Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Balfour, John Blair

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BALFOUR, JOHN BLAIR, first Baron Kinross of Glasclune (1837–1905), lord president of the court of session in Scotland, born at Clackmannan on 11 July 1837, was second son (in a family of two sons and a daughter) of Peter Balfour (1794-1862), parish minister of that place, by his wife Jane Ramsay (d. 1871), daughter of Peter Blair of Perth. Educated at Edinburgh Academy, of which he was 'dux,' or head boy, he passed to the University of Edinburgh, where he had a distinguished career, but did not graduate. Passing to the Scottish bar on 26 Nov. 1861, he rose with almost unexampled rapidity to be the foremost advocate in Scotland, his only rival being Alexander Asher [q. v. Suppl. II]. He first engaged prominently in politics at the general election of April 1880, when he contested North Ayrshire, as a liberal, against Robert William Cochran-Patrick [q. v. Suppl. I], afterwards permanent under-secretary for Scotland. Balfour was defeated by fifty -five votes, but was returned unopposed on 1 Dec. 1880 for Clackmannan and Kinross when William Patrick Adam [q. v.], the sitting member, was appointed governor of Madras. Appointed immediately solicitor-general for Scotland in Gladstone's second ministry, he in 1881 succeeded John (afterwards Lord) McLaren [q. v. Suppl. II] as lord advocate. He was made honorary LL.D. of Edinburgh University in 1882, and became a privy councillor in 1883. He remained in office till the liberals went out in 1885. For nearly 150 years prior to 1885 the lord advocates were practically ministers for Scotland; but during Lord Salisbury's short-lived administration of 1885-6 the ancient office of secretary of state for Scotland, which had been abolished at the close of the rebellion of 1745-6, was revived. Balfour was thus the last of the old line of lord advocates, and though he was always stronger as a lawyer than as a politician, managed the affairs of Scotland with ability in the face of considerable difficulties caused by the crofter question and the movement in favour of 'home rule' for Scotland. In 1886 he was again lord advocate, but went out when the Gladstone government was defeated on the Irish question. In 1885-6 he was dean of the faculty of advocates, and again in 1889-92. From 1892 to 1895 he was once more lord advocate under Gladstone and Lord Rosebery, and, during that period, took a prominent part in carrying through the House of Commons the Local Government Act for Scotland (1894), by which parish councils, framed on the model of the English Act, were established. The defeat of the Rosebery government in June 1895 was the end of Balfour's official career; but at the ensuing general election he was again returned by his old constituency, and remained in parliament till 1899. In that year the lord president of the court of session, James Patrick Bannerrnan (afterwards Lord) Robertson [q. v. Suppl. II], became a lord of appeal, on the death of William Watson (Lord Watson) [q. v. Suppl. I], and so high was the estimation in which Balfour was held that the conservative government bestowed on him the vacant office. 'I have never in my life known an appointment which gave such universal pleasure,' Lord Rosebery said at a banquet given by the Scottish Liberal Club in honour of Balfour's appointment. In 1902 Balfour was raised to the peerage as Baron Kinross of Glasclune. His health, which had begun to fail before he left the bar, broke down rapidly after he became a judge. On 22 Jan. 1905 he died at Rothsay Terrace, Edinburgh, and was buried in the Dean cemetery there.

Balfour married twice: (1) in 1869, Lilias, daughter of the Hon. Lord Mackenzie (Scottish judge) by whom he had one son, Patrick Balfour, second Baron Kinross (b. 23 April 1870); (2) in 1877, Marianne Elizabeth, daughter of the first Baron Moncreiff [q. v.], by whom he had four sons and one daughter.

There are two portraits of Balfour: one, painted by John Callcott Horsley, R.A., was presented to him by his supporters in Ayrshire; the other, by Sir George Reid, president of the Royal Scottish Academy, was presented to him by the counties of Clackmannan and Kinross on the occasion of his becoming lord president. Both paintings are in the possession of his widow. A cartoon portrait by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' 1887.

[Scotsman, 23 Jan. 1905; The Times, 23 Jan. 1905; Roll of Faculty of Advocates; Records of Juridical Society 1859-63; History of Speculative Society, p. 152; personal knowledge.]

G. W. T. O.