John Francis Bray

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For other people named John Bray, see John Bray (disambiguation).

John Francis Bray (1809–1897) was a radical, Chartist, writer on socialist economics and activist in both Britain and his native America in the 19th century. He was hailed in later life as the 'Benjamin Franklin' of American labor.


John Bray was born in Oregon Country (in what is today the US state of Washington) to parents who were in show business. His father had been born into a Yorkshire family of farmers and clothiers around Huddersfield. In 1822 they moved back to the West Riding, to Leeds. But their initial plans were stymied when his father died shortly after their return. Young John was then lodged with a relative and was apprenticed into the printing trade around the West Riding. He moved back to Leeds in 1832 and worked on a local paper and became involved in the working class movement in Leeds, including the Chartist Movement, then growing in Leeds around Feargus O'Connor's Northern Star. He also helped to found the Leeds Working Men's Association in 1837 and became its first treasurer. He delivered a number of lectures to the membership from which his first pamphlet "Labour's wrongs and labour's remedy" was drawn.

Following the repression of the first wave of the Chartist movement in the wake of the abortive uprising attempts of 1839 and the economic depression of 1841 - 1842, Bray returned to the US in 1842 and became a printer in Detroit. He later moved to Pontiac, Michigan where he began a family and later moved from printing into farming on a nearby farm. During the 1850s and 1860s he was active in the Democratic and working class movement locally and throughout the midwest. He wrote articles and lectured around the midwest opposing a range of social ills from Spiritualism to the Civil War and slavery. He supported the Socialist Labor Party and joined the Knights of Labor. As an old man he helped to shape the politics of the Populist Party of the 1890s.

Ideas and influence[edit]

Bray's pamphlet "Labour's wrongs and labour's remedy" is quoted at length by Karl Marx in his 1847 attack on Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy. In it Marx uses him to show the unoriginality of Proudhon's mutualist proposals. Indeed, Bray's economics are those that have somewhat controversially (see Noel Thompson reference) been ascribed to the Ricardian socialists. In short a belief that the source of employers profits is an unequal exchange with employees in which the latter is not paid the full value of their labour. The remedy then is based on creating a society of equal exchange between producers at fair value. Bray's ideas in this sense are in the tradition of market socialism.

According to French Socialist Paul Lafargue, who calls "Labour's Wrongs, and Labour's Remedy" "his remarkable work", Bray had called for the establishing of "equitable labour exchanges", not "as a solution of the social problem" but "only [as] a means of smoothing over the transition from the capitalist to the communist régime". Several were started in 1840 -- "in London, Sheffield, Leeds and other towns", but "after absorbing vast capital, had gone bankrupt under scandalous circumstances."[1]


  • Bray, John Francis, "Labour's wrongs and labour's remedy", Leeds, England (1839).
  • Bray, John Francis, Government and society considered in relation to first principles, (1842)
  • Bray, John Francis, The coming age devoted to the fraternisation and advancement of mankind through religious, political and social reforms. No. 1 Spiritualism founded on a fallacy, (1855)
  • Bray, John Francis, No. 2 The origin of mundane and human energies unfavourable to spiritualism, (1855)
  • Bray, John Francis, American destiny what shall it be? Republican or Cossack? An argument addressed to the people of the late Union North and South, (1864)
  • Bray, John Francis, God and man a unity and all mankind a unity; a basis for a new dispensation social and religious, (1879)


  • Bronstein, Jamie, John Francis Bray: Transatlantic Radical
  • Thompson, Noel W., The People's Science: The Popular Political Economy of Exploitation and Crisis, 1816-1834, London (1989).


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