Scope and Content

Three letters to Mrs Nodin.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Ramsay MacDonald, the illegitimate son of Ann Ramsay, a maidservant,was born in Lossiemouth, Morayshire, on 12th October, 1866. He was brought upin his grandmother's cottage and was a student at the local school from 1875until 1881. In 1886 MacDonald moved to London where he was employed as aclerk for the Cyclists' Touring Club.

MacDonald joined the Fabian Society and later the Independent Labour Party in1894. In the 1895 General Election he was the ILP's candidate forSouthampton. MacDonald, along with the other twenty-seven ILP candidates, wasdefeated and overall, the party won only 44,325 votes. MacDonald becamesecretary of the Labour Representation Committee, which was formed in 1900.In the 1906 General Election MacDonald became MP for Leicester. At a meetingon 12th February, 1906, the group of MPs decided to change from the LRC tothe Labour Party. James Keir Hardie (1856-1915) was elected chairman andMacDonald was selected to be the party's secretary. At first Hardie wasleader of the party in the House of Commons, but he resigned in 1908.

In 1911 MacDonald became party leader. MacDonald was a pacifist and wasunwilling to support Britain's involvement in the First World War. In thenationalist fervour that followed the end of the First World War, and in the1918 General Election, MacDonald lost his seat. In the 1923 General Election,the Labour Party won 191 seats. Although the Conservatives had 258, MacDonaldagreed to head a minority government, and therefore became the first memberof the party to become Prime Minister. In the 1924 General Election theLabour Party was defeated and the Conservative Party formed the nextgovernment. MacDonald continued with his policy of presenting the LabourParty as a moderate force in politics and refused to support the 1926 GeneralStrike. MacDonald argued that strikes should not be used as a politicalweapon and that the best way to obtain social reform was throughparliamentary elections.

In the 1929 General Election the Labour Party won 288 seats, making it thelargest party in the House of Commons. MacDonald became Prime Minister again.He tendered the resignation of the government, 23 Aug. 1931, after thefailure of the Cabinet to agree on reduction in payments to unemployed inface of financial crisis. He formed all-party government in conjunction withConservative and Liberal leaders, and the breach with his own party becamepermanent. On winning the 1931 General election, he formed a fourthadministration. MacDonald pressed on with his programme of retrenchment andreform. He regarded European situation key to domestic recovery and believedin personal diplomacy. After the rise of Nazism he realized necessity ofrearmament and drafted the White Paper on national defence, 1935. MacDonaldresigned premiership and became lord president of the Council in 1935.


Three letters and one post card concerning:

  • His health, attitudes to meetings and a new woman friend, 22nd November1913.
  • Moving house, wishes they could meet, 20th May 1931.
  • Why he supports the National Government, 29th August 1931.

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Edwards, G.

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