John Bright

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Force is no remedy.

John Bright (November 16, 1811March 27, 1889) was a British politician and orator.


I am for peace, retrenchment, and for reform — thirty years ago the great watchwords of the great Liberal Party.


  • 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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...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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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], 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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), quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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, quoted in G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (London: Constable, 1913), p. 165.


  • 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 (London: Constable, 1913), pp. 201-202.
  • 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 (London: Constable, 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 (London: Constable, 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 side-posts 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 lowly.
    • Speech before the House of Commons opposing the Crimean War (23 February 1855)
  • 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.


  • 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 right honourable gentleman is the first of the new party who has retired into his political cave of Adullam and he has called about him everyone that was in distress and everyone that was discontented.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 25.
  • 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 1, (London: Macmillan and Co., 1869), p.214.


  • 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 (London: Constable, 1913), p. 444.
  • 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 (London: Constable, 1913), p. 445.
  • 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.


  • Force is no remedy.
    • Address on the Irish "troubles" (1880)
  • [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 (London: Constable, 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), published in The Life of William Ewart Gladstone' (1903), Volume III by John Morley, p. 326-29

About John Bright[edit]

  • 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.

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