Born 16 Sep 1858, Kingston
, New Brunswick
Died 30 Oct 1923, London
"If I am a great man, then all great men are frauds."
Alongside Sir Alec Douglas-Home
and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
, Andrew Bonar Law fits neatly into the "Who?" category of 20th century Prime Ministers
. While never gaining the recognition of contemporaries such as David Lloyd-George
or Ramsay MacDonald
, Bonar Law was a key figure in British politics during and after the First World War
, as well as the only Canadian
ever to become British
Of Scottish descent, Bonar Law was born the son of a Presbyterian minister, and moved from Canada to Glasgow as a young boy. He left school at sixteen, and after studying at the university there Law worked 10 years for his family's merchant banking firm. In 1885 he began to make his fortune as an iron merchant, and continued to so do until 1900, when he was elected as the Conservative member
for Glasgow Blackfriars.
Well regarded for his personal qualities and public speaking, he first emerged as a prominent figure in the party when he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade
in 1902. He lost his seat in the Liberal
Landslide victory of 1906, but returned to represent Dulwich following a by-election later in the year.
After the resignation of Arthur Balfour
in 1911 Law became Leader of the Conservative Party. When Britain
entered World War I
, he supported the Government of Herbert Asquith
in the war effort but in May 1915 insisted that Asquith should establish a Coalition government, in which he was Colonial Secretary (1915–16). However, Asquith did not prove to be an effective wartime Prime Minister, And David Lloyd-George
proposed a small war cabinet
consisting of himself, Bonar Law and others but not Asquith. A crisis ensued which resulted in the resignation of Asquith and the formation of a coalition government under David Lloyd-George, with Bonar Law assuming the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer
and continuing to support Lloyd George in the 1918 election (In which Conservatives and Lloyd-George-aligned Liberals agreed not to stand against one another) and in government after the war.
Law was hit hard by the loss of his two eldest sons in the war and consequently his health deteriorated and he resigned as party leader in March 1921. When the Conservatives withdrew from the coalition which they dominated in 1922, Law was re-elected Conservative leader and appointed Prime Minister. In 1923, only seven months after election, he was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer and forced to resign, dying six months afterwards in London. Though popular, Bonar Law accomplished little during his tenure as Prime Minister (though he contributed much to the task of rebuilding Britain after the war), and is notable mainly for what he did before his premiership, in paticular the role he took in the fall of the Asquith coalition and the subsequent death of the Liberal party.