Edward Miall: Obituary

The Bradford Observer, Saturday April 30th 1881

It is with deep regret we announce the death of Mr Edward Miall, formerly M. P. for Bradford. The sad event occurred at Greystone Lodge, Sevenoaks last night, Mr Miall passing away as in a sleep, having shown no signs of consciousness for several hours previously. For some time back Mr Miall's health had been failing, but at the beginning of the present week he became much more feeble, and symptoms set in which raised the alarm of his friends and relatives. He rapidly grew worse, and on Thursday became so prostrate that his recovery was considered hopeless. All day yesterday his weakness continued to increase, and in the early part of the evening he died.

Edward Miall's death robs contemporary politico-religious history of one of its most prominent names. For forty years, through good and evil report, often in the face of the bitterest detraction, he has been the consistent champion of religious liberty, and by pen and speech has done noble work for this great cause. Essentially a man of strong convictions, with eager yearnings after right and justice, he saw in the connection between Church and State a condition of things which seemed to him to call loudly for remedy, and he set himself to advocate the removal of that ecclesiastical grievance with an earnestness of purpose, a self-denial and a devotion which have rarely been equalled in modern times. The part he played was often a most thankless one, but he never allowed his spirit to flag, and never swerves from the principles he set forth. Gifted with a power of expression which enabled him to present his thoughts in a terse and biting form, and moved always by a strong feeling of injustice, he frequently gave utterance to words which aroused the deepest resentment in his opponents; still, those with whom he laboured, and those with whom he associated both in his public and his private career, will willingly bear testimony to the kindness of heart and sincerity which characterised his existence. His battle was with a wrong and not, as was sometimes unjustly urged against him, with a sect. In his connection with Bradford he experienced much of the consolation which springs from a recognition and appreciation of honest, untiring, long-continued effort, and not a little of the asperity and enmity which those who differed from him showered upon him so unsparingly. A glance at his life history, however, will show that he was a man whom friend and foe can regard with respect and admiration.

Mr Miall was born at Portsmouth on the 8th of May 1809. He was the son of Moses Miall, of the town by Sarah, daughter of George Rolph, of Billericay, Essex. He was educated for the ministry at the Protestant Dissenters' College at Wymondley, Herts, after which he accepted the charge of the Independent Chapel at Ware, officiating there for three years. Subsequently he moved to Leicester, and while there conceived the idea of starting a paper whose main object should be the advocacy of civil and religious liberty and equality. Full of this new idea, in 1841 he left Leicester for London and established the Nonconformist, of which journal he was proprietor and editor continuously down to few years ago. It was soon seen that this paper was directed by no ordinary hand. The Nonconformists took it up warmly, and it was felt that a new journalistic power had been added to current literature of the country. Mr Miall's name shortly came into great prominence by reason of his fearless advocacy of his cause, both in his journal and by means of separate publications. In 1845 he published his ' Views on the Voluntary Principle' and in the same year, on the death of Mr Benjamin Wood, one of the Liberal members for Southwark, Mr Miall was induced to appear as a Parliamentary candidate. Sir William Molesworth, a Radical of old standing, was before him in the field, and the Conservatives brought forward a Mr Jeremiah Pincher, who was well known in the borough, he and his family having engaged in mercantile pursuits for more than a century, and he also being a sheriff of London and Middlesex. These were two formidable opponents to the new aspirant. Mr Miall, in his address, stated that he came forward as an uncompromising opponent of Church and State connection, and declared himself in favour of the extension of the franchise to males twenty-one years of age, of the ballot of annual Parliaments, of payment to members, of no property qualifications, and of equal electoral districts. The Maynooth question was, however, then the topic of the day, and on this there was a fierce contention between Mr Miall and Sir William Molesworth. Mr Miall asked whether the right hon. Baronet was a proper man to take back to the House of Commons the indignant remonstrance of the people against the insolent defiance of the Legislature. The Nonconformists of the borough did not go altogether with Mr Miall on this point; and at one of Sir William Molesworth's meetings Mr Aldis, a Baptist minister who avowed himself a personal friend of Mr Miall, said he though, if he thought it possible to send to Parliament a man exactly representing his own opinions, he would vote for Mr Miall, he had to consider not only what was desirable but what was attainable, and feeling that if he voted for Mr Miall he would subtract from Sir Wm. Molesworth's majority, and if he abstained from voting he would be promoting the interests of the Tory candidate, he thought it was his duty to support Sir Wm. Molesworth. A good deal of personal feeling was manifest during the progress of the contest. Sir Wm. Molesworth speaking sneeringly of Mr Miall as the 'reverend'. Mr Miall retorted the next evening with the remark that it was perhaps not a worse preparation for the business of law-making to have been engaged for some years in preaching the Gospel of truth and peace than to have been engaged in editing the works of the infidel Hobbes. Sir William followed this up with further pleasantry asking ' that most learned Theban' whether he had ever read the works of Hobbes and challenging him to point out a single infidel passage in them. Without charging Mr Miall with gross and wilful falsehood, he would charge that would-be and pretend advocate of civil and religious liberty with ignorance and with worse negligence in accusing him for electioneering purposes of editing an infidel work. The contest thus assumed the character of a theological controversy, and even upon the hustings at the nomination, Sir William severely attacked Mr Miall for his reference to the editorship of Hobbes, when Mr Miall again replied he would not have made it but for the sneering application of the word 'reverend' to him. Mr Miall had very little chance however, for the show of hands was in favour of Sir Wm. Molesworth, and on the day of the poll the right hon. baronet secured 1943 votes, Mr Pilsher 1182 while Mr Miall polled no more than 352. Two years later the Radicals of Halifax requested Mr Miall to allow himself to be brought forward as their candidate, and the general election of that year he contested that borough. Sir Charles Wood and Mr Protheroe were the sitting members and it was thought until Mr Miall entered the field that there would be no opposition. But not only were the sitting members opposed by Mr Miall, but Mr Ernest Jones, the Chartist and Mr (now Sir Henry) Edwards, offered themselves: there being thus five candidates. Before the day of election Mr Protheroe retired: the remaining four went to the poll. The late Sir Francis Cromley proposed Mr Miall, and that gentleman and Mr Ernest Jones had the show of hand s in their favour. On that occasion Mr Miall declared himself the advocate of Disestablishment, universal suffrage, Free-trade, direct taxation, non-intervention with the affairs of other nations, and the abolition of capital punishment. Sir Charles Wood and Mr Edwards were the successful candidates, the polling giving the following results: - Sir Charles Wood 511 votes, Mr Edwards 507, Mr Miall 348, Mr Jones 280. It was not until the general election of July 1852, that Mr Miall presented himself as a candidate for Parliamentary honours, at which period he was accepted as the candidate of the Liberal party for Rochdale. His opponent was Captain Alex. Ramsay, who, however, had little chance, for on the day of the election Mr Miall was returned by a majority of 520 votes to 375. Mr Miall continued to represent Rochdale down to the dissolution of Parliament in March 1857, and did good work for his party in the House during that period. The Palmerston Cabinet was defeated by Mr Cobden's resolution concerning the Chinese question, and Mr Miall was one of the forty-eight Liberal members who on that occasion voted against the Government. Mr Miall offered himself for re-election at Rochdale, and his former opponent Captain, now Sir Alex. Ramsay was brought forward by the Conservatives, On the day of nomination Mr Miall carried the show of hands, but on the polling day Sir Alexander was returned by a majority of 532 to 488. In August of the same year, Mr Miall was again before the public as a Parliamentary candidate, this time at Tavistock, one of the Liberal members for the borough, the Hon. George H. C. Byng having resigned his seat. The Duke of Bedford's interest was strong in Tavistock, and his Grace's nephew, Mr Arthur Russell, was brought into the field with a very liberal programme, in opposition to Mr Miall. At the nomination Mr Miall secured the show of hands, but he was unsuccessful at the poll, Mr Russell gaining 164 votes to Mr Miall's 120.

We now come to the year 1861, at which time Mr Miall's connection with Bradford may be said to have commenced. On the 21st of June of that year the late Sir Titus Salt resigned his seat for Bradford, and the Liberals of the borough were in want of a candidate. Mr Miall's name was brought forward at a meeting of the Liberal Committee, along with the names of Mr Priestman, Mr Edward Ackroyd and Mr Forster. Being unwilling to divide the Liberal party, Mr Miall on that occasion declined to stand, Mr Ackroyd and Mr Priestman also withdrawing their names, Mr Forster was left in sole possession of the field, and was returned unopposed on the 11th February. Mr Miall had many friends in Bradford, however, who did not allow his name to overlooked, and at the next general election, in July 1865, Mr Miall was formally proposed at a meeting of the Liberal electors at St George's Hall. A resolution had been proposed in favour of the election of Messrs. Wickham and Forster, but to this Mr B. Wainwright moved, and Mr John Haley seconded an amendment inviting Mr Miall to stand. Our present junior member, Mr Alfred Illingworth, on that occasion made a speech in support of Mr Miall's qualifications for the position and Robert Kell and others spoke in a similar strain. But the Liberal leaders were unwilling to divide the party, and advised the withdrawal of Mr Miall's name - a course which was adopted. Thus matters continued until the year 1867, when Mr Henry W. Wickham, who had represented the borough from 1852 died. There was nothing now to prevent the Bradford Liberals from adopting Mr Miall as their candidate. A meeting of Liberal Electors was held in the Theatre Royal, when the names of Mr M. W. Thompson, Mr H. W. Ripley, Mr Miall and Mr J. V. Godwin were put to the meeting. Mr Miall's name was received with loud cheers, and the show of hands at the meeting was greatly in favour of the gentleman. Alderman Law, who was the chairman of the meeting, declared to the best of his knowledge and belief Mr Ripley had the smallest number of hands held up for him. The votes were then taken on the other three candidates, when Mr Thompson was declared to be in the minority, and his name was accordingly struck out. The chairman then submitted the names of Mr Miall and Mr Godwin, and after a show of hands, Alderman Law said: ' I have no hesitation whatever in saying that the decided and overwhelming opinion of this meeting is that Mr Miall is a fit and proper person to represent the borough of Bradford in Parliament.'

In the address that he subsequently issued to the electors, Mr Miall said: 'I am no political novice. The best portion of my life, extending over a period of thirty years, has been devoted to the study of problems involving the well-being of my countrymen, and to active efforts for their social, political, moral, and religious progress. The views I have long and zealously laboured to commend to their judgement are at length obtaining the recognition of the public, and I, who never flinched from abiding by them when nothing was to be gained but obloquy and contempt, am now claiming the credit of sincerity in declaring my undiminished confidence in their justice and ultimate success. We are verging towards the closing of one political epoch, we are just about entering upon another. My political principles, while they did not forbid my taking my full share of interest and activity in the past , ally me more closely to the future. I qualified myself for joining in the work of harvest by doing to the best of my ability the deeds of seed time.'

Notwithstanding the decision of this meeting Mr Thompson and Mr Ripley placed their names at the disposal of their friends, and there were thus three candidates for the vacant seat. The contest was a very fierce one, personal feeling being freely imported into it. It was soon evident, however, that Mr Ripley had very little chance, and he was prevailed upon to retire before the day of nomination. Mr Thompson, who was at the time abroad, issued a programme admirably suited to catch the moderate Liberals, and most was made of Mr Miall's attitude towards the Establishment, by of depreciating his claim to the votes of the electors. At the nomination the show of hands was declared to be in favour of Mr Thompson, although this ruling was challenged by Mr Miall's friends. On the day of the poll Mr Miall led for the first two hours, but after this Mr Thompson got to the front position and kept it to the end, being returned by2210 votes to Mr Miall's 1807. Within twelve months of that time Mr Miall was again a candidate for the representation of Bradford, having received a requisition bearing the signatures of 7531 householders of Bradford, 'either in possession of or legally entitled to the elective franchise.' This requisition was publicly presented to him, and in response to it he issued his address on the eve of the general election.

The Liberal party now united in supporting Messrs Forster and Miall, while the moderate party gave their support to Mr Ripley, Mr Thompson declining to again present himself. The contest was one of the hottest ever known in the borough. The campaign was carried on with excessive vigour on both sides for the long period of three months, during which time meeting after meeting was held, and the work of canvassing was pushed forward with great earnestness. On the day of the nomination the show of hands was in favour of Messrs Forster and Miall. Mr Ripley demanded a poll, and on the day of election the greatest excitement prevailed, the hourly returns being watched for with great eagerness by enthusiastic crowds. Mr Ripley headed the poll until half-past ten, when Mr Forster gained a slight advantage. At noon the figures stood thus: - Forster, 7291; Miall, 6884; Ripley, 6818. During the 'dinner hour', however, there was a great influx of working class supporters of Mr Ripley at the polling booths, and Mr Ripley was then seen to be in second position. From that time to the close of the poll he continued to distance Mr Miall, and the official declaration gave the following as the result: - Forster, 9645; Ripley, 9347; Miall, 8768. The Liberal party were much dissatisfied with the defeat of Mr Miall, which, from evidence that was afforded them from all parts of the borough, they concluded had been brought about by unfair means. Prompted by the evidence thus obtained, the Liberals presented a petition against Mr Ripley, in retaliation Mr Ripley's friends presented one against Mr Forster. These petitions came on for hearing at the Court-house in Hall Ings, before Mr Baron Martin, when Mr Ripley was unseated, the petition against Mr Forster falling to the ground. Thus, within three months of the time of his second rejection by the electors of Bradford, Mr Miall found himself again the nominee of the Liberal party in the borough. Mr Ripley's friends prevailed upon Mr Thompson to come forward again, in opposition to Mr Miall.

On this occasion Mr Miall declined to do more than allow his name to be brought forward. He neither visited the town during the contest nor issued an address. In place of the usual electoral appeal, an address was issued signed by Sir Titus Salt, chairman of Mr Miall's committee, and by Messrs Henry Brown, J. V. Godwin, Robert Kell, and James Law, vice-chairman, in which Mr Miall's claims were urged upon the constituency with much force. It was added that 'remembering the ungenerous treatment of Mr Miall at the two former elections, it was thought best not to bring the gentleman into the contest.' The champion of the Liberationists now turned the tables upon Mr Thompson, being elected by a large majority in his absence as Mr Thompson had been in 1867. From the first hour of the poll there was no doubt as to the result. By half- past nine Mr Miall was 1500 in advance of his opponent, and over 1700 in advance at 10 o'clock. He kept the lead until the end: and at the close of the poll there were registered in his favour 9243 votes, as against 7806 given for Mr Thompson, showing a majority of 1437. The return of Mr Miall was regarded throughout the country as a substantial victory on behalf of the advocates of Disestablishment, and his return to the House of Commons after an absence of twelve years, was hailed with much enthusiasm by the Liberal press of the country. He was introduced to the house by Mr Forster and Mr Henry Richard, and was loudly cheered by the members on the Liberal Benches as he walked up the floor of the House. In the following May his return to Parliament was celebrated by a public breakfast, at which Mr Henry Richard MP presided, and at which Liberal representatives were present from all parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr Gladstone's Irish Church Bill was now before the house, and Mr Miall's first speech on his return to Parliamentary affairs was made on the occasion of the second reading of that bill. He spoke warmly in favour of the measure, praising it for 'its majestic simplicity,' and declaring that in it Mr Gladstone had 'more than redeemed his pledge, and had inaugurated the heroic age of British statesmanship.' In the session of 1870, however, he found it necessary to cross swords with Mr Gladstone on Mr Forster's Education Bill. At the annual breakfast of the Liberation Society that year, Mr Miall went into the (The next few words are illegible.) at great length and spoke in strong condemnation of it. It was then that the cry against the 25th Clause of the Education Bill was raised - a cry that was subsequently echoed in all parts of the kingdom, and did much to separate Mr Forster from the vanguard of his party. Mr Miall spoke with emphasis on this subject in the House of Commons, as well as outside, and it was in answer to an unusually fierce denunciation of a measure by Mr Miall that Mr Gladstone retorted upon him with these strong words; ' W are thankful to have the independent and honourable support of my hon. Friend, but that support ceases to be of value when accompanied by reproaches. I hope my hon. Friend will not continue to support the government one moment longer than he deems it consistent with his sense of duty and right. For God's sake, sir, let him withdraw it the moment he thinks it better for the cause which he has at heart that he should do so!' But Mr Miall was not to be deterred from giving expression to his convictions and he and his friends continued their opposition to the 25th Clause until it was modified by a subsequent enactment.

In the session of 1871 Mr Miall brought forward his motion in the House of Commons declaring that it was expedient at the earliest practicable period to apply the policy initiated by the disestablishment of the Irish Church by the Act of 1869 to the other churches established by law in the United Kingdom, and in able speech in support of that motion he argued that the connection between Church and State was of benefit to neither. The motion was seconded by Mr J. D. Lewis. The Government opposed the motion, while complementing Mr Miall on the manner in which he had dealt with the question. Mr Gladstone argued that the people of England neither willing nor desirous of disestablishing the Church in this country, and asked if Mr Miall had thought of the vastness of the work he had undertaken, arising from the way in which the Establishment was connected with every institution in the country. The motion was rejected by 374 to 89. In the following session - 1872 - Mr Miall did not repeat his motion, but endeavoured to promote his cause by moving an address to Her Majesty, praying for a Royal Commission to ascertain full and accurate particulars of the origin, nature, amount, and application of an property and revenues appropriated to the use of the Church of England. Mr Leatham seconded the motion, and Mr Thomas Hughes moved as an amendment to omit the words ' the Church of England' and insert ' any ecclesiastical purposes,' and to instruct the Commission to consider the question of rearrangement of benefices and the amendment of laws relating to patronage. On the part of the Government, Mr Gladstone opposed both the motion and the amendment, contending that no case had been made out for inquiry. Mr Miall's motion was defeated by 295 to 94, and Mr Hughes's amendment by 270 to 41. In 1873 Mr Miall, undaunted by past defeats, repeated his Disestablishment motion, proposing on the 10th May, an amendment to the motion for going into Committee of Supply, in the following terms: - ' That the establishment by law of the Churches of England and Scotland involves a violation of religious equality, deprives those churches of the right of self-government, imposes on Parliament duties which it is not qualified to discharge, and, therefore, ought no longer to be maintained.' The motion was seconded by Mr McLaren. Mr Gladstone again met Mr Miall with opposition, remarking that the Government were not prepared to adopt the propositions advanced, believing, as they did, that they were opposed to the wishes of the people, and contending that the cases of the Irish Church and the English church were not analogous. The defeat Mr Miall suffered this time was more overwhelming than ever: - his motion was rejected by 351 votes to 61. Since that time no Disestablishment proposition has been submitted to Parliament: not that there has been any lack of earnestness on the part of Mr Miall and his colleagues of the Liberation Society, but simply because the advocates of Disestablishment saw that time had not arrived for the practical solution of the difficulty. Mr Miall continued to represent Bradford down to the dissolution of 1874, when, owing to the unsatisfactory condition of his health, he determined to retire altogether from Parliamentary life. Shortly before the dissolution he wrote to Sir Titus Salt , the president of the Liberal Registration Society, stating that his strength was such as to preclude all expectation of his again being able to encounter the excitement and fatigue of a Bradford electoral contest. Much regret was felt amongst the Liberals of the borough at this announcement, and a resolution was passed at a Liberal meeting asking Mr Miall to suspend for a while his determination, in the hope that his strength would improve; but Mr Miall could not be induced to withdraw his letter of resignation, and, when dissolution came he issued his farewell address to the constituency. He acknowledge with gratitude the resolution which had been passed requesting him to suspend his determination to, but was grieved to say that he was still physically unequal to the requisite exertion, and thought it was imperative on him not to attempt it. He added, 'I take leave of you with feelings of regret I find it impossible adequately to express,' and he concluded by saying, 'I trust I may retain your good opinion to the end of my days; and I am sure that, under any circumstances, I shall gratefully and affectionately cherish the remembrance of the relation in which I have stood to so intelligent, influential, and warm-hearted constituency.' At a large and enthusiastic meeting of representative Liberals convened at this juncture the following resolution was passed: - ' That this meeting has heard with deep and sincere regret of the determination of Mr Miall not to allow himself to be again proposed as a Liberal candidate for this borough, and wishes to place on record its sense of gratitude for the fidelity and zeal with which he has served Bradford during the late Parliament, and also its affection for him for his devotion to the best and purest interest of this great empire. This meeting would also further express the hope that the physical weakness which has temporarily laid him aside may be speedily removed, and that his great ability may be still available for furtherance of the cause of civil and religious liberty.' With this expression of affection and esteem the political connection between Mr Miall and the borough of Bradford was brought to a termination.

Before Mr Miall relinquished Parliamentary life, however, he had paid to him such a substantial tribute of gratitude on the part of the Nonconformists of England as few men experienced On the 18th of July, 1873, at the Crystal Palace, he was entertained at a luncheon, and presented by Mr Robert Kell, on behalf of his friends and admirers by whom the presentation was made, with a sum of 10000, as a token of appreciation of his labours as editor of the Nonconformist, and as the representative in Parliament of the principle of religious equality.

Not long after his retirement from Parliament he relinquished the duties of editing the Nonconformist, being succeeded in this post by his son Mr Arthur Miall.

Mr Miall from first to last steadfastly advocated the principles of religious toleration and equality, and, in addition to the great labour which is represented by able and fearless writing for nearly thirty years in the journal which he established and carried on with such singleness of purpose, he has published many works which may be considered text-books on the important subjects of which they treat. As already mentioned, he published, 1n 1846, 'Views of the Voluntary Principle.' This was followed in 1848, by 'The Nonconformists' Sketch Book' and 'Ethics of Nonconformity.' In 1849 he gave the world his work on ' The British Churches in relation to the British People;' in 1853, 'Bases of Belief;' in 1861, 'Title Deeds of the Church of England to her Parochial Endowments;' in 1863, ' Politics of Christianity;' and in 1865, ' An Editor off the Line; or, Wayside Musings and Reminiscences.'

In everything that he undertook, Mr Miall displayed a manly firmness, and strict honesty of purpose. His life history is in a large measure the history of the movement, which he espoused, and all that is achieved hereafter in the direction of religious equality will have been sensibly hastened by his endeavour. The Liberals of Bradford will hear of his decease with deep regret, for, although he has not for some years been associated with them in their political battles, the memory of what he accomplished and endured during his connection with the town is still fresh in their memory, and recalls a period of local history of which good Liberals will always be proud.


I am grateful to Tom Tucker, who provided this document and allowed me to place it on this website.


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Document prepared July 21st 2001