John Bright Vanity Fair antique print and autograph. Original Vanity Fair chromolithograph published 13th. February 1869. Autograph dated 19th. May 1888.
The text below was first published as a ‘blog’ in Reach plc’s ‘In Your Area’ on 27th. March 2019
The son of a Quaker cotton mill owner from Rochdale, Lancashire, John Bright was one of the most powerful advocates of free trade during the nineteenth century. He was a co-founder with Richard Cobden of the Anti-Corn Law League. The Corn Laws, introduced in 1815 following the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, was a protectionist measure to ensure high prices for the agricultural produce of the country’s land-owners. The levying of taxes on imported wheat gained support in the countryside from both landowners, by protecting their incomes, and from agricultural labourers by protecting their jobs. However, the raising of the price of bread met with opposition in towns and cities from both workers and their employers. Established in 1838, the League campaigned for the abolition of the Corn Laws until final victory in 1846. Although a Liberal in his politics, Bright was a member of the Radical wing, often finding himself in opposition to the leadership of the party. During the War against the Russians in the Crimea he was a lone voice in his opposition to the war. However, he was not simply a ‘protester’ for he held office in William Ewart Gladstone Liberal administration as President of the Board of Trade and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. An opponent of Gladstone’s Home Rule for Ireland, he nevertheless began land reform that would turn land over to Catholic peasants. Also in Ireland, The Irish Church Act of 1869 disestablished Irish Anglicanism and separated it from the Church of England. Bright sat in the House of Commons from 1843 until his death in 1889, promoting free trade, electoral reform and religious freedom.