Richard Bedford Bennett

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Sir Richard Bedford Bennett (born in Canada on July 3 1870) is a Canadian lawyer and conservative politician.

Contents

Early Life

Richard Bedford Bennett was born on July 3 1870 when his mother, Henrietta Stiles, was visiting at her parent's home in Hopewell Hill, New Brunswick, Canada. He grew up nearby at the home of his father, Henry John Bennett, at Hopewell Cape, the shire town of Albert County. His father was descended from English ancestors who emigrated to Connecticut in the 18th century: his great, great grandfather Bennett migrated from Connecticut to Nova Scotia c. 1765, before the American Revolution, taking advantage of lands vacated by the Acadians during the Great Upheaval.

The Bennett family was poor, subsisting mainly on the produce of a small farm. Bennett's early days inculcated a lifelong habit of thrift. The driving force in his family was his mother, a Wesleyan Methodist who passed her faith and Protestant ethic on to her son. His principle ever after was: work as hard as you can, earn all you can, save all you can, and then give all you can. Bennett's father does not appear to have been a good provider for his family, though the reason is unclear. He operated a general store for a while and tried to develop some gypsum deposits. The Bennetts were previously a relatively prosperous family, operating a shipyard in Hopewell Cape, but the change to steam meant the end of their business. However, the household was a literate one, subscribing to three newspapers. They were strong Conservatives, indeed one of the largest and last ships launched by the Bennett shipyard (in 1869) was the Sir John A. Macdonald.

Educated in the local school, Bennett was a good student, but something of a loner. In addition to his Protestant faith, Bennett grew up with an abiding love of the British Empire, then at its apogee. At the age of 15, he had learned all that the local school could teach him and he enrolled in the New Brunswick Department of Education's teacher training school in Fredericton, getting his second class teaching certificate. He then taught the elementary grades at a small village called Irishtown, just north of Moncton, New Brunswick. He campaigned vigorously in the Conservative interest in the 1887 federal election, at 17 years of age taking the floor at public meetings in rural areas, well able to handle hecklers. He earned the gratitude of the local candidate, Dr. R.C. Weldon, a co-founder of the Dalhousie Law School.

In 1888 Bennett obtained his first-class teaching certificate and received an appointment as principal of the 159 student Douglastown school. Though only 18 years old, Bennett was a success. He was 6' tall and his serious demeanour enabled him to control his pupils. Sundays were spent across the Miramichi River in the larger community of Chatham, New Brunswick, where he attended the Methodist Church twice and taught Sunday School. He also joined the Chatham branch of the Conservative party and spoke whenever he could, becoming a polished speaker. During this time he formed several female friendships, but none blossomed into marriage.

One day, while Bennett was crossing the Miramichi on the ferry boat, a well dressed lad about nine years younger came over to him and struck up a conversation. This was the beginning of an improbable but important friendship with Max Aitken, later the industrialist and British press baron, Lord Beaverbrook . The agnostic Aitken liked to tease the Methodist Bennett whose fiery temper contrasted with Aitken's ability to turn away wrath with a joke. This friendship would become important to his success later in life, as would a few others such as his friendship with the Chatham lawyer, Lemuel J. Tweedie, a prominent Conservative politician.

Lawyer

Bennett began to study law with Tweedie on weekends and during summer holidays. Another important friendship was with the prominent Shirreff family of Chatham, the father being High Sheriff of Northumberland County for 25 years. The son, Harry, joined the E.B. Eddy Company, a large pulp and paper industrial concern, and was transferred to Halifax. His sister moved there to study nursing and soon Bennett joined them to study law at Dalhousie University. Their friendship was renewed here and became crucial to his later life when Jennie Sherreff married the head of the Eddy Company. She later made Bennett the lawyer for her extensive interests.

Bennett started at Dalhousie University in 1890, graduating in 1893 with a law degree. He worked his way through with a job as assistant in the library, being recommended by Dr. R. C. Weldon. He was then a partner in the Chatham law firm of Tweedie and Bennett. Max Aitken was his office boy, while articling as a lawyer, acting as a stringer for the Montreal Gazette and selling life insurance. Aitken persuaded him to run for alderman in the first Town Council of Chatham, and managed his campaign. Bennett was elected by one vote and was later furious with Aitken when he heard all the promises he had made on Bennett's behalf.

Despite his election to the Chatham town council, Bennett's days in the town were numbered. He was ambitious and saw that the small community was too narrow a field for him. He was already negotiating with Sir James Lougheed to move to Calgary and become his law partner. Lougheed was Calgary's richest man and most successful lawyer. Bennett moved to Alberta in 1897. A lifelong bachelor and teetotaler, he led a rather lonely life and his social life centered on church. There was no scandal attached to his personal life: Bennett worked hard and gradually built up his legal practice.

Political Career

Bennett was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories in the 1898 general election representing the riding of West Calgary and was re-elected to a second term in office in 1902 Independent from the parties in the Northwest Territories legislature. In 1905, when Alberta was carved out of the territories and made a province, Bennett became the first leader of the Alberta Conservative Party and, in 1909, won a seat in the provincial legislature before switching to federal politics.

Elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1911, Bennett returned to the provincial scene to again lead the Alberta Conservatives in the 1913 provincial election but kept his seat in Ottawa when his Conservatives failed to take power in the province. He was appointed Conservative leader in 1927 at the first Conservative leadership convention, replacing Arthur Meighen whose popularity was falling because he was successfully (and with good reasons) depicted by the Liberals as a yes-man to the British lords.

Prime Minister

Bennett's Conservatives defeated William Lyon Mackenzie King's Liberals in the 1930 federal election and with the endorsement of King George V presented themselves as the party of Imperial unity. However, despite leading a cabinet 100% Canadian, Bennett relied on the financial, political and philosophical guidance of British Exiles, whose influence on the decisions of the government was heavy, even if not openly admitted.

Soon after taking the reins of government, Bennet proclaimed that the ultimate goal of Canada was the reconquest of the Home Isles and recalled much of the British fleet from the Pacific and the entire South African station, causing great resentment in Delhi and especially Australasia and South Africa. With the power of the Royal Navy at his disposal, Bennet waged a popular, but ultimately inclusive war of skirmishes with the Syndicalist Navy in the Atlantic.

A nickname that would stick with Bennett for the remainder of his political career, "Iron Heel Bennett," came from a 1932 speech he gave in Toronto where he asked that "every man and woman put the iron heel of ruthlessness against the threat of Socialism and Syndicalism". Bennett dominated his government and proved to be an inexhaustible worker, working an exhausting schedule throughout his years as prime minister, often more than 14 hours per day. However, his policies resulted inconclusive and ineffective and the hostility he raised with the other members of the Entente led the Conservatives to lose in the 1935 federal elections, where Mackenzie King once again rose to power and Bennett had to replace him as leader of the opposition.

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