GRAHAM, James (1753-1825), of Kirkstall, nr. Leeds, Yorks. and Edmond Castle, nr. Carlisle, Cumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - July 1805
9 Aug. 1805 - 1806
1806 - 1812
1812 - 21 Mar. 1825

Family and Education

b. 18 Nov. 1753, 2nd s. of Thomas Graham of Edmond Castle by 2nd w. Margaret, da. of Thomas Coulthard of Scotby, Cumb. educ. L. Inn 1780; ?Jesus, Camb. 1811. m. 17 June 1781, Anne, da. of Rev. Thomas Moore of Kirkstall, 2s. 3da. suc. to Kirkstall in right of his w. on d. of her only bro. Thomas 1784. cr. Bt. 3 Oct. 1808.

Offices Held

Recorder, Appleby ?1812-d.

Dir. Westminster Life Insurance Co. 1813.

Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1794-1802.


Graham, the son of a minor and unambitious Cumbrian landowner, gained entry to the London legal profession through the patronage of his childless maternal uncle, James Coulthard, an attorney of Bream’s Buildings, Chancery Lane, to whose partner Thomas Wildman* he was articled in 1771. Graham (admitted an attorney at common pleas 7 Nov. 1780 and at King’s bench 21 June 1781) and his elder brother Thomas were admitted into partnership with their uncle and in 1784 took over his practice, which they removed to New Square, Lincoln’s Inn. There they maintained the firm’s reputation as society solicitors capable of resolving family disputes without frequent recourse to litigation.

... they had the superintendence of the affairs of several of the nobility and gentry in the kingdom, as their confidential professional advisers, and by their zeal, ability, integrity, and indefatigable industry, restored many families of distinction to their estates, and to wealth, ease, and comfort, by the judicious arrangement of their affairs ... They were, consequently, honoured with the warmest friendship of the greater part of their respectable clients.1

Professional contacts provided Graham with both a substantial heiress and a seat in the House. At the general election of 1802 he unsuccessfully contested Ilchester on the interest of Sir William Manners*, but was provided for by his client Viscount Lowther (cr. Earl of Lonsdale 1807), who, having recently succeeded to the electoral influence of his cousin James, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, returned Graham for Cockermouth in place of his cousin’s man of business John Baynes Garforth. Graham continued to sit for boroughs controlled by Lonsdale throughout his career, except for a brief period 1805-6 when he exchanged seats to allow George Stewart, Viscount Garlies to enter the House. Farington wrote of him, 19 May 1808: ‘a great favourite with Lord Lonsdale, is very open in his manner, and speaks his opinions in a plain way’.2 By 1812 he had acquired a borough interest of his own at Ludgershall by purchase from Lord Sydney, and from 1817 aspired to one at Weymouth, under Lonsdale’s cloak, but he preferred to sit for Carlisle, where the strength of his own local connexions bolstered the unsteady Lonsdale interest at three general elections. Henry Pearson of Carlisle informed Brougham, 7 Feb. 1820:

I am aware that his politics are not congenial with the sentiments of a majority of the freemen; yet his munificence and liberality upon all occasions will I think act as a counterpoise, and secure him the support of many liberal minded men who dissent from his political creed, on the score of his being a useful Member. The assistance he has given to many Cumberland solicitors in passing private bills will of course stimulate their exertions in his favour.3

Like other members of the Lowther group, he supported Pitt’s question for the orders of the day, 3 June 1803, and joined the general attack on Addington in the early months of 1804, voting with opposition on 7 and 15 Mar., 23 and 25 Apr. Classed as Pittite in Rose’s list of September 1804, he evidently did not secede from the House with his patron on Addington’s junction with Pitt in 1805, voted with opposition on Giles’s motion to continue the commission of naval inquiry, 1 Mar., took no recorded part in the divisions on Melville’s misapplication of navy funds, but was again classed Pittite in the government list of July 1805. He opposed the Grenville ministry on the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806. Although he recorded no speech or vote positively hostile to the ministries of Portland (who made him a baronet) and Perceval, and supported them in the lobby in most extant divisions, he caused them occasional embarrassment. For instance in 1808 he was an advocate of the claims of John Palmer* on government, which his patron disapproved. Perceval was informed that Graham was the ‘busybody’ who had urged Palmer’s son to come to a compromise with ministers over compensation in a manner that led the Palmers to believe that Graham was acting on behalf of the government. Again, unlike his patron, he was dubious about the Duke of York’s conduct of military patronage, as the questions he asked witnesses at the bar of the House in February 1809 showed. He absented himself (gout being his pretext) from all divisions on the subject until 20 Mar.4

On entering the House, Graham immediately retired from the law to devote his full attention to his parliamentary duties, but for some time made no major contribution to debate. He spoke briefly, 30 May 1805, against the stipendiary curates bill as ‘a bill to enforce the residence of curates but to banish the rectors’; on behalf of the claims of his friend the Duke of Atholl for adequate compensation for the sale of the Isle of Man, 2 July 1805; and, although initially a supporter, against the revised version of Tierney’s election treating bill, 29, 30 Apr. 1806. In 1806 Wilson noted that ‘it was chiefly owing to the exertions of [Graham] that a very exceptionable clause in the horse duty bill was got rid of’; and in 1811 he introduced resolutions to speed up private bill legislation.5

After ten years in the House, Graham began to speak more frequently on major issues and to show a considerable independence of government. On the eve of Stuart Wortley’s motion for a strong and efficient administration, 21 May 1812, he told Charles Williams Wynn that if he came down at all he should vote for the motion.6 In the event he voted against it, but he refused to become a government candidate for Liverpool at the general election of 1812 and was disappointed that government did not bestow a seat on his son Sandford Graham. Charles Long* reported to Lonsdale that Graham was ‘full of complaints at the want of activity and energy of government’. This was doubtless exacerbated by the fact, reported by Viscount Lowther in 1815, that he was ‘the most nervous man about his constituents’ ... A letter from Carlisle puts him in such an agitation that it borders on a fever.’7 On the corn bill of 1815 he went into open opposition, claiming (8 Mar.) that from extensive inquiries he was satisfied that 72s. was the highest price at which imported corn should be excluded ‘and he should never give his vote for more’; consequently he voted for Protheroe’s motion of 10 Mar. for the third reading of the bill in six months. He supported government on the civil list, 14 Apr., 8 and 31 May, and on the additional grant to the Duke of Cumberland, 29 June 1815. Despite a threat not to support any further demands by the Regent at the autumn assizes, he voted against Tierney’s motion for a select committee on the civil list, 6 May 1816, but opposed the continuation of the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, sitting ‘between Tierney and Ponsonby’ and making himself ‘as conspicuous as possible’.8 Explaining the ‘conscientious motives’ which drove him to oppose ‘persons whom he considered as the saviours of the country’, he stressed that the tax fell equally on rich and poor, and the pressure on the rich man prevented him from employing the poor. In the same speech he praised government’s abolition of the wartime malt tax, and as a further conciliatory gesture on 25 Mar. he approved a proposed increase in coroners’ allowances as not unduly damaging to the agricultural interest. Yet Lord Liverpool had complained to Lonsdale on 23 Mar.:

The conduct of Sir James Graham unfortunately produces the worst effect, for he seems to have a satisfaction in showing his resentment to the government not less by the manner of his opposition than by the opposition itself. I am sensible that it is not in your power to control him, and I am even surprised at the continuance of his hostility after the marked civility and attention which the Prince Regent showed him whilst at Brighton.9

Except on the purchase of Dr Burney’s library, 24 Apr. 1818, Graham did not again record an opposition vote before 1820. He supported the seditious meetings bill, 26 Mar. 1817, in reply to his colleague Curwen, and by February 1819 was seeking no further protection for the agricultural interest. He opposed Tierney’s motion for a committee on the state of the nation, 18 May 1819, but in the 1819-20 session again spoke in an independent fashion (8 Dec.): ‘Every inhabitant of Carlisle looked up to his Majesty’s ministers for protection, and if they did not receive that protection from ministers, they would look up to the opposition for it [laugh]; for they must have protection’.

Graham’s attitude to industry was equivocal. Defending his speech on the corn bill in 1815, he had claimed: ‘agriculture and manufactures ought equally to be protected; but if a preference were necessary, it ought to be given to agriculture, as it was productive of more moral good’. Yet he had a personal interest in the Leeds woollen industry; on his Kirkstall estate he built houses for the use of domestic clothiers and leased factories to manufacturers, but gave no support to the industry when its problems were raised in the House in 1816 and 1818.10 In 1819, however, he opposed both the rating of coal mines and any increase in the duties on coal and, although not connected with any country bank, he opposed restrictions on their issue, 30 Apr. 1818, as ‘very injurious to credit, and to the means of securing the regular payment of the taxes’. To labour he was less sympathetic. He presented a petition in 1816 from his Carlisle constituents’ praying for a restriction of child labour in factories, and supported Peel’s proposed bill on the hours of apprentices, 19 Feb. 1818, but declared his intention of ‘obstructing its progress upon every point which interfered with free labour’. When a petition from Stockport was presented for the restriction of adult hours, 10 Apr., his attitude hardened:

the petitioners were no other, for the most part, than a set of idle, discontented, discarded, and good-for-nothing workmen ... if such a regulation with respect to free labour had been passed when he was a boy, he should never have had the honour of a seat in that House.

Graham occasionally spoke on legal matters; opposed the deputy remembrancer’s office bill, 12 Apr. 1813, and complained that debtors had become ‘cavalier’ as a result of the Insolvent Debtors Act, 9 Mar. 1819. On 24 Mar. following, he sponsored the London clergy bill.

Although opposed to Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform and, in 1817, a member of the Pitt Club, Graham was remembered as a hard working and constant attender who gave his attention to men of all parties:

he has had no little share in the management of the private parliamentary business of the county of Cumberland, and the adjoining county of Westmorland, and taken a part, no less active, in many private committees, and the general business of the House. The result of Sir James’s exertions has not been unimportant; for they have obtained many permanent improvements and advantages for both counties, by Acts of enclosures, roads, and bridges, but particularly for Cumberland, in the erection of new courts of justice.11

He died 21 Mar. 1825.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. W. Playfair, British Fam. Antiquity, vii. 852-5.
  • 2. Faringnton, v. 67.
  • 3. Brougham mss 12053.
  • 4. Perceval (Holland) mss. 15, f. 6; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 21, 27 Feb., 21 Mar. 1809.
  • 5. J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), p. 244; Parl. Deb. xix. 357; Colchester, ii. 324.
  • 6. Fortescue mss, Williams Wynn to Grenville, 5 p.m. [20 May 1812].
  • 7. Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 29 Sept. 1812, Lowther to same, Sat. [1815].
  • 8. NLW, Coedymaen mss 8, f. 522; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, Tues. [19 Mar. 1816].
  • 9. Add. 38262, f. 323.
  • 10. W. B. Crump, Leeds Woollen Industry 1780-1820 (Thoresby Soc. xxxii), 16, 181, 269-70.
  • 11. Playfair, vii. 852-5; Gent. Mag. (1825), i. 562.