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James Boswell's Address to the King

James Boswell of Auchinleck is remembered today as the biographer of Samuel Johnson and a prolific diarist. The minutes of the Ayrshire commissioners of supply contain one of his lesser compositions: an address to King George III on 'the state of the nation'. Loyal addresses were common and may be found in county minute books or in the newspapers of the day. This particular address is worth noting on account of the fame of its author, which grows rather than diminishes with the passage of time. At a county meeting in Ayr on 17th March 1784 attended by 45 of the principal men of the county, the address was adopted with a recommendation to the chairman of the meeting, George Crawford, 22nd Earl of Crawford, to transmit it to Sir Adam Fergusson of Kilkerran, Member of Parliament for the county, for presentation to his majesty.

"To the Kings most Excellent Majesty - The Humble Adress of the Noblemen, Gentlemen, Justices of the peace, Commissioners of Supply and Heritors of the County of Ayr.

"We, your Majesty's faithfull Subjects, think it our duty to adress your Majesty on the present state of the Nation, to which we are the more encouraged, that in an answer to those who now Represent your people your Majesty has been pleased to pay a Gracious attention to the Honest Sentiments of your people themselves.

"We beg leave in this adress uninfluenced and unsolicited to Renew our sincere assurance of Loyalty; and while we declare our determined resolution to support your majesty's undoubted prerogative to chuse your Ministers for the executive part of our Government; we Acknowledge our Grateful Sense of your majestys regard for the publick good, in appointing and Continuing in your Service, men in whose Virtue and abilities your people have the Greatest Confidence.

"With regret and indignation we have observed the national councils troubled by the desperate Efforts of a violent faction and a waste of the Vigours of Opposition which should be reserved to frustrate destructive measures, such as that audacious East India bill, which if it had been allowed to pass into a law, would at once have violated the security of Chartered rights, created a new power paramount in Effect to that of the Crown, reduced your majestys authority to a mere name and Subjected your people to an unconstitutional dominion.

"Permitt us, Sire to say that a loyal adress from the extensive district of Ayr Shire may claim particular Consideration, because it is one of those Western Shires of Scotland which in times very different from your majestys Benignant Reign resisted Tyranny in one Branch of the Constitution undismayed by the risk of Life and fortune - Trusting we inherit the firmness and intrepidity of our forefathers we are equally ready to resist Tyrany in another Branch. Our principles are uniform to withstand Encroachment in Whatever quarter, and maintain the just Ballance of our admirable monarchy limited by progressive wisdom and spirit to a full Consistency with rational freedom."

The king had opposed Charles Fox's 1783 India Bill. When it was rejected he demanded, and obtained, the resignations of Fox and Lord North, and he appointed the 24 year-old William Pitt to the office of First Lord of the Admiralty (the equivalent of Prime Minister) and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Following the approval of his address, Boswell moved a message of support to William Pitt. This too was adopted and transmitted to Pitt by way of Adam Fergusson.

Boswell's Journal for 17th March 1784 records at length his activities that day: "As I had come west on purpose to support a loyal Address to the king from our county, I had been at great pains preparing one. I belive I wrote six or seven copies, and corrected so late as this very morning of the day on which we were to meet. I did not apprehend there would be an opposition regularly formed, and therefore was not at much pains to send notice to my good friends to attend. However, that there might be a decent number, I gave notice to Craigdarroch, Wallacetown, Dernconner, Duncanziemuir, Friendlesshead, Bennals, all of whom attended. I also wrote to Mr Bruce Campbell, who came. I wrote to Netherplace that, as there had always been a good understanding (or some such expression) between his family and mine, I hoped it would be continued, and that he would come to Ayr upon this occasion and give his honest voice for the side he thought in the right. He did not come, nor did he send me an answer. I was at first inclined to be angry with him. But I made allowance for his rustic inefficiency, and hoped to make him better. It was a fine morning; so instead of taking my chaise as I had ordered, I rode to Ayr. I overtook upon the road Craigdarroch, Wallacetown and Duncanziemuir, and had a cordial ride along with them. When I got to Ayr, I discovered that there was a considerable opposition; and I afterwards learnt that the Laird of Fairlie, supposing that Lord Eglinton was still for the Coalition ministry, or more properly speaking, for the Duke of Portland, and would be against the Address, had sent expresses and endeavoured to collect forces against it. Colonel Montgomerie's answer, which Sundrum read to me from a letter the Colonel wrote to him, was honourable and spirited: that he was to tell Fairlie "he thought he paid the Earl a sufficient compliment when he stayed away. But no man in Europe should make him come down and oppose the Address". I never in my life felt myself better than I was today. I recalled to my mind all the ideas of the consequence of county meetings and of the credit of the family of Auchinleck which I had acquired from my father in my early years, and I superadded the monarchical principles which I had acquired from Dr Johnson. The account which I sent to the newspapers will remain as a record of what passed this day. I was quite happy upon my success, but by no means insolent. I dined at the King's Arms with Lord Loudoun, etc., twelve in all, and was quite hearty, though I drank only water coloured with toast. I then drank tea at John Boswell's, and went at night to Lady Crawford's. Nobody there but her Ladyship, Lady Mary, Lord Crawford and his brother, and Mr Crawford, the factor. I played whist and won, and passed the evening most agreeably. I assisted Lord Crawford in writing letters, as preses of the county, to Mr Pitt and Sir Adam Fergusson".

David McClure and Rob Close

This article was published in Ayrshire Notes No. 15 (1998).

References: Ayrshire Archives, Minute Books of the Ayrshire Commissioners of Supply CO 3/1/5; Lustig & Pottle, eds, Boswell: The Applause of the Jury 1782-1785, London, 1981. The Address was published in the London Gazette, 3rd April 1784, while an account of the meeting appeared in the Edinburgh Advertiser of 23rd March 1784.

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