BRIGHT, John (1811–1889), Radical Liberal politician. ALS to Sir Louis Mallet re trade marks. 1869

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BRIGHT, John (1811–1889), Radical Liberal politician and orator. Autograph letter signed by John Bright to Sir Louis Mallet, 4 sides of a bifolium, 8vo, Board of Trade, Rochdale, September 4th 1869, regarding button manufacturers’ rights ‘The “button” question is sufficiently annoying.  The act can surely only have been intended to interfere with importations which invaded individual rights of names and trade marks. I observe that the ‘opinion’ on which these rules & proceedings are based was given in the year 1843, in the times of acknowledged Protection & I suspect that our present law officers would not be disposed to give a similar opinion.’, commenting with his constituency in mind ‘I should be surprised at the memorials of the Birmingham button manufacrs., did I not know how incapable men usually are of seeing the truth when it seems to run contrary to their own interests’, and saying that the ‘question should again be brought before the Treasury & am I not without hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will reverse the decision of those who have gone before him.’ He also raises ‘the Portuguese Mine question’ saying he understands that ‘Lord Clarendon has already sent a reply both to Spain & Portugal, but one rather of postponement than of a final character.  The whole subject will necessarily come up for discussion when the Budget is under consideration.’ An interesting letter written during Bright’s brief cabinet position as President of the Board of Trade.

The subject of trade marks in the mid-19th century was fiercely debated as there were no coherent trade mark laws, resulting in many abuses of manufacturers’ rights and many legal challenges. The Merchandise Marks Act 1862 improved matters to only a limited extent, and lobbying for a registration system led to a Bill being introduced in May 1869 by John Bright, only to be withdrawn in July. An Act was eventually passed in 1875 successfully establishing a registration system for trade marks.

John Bright was born into a Quaker family at Green Bank, Rochdale, Lancashire, in 1811, the second son of Jacob Bright (1775–1851) and Martha Bright, née Wood (1788/9–1830). A skilled orator, Bright became MP for Durham in 1843, and made an immediate impact in parliament, working closely with Richard Cobden with whom he founded the Ant-Corn Law League. He was a strong advocate of many reform issues, including parliamentary reform, and went on to serve as MP for Manchester (1847-1857), then Birmingham from 1858 until his death in 1889. In 1868 Gladstone offered him the cabinet position as President of the Board of Trade, but he had to resign by December 1870 through ill health. He served twice again in Gladstone cabinets as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1873–74 and 1880–82).

Bright’s correspondent Sir Louis Mallet (1823 –1890) was a civil servant and economist who was a strong advocate of free trade. After eight years in the Audit Office he transferred in 1847 to the Board of Trade where he became private secretary to the President of the Board. An assistant commissioner under Richard Cobden in 1860, he became an enthusiastic proponent of Cobden's ideas and was launched into diplomatic work, resulting in some sixty commercial treaties in Europe. Cobden's death in 1865 left him the principal authority on commercial policy, and the chief official representative of free-trade opinion. (ODNB)

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