Cobden and Bright

Asa Briggs reflects on two Victorian radicalists who employed controversial new means to secure power, drawing both fervent disciples and bitter enemies, before their eventual defeat as part of a reaction against the ideas and methods of the 1840’s.

The names of Richard Cobden and John Bright are invariably bracketed together in any account of Victorian radicalism. As well as being fellow-workers in a sequence of great causes, beginning with the battle for the repeal of the corn laws, they were close personal friends linked “in the most transparent intimacy of mind that two human beings ever enjoyed.”

Caring little for office, they were never afraid of striving after power and employing new and controversial means to secure it. It was natural that in an age when government was still aristocratic, and when society rested on deference and dependence, they should make both fervent disciples and bitter enemies. Their disciples were always in danger of treating them as something more than mere men: their enemies were always inclined to blame them personally for the emergence of new forces which would have come into being without their intervention.

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