John Bright (16 November 1811 – 27 March 1889) was a British
Radical and Liberal statesman, one of the greatest orators of his
generation and a promoter of free trade policies.
A Quaker, Bright is most famous for battling the Corn Laws. In
partnership with Richard Cobden, he founded the Anti-Corn Law League,
aimed at abolishing the Corn Laws, which raised food prices and
protected landowners' interests by levying taxes on imported wheat.
Corn Laws were repealed in 1846. Bright also worked with Cobden in
another free trade initiative, the
Cobden–Chevalier Treaty of 1860,
promoting closer interdependence between Britain and France. This
campaign was conducted in collaboration with French economist Michel
Chevalier, and succeeded despite Parliament's endemic mistrust of the
Bright sat in the House of Commons from 1843 to 1889, promoting free
trade, electoral reform and religious freedom. He was almost a lone
voice in opposing the Crimean War; he also opposed Gladstone's
proposed Home Rule for Ireland. He was a spokesman for the middle
class, and strongly opposed to the privileges of the landed
aristocracy. In terms of Ireland, he sought to end the political
privileges of Anglicans, disestablished the Church of Ireland, and
began land reform that would turn land over to the Catholic peasants.
He coined the phrase "Mother of Parliaments."
1 Early life
2 Cobden and the Corn Laws
3 Into Parliament: the Member for Durham
4 "Flog a dead horse"
5 "England is the Mother of Parliaments"
6 Marriage and Manchester
7 MP for Birmingham: 1858–89
7.1 Opposition to Home Rule
8 MLA for Kennedy, Queensland: 1869–70
12 See also
15 Further reading
16 Primary sources
17 External links
Bright was born at Greenbank, Rochdale, in Lancashire, England – one
of the early centres of the Industrial Revolution. His father, Jacob
Bright, was a much-respected Quaker, who had started a cotton mill at
Rochdale in 1809. Jacob's father, Abraham, was a
who, early in the 18th century, moved to Coventry, where his
Jacob Bright was educated at the Ackworth School
of the Society of Friends, and apprenticed to a fustian manufacturer
at New Mills, Derbyshire.
John Bright was his son by his second wife,
Martha Wood, daughter of a
Quaker shopkeeper of Bolton-le-Moors.
Educated at Ackworth School, she was a woman of great strength of
character and refined taste. There were eleven children of this
marriage, of whom John was the eldest surviving son. His younger
brother was Jacob Bright, an MP and mayor. His sisters included
Priscilla Bright (whose husband was
Duncan McLaren MP) and Margaret
Bright Lucas. John was a delicate child, and was sent as a day pupil
to a boarding school near his home, kept by William Littlewood. A year
at the Ackworth School, two years at Bootham School, York, and a
year and a half at Newton, near Clitheroe, completed his education. He
learned, he himself said, but little Latin and Greek, but acquired a
great love of English literature, which his mother fostered, and a
love of outdoor pursuits. In his sixteenth year, he entered his
father's mill, and in due time became a partner in the business.
Jacob Bright was a leader of the opposition to a local
Rochdale was also prominent in the movement for
parliamentary reform, by which the town successfully claimed to have a
member allotted to it under the Reform Bill.
John Bright took part in
both campaigns. He was an ardent Nonconformist, proud to number among
his ancestors John Gratton, a friend of George Fox, and one of the
persecuted and imprisoned preachers of the Religious Society of
Friends. His political interest was probably first kindled by the
Preston election in 1830, in which Edward Stanley, after a long
struggle, was defeated by Henry "Orator" Hunt.
But it was as a member of the
Rochdale Juvenile Temperance Band that
Bright first learned public speaking. These young men went out into
the villages, borrowed a chair of a cottager, and spoke from it at
open-air meetings. John Bright's first extempore speech was at a
temperance meeting. Bright got his notes muddled, and broke down. The
chairman gave out a temperance song, and during the singing told
Bright to put his notes aside and say what came into his mind. Bright
obeyed, began with much hesitancy, but found his tongue and made an
excellent address. Tales of these early years circulated through
Britain and the United States late into his career, to the extent that
students at institutions such as the young
Cornell University regarded
him as an exemplar for activities such as the Irving Literary Society.
On some early occasions, however, he committed his speech to memory.
In 1832 he called on the Rev. John Aldis, an eminent
to accompany him to a local Bible meeting. Mr Aldis described him as a
slender, modest young gentleman, who surprised him by his intelligence
and thoughtfulness, but who seemed nervous as they walked to the
meeting together. At the meeting he made a stimulating speech, and on
the way home asked for advice. Mr Aldis counselled him not to learn
his speeches, but to write out and commit to memory certain passages
and the peroration. This "first lesson in public speaking", as Bright
called it, was given in his twenty-first year, but he had not then
contemplated a public career. He was a fairly prosperous man of
business, very happy in his home, always ready to take part in the
social, educational and political life of his native town. A founder
Rochdale Literary and Philosophical Society, he took a leading
part in its debates, and on returning from a holiday journey in the
east, gave the society a lecture on his travels.
Cobden and the Corn Laws
He first met
Richard Cobden in 1836 or 1837. Cobden was an alderman of
the newly formed
Manchester Corporation, and Bright went to ask him to
speak at an education meeting in Rochdale. Cobden consented, and at
the meeting was much struck by Bright's short speech, and urged him to
speak against the Corn Laws. His first speech on the
Corn Laws was
Rochdale in 1838, and in the same year he joined the
Manchester provisional committee which in 1839 founded the Anti-Corn
Law League. He was still only the local public man, taking part in all
public movements, especially in opposition to John Fielden's proposed
factory legislation, and to the
Rochdale church-rate. In 1839 he built
the house which he called "One Ash", and married Elizabeth, daughter
of Jonathan Priestman of Newcastle upon Tyne.
In November of the same year there was a dinner in
Bolton in honour of
Abraham Paulton, who had just returned from an Anti-Corn Law tour in
Scotland. Among the speakers were Cobden and Bright, and the dinner is
memorable as the first occasion on which the two future leaders
appeared together on a
Free Trade platform. Bright is described by the
historian of the League as "a young man then appearing for the first
time in any meeting out of his own town, and giving evidence, by his
energy and by his grasp of the subject, of his capacity soon to take a
leading part in the great agitation."
Meeting of the
Anti-Corn Law League
Anti-Corn Law League in Exeter Hall, London, in 1846
In 1840 he led a movement against the
Rochdale church-rate, speaking
from a tombstone in the churchyard, where it looks down on the town in
the valley below. A daughter, Helen, was born to him; but his young
wife, after a long illness, died of tuberculosis in September 1841.
Three days after her death at Leamington, Cobden called to see him. "I
was in the depths of grief", said Bright, when unveiling the statue of
his friend at
Bradford in 1877, "I might almost say of despair, for
the life and sunshine of my house had been extinguished." Cobden spoke
some words of condolence, but "after a time he looked up and said,
'There are thousands of homes in England at this moment where wives,
mothers and children are dying of hunger. Now, when the first paroxysm
of your grief is past, I would advise you to come with me, and we will
never rest till the
Corn Laws are repealed.' I accepted his
invitation", added Bright, "and from that time we never ceased to
labour hard on behalf of the resolution which we had made."
Into Parliament: the Member for Durham
Carte de visite
Carte de visite of
John Bright by Elliott & Fry
At the general election in 1841 Cobden was returned for Stockport,
Cheshire, and in 1843 Bright was the
Free Trade candidate at a
by-election at Durham. He was defeated, but his successful competitor
was unseated on petition, and at the second contest Bright was
returned. He was already known as Cobden's chief ally, and was
received in the House of Commons with suspicion and hostility. In the
Anti-Corn Law movement the two speakers complemented each other.
Cobden had the calmness and confidence of the political philosopher,
Bright had the passion and the fervour of the popular orator. Cobden
did the reasoning, Bright supplied the declamation, but mingled
argument with appeal. No orator of modern times rose more rapidly. He
was not known beyond his own borough when Cobden called him to his
side in 1841, and he entered parliament towards the end of the session
of 1843 with a formidable reputation. He had been all over England and
Scotland addressing vast meetings and, as a rule, carrying them with
him; he had taken a leading part in a conference held by the Anti-Corn
Law League in London had led deputations to the Duke of Sussex, to Sir
James Graham, then home secretary, and to Lord Ripon and Gladstone,
the secretary and under secretary of the Board of Trade; and he was
universally recognised as the chief orator of the
Free Trade movement.
John Bright of Rochdale" was announced to speak, vast crowds
assembled. He had been so announced, for the last time, at the first
great meeting in Drury Lane Theatre on 15 March 1843; henceforth his
name was enough. He took his seat in the House of Commons as one of
the members for Durham on 28 July 1843, and on 7 August delivered his
maiden speech in support of a motion by Mr Ewart for reduction of
import duties. He was there, he said, "not only as one of the
representatives of the city of Durham, but also as one of the
representatives of that benevolent organisation, the Anti-Corn Law
League." A member who heard the speech described Bright as "about the
middle size, rather firmly and squarely built, with a fair, clear
complexion and an intelligent and pleasing expression of countenance.
His voice is good, his enunciation distinct, and his delivery free
from any unpleasant peculiarity or mannerism." He wore the usual
Friend's coat, and was regarded with much interest and hostile
curiosity on both sides of the House.
Engraving for reproductions
Mr Ewart's motion was defeated, but the movement of which Cobden and
Bright were the leaders continued to spread. In the autumn the League
resolved to raise £100,000; an appeal was made to the agricultural
interest by great meetings in the farming counties, and in November
The Times startled the country by declaring, in a leading article,
"The League is a great fact. It would be foolish, nay, rash, to deny
its importance." In London great meetings were held in Covent Garden
Theatre, at which
William Johnson Fox
William Johnson Fox was the chief orator, but Bright
and Cobden were the leaders of the movement. Bright publicly
deprecated the popular tendency to regard Cobden and himself as the
chief movers in the agitation, and Cobden told a
that he always stipulated that he should speak first, and Bright
should follow. His "more stately genius", as John Morley calls it, was
already making him the undisputed master of the feelings of his
audiences. In the House of Commons his progress was slower. Cobden's
argumentative speeches were regarded more sympathetically than
Bright's more rhetorical appeals, and in a debate on George Villiers's
annual motion against the Corn Laws, Bright was heard with so much
impatience that he was obliged to sit down.
In the next session (1845) he moved for an inquiry into the operation
of the Game Laws. At a meeting of county members earlier in the day
Robert Peel, then Prime Minister, had advised them not to be led into
discussion by a violent speech from the member for Durham, but to let
the committee be granted without debate. Bright was not violent, and
Cobden said that he did his work admirably, and won golden opinions
from all men. The speech established his position in the House of
Commons. In this session Bright and Cobden came into opposition,
Cobden voting for the
Maynooth Grant and Bright against it. On only
one other occasion—a vote for South Kensington—did they go into
opposite lobbies, during twenty-five years of parliamentary life.
In the autumn of 1845 Bright retained Cobden in the public career to
which Cobden had invited him four years before; Bright was in Scotland
when a letter came from Cobden announcing his determination, forced on
him by business difficulties, to retire from public work. Bright
replied that if Cobden retired the mainspring of the League was gone.
"I can in no degree take your place", he wrote. "As a second I can
fight, but there are incapacities about me, of which I am fully
conscious, which prevent my being more than second in such a work as
we have laboured in." A few days later he set off for Manchester,
posting in that wettest of autumns through "the rain that rained away
the Corn Laws", and on his arrival got his friends together, and
raised the money which tided Cobden over the emergency. The crisis of
the struggle had come. Peel's budget in 1845 was a first step towards
Free Trade. The bad harvest and the potato blight drove him to the
repeal of the Corn Laws, and at a meeting in
Manchester on 2 July 1846
Cobden moved and Bright seconded a motion dissolving the league. A
library of twelve hundred volumes was presented to Bright as a
memorial of the struggle.
"Flog a dead horse"
Main article: Flogging a dead horse
The first recorded use of the expression with its modern meaning is by
Bright, referring to the
Reform Bill of 1867, which called for more
democratic representation in Parliament, an issue about which
Parliament was singularly apathetic. The Oxford
English Dictionary cites The Globe, 1872, as the earliest verifiable
use of flogging a dead horse, where someone is said to have "rehearsed
that ... lively operation known as flogging a dead horse".
"England is the Mother of Parliaments"
Main article: The mother of parliaments (expression)
Bright coined this famous phrase on 18 January 1865 in a speech at
Birmingham supporting an expansion of the franchise. It has often been
misquoted as a reference to the UK Parliament.
Marriage and Manchester
Bright married firstly, on 27 November 1839, Elizabeth Priestman of
Newcastle, daughter of Jonathan Priestman and Rachel Bragg. They had
Helen Priestman Bright (b. 1840) but Elizabeth died on
10 September 1841.
Helen Priestman Bright later married William
Stephens Clark (1839–1925) of Street in Somerset. Bright married
secondly, in June 1847, Margaret Elizabeth Leatham, sister of Edward
Aldam Leatham of Wakefield, by whom he had seven children including
John Albert Bright
John Albert Bright and William Leatham Bright.
In the succeeding July 1847, Bright was elected uncontested for
Manchester, with Milner Gibson. In the new parliament, he opposed
legislation restricting the hours of labour, and, as a Nonconformist,
spoke against clerical control of national education. In 1848 he voted
for Hume's household suffrage motion, and introduced a bill for the
repeal of the Game Laws. When Lord John Russell brought forward his
Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, Bright opposed it as "a little, paltry,
miserable measure", and foretold its failure. In this parliament he
spoke much on Irish questions. In a speech in favour of the government
bill for a rate in aid (a tax on the prosperous parts of Ireland that
would have paid for famine relief in the rest of that island) in 1849,
he won loud cheers from both sides, and was complimented by Disraeli
for having sustained the reputation of that assembly. From this time
forward he had the ear of the House, and took effective part in the
debates. He spoke against capital punishment, against church-rates,
against flogging in the army, and against the Irish Established
Church. He supported Cobden's motion for the reduction of public
expenditure, and in and out of parliament pleaded for peace.
In the election of 1852 Bright was again returned for
the principles of free trade, electoral reform and religious freedom.
But war was in the air, and the most impassioned speeches he ever
delivered were addressed to this parliament in fruitless opposition to
the Crimean War. Neither the House nor the country would listen. "I
went to the House on Monday", wrote Macaulay in March 1854, "and heard
Bright say everything I thought." His most memorable speech, the
greatest he ever made, was delivered on 23 February 1855. "The
angel of death has been abroad throughout the land. You may almost
hear the beating of his wings", he said, and concluded with an appeal
that moved the House as it had never been moved within living
In 1860, Bright won another victory with Cobden in a new Free Trade
initiative, the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty, promoting closer
interdependence between Britain and France. This campaign was
conducted in collaboration with French economist Michel Chevalier, and
succeeded despite Parliament's endemic mistrust of the French.
MP for Birmingham: 1858–89
John Bright, Vanity Fair, 1869
In 1857, Bright's unpopular opposition to the
Crimean War led to his
losing his seat as member for Manchester. Within a few months, he was
elected unopposed as one of the two MPs for
Birmingham in 1858. He
would hold this position for over thirty years though he would later
leave the Liberal Party on the issue of
Irish Home Rule
Irish Home Rule in 1886.
On 27 October 1858, he launched his campaign for parliamentary reform
Birmingham Town Hall. In 1866 he wrote an essay with the title
"Speech on Reform". In this speech he demanded the enfranchisement of
the working-class people because of their sheer number, and said that
one should rejoice in open demonstrations rather than being confronted
with "armed rebellion or secret conspiracy". In 1868, Bright entered
the cabinet of Liberal Prime Minister
William Gladstone as President
of the Board of Trade, but resigned in 1870 due to ill health. He
served twice again in Gladstone cabinets as Chancellor of the Duchy of
Lancaster (1873–74, 1880–82). In 1882, Gladstone ordered the Royal
Navy to bombard Alexandria to recover the debts owed by the Egyptians
to British investors. Bright scornfully dismissed it as "a jobbers'
war" on behalf of a privileged class of capitalists, and resigned from
the Gladstone cabinet."
For deeply personal reasons, Bright was closely associated with the
North Wales tourist resort of Llandudno. In 1864, he holidayed there
with his wife and five-year-old son. As they passed through the
graveyard, the boy said, "Mamma, when I am dead, I want to be buried
here." A week later, he had died of scarlet fever, and his wish was
granted. Bright returned to
Llandudno at least once a year until his
own death. He is still commemorated in
Llandudno where the principal
secondary school was named after him, and a new school, Ysgol John
Bright was built in 2004.
"Extremes meet": cartoon by E. C. Mountford, depicting Bright wagging
his finger at the Zulu king Cetshwayo, who visited England in 1882
Bright had much literary and social recognition in his later years. In
1880 he was elected Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow, and R.
W. Dale wrote of his rectorial address: "It was not the old Bright."
He was given an honorary degree of the
University of Oxford
University of Oxford in 1886.
He delivered the opening address for the
Birmingham Central Library in
1882, and in 1888 the city erected a statue of him. The marble statue,
by Albert Joy, was in store until it was recently restored to a
prominent position in the
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Both John
Bright Street, close to the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, and
Morse's Creek in Australia, now known as Bright, Victoria, were
renamed in his honour.
Opposition to Home Rule
In 1886 when Gladstone proposed
Home Rule for Ireland
Home Rule for Ireland and another
Irish Land Act, Bright opposed it, along with
Joseph Chamberlain and
Lord Hartington. He regarded Charles Stuart Parnell's Irish
Parliamentary Party as "the rebel party". Bright was repeatedly
contacted by Gladstone, Chamberlain and Hartington to solicit his
support. He was widely regarded as a force to be reckoned with and his
political influence was considerably out of proportion to his
activity. In March 1886 Bright went to London, and on 10 March met
Hartington, having an hour's talk with him on Ireland. On 12 March
Bright met Gladstone for dinner, writing that Gladstone's "chief
object is to settle the Land question which I rather think ought now
ought be considered as settled. On the question of a Parliament in
Dublin, he wishes to get rid of Irish representation at Westminster,
in which I entirely agree with him if it be possible". On 17 March he
met Chamberlain and thought "his view is in the main correct and that
it is not wise in him to support the intended measures". On 20
March he had a two-hour-long meeting with Gladstone:
He gave me a long memorandum, historical in character, on the past
Irish story, which seemed to be somewhat one-sided, leaving out of
view the important minority and the views and feelings of the
Protestant and loyal portion of the people. He explained much of his
policy as to a
Dublin Parliament, and as to Land purchase. I objected
to the Land policy as unnecessary—the Act of 1881 had done all that
was reasonable for the tenants—why adopt the policy of the rebel
party, and get rid of landholders, and thus evict the English garrison
as the rebels call them? I denied the value of the security for
repayment. Mr G. argued that his finance arrangements would be better
than present system of purchase, and that we were bound in honour to
succour the landlords, which I contested. Why not go to the help of
other interests in Belfast and Dublin? As to
Dublin Parliament, I
argued that he was making a surrender all along the line—a Dublin
Parliament would work with constant friction, and would press against
any barrier he might create to keep up the unity of the three
Kingdoms. What of a volunteer force, and what of import duties and
protection as against British goods? ... I thought he placed far
too much confidence in the leaders of the rebel party. I could place
none in them, and the general feeling was and is that any terms made
with them would not be kept, and that through them I could not hope
for reconciliation with discontented and disloyal Ireland.
John Bright marble statue in
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
On 8 April Gladstone introduced the Home Rule Bill into the House of
Commons, where it passed the first reading without division. Bright
did not enter the debates on the Bill and left London at the end of
April to attend the funeral of his brother-in-law. He then returned to
his home in Rochdale. On 13 May Gladstone sent him a letter,
requesting he visit him in London. This date was also the anniversary
of the death of Bright's wife's, so he replied that he felt the need
to spend it at home. He further wrote:
I cannot consent to a measure which is so offensive to the whole
Protestant population of Ireland, and to the whole sentiment of the
province of Ulster so far as its loyal and Protestant people are
concerned. I cannot agree to exclude them from the protection of the
Imperial Parliament. I would do much to clear the rebel party from
Westminster, and do not sympathise with those who wish to retain
them—but admit there is much force in the arguments on this point
which are opposed to my views upon it. ... As to the Land Bill,
if it comes to a second reading, I fear I must vote against it. It may
be that my hostility to the rebel party, looking at their conduct
since your Government was formed six years ago, disables me from
taking an impartial view of this great question. If I could believe
them honorable and truthful men, I could yield much—but I suspect
that your policy of surrender to them will only place more power in
their hands to war with greater effect against the unity of the 3
Kingdoms with no increase of good to the Irish people. ...
Parliament is not ready for it, and the intelligence of the country is
not ready for it. If it be possible, I should wish that no Division
should be taken upon the Bill.
On 14 May Bright came to London and wrote to the Liberal MP Samuel
Whitbread that Gladstone should withdraw the Home Rule Bill and that
he should not dissolve Parliament if the Bill were put forward for a
second reading and were defeated in a vote: "... it would only
make the Liberal split the more serious, and make it beyond the power
of healing. He would be responsible for the greatest wound the Party
has received since it was a Party ... If the Bill were now
withdrawn, the whole present difficulty in our Party would be gone".
He also predicted the Conservatives would gain in strength if an
election were called.
At the famous meeting at the Committee Room 15, Liberal MPs who were
not outright opponents of the idea of Irish self-government but who
disapproved of the Bill, met to decide upon a course of action. Among
the attendees were Chamberlain, and Bright wrote to on 31 May:
My present intention is to vote against the Second Reading, not having
spoken in the debate. I am not willing to have my view of the bill or
Bills in doubt. But I am not willing to take the responsibility of
advising others as to their course. If they can content themselves
with abstaining from the division, I shall be glad. they will render a
greater service by preventing the threatened dissolution than by
compelling it ... a small majority for the Bill may be almost as
good as its defeat and may save the country from the heavy sacrifice
of a general election. I wish I could join you, but I cannot now
change the path I have taken from the beginning of this unhappy
discussion ...P.S.—If you think it of any use you may read this
note to your friends.
Chamberlain read aloud this letter to the meeting and he later wrote
that Bright's "announcement that he intended to vote against the
Second Reading undoubtedly affected the decision" and that the meeting
ended by unanimously agreeing to vote against the Bill. Bright
wrote to Chamberlain on 1 June that he was surprised at the meeting's
decision because his letter "was intended to make it more easy for and
your friends to abstain from voting in the coming division". On 7
June the Home Rule Bill was defeated by 341 votes to 311, Bright
voting against it. Gladstone dissolved Parliament.
During the subsequent general election campaign, Bright delivered only
one speech, to his constituents on 1 July, in which he opposed Irish
Home Rule. He exhorted his countrymen to put the Union above the
Liberal Party. This speech was generally viewed by the Gladstonian
Liberals as having a decisive effect on their defeat. John Morley
wrote that "The heaviest and most telling attack came from Mr. Bright,
who had up to now in public been studiously silent. Every word, as
they said of Daniel Webster, seemed to weigh a pound. His arguments
were mainly those of his letter already given, but they were delivered
with a gravity and force that told powerfully upon the large phalanx
of doubters all over the kingdom". The chairman of the National
Liberal Federation, Sir B. Walter Foster, complained that Bright
"probably did more harm in this election to his own party than any
other single individual". The Liberal journalist
P. W. Clayden
P. W. Clayden was
a candidate for Islington North and when canvassing leading dissident
Liberals, he would take with him a copy of the Home Rule Bill:
Going through the Bill with some of them clause by clause, I was able
to answer all their objections, and in many cases to get their promise
of support. Mr Bright's speech, however, at once undid all my work. In
the whole country it probably kept many thousands of Liberal voters
from going to the polls, and did more than all the other influences
put together to produce the Liberal abstention which gave the
Coalition its decisive victory.
Bright was re-elected by his
Birmingham constituents and it turned out
to be his last Parliament. He sat as a Liberal allied to the
Conservative and Liberal Unionist coalition government who had won the
election. Bright participated little in this Parliament, however his
actions could still decide events.
Lord George Hamilton
Lord George Hamilton recorded that
when the government introduced the Criminal Law Amendment (Ireland)
Bill in March 1887, which increased the authorities' coercive powers,
the Liberal Party opposed it. Bright did not speak in the debate but
Hamilton notes that great importance was attached to how Bright would
vote: "If he abstained from voting or voted against the Government,
the Unionist coalition would have been practically broken up. On the
other hand if he, in order to avert Home Rule, voted for a procedure
which was so contrary to his previous professions, the Coalition would
receive a fresh source of strength and cohesion. When the Division
Bell rang, Mr. Bright, who was sitting close by Gladstone, without a
moment's hesitation walked straight into the Government's lobby".
From this point until his death, Bright did not meet Gladstone,
despite their long political relationship together.
MLA for Kennedy, Queensland: 1869–70
The Colony of
Queensland achieved separation from
New South Wales
New South Wales in
Brisbane in the south-east corner chosen as its capital. By
the 1860s, the perceived dominance of southern
Queensland created a
strong separatist movement in Central
Queensland and North Queensland,
seeking to establish yet another independent colony. In the 1867
Queensland colonial election, some separatists decided to nominate
John Bright as the candidate for the electoral district of Rockhampton
in Central Queensland, arguing that representation in the Queensland
Parliament had been ineffective, so they would seek a representative
within the British Parliament. However, he polled only 10 votes
and was not elected.
Subsequently, on 11 June 1869, Thomas Henry Fitzgerald, member for the
electoral district of Kennedy in North Queensland, resigned,
triggering a by-election.
John Bright was again nominated as part of
the separatist protest and on this occasion won the resulting
by-election on 10 July 1869. When nominating him, one separatist
Let us elect a man of some weight at home, who will take our case
before the Queen and try for redress. There is no man more eminently
qualified for this purpose than the Honourable John Bright—a
favourite with the Queen, a favourite with the nation—the
representative of trade, commerce, and manufactures in the Government
and the champion of liberty, and yet a loyal subject. If we can enlist
his sympathies, we are right. I believe he is the man who will break
the iron rod of the South and set us free; for he has already fought
for the liberty of the subject, and I cannot believe he will turn a
deaf ear to our manifold sorrows.
In January 1870, the separatists sent a petition to Queen Victoria
requesting that North
Queensland be made a separate colony to be
called "Albertsland" (after the Queen's late husband Albert, Prince
Consort). As Bright never visited
Queensland or took his seat in the
Queensland Legislative Assembly, his failure to attend parliament
eventually resulted in his seat being declared vacant on 8 July 1870.
Queensland did not achieve separation and remained part of the
Queensland (now the State of Queensland).
It is not known what role
John Bright had in these Queensland
political activities, or indeed if he was even aware of them.
However, it was claimed in 1867 that Bright was an "intimate personal
friend" of the then Governor of
Queensland George Bowen.
Grade II listed
Grade II listed statue in Albert Square, Manchester
In late 1888, Bright became seriously ill and he realised the end was
near. On 27 November his son Albert wrote a letter to Gladstone in
which he said his father "wishes me to write to you and tell you that
"he could not forget your unvarying kindness to him and the many
services you have rendered the country". He was very weak and did not
seem able to say any more, and I saw the tears running down his
cheeks". Gladstone replied that "I can assure you that he has been
little absent of late from mine, that my feelings towards him are
entirely unaltered by any of the occurrences of the last three years
and that I have never felt separated from him in spirit. I heartily
pray that he may enjoy the peace of God on this side the grave and on
Bright received many letters and telegrams of sympathy from the Queen
downwards. The Irish Nationalist MP Tim Healy wrote to Bright, wishing
him a speedy recovery and "Your great services to our people can never
be forgotten, for it was when Ireland had fewest friends that your
voice was loudest on her side. I hope you may still be spared to raise
it on her behalf according to your conceptions of what is best, for
while we go on struggling for our own views, there can be nothing but
regrets on our part of the sharpness of division in the past".
Bright died at his home One Ash on 27 March 1889 and was buried in the
graveyard of the meeting-house of the Religious
Society of Friends
Society of Friends in
The Conservative Prime Minister Lord Salisbury paid tribute to him in
the House of Lords the day after his death, and it sums up his
character as a public man:
In the first place, he was the greatest master of English oratory that
this generation has produced, or I may perhaps say several generations
back. I have met men who have heard Pitt and Fox, and in whose
judgment their eloquence at its best was inferior to the finest
efforts of John Bright. At a time when much speaking has depressed and
almost exterminated eloquence, he maintained robust and intact that
powerful and vigorous style of English which gave fitting expression
to the burning and noble thoughts he desired to express. Another
characteristic for which I think he will be famous is the singular
rectitude of his motives, the singular straightness of his career. He
was a keen disputant, a keen combatant; like many eager men, he had
little tolerance of opposition. But his action was never guided for a
single moment by any consideration of personal or party selfishness.
He was inspired by nothing but the purest patriotism and benevolence
from the first beginning of his public career to the hour of its
In 1868, students of the new
Cornell University debated whether to
call its first literary society, "The
John Bright Brotherhood" or the
"Irving Literary Society". New
York State's recently deceased native
son received the honours, but not before Bright was inducted as its
first honorary member.
The library at
Bootham School is named in his honour.
In 1928, the Brooks-Bryce Foundation donated significant funds to the
Princeton University Library
Princeton University Library for a collection of materials on the life
and times of John Bright, in honour of the statesman. The Foundation
also donated funds for an outdoor pulpit to be added to Princeton
Chapel, also in honour of Bright.
His name is given to
John Bright Street in Birmingham, his statue is
in the collection of
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and to the
Ysgol John Bright in Llandudno, North Wales.
The town of Bright in Victoria, Australia, is named in his honour.
A. J. P. Taylor
A. J. P. Taylor has summarized Bright's achievements:
John Bright was the greatest of all parliamentary orators. He had many
political successes. Along with Richard Cobden, he conducted the
campaign which led to the repeal of the Corn Laws. He did more than
any other man to prevent the intervention of this country (Britain) on
the side of the South during the American Civil War, and he headed the
reform agitation in 1867 which brought the industrial working class
within the pale of the constitution. It was Bright who made possible
the Liberal party of Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George, and the
alliance between middle class idealism and trade unionism, which he
promoted, still lives in the present-day Labour Party.
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
^ Woodland, Jenny (2011).
Bootham School Register. York, England:
^ Taylor, pp. 229–53
^ Suzanne McIntire; William E. Burns (2009). Speeches in World
History. Infobase Publishing. p. 244 ff.
^ a b
Bill Cash MP (27 October 2008) "A Working Class Hero",
Birmingham Post, p. 18
^ John Bright. Encyclopædia Britannica
^ Raico, Ralph (29 March 2011) Neither the Wars Nor the Leaders Were
Great, Mises Institute
^ Ivor Wynne Jones (2002) Llandudno, Queen of Welsh Resorts, Landmark,
Ashbourne Derbyshire. p. 113. ISBN 1-84306-048-5.
^ Trevelyan, p. 445.
^ Goodlad, pp. 164–165.
^ Trevelyan, p. 447.
^ Trevelyan, pp. 447–48.
^ Trevelyan, pp. 450–51.
^ Trevelyan, p. 453.
^ Trevelyan, pp. 454–55.
^ Trevelyan, p. 455.
^ Trevelyan, p. 456.
^ Trevelyan, p. 457.
^ Trevelyan, p. 458.
^ John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone. Volume III
(London: Macmillan, 1903), p. 342.
^ Goodlad, pp. 165–66.
^ Goodlad, p. 166.
^ Trevelyan, p. 459.
^ "MEETING OF ELECTORS". Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland
Advertiser. National Library of Australia. 22 June 1867. p. 2.
Retrieved 11 March 2014.
^ "ROCKHAMPTON". The Queenslander. National Library of Australia. 29
June 1867. p. 5. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
^ "THE FUTURE GLORIES OF BOWEN".
Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald
& General Advertiser. National Library of Australia. 29 July 1869.
p. 3. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
^ a b "Bright, Right Hon. John". Re-Member Database. Queensland
Parliament. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
^ "NORTHERN SEPARATION MEMORIAL". The
Brisbane Courier. National
Library of Australia. 1 January 1870. p. 6. Retrieved 11 March
^ "LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY". The
Brisbane Courier. National Library of
Australia. 6 July 1870. p. 3. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
^ "TO THE EDITOR OF THE BULLETIN". Rockhampton Bulletin and Central
Queensland Advertiser. National Library of Australia. 25 June 1867.
p. 2. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
^ Trevelyan, p. 462.
^ a b Trevelyan, p. 463.
^ a b THE LATE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM AND CHANDOS—THE LATE MR. JOHN
BRIGHT.—OBSERVATIONS. HL Deb 28 March 1889 vol 334 cc993-7
^ Student Facilities. boothamschool.com
^ "Brooks-Aten Supports Literature Collection.[permanent dead link]"
Daily Princetonian, Volume 53, Number 63, 21 May 1928.
^ Taylor, p. 228
Goodlad, Graham D. (1991) "Gladstone and his rivals: popular Liberal
perceptions of the party leadership in the political crisis of
1886–1886" in Eugenio F. Biagini and Alastair J. Reid (eds.),
Currents of Radicalism. Popular Radicalism, Organised Labour and Party
Politics in Britain, 1850–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, pp. 163–83.
Taylor, A. J. P. (1993) "
John Bright and the Crimean War", in From
Napoleon to the Second International: Essays on Nineteenth-Century
Europe. Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 0-241-13444-7.
Trevelyan, George Macaulay (1913) The Life of John Bright.
Andrews, James R. "The rhetorical shaping of national interest:
Morality and contextual potency in John Bright's parliamentary speech
against recognition of the confederacy." Quarterly Journal of Speech
(1993) 79#1 pp: 40–60.
Ausubel, Herman. John Bright: Victorian Reformer (1966), a standard
Baylen, Joseph O. "
John Bright as speaker and student of speaking."
Quarterly Journal of Speech (1955) 41#2 pp: 159–68.
Cash, Bill. John Bright: Statesman, Orator, Agitator (2011).
Fisher, Walter R. "John Bright: 'Hawker of holy things,'" Quarterly
Journal of Speech (1965) 51#2 pp: 157–63.
Gilbert, R. A. "John Bright's contribution to the Anti‐Corn Law
League." Western Speech (1970) 34#1 pp: 16–20.
McCord, Norman. The Anti-Corn Law League: 1838–1846 (Routledge,
Prentice, Archibald. History of the
Anti-Corn Law League
Anti-Corn Law League (Routledge,
Quinault, Roland. "
John Bright and Joseph Chamberlain." Historical
Journal (1985) 28#3 pp: 623–46.
Read, Donald. Cobden and Bright: A Victorian Political Partnership
(1967); argues that Cobden was more influential
John Bright (1979).
Smith, George Barnett. The Life and Speeches of the Right Honourable
John Bright, MP (1881) online
Sturgis, James L.
John Bright and the Empire (1969), focus on Bright's
policy toward India & his attacks on the East India Company
Taylor, Miles. The Decline of British Radicalism, 1847–1860 (1995).
Taylor, Miles. "Bright, John (1811–1889)", Oxford Dictionary of
National Biography (2004); online edn, Sept 2013 accessed 31 Aug 2014
Loades, David Michael, ed. Reader's guide to British history (2003) 2:
John Bright, Speeches on Parliamentary Reform by John Bright, M.P.,
revised by Himself (1866).
John Bright, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy, ed. J. E. T.
Rogers, 2 vols. (1869).
John Bright, Public Addresses, ed. by J. E. Thorold Rogers, 8vo
John Bright, Public Letters of the Right Hon. John Bright, MP., ed. by
H. J. Leech (1885).
John Bright, The Diaries of John Bright, ed. R. A. J. Walling .
G. B. Smith (eds.), The Life and Speeches of the Right Hon. John
Bright, M.P., 2 vols. 8vo (1881).
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bright, John".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Thomas Colpitts Granger and
The Viscount Dungannon
Member of Parliament for City of Durham
With: Thomas Colpitts Granger
Thomas Colpitts Granger and
Henry John Spearman
Mark Philips and
Thomas Milner Gibson
Member of Parliament for Manchester
With: Thomas Milner Gibson
Sir John Potter and
James Aspinall Turner
Member of Parliament for Birmingham
With: William Scholefield, 1857–1867
George Dixon, 1867–1876
Philip Henry Muntz
Philip Henry Muntz 1857–1885
Joseph Chamberlain 1876–1885
Member of Parliament for
John Albert Bright
Parliament of Queensland
Thomas Henry FitzGerald
Member for Kennedy
The Duke of Richmond
President of the Board of Trade
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Thomas Edward Taylor
Thomas Edward Taylor
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
The Earl of Kimberley
William Ewart Gladstone
Rector of the University of Glasgow
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