James Bryce (1838- ), British jurist, historian and politician, son of James Bryce (LL.D. of Glasgow, who had a school in Belfast for many years), was born at Belfast, Ireland, on the 10th of May 1838. After going through the high school and university courses at Glasgow, he went to Trinity College, Oxford, and in 1862 was elected a fellow of Oriel. He went to the bar and practised in London for a few years, but he was soon called back to Oxford as regius professor of civil law (1870-1893). His reputation as a historian had been made as early as 1864 by his Holy Roman Empire. He was an ardent Liberal in politics, and in 1880 he was elected to parliament for the Tower Hamlets division of London; in 1885 he was returned for South Aberdeen, where he was re-elected on succeeding occasions. His intellectual distinction and political industry made him a valuable member of the Liberal party. In 1886 he was made under secretary for foreign affairs; in 1892 he joined the cabinet as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster; in 1894 he was president of the Board of Trade, and acted as chairman of the royal commission on secondary education; and in Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet (1905) he was made chief secretary for Ireland; but in February 1907 he was appointed British ambassador at Washington, and took leave of party politics, his last political act being a speech outlining what was then the government scheme for university reform in Dublin - a scheme which was promptly discarded by his successor Mr Birrell. As a man of letters Mr Bryce was already well known in America. His great work The American Commonwealth (1888; revised edition, 1910) was the first in which the institutions of the United States had been thoroughly discussed from the point of view of a historian and a constitutional lawyer, and it at once became a classic.
His Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901) and Studies in Contemporary Biography (1903) were republications of essays, and in 1897, after a visit to South Africa, he published a volume of Impressions of that country, which had considerable weight in Liberal circles when the Boer War was being discussed. Meanwhile his academic honours from home and foreign universities multiplied, and he became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1894. In earlier life he was a notable mountain-climber, ascending Mount Ararat in 1876, and publishing a volume on Transcaucasia and Ararat in 1877; in 1899-1901 he was president of the Alpine Club.