John Morley, the son of a doctor, was born in Blackburn on 24th December, 1838. His father, Jonathan Morley, sent John to Lincoln College, Oxford, with the belief that he intended to become a clergyman. When John changed his mind, his father refused to support him financially and he had to leave university.
Morley decided to become a journalist and managed to find work with the Saturday Review. A follower of John Stuart Mill, Morley found the journal too conservative and in 1866 was offered the post of editor of the Fortnightly Review. Morley published the work of writers of different opinions, but his own articles, revealled him to be an advanced liberal. This included support for universal suffrage and a national education system. Morley was also an agnostic and upset most of his religious readers by spelling God with a small "g".
Morley made several times to enter the House of Commons. This included failures at Preston (1867), Blackburn (1869) and the London seat of Westminster (1880). In May 1880 he was appointed editor of the crusading newspaper, the Pall Mall Gazette. As editor Morley gave staunch support to William Gladstone and his government that had come to power following the 1880 General Election. As well as parliamentary reform, Morley was a staunch supporter of Irish Home Rule. With the help of two political allies, Joseph Chamberlain and Charles Dilke, Morley was given the safe Liberal seat of Newcastle.
After being elected to the House of Commons in 1883, Morley handed over the editorship of the Pall Mall Gazette to his able deputy, William Stead. However, he continued to edit the journal, Macmillans's Magazine, until being appointed by William Gladstone as Irish Secretary in 1885. A post he held until Gladstone was replaced as Prime Minister by the Marquess of Salisbury.
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When William Gladstone became Prime Minister in 1892, he again appointed Morley as his Irish Secretary. However, attempts to persuade Parliament to accept Irish Home Rule ended in failure. In 1899 Morley re-established his credentials as a radical when he became one of the leading opponents of the Boer War.
Morley returned to the government when Henry Cambell-Bannerman became Prime Minister in 1905. He served as Secretary for India under Cambell-Bannerman and his successor, Herbert Asquith. In 1908 Morley was raised to the peerage and as Lord President of the Council played an important role in the reform of the House of Lords. It was Viscount Morley's speech threatening to create as many new peers as was necessary, that finally persuaded the Lords to back-down in its conflict with Asquith's Liberal Government.
Morley was opposed to Britain's involvement in the First World War and along with Charles Trevelyan and John Burns, resigned from the government. The Daily News reported: "Whether men approve of that action (resigning) or not it is a pleasant thing in this dark moment to have this witness to the sense of honour and to the loyalty to conscience which it indicates. We could have wished that the long and honourable public career of Lord Morley had closed in peace. He has played a great and ennobling role in our national life and in losing him we lose a moral force that we can ill spare. He has brought distinction alike to literature and politics and wherever he has moved he has left the impress of an elevated purpose and unsullied character."
In September 1915, Morley's attempts to persuade the Liberal government to accept a negotiated peace with Germany ended in failure.
John Morley died on 23rd September 1923.
Among the many reports which are current as to Ministerial resignations there seems to be little doubt in regard to three. They are those of Lord Morley, Mr. John Burns, and Mr. Charles Trevelyan. There will be widespread sympathy with the action they have taken.
Whether men approve of that action or not it is a pleasant thing in this dark moment to have this witness to the sense of honour and to the loyalty to conscience which it indicates. We could have wished that the long and honourable public career of Lord Morley had closed in peace. He has played a great and ennobling role in our national life and in losing him we lose a moral force that we can ill spare. He has brought distinction alike to literature and politics and wherever he has moved he has left the impress of an elevated purpose and unsullied character.