Arthur Henderson

Arthur Henderson (13 September 1863 – 20 October 1935) was a British iron moulder and Labour politician. He was the first Labour cabinet minister, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934 and, uniquely, served three separate terms as Leader of the Labour Party in three different decades. He was popular among his colleagues, who called him "Uncle Arthur" in acknowledgement of his integrity, his devotion to the cause and his imperturbability. He was a transitional figure whose policies were, at first, close to those of the Liberal Party. The trades unions rejected his emphasis on arbitration and conciliation, and thwarted his goal of unifying the Labour Party and the trade unions.

Arthur Henderson
1910 Arthur Henderson.jpg
Henderson circa 1910-15
Leader of the Opposition
In office
1 September 1931 – 25 October 1932
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byStanley Baldwin
Succeeded byGeorge Lansbury
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
28 August 1931 – 25 October 1932
DeputyJohn Robert Clynes
Preceded byRamsay MacDonald
Succeeded byGeorge Lansbury
In office
5 August 1914 – 24 October 1917
Chief WhipFrank Goldstone
George Henry Roberts
Preceded byRamsay MacDonald
Succeeded byWilliam Adamson
In office
22 January 1908 – 14 February 1910
Chief WhipGeorge Henry Roberts
Preceded byKeir Hardie
Succeeded byGeorge Barnes
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
7 June 1929 – 24 August 1931
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byAusten Chamberlain
Succeeded by1st Marquess of Reading
Chief Whip of the Labour Party
In office
LeaderRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byBen Spoor
Succeeded byTom Kennedy
In office
LeaderJohn Robert Clynes
Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded byWilliam Tyson Wilson
Succeeded byBen Spoor
In office
LeaderRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byGeorge Henry Roberts
Succeeded byFrank Walter Goldstone
In office
8 February 1906 – 1907
Preceded byDavid Shackleton
Succeeded byGeorge Henry Roberts
Home Secretary
In office
23 January 1924 – 4 November 1924
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byWilliam Bridgeman
Succeeded bySir William Joynson-Hicks
Minister without Portfolio
In office
10 December 1916 – 12 August 1917
Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George
Preceded byHenry Petty-Fitzmaurice
Succeeded byGeorge Nicoll Barnes
In office
18 August 1916 – 10 December 1916
Prime MinisterH. H. Asquith
Preceded byThomas Legh
Succeeded byJoseph Compton-Rickett
President of the Board of Education
In office
25 May 1915 – 18 August 1916
Prime MinisterH. H. Asquith
Preceded byJack Pease
Succeeded byRobert Crewe-Milnes
Member of Parliament
for Clay Cross
In office
1 September 1933 – 20 October 1935
Preceded byCharles Duncan
Succeeded byAlfred Holland
Member of Parliament
for Burnley
In office
28 February 1924 – 27 October 1931
Preceded byDan Irving
Succeeded byGordon Campbell
Member of Parliament
for Newcastle upon Tyne East
In office
17 January 1923 – 6 December 1923
Preceded byJoseph Nicholas Bell
Succeeded bySir Robert Aske
Member of Parliament
for Widnes
In office
30 August 1919 – 15 November 1922
Preceded byWilliam Hall Walker
Succeeded byGeorge Christopher Clayton
Personal details
Born13 September 1863
Glasgow, Scotland
Died20 October 1935(1935-10-20) (aged 72)
London, England
Political partyLabour

Early lifeEdit

Arthur Henderson was born at 10 Paterson Street, Anderston, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1863, the son of Agnes, a domestic servant, and David Henderson, a textile worker who died when Arthur was ten years old. After his father's death, the Hendersons moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in the North-East of England, where Agnes later married Robert Heath.[1]

Henderson worked at Robert Stephenson and Sons' General Foundry Works from the age of twelve. After finishing his apprenticeship there aged seventeen, he moved to Southampton for a year and then returned to work as an iron moulder (a type of foundryman) in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Henderson became a Methodist in 1879 (having previously been a Congregationalist) and became a Local Preacher. After he lost his job in 1884, he concentrated on preaching.

Union leaderEdit

In 1892, Henderson entered the complex world of trade union politics when he was elected as a paid organiser for the Friendly Society of Iron Founders. He also became a representative on the North East Conciliation Board. Henderson believed that strikes caused more harm than they were worth and tried to avoid them whenever he could. For this reason, he opposed the formation of the General Federation of Trade Unions, as he was convinced that it would lead to more strikes.

The Labour PartyEdit

Henderson (on left) in 1906, with other leading figures in the party

In 1900 Henderson was one of the 129 trade union and socialist delegates who passed Keir Hardie's motion to create the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). In 1903, Henderson was elected Treasurer of the LRC and was also elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Barnard Castle at a by-election. From 1903 to 1904, Henderson also served as mayor of Darlington, County Durham.[2]

In 1906, the LRC changed its name to the Labour Party and won 29 seats at the general election. In 1908, when Hardie resigned as Leader of the Labour Party, Henderson was elected to replace him. He remained Leader until his own resignation two years later, in 1910.

Cabinet MinisterEdit

In 1914 the First World War broke out and Ramsay MacDonald resigned from the Leadership of the Labour Party in protest. Henderson was elected to replace him. The two became enemies.[3]

In 1915, following Prime Minister H. H. Asquith's decision to create a coalition government, Henderson became the first member of the Labour Party to become a member of the Cabinet, as President of the Board of Education.

In 1916, David Lloyd George forced Asquith to resign and replaced him as Prime Minister. Henderson became a member of the small War Cabinet with the post of Minister without Portfolio on 9 December 1916. The other Labour representatives who joined Henderson in Lloyd George's coalition government were John Hodge, who became Minister of Labour, and George Barnes, who became Minister of Pensions. Henderson resigned on 11 August 1917 after his proposal for an international conference on the war was rejected by the rest of the Cabinet.[4][5]

Henderson turned his attention to building a strong constituency-based support network for the Labour Party. Previously, it had little national organisation, based largely on branches of unions and socialist societies. Working with Ramsay MacDonald and Sidney Webb, Henderson in 1918 established a national network of constituency organisations. They operated separately from trade unions and the National Executive Committee and were open to everyone sympathetic to the party's policies. Secondly, Henderson secured the adoption of a comprehensive statement of party policies, as drafted by Sidney Webb. Entitled "Labour and the New Social Order," it remained the basic Labour platform until 1950. It proclaimed a socialist party whose principles included a guaranteed minimum standard of living for everyone, nationalisation of industry, and heavy taxation of large incomes and of wealth.[6]

The "Coupon Election" and the 1920sEdit

Henderson lost his seat in the "Coupon Election" of 14 December 1918, which had been announced within twenty-four hours of the end of hostilities and which resulted in a landslide victory for a coalition formed by Lloyd George.[7] Henderson returned to Parliament in 1919 after winning a by-election in Widnes. He then became Labour's Chief Whip.

Vladimir Lenin held Henderson in very low regard. In a letter to the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Georgy Chicherin, written on 10 February 1922 and referring to the Genoa Conference, Lenin wrote: "Henderson is as stupid as Kerensky, and for this reason he is helping us."[8]

Henderson lost his seat again, at the general election of 1922. He returned to Parliament via another by-election, this time representing Newcastle East, but again, he was unseated at the general election of 1923. He returned to Parliament just two months later after winning another by-election in Burnley.

In 1924, Henderson was appointed as Home Secretary in the first-ever Labour government, led by MacDonald. This government was defeated later the same year and lost the general election that followed.

Having been re-elected in 1924, Henderson refused to challenge MacDonald for the party leadership. Worried about factionalism in the Labour Party, he published a pamphlet, Labour and the Nation, in which he attempted to clarify the party's goals.

Foreign SecretaryEdit

In 1929, Labour formed another minority government and MacDonald appointed Henderson as Foreign Secretary, a position Henderson used to try to reduce the tensions that had been building up in Europe since the end of the First World War. Diplomatic relations were re-established with the USSR and Henderson guaranteed Britain's full support to the League of Nations.[9]

The MacDonald "betrayal"Edit

The Great Depression plunged the government into a terminal crisis. The Cabinet agreed that it was essential to maintain the Gold Standard and that the Budget needed to be balanced, but were divided over reducing unemployment benefits by 10%. At first, Henderson gave strong support to Prime Minister MacDonald throughout the financial and political crisis of August. The financial crisis across Europe was worsening and Britain's gold reserves were at high risk. New York banks provided an emergency loan; but additional money was needed and to get it, the budget had to be balanced. MacDonald and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Snowden proposed cuts in unemployment benefits. Henderson rejected that solution and became the leader of nearly half the Cabinet. The Labour Cabinet decided to resign. The King implored MacDonald to remain and form an all-party National government that would make the budget cuts. MacDonald agreed on 24 August 1931 and formed an emergency National Government, with members from all parties. The new cabinet had four Labourites (now called "National Labour Party") who stood with Macdonald, plus four Conservatives and two Liberals. Labour unions were strongly opposed and the Labour Party officially repudiated the new National government. It expelled MacDonald and his supporters from the party. Henderson cast the only vote against the expulsions. Against his inclinations, Henderson accepted the leadership of the main Labour Party and led it into the general election on 27 October against the cross-party National coalition. It was a disastrous result for Labour, which was reduced to a small minority of 52. MacDonald won the largest landslide in British electoral history. Yet again Henderson lost his seat, at Burnley. The following year, he relinquished the party leadership.[10]

Later careerEdit

Henderson returned to Parliament after winning a by-election at Clay Cross, achieving the unique feat of being elected a total of five times at by-elections in constituencies where he had not previously been the MP. He holds the record for the greatest number of comebacks from losing a previous seat.

Henderson spent the rest of his life trying to halt the gathering storm of war. He worked with the World League of Peace and chaired the Geneva Disarmament Conference, and in 1934 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (On 3 April 2013 his Nobel medal was stolen from the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Newcastle.)[11]

Henderson died in 1935, aged 72. All three of Henderson's sons saw military service during the Great War, the eldest, David, being killed in action in 1916 whilst serving as a Captain with the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own). His surviving sons also became Labour politicians: second son William was granted the title of Baron Henderson in 1945, while his third son, Arthur, was created Baron Rowley in 1966.

The Labour History Archive and Study Centre at the People's History Museum in Manchester holds the papers of Arthur Henderson in their collection, spanning from 1915 to 1935.[12]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Arthur Henderson".
  2. ^ "Arthur Henderson: a Labour pioneer". The Northern Echo.
  3. ^ Christopher Howard, "MacDonald, Henderson, and the Outbreak of War, 1914." Historical Journal 20.4 (1977): 871-891. online
  4. ^ Eric Hopkins, 'A Social History of the English Working Classes, 1815–1945 (Hodder & Stoughton, 1979) p. 219. ISBN 0713103167.
  5. ^ UK National Archives, CAB 23-3, pg. 372 of 545
  6. ^ Bentley B. Gilbert, Britain since 1918 (1980) p 49.
  7. ^ Katz, Liane (4 April 2005) "Women and the Welsh Wizard". Retrieved on 12 September 2015.
  8. ^ Handwritten note at the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History, fond 2, opis 2, delo 1,1119, published as Document 88 in The Unknown Lenin, ed. Richard Pipes, Yale University Press, 1996. ISBN 0300076622.
  9. ^ David Carlton (1970). MacDonald versus Henderson: The Foreign Policy of the Second Labour Government. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781349006755.
  10. ^ Andrew Thorpe, "Arthur Henderson and the British political crisis of 1931." Historical Journal 31#1 (1988): 117-139. in JSTOR
  11. ^ "Nobel Peace Prize Medal Stolen in Newcastle". BBC News. 3 April 2013.
  12. ^ Collection Catalogues and Descriptions, Labour History Archive and Study Centre, archived from the original on 13 January 2015, retrieved 20 January 2015


  • Buckle, George Earle (1922). "Henderson, Arthur" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company.
  • Carlton, David (1970). MacDonald versus Henderson: The Foreign Policy of the Second Labour Government. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781349006755.
  • Hamilton, Mary Agnes. Arthur Henderson: A Biography (1938), a detailed and favourable account by a former colleague
  • Howard, Christopher. "MacDonald, Henderson, and the Outbreak of War, 1914." Historical Journal 20.4 (1977): 871–891. online
  • McKibbin, Ross. "Arthur Henderson as Labour Leader," International Review of Social History (1978) pp. 79–101
  • Riddell, Neil. "Arthur Henderson, 1931–1932," in Leading Labour: From Keir Hardie to Tony Blair, ed. Kevin Jefferys (1999)
  • Thorpe, Andrew. "Arthur Henderson and the British Political Crisis of 1931," Historical Journal (1988) pp. 117–139 in JSTOR
  • UK National Archives, online
  • Winkler, Henry H. "Arthur Henderson," in The Diplomats, 1919–1939, ed. Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert (1953)
  • Winter, J M. "Arthur Henderson, the Russian Revolution and the Reconstruction of the Labour Party," Historical Journal (1972) pp. 753–73. in JSTOR
  • Wrigley, Chris. Arthur Henderson (1990), a scholarly biography

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Barnard Castle
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Widnes
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne East
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Burnley
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Preceded by Member of Parliament for Clay Cross
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