Rashbihari Ghosh was born on 23 December 1845 in Burdwan, West Bengal. After a short spell in the local pathshala, Rashbihari was educated in the Burdwan Raj Collegiate School.
Passing the entrance examination from Bankura, he entered Presidency College, Calcutta and obtained a first class in the M.A. examination in English. In 1871 he passed with honours the Law examination and in 1884 was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws.
Ghosh was closely associated with Calcutta University. From 1887 to 1899 he was a member of the Syndicate. Gokhale's scheme of compulsory primary education received his warm support and during the Swadeshi movement he supported the move for national education, becoming the first President of the National Council of Education (1906 - 21).
He did not associate himself publicly with the Indian National Congress until 1906. His first important appearance in politics was in 1905 when he presided over a meeting held in the Calcutta Town Hall to protest against the offensive remarks of Lord Curzon at the Convocation ceremony of Calcutta University.
In 1906 he was the Chairman of the Reception Committee when the Congress held its annual session in Calcutta. Next year he presided over the Surat session which ended in pandemonium. In 1908 he presided over the Madras session.
A moderate in politics, he took a prominent part in the Swadeshi movement which he considered to be based on "love of our own country, not on hatred of the foreigner". To him it meant "the development of India for Indians".
This object he wanted to achieve through constitutional agitation and denounced the extremists as "impatient idealists". The national movements of other countries also interested him.
He was greatly influenced by Gokhale's political ideas. He looked upon the British rule in India as a blessing and had great faith in Britain. “I can never think," he observed, "that England will ever retrace her steps or forget her duty to India.She came not as a conqueror but as a deliverer with the ready acquiescence of the people, to heal and settle, to substitute order and good government for disorder and anarchy.... That task has now been accomplished ... and it only remains for England now to fit us gradually for that autonomy which she has granted to her colonies."
A stout defender of the economic, interests of India, he looked upon the Swadeshi movement as a means of fostering indigenous industries which the British Government, following free trade principles, had failed to protect by tariff. He himself financed one 'Bandemataram Match Factory'. He thought that the Government of India should be the "motive force in the industrial development of the country".Although not a habitual public speaker, he was an accomplished orator. He addressed the annual sessions of the Indian National Congress and also spoke on other important occasions.
“We are now on the threshold of a new era. An important chapter has been opened in the history of the relations between Great Britain and India - a chapter of constitutional reform which promises to unite the two countries together in closer bonds than ever. A fair share in the government of our own country has now been given to us.
The problem of reconciling order with progress, efficient administration with the satisfaction of aspirations encouraged by our rulers themselves, which timid people thought was insoluble, has at last been solved. The people of India will now be associated with the Government in the daily and hourly administration of their affairs.”
From the Presidential Address - Rashbihari Ghosh I.N.C. Session, 1908, Madras