The Bright Papers
The Library holds a detailed collection of correspondence to and from the British politician John Bright between the 1850s and 1880s. Many of the letters and papers relate to the American Civil War and reveal Bright’s deep interest in events across the Atlantic, his views on slavery and democracy, and how his well-publicised speeches were received beyond Britain’s borders.
John Bright rose to prominence in British politics alongside his friend and fellow campaigner Richard Cobden, forming the Anti–Corn Law League in the 1840s. During the Civil War, Bright wrote and spoke extensively about events in America, anti–slavery and pro-Lincoln support. Many of the letters from America praised Bright’s support for the Union and concerns about the unstable relationship between Britain and America during the conflict, especially in regard to whether the former would provide support to the Confederacy.
Bright, a staunch advocate for political democracy, paid particular attention to the situation in America and to Lincoln’s move towards abolition as the war continued. The selected examples from Bright’s correspondence praise the politician’s anti-slavery support.
The image above is the first page of a letter from Thomas H. Dudley, a U.S. consul who was sent to Liverpool by the Lincoln administration to see if the Confederacy were using and building ships in the British port. The letter reveals that Dudley had sent copies of one of Bright’s anti-slavery speeches to the highest levels of Union government, including the President, in the ‘hope…that it will do good at home as well as in England’ to calm fears over whether Britain would show support to a slave-holding system by acknowledging the Confederacy’s independence.
This page of the letter contains Dudley’s concerns that ‘the slave drivers at the south…are anxious to spread the institution of slavery over the whole Western Hemisphere’ and that the war threatens ‘to break to pieces the best government the sun shines upon’. He goes on to state that Bright’s speech would reassure Americans of British support for the Union cause, before detailing maritime concerns about the impact the war would have on shipping.