James Bryce

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James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce (1838 – 1922) was a British academic, jurist, historian and Liberal politician.

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

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 and was sworn of the Privy Council at the same time. In 1894 he was appointed President of the Board of Trade in the new cabinet of Lord Rosebery.

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.

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. 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.

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. Thus he became a member of the House of Lords - that contested parliamentary body his own Liberal Party had bitterly fought the previous years, 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, because "similar cruelties" were perpetrated upon them.

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 with quite critical remarks about post-war mass democracy; e.g. he strongly opposed the new right to vote for women.

Bryce received numerous academic honors from home and foreign universities. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1894. His Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901) and Studies in Contemporary Biography (1903) were republications of essays. 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. He was also President of the British Academy from 1913 to 1917.

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