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Viscount Bryce

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Viscount Bryce

For other people named James Bryce, see James Bryce (disambiguation).

The Right Honourable
The Viscount Bryce
Ambassador to the United States of America
In office
Monarch Edward VII, George V
Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, H. H. Asquith
Preceded by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand
Succeeded by Sir Cecil Spring Rice
Chief Secretary for Ireland
In office
10 December 1905 – 23 January 1907
Monarch Edward VII
Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Preceded by Walter Long
Succeeded by Augustine Birrell
President of the Board of Trade
In office
28 May 1894 – 21 June 1895
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister The Earl of Rosebery
Preceded by A. J. Mundella
Succeeded by Charles Thomson Ritchie
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
18 August 1892 – 28 May 1894
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
Preceded by The Duke of Rutland
Succeeded by The Lord Tweedmouth
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
7 February 1886 – 20 July 1885
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister Gladstone
Preceded by Hon. Robert Bourke
Succeeded by Sir James Fergusson, Bt
Personal details
Born (1838-05-10)10 May 1838
Belfast, Ireland
Died 22 January 1922(1922-01-22) (aged 83)
Sidmouth, Devon, South West England
Political party Liberal
Alma mater University of Glasgow,
University of Oxford
Occupation Politician
Profession Academic

James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce OM GCVO PC FRS FBA (10 May 1838 – 22 January 1922) was a British academic, jurist, historian and Liberal politician.

Background and education

Bryce was born in Arthur Street, Belfast, County Antrim, the son of James Bryce, LL.D., of Glasgow, by his wife Margaret, daughter of James Young of Whiteabbey, County Antrim. The first eight years of his life were spent residing at his grandfather’s Whiteabbey residence, often playing for hours on the tranquil picturesque shoreline. John Annan Bryce was his younger brother.[1] He was educated under his uncle Reuben John Bryce at the Belfast Academy,[2] at Glasgow High School, the University of Glasgow, the University of Heidelberg and Trinity College, Oxford. He was elected a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, in 1862, and called to the Bar, Lincoln's Inn, in 1867.[1]

Academic career

Bryce went to the bar and practised in London for a few years, but he was soon called back to Oxford as Regius Professor of Civil Law, a position he held between 1870 and 1893. From 1870 to 1875 he was also Professor of Jurisprudence at Owen's College, Manchester.[1] His reputation as an historian had been made as early as 1864 by his work on the Holy Roman Empire. In 1872 he travelled to Iceland to see the land of the Icelandic sagas as he was a great admirer of Njals saga. In 1876, he climbed above the tree line on Mount Ararat and found a slab of hand-hewn timber, four feet long and five inches thick, which he believed was from Noah's Ark.[3]

Political career

Bryce was an ardent Liberal in politics, and in 1880 he was elected to parliament for the Tower Hamlets constituency in London.[1][4] In 1885 he was returned for South Aberdeen, where he was re-elected on succeeding occasions and remained a Member of Parliament until 1907.[1][5]

Bryce's intellectual distinction and political industry made him a valuable member of the Liberal Party. As soon as the late 1860s, he acted as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Secondary Education. In 1885 he was made Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under William Ewart Gladstone, but he had to leave office after the electoral defeat the same year. In 1892 he joined Gladstone's last cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster[6] and was sworn of the Privy Council at the same time.[7] In 1894 he was appointed President of the Board of Trade in the new cabinet of Lord Rosebery,[8] but had to leave this office with that whole Liberal cabinet as soon as 1895.[1]

The Liberals were to remain out of office for the next ten years. In 1897, after a visit to South Africa, Bryce published a volume of Impressions of that country, which had considerable weight in Liberal circles when the Second Boer War was being discussed. He was one of the harshest critics of British repressive policy against Boer civilians in the South African partisan War. Taking the risk of being very unpopular for a certain moment, he condemned the systematic burning of farms and the imprisonment of old people, women and children in British concentration camps. Bryce was made Chief Secretary for Ireland in Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet in 1905.[1]

Ambassador to the United States

However, even this time Bryce's cabinet post was held only for a brief period, because as soon as February 1907 he was appointed British Ambassador to the United States of America.[9] He kept this diplomatic office until 1913 and was very efficient in strengthening the Anglo-American friendship. Bryce made many personal friends in American politics, amongst them US President Theodore Roosevelt. The German ambassador in Washington, Graf Heinrich von Bernstorff, later admitted how relieved he felt that Bryce was not his competitor for American sympathies during the World War period, when Bernstorff managed to secure the neutrality of the USA at least until 1917.

As an author, Bryce quickly became well known in America for his 1888 work, The American Commonwealth. The book thoroughly examined the institutions of the United States from the point of view of a historian and constitutional lawyer, and it at once became a classic. In developing material for his book, Bryce painstakingly reproduced the travels of Alexis de Tocqueville, writer of Democracy in America (1835–40). Although Tocqueville emphasized the egalitarian nature of early 19th century America, Bryce was dismayed to find vast inequality a half-century later, stating "Sixty years ago, there were no great fortunes in America, few large fortunes, no poverty. Now there is some poverty...and a greater number of gigantic fortunes than in any other country of the world"[10] and "As respects education...the profusion of…elementary schools tends to raise the mass to a higher point than in Europe...[but] there is an increasing class that has studied at the best universities. It appears that equality has diminished [in this regard] and will diminish further."[11]

First World War

After his retirement as ambassador and his return to Great Britain he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Bryce, of Dechmount in the County of Lanark, in 1914.[12] Thus he became a member of the House of Lords, the powers of which had been curtailed in the Liberal Parliamentary Reform of 1911. Following the outbreak of the First World War, Lord Bryce was commissioned by Prime Minister H. H. Asquith to give the official Bryce Report on alleged German atrocities in Belgium. The report was published in 1915, and was damning of German behaviour against civilians; Lord Bryce's accounts were confirmed by Vernon Lyman Kellogg, director of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, who told the New York Times that the German military enslaved hundreds of thousands of Belgian workers, and abused and maimed many of them in the process.

Bryce also strongly condemned the Armenian Genocide that took place in the Ottoman Empire mainly in the year 1915. Bryce was the first to speak on that subject in The House of Lords, in July 1915, and later, with the assistance of the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, he produced a documentary record of the massacres, published by the British government in 1916 as the Blue Book. In 1921, Lord Bryce wrote that the Armenian genocide had also claimed half of the population of Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire, as similar cruelties were perpetrated upon them.[13][14]

During the last years of his life, Bryce served at the International Court at The Hague, supported the establishment of the League of Nations and published a book about Modern Democracy in 1921 that was rather critical of post-war democracy; specifically, he strongly opposed the new right to vote for women.

Honours and other public appointments

Bryce received numerous academic honors from home and foreign universities. In September 1901 he received the degree of Doctor of Laws from Dartmouth College.[15] He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1894.

In earlier life he was a notable mountain climber, ascending Mount Ararat in 1876, and publishing a volume on Transcaucasia and Ararat in 1877; in 1899–1901 he was president of the Alpine Club. From his Caucasian journey he brought back a deep distrust of Ottoman rule in Asia Minor and a distinct sympathy for the Armenian people.

In 1907 he was made a Member of the Order of Merit by King Edward VII. At the King's death, Lord Bryce arranged his Washington Memorial Service.[16] At the time of Lord Bryce's memorial service at Westminster Abbey his wife, Lady Bryce, received condolences from King George V who "regarded Lord Bryce as an old friend and trusted counsellor to whom I could always turn."[17] Queen Victoria had said that Bryce was "one of the best informed men on all subjects I have ever met".[18][19] He was also President of the British Academy from 1913 to 1917.[1]

Personal life

Lord Bryce married Elizabeth Marion, daughter of Thomas Ashton and sister of Lord Ashton, 1st Baron Ashton of Hyde in 1889. They had no children. He died on 22 January 1922, aged 83, in Sidmouth, Devon, on the last of his lifelong travels, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.[20] The viscountcy died with him. Lady Bryce died in December 1939.[1] In 1965, the James Bryce Chair of Government (changed to Politics in 1970) was endowned in his honour at the University of Glasgow.


  • The Flora of the Island of Aran, 1859
  • , 1864
  • Report on the Condition of Education in Lancashire, 1867
  • The Trade Marks Registration Act, with Introduction and Notes on Trade Mark Law, 1877
  • Transcaucasia and Ararat, 1877
  • The American Commonwealth, 1888, volume III
  • Impressions of South Africa, 1897
  • Studies in History and Jurisprudence, 1901, volume II
  • , 1903
  • , 1909
  • , 1912
  • University and Historical Addresses, 1913
  • The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-16, 1916
  • , 1918
  • Modern Democracies, 1921 volume II

His Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901) and Studies in Contemporary Biography (1903) were republications of essays.


  • "An Ideal University," The Contemporary Review, Vol. XLV, June 1884.
  • "The Relations of History and Geography," The Contemporary Review, Vol. XLIX, January/June 1886.
  • "The Age of Discontent," The Contemporary Review, Vol. LIX, January 1891.
  • "The Migrations of the Races of Men Considered Historically," The Contemporary Review, Vol. LXII, July 1892.
  • "Equality," The Century; A Popular Quarterly, Volume 56, Issue 3, July 1898.

Famous Quotations

  • "Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong."
  • "No government demands so much from the citizen as Democracy and none gives back so much."
  • "Life is too short for reading inferior books."

Further reading

  • Vol. 2, London resp. New York (1927).
  • Seaman Jr., John T. A Citizen of the World: The Life of James Bryce, London/New York (2006).


  • Template:1911

External links

  • Hansard 1803–2005:
  • (1914)
  • Text of the Bryce report on German atrocities
  • Project Gutenberg
  • Viscount James Bryce at The Online Library of Liberty
  • James Bryce, preface to Shall This Nation Die?, by Joseph Naayem, New York: 1921, quoted in Native Christians Massacred, The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians during World War I, 1.3 Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal 326 (2006)
  • , The New York Times, 20 April 1918, at 11
  • The American Commonwealth, with an Introduction by Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995). 2 Vols. See original text in The Online Library of Liberty.
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • WorldCat catalog)
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Joseph d'Aguilar Samuda
Member of Parliament for Tower Hamlets
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Aberdeen South
Succeeded by
George Birnie Esslemont
Political offices
Preceded by
Hon. Robert Bourke
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Sir James Fergusson, Bt
Preceded by
The Duke of Rutland
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by
The Lord Tweedmouth
Preceded by
A. J. Mundella
President of the Board of Trade
Succeeded by
Charles Thomson Ritchie
Preceded by
Walter Long
Chief Secretary for Ireland
Succeeded by
Augustine Birrell
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sir Henry Mortimer Durand
British Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Sir Cecil Spring Rice
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Bryce

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