Alfred John Webb, Irish Quaker from a family of activist printers, is born in Dublin on June 10, 1834. He becomes an Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) politician and Member of Parliament (MP), as well as a participant in nationalist movements around the world. He supports Isaac Butt‘s Home Government Association and the United Irish League. At Madras in 1894, he becomes the third non-Indian (after George Yule and William Wedderburn) to preside over the Indian National Congress.
Webb is the first child and only son of the three children of Richard Davis Webb (1805-1872) and Hannah Waring Webb (1810-1862). The family runs a printing shop in Dublin and belongs to a Quaker group that supports reforms such as suffrage, the abolition of slavery and anti-imperialism. The family press prints booklets for many of these causes and, in turn, their regular customers grow to include other similar organisations, including the Irish Protestant Home Rule Association and the Ladies’ Land League, an organisation founded by Fanny and Anna Parnell in 1880 that advocates on behalf of poor tenant farmers.
Webb is interested in literature and history and begins to write A Compendium of Irish Biography. In 1865, he begins to take a more active interest in Irish politics. He is inspired by the Fenians, although he believes in non-violence and the Fenians of that time believe that Ireland can only gain independence through an armed revolution. He is first elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on February 24, 1890, when he wins a by-election for the West Waterford constituency. He is again returned for West Waterford in the 1892 United Kingdom general election, this time as an anti-Parnellite MP. In December 1883, he resigns from the position of Land League treasurer, complaining of Parnell’s “autocratic management of funds.”
Webb’s family takes an interest in the welfare of British colonies and are outspoken opponents of the opium traffic into China. He is a close friend of Dadabhai Naoroji, a key member of the Indian National Congress, who is also a friend of other Irish nationalists including Michael Davitt and Frank Hugh O’Donnell. Naoroji is elected, as a member of the Liberal Party, in 1892, the year of the Liberal landslide to the Finsbury Central Westminster seat. While O’Donnell attempts to involve Naoroji in Irish politics, Webb is invited by Naoroji to preside over the Indian National Congress in 1894.
Webb is a supporter of Anti-Caste, Britain’s first anti-racism journal which fellow Quaker activist Catherine Impey founds in 1888. He is able to rally subscribers and activists for the journal around the world. For example, although he is not a regular subscriber, he and Dadabhai Naoroji co-sign a letter with others to request support for a new association, The Society for the Furtherance of Human Brotherhood.