Biographical details of Colquhoun's early life are remarkably scanty. Little is known of his childhood and adolescence. His only formal education was at the local grammar school, where he would have learnt Latin. At the age of sixteen, Colquhoun immigrated to America. During the five years he spent in Virginia, Colquhoun developed an interest in law, political economy, and the social sciences from his legal acquaintances there. In the year of the French Revolution, Colquhoun abandoned the pursuit of commerce and devoted himself to philanthropic and intellectual interests. Colquhoun was far in advance of his time as he argued for the compatibility of social regulation with liberty.