Scott, John (1739–98), 1st earl of Clonmell , lawyer, MP, and judge, was born 8 June 1739, third son of Thomas Scott, church of Ireland vicar of Urlings, Co. Kilkenny, afterwards of Modeshill and Mohubber, Co. Tipperary, and his wife Rachel, eldest daughter of Mark Prim of Johnswell, Co. Kilkenny. During his early education at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, Scott protected Hugh Carleton (qv), later Viscount Carleton, from bullies and as a result was sent to TCD 26 April 1756 (BA 1760, honoris causa LLD 1775) and the Middle Temple 1758 by Carleton's father, Francis. Scott did not forget this early kindness, and years later when Carleton senior became a bankrupt, Scott settled £300 a year on him for life, only discontinued when Carleton junior was earning enough to insist that he stopped. While at university Scott was influenced by the patriot Charles Lucas (qv) and championed the popular cause in college elections. His marriage (1768) to Catherine Roe, widow of Philip Roe, and niece of Francis Mathew, 1st earl of Llandaff, brought an annual income of £300. She died 19 March 1771.
Scott was called to the Irish bar in 1765, and his legal acumen drew the attention of the lord chancellor, Lord Lifford (qv), who recommended him to the lord lieutenant Lord Townshend (qv) for office. He was elected to sit for Mullingar (1769–83), a borough of George Forbes, 5th earl of Granard, and was appointed KC in 1770. In 1772 he became counsel to the board of revenue and single-handedly kept the attacks of Henry Flood (qv) and the Patriot party at bay. As a result he was appointed solicitor general (December 1774–1777), while still doing duty as an assize judge, and attorney general (1 November 1777); he accepted, saying ‘My lord, you have spoiled a good patriot’ (G.E.C., Peerage, iii, 331). He was also a privy councillor from November 1777 to March 1782. While serving in these offices Scott's loyalty to the government and opposition to popular causes earned him public vilification, and in 1779 his home in Harcourt St. was attacked and every pane of glass broken. He always bought himself into parliament, first at Mullingar (1769–83) and then at Portarlington (1783–4), so did not have to worry about pleasing constituents. His general demeanour was not calculated to endear him to the public. He was not regarded as a great speaker: it was said that when he failed to convince, he diverted; if he could not divert, he used sarcasm and ridicule; and if he could not bully, he fought. His aggressiveness in argument, and his bronzed skin tone, earned him the sobriquet ‘Copper-faced Jack’. He is particularly remembered for his attack on Flood during the debate on the perpetual mutiny bill (29 November 1781), painting him as a political and social outcast, who caused trouble only out of vanity and frustrated ambition.
With the collapse of Lord North's government in March 1782, he was dismissed from office. Scott was generally believed to have known that he would be removed and to have decided to provoke his dismissal by asserting during the debates on legislative independence that Great Britain had no right to bind Ireland by acts of parliament, despite his having earlier ridiculed the motion of Henry Grattan (qv) on the subject (22 February 1782) as ‘improper and impracticable’ and endangering Irish land titles.
Consequently Scott's reinstatement to government ranks in 1783, as clerk of the pleas for the court of exchequer (£2,500 a year) and prime serjeant, was of considerable symbolic as well as political significance. The appointment of such an anti-whig and anti-Patriot figure pained English whigs and Irish Patriots and indicated that the Irish government could no longer be kept afloat by Patriot politicians alone. In May 1784 he was made chief justice of the king's bench for life. At the same time (20 May 1784) he became Baron Earlsfort of Lisson Earl, Co. Tipperary, and was promoted to Viscount Clonmell on 18 August 1789, as well as becoming one of the three commissioners of the great seal before being created 1st earl of Clonmell (6 December 1793).
Although an outspoken opponent of proposals for parliamentary reform, in 1784 he refused to help the government suppress the reform congress that had precipitated the debate, as he felt suppression would only publicise the congress's cause. His response to the radical politics of the 1790s was not entirely reactionary either. His first wife had catholic relations; from 1782 he stated he was in favour of catholic relief, and in 1795 he wrote a letter declaring Ireland would never have peace until catholics were emancipated. In 1798 he warned the nephew of his second wife, Valentine Browne Lawless (qv), 2nd Baron Cloncurry, that his life was in danger and that he should flee Ireland before he was imprisoned. He urged the government to prevent the bloodshed of a rebellion by arresting the United Irish leaders before fighting broke out; he himself was chief judge at the trial of Archibald Hamilton Rowan (qv) which was extensively reported in the Irish press in 1794.
In the event Scott died before rebellion took place. It is said the root of his demise originated in 1789 when John Magee (qv), proprietor of the Dublin Evening Post, was accused of libelling Scott's friend Francis Higgins (qv). In revenge Scott attempted to ruin Magee by issuing fiats which required that he be imprisoned unless he found unusually high securities to pay for any libel damages that Higgins might be awarded. The issue was raised in parliament and Scott became a figure of public ridicule. When Magee rented a field opposite Scott's demesne and advertised each month that he was going to hold a pig hunt there, large numbers assembled and ruined Scott's property. It is said the mental strain of this ordeal broke down his health and he died 23 May 1798 at his home in Harcourt St., Dublin. By that time his estates, which had been built up by himself through investment, office, and prudential marriages, returned £20,000 a year. By his second wife Margaret (d. 1829), daughter and heir of Patrick Lawless and Mary Lawless, sister of Nicholas, 1st Baron Cloncurry (qv), whom he had married 23 June 1779, he left a son, Thomas Scott (1783–1858), 2nd earl of Clonmell and tory MP for Romney, and a daughter Charlotte who married the earl of Beauchamp.