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James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, OM, GCVO, PC, FRS, FBA was born on 10th May 1838 in Arthur Street, Belfast, County Antrim
His early years were idyllically spent at his grandfather's Whiteabbey residence. His uncle, Reuben John Bryce, was his educator at the Belfast Academy, then followed stints at Glasgow High School, the University of Glasgow, the University of Heidelberg and Trinity College, Oxford. His days as a student at the University of Heidelberg ensured a life-long admiration of German historical and legal scholarship. For him, the United States, the British Empire and Germany were ‘natural friends’.
Bryce was called to the Bar, Lincoln's Inn, London in 1867 and practised for several years but returned to Oxford as 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 for his book on the Holy Roman Empire.
Bryce, an ardent Liberal in politics, was, in 1880, elected to parliament for the Tower Hamlets seat in London. In 1885, he was was elected for South Aberdeen and subsequent elections until 1907.
Bryce's intellectual prowess and political energies made him a notable member of the Liberal Party. As early as the late 1860s, he acted as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Secondary Education.
In 1882, Bryce established the National Liberal Club, whose early members included fellow founder Prime Minister Gladstone, George Bernard Shaw, David Lloyd George, H. H. Asquith and other prominent candidates and MP's such as Winston Churchill and Bertrand Russell.
In 1885, he was made Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under William Ewart Gladstone. In 1892, he joined Gladstone's last cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and also concurrently joined the Privy Council.
In 1894, he became President of the Board of Trade in Lord Rosebery’s cabinet, but the next year the Government fell. The Liberals were to remain out of office for the next decade.
In 1897, after a visit to South Africa, Bryce published a volume discussing the Second Boer War. In it he made known his harsh criticism of the British repressive policy against Boer civilians.
Bryce became Chief Secretary for Ireland in Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet in 1905. Even so he continued to remain critical of domestic Government reforms, such as old-age pensions, the Trade Disputes Act, and the ‘People's Budget,’ which he thought of as concessions to socialism.
In February 1907, he was appointed British Ambassador to the United States of America. He kept this diplomatic office until 1913 and helped to strengthen the Anglo-American friendship.
After retiring as ambassador and on his return home he became Viscount Bryce, of Dechmount in the County of Lanark, in 1914. Ironically he was now a member of the House of Lords whose powers had been so diminished by the Liberal Parliamentary Reform Act of 1911.
Following the outbreak of World War I Bryce was commissioned by Prime Minister Asquith to compile the official Bryce Report on German atrocities in Belgium. The report, published in 1915, was damning against German behaviour against civilians.
During the last years of his life, Bryce served at the International Court at The Hague and supported the establishment of the League of Nations. In 1921 he published the well-received ‘Modern Democracy’ in 1921.
James Bryce died on January 22nd 1922.
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