1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Clifford, John

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CLIFFORD, JOHN (1836–  ), British Nonconformist minister and politician, son of a warp-machinist at Sawley, Derbyshire, was born on the 16th of October 1836. As a boy he worked in a lace factory, where he attracted the notice of the leaders of the Baptist community, who sent him to the academy at Leicester and the Baptist college at Nottingham to be educated for the ministry. In 1858 he was called to Praed Street chapel, Paddington (London), and while officiating there he attended University College and pursued his education by working at the British Museum. He matriculated at London University (1859), and took its B.A. degree (1861), B.Sc. (1862), M.A. (1864), and LL.B. (1866), and in 1883 he was given the honorary degree of D.D. by Bates College, U.S.A., being known therefrom as Dr Clifford. This degree, from an American college of minor academic status, afterwards led to sarcastic allusions, but Dr Clifford had not courted it, and his London University achievements were evidence enough of his intellectual equipment. At Praed Street chapel he gradually obtained a large following, and in 1877 Westbourne Park chapel was opened for him. As a preacher, writer, propagandist and ardent Liberal politician, he became a power in the Nonconformist body. He was president of the London Baptist Association in 1879, of the Baptist Union in 1888 and 1899, and of the National Council of Evangelical Churches in 1898. His chief prominence in politics, however, dates from 1903 onwards in consequence of his advocacy of “passive resistance” to the Education Act of 1902. Into this movement he threw himself with militant ardour, his own goods being distrained upon, with those of numerous other Nonconformists, rather than that any contribution should be made by them in taxation for the purpose of an Education Act which in their opinion was calculated to support denominational religious teaching in the schools. The “passive resistance” movement, with Dr Clifford as its chief leader, had a large share in the defeat of the Unionist government in January 1906, and his efforts were then directed to getting a new act passed which should be undenominational in character. The rejection of Mr Birrell’s bill in 1906 by the House of Lords was accordingly accompanied by denunciations of that body from Dr Clifford and his followers; but as year by year went by, up to 1909, with nothing but failure on the part of the Liberal ministry to arrive at any solution of the education problem,—failure due now not to the House of Lords but to the inherent difficulties of the subject (see Education),—it became increasingly clear to the public generally that the easy denunciations of the act of 1902, which had played so large a part in the elections of 1906, were not so simple to carry into practice, and that a compromise in which the denominationalists would have their say would have to be the result. Meanwhile “passive resistance” lost its interest, though Dr Clifford and his followers continued to protest against their treatment.