MACDONALD, James (1784-1832), of East Sheen, Surr. and Woolmer Lodge, nr. Liphook, Hants.

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



26 June 1805 - 1806
1812 - 1 Feb. 1816
23 Feb. 1816 - 1831
1831 - June 1832

Family and Education

b. 14 Feb. 1784, o. surv. s. of Sir Archibald Macdonald†, 1st bt., of East Sheen and Lady Louisa Leveson Gower, da. of Granville Leveson Gower†, 1st mq. of Stafford. educ. Westminster 1797; Christ Church, Oxf. 1801; L. Inn 1804. m. (1) 5 Sept. 1805, Elizabeth (d. 4 Jan. 1818), da. of John Sparrow of Bishton, Staffs., s.p.; (2) 10 Aug. 1819, Lady Sophia Keppel (d. 29 Sept. 1824), da. of William Charles, 4th earl of Albemarle, 2s. (1 d.v.p.); (3) 20 Apr. 1826, Anne Charlotte, da. of Rev. John Savile Ogle of Kirkley Hall, Northumb., preb. of Durham, s.p. suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 18 May 1826; GCMG 22 June 1832. d. 29 June 1832.

Offices Held

Principal clerk of privy seal 1806-30; commr. bd. of control May 1827-Jan. 1828, Dec. 1830-June 1832; high commr. Ionian Islands 2 June 1832-d.


‘Descended from that ancient family, formerly kings of the Isles’, Macdonald’s father, Archibald, was the third son of Sir Alexander Macdonald, 7th baronet, of Sleat, Skye, and younger brother of Alexander, who was given the Irish barony of Macdonald in 1776. Archibald, whose political and legal career under Pitt was advanced by the influence of his father-in-law, created marquess of Stafford in 1786, was appointed chief baron of the exchequer in 1793, from which he retired with a baronetcy in 1813. James, his first and only surviving son, was brought into Parliament by the 2nd marquess in 1805.1 He supported the Grenville ministry, and thereafter was usually an active member of opposition, being elected to Brooks’s, 11 Feb. 1810, and acting as a list-maker and parliamentary manager. Following a difference of political opinion with his family connections, he transferred in 1816 to Calne, the pocket borough of the leading Whig magnate, the 3rd marquess of Lansdowne.2 ‘One of the clever agreeable diners-out of London’,3 he was listed in the directories as having lived at several addresses there, including his father’s house at 20 Duke Street. He sometimes resided at Loudham Hall, Suffolk, after his second marriage, into the Keppel family, which took place in 1819. That year he was an assiduous opponent in the House of the Liverpool ministry’s coercive legislation, which he urged his colleague James Abercromby to resist as ‘the most fatal experiment ever attempted’, and which he denounced at the Norfolk Fox Club dinner, 24 Jan. 1820.4 He also eulogized his political mentor there, but confided to Fox’s nephew Lord Holland, 30 Jan., his

hope that nothing fell from me on the subject ... that you will not approve. I have always thought that the least popular parts of Mr. Fox’s career ought not to be kept out of view, but that the people should be told that if there was any fault at all it had its origin in the lukewarmness of their support of him on many trying occasions.5

Despite admitting privately that retaining his seat was ‘a matter of total indifference, except in so far as I must ever feel a deep interest in Lansdowne’s political credit’, he was returned unopposed for Calne, with Abercromby, at the general election of 1820.6 He continued to attend meetings of the Whig managers,7 and, esteemed by his colleagues, his opinions carried weight in party counsels; but it was with increasing rarity that he played any prominent role in Parliament, where he, of course, divided solidly with opposition on most major issues, occasionally acting as a teller.

On 24 Apr. 1820 Macdonald wrote to Edward Davies Davenport*, whose proposed article on Peterloo he still hoped would appear, that

things are in so extraordinary a state between the king and ministers that we have resolved for the first few days of the session to leave them to settle their matters together, and to await the bringing forward the civil list next week before we open our campaign.

He added that he had little hope of George IV ‘having nerve to change his ministers, which implies a change of system’, although ‘the women who are about him ... are hard at work to effect it’.8 He sided silently with opposition on the civil list, 3, 8 May, and was a teller for the minority against considering the droits of the crown and admiralty as sources of revenue for it, 5 May, when he criticized government for reneging on a former pledge to review the question on the accession of a new king, and declared that

this system of giving money to the sovereign held out a strong temptation to the minister to barter the public money for royal favour, and the crown to depend not on Parliament for support but, to a certain extent, on the corrupt obsequiousness of the minister.

He spoke briefly in favour of reducing the costs of trying insolvent debtors, 26 May, and against serving Irish masters in chancery becoming Members, 30 June. He divided against Wilberforce’s compromise motion on Queen Caroline, 22 June, and for adjourning debate on the appointment of a secret committee, 26 June, but left the House before the division on Hobhouse’s motion for an address to the king to prorogue Parliament, 18 Sept.9 In early October 1820 he believed Henry Brougham’s* speech for her defence in the Lords would ‘shake not only the case, but the administration also to its foundations’. Yet he remained doubtful of opposition success, even if the bill never reached the Commons, confiding to Davenport:

I am not sanguine as to the result of a change of ministry, for I have my fears it is too late; however, it is worth trying, for to go from bad to worse will with the present men and this wretched system must be ruin. The Whigs are too much afraid of committing themselves and, therefore, too backward in giving the public to understand what they will really and what thy will not do, but I am convinced they would enter office (for the first time) with a thorough knowledge of the state of the public feelings and expectations, and would set themselves honestly to work to do good and not to job ... If, then, it is any object to get rid of the present men, should this opportunity be lost? I think not and I am, therefore, clear that every county should be stirred immediately after the defence.10

He ridiculed the proceedings against the queen at the Fox Club dinner in Norwich, 19 Jan., and at the end of the Surrey county meeting, 2 Feb. 1821, he made ‘a good speech, well lashing’ George Holme Sumner’s conduct on the issue and successfully moved that the petition to the Commons in her favour should be entrusted only to the other county Member, William Joseph Denison.11 In the House on the 8th he defended his actions on that occasion, and he divided steadily in the Whig campaign on Caroline’s behalf that month.

The marquess of Buckingham, leader of the Grenvillites, advised William Henry Fremantle*, 4 Feb. 1821, that ‘Macdonald’s conversation was a pumping one, and meant to impress you with the idea that there is no alternative but the present government or opposition and that we had better join the latter’.12 He voted to make Leeds, proposed for enfranchisement in place of Grampound, a scot and lot borough, 2 Mar., and for parliamentary reform, 9 May. He attacked the army estimates, 12 Mar., arguing that certain salaries should be reduced, that the colonies could provide for their own defence and that a large peacetime standing army was not necessary for the preservation of public order. As promised, he moved an amendment to reduce the size of the land forces by 10,000 men, 14 Mar., when he explained how sufficient defences could be maintained by the voluntary services and insisted that the country’s future ability to wage war depended on its first recovering its economic strength. The veteran Sir Richard Hussey Vivian, in reply, set the tone for the debate by stating that the amendment would not guarantee adequate security, and Macdonald, who acted as teller, was defeated by 211-115. Charles Williams Wynn* reported to Buckingham the following day that opposition Members ‘are outrageous against each other and, according to Macdonald’s report, may be expected by the next session to split into three or more distinct parties’, though he ‘did not specify either the persons likely to form these or the points in dispute’.13 He congratulated Lansdowne on escaping from the ‘spirit of intrigue’ at Court by visiting France, 19 Aug. 1821, as

never was it so difficult to foresee what will be the course of political events at home as at this moment. The death of the queen must loosen the ties that bind the king to his present ministers as a body; his momentary popularity will turn his head; and there will be a much wider field for a favourite’s influence to act upon than heretofore.

He added that he gave some credence to the rumour that ministers would try to increase their strength against Lady Conyngham ‘by a desperate attempt to get the king to marry’.14

He attended the Norfolk Fox Club dinner, 24 Jan., and the Suffolk county meeting on agricultural distress, 29 Jan. 1822.15 According to John Cam Hobhouse*, he and a few others divided ‘against us’ on Sir Francis Burdett’s amendment to delay consideration of the address, 5 Feb., but he voted for Hume’s subsequent amendment to it, on distress, that day.16 He criticized Lord Londonderry, the foreign secretary, for an ill-timed pleasantry against Coke, Member for Norfolk, 7 Mar., when he condemned Thomas Gooch, on his presenting the petition from the Suffolk meeting, for inconsistency between his then stated preference for economies and his subsequent voting behaviour in the House. He divided steadily for opposition motions for retrenchment that session, including in the majority for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May, when he pressed the case for economies. He voted for receiving the Greenhoe, Norfolk, petition for parliamentary reform, 3 June, to condemn the present influence of the crown, 24 June 1822, again for reform, 20 Feb., and information on Inverness elections, 26 Mar. 1823. Macdonald, whose financial position was never strong, held the sinecure office of clerk of the privy seal, though the salary of £400 was ‘all given by him to his deputy’, according to a report of the Commons of July 1822.17 Following a long bout of rheumatic fever, he wrote to James Alexander Stewart Mackenzie*, 3 Aug., that he was inclined to make his elder infant son ‘an Highland laird rather than an English squire eat up with tithes and poor rates, if I could find a good opportunity, but am in no hurry as I could not conveniently diminish my income just at present’.18 In a letter to Lansdowne from Loudham, 18 Aug., he speculated on the possibility of the ministry collapsing after Londonderry’s suicide:

Indeed when one considers the state of Liverpool’s health and constitution it is not very irrational to conjecture that he might not feel equal to attempt to remodel his cabinet, and I think it just possible that if the event had happened prior to the Grenville accession he would not, but my opinion of Liverpool has always been that the public are quite wrong in supposing him indifferent to office, that on the contrary he is personally disposed to cling to it with the utmost tenacity.

He also complained that

having abandoned the Norfolk Fox dinner I am now met with another almost at my door ... Though I think I am rather more inclined to favour the kind of communication out-of-doors than you are I have my doubts whether, as things now stand, they are very desirable, for those celebrations to which they were first opposed are rapidly falling away.19

He duly attended the Suffolk Fox dinner, 21 Aug., when he noted the declining number of dinners honouring Pitt, and ridiculed his reputation as ‘the pilot who weathered the storm’, adding that the despots of Europe could expect popular upheavals unless they introduced the ‘safety valve of popular representation’.20 He wrote to Thomas Kennedy*, 16 Oct. 1822, that he had put off his visit to Scotland because of his wife’s illness, and, condemning Canning’s abandonment of the Catholic cause in his speech at Liverpool, commented that if the new foreign secretary succeeded in removing Manners Sutton from the Speaker’s chair to make room for Williams Wynn, he would propose either William Holmes, the Tory whip, or Henry Swann, the convicted briber, Member for Penryn, against him.21

On Hume’s motion against the appointment of a lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 19 Feb. 1823, Macdonald, despite having a ‘disposition to save every farthing that could be spared consistently with the efficient management of the several public departments’, said that ‘he felt himself, in common with sundry friends around him, somewhat embarrassed by the wording of the present motion’. Arguing that the office should only be suppressed as part of a general review, he urged Hume to call instead for a select committee, and did not divide in the minority with him. However, he sided with opposition on lowering taxation by £7,000,000, 28 Feb., against reducing the national debt by as much as £5,000,000, 6, 17 Mar., and against the military and naval pensions bill, 14, 16 Apr. He seconded Hamilton’s amendment to shorten the length of the Easter adjournment, 27 Mar., in order to take into early consideration the French invasion of Spain. Calling this an attack on the ‘independence of nations’, he asserted that Canning had been negligent in not exerting Britain’s influence to prevent France’s ‘unprincipled aggression’. He acknowledged that hostilities might become inevitable, but appealed to the House whether

any man who looked at the enormous amount of our public debt, of which five-sixths was incurred in putting down the Bourbons, and then in restoring them to the throne of which they had subsequently shown themselves unworthy - any man who looked to that stupendous memorial of the Tory governments which had ruled the country for the last 60 years, could not but pray that we might be spared as long as possible the necessity of again going to war.

Responding to Brougham’s comments on party tactics,22 he wrote to him lamenting his decision not to take the lead of ‘our ragamuffin forces ... for a leader makes his party respected in debate as a good general does his army in a campaign and you may be sure none of us young lords will attempt what we manifestly cannot succeed in’. Expressing ‘great anxiety’ about Brownlow’s intended motion on the disturbances in Dublin and Irish ex-officio informations, he stated that ‘I cannot and will not side with the Orangemen to restore their cursed supremacy, and I do not think the establishment question one of great importance’. He suggested that it should be met by the previous question, and presumably welcomed this, 15 Apr., but he divided for Burdett’s motion for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin rioters, 22 Apr. He was also grateful that Brougham thought ‘I did no harm’ (on 27 Mar.) and, suggesting that their friend Sir James Mackintosh should open the case against Canning after the recess, nevertheless hinted that ‘if I were of sufficient importance there is no task I should like so well as moving’.23 He duly moved for an address to the king condemning ministers’ handling of the crisis, 28 Apr., when he blamed their conduct on subservience to the Allies and disregard for liberal constitutions. William Lamb* thought this, Macdonald’s last major speech, worse

than he usually has done for his speeches, though always in a bad style and taste, have generally had something of liveliness and force in them, but this was dull and unmanly. At the same time, the motion had put him upon such very narrow ground that it was very difficult to make anything of a speech ... He employed two hours, I believe, in saying nothing, and saying it very heavily and confusedly.24

James Stuart Wortley moved, as an amendment, the Lords’ address praising ministers for avoiding war, and Canning vindicated himself so well, that at the end of three days of debate, as the Tory diarist Mrs. Arbuthnot recorded

Macdonald said that the amendment was so nearly what he approved of! that he would withdraw his motion and adopt it, satisfied with having drawn from the House an unanimous vote of censure upon the conduct of France! Mr. Canning refused to allow this; the opposition then attempted to leave the House, but were so hissed and hooted that they stopped short amidst the laughter of the whole House. At last they divided, most of the opposition voting with us as a means of concealing their own defeat.25

Twenty Members trapped in the House formed a purely nominal minority, while Macdonald was among the majority of 372 who voted with ministers for the amendment, 30 Apr. 1823.26

He divided in favour of reforming the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1824, and was a fixture in opposition minorities that year up to and including Brougham’s motion condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. Had Monmouth been opened that session against the duke of Beaufort’s interest, the seat would apparently have been offered to him.27 He divided against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 18, 21, 25 Feb., and (as he had on 28 Feb. 1821) for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He entered the House after the doors had been closed for the division on reforming the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., but voted for a bill against non-resident voters in Irish boroughs, 9 Mar., and parliamentary reform, 27 Apr. 1826. His wife died in childbed, 29 Sept. 1824, ‘sincerely regretted by her family and friends’.28 Shortly afterwards his father moved from East Sheen to an estate in Hampshire, once owned by the former Member Sir Thomas Miller, where he built Woolmer Lodge.29 He died in May 1826, a month after his son’s third marriage, and by his will, dated 19 May 1825, he gave his wife a life interest in his entire estate, which included shares in the Trent and Mersey canal and personal wealth sworn under £18,000. She died, 29 Jan. 1827, leaving Sir James Macdonald, as he had become, one of his parents’ main beneficiaries.30 At the general election of 1826 he nearly lost his seat at Calne, where the supporters of an increasingly powerful independent interest only backed off from a contest at the last moment, but in the guildhall he declared that he was proud to be returned as the ‘unsold representative of unbought men’.31 He was a teller for the minority for a second amendment to the address, for inquiry into the state of Ireland and further economies, 21 Nov. 1826. He voted against the grant for the duke of Clarence, 16 Feb. 1827. A member of the ‘petit comité’ of party managers who met to discuss tactics after Liverpool’s stroke, he was in favour of putting off the intended motion on Catholic relief, but divided in its favour, 6 Mar.32 He voted in the majority for going into committee on the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. He divided for information on the Orange procession and Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar., and chancery administration, 5 Apr., and for postponing the committee of supply, 30 Mar. 1827.

He was one of several supporters of Lansdowne, now the recognized leader of the moderate Whigs, who urged him to overcome his scruples and join Canning in a pro-Catholic ministry, perhaps even with himself as first lord of the treasury. On 14 Apr. 1827 he wrote:

It is right I should state to you that, with the exception of some crochets of Lord Grey’s which vary every hour, there seems to exist hardly any difference among those called the opposition, of the necessity of your doing more than giving your support to a government that should be formed without any restrictions on the Catholic question. Duncannon ... tells me ... that the opposition ... may be fairly taken at 200 ... No slight body this to bring into any negotiation. Of these the most eager, perhaps, for something more than support to Canning under his present circumstances are the Members for the populous places and the Irish Members - the latter indeed would be in perfect despair if, when all that is Orange and illiberal is arrayed against Canning, a mistrust of the man were to limit your powerful aid to a mere support. The opposition tender you their unqualified confidence if you shall see grounds for assisting in the formation of the new ministry. Ireland will tender you hers the moment they see you so embarked, and what if the king should mean to make Canning his dupe? May you not then prove too strong for him, or if you do not, shall you suffer for the part you have thus honestly and gallantly taken, either in public reputation or in self-satisfaction?33

Although he expressed willingness to step aside in favour of Mackintosh, he was delighted that he and Abercromby were to accept office, so long as Lansdowne was ultimately also to come in. He stated a preference for the India board

because it would induce me to devote myself to the thorough understanding of the great subjects that in the course of a few years must come under discussion with reference to the empire, and to which I might look to obtain some little credit, and compensate for some years of illness.34

Since he was not deemed to be qualified as an under-secretary for home affairs, ‘which is a very laborious office and must be filled by an active lawyer fresh from practice’, he was granted his wish and the salary of £1,500, and was returned unopposed for Calne at the same time as Abercromby, 25 May.35 He was noticed by Thomas Creevey* as being absent from the House on the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May,36 but he voted with ministers for the grant to improve water communications in Canada, 12 June. Following Canning’s death in early August, Macdonald imagined that the king would soon send for the duke of Wellington, and ‘doubted whether the government could go on, for although Lord Lansdowne had no objection to men, provided the same principles were to be acted upon ... he saw the leaning was to a decided Tory administration’.37 On 21 Oct. 1827 he urged Lansdowne, who in fact remained in place under Lord Goderich despite the fracas caused by the Whigs’ hostility to the appointment of John Herries* as chancellor of the exchequer, not to vacate the home office, as ‘I cannot help thinking that where a man feels that he is succeeding and giving general satisfaction he may reconcile himself to duties otherwise uncongenial to him’.38

Macdonald left office with Lansdowne on the appointment of Wellington as prime minister in January 1828. In the House, 21 Feb., he denied an allegation made by Herries that the Whigs who had lately been his colleagues had schemed to break up the government. He spoke in favour of the army estimates, 22 Feb., but emphasized that he was ‘particularly anxious to guard myself against the supposition that I grant it from any confidence in the present administration’, because he saw in the new cabinet ‘men acting together in concert, between whom an irreconcilable difference recently existed’. He also defended the last government’s practice of referring the estimates to a committee, and its record in cutting expenditure. He voted to repeal the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and for Catholic relief, 12 May. He divided against extending the right of voting in East Retford to the freeholders of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar., and recommitting the disfranchisement bill, 27 June. He acted as teller for the majority against instructing the committee on the Penryn disfranchisement bill to consider extending the borough to the neighbouring hundreds, 24 Mar. As John Fazakerley* reported to Edward Littleton*, 20 Sept., while on holiday that autumn Macdonald

was seized by a paralytic attack at Lausanne, which has deprived him of the use of all below his waist. I had a long letter from him yesterday written with great composure, and even cheerfulness: he is assured by the medical men that his intellects are in no danger, nor his life threatened immediately. This to a man who for some days thought that a coup de grace was hanging over him is naturally a great relief. There seems even a chance of partial recovery.39

His case was initially despaired of, and, for example, Abercromby wrote that ‘I have for some time been aware that his constitution, not strong by nature, has been materially shaken’, and blamed the attack on a recent complaint in one of his legs having been ‘injudiciously treated’. However, by early October he was in much better health.40 He recorded for Fazakerley, 10 Nov. 1828, his delight at visiting Genoa, and his unwillingness to contemplate returning to England until after Easter:

Indeed, the state of things at home makes me regret the less my inability to do so, for what good is to be expected? England is fast sinking in the scale of nations under the administration of the duke of Wellington. It is thrown in one’s teeth at every step one takes on the continent. His conduct in permitting the British empire to be distracted, as it seems to be, and verging towards a civil war, from a base fear of the basest of factions, the English Tory aristocracy, must damn him to all posterity. A liberal party surely must be formed, I care not under whom, to prevent as far as in themselves (and it must be a bold-spirited, uncompromising party) to prevent our further degradation abroad, and our dissolution at home.41

He was absent in France during the early part of the following year, but was present to vote for Catholic emancipation, 6 Mar. 1829, the only evidence of parliamentary activity that session.42

He voted for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830, and divided steadily in favour of economies and lower taxes during the following months. He asked Peel, the home secretary, for a ‘very extensive and efficient committee’ to be appointed on the East India Company, 9 Feb., and that the regulations governing the trade and the welfare of the people of India be considered. He also objected to the method of naming committees, whereby ‘the list is read rather rapidly, and we are immediately called on to say, whether it is considered sufficient’. Avoiding the invidiousness of naming individuals, he thought the committee should contain more Members representing ‘great commercial and manufacturing interests’, and not just ‘those persons who are called great Indian authorities’ or those, like the directors, who ‘have too great an interest in the question’. He voted for East Retford’s seats to be transferred to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 15 Mar. He divided in favour of enfranchising Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and parliamentary reform, 28 May. He was absent from the party meeting in early March at which Lord Althorp was chosen as leader.43 He sided with opposition against British interference in Portugal, 10 Mar., and on the affair at Terceira, 28 Apr., and the civil government of Canada, 25 May. He divided in favour of Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr. He voted for altering the laws respecting Irish vestries, 27 Apr., and to abolish the Irish lord lieutenancy, 11 May. He was in the majority for abolishing the death penalty for forgery, 7 June, and the minority against increasing recognizances in cases of libel, 9 July. At the general election the following month, he was returned with his new colleague Tom Macaulay for Calne, despite a contest and a petition.44 Having declined to stand himself, he was enthusiastically active on behalf of Lord Porchester*, elder son of the 2nd earl of Carnarvon, and John Ogle, his brother-in-law, in their attempt to open Petersfield. They lost the contest, but ‘that most sanguine man’, as Harriet Stapleton called Macdonald, was very hopeful that they would be seated on petition.45 With Sir Thomas Baring*, he conveyed to Carnarvon the news that Porchester had been nominated for Hampshire, and he subsequently explained to the freeholders why Porchester had declined, 8 Aug. 1830. He also attacked the Tory Member John Fleming as no true friend of reform, seeing that

the time was come when people would look about them, and should the House of Commons continue to act on such bigoted, intolerant and antiquated notions, as it had hitherto pursued, if they did not timely reform themselves, it would soon be too late and they would place the crown in jeopardy.46

Blaming Wellington and the 1815 settlement for the recent revolution in France, Macdonald lamented to Lansdowne, 22 Oct. 1830, that he felt ‘everything has been put at risk by the wicked and atrocious policy of this country in departing from her ancient policy to please the despots and the "late king", in support of the "monarchical principle".’ He admitted that however desirable it was for Wellington to be replaced, he did not wish the task on anyone

for the public mind is in a state not easily to be satisfied, discontent the most indefinite prevails and expectations the most extravagant are entertained. That great changes at home are at hand no rational man can doubt, but who is to direct them and can they be effected peaceably? There is no disguising from ourselves that we are not in the right, that the system whether in church or state is vicious, and above all that the constitution of the House of Commons has failed for many years to give the people a fair control over the expenditure of the government. But having postponed rectifying positive and grievous abuses at a fit season, we are now called upon to do so at a period of unexampled excitement.

He believed the only solution was for ‘all men who think rightly and mean well’ to take counsel and act together; specifically that

a party ought to be formed upon the basis of certain things which they require to be done. Confidence in any body of public men no longer exists, mere vague professions or known good intentions no longer pass current. Unless means be found to fix public confidence somewhere, an explosion will take place. Now I conceive this can only be effected by an intelligible creed on the points which the greatest portion of the public deem indispensable. In giving such pledges we are bound to see that what we proposed shall be practicable, and within this limit, the object being to satisfy all the reasonable portion of the community, we are bound frankly to go at once to the utmost extent. The next object must be to avoid more detail than is necessary, as details naturally lead to differences.

He promised to be at his post at the start of the session, and duly attended pre-session meetings of the party leaders, including ones to discuss Brougham’s intended reform motion.47 Listed by ministers among their ‘foes’, he voted against them on the civil list, 15 Nov., which led to the formation of the Grey ministry. He wrote to Porchester ‘speaking in desponding terms of the actual crisis but saying that Lord Grey’s government offers the only hope of safety’, and Wellington later asserted that Macdonald was one of those who had overruled Grey in making his appointments.48 Although again considered for other offices, he returned to his former position at the India board, much to Lord Sandon’s* disappointment.49 It was apparently also at this time that he, at least temporarily, relinquished his sinecure office, without compensation, though he continued to be listed as clerk to the privy seal in the Royal Kalendar.50 Thomas Gladstone* informed his father, 2 Dec., that Macdonald was to ‘strike for’ Kirkman Finlay* that day on his petition against the Glasgow Burghs election return.51 He was safely re-elected for Calne, 10 Dec. 1830.

Corresponding with Lansdowne about a scheme for parliamentary reform, he explained, 17 Jan. 1831, that

all that we can have to rely upon must be qualification, whether with ballot or without it: if with it, so entirely is the public mind centred in that one point, that I doubt if the amount of qualification would create any sensation; if without it, I much fear that universal suffrage would not satisfy. I am disposed to compromise for a fair qualification with the alternative of ballot at the option of electors in towns only. In counties, no case of grievance has occurred, nor has there been any demand for it.

He outlined how, if the ballot was made voluntary, it would speedily fall into disuse, especially as some places ‘will pique themselves on their boldness in preferring open voting, and that will give the ton in the end’. He concluded that a £10 householder qualification in boroughs, with a £10 freeholder and £20 leaseholder franchise in counties, would give a wide and sufficiently propertied electorate.52 He was appointed to the select committee on the affairs of the East India Company, 4 Feb. Having expressed himself willing, 8 Mar., he was granted permission to give evidence to the Lords about the 3rd Baron Macdonald’s right to vote in Irish peerage elections. He presented reform petitions from Calne, which he denied was a venal borough, and Havant, 14 Mar. At the Hampshire county meeting, 17 Mar., he praised the ‘short and simple’, ‘comprehensive and efficacious’ ministerial reform bill, the reception of which, with ‘curses loud and deep by half the House of Commons’, proved its necessity. He strongly condemned the Tory speakers, hailed the measure as a ‘death-blow to the faction which had derived its power for the last 60 years from that system which the bill went to overthrow’, and called it ‘a great healing measure, which will pour balm into the wounds of society, and which will restore that confidence which has long ceased to exist between the rulers and the ruled’. Boasting that he had supported every proposition for reform ever made in the Commons, he declared: ‘The mode of reform pleased him, so did the time, and they might depend upon what he now said to them, "it was now or never".’53 Despite his efforts, the Petersfield election was eventually decided against the petitioners, 22 Mar.54 He, of course, voted for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, which precipitated a dissolution.

Macdonald had issued a joint address with Macaulay to the electors of Calne, 19 Mar. 1831, when a future opposition had threatened to arise. But having received, with Charles Shaw Lefevre*, a requisition to stand for Hampshire as a reformer against the sitting Members, Fleming and Sir William Heathcote, he duly announced his candidature, 21 Apr., and embarked on an extensive canvass of the county.55 He was also involved with the independent interest at Petersfield, and seconded the nomination of Ogle at the election there, but again without success.56 He received extensive popular support, and the county Members withdrew rather than face an expensive contest; Wellington noted that, in any case, Macdonald’s success ‘would have cost him nothing but time and breath in making seditious speeches’. At the election, 6 May 1831, he denied that he was a pensioner, pledged that he would only remain in office as long as the government promoted measures he agreed with and spoke forcefully in support of parliamentary reform to root out the ‘illegitimate power grown up in this country, acting against the king and his people’. Fleming thought that he had gone too far in having said, as he understood, that

if the gentlemen of the county made a party against the people (which he inferred from the very scanty attendance of influential gentlemen) and he saw an overpowering aristocracy oppressing the people, he would put himself at their head to claim their rights.57

He was not made a magistrate of the county until this year, though he had been originally recommended in 1826.58

He was again appointed to the select committee on the East India Company, 28 June 1831, when he agreed that it could best put its own case by preparing a petition for consideration by the committee. He spoke against the Llanelli tithes bill, 11 July, only withdrawing his wrecking amendment against its second reading on being assured that it was not the same measure as had been introduced the previous session. A member of the payroll vote, he divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and regularly for its details. However, he voted against the total disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July, when ministers allowed it to be transferred to schedule B, and for Daniel O’Connell’s motion that the original Dublin committee be sworn, 29 July. Having an ‘intimate connection with Gosport’, he denied Croker’s suggestion that Portsea and Gosport wished to be represented separately from Portsmouth, 3 Aug., and told him, 11 Aug., that he ought to welcome the decision to grant a seat to the Isle of Wight, as well as two extra ones to Hampshire, because it would help to counteract what he saw as the bill’s over-emphasis on the North and the manufacturing interest. He voted against government for Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He reckoned that every effort should be made to ensure that the Lords did not defeat the bill, and admitted to Fazakerley that

my alarm is for ministers. Some things that have dropped from Lansdowne, and even from [Charles] Grant* make me doubt more than ever whether they are equal to the crisis. I know he would prefer resignation to the coup d’état of another batch of 30 or 40 peers, and I much doubt if the premier could make up his mind to such a blow (and no doubt it would be a severe blow) to his order. But if Grey retires lost in public estimation the consequence will be an attempt at a Tory ministry which will be the signal for the non-payment of taxes, in other words a revolution, and then the accession to power of a violent ultra liberal but able set of men to the utter extinction of all that have been or are. Resignation would now be the height of baseness and poltroonery, but I tremble.59

He voted for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. His was the first name on the requisition for another county meeting in Hampshire, at which, 26 Oct. 1831, he lauded the reform bill ‘as the charter of their restored rights and liberties’, damned the opposition to it of peers and ‘so formidable a levée en masse of lawn sleeves’, condemned William Cobbett’s† interventions as encouraging divisions amongst the reformers and urged the bill’s eventual passage through Parliament.60

That autumn he advocated bringing Macaulay into office in order to strengthen the ministry, and even offered to resign his own place for him, which Holland thought handsome but of which Brougham disapproved.61 Granville Southwell, Macdonald’s younger son, ‘a peculiarly interesting and affectionate child’, died unexpectedly, aged ten, 4 Dec. 1831, but two days later he confided to Holland, that ‘I hope by the time there comes any pinch in the reform bill to be again in a state to find myself in my place’.62 He was present to vote for the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and to go into committee on it, 20 Jan. 1832. The Mirror of Parliament reported him, presumably erroneously, as opposing the partial disfranchisement of 30 boroughs in schedule B, but he did, in fact, vote for this, 23 Jan., and the third reading, 22 Mar. He was reappointed to the select committee on the affairs of the East India Company, 27 Jan., when he once more called for it to be given a wider remit. He served as chairman of the subcommittee on public and miscellaneous matters at its many meetings before the Easter recess.63 That session he sided regularly with government and among his last known votes were those for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against increasing the county representation of Scotland, 1 June 1832.

Macdonald issued an address, dated 1 June 1832, indicating that he had been persuaded to retire from the House and live abroad, as governor of the Ionian Islands, because of the precarious state of his health.64 The appointment was made on the 2nd, and he must have left the House almost immediately, as the Hampshire writ was moved four days later. His departure was lamented at the subsequent election, 22 June, and by Carnarvon, who had intended Porchester to replace Macdonald on his expected retirement at the next general election.65 Macdonald dined at Lord Albemarle’s on the 27th, was taken ill the following day and died, of cholera, 29 June 1832, to the great shock of his friends.66 Macaulay, now at the India board himself, wrote that day:

Poor Macdonald is dead, suddenly, yet not suddenly. He has for years been so ill that I never reckoned on his living three months ... He was a very kind and very useful friend to me. I shall always remember him with affection. Poor fellow! The table at which I am writing was his a few weeks ago.67

By his will, which had been written in Lausanne, 20 Sept. 1828, he made various bequests to his wife, noting that ‘I only regret that the state of my finances renders it impossible for me to mark more strongly my sense of her attachment to me without doing injustice to others’. He also left numerous gifts, including one of a Poussin to Lansdowne, and ‘the antique wig usually worn by me’ to his friend Robert Wilmot Horton.* He left the bulk of his estate, which included landed property, shares in the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Company and personalty sworn under £12,000, to his only surviving son, Archibald Keppel (1820-1901), an army officer, who succeeded him as the 3rd baronet.68

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Rev. A. Macdonald, Clan Donald, iii. 548-50; Gent. Mag. (1826), i. 561-3; Oxford DNB.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 487-9.
  • 3. Edgeworth Letters, 270.
  • 4. NLS mss 24770, f. 1; Norf. Chron. 29 Jan. 1820.
  • 5. Add. 51830.
  • 6. NLS mss 24770, f. 1.
  • 7. For example, Cockburn Letters, 12.
  • 8. JRL, Bromley Davenport mss.
  • 9. Essex RO, Barrett Lennard mss D/DL C60, T. to Sir T. Barrett Lennard, 19 Sept. 1820.
  • 10. Bromley Davenport mss, Macdonald to Davenport, 4 Oct. 1820.
  • 11. Norf. Chron. 27 Jan.; The Times, 3 Feb.; HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 10-11.
  • 12. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/11/45.
  • 13. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 131.
  • 14. Lansdowne mss.
  • 15. Norf. Chron. 26 Jan.; The Times, 31 Jan. 1822.
  • 16. Add. 56544, f. 61.
  • 17. CJ, lxxvii. 1364-5.
  • 18. NAS GD46/4/61.
  • 19. Lansdowne mss.
  • 20. The Times, 23 Aug. 1822.
  • 21. Cockburn Letters, 67-69.
  • 22. Bessborough mss, Brougham to Duncannon, 2 Mar. 1823.
  • 23. Brougham mss, Macdonald to Brougham, 1, 3 Apr. [1823].
  • 24. Herts. Archives, Panshanger mss D/ELb F78, W. to F. Lamb, 20 May 1823.
  • 25. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 230-1.
  • 26. Gurney diary.
  • 27. Add. 51832, Goodwin to Holland, 18 Oct. 1824.
  • 28. Gent. Mag. (1824), ii. 466.
  • 29. R.C. Gill, Dict. of Local Celebrities. (Barnes and Mortlake Hist. Soc. 1980), 16; VCH Hants, ii. 493.
  • 30. Gent. Mag. (1826), i. 561; (1827), i. 186-7; PROB 11/1713/336; IR26/1093/483.
  • 31. Lansdowne mss, Macdonald to Lansdowne, 7 June; Devizes Gazette, 8, 15 June 1826.
  • 32. Canning’s Ministry, 32, 40, 43.
  • 33. Ibid. 117.
  • 34. Ibid. 265, 276.
  • 35. Add. 52447, ff. 101, 107; Devizes Gazette, 31 May 1827.
  • 36. Creevey Pprs. ii. 120.
  • 37. Wellington mss WP1/895/10, 16.
  • 38. Lansdowne mss; Add. 57419, ff. 88, 90.
  • 39. Hatherton mss.
  • 40. Duke Univ. Lib. Fazakerley mss, Abercromby to Fazakerley, 13 Sept., Littleton to same, 22 Sept.; Add. 51576, Fazakerley to Lady Holland, 20 Sept.; 51580, Carlisle to same, 9 Oct.; 51659, Whishaw to same, 6 Oct. 1828.
  • 41. Fazakerley mss.
  • 42. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland, 20 Jan.; 51687, Lansdowne to same, 23 Jan. 1829.
  • 43. Castle Howard mss, Graham to Morpeth [3 Mar. 1830].
  • 44. Devizes Gazette, 29 July, 5 Aug., 2 Dec. 1830.
  • 45. Hants RO, Carnarvon mss 75M91/E4/28-30, 81; J3/17; L14/3; L17/1.
  • 46. Ibid. E4/80; Hants Chron. 9, 30 Aug. 1830.
  • 47. Lansdowne mss; Add. 51564, Brougham to Holland, 8 Nov. 1830; 56554, f. 42; A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 242-4.
  • 48. Carnarvon mss J3/18; Three Diaries, 42.
  • 49. Grey mss, Lansdowne to Grey [19 Nov.]; Harrowby mss, Sandon to Harrowby, 19, 25 Nov. 1830.
  • 50. Hants Chron. 16, 23 May 1831; Gent. Mag. (1832), ii. 178; Black Bk. (1832), 552.
  • 51. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196.
  • 52. Lansdowne mss.
  • 53. The Times, 18 Mar. 1831.
  • 54. Carnarvon mss E4/96, 99; Hants Chron. 28 Mar. 1831.
  • 55. Devizes Gazette, 24 Mar., 14, 28 Apr.; Hants Chron. 25 Apr., 2 May; Hants Advertiser, 7 May 1831.
  • 56. W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss 1433, f. 238; 1486, f. 36. See PETERSFIELD.
  • 57. Wellington mss WP4/3/4/17, 22, 23; Hants Chron. 9 May 1831.
  • 58. Wellington mss WP1/848/15; Hants RO, q. sess. recs. Q27/3/297.
  • 59. Add. 61937, f. 125.
  • 60. Hants Chron. 24, 31 Oct.; The Times, 28 Oct. 1831.
  • 61. Add. 51563, Brougham to Holland, bef. 27 Nov. 1831; Holland House Diaries, 72, 106; Broughton, Recollections, iv. 165; J. Clive, Macaulay, 201-2.
  • 62. Gent. Mag. (1831), ii. 571; Add. 51836.
  • 63. PP (1831-2), ix. 21.
  • 64. Hants Chron. 4 June, 2 July; Salisbury Jnl. 11 June 1832.
  • 65. The Times, 25 June 1832; Wellington mss WP1/1229/24.
  • 66. Fazakerley mss, Lansdowne to Fazakerley, 29 June; Add. 51575, Abercromby to Holland, 1 July 1832; Gent. Mag. (1832), ii. 178; Raikes Jnl. i. 57-58; Wilts. Parson and his Friends ed. G. Greever, 109.
  • 67. Macaulay Letters, ii. 143, 145.
  • 68. Fazakerley mss, Lansdowne to Fazakerley, 3 July 1832; PROB 11/1804/526; IR26/1296/391.