Biography of John Millar
The jurist John Millar (1735-1801) was Regius Professor of Civil Law from 1761 to 1800 and established the University's reputation as a leading law school. He was elected Clerk of Senate in 1772.
Born in Lanarkshire, Millar studied at the University from 1746 until some time in the 1750s. During his time as a student he was profoundly influenced by the teachings of Adam Smith on Logic and Moral Philosophy. After leaving the University he was employed as a tutor by Henry Home, Lord Kames before becoming an advocate in 1760. He was appointed to the Chair of Civil Law at the University in 1761 and remained there until his death forty years later.
Millar expanded the curriculum and encouraged conversation and debate. The popularity of his classes was bolstered by the publication of his two most significant works, Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society (1778) and Historical View of the English Government (1787). The number of law students at the University, which had seldom exceeded four each year under his predecessor, soon rose to thirty or forty.
Millar was a supporter of American independence and an opponent of the slave trade and the war with Revolutionary France. One of his sons, James, became Professor of Mathematics at the University in 1796.