John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn, OM, PC (1838 – 1923) was a British Liberal statesman, writer and newspaper editor.
He was born in Blackburn. Morley was educated at Cheltenham College, University College School and Lincoln College, Oxford. He quarrelled with his father over religion, and had to leave Oxford early without an honours degree; his father had wanted him to become a clergyman. He wrote, in obvious allusion to this rift, in On Compromise (1874).
He was called to the bar before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. He was the editor of the Fortnightly Review from 1867 to 1882 and of the Pall Mall Gazette from 1880–83 before going into politics.
Elected as a Liberal MP for Newcastle, he was a prominent Gladstonian Liberal. In 1885 he was made Chief Secretary for Ireland, only to be turned out when Gladstone's government fell over Home Rule and Lord Salisbury became Prime Minister.
After the severe defeat of the Gladstonian party at the general election of 1886, Morley divided his life between politics and letters until Gladstone's return to power in 1892, when he resumed his former office. In the election of 1895 he lost his seat, but soon found another in Scotland, for the Montrose Burghs. He had during the interval taken a leading part in parliament, but his tenure of the chief secretaryship of Ireland was hardly a success. The Irish gentry made things as difficult for him as possible, and the path of an avowed Home Ruler installed in office at Dublin Castle was beset with pitfalls. In the intestine disputes which agitated the Liberal party during Lord Rosebery's administration, and afterwards, Morley sided with Sir William Harcourt, and was the recipient and practically co-signatory of his letter resigning the Liberal leadership in December 1898.
Morley's activities again turned to literature, his anti-Imperial views being practically swamped by the overwhelming predominance of Unionism and Imperialism. His occasional speeches, however, denouncing the Government policy towards the Boers and towards the war, though not representing the popular side, always elicited a respectful hearing, if only for the eloquence of their language. As a man of letters his work was practically concluded at this period, and may briefly be characterized. His position as a leading English writer had early been determined by his monographs on Voltaire (1872), Rousseau (1873), Diderot and the Encyclopaedists (1878), Burke (1879), and Walpole (1889). Burke as the champion of sound policy in America and of justice in India, Walpole as the pacific minister understanding the true interests of his country, fired his imagination. His Life of Oliver Cromwell (1900) revises Gardiner as Gardiner revised Carlyle. The Life of Cobden (1881) is an able defence of that statesman's views rather than a critical biography or a real picture of the period. Morley's contributions to political journalism and to literary, ethical and philosophical criticism were numerous and valuable. They show great individuality of character, and recall the personality of John Stuart Mill, with whose mode of thought he had many affinities.
Morley's great speech at Manchester, in 1899 raises him to a special level amongst masters of English rhetoric: "You may make thousands of women widows and thousands of children fatherless. It will be wrong. You may add a new province to your empire. It will still be wrong. You may increase the shares of Mr Rhodes and his Chartereds beyond the dreams of avarice. Yea, and it will still be wrong!"
After the death of Gladstone Morley was principally engaged upon his biography, until it was published in 1903. Representing as it does so competent a writers sifting of a mass of material, the Life of Gladstone was a masterly account of the career of the great Liberal statesman; traces of Liberal bias were inevitable but are rarely manifest; and in spite of the a priori unlikelihood of a full appreciation of Gladstone's powerful religious interests from such a quarter (Morley was an agnostic), the whole treatment is characterized by sympathy and judgment. Among the coronation honors of 1902, Morley was nominated an original member of the new Order of Merit; and in July 1902 he was presented by Carnegie with the late Lord Acton's valuable library, which, on 20 October, he in turn gave to the University of Cambridge.
When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman formed his cabinet at the end of 1905 Morley was made Secretary of State for India. In this position he was conspicuous in May 1907 and afterwards for his firmness in sanctioning extreme measures for dealing with the outbreak in India of alarming symptoms of sedition. Though he was strongly opposed by some of the more extreme members of the Radical party, on the ground of belying his democratic principles in dealing with India, his action was generally recognized as combining statesmanship with patience; and, though uncompromising in his attitude towards revolutionary propaganda, he showed his popular sympathies by appointing two distinguished native Indians to the council, and taking steps for a decentralization of the administrative government. When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman resigned in 1908 and Asquith became prime minister, Morley retained his post in the new cabinet; but it was thought advisable to relieve him of the burden imposed by a seat in the House of Commons, and he was transferred to the upper house, being created a peer with the title of Viscount Morley of Blackburn.
As a member of the House of Lords, Lord Morley helped assure the passage of the Parliament Act of 1911, which eliminated the Lord's power to veto bills. From 1910 until the outbreak of the First World War Morley was Lord President of the Council. Upon Britain's declaration of war on Germany, Morley resigned along with Charles Trevelyan and John Burns.
A philosophical Radical of a somewhat mid-19th century type, and highly suspicious of the later opportunistic reaction (in all its forms) against Cobdenite principles, he yet retained the respect of the majority whom it was his usual fate to find against him in English politics by the indomitable consistency of his principles and by sheer force of character and honesty of conviction and utterance. His legacy was a purely moral one; having not married and having neither brothers nor children, his title became extinct upon his death in 1923.
Morley's estate was probated at 59,765 pounds sterling, a surprising sum for a self made man who devoted his life to writing and politics.