A businessman, ambassador, and member of a prominent Maryland family, James Bruce was born on December 23, 1892 in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of lawyer, author, and U. S. Senator William Cabell Bruce and Louise Este (Fisher) Bruce.
After attending the Gilman School in Baltimore, Bruce entered Princeton University in 1910, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in literature in 1914. The following year, Bruce attended the training camp of the U. S. Army at Plattsburgh, New York. During 1916, he lived in Rome, working as private secretary to the U. S. Ambassador to Italy, his uncle Thomas Nelson Page. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Bruce enlisted in the U. S. Army, serving in France and Germany. In 1918, Bruce received a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Maryland in Baltimore. In early 1919, Bruce served as assistant military attache to the American Embassy in Rome and went to the Balkans as a representative of the Paris Peace Conference to investigate the conflict between Albania and Montenegro.
Bruce returned to the United States in 1919 and married Ellen McHenry Keyser on May 24 of that year. In 1920, their daughter Ellen was born, followed in 1924 by a second daughter, Louise.
Upon his return to the United States in 1919, James Bruce embarked upon a career in banking, working for the Mercantile Trust Bank of Baltimore and for the Atlantic Trust Company. In 1926, Bruce left Baltimore for New York, where he worked for several banks, including Chase National, until he returned to Baltimore in 1931 to become president of the Baltimore Trust Company.
In 1933, Bruce was appointed financial advisor to the Homeowners Loan Corporation in Washington, D.C. He ended this government service one year later to become vice president of the National Dairy Products Corporation. In addition, Bruce became the director of a large number of companies and corporations, which, over the course of his life, included American Airlines, the Maryland Casualty Company, Republic Steel, the American Shipbuilding Company, and Loew's Theatres, to name only a few.
In 1947, James Bruce accepted an appointment as United States Ambassador to Argentina, making his acceptance dependent on President Truman's promise to appoint him Ambassador to Great Britain upon the resignation of the present ambassador in London. Bruce spent two years as Ambassador to Argentina, returning to the United States on occasion, once to lead a fundraising campaign for the reelection of President Truman. In 1949, Bruce resigned from his position in Argentina and returned to Washington expecting to be named the new Ambassador to Great Britain. Due to various political circumstances, including consideration of Bruce's brother David for the post of Ambassador to France and the impossibility of having relatives posted to two of the nation's most important diplomatic positions, President Truman withdrew his offer from Bruce. In subsequent years, Bruce blamed a conspiracy by Secretary of State Dean Acheson for the denial of the ambassadorship.
Bruce accepted an appointment as director of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, a forerunner of NATO, in 1949, but resigned in 1950 to return to a career in business. He spent the remainder of his professional life in the business world, entering politics only in 1958 to run, unsuccessfully, for the United States Senate and to conduct fundraisers for Democratic candidates during election campaigns.
Aside from his business and political careers, James Bruce authored the books College Journalism (with James Forrestal), Those Perplexing Argentines, and Memoirs. He was also a member of many social and patriotic organizations, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Brook Club of New York.
James Bruce died on July 17, 1980, in New York, New York, five months after his wife, Ellen Keyser Bruce, who died on February 5, 1980.