Skip to main content
Select Source:

Macmillan, Harold

Macmillan, Harold (1894–1986). Prime minister. Anglo-American by birth, Macmillan proceeded from Eton to Balliol College, Oxford, where he secured a first in classical moderations shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. During the war he was badly injured and spent the last stages of the conflict hospitalized. After the war he served as ADC to the governor-general of Canada before going into the family publishing firm.

Macmillan was elected as member for Stockton at his second attempt in 1924. He was not a conventional Conservative and had earlier toyed with Liberalism. In Parliament he associated himself with a group of progressive Tories, styled the YMCA, but his career suffered a blow when he lost his seat in the 1929 general election. He won it back in 1931, but his unconventional views seemed to preclude a ministerial career. In domestic politics he was greatly influenced by the poverty of the north-east and was attracted by the ideas of the Cambridge economist J. M. Keynes to stimulate recovery from the depression. The publication of The Middle Way in 1938 showed Macmillan's commitment to a mixed economy and considerable government intervention. Such ideas became commonplace in the post-1945 Conservative Party; a decade earlier they marked Macmillan out as an intellectual rebel. Macmillan was also at odds with the foreign policy of the National Government and resigned the Conservative whip for the last year of Baldwin's premiership. A critic of the Munich agreement of 1938, he was overshadowed in the public mind by the more elegant though intellectually less able Anthony Eden.

When Churchill became premier in May 1940 Macmillan's ministerial rewards were initially small. But in 1942 he made his first major political advance with his appointment as minister of state for north Africa. Macmillan took easily to his new authority and struck up a good working relationship with General Eisenhower.

Macmillan lost his Stockton seat again in the general election of 1945, but was soon returned to Parliament following a by-election in Bromley. He rose steadily in the Conservative Party, but lacked popular appeal and still trailed Eden and R. A. Butler among the coming generation. He showed an interest in European integration, though perhaps not to the extent he later claimed. As minister of housing after 1951 Macmillan achieved credit as the man who fulfilled the Conservative pledge to build 300,000 houses in a single year. He served briefly as minister of defence, but became foreign secretary when Eden succeeded to the premiership in 1955. Too forceful in this post for Eden's liking, he was transferred to the Exchequer after six months. Relations with the prime minister were never fully restored.

An ardent proponent of the Suez adventure in 1956, Macmillan profited by its failure. Though he pressed the financial necessity of bringing the operation to an end, his earlier enthusiasm ensured the backing of the Conservative right. To the surprise of many he was preferred to Butler when ill-health forced Eden's resignation in January 1957.

As prime minister Macmillan displayed political skills which few had anticipated. Against the odds, he restored party morale after Suez and led the Conservatives to a third successive electoral victory in 1959. In the meantime he repaired the special relationship with America, badly damaged by Suez, using his wartime friendship with Eisenhower to advantage. His calm self-assurance stood him in good stead, especially when the whole of his Treasury team resigned in 1958. By 1960 Macmillan stood at the height of his power. The nickname ‘Supermac’ encapsulated the public's acclaim. His progressive views of the 1930s still dominated his thinking as he strove to maintain full employment (at the cost, it has been argued, of stoking up inflation) and speeded up the process of decolonization. But then problems arose. The collapse of the summit conference of 1960 was a particular blow and helped persuade Macmillan to seek British admission to the European Common Market. This quest ultimately met with the veto of General de Gaulle. Meanwhile difficulties mounted on the domestic front. Many sensed panic when Macmillan dismissed a third of his cabinet, including the chancellor, in the famous ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in July 1962. Thereafter the government was beset by a series of sex and spy scandals in which Macmillan's image as an Edwardian patrician, once an asset, now suggested someone out of touch with the modern world. Illness precipitated Macmillan's resignation at the time of the Conservative Party conference in October 1963. He left the Commons a year later, somewhat discredited. In his long retirement, however, Macmillan's reputation enjoyed a considerable renaissance, especially after his elevation to the peerage as earl of Stockton in 1984 at the age of 90.

Macmillan was a complex individual. An external self-confidence was matched by inner doubts and depression, exacerbated no doubt by his wife's long-standing affair with Robert Boothby. The years of his premiership remain controversial. For some they represent a period of unprecedented prosperity; for others a time when a blind eye was turned to underlying problems in the British economy.

David Dutton


Aldous, R., and Lee, S. (eds.), Harold Macmillan and Britain's World Role (Basingstoke, 1991);
Horne, A. , Macmillan (2 vols., 1988–9);
Turner, J. , Macmillan (1994).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Macmillan, Harold." The Oxford Companion to British History. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Macmillan, Harold." The Oxford Companion to British History. . (December 12, 2017).

"Macmillan, Harold." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Macmillan, Harold

Macmillan, Harold 1894-1986


Maurice Harold Macmillan was the prime minister of Great Britain from 1957 to 1963. A member of a famous publishing family, Macmillan was born in Brixton, England, on February 10, 1894. He was educated at Eton and Oxford University, and served in the British army during World War I (19141918). Macmillan was elected as a Conservative to the House of Commons in 1924. During the Conservative governments of Stanley Baldwin (18671947) and Neville Chamberlain (18691940), he criticized their appeasement policies toward Nazi Germany. During World War II (19391945), Macmillan served as a civilian official in the Ministry of Supply and later as a British liaison to American forces in North Africa and the Mediterranean. In this position, Macmillan developed a friendship with American general and future president Dwight D. Eisenhower (18901969).

From 1951 until 1957, Macmillan served in various cabinet positions under prime ministers Winston Churchill (18741965) and Anthony Eden (18971977). Appointed chancellor of the Exchequer in 1955, Macmillan succeeded Eden as prime minister in 1957. Eden resigned in part because his foreign policy strained British relations with the United States through his controversial military intervention in the Suez Canal and his effort to develop an independent nuclear deterrent.

Consequently, Macmillan was determined to develop a more cooperative, harmonious relationship with the United States in cold war foreign and defense policies. Both Republican president Eisenhower and Democratic president John F. Kennedy (19171963) valued Macmillans advice and diplomatic support. Macmillan persuaded Kennedy to deliver Polaris nuclear missiles to Britain in 1962, advised Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and helped to negotiate the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union. Macmillan also oversaw the continuing dismemberment of the British Empire as such former colonies as Malaya, Kenya, and Nigeria became independent nations. He tried but failed to overcome French opposition to Britains application for membership in the European Economic Community.

In domestic and economic policies, Macmillan pursued a moderate course. He assured working-class Britons that his Conservative government would not dismantle the Labour-initiated welfare state and would manage it more efficiently. He also promised to promote economic growth through tax cuts and fewer regulations on business. Macmillans centrist yet reformist rhetoric and policies contributed to a sharp increase in the Conservative majority of seats in the 1959 parliamentary elections.

Disagreements among cabinet officials about how to solve Britains problems with its balance of payments and Macmillans unpopular wage freezes to control inflation contributed to the loss of Conservative seats in the byelections of 1961 and Macmillans decision to make major changes in his cabinet in 1962. The growing disunity of the Conservative Party and declining support for Macmillans government were intensified by the Profumo affair of 1963. John Profumo (19152006), secretary of state for war, misled Macmillan and the House of Commons in March 1963 about his adulterous relationship with Christine Keeler, a showgirl who also had a relationship with the Soviet embassys naval attaché. Labour members of the House of Commons asserted that such a relationship by the secretary of state for war endangered national security in the cold war.

In June 1963, Profumo publicly admitted his deceit and resigned from the cabinet, House of Commons, and Privy Council. Suffering from declining health and less credibility with the public and Parliament, Macmillan resigned as prime minister on October 18, 1963. He retained enough influence within the Conservative Party, however, to ensure that Sir Alec Douglas-Home (19031995), instead of Rab Butler (19021982), succeeded him as prime minister. Still tainted by the Profumo scandal, the Conservative Party lost its majority in the House of Commons in the 1964 parliamentary elections, and Labour Party leader Harold Wilson (19161995) became prime minister.

Macmillan retired from politics in 1964 and rarely commented on British politics publicly. During the 1980s, however, Macmillan was rumored to be displeased with some of Prime Minister Margaret Thatchers more aggressive privatizing and monetarist economic policies. Busy with the chairmanship of the Macmillan publishing firm, Macmillan became a peer in 1984 as the earl of Stockton and died in Sussex on December 29, 1986.

SEE ALSO Balance of Payments; Chamberlain, Neville; Churchill, Winston; Cold War; Colonialism; Conservative Party (Britain); Decolonization; Eisenhower, Dwight D.; Empire; Imperialism; Kennedy, John F.; National Security; Parliament, United Kingdom; Suez Crisis; Thatcher, Margaret


Denning, Lord Alfred. 1999. John Profumo and Christine Keeler: 1963. London: Stationery Office.

Hennessy, Peter. 2001. The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders since 1945. New York: St. Martins.

Horne, Alistair. 1989. Harold Macmillan, Vol. 1: Politician: 18941956. New York: Penguin.

Lee, Sabine, and Richard Aldous, eds. 1999. Harold Macmillan: Aspects of a Political Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sean J. Savage

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Macmillan, Harold." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Macmillan, Harold." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (December 12, 2017).

"Macmillan, Harold." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Harold Macmillan

Harold Macmillan

The British politician and prime minister (Maurice) Harold Macmillan (1894-1986) was one of the outstanding Conservative leaders of the 20th century in terms of achieving both unity in his party and electoral success.

Harold Macmillan was born on Feb. 10, 1894, in London, England. He was educated at Eton and at Balliol College, Oxford. During his World War I service in the Grenadier Guards he was wounded three times. From 1919-1920 he was an aide to the governor general of Canada. In 1920 he married into one of the most deeply rooted Conservative aristocratic families—the Cavendishes (Lady Dorothy Cavendish, daughter of the 9th Duke of Devonshire). She died in 1966. They had three daughters and one son.

Early Career

This impeccable upper-class background served Macmillan in good stead in his prime ministerial career (January 1957-October 1963) when he wished to lead his party in directions that it would have found difficult to take from another leader. But in the early phase of his career this background could be seriously misleading. As member of Parliament for Stockton-on-Tees after 1924, he was no orthodox Conservative. He was deeply moved by mass unemployment; in such works as Reconstruction: A Plea for a National Policy (1933) and The Middle Way (1938) he advocated neo-Keynesian solutions to the economic crisis of those years that were by no means fashionable.

As an opponent of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy toward Hitler's Germany, and as a Conservative rebel, he was an obvious choice for Winston Churchill's wartime administration. Macmillan served as parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Supply from 1940 to 1942, as undersecretary of state for the colonies in 1942, and his most important office, as minister resident at Allied Headquarters in Northwest Africa from 1942 to 1945. In the latter capacity he came close to Churchill and acted as an effective link between quarreling Allied military and political commanders.

Political Service

After the war, he was made secretary of state for air in the caretaker government. In the Conservative government of 1951, Macmillan served first, and most successfully, as minister of housing and local government (1951-1954). He was then minister of defense, foreign secretary, and chancellor of the Exchequer (December 1955-January 1957) before succeeding Anthony Eden as prime minister in January 1957, a position he held until his resignation in October 1963.

As prime minister, Macmillan took over after the Suez operation, when President Abdul Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, and his party's morale and fortunes were at a low ebb. By 1959 the Conservatives had recovered enough to win a large electoral victory. His period in office was associated with developments that only Macmillan's public relations skills made acceptable to large sections of his own party: the acceptance of the move toward black African independence (1960), the initiation of formal government planning through the National Economic Development Council, and the approach to joining the European Common Market (now the European Union) in 1961. Macmillan was also instrumental in negotiating the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that was signed by the former Soviet Union, England, and the United States in 1963.

Speaking to the South African Parliament in 1960, Macmillan said, "A wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, the growth of national consciousness is a political fact."

In 1963 a downturn in the economy coupled with a sex scandal involving one of the prime minister's aides resulted in Macmillan's resignation from office. When he left public life, Macmillan returned to his family's publishing business, Macmillan Ltd., of which he became president in 1974. After years of refusing his peerage, he was created Earl of Stockton in 1984. Macmillan died of pneumonia, December 29, 1986, in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, England.

Further Reading

MacMillan, Harold, Winds of Change 1914-1939 (1966); The Blast of War 1939-1945 (1967); Tides of Fortune 1945-1955 (1969).

"Earl of Stockton: British Politician," Annual Obituary 1986, New York: St. Martins Press, c1986, p. 736-739.

Horne, Alistair, Harold Macmillan, New York: Viking, c1989.

Hughes, Emrys, Macmillan: Portrait of a Politician (1962).

Sampson, Anthony, MacMillan: A Study in Ambiguity (1967).

Turner, John, Macmillan, New York: Longman, c1994.

Davenport-Hines, R.P.T., The Macmillans, London: Heineman, c1992. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Harold Macmillan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Harold Macmillan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (December 12, 2017).

"Harold Macmillan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Macmillan, (Maurice) Harold, 1st earl of Stockton

(Maurice) Harold Macmillan, 1st earl of Stockton, 1894–1986, British statesman. A descendant of the founder of the publishing house of Macmillan and Company, he was educated at Eton and at Oxford and served in World War I. He entered Parliament in 1924 as a Conservative. Throughout the 1930s he was an advocate of social and economic reforms and an outspoken critic of the government's policy of appeasement. When sanctions against Italy were abandoned in 1936, he voted against his party leaders and sat for a year as an independent. He held several government posts during World War II, including minister resident in N Africa. He was minister of housing and local government (1951–54), minister of defense (1954–55), and chancellor of the exchequer (1955–57). In 1957 he succeeded Sir Anthony Eden as prime minister. He restored close Anglo-American relations, damaged by the Suez Canal crisis, and attempted to establish a firmer basis for East-West negotiations by making personal appeals to Moscow and Washington. He also strove for the admission of Great Britain to the European Economic Community (Common Market) but met with the opposition of French President de Gaulle. In the 1959 election, Macmillan told the country, "You've never had it so good," pointing to the full employment and substantial rise in real earnings of the 1950s, and he and his party won a landslide victory. However, by 1961 balance of payments difficulties had forced the government to introduce an austerity program. Macmillan accelerated Britain's decolonization, especially in Africa. In a memorable speech to the South African parliament in 1960, he said the "winds of change" were sweeping across Africa. His government suffered a series of scandals; the most famous was the Profumo scandal. He resigned the prime ministership in 1963 and in 1964 retired from Parliament. Macmillan served as chancellor (1960–86) of the Univ. of Oxford and as chairman (1963–74) of the Macmillan publishing house. He accepted an earldom in 1984.

See his memoirs (6 vol., 1966–73); biographies by N. Fisher (1982) and A. Horne (2 vol., 1988–89).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Macmillan, (Maurice) Harold, 1st earl of Stockton." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Macmillan, (Maurice) Harold, 1st earl of Stockton." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 12, 2017).

"Macmillan, (Maurice) Harold, 1st earl of Stockton." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from