- James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937)
Born at Lossiemouth in a traditional two-room cottage, Ramsay MacDonald was the illegitimate son of Mary Ramsay and a ploughman named MacDonald. He was educated at a local board school in Drainie and read enthusiastically outside of school. For a time he became a pupil teacher at the school in which he had been a pupil.
Politics Becomes His Life
Moving to London, he became actively interested in socialism and joined the Fabian Society. He earned a living as a clerk and then as a secretary for a prospective Parliamentary candidate. He also became involved in journalism.
He joined the Independent Labour Party in 1894, coming into contact with another Scot, Keir Hardie. He later became secretary of the Labour Representative Committee (which was to become the Labour Party). MacDonald was appointed secretary of the Labour Party in 1900, a position he filled until 1911. He was also chairman of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), 1906-9, and leader of the Labour Party 1911-14.
When in 1914 the ILP. broke away from the British Labour Party, Ramsay MacDonald, with Keir Hardie, Philip Snowden, and others, carried on, following a separate policy regarding the Great War. The ILP advocated pacificsm and peace by negotiation but MacDonald accepted that the argument had been lost and argued for the war effort - much to the dismay of his former ILP colleagues.
A Representative of the People
A member of the London County Council from 1901-4, he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Leicester, 1906-18. His pacifist views meant that the public thought he had betrayed his country and he lost his seat in Parliament. He was later elected M.P. for Aberavon, Glamorganshire, in 1922, becoming leader of the opposition, supported by an influx of "Red Clydeside" Members of Parliament from Glasgow constituencies.
On the defeat of Stanley Baldwin's government, January 21, 1924, he became prime minister and head of the first Labour government in Great Britain, but heading a minority government. A second term of office arose in 1929-31, at the height of the Depression.
Between 1931 and 1935 he was again Prime Minister in a coalition with the Conservative party. His moderation and gradualism alienated him from many of his more radical colleagues in the Labour movement and in 1935 he lost his seat at Westminster to Emmanuel Shinwell.
Ramsay MacDonald died aboard "Reina del Pacifico" while crossing the Atlantic on November 9 1937.
Life Ouside Politics
He married Margaret Ethel, daughter of Dr. J. H. Gladstone in 1896. She seemed to provide MacDonald with some of the social graces he lacked and bore him six children. After her death in 1911, wrote her biography.
Among his writings are Socialism and Society, 1905; Labour and the Empire, 1907; The Social Unrest, 1913; Parliament and Revolution, 1919; and two books on India - The Awakening of India, 1913, and The Government of India, 1919.
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