Carter, Thomas (1690–1763), politician, was born at Hollybrook, Co. Dublin (and baptised at St Bride's, Dublin, 31 March 1692), only surviving son of Thomas Carter (qv), MP, and Margaret Carter (née Houghton). Educated at Mr Wall's school, Dublin, he matriculated at TCD (1707), entered Middle Temple, London (1708), and graduated (BA Vern. 1710). He became an attorney of the court of king's bench, Dublin, and clerk of the crown and prothonotary in the same court after his father's purchase of that office (which remained in the family to 1766); and was admitted a bencher of King's Inns (1718) and appointed treasurer there (1737–41). He was MP for Trim, Co. Meath (1719–27), and was then returned for Hillsborough, Dungarvan, and Lismore, choosing to sit for Hillsborough (1727–61). In 1723 he obtained the reversion of the office of second serjeant at arms from his father (the office was in the Carter family 1692–1753). In April 1725 Lord Berkeley, master of the rolls, appointed Carter his deputy and obtained permission to sell him the reversion of the office – much to the disapproval of Archbishop Hugh Boulter (qv), who was promoting the English interest, and deplored that such an important office could be purchased by an Irishman.
Carter was a protégé of the lord chancellor, Alan Brodrick (qv), Viscount Midleton. By September 1725 he had allied himself to Midleton's son St John Brodrick, who headed an influential party in the commons. They proposed to the lord lieutenant, Lord Carteret (qv), to undertake the king's business in parliament, but as he rejected their plan they opposed nearly everything his parliamentary managers initiated. On 6 May 1727 Carter was appointed second examiner in chancery. In 1729 he acquired Castle Martin, Co. Kildare, as his family seat, and was appointed judge and ranger of the Curragh of Kildare (1730–52).
By the end of the 1720s Carter had been won over to the Castle party. By June 1730, when the duke of Dorset (qv) was appointed lord lieutenant, Carter had risen to great prominence in parliament. Dorset approached Carter to secure his support and assisted him in his purchase – for over £11,000 – of the mastership of the rolls (1731), made him his chief parliamentary manager, and entrusted Carter with the care of his son, Lord George Sackville (qv), in his absence. Dorset recognised that Carter was owed some return for his considerable expense in purchasing the mastership, and the following May the king granted Carter a further annual £500 to his office of clerk of the crown and prothonotary. In 1731 Carter commissioned Sir Edward Pearce (qv), his wife's cousin, to build him a magnificent house, with the finest staircase hall in Dublin, opposite Boulter's residence in Henrietta St., where much government business was conducted. In 1732 Carter was made a privy councillor, and when Speaker John Gore (qv) died (February 1733) he was among the candidates most acceptable to the Castle, but the position went to Henry Boyle (qv), his close friend and godfather to his younger son. When Walpole sent instructions to Dorset to attempt the repeal of the test, Carter and Boyle were against it, and Dorset soon realised this proposal would fail.
Carter now had a substantial income: his estate realised £4,000 a year and his combined offices a further £7,500 a year. He was still at the height of his political career in 1745, when Lord Chesterfield (qv), then lord lieutenant, described him as the leading man in parliament. However, in 1748 Carter was seriously ill and wished his eldest son to be granted the reversion of the office of master of the rolls, so he approached Lord Harrington (qv) and then Archbishop George Stone (qv). The latter (wanting his own nominee to occupy the post) refused to countenance the suggestion. Carter, who believed he had a right to determine the reversion because of his purchase, was driven by resentment into opposition, coordinating an intensive campaign against Stone, and eventually pushing his colleagues into opposition also.
Carter had been in charge of financial business in the commons for many years, chairing the committees of supply and of ways and means. Given his friendship with Boyle and his patriot views, in 1753 he strongly opposed the claim of the crown to dispose of unappropriated revenue in the Irish exchequer, and helped to engineer the defeat of the money bill. For this, he incurred the king's displeasure, and was dismissed from his office as master of the rolls (1754). Although a settlement followed in 1755 when Carter was appointed principal secretary of state and keeper of the privy seal with an additional salary of £1,200 a year (which office he held until his death), he remained dissatisfied and was regarded by the Castle as a leading opponent of English interests in Ireland.
The earl of Shelburne described Carter as ‘a man of a very original character, whose uncommon sagacity and shrewdness, as well as depth of understanding, would have distinguished and advanced him in any country’. His shrewd judgement of character is well illustrated when he advised the duke of Dorset ‘whatever he did with his son never to put him into the army’ (Sackville was later to face a court martial and was found unfit to serve ‘in any military capacity whatsoever’). Speaker Pery (qv) attributed to Carter the ingenious invention of conveying libels in toasts which afterwards gained circulation through the newspapers, while Walpole characterised him as ‘an able, intriguing man, of slender reputation for integrity’. Francis Plowden's (qv) Historical review . . . of Ireland refers to Mr Secretary Carter as eminent for keeping the table in a roar of laughter by his archness, vivacity, and wit.
In addition to his political career he made significant contributions to farming and country pursuits, sparing no expense to improve them, imported the best breed of cattle, and built several mills for grinding corn. He died 3 September 1763 while staying with his son at Rathnally House near Trim, and was buried at St Patrick's cathedral, Trim. He married (1719) Mary, daughter and coheiress (with her sister Frances, who married first the earl of Rosse (qv), second Lord Chancellor Jocelyn (qv)) of Thomas Claxton, armiger of Dublin, and his wife Mary (sister of Lt.-Gen. Thomas Pearce, PC, MP, military governor of Limerick) who brought a dowry of £3,000. They had two sons (Thomas Carter, baptised 12 July 1720, MP for Old Leighlin 1745–57; and Henry Boyle Carter, baptised 2 October 1726) and three daughters. He was painted in official robes as master of the rolls (1734) by the court painter Charles Jervas (qv); the portrait was engraved in mezzotint by John Brooks (qv) of Dublin, and a copy is preserved in the NGI.