Liberal Member of Parliament
Durham 1843 – 1847
Manchester 1847 – 1857
Birmingham 1857 – 1889
John Bright was born at Greenbank, Rochdale on 16th November 1811. He was the son of a local cotton manufacturer and after leaving school worked for his father but quickly became interested in local politics and in 1843 entered Parliament as MP for Durham. The Bright family were members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and his political career was based upon the Quaker beliefs of:
Integrity, peace, justice, equality, truth
His long political career encompassed four great issues, the most notable of which was the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846, a campaign on which he worked closely with Richard Cobden who became MP for Rochdale in 1859. Following this success he continued to campaign for free trade and in 1868 he accepted the post of President of the Board of Trade in Gladstone’s first ministry, the first Quaker to become a Cabinet Minister.
As a pacifist he campaigned against Britain declaring war on Russia in 1854 and denounced the Crimean War as a tragedy which unnecessarily caused around half a million deaths. This stance caused him to lose his seat as MP for Manchester but later that year won a bi-election in Birmingham and remained MP until his death in 1889. His Quaker belief in equality and justice was evident during the American Civil War when he openly condemned the Southern states who were in favour of slavery. His support for the North and their stance against slavery earned him the personal friendship of Abraham Lincoln.
The fourth great issue in his life was to extend the right to vote to working men in towns. At the time only a limited number of men and no women had the vote. He became a leading figure of the reform movement and in the 1867 Reform Act extended the vote to skilled urbai artisans, although still excluding town and country labourers. John Bright was buried in Ball Street Quaker Burial Ground and his statue is located in BroadfieldPark, (also at ManchesterTown Hall.)
John Bright copied and signed this quote of Ben Jonson, May 7 1859
“Believe me friends, loud tumults are not laid with half the easiness that they are raised; all may begin a war, but few can end it.”
Despite wide recognition as a radical, inspirational leader and one of the greatest parliamentary orators of the Victorian period, within the Society of Friends, – ‘the tribune of the people’ – John Bright MP felt unable to accept anything ‘above the humblest office of door keeper’, and never gave vocal ministry.