John Bright

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Force is not a remedy.

John Bright (November 16, 1811March 27, 1889) was a British Radical and Liberal statesman, one of the greatest orators of his generation and a promoter of free trade policies.



  • As to the Income Tax, my opinion is that the needful revenue would be fairly and most fairly raised if paid by property, and by individuals in proportion to their property...A Property Tax should be an assessment upon all land and buildings, and canals and railroads, but not on property such as machinery, stock in trade, etc. The aristocracy have squeezed all they can out of the mass of the consumers, and now they lay their daring hands on those not wholly impoverished.
    • Letter to his sister Margaret on Sir Robert Peel's budget (1842), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 72-73
  • To the Working Men of Rochdale: A deep sympathy with you in your present circumstances induces me to address you. Listen and reflect, even though you may not approve. Your are suffering—you have long suffered. Your wages have for many years declined, and your position has gradually and steadily become worse. Your sufferings have naturally produced discontent, and you have turned eagerly to almost any scheme which gave hope of relief. Many of you know full well that neither an act of Parliament nor the act of a multitude can keep up wages. You know that trade has long been bad, and that with a bad trade wages cannot rise. If you are resolved to compel an advance of wages, you cannot compel manufacturers to give you employment. Trade must yield a profit, or it will not long be carried on...The aristocracy are powerful and determined; and, unhappily, the middle classes are not yet intelligent enough to see the safety of extending political power to the whole people. The working classes can never gain it of themselves. Physical force you wisely repudiate. It is immoral, and you have no arms, and little organisations...Your first step to entire freedom must be commercial freedom—freedom of industry. We must put an end to the partial famine which is destroying trade, and demand for your labor, your wages, your comforts, and your independence. The aristocracy regard the Anti-Corn Law League as their greatest enemy. That which is the greatest enemy of the remorseless aristocracy of Britain must almost of necessity be your firmest friend. Every man who tells you to support the Corn Law is your enemy—every man who hastens, by a single hour, the abolition of the Corn Law, shortens by so much the duration of your sufferings. Whilst the inhuman law exists, your wages must decline. When it is abolished, and not till then, they will rise.
    • Address (17 August 1842), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp, 81-82
  • I do not see that it is possible, nor can I discover that it would be right, for me now to withdraw from the cause in which I have so long taken so deep an interest. The work is great, and vast are the results depending upon it, and unhappily our laborers are not abundant...But conscious of the increasing hazard we run owing to the long continuance of monopolies, and beholding the appalling sufferings of multitudes of my fellow-creatures, and satisfied that all benevolence and charity and the teaching of religion and of schools fall short of much of their full effect owing to the degraded and impoverished condition of the people—I should feel myself guilty, as possessing abundance and leaving others to hunger, nakedness and immorality and deepest ignorance and crime, if I were to retire into domestic quiet and leave the struggle to be carried on entirely by others.
    • Letter to his mother-in-law Mrs. Priestman (November 1842), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 102-103
  • I believe that the intelligence of the people in Scotland is superior to the intelligence of the people in England. I take it from these facts. Before going to the meetings, we often asked the committee or the people with whom we came in contact, "Are there any fallacies which the working people hold on this question? Have they any crotchets about machinery, or wages, or anything else?" And the universal reply was, "No; you may make a speech about what you like; they understand the question thoroughly; and it is no use confining yourself to machinery or wages, for there are few men, probably no man here, who would be taken in by such raw jests as those." …I told them that they were the people who should have repeal of the Union; for that, if they are separate from England, they might have a government wholly popular and intelligent, to a degree which I believe does not exist in any other country on the face of the earth. However, I believe they will be disposed to press us on, and make us become more and more intelligent; and we may receive benefits from our contact with them, even though, for some ages to come, our connexion with them may be productive of evil to themselves.
    • Speech in Manchester (January 1843), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 84-85
  • The Corn Law is as great a robbery of the man who follows the plough as it is of him who minds the loom...If there be one view of the question which stimulates me to harder work in this cause than another, it is the fearful sufferings which I know to exist amongst the rural laborers in almost every part of this kingdom...And then a fat and sleek dean, a dignitary of the Church and a great philosopher, recommends for the consumption of the people—he did not read a paper about the supplies that were to be had in the great valley of the Mississippi—but he said that there were swede, turnip and mangel-wurzel; and the Hereditary Earl Marshal of England, if to out-Herod Herod himself, recommends hot water and a pinch of curry-powder. The people of England have not, even under thirty years of Corn Law influence, been sunk so low as to submit tamely to this insult and wrong. It is enough that a law should be passed to make your toil valueless, to make your skill and labor unavailing to procure for you a fair supply of the common necessaries of life—but when to this grievous iniquity they add the insult of telling you to go, like beasts that perish, to mangel-wurzel, or to something which even the beasts themselves cannot eat, then I believe the people of England will rise, and with one voice proclaim the downfall of this odious system.
    • Speech at an Anti-Corn Law League meeting (summer 1843), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 93-94
  • Rich and great people can take care of themselves; but the poor and defenceless—the men with small cottages and large families—the men who must work six days every week if they are to live in anything like comfort for a week,—these men want defenders; they want men to maintain their position in Parliament; they want men who will protest against any infringement of their rights.
    • Speech at his Durham election (July 1843), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 100
  • I am amused to find the fuss our Darlington friends and relatives are making about the Education Bill. Edward Pease, John Pease, etc., all attending a public meeting, making speeches, moving resolutions, promoting agitation, leaving their sweet retirement and the enjoyment of their otium cum dignitate for the tumult of political strife, and all because the Government are disposed to add another link to the fetter which has galled us. Alas! and can these men be really blind to the causes of the miseries of the people, and to the source [viz. the Corn Laws] of the physical and moral degradation which permits the heartless aristocracy of Britain to trample unpunished upon every right, human and divine? The time will come when all will have to speak. Aggression follows aggression; enthralment of the mind naturally treads upon the heels of physical prostration, and we are becoming a people powerless, spiritless, and trained to bonds and to wrong.
    • Letter to his mother-in-law Mrs. Priestman (1843), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 105-106
  • I am a working man as much as you. My father was as poor as any man in this crowd. He was of your own body, entirely. He boasts not—nor do I—of birth, nor of great family distinctions. What he has made, he has made by his own industry and successful commerce. What I have comes from him, and from my own exertions. I have no interest in the extravagance of government; I have no interest in seeking appointments under any government; I have no interest in pandering to the views of any government; I have nothing to gain by being the tool of any party. I come before you as the friend of my own class and order; as one of the people; as one who would, on all occasions, be the firm defender of your rights, and the asserter of all those privileges to which you are justly entitled. It is on these grounds that I offer myself to your notice; it is on these grounds that I solicit your suffrages.
    • Speech during the general election of 1843, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 113
  • If a man have three or four children, he has just three or four times as much interest in having the Corn Laws abolished as the man who has none. Your children will grow up to be men and women. It may be that your heads will be laid in the grave before they come to manhood or womanhood; but they will grow up, and want employment at honest trades—want houses and furniture, food and clothing, and all the necessaries and comforts of life. They will be honest and industrious as yourselves. But the difficulties which surround you will be increased tenfold by the time they have arrived at your age. Trade will then have become still more crippled; the supply of food still more diminished; the taxation of the country still further increased. The great lords, and some other people, will have become still more powerful, unless the freemen and electors of Durham and of other places stand to their guns, and resolve that, whatever may come of Queen, or Lords, or Commons, or Church, or anybody—great and powerful, and noble though they be—the working classes will stand by the working classes; and will no longer lay themselves down in the dust to be trampled upon by the iron heel of monopoly, and have their very lives squeezed out of them by evils such as I have described.
    • Speech during the general election of 1843, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 113-114
  • Going into the House last night, the caution lately given me by a poor but honest Scotchman struck me. He said to me, "Mr. Bright, I'll give you a piece of advice. You are going into bad company; and now that you are in, remember that you stick to what you said when you were out." If one had dropped from the clouds upon the floor of the House and listened to the debate last night, I never should have dreamed that there was the least distress or discontent in the country. It was true that Lord John Russell made a very clever speech and some hard hits at the ministry...Then came Lord Palmerston, and he made a very clever speech, if there was no country; it would have been very well at a debating club; it had some hard cuts at the ministry, interspersed with references to Afghanistan and the Ameers of Scinde, and everything but the condition of England question.
    • Speech at an Anti-Corn Law League banquet (29 July 1843), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 116-117
  • The preservation of game involves a list of evils to the farmer of which the loss of money is probably not the greatest. It destroys his self-respect and the independence of his character. He takes a farm and contracts to pay a rent; he stocks it with cattle and sheep; he ploughs and sows and reaps—his landlord also stocks the same farm with hares and rabbits and pheasants, and enjoys his battue, or sends to market the game which his tenant's produce has fed. The tenant has his servants, to superintend or conduct the operations on his farm, and to feed and protect his cattle and his flocks—the landlord has his keepers to secure his game, and these keepers are a spy upon the tenant himself, and traverse his field by day or night, as though superior to his servants and himself. In all this there is a fruitful source of depredation to the farmer. Men of capital and independent feeling will shun an occupation which involves so much humiliation.
    • Speech on the Game Laws (1843), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 125-126
  • Does Irish discontent arise because the priests of Maynooth are now insufficiently clad or fed? I have always thought that it arose because one-third of the people were paupers. I can easily see how, by the granting of this sum, you might hear far less in future times of the sufferings and wrongs of the people of Ireland than you have heard heretofore. For you find that one large means of influence possessed by those who have agitated for the redress of Irish wrongs is the support which the Irish Catholic clergy have given to the various associations for carrying on political agitation. And the object of this Bill is to tame down these agitators—it is a sop given to the priests. It is hush-money, given that they may not proclaim to the whole country, to Europe and to the world, the sufferings of the population to whom they administer the rites and the consolations of religion.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (16 April 1845) against the Maynooth grant, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 161-162
  • I take it that the Protestant Church of Ireland is at the root of the evils of that country. The Irish Catholics would thank us infinitely more if we were to wipe away that foul blot than they would even if Parliament were to establish the Roman Catholic Church alongside of it. They have had everything Protestant—a Protestant clique which has been dominant in the country; a Protestant Viceroy to distribute places and emoluments amongst that Protestant clique; Protestant judges who have polluted the seats of justice; Protestant magistrates before whom the Catholic peasant cannot hope for justice; they have not only Protestant but exterminating landlords, and more than that a Protestant soldiery, who at the beck and command of a Protestant priest, have butchered and killed a Catholic peasant even in the presence of his widowed mother. The consequence of all this is the extreme discontent of the Irish people. And because this House is not prepared yet to take those measures which would be really doing justice to Ireland, your object is to take away the sympathy of the Catholic priests from the people. The object is to make the priests in Ireland as tame as those in Suffolk and Dorsetshire. The object is that when the horizon is brightened every night by incendiary fires, no priest of the paid establishment shall ever tell of the wrongs of the people among whom he is living...Ireland is suffering, not from the want of another Church, but because she has already one Church too many.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (16 April 1845) against the Maynooth grant, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 161-162
  • Notwithstanding the hope that my friend [Cobden], who has just addressed you, has expressed, that it may not become a war of classes, I am not sure that it has not already become such, and I doubt whether it can have any other character. I believe this to be a movement of the commercial and industrial classes against the Lords and great proprietors of the soil...Since the time when we first came to London to ask the attention of Parliament to the question of the Corn Law, two millions of human beings have been added to the population of the United Kingdom...I see them now in my mind's eye ranged before me, old men and young children, all looking to the Government for bread; some endeavouring to resist the stroke of famine, clamorous and turbulent, but still arguing with us; some dying mute and uncomplaining. Multitudes have died of hunger in the United Kingdom since we first asked the Government to repeal the Corn Law, and although the great and powerful may not regard those who suffer mutely and die in silence, yet the recording angel will note down their patient endurance and the heavy guilt of those by whom they have been sacrificed...
    • Speech in Covent Garden (19 December 1845), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 141-142
  • We have had landlord rule longer, far longer than the life of the oldest man in this vast assembly, and I would ask you to look at the results of that rule. The landowners have had unlimited sway in Parliament and in the provinces. Abroad the history of our country is the history of war and rapine: at home, of debt, taxes, and rapine too. In all the great contests in which we have been engaged we have found that this ruling class have taken all the honours, while the people have taken all the scars. No sooner was the country freed from the horrible contest which was so long carried on with the Powers of Europe, than this law, by their partial legislation, was enacted—far more hostile to British interests than any combination of foreign powers has ever proved. We find them legislating corruptly: they pray daily that in their legislation they may discard all private ends and partial affections, and after prayers they sit down to make a law for the purpose of extorting from all the consumers of food a higher price than it is worth, that the extra price may find its way into the pockets of the proprietors of land, these proprietors being the very men by whom this infamous law is sustained...
    • Speech in Covent Garden (19 December 1845), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 142
  • Two centuries ago the people of this country were engaged in a fearful conflict with the Crown. A despotic and treacherous monarch assumed to himself the right to levy taxes without the consent of Parliament and the people. That assumption was resisted. This fair island became a battlefield, the kingdom was convulsed, and an ancient throne overturned. And if our forefathers, two hundred years ago, resisted that attempt—if they refused to be the bondmen of a king—shall we be the born thralls of an aristocracy like ours? Shall we, who struck the lion down—shall we pay the wolf homage? Or shall we not, by a manly and united expression of public opinion, at once, and for ever, put an end to this giant wrong?
    • Speech in Covent Garden (19 December 1845), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 142
  • Peel delivered the best speech I ever heard in Parliament. It was truly a magnificent speech, sustained throughout, thoroughly with us, and offering even to pass the immediate [repeal of the Corn Laws], if the House are willing. Villiers, Gibson, and myself cheered continually, and I never listened to any human being speaking in public with so much delight.
    • Letter to his sister Priscilla (16 February 1846), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 147
  • You say the right hon. baronet [Peel] is a traitor. It would ill become me to attempt his defence after the speech which he delivered last night—a speech, I will venture to say, more powerful and more to be admired than any speech which has been delivered within the memory of any man in this House. I watched the right hon. baronet as he went home last night, and for the first time I envied him his feelings. That speech was circulated by scores of thousands throughout the kingdom and throughout the world; and wherever a man is to be found who loves justice, and wherever there is a labourer whom you have trampled under foot, that speech will bring joy to the heart of the one, and hope to the breast of the other. You chose the right hon. baronet—why? Because he was the ablest man of your party. You always said so, and you will not deny it now. Why was he the ablest? Because he had great experience, profound attainments, and an honest regard for the good of the country. You placed him in office. When a man is in office he is not the same man as when in opposition. The present generation, or posterity, does not deal as mildly with men in government as with those in opposition. There are such things as the responsibilities of office. Look at the population of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and there is not a man among you who would have the valour to take office and raise the standard of Protection, and cry, "Down with the Anti-Corn Law League, and Protection for ever!" There is not a man in your ranks who would dare to sit on that bench as the Prime Minister of England [sic] pledged to maintain the existing law. The right hon. baronet took the only, the truest course—he resigned. He told you by that act: "I will no longer do your work. I will not defend your cause. The experience I have had since I came into office renders it impossible for me at once to maintain office and the Corn Laws." The right hon. baronet resigned—he was then no longer your Minister. He came back to office as the Minister of his Sovereign and of the people.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (17 February 1846), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 148
  • We have taught the people of this country the value of a great principle. They have learned that there is nothing that can be held out to the intelligent people of this kingdom so calculated to stimulate them to action, and to great and persevering action, as a great and sacred principle like that which the League has espoused. They have learned that there is in public opinion a power much greater than that residing in any particular form of government; that although you have in this kingdom a system of government which is called "popular" and "representative"—a system which is somewhat clumsily contrived, and which works with many jars and joltings—that still, under the impulse of a great principle, with great labour and with great sacrifices, all those obstacles are overcome, so that out of a machine especially contrived for the contrary, justice and freedom are at length achieved for the nation; and the people have learned something beyond this—that is, that the way to freedom is henceforward not through violence and bloodshed.
    • Speech at a meeting of the Council of the Anti-Corn Law League held in Manchester Town Hall (2 July 1846), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 150-151
  • Liberty is on the march, and this year promises to be a great year in European history. Our Government is blind enough, and the Parliamentary majorities are more regarded than opinion out of doors. We must have another League of some kind, and our aristocracy must be made to submit again.
    • Letter to Jonathan Priestman (26 March 1848) on the Revolutions of 1848, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 183
  • In this country political agitation is not likely to be soon lulled. We shall have no violence, I think, except in Ireland, and even there I hope appearances are rather less threatening than were supposed a short time ago. But we shall have, and ought to have, a powerful agitation in favour of a real Parliamentary Reform, and to gain this would be worth some time longer of commercial depression. We have deluded ourselves with the notion that we are a free people, and have a good government and a representative system, whilst in fact our representative system is for the most part a sham, and the forms of representation are used to consolidate the supremacy of the titled and proprietary class. All this will break down by and by. From all parts of the country we hear of preliminary meetings and new organisations, Associations and Leagues, etc. The middle and working classes are beginning to see that united they may win all they require; divided they are a prey to their insatiable enemies.
    • Letter to Mrs. Priestman (23 April 1848), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 183
  • The real difficulties which beset this question, do not arise from anything in Ireland, so much as from the constitution of the Government. This House, and the other House of Parliament, are almost exclusively aristocratic in their character. The Administration is therefore necessarily the same, and on the Treasury benches aristocracy reigns supreme. Not fewer than seven Members of the Cabinet are Members of the House of Lords; and every other Member of it is either a Lord by title, or on the very threshold of the peerage by birth or marriage. I am not blaming them for this; it may even be that from neither House of Parliament can fourteen better men be chosen to fill their places. But I maintain that in the present position of Ireland, and looking at human nature as it is, it is not possible that fourteen Gentlemen, circumstanced as these are, can meet round the Council table, and with unbiassed minds fairly discuss the question of Ireland, as it now presents itself to this House, to the country, and to the world.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (25 August 1848)
  • Why cannot the Irish get and save money in Ireland? And why must they cross the Atlantic before they can get hold of a piece of land? Our "territorial" system is one which works a wide and silent cruelty, beggaring, demoralising and destroying multitudes of our people. I should like to join a League sworn or pledged to its entire overthrow. There are facts enough afloat that would suffice to make a revolution in opinion with regard to it, and it follows logically on the Free Trade movement.
    • Letter to Cobden (September 1849), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 164
  • We see sad scenes by the wayside, small and wretched hovels in quarries and nooks of the roads in which some wretched family finds shelter. The children leave an impression of misery on the mind which can never be effaced. Houses unroofed and lands waste and de-populated, are the memorials of the frightful calamities through which the country has passed. The proprietors are nearly all bankrupt, great numbers of the farmers are gone away, thousands of the peasantry are in the work-houses or in their graves. I believe we can form no fair idea of what has passed in these districts within the last four years, and I see no great prospect of a solid improvement. Here we have in perfection the fruits of aristocratic and territorial usurpation and privileges.
    • Letter to his wife (1849) after visiting Ireland in the aftermath of the Great Famine, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 165


  • The question at issue in the late debate was mainly this: Shall the Foreign Minister of this country be permitted to interfere in the affairs of other countries in cases where the direct interests of this country do not require it? Shall he advise, and warn, and meddle in matters which concern only the domestic and internal affairs of other countries? I say that such a policy necessarily leads to irritation, and to quarrels with other nations, and may lead even to war; and that it involves the necessity of maintaining greater armaments, and a heavier expenditure and taxation than would otherwise be required. It is a policy, therefore, which I cannot support under any pretence whatever.
    • Letter to his Manchester constituents defending his stance during the Don Pacifico affair of June 1850, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 192
  • In the Cabinet there were large Irish proprietors, and, without imputing to any proprietor a desire of doing injustice to his tenants, it was easy to understand that after the long continuance of the present state of the law in Ireland, proprietors were alarmed at any proposition coming to them like the Bill of the hon. Member for Rochdale. The Irish proprietors in the Cabinet, in that House, and out of it, were afraid of a Bill that would interfere with the powers and privileges that a Parliament of landowners for generations past had been conferring upon the proprietors of the soil. That was the point. The question was, could the cats wisely and judiciously legislate for the mice? He did not believe it. He was as much opposed as any man could be to transferring the land from the landlord to the tenant; but a measure of justice was due from the former to the latter, both in Ireland and in this country as well.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 February 1852)
  • At present no Government dare say a word to the Church—that overgrown and monstrous abuse assumes airs as if it were not an abuse. It is a wen upon the head and pretends to be the head, and no administration is strong enough to say a word against it. With 14,000 Dissenting Chapels in England and Wales, with two-thirds of Scotland in dissenting ranks, with five-sixths of Ireland hostile to the Church, how comes it that this scandalous abuse puts on the character of a national and useful institution? Simply because it has the Crown and the Peers on its side by tradition and the constitution, and has gained great power in the Commons thro' our defective representation. Let the representation be amended, and then the Church will be more humble, and will submit, of necessity, to be overhauled as one of the departments of the State.
    • Letter to Charles Villiers (15 July 1852), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 201-202
  • The Romans were great conquerors, but where they conquered, they governed wisely. The nations they conquered were impressed so indelibly with the intellectual character of their masters, that, after fourteen centuries of decadence, the traces of civilisation were still distinguishable. Why should not we act a similar part in India? There never was a more docile people, never a more tractable nation. The opportunity was present, and the power was not wanting. Let us abandon the policy of aggression, and confine ourselves to a territory ten times the size of France, with a population four times as numerous as that of the United Kingdom. Surely that was enough to satisfy the most gluttonous appetite for glory and supremacy. Educate the people of India, and govern them wisely, and gradually the distinctions of caste would disappear, and they would look upon us rather as benefactors than as conquerors. And if we desired to see Christianity, in some form, professed in that country, we should sooner attain our object by setting the example of a high-toned Christian morality, than by any other means we could employ.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (3 June 1853)
  • The division of the land is the grand source of the property and wealth of France...probably no other country has made such strides in increasing wealth and comfort as France has since 1790.
    • Letter to George Wilson (24 September 1853), quoted in John Vincent, The Formation of the British Liberal Party, 1857–1868 [1966] (1972), p. 209
  • We shall almost be hooted down in the House, I expect, for the Tories are for war, partly because the Government has been supposed to be for peace. And if war begins, then nine-tenths of the men on our side will back the Government and shout even more vociferously than the Tories. Losing a Reform Bill and gaining a war. I don't see how we could be worse placed. Though the end may show that we are now right, yet the end is not yet, and in the meantime we shall have much to suffer and much to despond about. How men can prefer the certain and enormous evils of a war, to the dim and vague prospect of remote injury from Russian aggrandisement, is beyond my understanding. The nation seems little wiser than in 1793 and we may soon be as unpopular as Fox was, and yet be as much right as he was. I feel rather sick of public life, and indeed of the follies of my country.
    • Letter to Cobden (24 December 1853), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 229-230
  • This old aristocracy and Church-ridden, and tradition-ridden country will never grow wiser. Whilst we are fighting for supremacy in Europe the [United] States are working, and not fighting for it, but winning it all over the world.
    • Letter to Cobden (30 December 1853), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 230
  • The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings. There is no one, as when the first-born were slain of old, to sprinkle with blood the lintel and the two sideposts of our doors, that he may spare and pass on; he takes his victims from the castle of the noble, the mansion of the wealthy, and the cottage of the poor and the lowly, and it is on behalf of all these classes that I make this solemn appeal.
  • I am not working for failure, but for success, and for a real gain, and I must go the way to get it. I am sure the putting manhood suffrage in the Bill is not the way to get it. This has been done by the Chartists, and by the Complete Suffragists, but what has become of their Bills?
    • Letter to Joseph Sturge (2 February 1858), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 270
  • [H]is (Mr. Bright's) own opinions had always been very adverse to maintaining an armed squadron for the suppression of the slave trade.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (18 June 1858)
  • I do not now make any comment upon the mode in which this country has been put into possession of India. I accept that possession as a fact. There we are; we do not know how to leave it, and therefore let us see if we know how to govern it. It is a problem such as, perhaps, no other nation has had to solve. Let us see whether there is enough of intelligence and virtue in England to solve the difficulty. In the first place, then, I say, let us abandon all that system of calumny against the Natives of India which has lately prevailed. Had that people not been docile, the most governable race in the world, how could you have maintained your power for 100 years? Are they not industrious, are they not intelligent, are they not—upon the evidence of the most distinguished men the Indian Service ever produced—endowed with many qualities which make them respected by all Englishmen who mix with them? I have heard that from many men of the widest experience, and have read the same in the works of some of the best writers upon India. Then let us not have these constant calumnies against such a people.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (24 June 1858)
  • They say we must not on any account "Americanise" our institutions...They tell us in America numbers overwhelm property and education. Well, but numbers have not overwhelmed property and education in England, and yet look at legislation in England. Look at our wars, look at our debt, look at our taxes, look at this great fact—that every improvement of the last forty years has been an improvement which numbers, and numbers only, have wrested from the property, and what they call the education of the country. Our education is fairly represented by our Universities, but I say now, as I have said before, that if the Legislature of England, if the Parliament of England, had been guided for thirty years past according to the counsels of the representatives from the Universities, England, instead of being a country of law and of order, would have been long before this a country of anarchy and of revolution.
    • Speech in Birmingham (27 October 1858), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 271-272
  • Shall we then, I ask you, even for a moment, be hopeless of our great cause? I feel almost ashamed even to argue it to such a meeting as this. I call to mind where I am, and who are those whom I see before me. Am I not in the town of Birmingham—England's central capital; and do not these eyes look upon the sons of those who, not thirty years ago, shook the fabric of privilege to its base? Not a few of the strong men of that time are now white with age. They approach the confines of their mortal day. Its evening is cheered with the remembrance of that great contest, and they rejoice in the freedom they have won. Shall their sons be less noble than they? Shall the fire which they kindled be extinguished with you? I see your answer in every face. You are resolved that the legacy which they bequeathed to you, you will hand down in an accumulated wealth of freedom to your children. As for me, my voice is feeble. I feel now sensibly and painfully that I am not what I was. I speak with diminished fire; I act with a lessened force; but as I am, my countrymen and my constituents, I will, if you will let me, be found in your ranks in the impending struggle.
    • Speech in Birmingham (27 October 1858) referring to the Reform Crisis, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 272-273
  • This excessive love for "the balance of power" is neither more nor less than a gigantic system of out-door relief for the aristocracy of Great Britain.
    • Speech in Birmingham (29 October 1858), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 273-274
  • I believe there is no permanent greatness to a nation except it be based upon morality. I do not care for military greatness or military renown. I care for the condition of the people among whom I live. There is no man in England who is less likely to speak irreverently of the Crown and Monarchy of England than I am; but crowns, coronets, mitres, military display, the pomp of war, wide colonies, and a huge Empire, are, in my view, all trifles light as air, and not worth considering, unless with them you can have a fair share of comfort, contentment, and happiness among the great body of the people. Palaces, baronial castles, great halls, stately mansions, do not make a nation. The nation in every country dwells in the cottage; and unless the light of your constitution can shine there, unless the beauty of your legislation and the excellence of your statesmanship are impressed there on the feelings and condition of the people, rely upon it you have yet to learn the duties of Government.
    • Speech in Birmingham (29 October 1858), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 274-275
  • The moral law was not written for men alone in their individual character, but it was written as well for nations, and for nations great as this of which we are citizens. If nations reject and deride that moral law, there is a penalty which will inevitably follow. It may not come at once, it may not come in our lifetime; but, rely upon it, the great Italian is not a poet only, but a prophet, when he says: "The sword of heaven is not in haste to smite, Nor yet doth linger."
    • Speech in Birmingham (29 October 1858), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 275
I am for peace, retrenchment, and for reform — thirty years ago the great watchwords of the great Liberal Party.
  • I have often compared, in my own mind, the people of England with the people of ancient Egypt, and the Foreign Office of this country with the temples of the Egyptians. We are told by those who pass up and down the Nile that on its banks are grand temples with stately statues and massive and lofty columns, statues each one of which would have appeared almost to have exhausted a quarry in its production. You have, further, vast chambers and gloomy passages; and some innermost recess, some holy of holies, in which, when you arrive at it, you find some loathsome reptile which a nation reverenced and revered, and bowed itself down to worship. In our Foreign Office we have no massive columns; we have no statues; but we have a mystery as profound; and in the innermost recesses of it we find some miserable intrigue, in defence of which your fleets are traversing every ocean, your armies are perishing in every clime, and the precious blood of our country's children is squandered as though it had no price. I hope that an improved representation will change all this; that the great portion of our expenditure which is incurred in carrying out the secret and irresponsible doings of our Foreign Office will be placed directly under the free control of a Parliament elected by the great body of the people of the United Kingdom.
    • Speech in Glasgow (December 1858), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 277-278
  • I think we are bound as free men—and we townsmen are especially bound, for we only have the power to take the initiative in this great question—we are bound, so far as we are able, by our representatives in Parliament (and I have no doubt it will be one of the consequences of a real Reform Bill), to apply those great principles of political economy, which are the gospel and the charter of industry, as fully to property in land as we have already applied them to property engaged in trade.
    • Speech in Glasgow (21 December 1858), Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by John Bright, M.P., Vol. II, ed. J. E. Thorold Rogers (1869), p. 72
  • I am for "peace, retrenchment, and reform" — the watchword of the great Liberal party 30 years ago. Whosoever may abandon the cause I shall never pronounce another Shibboleth, but as long as the old flag floats in the air I shall be found a steadfast soldier in the foremost ranks
    • Speech (28 April 1859); this phrase was first used by William IV in his speech from the Throne for the Whig government of Earl Grey (17 November 1830), quoted in The Times (29 April 1859), p. 6


  • I have never uttered a word in favour of universal suffrage either in this House or elsewhere.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (4 June 1860)
  • I ask every Gentleman...whether it is possible that you can continue to raise from the people of this country £60,000,000 sterling per annum of taxes more than an equal population is called upon to pay for its Government and its policy in the United States, and that we can go on with safety to our institutions, or that the people can hear the strain of that enormous pressure? ... [T]his insane and wicked policy, which requires that you should abstract from the labour and the industry of the people of England this enormous, incredible, and ruinous sum from year to year. ... You will have an exiled Royal family—you will have an overthrown aristocracy—and you will have a period of recurring revolution; and there is no path so straight, so downward, so slippery, so easily travelled to all these misfortunes as the path which we are now following, year after year adding to these enormous expenses until the time will come when there will be some change throughout the country, when men will open their eyes, will ask who has deceived them, defrauded them, pillaged them. And then you will have to pay the penalty which all men in the upper classes of society in every country have had to pay when they have not maintained the rights of the great body of the people in this particular, and when they have not fulfilled the duties which devolved upon them as the governing classes of the country.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 August 1860)
  • If the middle class prefer an alliance with the aristocratic or ruling party, to the cordial co-operation and help of the great nation now excluded from the franchise and from all political power, they must be content with a profligate government expenditure, and a taxation burdensome from its amount, and insulting from its inequality and injustice.
    • Letter to the chairman of an anti-income tax meeting in Birmingham (11 March 1862), quoted in Public Addresses by John Bright, M.P., ed. J. E. Thorold Rogers (1879), p. 86
  • I have been asked twenty, fifty times during the last twelve months, “Why do you not come out and say something? Why can you not tell us something in this time of our great need?” Well, I reply, “I told you something when speaking was of use; all I can say now is this, or nearly all, that a hundred years of crime against the negro in America, and a hundred years of crime against the docile natives of our Indian empire, are not to be washed away by the penitence and the suffering of an hour.”
    • Speech in Birmingham (18 December 1862), Speeches on Questions of Public Policy, Volume I, (1869), pp. 148–149
  • Now, take as an illustration the Rock of Gibraltar. Many of you have been there, I dare say. I have; and among the things that interested me were the monkeys on the top of it, and a good many people at the bottom, who were living on English taxes. Well, the Rock of Gibraltar was taken and retained when we were not at war with Spain, and it was retained contrary to every law of morality and honour.
    • Speech in Birmingham (18 December 1862), Speeches on Questions of Public Policy, Volume I, (1869), p. 214
  • We may be proud that England is the ancient country of Parliaments. With scarcely any intervening period, Parliaments have met constantly for 600 years, and there was something of a Parliament before the Conquest. England is the mother of Parliaments.
    • Speech at Birmingham, (18 January 1865)
  • The Aristocracy in this country are almost, and really are altogether on one side – because they have special privileges to sustain, to surrender which would make them no longer an aristocracy. Our government was purely an aristocratic one from 1690 to 1830. Nearly the whole period was one of war, and war wholly needless.
    • Letter to S. Fox (24 October 1865), quoted in John Vincent, The Formation of the British Liberal Party, 1857–1868 [1966] (1972), p. 203
  • The right hon. Gentleman is the first of the new party who has expressed his great grief by his actions—who has retired into what may be called his political Cave of Adullam—and he has called about him every one that was in distress and every one that was discontented.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (13 March 1866)
  • [The opposition to the Reform Bill of 1866 was directed] against the admission of any portion of the working men to the suffrage. The Tory party, and those from the Liberal ranks who join it, are animated by an unchangeable hostility to any Bill which gives the franchise to the working men. They object to any transfer of power from those who now possess it, and they object to share their power with any increased number of their countrymen who form the working class. They regard the workmen here as the southern planter regards the negroes who were so lately his slaves. They can no longer be bought or sold; so far they are free men. They may work and pay taxes; but they must not vote. They must obey the laws, but must have no share in selecting the men who are to make them. The future position of the millions of working men in the United Kingdom is now determined, if the opposition of the Tory party is to prevail—it is precisely that fixed by the southern planter for the negro. Millions of workmen will bear this in mind; they will now know the point or the gulf which separates one party from the other in the House of Commons.
    • Public letter (25 March 1866), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), pp. 351-352
  • I am the great terror of the squires, they seem to be seized with a sort of bucolic mania in dealing with me.
    • Letter to his wife, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 354
  • Working men in this hall...I...say to you, and through the Press to all the working men of this kingdom, that the accession to office of Lord Derby is a declaration of war against the working classes...They reckon nothing of the Constitution of their country—a Constitution which has not more regard to the Crown or to the aristocracy than it has to the people; a Constitution which regards the House of Commons fairly representing the nation as important a part of the Government system of the kingdom as the House of Lords or the Throne itself...Now, what is the Derby principle? It is the shutting out of much more than three-fourths, five-sixths, and even more than five-sixths, of the people from the exercise of constitutional rights...What is it that we are come to in this country that what is being rapidly conceded in all parts of the world is being persistently and obstinately refused here in England, the home of freedom, the mother of Parliaments...Stretch out your hand to your countrymen in every portion of the three kingdoms, and ask them to join in a great and righteous effort on behalf of that freedom which has so long been the boast of Englishmen, but which the majority of Englishmen have never yet possessed...Remember the great object for which we strive, care not for calumnies and for lies, our object is this—to restore the British Constitution and with all its freedom to the British people.
    • Speech in Birmingham (27 August 1866), quoted in The Times (28 August 1866), p. 4
It is no more immoral for a people to use force in the last resort for the obtaining and the securing of freedom than it is for a Government by force to suppress and deny that freedom.
  • I believe the time is coming when this question must be laid hold of by a Government, and that Parliament will feel that it dare not treat it in future as it has treated it in the past. These great meetings, as Mr. Mill very justly said, were not meetings so much for discussion as they were meetings for demonstration of opinion, and, if you like, I will add for exhibition of force. (Cheers.) Such exhibitions, if they be despised and disregarded may become exhibitions of another kind of force...I have been insulted in past times...that I was in favour of peace at any price...I believe that however much any of us may abhor the thought that political questions in any country should ever again be settled by force, yet there is something in the constitution of our nature that when these evils are allowed to run on beyond a certain period unredressed, that the most peace-loving of men are unable to keep the peace. (Hear, hear.) And bear this in mind,—that, however much we may wish political questions to be settled by moral means, yet it is no more immoral for a people to use force in the last resort for the obtaining and the securing of freedom than it is for a Government by force to suppress and deny that freedom. (Loud cheers, the audience rising.)
    • Speech in Manchester (25 September 1866), quoted in The Times (26 September 1866), p. 9
  • What are the results of this system of legislation? Some of them have been touched upon in that Address which has been so kindly presented to me. You refer to the laws affecting land. Are you aware that half the land of England is in the possession of fewer than one hundred and fifty men? Are you aware of the fact that half the land in Scotland is in the possession of not more than ten or twelve men? Are you aware of the fact that the monopoly in land in the United Kingdom is growing constantly more and more close? And the result of it is this — the gradual extirpation of the middle class as owners of land, and the constant degradation of the tillers of the soil.
    • Speech in Glasgow (16 October 1866), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 366
  • [H]e asked why in Ireland they should tolerate the law of primogeniture and the system of entails? He would go further still, and deal with the question of absenteeism. He proposed that a Parliamentary Commission should be empowered to treat for the purchase of large estates belonging to the English nobility, with a view of selling them to the tenantry of Ireland. ‘Now, here are some of them: the present Prime Minister, Lord Derby, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Fitzwilliam, the Marquis of Hertford, the Marquis of Bath, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Devonshire, and many others. They have estates in Ireland; many of them, I dare say, are just as well managed as any other estates in the country; but what you want is to restore to Ireland a middle-class proprietary of the soil; and I venture to say that if these estates could be purchased and could be sold out farm by farm to the tenant occupiers in Ireland, that it would be infinitely better, in a conservative sense, than that they should belong to great proprietors living out of the country.’
    • Speech in Dublin (30 October 1866), quoted in George Barnett Smith, The Life and Speeches of The Right Hon. John Bright, M.P., Vol. II (1881), p. 181
  • The Aristocratic Institutions of England [had] acted much like the Slavery Institutions of America...[in] demoralis[ing] large classes outside their own special boundaries...[in producing] a long habit of submission...[and in] enfeebl[ing] by corrupting those who should assail them.
    • Letter to Richard Congrieve (24 November 1866), quoted in Maurice Cowling, 1867: Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution. The Passing of the second Reform Bill (1967), p. 25
  • He...made observations with regard to the Queen, which, in my opinion, no meeting of people in this country, and certainly no meeting of Reformers, ought to have listened to with approbation. (Cheers.) Let it be remembered that there has been no occasion on which any Ministry has proposed an improved representation of the people when the Queen has not given her cordial, unhesitating, and, I believe, hearty assent. (Cheers.) ... But Mr. Ayrton referred further to a supposed absorption of the sympathies of the Queen with her late husband to the exclusion of sympathy for and with the people. (Hear, hear.) I am not accustomed to stand up in defence of those who are possessors of crowns. (Hear, hear.) But I could not sit here and hear that observation without a sensation of wonder and of pain. (Loud cheers.) I think there has been by many persons a great injustice done to the Queen in reference to her desolate and widowed position. (Cheers.) And I venture to say this, that a woman, be she the Queen of a great realm or be she the wife of one of your labouring men, who can keep alive in her heart a great sorrow for the lost object of her life and affection, is not at all likely to be wanting in a great and generous sympathy with you. (Loud and prolonged cheers.)
    • Speech in St James's Hall, Piccadilly, London (4 December 1866), quoted in The Times (5 December 1866), p. 7
  • I do not think, as some persons seem to think, that the land is really only intended to be in the hands of the rich. I think that is a great mistake. I am not speaking of the poor—for the poor man, in the ordinary meaning of the term, cannot be the possessor of land; but it cannot be a crime or an evil that any man of moderate means, any farmer, should, if he could, become the possessor of land or of his farm.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (13 March 1868)
  • Since I have taken a part in public affairs, the fact of the vast weight of the poverty and ignorance that exists at the bottom of the social scale has been a burden on my mind, and is so now. I have always hoped that the policy which I have advocated, and has been accepted in principle, will tend gradually but greatly to relieve the pauperism and the suffering which we still see among the working classes of society.
    • Speech in Edinburgh (5 November 1868), quoted in Public Addresses by John Bright, M.P., ed. J. E. Thorold Rogers (1879), p. 136
  • Ireland is never unanimous but on one thing – getting something from the Imperial Exchequer.
    • Letter to William Ewart Gladstone (15 October 1869), quoted in John Vincent, The Formation of the British Liberal Party, 1857–1868 [1966] (1972), p. 51


  • To have two Legislative Assemblies in the United Kingdom would, in my opinion, be an intolerable mischief; and I think no sensible man can wish for two within the limits of the present United Kingdom who does not wish the United Kingdom to become two or more nations, entirely separate from each other.
    • Letter to Mr. O'Donoghue (20 January 1872), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 444
  • They [the Conservatives] say that we—that is, the Liberal party—have disturbed classes and interests unnecessarily, that we have harassed almost all sorts of people, and have made ourselves very unpopular thereby. Without doubt, if they had been in the Wilderness, they would have condemned the Ten Commandments as a harassing piece of legislation, though it does happen that we have the evidence of more than thirty centuries to the wisdom and usefulness of those Commandments.
    • Speech in Birmingham (31 January 1874), quoted in J. E. Thorold Rogers, Public Addresses by John Bright, M.P. (1879), p. 216
  • Tell the merchant that he must not rely for one moment on the Home Rulers for any one thing that is wise and good, nor indeed on any political combination of Irishmen. They have never yet done anything for themselves or their country and have never yet as a party shown what ought to be done. The absence of political and economical knowledge in Ireland is remarkable, and what there is of a sensible middle class is apparently crushed or smothered by the extreme men, who are always in pursuit of some phantom and who seem not to know the substance even when they see it.
    • Letter to Mr. O'Donoghue (15 March 1874), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 445
  • The public exactions and expenditure have much to do with poverty. To raise not less than eighty millions sterling per annum for purposes of government, to expend thirty millions of it in military preparations and means of offence and defence, the bulk of which is only rendered apparently necessary by a mistaken foreign policy, must act as a burden on the people, and must press multitudes of prudent and virtuous families to poverty.
    • Letter to Dr. Whitelaw (November 1878), quoted in The Public Letters of The Right Hon. John Bright, M.P. (1885), pp. 220–221
  • There is no nation on the Continent of Europe that is less able to do harm to England, and there is no nation on the Continent of Europe to whom we are less able to do harm than we are to Russia. We are so separated that it seems impossible that the two nations, by the use of reason or common sense at all, could possibly be brought into conflict with each other.


It is not Bradlaugh's atheism which they hate, but his unconscious Christianity.
  • It is not Bradlaugh's atheism which they hate, but his unconscious Christianity.
    • Remark to his son, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 428. Charles Bradlaugh had refused to swear an oath to God that was required of an elected candidate to the House of Commons before they could take their seat
  • Force is not a remedy.
    • Speech in Birmingham (November 1880) referring to the Irish question, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 429
  • I think in reviewing the doctrines connected with our Foreign policy which I have preached and defended during 40 years of my public life, you will not be surprised at the decision I am now compelled to take. I cannot accept any share of the responsibility for the acts of war which have taken place at Alexandria. I cannot see to what they may lead, and I know not to what greater wrong and mischief they may force the Government. I feel therefore compelled to withdraw from the Administration, and to ask you to place my resignation of the office I hold in the hands of the Queen. I bitterly lament the disappointment of many hopes as I separate myself from your Government. My feelings towards yourself are those of profound esteem and regard, and an overpowering sense of duty has alone forced me to the only course which seems now open to me. To add to your difficulties and to give you trouble is a cause of much unhappiness to me. I can only hope you will be able to judge me rightly and to forgive me.
    • Resignation letter to Gladstone (12 July 1882), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 433
  • The task of the wise government of so vast an empire may be an impossible one—I often fear it is so—we may fail in our efforts, but, whether we fail or succeed, let us do our best to compensate for the wrong of the past and the present by conferring on the Indian people whatever good it is in our power to give them.
    • Letter to Major Evans Bell (25 August 1883), quoted in The Public Letters of The Right Hon. John Bright, M.P., ed. H. J. Leech (1885), p. 282
  • The fact is that the abolition of the corn laws which allowed the importation of wheat from every part of the world whence it can be grown cheaper and sent here and the unhappy pressure of the last few years' bad harvests have broken down the landed system of England and no power on earth can set it up again. (Hear, hear). What I want with regard to the land system is not many or any new fangled propositions. What I want is that we should at first remove all the obstructions which the present law puts in the way of the easy transfer and the division of land.
    • Speech in Somerset (12 October 1885), quoted in The Times (13 October 1885), p. 7. "New fangled propositions" was a reference to Joseph Chamberlain's "unauthorised programme"
  • [Gladstone] 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.
    • Bright's diary entry (20 March 1886), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 447
  • I feel outside all the contending sections of the liberal party — for I am not in favour of home rule, or the creation of a Dublin parliament...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. ...In any case of a division, it is I suppose certain that a considerable majority of British members will oppose the bill. Thus, whilst it will have the support of the rebel members, it will be opposed by a majority from Great Britain and by a most hostile vote from all that is loyal in Ireland. The result will be, if a majority supports you it will be one composed in effect of the men who for six years past have insulted the Queen, have torn down the national flag, have declared your lord lieutenant guilty of deliberate murder, and have made the imperial parliament an assembly totally unable to manage the legislative business for which it annually assembles at Westminster.
    • Letter to William Gladstone opposing his plans for Irish Home Rule (13 May 1886), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume III (1903), pp. 326-29

Quotes about John Bright[edit]

  • Clarendon met the eminent demagogue in the street about this time, and described wonderingly to Kathy “his insolent and swaggering way of saying that he and Lords like himself [Clarendon] had no idea of the extent of Reform which they would be obliged to swallow, and other radical speeches which Clarendon seems to have answered with contempt and spirit, and felt an almost unconquerable desire to give him a good thrashing, which he felt he could do, and would have liked intensely.”
    • Lady Clarendon's journal, quoted in George Villiers, A Vanished Victorian: Being the Life of George Villiers, Fourth Earl of Clarendon, 1800–1870 (1938), p. 297
  • Bright was a great contrast to Cobden. A more powerful speaker—but not so persuasive. Even when right, he often injured his cause by his want of the faculty of conciliation. Bright was a natural & powerful orator. He was Demosthenic. He had imagination & a glowing soul. ... Bright, brought up in the most dreadful prejudices, which he fancied were liberal opinions, & apt to offend & outrage, was however always learning, & beneath his apparent vindictiveness & fierceness was a good-hearted man.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, quoted in Disraeli's Reminiscences, eds. Helen M. Swartz and Marvin Swartz (1975), p. 109
  • I ought to name a deputation of a demonstrative character on account of one who formed part of it. It was received not by me but by Lord Ripon, in the large room at the Board of Trade, I being present. A long line of fifteen or twenty gentlemen from the Lancashire district occupied benches running down and at the end of the room, and presented a formidable appearance. All however that I remember is the figure of a person in (I think) black or dark Quaker costume, seemingly the youngest of the band. Eagerly he sat a little forward on the bench, and intervened in the discussion. ... I was greatly struck with him. He seemed to me rather fierce, but very strong and very earnest. I need hardly say this was John Bright. A year or two after he made his appearance in parliament.
    • William Ewart Gladstone, ‘My Earlier Political Opinions. (II) The Extrication’ (16 July 1892), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. I: Autobiographica (1971), p. 48
  • No one was equal to Bright when he had time to prepare a subject. But he was not strong as a debater, though I once remember his being very successful in debate.
    • William Ewart Gladstone's remarks to Lionel Tollemache (29 January 1894), quoted in Lionel Tollemache, Talks with Mr. Gladstone (1898), p. 115
  • I will say that there were certain passages in Bright's speeches which I never heard equalled.
    • William Ewart Gladstone's remarks to Lionel Tollemache (13 January 1896), quoted in Lionel Tollemache, Talks with Mr. Gladstone (1898), p. 126
  • John Bright, to whom Mr. Gladstone used in familiar terms occasionally to refer as "honest John." The "grand moral tone" which characterised Bright's sayings and doings, his high principle, the consistency of his public career and solidarity of his character, appealed with special force to Mr. Gladstone; and acutely as he felt breaches of political friendship, there was no one with whom he parted company with a heavier heart than John Bright when he left the government in 1882, and again when he felt unable to support the policy which was enunciated for Ireland in 1886.
  • As a man Mr. Bright put Christianity in the first place as a personal influence—as a politician he regarded it chiefly as a public force to be appealed to on behalf of social welfare. What he hated was injustice; what he abhorred was cruelty, whether of war or slavery; what he cared for was the comfort and prosperity of common people. Whatever stood in the way of these things he would withstand, whether the opposing forces were spiritual principalities, or peers, or thrones.
    • George Holyoake, Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life: Volume II (1892), pp. 272-273
  • He embodied some of the best qualities of the race. His eloquence moved men to the depths of their nature because it was instinct with the loftiest purpose, with that moral seriousness which is conspicuous in the English character even to excess. But no trace of cant marked the words and thoughts of John Bright. Everything he said came from the very heart of the man. His Liberalism was a creed that appealed to everything that was noble in humanity: it was animated by great ideals; it had no hint of opportunism, of materialism. ... He stood for justice in all things, and his whole political life was a long struggle against the inequalities around him. Almost alone of English statesmen, he sided with the American Federals from the very first.
    • Philip James Macdonell, ‘The Historic Basis of Liberalism’, in Essays in Liberalism by Six Oxford Men (1897), pp. 238–239
  • I was at the Hyde Park Franchise demonstration, when a large meeting of Socialists was held after the political one was over, at which John Burns referred to Bright as a silver-tongued hypocrite. This was enough for the radicals of that day; our banners and platform were torn and broken up, and some of us were being run to the Serpentine for a ducking.
  • A political leader does well to strive to keep our democracy historic. John Bright would have been a worthy comrade of John Hampden, John Selden and John Pym. He had the very spirit of the Puritan leaders. He had their brave and honest heart, their sound and steady judgment, their manly hatred of oppression, of bad laws and bad government; and besides that, it was true of Bright as was said of John Pym that "he had the civic temper and the habit of looking for wisdom as the result of common debate." It was that which made him glory in the House of Commons. No man so profoundly honoured the great possibilities of the Mother of Parliaments.
    • John Morley at the unveiling of Bright's statue in Rochdale (1891), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (1913), p. 342
  • Now, Sir, I happen to be of opinion that there are things for which peace may be advantageously sacrificed, and that there are calamities which a nation may endure which are far worse than war...The hon. Member, however, reduces everything to the question of pounds, shillings, and pence, and I verily believe that if this country were threatened with an immediate invasion likely to end in its conquest, the hon. Member would sit down, take a piece of paper, and would put on one side of the account the contributions which his Government would require from him for the defence of the liberty and independence of the country, and he would put on the other the probable contributions which the general of the invading army might levy upon Manchester, and if he found that, on balancing the account, it would be cheaper to be conquered than to be laid under contribution for defence, he would give his vote against going to war for the liberties and independence of the country, rather than bear his share in the expenditure which it would entail.
  • 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 close.
  • Lord Lansdowne once told Charles Austin that he thought Bright, as an orator, fully equal to Charles Fox.
    • Lionel Tollemache's remarks to William Gladstone (2 January 1892), quoted in Lionel Tollemache, Talks with Mr. Gladstone (1898), p. 55

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