James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, Liberal politician. According to Keoth Robbins, he was a widely-traveled authority on law, government, and history whose expertise led to high political offices culminating with his successful role as ambassador to the United States, 1907–13. His intellectual influence was greatest in The American Commonwealth (1888), an in-depth study of American politics that shaped the understanding of America in Britain and in the United States as well.(10 May 1838 – 22 January 1922) was a British academic, jurist, historian, and
The Viscount Bryce
|British Ambassador to the United States|
|Monarch||Edward VII |
|President||Theodore Roosevelt |
William Howard Taft
|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|
10 December 1905 – 23 January 1907
|Prime Minister||Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman|
|Preceded by||Walter Long|
|Succeeded by||Augustine Birrell|
|President of the Board of Trade|
28 May 1894 – 21 June 1895
|Prime Minister||The Earl of Rosebery|
|Preceded by||A. J. Mundella|
|Succeeded by||Charles Thomson Ritchie|
|Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster|
18 August 1892 – 28 May 1894
|Prime Minister||William Ewart Gladstone|
|Preceded by||The Duke of Rutland|
|Succeeded by||The Lord Tweedmouth|
|Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs|
7 February 1886 – 20 July 1886
|Preceded by||Hon. Robert Bourke|
|Succeeded by||Sir James Fergusson, Bt|
|Born||10 May 1838|
|Died||22 January 1922 (aged 83)|
Sidmouth, Devon, South West England
|Alma mater||University of Glasgow,|
University of Oxford
Bryce was born in Arthur Street in Belfast, County Antrim, in Ulster, the son of Margaret, daughter of James Young of Whiteabbey, and James Bryce, LLD, from near Coleraine, County Londonderry. 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. Annan Bryce was his younger brother. He was educated under his uncle Reuben John Bryce at the Belfast Academy, 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 was called to the Bar, Lincoln's Inn, in 1867. His days as a student at the University of Heidelberg gave him a long-life admiration of German historical and legal scholarship. He became a believer in "Teutonic freedom", an ill-defined concept that was held to bind Germany, Britain and the United States together. For him, the United States, the British Empire and Germany were "natural friends".
Bryce was admitted to the Bar and practised law in London for a few years but was soon called back to Oxford to become Regius Professor of Civil Law, a position he held from 1870 to 1893. From 1870 to 1875 he was also Professor of Jurisprudence at Owens College, Manchester. His reputation as an historian had been made as early as 1864 by his work on the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1872 Bryce travelled to Iceland to see the land of the Icelandic sagas, as he was a great admirer of Njáls saga. In 1876 he ventured through Russia to Mount Ararat, climbed above the tree line and found a piece of hand-hewn timber, 4 feet (1.2 m) long and 5 inches (13 cm) thick. He agreed that the evidence fit the Armenian Church's belief that it was from Noah's Ark and offered no other explanations.
In 1872 Bryce, a proponent of higher education, particularly for women, joined the Central Committee of the National Union for Improving the Education of Women of All Classes (NUIEWC).
In 1880 Bryce, an ardent Liberal in politics, was elected to the House of Commons as member for the constituency of Tower Hamlets in London. In 1885 he was returned for South Aberdeen and he was re-elected there on succeeding occasions. He remained a Member of Parliament until 1907.
Bryce's intellectual distinction and political industry made him a valuable member of the Liberal Party. As early as the late 1860s he served 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 had to leave office after the Liberals were defeated in the general election later that year. In 1892 he joined Gladstone's last cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and was sworn of the Privy Council at the same time.
In 1894 Bryce was appointed President of the Board of Trade in the new cabinet of Lord Rosebery, but had to leave this office, along with the whole Liberal cabinet, the following year. The Liberals remained 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 that had considerable influence in Liberal circles when the Second Boer War was being discussed. He devoted significant sections of the book to the recent history of South Africa, various social and economic details about the country, and his experiences while travelling with his party.
The "still radical" Bryce was made Chief Secretary for Ireland in Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet in 1905 and remained in office throughout 1906. Bryce was critical of many of the social reforms proposed by this Liberal Government, including old-age pensions, the Trade Disputes Act and the redistributive "People's Budget," which he regarded as making unwarranted concessions to socialism.
Bryce had become well known in America for his book The American Commonwealth (1888), a thorough examination of the institutions of the United States from the point of view of a historian and constitutional lawyer. Bryce painstakingly reproduced the travels of Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote Democracy in America (1835–1840). Tocqueville had emphasised the egalitarianism of early-19th-century America, but Bryce was dismayed to find vast inequality: "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" 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." The work was heavily used in academia, partly as a result of Bryce's close friendships with men such as James B. Angell, President of the University of Michigan and successively Charles W. Eliot and Abbott Lawrence Lowell at Harvard. The work also became a key text for American writers seeking to popularise a view of American history as distinctively Anglo-Saxon.
In February 1907 Bryce was appointed Ambassador to the United States. He held this office until 1913, and was very efficient in strengthening Anglo-American ties and friendship. He made many personal friends among American politicians, such as President Theodore Roosevelt. The German ambassador in Washington, Graf Heinrich von Bernstorff, later stated how relieved he felt that Bryce was not his competitor for American sympathies during the First World War, even though Bernstorff helped to keep the United States from declaring war until 1917.
In 1914, after his retirement as Ambassador and his return to Britain, Bryce was raised to the peerage as Viscount Bryce of Dechmount in the County of Lanark. Thus he became a member of the House of Lords, the powers of which had been curtailed by the Parliament Act 1911.
Following the outbreak of the First World War Bryce was commissioned by Prime Minister H. H. Asquith to write what became known as The Bryce Report in which he described German atrocities in Belgium. The report was published in 1915 and was damning of German behaviour against civilians. Bryce's account was confirmed by Vernon Lyman Kellogg, the Director of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, who told the New York Times that the German military had enslaved hundreds of thousands of Belgian workers, and abused and maimed many of them in the process.
Bryce strongly condemned the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire mainly in 1915. Bryce was the first person to speak on the subject in the House of Lords, in July 1915. Later, with the assistance of the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, he produced a documentary record of the massacres that was published as a Blue Book by the British government in 1916. In 1921 Bryce wrote that the Armenian genocide had also claimed half of the population of the Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire and that similar cruelties had been perpetrated upon them.
According to Moton Keller:
Bryce believed in Liberalism, the classic 19th century Liberalism of John Bright and William Gladstone, of free trade, free speech and press, personal liberty, and responsible leadership. This notably genial gregarious man had his hates, chief among them illiberal regimes: the Turkish oppressors of Bulgars and Armenians, and, later the Kaiser's Reich in World War I. 
Bryce had a distrust of current democratic practices seen as late as his Modern Democracy (1921). On the other hand he was a leader in promoting international organizations. During the last years of his life Bryce served as a judge at the International Court in The Hague, and promoted the establishment of the League of Nations.
Bryce received numerous academic honours from home and foreign universities. In September 1901, he received the degree of Doctor of Laws from Dartmouth College, and in October 1902 he received an honorary degree (LLD) from the University of St Andrews. 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 published a volume on Transcaucasia and Ararat in 1877; in 1899 to 1901, he was the 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 1882, Bryce established the National Liberal Club, whose members, in its first three decades, included fellow founder Prime Minister Gladstone, George Bernard Shaw, David Lloyd George, H. H. Asquith and many other prominent Liberal candidates and MP's such as Winston Churchill and Bertrand Russell. In April 1882 Bryce was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.
In 1907 he was made a Member of the Order of Merit by King Edward VII. At the King's death, Bryce arranged his Washington Memorial Service. At the time of Bryce's memorial service at Westminster Abbey, his wife, Elizabeth, received condolences from King George V, who "regarded Lord Bryce as an old friend and trusted counsellor to whom I could always turn." Queen Victoria had said that Bryce was "one of the best informed men on all subjects I have ever met".
Bryce was president of the American Political Science Association from 1907 to 1908. He was the fourth person to hold this office. He was president of the British Academy from 1913 to 1917. In 1919 he delivered the British Academy's inaugural Raleigh Lecture on History, on "World History".
There is a large monument to Viscount Bryce in the southwest section of the Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh, facing north at the west end of the central east–west avenue. It is presumed that his ashes are buried there.
There is a bust of Viscount Bryce in Trinity Church on Broadway, near Wall Street in New York. A similar bust is in the U.S. Capitol Building and there is a commemorative Bryce Park in Washington DC.
In 1965 the James Bryce Chair of Government was endowed at the University of Glasgow. "Government" was changed to "Politics" in 1970.
His Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901) and Studies in Contemporary Biography (1903) were republications of essays.
regarded Lord Bryce as an old friend and trusted counsellor to whom I could always turn.”
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