Biography

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Henry Brougham, First Baron Brougham and Vaux

Henry Brougham was born on 19 September 1778 in Edinburgh. He was the son of Henry and Eleanora Brougham; the family owned land in Westmorland. At the age of 14, Brougham went to Edinburgh University to study science and maths; whilst there, he presented a paper called Experiments and Observations of the Inflection, Reflection and Colours of Light to the Royal Society. However, in 1800 he changed the direction of his studies and joined the Law School. Subsequently he practiced at the Scots Bar for three years. In 1802 he became a founder of the Edinburgh Review, a Whig periodical, to which he contributed a large number of articles. The Edinburgh Review was one of the most influential political publications of the 19th century and was used by Lord John Russell to publish his Edinburgh Letter in 1845. Brougham developed radical political opinions whilst he was a student and he became interested in the issue of social reform.

In 1803 Brougham decided to move to London where he thought he may obtain promotion in the legal profession. There he became friends with a group of radicals who included Lord Byron and Charles Lamb. In his early political activities and in his book Colonial Policy of European Powers (1803), he attacked the slave trade and became associated with the left wing of the Whig Party. In 1807 Brougham was given the task of organising the Whig press campaign in the 1807 General Election. He was called to the English Bar in 1808 and developed a reputation as a lawyer with progressive views. This brought him to the attention of the leaders of the Whig party. However, they were apprehensive of his strong individualism and waited until 1810 before arranging his election to the House of Commons. In 1810 the Duke of Bedford offered Brougham the parliamentary seat of Camelford, a rotten borough. Despite advocating parliamentary reform, which would abolish this type of seat, Brougham accepted the seat in order to enter the House of Commons.

Brougham established himself as one of the leading radicals in Parliament. He joined the ongoing campaign against slavery and in 1810 played an important role in making participation in the slave trade a felony. However, the Duke of Bedford had financial problems and had to sell Camelford in 1812 so Brougham had to find another seat in the next election. He decided to stand as the Whig candidate in Liverpool, which was one of the main centres of the British slave trade. Brougham was defeated by the George Canning a Tory, and was without a seat in the House of Commons for the next four years.

He continued to work as a lawyer and in August 1812 he defended thirty-eight handloom weavers who had been arrested in Manchester for trying to form a trade union. As a result of Brougham's defence, all thirty-eight were acquitted. In 1815 Lord Darlington offered Brougham the vacant seat of Winchelsea . another rotten borough. Brougham accepted and in 1813 returned to parliament. He became the leading spokesmen for the radicals, blaming Liverpool's government and Manchester's local magistrates for the 1819 Peterloo Massacre. He also spoke out against the prison sentences imposed on Henry Hunt, Samuel Bamford and the other organisers of the meeting at St. Peter's Field. Brougham also served as legal adviser to Princess Caroline, whom he and Thomas Denman successfully defended in an annulment action initiated in 1820 by George IV.

Brougham was actively involved in educational reform. He supported the Ragged Schools Union, Mechanics Institutes and the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, which was intended to make good books available at low prices to the working class.. Brougham's ideas on state-funded education were unpopular and the education bills that he introduced to Parliament in 1820, 1835, 1837, 1838 and 1839 were all defeated. He helped to found the non-denominational University of London, which opened in 1828.

In 1830 Brougham was given a peerage and became Lord Chancellor in Lord Grey's new Whig government from 22 November 1830 until 11 November 1834, serving both Grey and Melbourne. Brougham was responsible for the establishment of the central criminal court in London and the judicial committee of the Privy Council. He speeded up equity proceedings and inspired later legislation for a county court system. Brougham played an important role in persuading the House of Lords to pass the 1832 Reform Act; also he was one of the driving forces behind the passing of the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833.

The Whigs lost office to Sir Robert Peel in December 1834 but in April 1835, Lord Melbourne took office once more. Melbourne thought that Brougham's views were too radical, so he was not given any office in the new ministry. However, Brougham remained committed to further political reform and helped Melbourne's government pass the Municipal Corporations Act in 1835. Brougham also played an important role in the passing of the Married Women's Property Act in 1857. In the 1840s he urged the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Brougham spent much of the last 30 years of his life at Cannes; he was a noted orator, wit, man of fashion, and an eccentric. During the 1848 upheaval in France, he tried without success to obtain French citizenship and a seat in the National Assembly. He designed the first four-wheeled carriage intended to be drawn by only one horse (the brougham). Lord Brougham died in Cannes on 7 May 1868.


See also the Greville Memoirs


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Last modified 5 January, 2011

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