mar. 1773; and on the inquiry into the linen trade, March 1774.6 He supported North, 25 Mar. 1774, on the Boston port bill with some reserve. Studiously ignoring North’s analogies to the punishment of Glasgow and Edinburgh for the malt tax and Porteous riots, he asserted ‘this was not a bill of punishment but a bill of justice’ to compel Boston to indemnify the East India Company for their tea.7
If I had had to frame a bill for that purpose ... I do confess I should have doubted very much the mode of compelling ... but I rest satisfied that it is framed by persons of better understanding than mine ... notwithstanding the apparent severity ... I am not apprehensive of the moderation of the Sovereign, nor that any bad use will be made of it.
One of Montgomery’s last services was to pilot through the House in February-March 1774 the Bank of Ayr bill, asking parliamentary sanction for financial arrangements intended to preserve the credit and estates of the principal partners, his friends Queensberry and Buccleuch, and so avert further bankruptcies in Scotland.
Returned unopposed at the general election of 1774, he succeeded Ord in May 1775 as chief baron of the Scottish Exechequer. He died 2 Apr. 1803.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. J. W. Buchan & H. Paton, Hist. Peeblesshire, iii. 49, 496-500.
- 2. Add. 35449, f. 216; Arniston Mems., ed. Omond, 162; Mackenzie to Bute, 3 June 1764, Bute mss.
- 3. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 217, pp. 402-3.
- 4. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, iii. 203.
- 5. G. W. T. Omond, Lord Advocates of Scotland, ii. 78-81; Buchan Paton, ii. 97, 376-7.
- 6. Reports of his speeches are in Brickdale’s ‘Debates’ and Cavendish’s ‘Debates’.
- 7. Brickdale’s ‘Debates’.