Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
James Steuart Denham Papers, 1775-1778

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, October 2009

Summary Information
Title: James Steuart Denham papers
Creator: Steuart, James, Sir, 1712-1780
Inclusive dates: 1775-1778
Extent: 10 items
This collection contains ten letters written between 1775 and 1778, by James Steuart Denham to Archibald Hamilton, 9th Duke of Hamilton. In these letters, Denham discussed his opinions regarding the British war with America, and its toll on the British economy.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1950. M-807.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

James Steuart Denham Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized chronologically.


Sir James Steuart Denham (1712-1780), born in Edinburgh to Sir James Steuart, solicitor-general of Scotland, and Ann Dalrymple, was an important British economist. He studied law at The University of Edinburgh and was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1735. In the following years, he toured Europe and became acquainted with many Jacobites, including the exiled Charles Stuart. As a believer in the Jacobite cause, he returned to Scotland in 1740. During the uprising of 1745, Steuart was an active supporter of the Pretender, and when the revolt failed, he was forced into an 18-year exile on the continent. While in Europe, he studied political economics and published numerous essays in the field. Through the intercession of his friends, Lord Barrington and Lady Mary Whortley Montagu, Steuart was allowed to return to his home in 1763. He retired to Coltness, Scotland, where he wrote his great mercantile treatise, An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy (1767). Steuart was formally pardoned in 1771 and assumed the name Denham in 1773 upon inheriting the estate of Sir Archibald Denham.

Steuart married Lady Frances Wemyss, daughter of the earl of Wemyss, on October 25, 1743. They had two children, a daughter who died in infancy, and a son, Sir James Steuart Denham of Coltness and Westshield (1744-1839). Denham died in Edinburgh on November 26, 1780.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Sir James Steuart Denham papers contain 10 letters written by Denham to Archibald Hamilton, 9th Duke of Hamilton, between 1775 and 1778. In these letters, Denham discussed his opinions regarding the British war with America and its toll on the British economy. In the first letters, Denham suggested that England should not engage the colonies militarily, but should instead cut off trade with America, and let the economic damage subdue the revolt. He also defended General Gage, governor of Massachusetts and commander of His Majesty's army, for not using his forces to crush the American mobs. Even after the outbreak of the war, Denham preferred using economic means, rather than using military resources, to control the colonies. He was pessimistic about committing troops to North America: "We have seen ten thousand men at Boston, who have not been able to penetrate one mile into the continent of N. America. How far will forty thousand be able to penetrate?" (February 12, 1776). Denham wrote extensively about the economic impact of the war on the value of paper money in the colonies and British and American fiscal irresponsibility.

Though Denham did not support military action, he had no doubt that the British Army would suppress the rebellion. Victory, he believed, would require a system of forts to keep North America under control. "While they are under the Parliament of Great Britain they are under a free Government and people who have made choice of Rebellion should have no choice afterwards with respect to governing themselves" (March 17, 1776).

Throughout 1775 and 1776, Denham anticipated that the American resistance would be crushed. In the few letters from 1777 and 1778, Denham focused on discussing personal and family matters, and in the letter of May 16, 1778, he expressed despondency at the country's state of affairs.

These letters are significant because they document the candid views of an important British thinker as he witnessed the events of the American Revolution.

Subject Terms

    • America--Economic conditions.
    • Gage, Thomas, 1721-1787.
    • Great Britain--Colonies--America--Commerce.
    • Great Britain--Colonies--America--Economic policy.
    • Great Britain--Commerce--United States.
    • Great Britain--Economic conditions--18th century.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Economic aspects.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Economic consequences.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Foreign public opinion, British.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Commerce.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   38, Small Collections  
    James Steuart Denham papers [series]
    Folder   35  
     [January 25, 1775]
     November 6, 1775
    Folder   36  
     February 12, 1776
     March 17, 1776
    Folder   37  
     [October 20, 1776]
     January 25, 1777
    Folder   38  
     February 17, 1777
     May 3, 1777
    Folder   39  
     May 28, 1777
     May 16, 1778
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Clements Library's Sydney papers contain a memo to James S. Denham.