John Bright was a Lancashire-born Liberal Member of Parliament for Birmingham and the strongest advocate for the Union cause in the House of Commons during the American Civil War. Although usually outnumbered during debates about the Confederacy in Parliament, the pro-North MPs often won the debates concerning intervention owing to Bright’s great oratorical ability. For this, he became a hero in Washington’s political circles, and President Lincoln kept a framed photograph of him on his desk in the Oval Office. In 1864, a bust of Bright was installed at the White House and is still on display today.
Of Quaker background, Bright was an open non-conformist radical strongly advocating extension of suffrage to working class men. Very popular with this category of Britons, he was well-received during his frequent public speeches in favour of promoting ‘the working man in British society’, and compared their struggle for democracy with that of the slave in America.
Although staunchly in favour of an ultimate Northern victory over the South, Bright openly stated that he did not wish for the reunion of North and South until it could be done so with the complete abolition of slavery, and like Frederick Douglass frequently pressed Lincoln to adopt a proclamation of emancipation to ensure this end.
Furthermore, Bright was in favour of replacing Britain’s monarchical and parliamentary systems with an American-style Republican government, causing many British politicians, including members of his own party, to question whether his loyalties were first with Britain or the United States.