Mackenzie King

From Kaiserreich


Sir William Lyon Mackenzie King (December 17, 1874 – ) is the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He succeeded Sir Arthur Meighen as Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada in 1925 and was then defeated by Sir R.B. Bennet in 1930 before narrowly emerging victorious in the 1935 election forming (just barely) a majority government.


Early life

King was born in Berlin, Ontario (now known as Kitchener) to John King and Isabella Grace Mackenzie. His maternal grandfather was William Lyon Mackenzie, first mayor of Toronto and leader of the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837. His father was a lawyer, later a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. King had three siblings. He attended Berlin Central School (now Suddaby Public School) and Berlin High School (now Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School). Tutors were hired to teach him more politics, science, math, English and French. The father was a lawyer with a struggling practice in a small city, and never enjoyed financial security; his parents lived a life of shabby gentility, employing servants and tutors they could scarcely afford. The son became a life-long practising Presbyterian with a dedication to applying Christian virtues to social issues in the style of the Social Gospel. He never favoured socialism, and has long been a vocal opponent of syndicalism.


King earned five university degrees. He obtained three degrees from the University of Toronto: B.A. 1895, LL.B. 1896, and M.A. 1897. While studying in Toronto he met a wide circle of friends, many of whom became prominent. He was an early member and officer of The Kappa Alpha Society, which included a number of these individuals (two future Ontario Supreme Court Justices and the future Chairman of the University itself) and served as a location for the debate of political ideas. He also met Arthur Meighen, a future political rival; the two men did not get on especially well from the start. He was especially concerned with issues of social welfare and was influenced by the settlement house movement pioneered by Toynbee Hall in London. He played a central role in fomenting a students' strike at the university in 1895. He was in close touch, behind the scenes, with Vice-Chancellor William Mulock, for whom the strike provided a chance to embarrass his rivals Chancellor Blake and President Loudon. King failed to gain his immediate objective, a teaching position at the University, but earned political credit with the man who would invite him to Ottawa and make him a deputy minister only five years later. While studying at the University of Toronto, King also contributed to campus newspaper The Varsity.

After studying at the University of Chicago and working with Jane Addams at her settlement house, Hull House, Mackenzie King proceeded to Harvard University. He earned an M.A. in political economy in 1898. In 1909 Harvard granted him a PhD for a dissertation based on his study of "Oriental Immigration to Canada."

Civil servant, Minister of Labour

In 1900 Mackenzie King became a civil servant in Ottawa assigned to study labour issues. His reports covered a wide range of topics; a special concern was Japanese immigration to Canada. In 1909, he became Canada's first Deputy Minister of Labour, a civil service position.

In 1901, King's roommate and best friend, Henry Albert Harper, died heroically during a skating party when a young woman fell through the ice of the partly frozen Ottawa River. Harper dove into the water to save her, and perished in the attempt. King led the effort to raise a memorial to Harper, which resulted in the erection of the Sir Galahad statue on Parliament Hill in 1905. In 1906, King published a memoir of Harper, entitled The Secret of Heroism.

He was first elected to Parliament as a Liberal in a 1908 by-election, and was re-elected by acclamation in a 1909 by-election following his appointment as the first-ever Minister of Labour.

King's term as Minister of Labour was marked by two significant achievements. He led the passage of the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act and the Combines Investigation Act, which he had erected during his civil and parliamentary service. The legislation significantly improved the financial situation for millions of Canadian workers. He lost his seat in the 1911 general election, which saw the Conservatives defeat the Liberals.

Industrial Consultant

After his defeat Mackenzie King went on the lecture circuit on behalf of the Liberal Party. In June 1914 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. hired him as a senior staff member of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City, heading their new Department of Industrial Research. It paid $12,000, compared to the meager $2500 a year the Liberal Party was paying. He worked for the Foundation until 1918, forming a close working association and friendship with Rockefeller, advising him through the turbulent period of the 1914 strike and Ludlow massacre at a family-owned coal company in Colorado, which subsequently set the stage for a new era in labor management in America.

King was not a pacifist, but he showed little enthusiasm for the Weltkrieg he has faced criticism for not serving in Canada's military and instead working for the Rockefellers. But he says that he was 40 years old when the war began, and was not in good physical condition. He never gave up his Ottawa home, and travelled to the United States on an as-needed basis, and claims to have been performing valuable service by helping to keep war-related industries running smoothly.

In 1918 King, assisted by his friend F.A. McGregor, published the book Industry and Humanity: A Study in the Principles Underlying Industrial Reconstruction, a dense, abstract work that went over the head of most readers but revealed the practical idealism behind King's political thinking. He emphasized that capital and labour were natural allies, not foes, and that the community at large (represented by the government) should be the third and decisive party in industrial disputes. Quitting the Foundation in February 1918, Mackenzie King became an independent consultant on labour issues for the next two years, earning $1000 a week from leading American corporations. Even so he kept his official residence in Ottawa, hoping for a call to duty.

Wartime politics

In 1917 the Dominion was in crisis; Mackenzie King supported Liberal leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier in his opposition to conscription, which was violently opposed in Quebec. The Liberal party became deeply split, with most Anglo-Saxons joining in the pro-conscription Union government, a coalition controlled by the Conservatives under Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. He returned to Canada to run in the 1917 election, which focused almost entirely on the conscription issue. Unable to overcome a landslide against him, Mackenzie King lost in the constituency of North York, which his grandfather had once represented. He was Laurier's chosen successor as leader of the Liberal Party, but it was deeply divided by Quebec's total opposition to conscription and the agrarian revolt in Ontario and the Prairies. When Laurier died in 1919, Mackenzie King was elected leader thanks to the critical support of the Quebec bloc, organized by his long-time lieutenant in Quebec, Ernest Lapointe. Mackenzie King could not speak French and had minimal interest in Quebec, but in the 1925 and 1935 elections, Lapointe produced the critical seats to give the Liberals a majority in Commons.

Once he became the Liberal leader in 1919 he paid attention to the Prairies. With a highly romanticized view he envisioned the pioneers as morally sound, hardworking individuals who lived close to nature and to God. The reform ferment in the region meshed with his self-image as a social reformer and fighter for the "people" against the "interests." Viewing a glorious sunrise in Alberta in 1920, he wrote in his diary, "I thought of the New Day, the New Social Order. It seems like Heaven's prophecy of the dawn of a new era, revealed to me." Realism played a role too, since his party depended for its survival on the votes of Progressive party members of parliament who represented farmers in Ontario and the Prairies. He convinced many Progressives to return to the Liberal fold.

First Parliament

In the 1925 election King was able to win a workable majority, and said that his focus would be on defusing the various lingering labour conflicts. However the 1925 British Revolution changed all of this. King failed to take an active approach to the revolutions until it was to late and so is widely blamed for having lost the Empire. He refused to allow the British government to take over the Dominion government, instead replacing the Canadian Senate with a new House of Lords, King engaged in fierce crackdowns against socialists and unions and in 1926 saw the Dominion of Newfoundland incorporated as a province of Canada. By the late 1920s King had largely succeeded in bringing the Progressives back into the fold, although the loyalty of many of them to the Liberal party remains tenuous. King was defeated in the 1930 election over accusations that he was taking too soft an approach to the Union of Britain and his declaration that he "would not give a five-cent piece" to Tory provincial governments in attempt to alleviate the growing financial troubles emanating from the United States in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash. Although another contributory factor was King George V's open endorsement of Bennet. This turned into the key election issue. The Liberals lost the election of 1930 to the Conservative Party, led by Sir Richard Bedford Bennett.

After his loss, Sir Mackenzie King stayed on as Opposition Leader, where it was his policy to refrain from offering advice or alternative policies; Mackenzie King's policy preferences were not much different from Bennett's and he let the Conservative government have its way. Though he gave the impression of sympathy with progressive and liberal causes, he had no enthusiasm for massive government action to alleviate economic difficulties and was not hostile to the naval skirmishes with the republicans.

Second Parliament

In the 1935 election the Liberals used the slogan "King or Chaos" and narrowly won a majority. Promising a much-desired trade treaty with the U.S., Sir Mackenzie King's government began active negotiations with Hoover for the treaty.

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