Bryce, James (1838–1922)

Bryce established himself early on as a distinguished scholar with the well-received work The Holy Roman Empire in 1864. He also wrote about his observations of South Africa in his book Impressions of South Africa, written after an 1897 visit. Bryce later became a critic of the harsh British tactics towards Boer civilians during the Boer War between Great Britain and South Africa. His most famous work was The American Commonwealth (1888), which was a comprehensive study of the U.S political system covering the workings of Congress, the presidency, the Supreme Court, state governments, and municipal governments. The American Commonwealth is still highly regarded by American historians and political scientists for its thorough and perceptive examination of the U.S. political system in the late nineteenth century.

Bryce represented the British tradition of engaging in both scholarship and politics. In British politics, Bryce was a member of the Liberal Party. From 1880 to 1906, he served in the House of Commons. From time to time, Bryce held a number of offices in Liberal governments (usually under Prime Minister William Gladstone). These included chairman of the Royal Board of Secondary Education, undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, president of the Board of Trade, and chief secretary for Ireland.

From 1907 to 1913, Bryce served as an ambassador to the United States. Bryce helped to solidify the already intimate ties between the United States and Great Britain. He established close relationships with a number of American political figures including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

After returning to England, Bryce became a member of the House of Lords and was given the title Viscount Bryce. At the beginning of World War I, Bryce was selected to write a report concerning allegations of German atrocities in Belgium. Known as the Bryce Report, this document, published in 1915, offered compelling evidence of German atrocities in Belgium. Bryce was also outspoken during World War I, criticizing the Ottoman Empire's treatment of Armenians. He condemned the treatment of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide in both his speeches and writings.

After World War I, Bryce served as a member of the International Court at The Hague and campaigned for the creation of the League of Nations. Bryce died in 1922 at the age of 83.

Jason Roberts

See also: Gilded Age ; Historians of Populism ; Progressivism ; Roosevelt, Theodore (1858–1919)


Bryce, James. The American Commonwealth. New York: Macmillan and Company, 1888.

Bryce, James. Modern Democracies. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1921.

Fisher, H. A. L. James Bryce. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927.

Ions, Edmund. James Bryce and the American Democracy. London: Macmillan, 1968.

Seaman, John T. James Bryce: A Citizen of the World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Tulloch, Hugh. James Bryce's American Commonwealth: The Anglo-American Background. Wolfeboro, NH: Boydell Press, 1988.