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OSWALD, JAMES (1715–1769), politician, eldest son of James Oswald, M.P. for Kirkcaldy 1702–7, and for Kirkcaldy Burghs 1713–15, was born at Dunnikier, Dysart, Fifeshire, in 1715. He was educated at the grammar school, Kirkcaldy (where he had for one of his schoolfellows Adam Smith); was admitted a student at Lincoln's Inn on 13 Dec. 1733, and, after making a prolonged tour on the continent, was called to the Scottish bar in 1740. He did not practise, and on 2 June 1741 was returned to parliament for Kirkcaldy Burghs, which he continued to represent until 1768, with the exception of 1747–54, during which he sat for Fifeshire. A strong whig, he voted against the hiring of the Hanoverian troops (10 Dec. 1742), and on the formation of the ‘broad bottom’ administration received the office of Scottish commissioner of the navy (December 1744). His speeches, though mostly confined to business matters, were always remarkably able. Horace Walpole praises the ‘quickness and strength of argument’ which made him a match for Henry Fox. He evinced his independence by supporting, on 28 Oct. 1745, Hume Campbell's motion for an inquiry into the causes and progress of the Jacobite insurrection, the entire responsibility for which he laid at the door of ministers, and by coquetting with the Leicester House party. From December 1751 to December 1759 he sat on the board of trade, and from 22 Dec. 1759 to 15 April 1763 on the treasury board. On 4 May in the latter year he was appointed joint vice-treasurer in Ireland, having previously (20 April) been sworn of the privy council. He retired from public life in ill-health in 1766, and died at Hammersmith on 24 March 1769.

Oswald was an able and industrious public servant, and a man of literary and philosophical tastes. He was a close friend and an amiable critic of Adam Smith, David Hume, Henry Home, Lord Kames, and John Home, the author of ‘Douglas.’ He married at London, in February 1747, a sister of Joseph Townsend, M.P. for Westbury, Wiltshire, by whom he had issue James Townsend Oswald, father of General Sir John Oswald [q. v.]

[Memorials of the Public Life and Character of the Right Hon. James Oswald of Dunnikier, contained in a correspondence with some of the most distinguished men of the last century, 1825, 8vo; Dugald Stewart's Biographical Memoirs, 1811, p. 5; Tytler's Memoirs of Lord Kames, 1814; Bubb Dodington's Diary; Hill Burton's Life of David Hume, 1846; Birkbeck Hill's Letters of David Hume, 1888; Ramsay's Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Allardyce, p. 188; Walpole's Memoirs, George II (ed. Holland), George III (ed. Le Marchant), i. 112, 145, 358, Letters (ed. Cunningham), i. 121; Gent. Mag. 1744 p. 677, 1747 p. 102, 1769 p. 168; Scots Mag. 1747 p. 98, 1769 p. 167, 1825 pt. ii. p. 65; Ann. Reg. 1769, Chron. p. 173; Cobbett's Parl. Hist. vols. xiii.–xvi.; List of Members of Parliament (Official); Foster's Members of Parliament, Scotland, p. 279; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Irving's Book of Scotsmen; Haydn's Book of Dignities.]

J. M. R.