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James Keir Hardie

James Keir Hardie

The British politician James Keir Hardie (1856-1915) helped to initiate the 20th-century labor movement in Britain.

Keir Hardie was born on Aug. 15, 1856, at Legbrannock, Lanarkshire, the illegitimate son of Mary Keir, domestic, and William Aitken, miner. He took the name of his stepfather, David Hardie, a ship's carpenter. He worked as a messenger boy when he was 8; from 1867 to 1879 he worked in or around the coal mines. Self-educated, he especially enjoyed what he read of Robert Burns, Thomas Carlyle, and Henry George. A convinced socialist at 21, he was converted to Christianity at 23, to the astonishment of his firmly atheistic mother.

Fired and blacklisted for union activity, Hardie was undismayed, and he married Lily Wilson, a publican's daughter, Aug. 3, 1879. After local union service he became secretary to the Scottish Miners' Federation in 1886. Hardie clashed with old-line "Lib-Lab" members of Parliament, whom he thought overly conservative about state intervention on the miners' behalf. Hardie's agitation for an 8-hour day brought cooperation from R. B. Cunninghame-Graham, a member of Parliament and a cofounder of the Scottish Labour party in 1888.

Hardie's election to Parliament for South West Ham in 1892 as an Independent Labour candidate won attention; publicity increased with his appearance at Westminster in a cloth cap, his maiden speech on the misery of the unemployed, and his dissent from congratulations on the birth (1894) of the future Edward VIII.

Hardie presided at the Bradford conference which inaugurated the Independent Labour party (ILP), pledged to socialism and intended as a weapon against unconverted Gladstonian Liberals. He lost his own seat in 1895 but pressed ILP candidates to challenge Liberals at by-elections. Returning to Parliament from Merthyr Tydfil in 1900, he denounced the Boer War constantly. Despite his feud with Liberals, Hardie approved the negotiation which reduced Liberal-Labour rivalry and produced 29 Labour members in 1906, who chose Hardie to lead them in Parliament.

In 1907 Hardie toured the world, expressing his sympathy with Egyptian independence, Indian home rule, and fairer treatment of native Africans in South Africa. He was often a difficult colleague within the Labour party before the war. He detested militarism and preached a general strike among workers internationally to prevent war. When war came, it crushed his spirit. He was howled down by his own constituents before he died of pneumonia on Sept. 26, 1915.

For years Hardie symbolized the working classes for cartoonists. He never forsook his soft hat for a bowler. Bearded, pipesmoking, with a mournful Celtic visage, his single-minded devotion to the workers' cause made him seem fanatical to some contemporaries but enhanced his reputation with later generations of the Labour party.

Further Reading

The earliest biography of Hardie is William Stewart, J. Keir Hardie (1921; new ed. 1925). It was followed by David Lowe, From Pit to Parliament: The Story of the Early Life of James Keir Hardie (1923); Hamilton Fyfe, Keir Hardie (1935); and Emrys Hughes, Keir Hardie (1956). Hardie's role in the Independent Labour party is treated by Henry Pelling in The Origins of the Labour Party, 1880-1900 (1954; 2d ed. 1965), and by Philip P. Poirier in The Advent of the British Labour Party (1958).

Additional Sources

McLean, Iain., Keir Hardie, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975.

Reid, Fred., Keir Hardie: the making of a socialist, London: Croom Helm, 1978. □

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Hardie, James Keir

Hardie, James Keir (1856–1915). Socialist politician. Born in Lanarkshire, Hardie grew up in extreme poverty. While working as a journalist he was instrumental in organizing the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire miners, becoming secretary of the Scottish Miners' Federation in 1886 and, in 1887, chairman of the Scottish Labour Party. In 1892 he was elected as an independent Labour MP for South West Ham; the following year he established the Independent Labour Party. Hardie was a thoroughly class-conscious socialist (outraging Westminster opinion by wearing a cloth-cap and tweed jacket in the Commons), but was also acutely aware of the moderate nature of the British trade union movement, and he deliberately downplayed his socialist creed in order to persuade the Trades Union Congress of the need for the foundation (1900) of the Labour Representation Committee, forerunner of the Labour Party. Hardie believed that international working-class solidarity would prevent war in 1914, and never recovered from the realization of the strength of nationalism amongst the working classes.

Geoffrey Alderman

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"Hardie, James Keir." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hardie, James Keir." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hardie-james-keir

"Hardie, James Keir." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hardie-james-keir

Hardie, James Keir

James Keir Hardie (kēr´ här´dē), 1856–1915, British labor leader and socialist, b. Scotland. A coal miner, he became a union organizer and in 1888 founded the Scottish Labour party. In 1892, Hardie entered Parliament, becoming the first independent workers' representative to secure election. He was a founder (1893) and first president (1893–1900) of the Independent Labour party and was instrumental in forming (1900) the Labour Representation Committee, which became the Labour party.

See biographies by W. Steward (1921), E. Hughes (1956), and K. O. Morgan (1967); H. M. Pelling, Origins of the Labour Party (2d ed. 1965).

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"Hardie, James Keir." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hardie, James Keir." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hardie-james-keir

"Hardie, James Keir." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hardie-james-keir

Hardie, (James) Keir

Hardie, (James) Keir (1856–1915) Scottish socialist politician. In 1888, he founded the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party. In 1892, Hardie entered Parliament as the first socialist MP. In 1893, he founded the Independent Labour Party. In 1906, he became a co-founder and first leader (1906–08) of the Labour Party. A committed pacifist, he withdrew from Labour politics in World War I.

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