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O'Brien, James Bronterre

O'Brien, James Bronterre was born in February 1804 in Granard, County Longford, near Dublin. His father's wine and spirit business soon failed, but young Bronterre escaped from poverty through the avenue of education. He graduated in 1825 with honours after a distinguished career at Trinity College, Dublin, and studied law at King's Inn in Dublin. Again graduating with honours in 1829, he proceeded to further study at Gray's Inn in London.

Despite his legal training, O'Brien entered the field of journalism and served as editor of the Midland Representative and Birmingham Herald, a radical weekly, and the Poor Man's Guardian, before establishing his Bronterre's National Reformer in 1836. In all of these journals, as well as the Northern Star, he showed himself a staunch supporter of radical causes, including Chartism.

One of the most charismatic and popular of the Chartist leaders, O'Brien was viewed by the government as one of the most dangerous among the Chartist leadership and was imprisoned from April 1840 to September 1841. He was long considered an advocate of "physical force" within the Chartist movement, but he quarrelled with the militant leader, Feargus O'Connor, over the latter's Land Plan. In the end, O'Brien renounced the strategy of direct action and refused to participate in the great Chartist rally of April 1848. Nevertheless, he continued to advocate and press for a variety of political and social reforms. Generally considered the keenest intellect involved in the Chartist movement, O'Brien left an indelible imprint on British Labour and socialist movements in the late Victorian age. In 1850, he helped found the socialist National Reform League and carried on his work until his death on 23 December 1864.

Keith A.P. Sandiford


Cole, G.D.H. Chartist Portraits (New York, 1965).

Gammage, R.G. History of the Chartist Movement, 1837-1854 (London, 1894).

Gwynne, D. Young Ireland and 1848 (Cork, 1949).

Maehl , W.H. "James (Bronterre) O'Brien (1804-1864)", Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals (Brighton, 1984), II, 375-83.

McCaffrey, L.J. Daniel O'Connell and the Repeal Year (Lexington, 1966).

Nowlan, K.P. The Politics of Repeal (Lexington, 1965).

Plummer, A. Bronterre: A Political Biography of Bronterre O'Brien, 1804-1864 (Toronto, 1971).

Slosson, P.W. The Decline of the Chartist Movement (New York, 1916, r eprinted 1991).

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