Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adair, James (d.1798)

ADAIR, JAMES (d. 1798), serjeant-at-law and recorder of London, was educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1764, and M.A. in 1767. He was subsequently called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn. In the quarrel between Wilkes and Horne Tooke in 1770, he intervened on the side of Wilkes, who publicly replied in Adair's behalf to the attacks made upon him by Tooke, and the notoriety that he thereby acquired was of material service to him in his professional career. In 1771 he took a prominent part, as one of the counsel for the defence, in certain legal proceedings that followed the great trial of the printers and publishers of Junius's letters. Eight years later, his support of the popular cause secured for him the office of recorder of London, and he continued in that position until 1789. His resignation of the post in that year was due partly to his many professional engagements in the court of Common Pleas, which left him little time to attend to the affairs of the city, and partly to his political views. The members of the London corporation had transferred their political allegiance between 1779 and 1789 from the whigs to the tories under the younger Pitt, and with the latter Adair had at the time nothing in common. From 1780 until his death, he sat in parliament as the whig representative first of Cockermouth and afterwards of Higham Ferrers. His temporary connection with Wilkes gained him for a time the reputation of being a Wilkite, but he was a rather timid whig. He was for some years a member of the famous whig club; but on the outbreak of the French revolution he parted company with Fox, with whom he had previously been connected. As king's serjeant he was associated, in 1794, with the attorney-general Sir John Scott, afterwards Lord Eldon, in the prosecution of Thomas Hardy and his old enemy Horne Tooke; in 1796 he, with the Hon. Thomas Erskine, afterwards lord chancellor, was assigned by the court as counsel for the defence of William Stone, charged with high treason as a champion of the French revolution, and the prisoner's acquittal was doubtless in some measure due to Adair's energetic conduct of his case (State Trials, xxv. 1320 et seq.). Adair's horror of the French revolution did not, however, diminish with his years; at an advanced age he joined a force of London volunteers, raised in 1798, when England was menaced with invasion. The fatiguing discipline to which he thus subjected himself shortened his life. He died suddenly while returning from shooting exercise on 21 July 1798, and was buried in the Bunhill Fields burying-ground, near his parents' graves. At the time of his death he was king's prime serjeant-at-law, M.P. for Higham Ferrers, and chief justice of Chester.

Adair is the reputed author of: 1. ‘Thoughts on the Dismission of Officers, civil and military, for their conduct in Parliament,’ 1764, 8vo. 2. ‘Observations on the Power of Alienation in the Crown before the first of Queen Anne, supported by precedents, and the opinions of many learned judges, together with some remarks on the conduct of Administration respecting the case of the Duke of Portland,’ 1786, 8vo. 3. ‘Discussions of the Law of Libels,’ 1786, 8vo. Almon in his ‘Anecdotes’ fully summarises the first two of these pamphlets, and applauds ‘the learned serjeant's regard for the constitution,’ his ability as a lawyer, and his honesty as a man.

[Gent. Mag. lxviii. part ii. 720–1; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Almon's Anecdotes (1797), i. 82–92; Junius printed by Woodfall (1872), iii. 380 et seq.]

J. M. R.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.2
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
69 ii 12-9 f.e. Adair, James: for From 1780 . . . Ferrars read From 1775 to 1780 he was whig M.P. for Cockermouth, and from 1793 until his death for Higham Ferrers.
2f.e. for As king's serjeant he read He became king's serjeant in 1782, and
70 i 22 omit prime
23 for Ferrars read Ferrers