Hamilton, John (1656-1708) (DNB00)

HAMILTON, JOHN, second Lord Belhaven (1656–1708), born 5 July 1656, was eldest son of Robert Hamilton (d. 1696), lord Presmennan, one of the judges of the court of session, by Marion Denholm, and elder brother of James Hamilton of Pencaitland, who was appointed a lord of justiciary in 1712 (Brunton and Haig, Senators of College of Justice, pp. 447, 493). John Hamilton married Margaret, daughter of Sir Robert Hamilton of Selverton Hill, and granddaughter of John Hamilton, first lord Belhaven (d. 1679), who in 1675 obtained a settlement of his title on his granddaughter's husband. He succeeded to the peerage in 1679. In the Scotch parliament of 1681 he opposed the measures of the government, and during the debate on the test he spoke of it as failing 'to secure our religion against a popish or fanatical successor to the crown' (Fountainhall, ii. 307-8), a remark obviously aimed, though he disclaimed any such intention, at the Duke of York, afterwards James II, who was then the king's commissioner in Scotland. As a punishment he was imprisoned by order of the parliament in Edinburgh Castle, and there was some talk of indicting him for treason, when having 'on his knees at the bar craved pardon' (Acts of Parliament of Scotland, viii. 247 a), he was restored to his seat in parliament. After the revolution of 1688 he was one of the members of the Scotch aristocracy who met in London in January 1689, and invited the Prince of Orange to assume the government and to summon a convention of the estates of Scotland. In that convention he contributed to the settlement of the crown of Scotland on William and Mary. In June 1689 he was appointed one of the commissioners for exercising the office of clerk of register. In the preceding April he had succeeded Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655-1716) [q. v.] as captain of the troop of horse raised in Haddingtonshire (ib. ix. 27 b}, and in command of it he was present at the battle of Killiecrankie, 27 July 1689, on which day he was appointed a member of the Scotch privy council. In 1693 he was one of the farmers of the poll-tax in Scotland, and from 1695 to 1697 of the excise. He was a warm supporter of the Darien scheme, being one of the few subscribers of 1,000l. to the funds of the South African Company.

On the accession of Queen Anne, Belhaven was continued a member of the Scotch privy council. In the new Scotch parliament of 1703 he was a strenuous advocate of the Act of Security, and a spirited speech of his on it delivered in that year was printed for popular circulation. He was accused, to all appearance unjustly, of having taken part in the so-called 'Scotch plot' of the same year for a Stuart restoration. Belhaven was appointed a commissioner of the Scotch treasury in the ministry of 1704, and was removed when it was dismissed in 1705. He was a passionate opponent of the union. Another speech published at the time of delivery was made, 21 July 1705, in support of a resolution protesting against the nomination of a successor to Queen Anne to the crown of Scotland without limitations of its regal authority. On 2 Nov. 1706 he denounced the proposed union in a famous speech, the only specimen of Scotch parliamentary oratory which has found its way into English collections of rhetorical masterpieces. Lord Marchmont replied that a short answer to this long and terrible speech would suffice. 'Behold he dreamed, but lo ! when he awoke, behold it was a dream' (Defoe, Abstract of Proceedings, p. 44). Hence the title of 'The Vision' given to some contemporary doggerel verses ridiculing Belhaven's speech, which, according to the catalogue of the British Museum, may have been written by Thomas Hamilton, sixth earl of Haddington [q. v.] 'The Vision' was published as a broadsheet at Edinburgh, 1706 (reprinted in London the same year as by a person of quality), and with a reply to it, 'A Scot's Answer to a British Vision,' is given in the second series of 'Various Pieces of Scottish Fugitive Poetry' (1823 ?). 'Belhaven's Vision' is also the title of a superior metrical piece warmly eulogising him (London, 1729), but probably published much earlier. The famous speech of 2 Nov. 1706, with another delivered by Belhaven on the 16th of the same month, was printed as a broadside at Edinburgh and reprinted in London in a pamphlet cried about the streets,' according to Defoe, who has given both speeches in his history of the union, and who attacked Belhaven in his 'Review' for 12 March 1707.

Belhaven with other opponents of the union was imprisoned at Edinburgh, and in April 1708 brought in custody to London, as suspected of favouring the attempted French invasion [see Fletcher, Andrew, 1655-1716]. He was examined by the English privy council and admitted to bail, dying a few days afterwards, 21 June 1708, of inflammation of the brain, caused or aggravated, it has been surmised, by wounded pride (cf. Boyer, Appendix, p. 44, and A. Cunningham, Hist. of Great Britain, 1787, ii. 159). A eulogistic 'elegy' on him in doggerel verse was printed as a broadside at Edinburgh soon after his death. Lockhart of Carnwath accuses him of want of fixity of principle, and charges him with making 'long premeditated harangues,' but admits that he was a 'well-accomplished gentleman in most kinds of learning, well acquainted with the constitution of Scotland, and a skilful parliamentary strategist.' Macky (Memoirs, p. 236) caricatures him as 'a rough, fat, black, noisy man, more like a butcher than a lord.' In the obituary notice of him in Boyer (ib.) he is described as of 'a good stature, well set, of a healthy constitution, black complexion and graceful manly presence,' as having 'a quick conception, with a ready and masculine expression,' and as being 'steady in his principles both in politics and religion.' There is a portrait of him, with a brief and valueless memoir in Pinkerton's 'Scottish Gallery,' 1799. Belhaven was the author of 'An Advice to the Farmers of East Lothian to Labour and Improve their Grounds.' One of its monitions is quoted in the 'Edinburgh Review' for November 1814 (p. 87), art. 'Agriculture of Scotland.' By his wife Belhaven left two sons, John, third lord, who was appointed governor of Barbadoes, but was drowned on his way out off the Lizard, 17 Nov. 1721, and James (d. 1732), an advocate.

[Douglas's Peerage of Scotland (Wood), 1813; Boyer's Hist, of Queen Anne, ed. 1722; Defoe's Abstract of Proceedings on the Treaty of Union, appended to his Hist, of the Union; Lord Fountainhall's Historical Notices of Scottish Affairs (Bannatyne Club), 1848; Lockhart Papers, 1817; authorities cited.]

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