1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Henderson, Arthur

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HENDERSON, ARTHUR (1863-), British Labour politician, was born in Glasgow of working-class parents Sept. 15 1863; but his work and interests subsequently lay at Newcastle (where he served an apprenticeship as moulder at Robert Stephenson & Co.'s works), and in the county of Durham. He gradually became prominent in connexion with his own trade union and in the trade-union movement generally. After a while he took a leading part in local affairs, and was for some years a member of the Newcastle city council, and Darlington borough council. He was mayor 1903; and was made a magistrate for the county of Durham. He entered Parliament for Barnard Castle as a Labour member, at a by-election in 1903. When the Labour party were first returned to Parliament in force, in 1906, he soon made his mark as one of their leaders. In 1907 he took a prominent part in advocating the ending, rather than the mending, of the House of Lords; and in 1908 he was elected chairman of the party, a post which he held for two years and to which he was reflected in the autumn of 1914 when the then chairman, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, had to resign owing to his pacifist views. As chairman, at the opening of the new session in that autumn, Mr. Henderson promised the full support of organized labour in maintaining the “splendid unity” of the nation.

When Mr. Asquith formed the first Coalition Ministry in 1915, he included Mr. Henderson in the Cabinet as President of the Board of Education, and also adviser of the Government on Labour questions arising out of the World War. Indeed his functions as Labour adviser so occupied his time and attention, that it was thought desirable to relieve him in Aug. 1916 of the Board of Education, and give him the practical sinecure of Paymaster-General, so that he might be free to devote himself to the more congenial part of his work. Throughout the Ministry Mr. Henderson showed himself resolved on a strenuous prosecution of the war. He warmly advocated both the Munitions bill and the Registration bill, and had no hesitation in taking the further step of compulsory service, asserting, on the first Military Service bill, that the choice was between compulsion and defeat, and on the second bill, that the first had brought in more men than was expected and, therefore, that there was every reason to anticipate the success of the second. He followed up this action by strongly urging the Labour party to rally in Dec. 1916 to Mr. Lloyd George, and by accepting himself the position of an original member of the War Cabinet of four without portfolio. In consequence of his prominence as a labour protagonist of the war, his life was threatened, along with the Prime Minister's, by the conspiracy of a Derby family of anarchists, who were duly convicted, and sentenced to considerable terms of penal servitude, in March 1917.

After the revolution in Russia in the spring of 1917 Mr. Henderson visited that country on behalf of the British Government. He found there, as he subsequently explained, the most confused ideas current as to the aims of the Allies in the war, and deliberate perversions circulated by enemy agents. The then Provisional Government at Petrograd favoured an international Labour and Socialist Conference, which was being promoted by the International Socialist Bureau and was to meet at Stockholm. They pressed Mr. Henderson to use his influence with British Labour to attend this Conference; and he, believing the Conference to be inevitable, came to the conclusion that, provided it were merely consultative, it would be better that British representatives should go, rather than permit Russian representatives to meet German representatives alone. He returned with these ideas to England, and, being still secretary of the Labour party as well as a member of the War Cabinet, used his influence as secretary to promote British Labour participation in the Conference. But though the majority of Labour men were apparently in his favour, public opinion in other classes was strongly against any conference with Germans in the midst of war. The Sailors' and Firemen's Union refused to carry the delegates. Mr. Henderson visited Paris in the company of Mr. Ramsay Macdonald to discuss the situation with Labour over there, but found that neither French, nor Belgian, nor Italian, nor American Labour was disposed to join. Moreover, all Mr. Henderson's Labour colleagues in the Government opposed his views; and on Mr. Lloyd George expressing the surprise of the rest of the War Cabinet at his action and their dissent from his policy he resigned and was succeeded by Mr. George Barnes.

The attitude of Labour internationalism was maintained by Mr. Henderson out of office, and he warmly espoused the Labour policy of the latter part of 1918, to take the Labour men out of the Government and appeal for support on a Labour platform, in conjunction with the pacifist wing of the party. This policy cost Mr. Henderson his seat in Parliament at the General Election of Dec. 1918. He was defeated by a candidate of the National Democratic party in East Ham, and none of the Pacifist Labour men with whom he had made common cause found their way into Parliament. He himself returned to the House of Commons at a by-election for Widnes in Sept. 1919. He strongly promoted the League of Nations in the early part of that year; he attended the International Socialist Conference at Berne; and in Dec. 1920 he paid an informal visit to Ireland in the hope of promoting peace. (G. E. B.)