He was an ardent leader of the opposition to the Stamp Act, advocating even then a separation of the colonies from the mother country; and in the Continental Congress of 1774 he discussed the situation on the basis of inalienable rights and liberties, and urged an immediate attack on General Thomas Gage, that he might be defeated before receiving reinforcements.
As a fellow of Magdalen College, he had been desirous of changes which he felt himself bound by his oath from advocating; and he had taken part in the discussions on the abolition of tests in the old universities.'
In1861-1863he was a member of the national House of Representatives, where, while advocating the prosecution of the war, he opposed such radical measures as the division of Virginia, the enlistment of slaves and the Conscription Acts.
In the Democratic national convention at Chicago in 1896, during a long and heated debate with regard to the party platform, Bryan, in advocating the "plank" declaring for the free coinage of silver, of which he was the author, delivered a celebrated speech containing the passage, "You shall not press down upon the brow of labour this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."
In 1687 James made a bid for the support of the Dissenters by advocating a system of joint toleration for Catholics and Dissenters.