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Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1945-1951
Clement Richard Attlee was born in Putney, England, on January 3, 1883, the fourth son of Henry Attlee, a prosperous London solicitor, and Ellen Watson. He was educated at Haileybury College, a boarding school in Hertfordshire, and University College, Oxford University, and became a member of the bar in 1905.
In 1905 Attlee became a social worker in a settlement house in the East End of London that was supported by Haileybury College. He took up residence at the house two years later, and abandoned the practice of law soon after. He became involved in local politics after joining the Labour Party in 1908, while continuing his social work.
Attlee left the East End boarding house to become a lecturer on social sciences at the London School of Economics in 1913. He remained there until 1923, except for the World War years, during which he served as a Major in the Tank Corps. His political career began when he was elected Mayor of Stepney in 1919, a position he held until 1920. His rise up the national political ladder began after he was elected to the House of Commons by the constituency of Limehouse in 1922.
Attlee served as Under-Secretary of War in the short-lived Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald in 1924. In 1927, he was appointed to the Indian Statutory Commission, which was charged with examining the possibility of granting self-rule of India. MacDonald regained the Prime Ministership in 1929, and Attlee served his government as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and then Postmaster General.
The Labour Party suffered major electoral losses in 1931, with only 52 constituencies returning Labour members to Parliament; fortunately for Attlee, Limehouse was one of them. MacDonald was able to retain the Prime Ministership, as head of a National Government Coalition government, but Attlee refused to join him and chose instead to serve as deputy Labour Party leader under George Lansbury. He became head of the party upon Lansbury's retirement after the 1935 elections.
Attlee gave his full support to the British declaration of war against Germany in 1939, but was unwilling to join a coalition government under Conservative Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. He returned to ministerial service in Winston Churchill's War Cabinet, as Lord Privy Seal, 1940-1942, Secretary of State for the Dominions, 1942-1943, and finally as Lord President of the Council. Only he and Churchill served continuously in the War Cabinet throughout the life of the coalition government.
Despite having served under Churchill during the war, Attlee led a vigorous Labour campaign in 1945 that resulted in Labourites capturing 393 seats in the House of Commons and Attlee becoming Prime Minister. Under Attlee's leadership the Bank of England, coal mines, steel industry, and many public services were nationalized; the National Health Service was created; and India became independent. His government was also key in creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Attlee personally supported Allied entry into the Korean conflict.
The Labour Party was defeated in the 1951 elections and Attlee turned the Prime Ministership back over to Winston Churchill. He remained leader of the Opposition in Parliament until stepping down in 1955, after which he accepted a peerage and took a seat in the House of Lords as the 1st Earl Attlee of Walthamstow, Viscount Prestwood. He remained active politically until his death in Westminster on October 8, 1967.
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This page was last updated on November 29, 2017.