Arthur Henderson was a British politician, who was one of the earliest members of the Labour Party and served multiple terms in the British Parliament in a political career that spanned several decades. Henderson was born in a working class family but he was plunged into poverty pretty early in life when his father died when he was only 10 years old. Subsequently, Henderson had to discontinue his education and work in a foundry in Newcastle, England. During his time at the foundry he developed a penchant for debate and when he grew up he became a leading member of the trade unions that eventually led to the membership of the Labour Party. Henderson was elected as a Member of Parliament by way of by elections multiple times and was also given cabinet posts when the Labour Party was able to form a government. He served as the President of the Board of Education as well as the Foreign Secretary and it was in the latter role that he became an influential voice of peace and diplomacy in an increasingly fractious European political firmament. Even after he ceased to be the Foreign Secretary, Henderson continued to work in favour of peace that eventually won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Childhood & Early Life
Arthur Henderson was born on September 13, 1863, to David Henderson and his wife Agnes Henderson, in Glasgow, Scotland. His father was employed as a textile worker while his mother worked as a domestic help.
Arthur Henderson was only ten years old when his father passed away and the resulting financial strain forced Henderson to quit school and instead look for work, which he found at a photographer’s shop. Subsequently, the family moved from Scotland to Newcastle in the north of England and Henderson enrolled in a school yet again.
When Arthur Henderson was only 12 years old, he started working as an apprentice at Robert Stephenson and Sons’ General Foundry Works. Henderson tried to gain as much knowledge as possible by reading the newspapers and engaging with the other workers at the foundry.
Arthur Henderson became a local preacher in 1879 after having become a Methodist in the same year.
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The members of the Friendly Society of Iron Founders elected Arthur Henderson to their trade union in the capacity as a paid organiser in 1890 and although he became an active member of trade union movement; he was not in favour of frequent strikes since he did not feel that they served any purpose.
Arthur Henderson became a member of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) in 1900. Three years later he became the treasurer of the organisation and it was in the same year that he became a Member of Parliament after winning the by election in Barnard Castle. The LRC was what came to be known as the Labour Party.
Arthur Henderson became the Leader of the Labour Party in 1908 following the untimely resignation of the Labour Party leader Keir Hardie and he continued to serve as the leader till he resigned in 1910. However, in 1914, Henderson again became the Leader of the Labour Party when Ramsay MacDonald resigned in protest against the First World War.
In 1915, Arthur Henderson was made a member of the cabinet of the British Government when he was appointed as the President of the Board of Education in H.H. Asquith’s coalition government.
In 1916, David Lloyd George replaced H.H. Asquith as Prime Minister and Henderson was appointed Minister without Portfolio in the small war cabinet. Henderson resigned as minister in 1917 after his proposal for an international conference on the war was rejected by the cabinet.
Arthur Henderson became a Member of Parliament in 1919 from Widnes again after having lost his parliament seat the previous year and subsequently functioned as the chief whip of the Labour Party for three years. After quitting his post of Chief Whip, Henderson was elected as the Member of Parliament from Newcastle East and subsequently from Burnley.
Henderson was appointed the Home Secretary in 1924 in the first-ever Labour Party government headed by Ramsay MacDonald. But his appointment was short lived as the government was defeated later on in the same year. In 1929, he became the Foreign Secretary in another Labour government and worked tirelessly in his quest to bring about peace in Europe.
Following the Great Depression, the British Parliament wanted to reduce unemployment benefits but Henderson was against it and in 1931, as a move to thwart the crisis, Ramsay MacDonald formed a government with other parties known as the National Government. The Labour Party could only muster 46 seats; Henderson lost his own seat and eventually resigned from his post as the leader of the party.
He regained his parliament seat after winning a by election from Clay Cross. Subsequently, he continued to work as an advocate of peace and was a vocal promoter of anti-war activities. He chaired the Geneva Disarmament Conference between 1930 and 1934.
Although he was one of the most influential politicians of his time; it was his work as a peace activist that is cited as his most significant work of his career. He was also a great supporter of the League of Nations.
Awards & Achievements
Arthur Henderson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934 ‘for his work for the League (of nations), particularly its efforts in disarmament’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Arthur Henderson got married to Eleanor Watson in 1888. The couple had three sons and a daughter.
Henderson died on October 20, 1935 in London, England, at the age of 72.