John Balfour was elected as MP to represent the constituency of Orkney & Shetland on 28th July 1790, replacing Thomas Dundas. He served until 1796 when he was replaced by Robert Honyman.
He served a second term for this seat from 1820 to 1826, being replaced on that occasion by George Heneage Laurence Dundas.
John Balfour was born on 6th November 1750, and died on 15th October 1842, at the age of 91.
Although from both his father's and his mother's family lines being a descendant of old Orkney lairds' families, John Balfour was only a minor landlord when he started his career. He is probably the best example for the fact how "profitable" the patronage system used by the Dundases to secure their power might have been for a trustable friend. In those days the vote was depending on the possession of the superiority of land to the value of £ 400 scots (just to compare: with the whole of the earldom estate on Shetland taxed at about £ 845 scots). By the end of the 18th century is was quite common to increase the votes in favour of one party by splitting the "superiority" into a number if fictitious lots of £ 400 scots which were either given (as tennancies) to other family members or reliable dependents and friends while the owner still retained the 'property' or the actual possession of the land. The fact that he had no issues of his own although married with Henrietta Sullivan (10th November 1783) might have been even more favourable from the Dundas's point of view.
After his career as a man of straw for the Dundases, John Balfour followed a highly profitable career in the East India Company undoubtedly with the help and backing of his 'patrons', Lawrence and Thomas Dundas. The fortune of this career enabled him to buy the Honyman estate (1827) which was at that time the second biggest estate in the constituancy next to the Dundas's estate and which later allowed his grand-nephew to live in barional splendor in Balfour castle on Shapinsay, an Orkney island John had bought after the Honyman coup, too.
Although now and for long an electorate in his own rights, John Balfour never challanged one of the Dundases or their favourites.