James Adair (serjeant-at-law)

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James Adair, KS (died 21 July 1798) was an Irish serjeant-at-law.


Adair was admitted to Peterhouse, Cambridge, and took a B.A. in 1764, and M.A. in 1767.[1] He was educated in law and in due course called to the bar by the society of Lincoln's Inn. In the early part of the reign of George III he was ranked among the advocates of the popular side; in 1771, he was employed as counsel in the famous case of the House of Commons against the printers of "Letters of Junius" and in this and other instances gave so much satisfaction to the citizens, that, on the death of Glynn, he was elected Recorder of London,[2] a post he held until 1789.[3]

In 1774, he took the degree of serjeant, and afterwards confined his practice chiefly to the Common Pleas, in which court,—upon his promotion to be a king's serjeant (1782),—he for some years took the lead. On the rupture of the Whigs after the French revolution, he attached himself to the moderate party of Burke's division and in 1794 was one of the counsel for the crown against Hardy, Tooke, and others, but had no very active part assigned him.[2] In April, 1788 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society [4]

In 1796, he led against the crown, with Erskine as his junior, in defence of Stone, accused of treason, but acquitted. At different times he held a seat in Parliament, having been Member of Parliament (MP) for Cockermouth from 1775 to 1780,[5] and from 1793 until his death was member for Higham Ferrers.[6] He also was counsel to the Board of Ordnance, and Chief Justice of Chester. His manner as a speaker was somewhat coarse, but it was impressive; he had great copiousness and fluency of delivery, and his powers of reasoning were of the highest order.

He died suddenly at his house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, on 21 July 1798.[2] He was buried at Bunhill Fields burying ground.


Adair was author of several tracts.[2]

  • Thoughts on the Dismission of Officers for their Conduct in Parliament (1764)
  • Observations on the Power of Alienation in the Crown (1768)
  • Discussions of the Law of Libels (1785)


  1. ^ "Adair, James (ADR759J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ a b c d Rose, Hugh James (1857). A New General Biographical Dictionary, London: B. Fellowes et al.
  3. ^ Davis, Michael T. (2008) [2004]. "Adair, James (c. 1743–1798)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/80.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) The first edition of this text is available as an article on Wikisource:  "Adair, James (d.1798)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  4. ^ "Library and Archive cataloge". Royal Society. Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  5. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "C" (part 5)[self-published source][better source needed]
  6. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "H" (part 3)[self-published source][better source needed]
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
George Johnstone
Fletcher Norton
Member of Parliament for Cockermouth
With: Ralph Gowland
Succeeded by
John Lowther
John Baynes-Garforth
Preceded by
John Lee
Member of Parliament for Higham Ferrers
Succeeded by
Stephen Thurston Adey
Legal offices
Preceded by
Edward Bearcroft
Chief Justice of Chester
Succeeded by
William Grant