GRATTAN, James (1785-1854), of Tinnehinch, co. Wicklow

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



9 Feb. 1821 - 1841

Family and Education

b. 7 Apr. 1785, 1st s. of Henry Grattan I* and Henrietta, da. of Nicholas Fitzgerald of Greensborough, co. Kilkenny; bro. of Henry Grattan II*. educ. privately; Trinity, Dublin 1803-8; ?King’s Inns 1809. m. 7 Aug. 1847, Lady Laura Maria Talmash, da. of Sir William Manners, 1st. bt.†, Lord Huntingtower, of Buckminster Park, Leics., s.p. suc. fa. 1820. d. 21 Oct. 1854.

Offices Held

Cornet 20 Drag. 1810; lt. 9 Drag. 1811, half-pay 1814.

PC [I] 1841.


In his recollections of the Commons published in 1838, James Grant observed that Grattan was

hardly known in the House as a speaker; but the circumstance of his being the son of the celebrated Henry Grattan, is of itself sufficient to entitle him to a brief notice. He does not address the House above once or twice in the course of a session, and then only briefly ... He talks with great fluency; he never appears to be at a loss for words, but his style is by no means polished. His ideas are of an inferior order; they never, even by accident, rise above the common-place. Occasionally he repeats himself, and at other times he is not so very explicit as he might be. In his manner he has nothing of the vehemence of his brother, the present Henry Grattan ... When about to speak, he puts his hat under his left arm, and in that position retains it during the time he is on his legs ... Grattan is pretty regular in his attendance on his parliamentary duties: when an Irish question is before the House, you may calculate as safely on his presence as on that of the Speaker himself, or the clerks at the table.1

Grattan, the keeper of a substantial but mostly illegible political journal, joined Brooks’s, sponsored by Lord King, 14 Apr. 1810, shortly before entering the army.2 He served on the Walcheren expedition and in the Peninsula, and was a noted society associate of Colonel Fitzgerald and the princess of Wales.3 In June 1820 either he or his brother Henry fought a bloodless duel in Hyde Park with Lord Clare after making ‘offensive’ remarks about Clare’s late father at a public meeting in Dublin.4 Writing to Henry shortly before their father’s death that month, he reported that old Grattan ‘is quite sick of all politics and, as you said, he seems to be making his peace with all parties. I feel more disposed to declare war with them ... We must get him in good humour as the Catholics plague him and he is not inclined to do anything this year’.5 He voted for Henry, who stood unsuccessfully as their father’s successor, in the ensuing Dublin by-election.6 In early 1821 he came forward on a vacancy for county Wicklow as the nominee of the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam, promising to pursue the same ‘principles and conduct’ as his father, and was returned unopposed.7

A regular attender, he voted with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry on most issues, especially economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation.8 He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825, and in his maiden speech, 26 Mar. 1821, called for an end to the Protestant ‘monopoly of place, which had already existed for too long’. He divided for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr., 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 24 Apr. 1823, 27 Apr. 1826, and to reform the representation of Scotland, 10 May 1821, 2 June 1823, and Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1824, 13 Apr. 1826. On 5 Feb. 1822, in response to the address, he complained that the Union ‘had not produced the benefits which the people of Ireland had been taught to look for’ and that it would be ‘in vain’ to govern Ireland or collect rents by military force. Recording the day’s events, he observed:

I went on about Ireland, her state, her government, etc., etc., as I had written it out. Committed an error, lost my head for a moment till the House grew impatient, the Speaker got up and called them to order. I recovered a little but not sufficiently ... It was a bad business ... I might have concluded shorter ... There were a few hears.9

He spoke and voted steadily against the Irish insurrection bill thereafter, warning ministers that ‘they might hang and shoot, but the evil will still go on’, 7 Feb. He called for the abolition of Irish potato tithes, 15 May, and voted against the tithes leasing bill, 19 June, 8 July 1822, when he was a minority teller. That month he fought another duel ‘in consequence of a political dispute’ with a Captain O’Grady.10 At the end of the year Grattan and Henry were observed by Daniel O’Connell* speaking at the meeting of Catholics called to vote an address to the Irish viceroy Lord Wellesley.11 He urged ministers to act ‘vigorously’ against Orange societies and ‘their violent proceedings’, 6 Mar. 1823. He wanted the beer duties bill to be extended to Ireland, 24 Mar., when he was in the minority of 32 for information on the alleged plot to murder Wellesley. He voted for inquiry into the related legal proceedings, 22 Apr., briefly examined a witness, 5 May, and warned that a premature cessation of the investigation would ‘produce great mischief in Ireland’, 26 May. He welcomed and was a majority teller for the Irish joint tenancy bill, 28 May. He seconded and voted for a motion for inquiry into Dublin disturbances, 24 June 1823. He spoke and voted for information on Catholic burials, 6 Feb. 1824. On the 19th he moved for returns of the number of Irish Catholic office-holders, alleging discrimination against their appointment to positions they were competent to hold, but was defeated by 38-11. On 9 Mar. he presented a petition from the Irish Catholic bishops against grants for Protestant societies and their ‘indiscriminate use of the Bible’. Lord Clancarty was ‘dismayed’ to learn of it and warned the duke of Wellington that the Catholics were adopting titles which had ‘no sanction or legality’.12 Grattan argued that it was too early to alter the Irish Tithes Composition Act, 9 Mar., 3 May, when he protested that the proposed amendments were ‘completely in favour of the ecclesiastical party’. He was a minority teller to condemn Irish church pluralities, 27 May, and spoke and voted against the new churches bill, 14 June. He was a minority teller against the Irish magistrates’ indemnity bill, 15 June 1824. He defended the Catholic Association, 10 Feb. 1825, although next day he said that ‘he himself did not belong to it because he could not justify all its actions’. He denounced the bill to suppress it as ‘nothing less than an Orange ... declaration of war against the Catholics’, 11 Feb., and voted accordingly, 15, 21, 25 Feb. That month he was one of the Members who met the Association’s leaders.13 He defended the grant for Irish charities as a ‘great portion of this was for education’, but criticized that for the linen board, where ‘situations were given away upon a system of favouritism’, 18 Mar. On 22 Mar. he obtained leave to introduce a bill to relieve the Irish poor, which left it optional for parishes to collect subscriptions and assess to relieve distress. It was read a first time, 15 Apr., but was postponed for three months, 17 June, and went no further. He argued that the grant for Irish emigration to the Canadas was a failed ‘experiment’, 15 Apr. He condemned the bill to disfranchise the Irish 40s. freeholders which accompanied emancipation as ‘unconstitutional and monstrous’, 26 Apr., was reported by Henry Bankes* to have been in that day’s hostile minority (although he does not appear in the known division lists), and voted against it, 9 May, when he asserted that if the freeholders were unfit to vote, they were also unfit to be emancipated.14 O’Connell reported to his wife:

Young Grattan has behaved on this bill exceedingly ill. I gave him a strong hint to that effect when I saw him ... after the debate. In his speech he said "I do not think this bill will cure the remedy"!!! Only think ... of such blockheads being the persons who govern and make laws for us.15

Grattan presented and endorsed a petition against the bill, 12 May 1825. He believed the ‘most extraordinary instances of abuse’ had taken place in the collection of Irish church rates and called for ‘some plan for education of the peasantry’, 16 Feb. 1826. Following objections by other Irish Members, he waived his amendment for a clause in the Irish church rates bill enabling parishes to assess for relief of the poor, 25 Apr., but tried again two days later, when it was negatived without a division. He voted for Lord John Russell’s resolution against electoral bribery, 26 May 1826.

At the 1826 general election, when Henry was returned for Dublin, Grattan offered again for county Wicklow, speaking at the nomination in defence of his recent poor law proposals and attacking the junior minister George Dawson* for his attempts to stir up an Orange opposition. He was returned unopposed.16 On 6 Dec. 1826 he disputed the allegations of George Moore, the other Dublin Member, that Catholic priests excommunicated their political opponents. He clashed with the junior minister Wilmot Horton over his Irish emigration plans the following day and 7 Feb. 1827, when he contended that the ‘enormous sums’ involved in promoting his ‘hobby’ would be better spent in making people ‘comfortable at home’. He denied that the Protestants of county Wicklow were opposed to Catholic claims, urged the Association to ‘persevere’ with their ‘lawful and laudable purposes’ and defended the Irish clergy’s involvement, 2 Mar. He voted for relief, 6 Mar. 1827. On 9 Mar. he denied that poor laws would make Ireland ‘infinitely worse’, but agreed not to press for their introduction ‘in opposition to the declared hostility of so many Irish Members’. He presented a petition from the Catholic bishops against the ‘system of proselytism’ by Irish Protestant schools, 19 Mar. He believed the use of spring guns in Ireland would be ‘productive of the most lamentable results to the innocent’, 27 Mar. He divided for information on the Lisburn Orange procession, 29 Mar. He seconded a motion against the ‘intolerable’ building of Protestant churches in Ireland with Catholic taxes, 3 Apr. On 10 Apr. he was granted a month’s leave after serving on the Northampton election committee. On 28 May he argued that ‘no line of conduct would better serve the Catholic cause than that of supporting the new Canning ministry. He attended a Dublin meeting for the construction of a canal from Dublin to Galway, 29 Nov. 1827.17 He presented petitions for Catholic relief, 4, 20 Feb., 31 Mar., 1 May, and voted thus, 12 May 1828. He argued that ‘in its present shape’ the Irish Subletting Act would ‘do serious injury’, 19 Feb. He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. He seconded a motion against the parochial settlements bill, which ‘would exclude all the poor Irish from Scotland’, 14 Mar. He presented and endorsed a petition for Irish poor laws that day and 1 Apr., when he called for ‘a proper system of relief’ which ‘would not partake of the evils’ of the English one. He repeatedly urged their introduction thereafter. On 25 Mar. he brought in a bill to make lessors liable for parochial and county assessments in all future Irish lettings. He moved and was a teller for its second reading, 12 June, when it was defeated by 39-21. He complained of ‘great abuses’ in the expenses of the Irish constabulary, 30 May, 12 June, said that the Irish promissory notes bill would ‘drive all the gold out of Ireland’, 20 June, and divided for inquiry into the Irish church, 24 June 1828.

On 3 Mar. 1829 Grattan spoke of ‘the exertions of the Catholic Association’ in bringing about the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, for which he voted, 6, 30 Mar., and presented many petitions. He condemned the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders, criticizing those who ‘by proposing the bill in 1825’ had ‘afforded a precedent’ and warning that the registration requirements would turn the new minimum £10 freehold qualification into a £20 franchise, 26 Mar. He presented a petition from the Catholic clergy against the relief bill’s restrictions on monasteries, 7 Apr. He presented and endorsed one from the Catholic bishops for a national system of Irish education, 9 Apr. He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May. He denied that colonization would alleviate Irish distress, 7 May 1829. He was not conspicuous in the House during the 1830 session, when he voted for alteration of the Irish vestry regulations, 27 Apr., information on the conduct of the Irish solicitor-general in the Doneraile conspiracy, 12 May, repeal of Irish coal duties, 13 May, the second reading of the Jewish emancipation bill, 17 May, for Irish first fruits to cease to be nominal, 18 May, and for parliamentary reform, 28 May. He condemned additional Irish newspaper duties, 10, 17 May, demanded a ‘uniform and equal system’ of Irish poor laws, 17 May, and supported Sadler’s motion for their introduction, 3 June. He feared that the Scottish and Irish poor removal bill would prevent the poor from obtaining employment in England, 26 May, and welcomed its postponement, 4 June 1830.

He was returned unopposed for county Wicklow at the 1830 general election, when he stressed his support for emancipation and tax reductions and efforts to improve the condition of the Irish poor.18 On 9 and 19 Nov. 1830 he defended the running of Fitzwilliam’s estates in county Wicklow against the attacks of O’Connell, insisting that recent notices to quit had only been served on his tenants ‘to comply with the provisions of the Subletting Act’. (Fitzwilliam’s agent later noted that as a result, the tenantry could no longer be relied on to support Grattan in a contest.)19 He spoke and voted for repeal of the Subletting Act, 11 Nov., when he complained that the ‘greater part’ of the committee appointed to consider Irish poor laws were hostile to their introduction. He repeatedly urged the necessity of a ‘modified system of poor laws’ thereafter. Ministers had, of course, listed him among their ‘foes’ and he voted against them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. He defended the Irish grand jury system, 9 Dec. 1830. On 22 Feb. 1831 he resumed his opposition to subsidized emigration from Ireland. He presented a petition from the Wicklow Union for the alteration of tithes and secured information on irregularities which had occurred there over church pluralities, 15 Mar. He welcomed the corporate funds bill, 28 Mar. He considered the military force in Ireland ‘sufficient’ and hoped ministers would not resort to the Insurrection Act to suppress disturbances, 13 Apr. He voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., hoped it would ‘allay the agitation for repeal of the Union’, 29 Mar., and divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the ensuing general election he stood as a reformer and was returned unopposed.20 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and gave generally steady support to its details, though he was in the minority for the disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept. 1831. On 4 Aug. he berated the anti-reformers for ‘repeating, night after night, not the same arguments, for arguments I cannot call them, but the same statement of facts, which have been answered over and over again’. He voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the measure, 21 Sept., the second reading of Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He condemned the yeomanry for their part in the Newtownbarry affray, 23 June, and warned that the Irish people would not be satisfied until a full investigation had been held, 1 July. He spoke and voted for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug. He demanded that some of the revenues of the Irish church be appropriated for the relief and employment of the poor, 12 July, 14 Sept. He attacked James Gordon for his Protestant speeches against a national system of Irish education, 15 July, 5 Aug. He voted in the minority of 41 for civil list reductions, 18 July, and against the grant to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels, 25 July. On 8 Aug. he called for inquiry into the Dublin election and voted in the minority to postpone the issue of a new writ. He introduced a bill to exclude all Irish recorders from sitting in Parliament, 10 Aug., but at its second reading, 12 Aug., agreed to defer it until after the Dublin election. On 23 Aug. he again demanded investigation of the Dublin election petition, but he did not vote in either of the divisions regarding the punishment of those guilty of corruption.21 He welcomed the appointment of lord lieutenants of Irish counties and suggested that clergymen should be barred from the magistracy, 15 Aug. Next day he called for the establishment of an Irish board of trade, believing it would help mitigate agitation for repeal. He spoke and voted for legal provision for the Irish poor, 29 Aug. On 2 Sept. he introduced a bill to provide poor relief in certain cases, which foundered owing to a technical problem with its first clause and went no further.22 He divided for inquiry into the conduct of the Winchester magistrates during the arrest of the Deacles, 27 Sept. 1831.

Grattan voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again supported its details, and divided for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He argued for abolition of the system of Protestant freemen in Ireland and reform of the Irish registration system, 19 Jan., and presented a petition for preserving the peculiar franchise of Galway, 16 Feb. He did not vote in the division for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. He voted for the second reading of Irish reform bill, 25 May, but spoke regularly for more Members to be given to Ireland and criticized its registration details, 6, 13 June, when he warned it would ‘create dissatisfaction’, and 6, 9 July. He demanded revision of the disfranchisement of 40s. freeholders, 13, 29 June, was in the minority for O’Connell’s motion to extend the franchise to £5 freeholders, 18 June, and welcomed the enfranchisement of 20 year leaseholders, 25 June. He divided against the liability of Irish electors to pay municipal taxes before they could vote, 29 June 1832. Grattan warned that the present system of Irish tithes would result in ‘the downfall of the Protestant religion’ and was appointed to the select committee on the issue, 15 Dec. 1831. On 14 Feb. 1832 Lord Ellenborough reported that Lord Grey had told Lord Rosslyn that ‘Grattan alone held out’ against the committee’s report, unless it contained ‘a distinct pledge that "the name and character of tithes" should be done away’.23 He voted to print the Woollen Grange petition for their abolition, 16 Feb. He advocated inquiry into the Subletting Act, 20 Feb., and argued that Irish juries should be placed on the same footing as English ones, 22 Feb. He insisted that nothing would satisfy the Irish people except the ‘future appropriation of the immense revenues of the Irish church’, 8 Mar. He divided against the Irish tithes bill that day and steadily thereafter, calling it ‘mad and mischievous’, 30 Mar., and predicting that it would provoke ‘riots and disorders’, 6 Apr. On 5 July he unsuccessfully moved for abolition with compensation and urged the establishment of a fund to promote religion and charity. He protested that the reimposition of the Insurrection Act would be ‘a most illegal and destructive method of keeping the peace’, 31 Mar., and demanded inquiry into the causes of disturbances, 23, 31 May. He voted with ministers for the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., but was in the minority against the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr. He welcomed the new Irish education plan that day and 8 June. On 5 June he presented and endorsed a Dublin petition complaining of the absence of the recorder on parliamentary duty. He divided against Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 6 June. He spoke and was a minority teller for a tax on absentee landlords to provide permanent provision for the Irish poor, ‘not so much for the relief of the poor, as by way of check upon the rich’, 19 June, and welcomed the Scottish and Irish vagrants removal bill, 28 June. He divided for coroners’ inquests to be made public, 20 June. He voted with government on the Russian- Dutch loan, 12 July and (as a pair) 16 July 1832.

Grattan was returned in second place for county Wicklow as a Liberal at the 1832 general election and sat there until his defeat in 1841. In a letter to The Times, 3 Aug. 1835, he denied trying to prevent the public from visiting his father’s property, explaining that he had been obliged to put in a gate and keeper ‘in consequence of the conduct and disreputable character of many who frequented there’. He married at the age of 60 and died childless in October 1854, when the family estate passed to his brother Henry, Liberal Member for county Meath, 1831-52.24

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Lords and Commons, ii. 283-85.
  • 2. See NLI, Grattan mss 3847-53, 5775-9, 14136-63.
  • 3. Oxford DNB; Broughton, Recollections, ii. 50-51.
  • 4. The Times, 7 June 1820.
  • 5. Grattan mss 27805.
  • 6. Report of Proceedings at Election ... for City of Dublin (1820), 96.
  • 7. Dublin Evening Post, 20 Jan., 13 Feb. 1821.
  • 8. Black Bk. (1823), 159; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 466.
  • 9. Grattan mss 14132.
  • 10. The Times, 6 July 1822.
  • 11. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 982.
  • 12. Wellington mss WP1/788/12.
  • 13. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1172.
  • 14. Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 154 (26 Apr. 1825).
  • 15. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1224.
  • 16. Dublin Evening Post, 6, 22 June 1826.
  • 17. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1432.
  • 18. Dublin Evening Post, 27 July, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 19. Fitzwilliam mss, Chaloner to Milton, 14 Jan. 1831.
  • 20. Dublin Evening Post, 12 May 1831.
  • 21. The Times, 26 Aug. 1831.
  • 22. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1838.
  • 23. Three Diaries, 195.
  • 24. Gent. Mag. (1854), ii. 624.