Born February 10, 1894
Died December 29, 1986
Birch Grove, Sussex, England
British prime minister
H arold Macmillan served in the British government from 1924 to 1963. During that period, he was one of the first in British government to oppose German aggression in Europe, established later useful relations with other Allied leaders during World War II (1939–45), and then guided Britain through some difficult years of the Cold War (1945–91). The Cold War was an intense political and economic rivalry from 1945 to 1991 between the United States and the Soviet Union falling just short of military conflict. During his period of leadership, it became clear that Britain had lost much world influence that it had wielded for centuries before. The two new superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union clearly held domination in world events.
Born into British privilege
Harold Macmillan was born to an upper-middle-class family in London, England. His grandfather had founded Macmillan Publishing Company, and his father assumed head of the company. His American-born mother dominated his early life in driving him to succeed. Macmillan was educated at Eton, a noted public school in England, and then Oxford University. At Oxford, he became active in student politics, showing off his already exceptional speaking style.
Macmillan's education was disrupted by World War I (1914–18). Joining the British army, he saw considerable combat action. Macmillan was wounded on several occasions, finally sustaining a shattered pelvis in 1916. He returned to Britain for extended recovery lasting until 1920. It left him with a permanent limp. Upon recovery, Macmillan married Lady Dorothy Evelyn Cavendish, the daughter of an English duke. Through her family, he became exposed to the upper class. The couple would have a son and three daughters.
Beginning a political career
With the British Liberal Party in decline, Macmillan joined the Conservative Party, though having liberal attitudes toward economic policy. He and a few others in the party formed a very small liberal wing. Macmillan entered politics in 1923 but lost in his election bid to gain a seat in the House of Commons. He did win the following year and would hold the seat until 1929 and then regain it later, from 1931 to1964. Macmillan promoted his liberal economic policies, calling for some government control.
By the late 1930s, Macmillan was becoming concerned about the expansion of Germany's Nazi Party, known primarily for its brutal policies of racism. He provided fierce opposition to the tolerance of Nazi Germany by British leaders, including Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940). Macmillan's position on Germany was at first unpopular in Parliament. However, with Germany overrunning first Poland and then France by the spring of 1940, Chamberlain resigned under pressure of those opposing his weak policies toward Germany.
Taking Chamberlain's place was Winston Churchill (1874–1965; see entry), also of the Conservative Party. Churchill, seeking political unity in the war effort, created a coalition government of members from different parties. He appointed Macmillan as parliamentary secretary to the minister of supply. By June 1942, Macmillan rose to undersecretary of state and, in November, Churchill assigned him to the British minister post in Algiers, North Africa. His role was to coordinate with American, British, and French forces who were conducting a military offensive against German forces across North Africa. They followed their success in North Africa with invasions of Sicily and Italy, where Macmillan remained involved. During this time, he developed close relations with U.S. general Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; see entry) and testy relations with France's General Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970).
Post–World War II
Following the surrender of Germany in May 1945, new general elections were held in Britain in July to select a government to replace the special wartime coalition government. Macmillan's Conservative Party lost, and he would temporarily lose his seat in the House of Commons. A special election in November, however, brought him back. He was assigned to a committee as an expert on industrial policy. With the return of the Conservative Party in the 1951 general election, Churchill resumed his role as prime minister. In October 1951, Macmillan was appointed minister of housing and local government; he was in charge of replacing bombed-out homes, a continuing massive rebuilding program resulting from damage inflicted by German bombing in World War II. Achieving great success in a difficult post over a three-year period, Macmillan moved up to minister of defense in October 1954. However, with Churchill's heavy direct involvement in military matters, he found his role fairly limited. In addition, Britain's poor economy called for reductions in the armed forces at the time.
Churchill retired in April 1955 and was replaced by his foreign secretary, Anthony Eden (1897–1977). Macmillan replaced Eden in his former position. Once again, however, Eden, who had been a highly successful foreign secretary, continued to run foreign affairs as Churchill had done earlier. Macmillan was left with little involvement. Later in 1955, Macmillan moved to the treasury department and remained there until 1957. At the time, Britain was suffering through an economic crisis. Macmillan increased taxes and reduced
government spending, which successfully corrected the economic picture of the nation. Macmillan received much praise for his monetary actions.
An international crisis arrived in 1956 that would end up placing Macmillan in the prime minister position. After a period of deteriorating relations with the United States and other Western nations, on July 26, 1956, Egypt and its leader Gamal Abdul Nasser (1918–1970) nationalized, or took control of, the Suez Canal. The canal had been under the control of Britain and France and served as a vital waterway for oil shipments from the Middle East to Western Europe. In November, Britain, France, and Israel launched a surprise military invasion of Egypt to regain control of the canal without first advising U.S. president Eisenhower. Eden and Macmillan expected Eisenhower to support the action. Eisenhower, however, was greatly concerned that their military response might result in pushing Egypt more toward a Soviet Union alliance. Eisenhower demanded an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of British and French forces. With Britain suffering economic problems, they could not afford to jeopardize future U.S. aid and could definitely not afford a war with Egypt. As a result, Macmillan, who in his treasury position fully understood Britain's economic situation, advised Eden to accept the cease-fire. It was a humiliating experience for both Britain and France. It also underscored that British foreign policy was subject to U.S. control. Eden resigned as prime minister shortly afterwards, claiming health problems.
Macmillan was selected the new British prime minister in Eden's place on January 10, 1957. He was selected leader of the Conservative Party twelve days later. An obvious high priority at first was to repair relations with the United States after the Suez crisis. Fortunately, Macmillan was able to build on the friendship he had already established with Eisenhower in North Africa during World War II. The two leaders would meet on several occasions beginning in March 1957, when Eisenhower agreed to sell American missiles to Great Britain for the first time. Macmillan made sure Britain was consistently a strong supporter of U.S. actions in the Cold War. This included sending troops along with U.S. forces to Jordan and Lebanon in July 1958 to protect the Lebanese government from rebels. The British also supported the U.S. defense of the noncommunist government of the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan from possible invasion of the mainland communist government, the People's Republic of China (PRC) through the late 1950s.
At home, Macmillan sought to increase Britain's standing as a world nuclear power by pressing onward with the testing of a newly developed hydrogen bomb. However, the surprise launching of the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, by the Soviet Union in October 1957 showed that Britain was well behind the Soviets in missile development. Macmillan met with Eisenhower in Washington, D.C., immediately afterwards to discuss pooling their scientific resources. As a result, Macmillan turned to a stronger alliance with the United States. In addition, efforts to build its own nuclear missiles failed, so Britain became increasingly dependent on U.S. missile development. In another agreement between Macmillan and Eisenhower, Britain would assist in U.S. missile development in exchange for the United States basing its Polaris submarines in Britain. The meetings between Macmillan and Eisenhower would continue, including sessions in Washington in June 1958, Paris in December 1959, and Camp David, Maryland, in March 1960. Macmillan also visited Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971; see entry) in Moscow in February 1959. He was the first British prime minister to visit the Soviet Union since World War II.
Britain as Cold War intermediary
Though a strong anticommunist himself, Macmillan disagreed with the hard-line policies of Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles (1888–1959; see entry), toward the Soviet Union. As a result, Macmillan wanted Britain to play the role of intermediary in trying to bring the two superpowers together. He believed Britain could play the crucial role in resolving various issues, including nuclear arms control and the long-term postwar status of Germany.
Macmillan particularly looked forward to a summit meeting in Paris he had arranged between Eisenhower and Khrushchev for May 1960. However, only ten days before the summit was to begin, the Soviets shot down a U.S. spy plane over Soviet territory. When Eisenhower refused to apologize for the flight, Khrushchev angrily refused to participate in the summit. It was a major blow to Macmillan's foreign strategy for Britain.
During his first years as prime minister, Macmillan strongly supported the social programs the Liberal Party had established in Britain after the world war. With the British economy in good shape, Macmillan easily won reelection in October 1959. Macmillan proceeded to establish a very close relationship with new U.S. president John F. Kennedy (1919–1963; served 1961–63; see entry) after Kennedy's election in November 1960. Despite their personal closeness, Kennedy preferred not using Macmillan as an intermediary when dealing with Khrushchev. Kennedy wanted to be more personally active in U.S. foreign affairs. Macmillan felt particularly left out during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. For security reasons, Kennedy failed to inform Macmillan of the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles secretly placed in Cuba until just before the rapidly growing crisis became public.
As a result, Macmillan turned more toward developing relations with Western Europe. However, West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967; see entry) distrusted Macmillan's efforts to work with the Soviets, and French president Charles de Gaulle thought Macmillan was too close to the United States. De Gaulle believed Macmillan had abandoned France in the 1956 Suez crisis, when he and Prime Minister Eden had so readily accepted the U.S. cease-fire. De Gaulle wanted to limit U.S. influence in Europe. Adenauer and de Gaulle teamed up to block Macmillan's efforts to establish new trade relations in Europe. They even blocked Macmillan's attempt to gain British membership in the European Common Market.
In December 1962, while seeking Common Market membership, Macmillan met with Kennedy. Kennedy agreed
to sell Polaris missiles to Macmillan for British nuclear submarines. The following month, in January 1963, de Gaulle announced France would veto any British membership into the Common Market. The result was that Britain was blocked from joining the increasingly independent Western Europe during the Cold War. On the other hand, some believed joining the European trade alliance would have cost some of Britain's independence by having to conform to European policies.
The British felt increasingly vulnerable to nuclear attack as the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union was escalating through the 1950s. To ease those fears, Macmillan sought an agreement for nuclear disarmament with the two superpowers. Though he was unable to achieve actual disarmament, Macmillan was finally able to gain agreement on limiting nuclear testing. On July 25, the three nations signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
Declining political support
In a major foreign affairs achievement, Macmillan guided Britain through a period in which the nation granted independence to most of its last remaining colonies, including South Africa, without major incident. He announced the new British policy in the famous "winds of change" speech in February 1960 in Capetown, South Africa. In the speech, Macmillan announced the new British policy of supporting African nationalist movements and opposed the South African policies of racial segregation called apartheid.
Macmillan began losing popular support through the early 1960s, as the British economy faltered. With unemployment rising, Macmillan had to impose wage freezes and other unpopular measures beginning in 1961. Then a scandal in his government involving one of his cabinet members, British war minister John Profumo (1915–), led to much criticism. Profumo was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had had an affair with a woman who was also involved with a man presumed to be a Soviet spy. In October 1963, Macmillan resigned after undergoing surgery. He retired from the House of Commons in September 1964.
In retirement, Macmillan continued as chancellor of Oxford University, a position he had held since 1960. He also served as chairman of Macmillan Publishing Co. for awhile. Much of his time, however, was spent writing a number of memoirs and other books. Macmillan wrote six volumes of memoirs. In 1984, Macmillan was granted the title of Earl of Stockton. In December 1986, he died on the family estate in East Sussex, England.
For More Information
Aldous, Richard, and Lee Sabine, eds. Harold Macmillan and Britain's World Role. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
Fisher, Nigel. Harold Macmillan: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.
Horne, Alistair. Harold Macmillan. 2 vols. New York: Viking, 1989–1991.
Scott, Leonard V. Macmillan, Kennedy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis: Political, Military, and Intelligence Aspects. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Turner, John. Macmillan. New York: Longman, 1994.
The Cold War Memoirs of Harold Macmillan
Following his departure as prime minister of Great Britain in October 1963, Harold Macmillan enjoyed a long retirement. One of his key activities until his death in December 1986 was writing a six-volume set of memoirs with personal observations of British government. The volumes include excellent insights into British foreign policy strategies during the Cold War and his interactions with other world leaders. They were all published by the prestigious family publishing company, Macmillan. The volumes addressing Cold War issues include: Tides of Fortune, 1945–1955 (1969); Riding the Storm, 1956–1959 (1971); Pointing the Way, 1959–1961 (1972); and At the End of the Day, 1961–1963 (1973).
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 (1914–1918). Macmillan was elected as a Conservative to the House of Commons in 1924. During the Conservative governments of Stanley Baldwin (1867–1947) and Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940), he criticized their appeasement policies toward Nazi Germany. During World War II (1939–1945), 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 (1890–1969).
From 1951 until 1957, Macmillan served in various cabinet positions under prime ministers Winston Churchill (1874–1965) and Anthony Eden (1897–1977). 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 (1917–1963) valued Macmillan’s 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 Britain’s 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. Macmillan’s 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 Britain’s problems with its balance of payments and Macmillan’s unpopular wage freezes to control inflation contributed to the loss of Conservative seats in the byelections of 1961 and Macmillan’s decision to make major changes in his cabinet in 1962. The growing disunity of the Conservative Party and declining support for Macmillan’s government were intensified by the Profumo affair of 1963. John Profumo (1915–2006), 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 embassy’s 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 (1903–1995), instead of Rab Butler (1902–1982), 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 (1916–1995) 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 Thatcher’s 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. Martin’s.
Horne, Alistair. 1989. Harold Macmillan, Vol. 1: Politician: 1894–1956. New York: Penguin.
Lee, Sabine, and Richard Aldous, eds. 1999. Harold Macmillan: Aspects of a Political Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sean J. Savage
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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. □