Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley (1867-1947), was three times prime minister of Great Britain. He was involved in the settlement of the general strike of 1926 and in the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.
Stanley Baldwin was born on Aug. 3, 1867, at Lower Park, Bewdley, Worcestershire. An only child, he was the son of Alfred Baldwin, an ironmaster, and Louisa Macdonald, the daughter of a Wesleyan minister. Baldwin attended Harrow and then Trinity College, Cambridge, where his record was undistinguished. He entered his father's business and, characteristically, came to know every workman in the foundry. He became a magistrate and a member of local councils. In 1892 he married Lucy Ridsdale of Rottingdean; to them seven children were born.
In 1908 Baldwin entered Parliament as a Conservative from the Bewdley division of Worcestershire, succeeding his father. Baldwin spoke infrequently and attracted little attention. When the new War Cabinet was formed in 1916, Bonar Law, a friend of his father and chancellor of the Exchequer, asked Baldwin to be his parliamentary private secretary. He soon became joint financial secretary to the Treasury. In 1921 he entered the Lloyd George Cabinet as president of the Board of Trade.
Baldwin came to national attention in 1922 at the Carlton Club Conference, at which the Conservatives in the House of Commons, after a stormy meeting, voted to end the coalition under David Lloyd George. Baldwin's passionate attack on Lloyd George materially influenced the result and brought Baldwin the chancellorship of the Exchequer. He successfully negotiated the settlement of the American war debt and, because of Bonar Law's illness, was, in effect, leader of the House of Commons. In a series of speeches Baldwin's appeal became clear—a plain earnestness of manner, an unashamed morality and patriotism, an absence of showmanship, and a certain provincialism. His plea for "tranquility" and a return to normalcy reached the average voter. In 1923, on Bonar Law's retirement, the King, on the advice of elder statesmen, selected Baldwin as prime minister, passing over Lord Curzon because he was in the House of Lords.
In an effort to reunite the Conservatives, Baldwin proposed a protective tariff and plunged the country into a general election in 1923, which brought Conservative defeat and the first Labour government. Before the end of the following year another election returned the Conservatives to power with Baldwin as prime minister. In the coal crisis and the general strike of 1926 Baldwin acted firmly but with conciliation. But just when his influence was at its height, he failed to deal with the basic issues in the coal industry. His administration proved a disappointment even to some members of his government, for he produced no policy to deal with unemployment, gave no lead to education, and made no important contribution in foreign or colonial affairs. Social legislation was enacted only on the initiative of Neville Chamberlain, the minister of health. Baldwin himself was content to rest on the slogans "Safety First" and "Trust Baldwin" in the election of 1929, which brought defeat to the Conservatives.
In the financial and political crisis of 1931 Baldwin readily acquiesced in the formation of a national government under the Labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald, with Baldwin himself taking the post of lord president of the council. For 4 years he was content to remain in the background, where in fact he was the real power. But in the crucial area of foreign affairs his role was unimaginative, and, like most of his countrymen, he was slow to see the necessity for rearmament in the face of Nazi and Fascist power.
In 1935 Baldwin replaced MacDonald. In this, Baldwin's third, administration he was at once confronted with the Abyssinian crisis, which was settled in Italy's favor and sharply lowered his prestige. His reputation was not revived in 1936 by the policy of nonintervention in the Spanish Civil War—a fiction so far as Continental powers were concerned. But 1936 was also the year of his greatest triumph— his masterful handling of the constitutional crisis over the proposed marriage of Edward VIII, the new king, to Mrs. Wallis Simpson. In his opposition Baldwin had the country behind him, as he knew he would.
Baldwin resigned in 1937. He was created an earl. He largely withdrew from public affairs, spending his declining years at Astley Hall in Worcestershire, where he died on Dec. 14, 1947.
Further Reading on Stanley Baldwin
Keith Middlemas and John Barnes, Baldwin: A Biography (1969), is the authoritative work. G. M. Young's brilliant but unsympathetic Stanley Baldwin (1952) was answered by D. C. Somervell, Stanley Baldwin: An Examination of Some Features of Mr. G.M. Young's Biography (1953), and by Arthur W. Baldwin, My Father: The True Story (1955). Background information is in Charles L. Mowat, Britain between the Wars 1918-1940 (1955).
Additional Biography Sources
Jenkins, Roy, Baldwin, London: Papermac, 1995.