Born 26 Oct. 1775, 2nd son of Archibald James Edward Douglas, 1st Bar. Douglas (d. 1827), of Castle Douglas and 1st wife Lady Lucy Graham, daughter of William, 2nd Duke of Montrose.
Douglas, whose father had established his claim to the estates of the dukes of Douglas in 1769 and been created a baron in 1790, was described as a ‘judicious man of business’, who managed the vast estates of his ward, the 5th duke of Buccleuch. He had stood unsuccessfully for Lanarkshire at the general elections of 1806 and 1807, and offered again at a by-election in October 1827, when he ‘avowed in general terms’ his ‘attachment to the present establishments of our constitution’. Privately, he assured Lord Goderich’s coalition ministry of his willingness, leaving aside ‘his right to form opinions on some particular cases, which he does not at present anticipate’, to support them; some Whigs regarded this promise as ‘hollow’. He was defeated by Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, representing the interest of the Whig 10th duke of Hamilton. His father died at the end of the year, but he received nothing from the estate. By the time of the general election in 1830 freeholder creations had strengthened the Douglas interest in Lanarkshire and he was returned ahead of Sir John Maxwell†. He declared that he ‘placed perfect confidence’ in the duke of Wellington’s government, while remaining ‘altogether free and unshackled’, and he ‘declined to give his opinions on any subject’ or ‘pledge himself to any line of commercial policy’.
The ministry regarded him as one of their ‘friends’, and he voted with them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. He condemned the Grey ministry’s English reform bill as ‘calculated most unnecessarily to risk the security of the settled institutions of the country’, 9 Mar. 1831, and called for details of the plan for Scotland, where the people were ‘under the present system contented and prosperous’. He thought it would be ‘better by gentler and gradual means to remedy existing blemishes, than ... resort to a sweeping measure’. He divided against the second reading, 22 Mar. He supported Dunbartonshire’s ‘fair claim for separate representation’, 14 Apr. He confirmed his ‘decided opposition’ to the bill, as ‘the principle of disfranchisement ... pervades it’, 19 Apr., and warned that ‘if we change the electors we shall change the elected, which I cannot think for the benefit of this country’; he voted that day for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment. He presented and concurred in a Glasgow petition against revision of the timber duties, which would be ‘detrimental to the commercial, the shipping and the colonial interests of this country’, 15 Mar. In presenting a petition from vessel owners in the Firth of Forth against the proposed tax on steam navigation, 29 Mar., he suggested that any tax should be levied on the tonnage of vessels rather than on the number of passengers, who were ‘one of the greatest sources of profit in the trade’. He believed that ‘we owe it to our sense of what is due to the dignity of the crown’ to support the civil list bill, 14 Apr. He offered again for Lanarkshire at the general election in May 1831 and faced a riotous crowd when he appeared on the hustings, being pelted with stones and cut by a broken glass. He complained that the Scottish reform scheme was ‘an attempt to assimilate our elective franchise too rapidly to the forms and standard of England’. However, he disapproved of the existing county franchise and favoured extending it to ‘owners of the soil’, without specifying what the valuation threshold should be. He also expressed his ‘cordial concurrence’ in the granting of separate representation to Glasgow and other rapidly expanding towns, but not at England’s expense, and thought the burgh franchise might be extended in some unspecified way. Following his victory over Maxwell’s son, the sheriff was forced to read the Riot Act and call in the cavalry. In a published address, he pledged himself to oppose ‘the extravagance of theorists’ in order to ‘ensure reasonable and practical measures of improvement’.
He deplored the ‘extremely improper ... attack’ made by Members on the sheriff of Lanarkshire for his conduct of the election, 29 June 1831. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 6 July. He divided for an adjournment motion, 12 July, before pairing for the rest of the night with John Cam Hobhouse. He voted to use the 1831 census for the purpose of scheduling boroughs, 19 July, after pointing to the rapid population increases in the principal towns of Lanarkshire. He divided to postpone consideration of Chippenham’s inclusion in schedule B, 27 July. He protested against population being used as the criterion for determining London’s representation, 4 Aug., remarking that ‘in a short time the metropolis will engross a very large proportionate share’ of seats. He maintained that ‘under the present system, the various colonial and other interests are all adequately represented’, but if the bill passed ‘local interest and connection will be sure to command the return’. He therefore intended to move for an increase in Scotland’s representation, as it would no longer have ‘the facilities afforded by means of the boroughs’ to secure reasonable ‘access to this House’. He insisted that the Scottish electoral system had ‘always ... been found to answer all the purposes of popular representation’, 12 Aug., and repeated his complaint next day that Scotland had ‘not been treated fairly’ under the ministerial plan. He voted to preserve the voting rights of non-resident freemen, 30 Aug., and against the third reading, 19 Sept., and the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. In moving to reject the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., he admitted that there was a ‘very strong feeling ... in favour of reform’ in Scotland, but denied that this reflected ‘the spontaneous wishes of the people’, who had been encouraged by radical agitators to ‘entertain extravagant ideas that their condition would be materially benefited’. He thought it strange that ministers did not connect the ‘rapid advances in wealth and civilization’ made by Scotland in the past century with its political institutions. The bill was ‘a direct attack on the agricultural interests’, which would ‘throw the whole power of the representation into the hands of the manufacturers’, and he particularly objected to conferring county votes on householders. While it proposed some ‘desirable alterations’, such an ‘extravagant’ measure could not be justified. The second reading was carried by 209 votes to 94, with Douglas acting as a minority teller. He divided for inquiry into the effects on the West India interest of renewing the Sugar Refinery Act, 12 Sept. In October he suffered a ‘severe and dangerous attack’, probably a stroke, and though by mid-November 1831 he was reportedly ‘in a convalescent state’, his speech was permanently impaired. He took no further part in parliamentary proceedings and did not seek re-election in 1832.
Douglas succeeded his brother to the barony in 1844. He died in 1848 and was succeeded by his half-brother, the Rev. James Douglas (1787-1857), on whose death the title became extinct. His personalty was sworn under £4,000 within the province of Canterbury.