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Henry Brougham

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Henry Brougham (1778 - 1868) was a leading radical politician of the 19th century, who became Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom.

Henry Peter Brougham was born on 19 September 1778 in Edinburgh, the son of Henry and Eleanora Brougham. At the age of 14, he entered Edinburgh University to study science and mathematics, and while a student, he presented a paper on Experiments and Observations of the Inflection, Reflection and Colours of Light to the Royal Society. However, in 1800 he joined the Law School, and 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, and which became one of the most influential political publications of the 19th century. His anonymous essays in the Edinburgh Review included two vituperative attacks on Thomas Young for his wave theory of light. At the age of only 25 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

As a student, Brougham became interested in social reform. In 1803, he moved to London where he became friends with a group of radicals including Lord Byron and Charles Lamb. In his book Colonial Policy of European Powers (1803) he attacked the slave trade and he became associated with the left wing of the Whig Party. In 1807 he was given the task of organising the Whig press campaign for the 1807 General Election.

Brougham was called to the English Bar in 1808 and developed a reputation as a lawyer with progressive views, and in 1810 the Whig party arranged his election to the House of Commons as member for the parliamentary seat of Camelford, a rotten borough.

Brougham established himself as one of the leading radicals in Parliament, and in 1810 played an important role in making participation in the slave trade a felony. In 1812 he stood as the Whig candidate for Parliament in Liverpool, one of the main centres of the British slave trade. He 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. In 1812, he successfully defended thirty-eight handloom weavers who had been arrested in Manchester for trying to form a trade union; all thirty-eight were acquitted. In 1815 he was offered the vacant Parliamentary seat of Winchelsea, another rotten borough, and in 1813 he returned to parliament. He became a leading radical, blaming Liverpool's government and Manchester's local magistrates for the 1819 Peterloo Massacre.

Brougham was also active in educational reform. He supported the Ragged Schools Union and the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, which was intended to make good books available affordable for the working class. His views on state-funded education were however unpopular and the education bills that he presented to Parliament between 1820 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 Whig government between 1830 and 1834. He was responsible for the establishment of the central criminal court in London and the judicial committee of the Privy Council, he helped persuade the House of Lords to pass the 1832 Reform Act; and he was a driving force behind the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833.

Brougham spent most of the last 30 years of his life at Cannes. 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). He died in Cannes on 7 May 1868.