Jackson, Richard (c.1720–1787), lawyer and politician, was born at Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, the only son among three children of Richard Jackson, a wealthy merchant, and Elizabeth Jackson (née Clarke). He entered TCD (1737), graduated BA (1740), and also studied at Queens' College, Cambridge. Deciding on a career in the law, he entered Lincoln's Inn, the King's Inns, and finally the Inner Temple (where he was made a bencher), and was called to the bar in 1744. It was as a lawyer that he became famous for his extraordinary intelligence on a wide variety of subjects: he knew something about everything, and Charles Lamb later recounted in The old benchers of the Inner Temple that ‘the omniscient Jackson . . . had the reputation of possessing more multifarious knowledge than any man of his time . . . He was supposed to know, if any man in the world did’ (Van Doren, 1). Before Samuel Johnson set out on a tour of Italy in 1776 he insisted on seeking advice from Jackson on the best places to visit.
Interested in the affairs of the American colonies, Jackson consistently argued for conciliation, but wanted to preserve the connection with Britain. He lacked ambition, and his neurotic personality and modest character prevented him from establishing himself in politics. However, he did come to the attention of Benjamin Franklin, and the two men developed a close friendship during the period 1757–62 in London. They assisted each other in the writing of various pamphlets, including Jackson's Historical review of the constitution and government of Pennsylvania, which was published anonymously in 1760. Around the same period he purchased 700 acres in Connecticut and was employed (1760–70) as the colony's agent; he later acted as agent for Pennsylvania on Franklin's recommendation (1763–70), and for Massachusetts (1765–70). Entering the British house of commons, he represented Weymouth and Melcombe Regis (1762–8) and New Romney (1768–84), but it was only on American affairs that he made any impact. There his vast knowledge and counsel was much in demand, and Lord Shelburne (qv) described him as one of the three best authorities on the subject in 1767. He was briefly secretary to the chancellor of the exchequer (1763–5), but was not efficient, and failed to develop any influence. He was heartbroken at the outbreak of war with the colonies in 1775 and believed Britain should concede defeat in the struggle. In 1778 William Eden (qv) and Lord Carlisle (qv) invited him to accompany them on a peace mission to America, but he wavered, vacillated, and talked himself out of the job. In any case, the king did not think he was sound on the subject and would have prevented him from travelling, and Eden and Carlisle were privately relieved they did not have to listen to him on the journey. Jackson retired from politics in 1784. He died in the Inner Temple on 6 May 1787; he did not marry.