University of Rochester Library Bulletin: John Bright's Letters to America at Rush Rhees Library

Volume XXX · Number 1 ·  Autumn 1977
John Bright's Letters to America at Rush Rhees Library

John Bright (1811-1889) presents us with the odd case of a historical figure whose stature has been obscured by an overabundance of biographical study. At his death, theNew York Times and the London Times enshrined him as one of the unquestionably great statesmen of the nineteenth century. Many contemporaries considered him a more moving and effective speaker than either of the leading Prime Ministers, Disraeli and Gladstone, and Walter Bagehot-one of the shrewdest Victorian political commentators and historians-speculated that Bright would be the one contemporary statesman whose fame and accomplishments transcended the age.1 Alas for John Bright, for his reputation has virtually disappeared, and he now turns up as one of those innumerable earnest Victorians whose attitudes and achievements we are vaguely conscious of, but whom we can scarcely separate from the mass of his fellows.

We can trace this extraordinary and undeserved obscurity, I think, to the celebrity that Bright enjoyed at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Between 1865 and World War I, there appeared more than fifty publications containing Bright's work or dealing with his life. All of these works served the end of establishing in the popular consciousness a particular image of Bright, and since they were not critical but rather "exemplary" biographies, it was a saintly icon that they set up. Authors found that Bright served them as a model of perfection in any number of fields-religion, politics, social theory, economics, and general "historical greatness." There thus emerged a superhuman figure: a devout and active Quaker, the first non-conformist in the Cabinet since Cromwell, the "Tribune of the People" who, through electoral reform, brought democracy to the common man, the member of the "Manchester School" who perceived the economic root of the "condition of England question" and played a crucial role in the repeal of the Corn Laws. Horace Greeley began The American Conflict: A History of the Great Rebellion with a dedication  "To John Bright, British Commoner and Christian Statesman: The Friend of my Country, Because the Friend of Mankind, The Record of a National Struggle up from Darkness and Bondage to Light and Liberty is Regardfully, Gratefully Inscribed."2 In a lighter vein, John Bigelow, American Consul in Paris during the Civil War, wrote: "Please tell Mr. Bright when you see him that I expect the patriotic mothers of the coming generation in America will name all their children of both sexes after him, and, what is the climax of terrestrial distinction, that all the hotels, coffee houses, and drinking saloons in the country will have his portrait over their doors in homage to public opinion: so that if he should ever redeem his promise of visiting America everything will look Bright to him."3 Bright's vigorous support of the North made him the champion of the black slaves and then of the freedmen, and the partisan of sanity and amity in international relations; in addition, he came to be viewed as the advocate of the native inhabitants of India and other colonies, the protector of the oppressed in Ireland-in short, he became, according to his various biographers, all things to all men. In the process he lost all semblance of an individual person who possessed identifying peculiarities and who worked in a specific context with real historical forces.

This wealth of hagiography rendered Bright a vulnerable target for the iconoclasm of the early twentieth century, which set itself the task of breaking up the images of the complacent Victorian saints. Although Bright did not himself directly receive much harsh criticism in this climate of revision and tough-minded realism, his all-too-perfect biographical legend was enough to do him in. Bright's name was not so much deliberately stricken from the canon of the saints, as his cult was allowed to wane and expire. From the 1930s to the 1960s scholars and critics devoted very little serious effort to an understanding of Bright and his situation. The odd character of this eclipse becomes more apparent when we compare Bright's prominence on the Victorian cultural scene to the amount of scrutiny he has received: he was a member of Parliament almost continuously from 1838 to 1889, and at certain stages in his career his contemporaries considered him the most popular and most powerful man in the Empire. Even if we think these opinions exaggerated, this does not diminish his importance in his own time.

Bright's reputation and influence in international relations also attest his preeminence. He corresponded regularly with Charles Sumner, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sumner often passed his letters on to others in the government, including President Lincoln. In 1861, Seward, then Secretary of State, wrote to Sumner: "Many thanks my dear Sumner for the perusal of the noble letter from John Bright. [¶] How sad for the cause of humanity, yet how honourable to John Bright, that he is the only Englishman having public position or character, who has written one word of favour to or desire for the preservation of the American Union. Tell him that I appreciate his honesty, his manliness, his virtue."4 Bright kept Sumner up to date on his activities, in order that his speeches might be used as effectively as possible for the Northern interests, and he maintained contact with other American officials, such as Governor James Smith of Rhode Island.5 Though Lincoln did not write directly to Bright, he showed his admiration for the Englishman by granting a Presidential pardon to one of his constituents: ". . . whereas . . . this pardon is desired by John Bright of England; Now therefore, be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, these and divers other considerations me thereunto moving, and especially as a public mark of the esteem held by the United States for the character and steady friendship of the said John Bright, do hereby grant a pardon to the said [conspirator]. . . ."6

Bright's stature emerges as well from his correspondence with other American citizens. Bright exchanged letters with the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier until the end of his life, and in 1863 Bright cooperated with Whittier to obtain economic relief for the working men of Manchester.7 Four years later, Whittier introduced an American acquaintance to Bright by affirming that, "In common with all loyal, freedom-loving men, he is grateful for thy generous vindication of the North during our late terrible contest. . . ."8 In 1863, Bright replied to his receipt of a pamphlet by a pro-Northern writer by affirming, " 'Secesh' in England must be out of spirit, as it is doubtless in America, & there will be lamentation in the hearts of those who wish ill to the great republic."9 In the correspondence he carried on with the American inventor Cyrus Field, his concern with the moral well-being of the United States and his influence with the American people are constant topics.10 Bright also kept up an association with the Abolitionists, and in particular with the most prominent of these, William Lloyd Garrison, and he enjoyed a close relationship with one of the most renowned of the former slaves, Frederick Douglass. On the last night of Douglass's visit to England, he stayed at Bright's house, and when the English edition of The Life and Times (1882) appeared, it contained an introduction by John Bright. Writing in his old age, Bright declares that the autobiography "shows what may be done, and has been done, by a man born under the most adverse circumstances -- done not for himself alone, but for his race and for his country." Here, at the end of his life, Bright views the sufferings of Douglass and the savagery of the War as righteous payment for the nation's sins. Bright's introduction was actually no introduction at all; it was composed as a letter to the publisher, who included it not because it illuminated Douglass's life, but because Bright (besides being an associate of Douglass) had become by this time a national institution whose name could be counted upon to sell books.

Bright had earlier thought less about sin. He worked tirelessly for reform and individual freedoms, and one focus for his energies was the plight of the slaves in the United States. Bright's indirect effect upon the fate of black Americans was quite strong, through his contact with various ambassadors and envoys. Besides his frequent exchange of letters with Thomas H. Dudley, American Consul in Liverpool, Bright apparently met with the envoy often and received from him tokens of Northern gratitude, such as a banner from Philadelphia.11 Long afterward, Dudley recorded his impressions of the situation in England during the War. Predictably, he took a partisan view of Anglo-American relations, but he wrote of Bright: "He was opposed to human slavery and opposed to war, but among his countrymen at that time he stood almost alone. . . . Bright stood alone in England when he arose to make this speech, but when he sat down, there were hundreds, including such men as Richard Cobden, William E. Forster, the Duke of Argyll, Professor Cairns, Professor Beasley, and Charles Edward Rawlins, who were ready to gather around and stand by him."12 John Bigelow, American consul in Paris, was similarly inclined to praise Bright as the foremost supporter of the North and the black man: "I don't know how to express my gratitude sufficiently to Mr. Bright for his Rochdale speech. It was worthy the heart and the head of Chas. J. Fox. He will live to bless the day that he was inspired to make it."13 In 1869, when Bright was on the threshold of his second breakdown, Bigelow discussed a possible visit of Bright to the United States: "I do not doubt that he would be more successful here than anyone else. . . for he is at present by far the most popular European with the Yankees."14 Bigelow also helped Bright to ease Anglo-American relations through the distribution of grain among English textile workers whom the cotton shortage had put out of work. Bright received as well the praise and respect of Charles Francis Adams, American Minister in England during the War, who said that if the North should win, Bright, by virtue of his support of their cause, would become the most powerful man in the country.15 Adams's son, Henry, thought Bright the embodiment of English "eccentricity," and on one occasion made a point of hearing Bright speak against slavery before a throng of trade Unionists.16 Interestingly enough, Karl Marx attended this same meeting and though he scorned his idealism, he had praise for the moving keynote address of "Father Bright."17

Happily, Bright has begun to attract more attention in recent years. His letters and G.M. Trevelyan's monumental biography have been reprinted, and several scholars have attempted a re-evaluation of his life.18 However, to a marked extent these studies reflect the iconoclastic approach to Bright: he comes off as a somewhat dull, shortsighted, insensitive man, who brought off some remarkable achievements through determination and good fortune in his personal associations and his timing. Bright, I think, was a more dynamic and magnanimous person than this, and Rush Rhees Library possesses several previously unpublished letters that illumine Bright's personality for us. These letters show Bright's engagement in a wide number of activities:  he is asked for help and advice on the founding of a women's college, he speaks for reform after the Indian Mutiny (1857), he is singled out as a recipient of an anti-slavery treatise and of the biography of the celebrated abolitionist Garrison.

The letters that most typify Bright are those to William Henry Seward and to Sumner, in which Bright discloses his hopes for the freedom of all men and for the future of the United States. Bright envisioned America as the Promised Land, a utopia where common sense, laissez-faire economics, and the essential goodness of the individual prevailed. These beliefs color Bright's letters through 1865, but his faith was affected by the events of that "strange & memorable year": the history of the American North, the death of the archconservative Lord Palmerston, and the possibility of Parliamentary Reform all seemed heaven-sent; however, the North's reluctance to insure full justice for the liberated blacks, the death of Lincoln, and the demagogic panderings of the English conservatives gave Bright second thoughts about the Hand of Providence. Bright's 1865 letter to Seward, which duplicates a letter he had sent on the previous day to Sumner, betrays these emergent misgivings.

When Parliamentary Reform was carried out in 1867, Bright appeared confused and hesitant, caught up in forces he had himself created but that he now misdoubted. He was persuaded to enter the Government as a Minister, but in what should have been his moment of triumph, Bright suffered a severe nervous breakdown. It would seem that Bright underwent a crisis of political and moral faith; the short-sighted and reactionary responses of "the people" -- an abstraction in which he had put his trust -- on both sides of the Atlantic destroyed Bright's implicit belief in liberalism and progress. Bright remained an important figure in national politics until he died in 1889, but his life during these last twenty years was marked by a quietism and moderation that quite often amounted to conservatism. The stresses brought upon Bright by his ideological and social commitments belie the surface serenity of his life. Indeed, the tensions embodied in Bright's personality typify the complexities that underlay conventional Victorian self-confidence and equanimity.

However, Bright's letters convey his personality and his times more vigorously than any summary. I present them here as exact transcriptions of the originals in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of Rush Rhees Library. For each letter I have provided a headnote to describe the backgrounds and the most important allusions. I have followed Bright's spelling, capitalization, and punctuation, and indicated the breaks between pages by a slash (/). (The slashes following the salutations in letters one and three are Bright's.) The letters are arranged in chronological order and numbered one to nine.

One. Bright to E.R. Humphreys, 23 March 1853; Autograph Letter, Signed.

Bright's correspondent was headmaster of Cheltenham College, a public school for boys near Gloucester. Evidently Humphreys wrote to Bright with a request for aid in the establishment of Cheltenham Ladies' College (founded 1853). Bright supported a national system of education for all citizens, including non-conformists like his fellow Friends; he also supported J. S. Mill's plan for female suffrage in 1867, although he several times voted against similar proposals during the last twenty years of his life.

*  *  *  *

Mar 23. 53.

Dear Sir/

I am not able to introduce you to any one likely to undertake the service you require, but I think such a person may be met with. Probably advertisement in the "Leeds Mercury," and the "Manchester Examiner" or "Guardian" would bring you into correspondence with a suitable person.

With regard to the Education question, I cannot give you any / decided opinion-except that I do not see how any system can work that enjoins the teaching of religion -- at the same time influential parties are opposed to any scheme in which religion is not distinctly taught.

With these difficulties in the way, it is possible that some extension of the present plan may be contemplated-but nothing is known of the forthcoming proposition of the Govt. The / Established Church is in truth the great obstacle to any general scheme of Education -- tho' some Dissenters, and in particular the Independents have recently become much opposed to it-but chiefly because they observed that every scheme of every Govt. was intended to give encreased power to the Church.


I am very resp.
John Bright

Dr. E. R. Humphreys


Two. Unaddressed note by Bright, 27 October 1858; Autograph Letter.

Bright's strenuous opposition to the Crimean War had resulted in his first breakdown in 1856 and in the loss of his Manchester seat in the House of Commons. While Bright traveled in the Near East to recover his health, the electors of Birmingham returned him to Parliament. The Indian Mutiny (1857) that occurred during Bright's absence seemed to endorse his view that an unjust and self-serving policy would lead to disaster. He lost no time, therefore, in calling attention to his foresight; these statistics were apparently sent to newspapers in advance of the first addresses to his new constituents, 29 October 1858 in the Birmingham Town Hall. Luard seems to have published nothing beyond the "Address" mentioned here. Bright had published many letters in Anglo-Indian newspapers in the course of his long campaign to make the colonial government more just and humane.19 The one-sentence covering letter that accompanies the note does not seem to be in Bright's hand.


*  *  *  *

Mr. Bright sends these notes of Statistics he may use, to enable the editor to correct the Telegraph report if necessary.


Oct. 27. 58.

Amongst the pamphlets now issuing from the press on Indian affairs is one entitled "An address to the Reconstructors of our Indian Empire" by Mr. Robert Davies Luard, late of the Bombay Civil Service. From this pamphlet we extract the following letter written by Mr. Bright MP & published as written[?], without the knowledge of the writer, in an Indian newspaper so far back as July 1853. This letter was written in answer to a correspondent in India who expressed his disappointment that the Govt. did not intend to make any real change in the Administration of the Indian Empire. It shows how thoroughly the condition of the Indian Govt. was then understood by our late Representative and how clearly the present crisis was foreseen by him.

Three. Bright to Frederick Edge, 2 July 1860; Autograph Letter, Signed.

Edge, an abolitionist, published Slavery Doomed: or, the contest between free and slave labour in the United States in 1860; he sent a copy to Bright because of his stature as a leading supporter of the North and a fervent opponent of slavery. Bright's progressive, optimistic outlook led him to believe that free trade would finish slavery; accordingly, he championed the development of Indian agriculture as a means of relief for the native population, as a blow at the economic basis of slavery, and as a source for expansion of industry in his native Lancashire. The arguments that Bright sketches here typify a position he had advocated from the 1850s; see, for example, his pamphlet India, and our Supply of Cotton . . . (Manchester 1850).

*  *  *  *

Reform Club
July 2, 1860


Dear Sir/

I am much obliged to you for your Book. I have read it through, with great interest. It is on a great subject, & is written with clearness & earnestness, & yet with moderation.

I do not know that I differ from much of it except that part where you expect a / considerable supply of Cotton from Africa. I think we cannot look for any important supply for a long time except from the States & from India.

I differ from you too as to the amount of danger to the Union from the Slavery quarrel. By & bye the Slave power will have, nay, probably it now has culminated.

When that is beyond a question it will cease to be aggressive, & / will be more modest and reasonable.

I don't believe in the disruption of the Union from this difficulty -- & I hope that in a few years, Slavery will be only a moral & economical, & not a political question in the United States.

Your Book is a valuable narrative of the history of the slavery politics of America, & I hope it will not be the only work you will write in connection with the conditions & / career of the great English nation beyond the Atlantic.

Yours very resp.
John Bright

Mr. Fredk. Edge
49 Hanover St
South Belgravia
        S W

Four.   Bright to John Lothrop Motley, 9 January 1862, forwarded to William Henry Seward, 1 February 1862; Copy of Autograph Letter, Signed.

John Lothrop Motley (1814-1877), American historian, was United States minister to Austria during most of the Civil War. Motley wrote a history of the Netherlands in several volumes, and Bright very much shared Motley's interest in the rise of representative government. Bright made the "territorial families" and England's "aristocracy of the blood" a constant object of attack, for he believed that the triumph of the "people" would bring a great moral improvement to the world. Bright wrote this letter just after the military fortunes of the North had reached their low point, and he makes clear that he put his personal and political faith in the success of the Northern cause. Bright refers here to his friend and close political associate, Richard Cobden, who also supported the North, but with less pronounced religious fervor than Bright. The Blockade referred to had been set up by Lincoln in April 1861 to prevent the South's export of cotton.

*  *  *  *

My dear Sir

I received your letter with great pleasure. I should have written to you sooner but for the sore anxiety which has pressed upon us of late in dread of the calamity from which escape seemed unlikely. The news received here last night, if correct, gives us reason to believe that the immediate danger is over & that your govt. looking only to the great interests of the Union has had the wisdom & the courage to yield in the face of danger[?] calculated to excite the utmost passions, & such as it would not have been subjected to had the internal tranquillity of the Union been undisturbed. What has happened will leave a great grievance in the minds of your people & may bear evil fruit hereafter, for there had been shown them no generosity, such as became a friendly nation, & no sympathy with them in their great calamity. I must ask you however to understand that all Englishmen are not involved in this charge. Our ruling class by a natural instinct hates democratic & republican institutions, & it dreads the example of the U.S. upon its own permanency here. You have a / sufficient proof of this in the violence with which I have been assailed because I pointed to the superior condition of your peoples & to the economy of your government & to the absence of "foreign politics" in your policy, saving you from the necessities of great armaments & wars & debt. The people who form what is called "society" at the "West End" of London, whom you know well enough, are as a class wishful that your democratic institutions should break down, & that your country should be divided and enfeebled. I am not guessing at this -- I know it to be true & it will require great care on the part of all who love peace to prevent further complications & dangers. The immediate effect of the discussions of the last month & of the moderation & courage of your government has been favorable to the North & men have looked with amazement & horror at the project of enlisting Eng. on the side of Slavedom -- & I am willing to hope that as your govt shows strength to cope with the insurrection, opinion here will go still more in the right direction. The only danger I can see is in the blockade, & in the interruption of the supply of cotton --/ The Govts of England & France may imagine that it would relieve the industry of the two countries to raise the blockade, but this can only be done by association with your Govt or by making war upon it. I don't see how your Govt can at present consent to do it, & if it had some early success, the idea of war may be abandoned if it had already been entertained. Charleston harbour is now a thing of the past -- if New Orleans & Mobile were in possession of the Govt then the blockade might be raised without difficulty, for Savannah might, I suppose, easily be occupied. Trade might be interdicted at all other Southern ports & opened at N. Orleans, Mobile & Savannah under the authority of the Govt. {;] thus, duties would begin to be received & cotton would begin to come down if there be any men in the interior who are disposed to peace, & who prefer the Union & Safety to secession & ruin. I hope all may go well -- The whole human race has a deep interest in your Success. The restoration of your Union & the freedom of the negro, or the complete controul of what Slavery may yet remain, are objects for which I hope with an anxiety not exceeded by that of any man born on American soil & my faith is strong that I shall see them accomplished. / I sent your brief note to Mr. Cobden -- he is anxious on the blockade question -- but I hope his fears may not be realized. When you come back to Eng. I shall expect to see you & trust by that time the sky might be clearer.

I am very truly yrs
 (Signed)     John Bright

Five. Bright to Charles Sumner, 6 November 1863, forwarded to Seward, 1 December 1863; Autograph Letter, Signed.

Bright had carried on a correspondence with Sumner from 1860 to 1872, and their exchanges were especially detailed during the years of the Civil War. Moreover, the influence of Bright's letters spread beyond Sumner himself, for the Senator often passed them on to associates (as in this case), or read them to President Lincoln or to his Cabinet. Bright's purpose here was to obtain information favorable to the North, which he might publish in England; Samuel Lucas was Bright's brother-in-law, and theMorning Star, a Quaker daily, was one of the few papers that endorsed the Northern cause.

Nathaniel Prentiss Banks (1816-1894) was an avid abolitionist and an effective supporter of his cause, but a dismal general. Bright also refers to Charles Francis Adams, American minister to England, with whom Bright was in close contact; and to the "Alexandra case," which involved claims by the United States for damage done to its shipping by the British-made cruiser Alexandra. This letter was apparently overlooked in the publication of Bright's letters to Sumner.20

*  *  *  *


  North Wales
  Nov. 6. 63.

Dear Mr. Sumner,

It has occurred to me that you might possibly be able to send over here, a week earlier than it will come thru' your newspapers, such correspondence with our Govt as has taken place during the recess.

It would be a great advantage to the Morning Star to be able to publish any interesting dispatches in advance of its competitor, & its honest dealing with the American question, is rendered all the more effective when it can show itself possessed of accurate information on subjects on which the public take a deep interest. If you are / able to send anything, it may be addressed to

Saml. Lucas Esq.
Morning Star Office
Salisbury Square

I am very anxious to hear what is coming from the States. The military position did not seem satisfactory by the last mail, & Lee's army was moving about far too near your seat of govt to be pleasant to your friends.

I am told that Genl. Banks is of opinion that Louisiana could easily be brought back into the Union, by full consent of its people, & with slavery abolished, & compensated labor established, if efforts were made to  /  that end. Such action on the part of so important a State would be of great moment -- & it is much to be hoped that he may have full power to bring about what he thinks is desirable & or possible.

Here-everybody is content now to watch your contest without wishing to interfere in it -- & unless you fail in your present efforts, & show signs of weakness, or bad-management, & ill-success, I think you need have no further misgiving as to opinion here or as to the course our Govt. will take.

I am satisfied too, that France will not dare to do more than has already been done-& that you will be at full liberty to work out your own policy unmolested.

I saw Mr. Adams on Sunday last, & think his position is now better defined & more comfortable than at any time since the war began.

The lawyers are of opinion that the judgment in the "Alexandra" case will be reversed -- I hope it may be so.

We leave here on Monday for our home at Rochdale -- till Parlt. opens in Feby.

Ever yours very truly,
John Bright

   Chas. Sumner

Six. Bright to William Henry Seward, 21 October 1865; Autograph Letter, Signed.

At the outset of this letter Bright refers to an attack on Seward by Lewis Powell, a fellow-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth; the attack aggravated Seward's already failing health and was a cause of the deaths of Seward's wife and daughter. The year was "strange & memorable" because of Seward's misfortunes and the assassination of Lincoln, and for other reasons as well: Bright regarded the victory of the North and the death of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston as portents of a triumph for industrial democracy; at the same time the suddenness of the changes, the uncertainty of the future, and the small-mindedness of the victorious Northerners in dealing with the freedmen shocked Bright.

Moreover, although Bright had repeatedly advocated compassion for the Confederate officials, he now distrusted Northern leniency because it seemed the counterpart of indifference towards the blacks. Bright had at all times believed that freedom for the slaves was the only adequate justification for the War. He made this clear by his references during these months to another "strange & memorable" event, the massacre of black citizens in Jamaica under the British governor. Bright repeatedly compared the rights of the Jamaicans, of the American freedmen, and of the British workers who were agitating for enfranchisement.21

Bright also refers here to the "Alabama claims" -- demands by the United States for repayment of damages, similar to the "Alexandra case"; these were settled by international arbitration in 1871. Bright's surmise on Lords Russell and Clarendon proved correct in the event.

Finally, it might be noted that although the present letter has never before been published, on the previous day Bright had sent a near-identical letter to Senator Sumner.22Bright apparently was quite concerned about America's political and moral destiny, and by implication, about his role in the immediate political future of England.


*  *  *  *


Rochdale. Octr. 21. 1865

Dear Mr. Seward,

I have intended to write to you for some months past to express my sympathy for you in the terrible sufferings which you have endured during this strange & memorable year, & to congratulate you that you are still permitted to take your great part in guiding the fortunes of your country in the happier time which is now opening before you. The severe accident which befell you -- the foul attempt upon your life -- the near murder of your son, & the heavy domestic bereavement which followed -- make up a list of dangers & sorrows such as few men have been subjected to. I have often felt how much I wished to tell you that I have greatly & deeply sympathized with you in these multiplied trials, & yet I have feared to intrude upon you with a letter in  /  the midst of your many & pressing engagements. I hope you may have strength to continue your services to your Country, and that you may see all your hopes of a restored & tranquil & peaceful Union fully & speedily realized.

I observe the course of the President in regard to the Southern Leaders. He seems to have wholly changed his policy, which began with menaces of punishment, & is now one of general amnesty -- for I suppose that, if Lee be permitted to preside over a College to teach loyalty to your young men, Davis will neither be brought to punishment nor even to trial. Far be it from me to complain of mercy to these great criminals -- still, I am not sure that posterity in your States may not have to regret that men of so many & so great crimes have been received into favor & into places of trust in the Country they sought so wickedly to destroy. Who knows / that Lee may not be a Candidate for the Presidential chair, or that Davis may not again make his appearance in your Senate?

But if this wonderful mercy be extended to the guilty, what shall be done to secure the rights of the innocent -- of the negro who has been made free by so profuse an expenditure of blood? Can he be safely left to the tender mercies of his old Master in the restored States of the South? He may not be hereafter bought & sold -- but he may be subjected to almost infinite damage & injustice by the Legislatures in which, shut out from the franchise, he has no influence. He may be, & I suppose he will be, under State laws only; & these laws may be framed, as hitherto they have been framed, with a total disregard of his rights & interests.

When slavery was abolished in our West India Colonies, it was found necessary to take special means to guard the freedman's rights, and stipendiary magistrates were sent from  / England to see to the due execution of justice between the white man & the black, & I believe this provision on behalf of the negro has worked well in our Colonies. Our emancipation was effected by Act of Parlt, & tranquilly & compensation was paid to the owner of the slave. In your case, the slave is made free by an act of the War power, during a tremendous & bloody struggle, & without Compensation to the owner. With you therefore, I think there will be far stronger reason for some special protection to the freedmen than there was with us, & I hope most earnestly that in some manner, you will not fail, after having bought the freedom of the negro with your blood, to make it for all coming time secure by your laws. Now, when the South is humbled & subjected, you may be able to do that which will be difficult or impossible when she is restored to her ancient privileges & position.

I say nothing on this question here, because / I avoid all appearance of interference or of seeming to give advice even on any matter of your internal administration. Still, I only speak the sentiments of your friends here, when I express my anxiety in respect to the future position of the unfortunate race whose right of existence & of justice on your Continent cannot be disputed.

We have lately had much discussion on the correspondence between Lord Russell & Mr. Adams on the "Alabama Claims". I regret the position taken by Lord Russell, because the question seems to me one of law, & one peculiarly proper to be decided by some impartial tribunal. He objects to allow any other "Power" to decide in this dispute, but there may be some other court than that of a "Power". If France, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Italy were requested each to select an eminent Jurist, to meet an eminent Jurist from the United States & one from England, to discuss & determine this question / in the interest of International Law, & of all civilized nations, -- the verdict given could not wound the honor, & damage the interests of England or of the United States. Whether you can make some proposition of this kind I know not, nor whether, if made, it would be accepted by England -- but this is clear, that you would stand before the world acquitted of any disposition to make an unreasonable demand in an unreasonable way, & I cannot but hope that opinion here would induce our Govt. to consent to so just a mode of assuaging the difficulty which has arisen. Lord Russell has made the difficulty by the tardy action of his Departt, unintentionally no doubt, & he ought to be more eager than any other man to discover some way of amicable adjustment of it.

The death of Lord Palmerston will, in all probability, make Lord Russell First Minister, / & I think it rather likely that Lord Clarendon will take the Foreign Office. The tendency of these changes is to give more power to the moral & moderate & liberal party in the Cabinet. Mr. Gladstone will lead in the House of Commons, & the leader there is as powerful as the Prime Minister in the other House. Mr. Gladstone has been deplorably wrong on your great question -- but he is a man of high motives -- more conscientious than many statesmen have been, & much more anxious to do right than willing to do wrong.

I think the removal of Lord Palmerston will mark a new time in England -- he was of the old school, -- saturated with the prejudices & notions of the last generation & of the last century, & did much evil, perhaps without a clear perception that it was evil. He is now gone, & I hope the policy which he supported may go with hirn & that a higher & more moral tone may prevail amongst us.

/ I have written you a long letter -- too long for a man so full of work as you are. But I have written it on account of my sympathy with you in your great sorrows, & now in your great triumphs. I wish all questions of danger between your Country and mine to be removed out of the way -- that the future may be wiser & better than the past -- & that your statesmen & ours may be guided by high & Christian principles in the great labors which are entrusted by two free nations to their hands.

Pray excuse this long intrusion on your time -- & believe me always

Very sincerely yours
  John Bright

  W. H. Seward
    Departt of State

Seven. Bright to Seward, 11 January 1866; Autograph Letter, Signed.

Bright's letters of introduction were particularly welcome to Americans; therefore, many were sought and a good number survive. Bright especially favored self-improvement through education, and Thompson appears to have been a teacher of workingmen in the industrial North of England. Likewise, he appears to have been one of those new men who Bright thought would eventually take control of and improve the country.

*  *  *  *

Jany. 11. 66.

Dear Mr. Seward,

If you see this note, it will be presented to you by Mr. H. Yates Thompson of Liverpool. I take the liberty of giving him a few lines introduction to you because I know that he visits America chiefly with the view of promoting arrangements, which will do much to teach a very influential class of Englishmen, something about your laws & institutions & people. Mr. Thompson was one of our liberal / Candidates for South Lancashire at the recent general Election -- he was not successful -- but I believe he will soon have a seat in Parlt. I need hardly say that he has been a firm & constant friend to your Country during your late struggle.

I can see from the newspapers, which, however, are generally in the wrong, that you are going or gone to the West Indies. Whether on your journey or at Washington, I hope your health is becoming stronger. I duly recd the little note you sent / me. I think you may be pardoned if you do not write long ones.

Believe me always
  very faithfully yours
    John Bright

   W. H. Seward
      Departt. of State

Eight.  Bright to Seward, 13 August 1867; Copy of Autograph Letter, Signed.

Another letter of introduction, this time for Christopher Newman Hall (1816-1902), pastor of Surrey Chapel in Southwark. A supporter of the North, Hall visited the United States in the interest of restored amity between the two countries. He delivered the opening prayer in Congress and spoke before the House of Representatives in November of this same year.


*  *  *  *

August 13. 67.

Dear Mr. Seward,

I give this note to you by my friend Mr. Newman Hall who is an eminent non-conformist minister in London & who rendered great service here during your struggle. Among our religious associations I think he did more than any other man to create & sustain a friendly feeling towards the North & he will visit America with feelings of warm sympathy towards your people.

Mr. Hall is a valued friend of mine & I shall be glad if any letter I can give him can be of use to him during his sojourn in the States.

You sent me a note on behalf of the Spanish Minister, but unfortunately for me he passed through London & was only able to forward your note to me.

Pray excuse my troubling you with this, or rather write to me on a like occasion if I can be of use to any of your friends--

I am always
   Sincerely yours.
    John Bright

   W.H. Seward
      State Department

Nine.   Bright to Francis Jackson Garrison, 17 February 1886; Autograph Letter, Signed.

In 1866 Bright had served as chairman for a London meeting in honor of the influential abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and so it was appropriate that he should receive this biography written by Garrison's sons Francis J. and Wendell Phillips. The sense of things gone wrong and of impending doom that emerges in this conventional acknowledgment also marks other of Bright's judgments in later years.


*  *  *  *

  [Printed Stationery:

Feby 17. 86.

Dear Mr. Garrison-

I have received the two volumes of the life of your Father. I value them highly & desire to thank you for your kind remembrance of me.

The great slavery question is settled-but it remains as a lesson to all future generations of men, in all Countries, of the danger of the Commission of great crimes / by Governments & Nations, & of the certainty that punishment will follow & that Compensation must be paid.

Had your people been just & courageous in defence of justice how much of treasure and of blood might have been saved!

But nations learn slowly, & they purchase their experience & their wisdom at a fearful price.

So long as Freedom is valued / on earth, & so long as your language & ours is spoken & written, so long will the name of your Father be held in remembrance-so long will he be reverenced as among the most illustrious friends of Freedom.

With many thanks for your kind gift, I am
Very sincerely yours
  John Bright

Mr. Francis J Garrison
            Mass. U.S.A.


  1.  "Mr. Bright's Retirement," The Economist 28 (1870) 1545-1546.
  2. The American Conflict (Hartford, Conn. and Chicago, 1864-1866).
  3. Retrospections of an Active Life, 5 vols. (New York, 1909-1913) 2 : 415.
  4. Quoted by Joseph Travis Mills, John Bright and the Quakers, 2 vols. (London, 1935) 2: 240, from a letter of 11 October 1861.
  5. Bright's letter of 4 March 1864, on the subject of capital punishment, is now at the J. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
  6. See F. Lauriston Bollard, Lincoln Pardons Conspirator in Plea of an English Statesman [1939], reprinted from American Bar Association Journal (1939); and Theodore J. Irwin, The Relations Between Abraham Lincoln President of the United States of America and John Bright Member of Parliament, Great Britain (San Francisco, 1935). Both of these commemorative pamphlets reprint the pardon. For more general accounts, see Sir James Randall, "Lincoln and John Bright," Yale Review 34 (1945) 292-304, and R. J. Zorn, "John Bright and the British Attitude to the American Civil War," Mid-America 38 (1956) 131-145.
  7. Bright's letter of 21 January 1863 to Whittier, outlining arrangements for a relief program, is now in the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library.
  8. "Whittier to John Bright," New England Quarterly 8 (1935) 554-555.
  9. Letter of 27 July 1863 to R. I. Walker, now in the collections of the New York Historical Society.
  10. Bright's unpublished letters to Field are at the J. Pierpont Morgan Library.
  11.  Bright's unpublished letters to Dudley are at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California. A letter of 6 September 1864 mentions the banner, and in the collection there are nearly a dozen letters that mention meetings between the two men.
  12. "Three Critical Periods in Our Diplomatic Relations with England during the Late War," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 17 (1893) 34-54.
  13. Retrospections (n. 3 above) 1: 413.
  14. Retrospections 4: 322.
  15. G. M. Trevelyan, The Life of John Bright (Boston and New York, 1914), reports Adams's remark. Despite its age, Trevelyan's biography still seems to me the most helpful and readable work on Bright.
  16. The Education of Henry Adams (Washington, D.C., 1907; Boston and New York, 1918), passim, but especially the chapter entitled "Eccentricity."
  17. See Charles I. Glicksburg, "Henry Adams Reports on a Trade Union Meeting," New England Quarterly 15 (1942) 724-728, and Richard Greenleaf, "British Labor Against American Slavery," Science and Society 17 (1953) 42-58.
  18. The Public Letters of the Right Hon. John Bright, M.P., ed. H. J. Leech (1885; ed. 2, 1895; rpt. New York, 1969); for Trevelyan, see n. 15 above; and the following recent books may be noted: Herman Ausubel, John Bright, Victorian Reformer (New York, 1966); Donald Read, Cobden and Bright: A Victorian Political Partnership(London, 1967); and J. L. Sturgis, John Bright and the Empire (London, 1969).
  19. Sturgis (n. 18 above) reprints many of Bright's letters on India and sets the context for their understanding.
  20. The Bright-Sumner correspondence has been published in Massachusetts Historical SocietyProceedings 45 (1911-1912) 148-159 and 46 (1912-1913) 93-164.
  21.  For the background and the results of this controversy, see George H. Ford, "The Governor Eyre Case in England," University of Toronto Quarterly 17 (1947-1948) 219-233.
  22. For the text of this letter, see Bright-Sumner correspondence (n. 20 above), letter of 20 October 1865 (Proceedings 46: 145-148).


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